November 3, 2011 § 20 Comments
For the past few days, some of my favorite bloggers have been writing about self-care at Life After Benjamin, Chicken and Cheese, A Design so Vast, and Her Suburban Life. Also, Carry it Forward and Food: A Love Story consistently write about taking care of ourselves in an authentic way.
Self-care is a strange word. It sounds vaguely institutional and somewhat primitive and yet it’s a concept that has been rather fascinating to me for the past few years. It would not be inaccurate to say that I started out my adult life having no idea how to take care of myself. I knew the basics of course. I knew what I should eat and how much exercise and sleep I should get. But in times of stress, all those good ideas went out the window. In times of stress – which in my twenties and early thirties was about five days per week- I subsisted on less than six hours of sleep, cheese, green olives, and coffee.
It’s funny the things that didn’t work for me. “Treat yourself the way you deserve to be treated,” people would tell me, or “Become your own best friend.” The truth was, I felt like a slacker who had been given tons of opportunity and fortune but who had squandered it all away. I was treating myself the way I believed I deserved. And I had no interest in befriending as someone as lame and myself.
It’s funny what did work too. When I was pregnant with Oliver, I was unmarried and living 3000 miles away from my boyfriend (who later became my husband, poor guy). I was working in investor relations and it was a job in which even if I did everything perfectly, it was guaranteed someone would still yell at me at the end of the quarter. But one day, as I got off the train in Palo Alto and was walking down Emerson Street to my apartment, I passed a yoga studio that offered prenatal yoga. For years I had been meaning to go to yoga, but I didn’t want to be the only one in the class who didn’t know what she was doing. I peered in the window at the women, lumbering like elephants with their big bellies. I was only three months pregnant at the time. I figured I could do at least as well as them.
That was how I started with yoga: as a competition. But after my first prenatal class, I lay in savasana and felt quiet for the first time in years. Once you find something like that, you begin to notice its opposite. You gradually become aware of when you are not quiet and then you try to figure out how to get yourself out of that mess. You may try meditation next or getting more sleep. Or, if you’re like me, you may try to eat half the can of frosting instead of the whole thing.
To be honest, I am the least qualified person to write about how to take care of yourself. I have only recently started to get more sleep. And when the going gets tough, I often stop my meditation practice and start drinking coffee. Last week, during which I had to make a Halloween costume, plan and host a birthday party for six six-year olds, make a graveyard cake, take care of sick children, and finish up homework for my teacher training, I may or may not have eaten seven fun-size Twix bars one night and called it dinner. I know, you don’t have to say it.
But I am working on it. At least I am passed the point I used to be, when I thought self-care was for wimps, for people with too much time on their hands. In the last couple of years, I have read a gazillion books on the subject. More importantly, I met with my yoga teacher, Jessica Anderson, from YogaWorks in LA and with Laura Plumb, Ayurvedic devotee, yoga teacher, and educator. They both offered invaluable advice and instruction. I still don’t do everything I wish I did, but below are some notes from the trenches, which sometimes get me out of my own way:
1. Start Where You Are: This first rule could also be called “Don’t Make Things Worse.” If you eat a pound of chocolate, do your best to avoid eating another pound to make yourself feel better. If you haven’t washed your hair in a week, then put on a hat rather than beat yourself up. If you are feeling badly about yourself, be gentle with your heart. As Geneen Roth writes, if you find yourself standing in front of the refrigerator eating leftover Chinese food with your fingers, pull up a chair. Be kind to yourself. Sit down. Just stop making things worse, and things will get a whole lot better.
2. Start Slowly: After I consulted with Laura last week and she told me about the Veda-reducing diet that would reduce my anxiety, I immediately wanted to roast vegetables, cook up a pot of kitchari, and buy lavender-scented oil. This was during the Halloween/Birthday Extravaganza Week, and I knew that if I went gangbusters, I would probably have a meltdown. So, for a change, I slowed down. Instead of cooking up a storm, I made one pot of tomato soup. I started meditating for ten minutes a day. I went to bed fifteen minutes earlier at night. I bought a single bottle of organic sesame oil to practice Abhyanga. Baby steps.
3. Plan: When I met with Jessica eighteen months ago, she told me that in order to keep herself sane and healthy she planned out her week. She decided how much yoga and mountain biking she needed and what food she needed to buy to make healthy meals. My first thought after she told me that was shock. I couldn’t imagine doing that. If I had enough time to sit and make a grocery list and a schedule, then clearly I was not getting enough done in my life. Clearly, that was a waste of time. I still don’t always plan out my meals or my week. Most weeks, I don’t get to yoga as much as I want to and I often forget to soak the beans the night before. But when I do take time to plan out my week … man, life is good.
