What is the meaning of self-care and how do we learn it? I found myself contemplating this question a few weeks ago after, believe it or not, undergoing my first colonoscopy. Dare I write this but it is true. The question arose after receiving the good news from my doctor that “everything was okay.” I was happy and relieved and connected to the feeling of gratitude for my body’s health and well-being. I was also connected to the vulnerable truth that health is not a given, it is a gift. There are things we can do to care and help to influence our health and well-being and other times we come to understand that much of health is a sacred gift. Contemplating the sacredness of health I do believe we have to consider how do we help our body along this path of life? How do we learn the self-care that is necessary to assist our body in its health, well-being and stabilization?
One of the first things I teach in the understanding of embodiment is that we are all born in touch with our bodies, even if it is just on a primal level. We unfortunately lose this along the way. As our brains are developing in childhood, rarely are we taught to still, reflect, sense and tune into bodily sensations and a deep understanding and knowledge about our body and what it needs. Instead we are directed outward to search for what feels good and for what can make us happy. Therefore, self-care becomes associated with something we get from the outside, not the inside. We lose a communication with our body. We no longer know how it works and what it needs to stay in balance and stable. As an embodied psychotherapist and yoga therapist, I am a huge fan of anatomy. I love to learn how my body functions and moves and operates from the inside as this has helped me to build mindful awareness with my body and a very sensitive attunement toward it on a daily basis. Developing awareness like this helps you to understand what it is like to feel well, not just what it”s like to feel ill or unbalanced. We all know what not feeling well feels like, but do you know what feeling well and balanced feels like? And how often do you attend to and highlight that in your mind? Self-care starts with knowing and focusing on what you are doing right, not on focusing on what you are doing wrong. Start with the following questions to build self-care from the inside:
1) What makes me feel healthy and strong?
2) How often do I give my body the things that make me feel most healthy and strong?
3) If my body could speak what would it tell me on the days I feel most alive?
4) How often do I stop to attend, notice and pay attention to my body on the days I feel well? Do I highlight the good or do I just focus and listen when I feel bad?
5) How often do I stop and hold gratitude for the hard work my body does for me day in and day out?
These are some of the embodied questions from my book that help you on your path of developing self-care from the inside so that self-care takes on a deeper, more connected meaning than what you can receive from the outside. It is only when we develop constant mindful awareness that we truly open the door to long-lasting self-care.
I’ll leave you to contemplate what happens when we practice mindful self-care on an ongoing basis. These are the beautiful words of the Buddha from the Sedaka Sutta which point out that self-care over time turns into care of others. Self-care is other-care.
“Looking after oneself, one looks after others. Looking after others, one looks after oneself.”