4. Pretend: aka “Fake it Till You Make It.” Here’s the deal. Often, when we need self-care the most is the time we believe we don’t deserve it. Right after we yell at our kids for fooling around when they are supposed to be getting on their shoes or the house is a mess or we totally botch something up at work, it’s easy to beat ourselves up. However, we are probably yelling at our kids and making silly mistakes because we ourselves are depleted. I am getting to where I can see this is true even if I don’t always believe it. Then, I usually pretend I am someone else, like Oprah, or Laura Plumb or Jessica Anderson and I try to imagine what they would do if they were me. Chances are, they would take a deep breath, give themselves a pep talk, make a cup of tea. What happens then is that once you start treating yourself as the person you want to be, you start to become the person you want to be. It’s kind of revolutionary.
5. Create a Ritual: In our yoga teacher training, Rolf told us that anything can become sacred once we bring our attention to it. Laura last week told me about tratak, a candle meditation that is deeply calming and centering. She also told me about Viparita Karani Mudra, or lying down for fifteen minutes with your legs up the wall. It could be a yoga class or a run or meditation. It could be a walk with your kids or spending time with your spouse. It could even be eating breakfast in silence or listening to the birds. There is something about a ritual that is soothing to our souls, that reminds us that while we live in these limited physical forms, an aspect of us is truly unlimited and connected to something bigger than we can imagine.
I once thought that devoting some time to taking care of myself would make me into a different person, into someone who was more patient, who subsisted on kale and ginger tea, who wore yoga pants every day. Obviously that hasn’t happened. Most days I wear jeans with a hole in the right leg, because that is the knee I bend down on when I am tying shoes, wiping noses, and putting the chain back on Oliver’s bike.
Taking care of ourselves isn’t about a vegan diet or taking baths, although that may be part of it. Taking care of ourselves is about treating ourselves with a level of dignity so that we remember who we truly are. If you treat yourself like a queen, it becomes more difficult to get upset about the snide remark your friend made. If you give yourself enough time to get to yoga and play something uplifting on the car stereo, it is harder to honk at the third person who cut you off in Logan Circle. On the other hand, if you eat leftover Halloween candy for dinner, it’s a lot easier to get upset at your husband for taking a business trip and leaving you alone with the kids for four days, how could he do that to you, doesn’t he know that you won’t get a minute to yourself?
Last week, Laura said something that I have been thinking about every day. She said that even if our main job is to care for other people, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take a little time for our own evolution and go inward every now and then. We deserve at least that, don’t we?
And that is why I am offering my first ever giveaway. I am offering Laura’s Maha Shakti Detox Protein Powder and a copy of the Kind Diet, by Alicia Silverstone. I’ll announce the randomly selected winner on Monday.
Bravo, my friend … despite your assertions to the reverse, I have learned a ton from you as you write honestly about your path, and I am grateful every day that you are in my life. Our exchanges about our efforts and failures, and our successes (though we never dwell on those, do we??) keep me sane in a very real way. Thank you, thank you. xox
I can’t say it better than Lindsey did.
You are an incredible writer and teacher and I am grateful to be your friend.
This is just so good.
Love to you, and thanks.
this is brilliant post. thank you. just what i needed to hear at this time of my life.
You are amazing, Pamela. We are all so lucky to know you. The world is a better place now that you are here.
I love this and can relate. I especially love “fake it til you make it” and Legs up the wall. Totally calming. Here is to candles, a bath and the right music. Check out Girish’s “DIamonds in the Sun” CD for a great way to listen to self care music. I love it.
Thanks for writing!
Lindsey said it beautifully (as she always does). I learn from you, laugh and cry with you, love and appreciate you, every time I read your words. Those are five powerful points you’ve made. And I believe if our main job is to take care of other people, it’s absolutely vital that we take time for ourselves and go inward (but it’s taken me a long time and some big lessons to see it that way).
Ah, this is the perfect medicine for the upcoming madness that it the holiday season. I completely freaked my sh&^ yesterday when I realized that Christmas is 8 weeks away and I haven’t bought a single gift (let alone figure out what people want or our holiday budget for buying those gifts) and that Thanksgiving is 4 weeks away and I don’t have a menu planned out. It was an ugly bit of business, let me tell you.
I think I need to try resting my legs against the wall…
Count me in!! I was kind to myself yesterday am. I went to Starbucks, had a chai tea latte and read for half an hour. Everything else seems manageable when you give yourself time. Just time. We, Moms, are running all the time. Moments to ourselves fill up our internal wells and allow us to nourish others by quenching our own thirst first. I’m excited to receive ‘The Kind Diet’ thank you!!
As usual, so much of what you write resonates with me. This thought, about “noticing its opposite” is so fabulous. I am in the beginning, as you know, of yoga practice. But in my short tenure, I’ve felt this but haven’t been able to articulate it. I can now feel some the spots in my body that are lacking light — because now I’ve felt what it’s like to have the light there.
Your words come back to me, time and time again, teaching and helping. thank you from the tips of my toes for your grace and wisdom. xoxo
Pamela, thank you for your wisdom. You don’t know how much I learned from your blog and how much it helped me.
I agree with all of these fine women and writers. Your voice in the cacophony is a sane and centered one, even if you don’t feel that way. Thank you for your wisdom and your warmth. And honey, if I could break up with myself I would, so I get what you mean.
All right. I am going to start taking care of myself soon. Very, very soon. I’ll have to give up a lot of things. But one of the things I won’t give up is reading this blog.
As we heal, collectively, perhaps we are realizing that our truest SELF is all-encompassing; thus our ego-self is a sacred fragment of a slowly coalescing hole-in-our-knee in bended service to our children: our soul-Selves.
From Emerson to Whitman (we contain multitudes) to the yogis (we are not our body, we are not our mind) we awaken to love and compassion together, gently, with butterfly kisses, eating Chinese Food (and the Tao every nourishing creating and receiving shard contains).
I find your spirit appearing out of the mist like my own reflection in a mirror as the steam begins to condense and run in soft teary rivulets down the looking glass.
Wonderful. So practical and inspiring. Thank you. I especially love this: “Once you start treating yourself as the person you want to be, you start to become the person you want to be. It’s kind of revolutionary.”
Also, the reminder to take baby steps. Pull a chair up to the fridge. LOVE it. This is going to be my new reminder when I feel like having candy and coffee for breakfast: Don’t beat yourself up for not making veggies with farm-raised eggs and home-baked bread for breakfast. Just pull up a chair. Stop making it worse and it will start to get better.
Now I need to go make a cup of coffee and decide between leftovers and candy for breakfast. And I will sit down to consume them. Thank you.
Self care is something I’ve struggled with for years, even before motherhood. I’ve never been good at slowing down, eating consistently well, exercising, ensuring quiet time. And then when it all hit the fan I just had to learn and quick. I’ve come a long way. I acknowledge my limits and when I need to slow down, I’m starting to eat consistently better, and make exercise a more regular routine with several long walks a week. As mothers we need to talk about this more and more, to reinforce these ideals so that they become the norm, rather than the exception.
You are already a teacher, and I am so glad to be your student Funny how it’s so much easier for us women to take care of everyone else, so hard to lavish that kind of attention on ourselves. But in your honesty here I sense a new level of compassion for yourself, which can only be a blessing for everyone who loves you. Bravo. Take wonderful care of yourself; in doing so, you care for the rest of us as well.
I love that you started yoga as a competition. So funny. I believe it too.
I have been reading your blog for quite some time and you never cease to impress me. You have great insight and teach your readers so very much. You do in fact have so much to teach us about self care!
I was hoping you might link this up with my new link party. Or pick another post– or many posts. I just started a BRAND NEW LINK PARTY ALL ABOUT GRATITUDE AND APPRECIATION. Your words would be perfect. Join me, please?!?! Thanks!! 🙂
Meredith From A Mother Seeking Come find me on my blog, A Mother Seeking…
i started yoga when i was pregnant too. 🙂 i was hobbling along trying to practice self care for the year or two before that, but i don’t think i really got it until i had a newborn, and was taking the advice of my midwife that “when you feel overwhelmed, take motherwort tincture.” for the first time i knew what true overwhelm was in a new extreme way, though i had thought i had felt overwhelm before (hahaha old self). but taking a second to walk to the bathroom and stick a dropper of tincture in my mouth somehow shifted something for me and made me see that it was not what i was doing (could have been a dropper full of water), but the fact that i was doing it, that made all the difference.
I STILL haven’t tried that yoga class I’ve always thought I would one day take. My body wants it. Your journey inspires me. Soon. Very soon.