By Yely Staley for Yoga Medicine®.
Whether it was intentionally or unintentionally, we can all agree that the lifestyle that most of us were embracing prior to the 2020 World Pandemic was not sustainable for our optimal health. The fast paced, non-stop, never-ending busyness of it all, would eventually lead us to some form of illness, exhaustion or burn out.
Which is why lately the word “self-care” has been buzzing online; but what does it really mean to practice self-care? Why is it important? How do you know which one is right for you, and when do you practice self-care? All fair questions, so let us break these down.
What does it really mean to practice self-care?
My personal definition is that mindful self-care practices are small conscious acts that you do throughout your day to help you feel and stay balanced in all the different layers of your human experience (emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, and even energetic). These practices go beyond the stereotype of just “drinking a glass of wine or taking a bubble bath” occasionally. These practices are designed to really nourish the lack of or excess of so we can feel more grounded and balanced as we go through life’s challenges.
Why is it important?
These practices, when done regularly, will help you maintain and improve your optimal health. When embraced as a lifestyle, these practices become an effective tool to help you feel balanced, which ultimately prevents feelings of burnout or depletion.
Practicing daily mindful self-care can help your nervous system to operate more frequently from the parasympathetic state, also known as “rest and restore”, which is the ideal state for the body to be able to self-regulate its functions in a natural way (digestive, circulatory, respiratory, etc.). The state of stress, worry, anguish and others activates the sympathetic nervous system also known as “fight or flight”. In this situation, the body is in a state of survival, so it saves energy and minimizes the self-regulation of its functions. Keeping the body in this condition constantly is not ideal as it causes an imbalance in our health, which can manifest stress causing inflammation in your body. Mindful self-care practices like yoga and meditation help to maintain a balance between these states of the nervous system and to maintain the body in a state of homeostasis, all of which is ideal for the optimal function of the body and therefore, of our health.
How do you know which form of self-care is the right one for you?
I personally like to start by practicing daily mindful self-care practices such yoga and meditation – these practices will help you increase your self-awareness so you can later create discernment for better and healthy habits that would help you stay connected with the things that bring and cultivate your inner balance. For instance, when having a regular yoga practice, you would be able to quickly identify any body signals that may negatively affect your well-being. So, if you are starting to feel physically tired, perhaps it’s your body asking you to: 1) take some time for constructive rest so it can recover energy, 2) eat more light and natural meals to help your digestive system to function properly and use less energy, or 3) create a daily routine that supports time for your meditation or pranayama practice so your nervous system operates more from the “rest and restore” state.
When do you practice self-care?
The more in-tune you are with your body’s needs, the easier it becomes for you to identify when and what type of mindful self-care practice you need to implement on that particular time and moment. Our bodies’ needs are always fluctuating just like our thoughts and emotions. That is why self-awareness is key – it will help you to identify in early stages the information your body is sending you so you can then adjust your daily habits to address such needs. And that is the beauty of it. Self-care practices change and adapt to you, your body and needs… just like your yoga practice!
When you ignore the needs of your body, and continue your days without changing unconscious habits or the pace of your life’s demands without creating space for self-care, ultimately your body will manifest that imbalance through illness. In my experience, I can confirm this to be true. Whenever I am in a high-level stress situation for a long period of time without setting healthy boundaries for self-care, I would fall sick for days. Which leads me to the next question, why do we put our own needs last?
Taking care of yourself is so important and vital for your health and happiness. Once you start to embrace this lifestyle to treat yourself with kindness and compassion, make your needs a priority, cultivate your joy, happiness and health, and realize you are worthy of it… everyone around you would follow your lead, creating a positive trickle effect.
So, today I am inviting you to prioritize your self-care practices as non-negotiable and embrace them as a lifestyle. It is important to understand that self-care practices are the opposite of being selfish. Especially if you are a yoga teacher, you want to be able to offer your best self to your students. You can’t teach your best classes from a place of physical exhaustion or a restless and anxious mind. On the contrary, you want to feel inspired, creative, focused, at ease, and balanced.
Here are a handful of the many examples on how you can embrace mindful self-care practices as a sustainable lifestyle:
- Physical Care: Move or rest your body
- Emotional Care: Journaling practice
- Mental Care: Meditation practice
- Spiritual Care: Gratitude practice
- Energetic Care: Spend time with nature walking barefoot, if possible
These practices changed my life, and I have learned not to sacrifice my own health or push beyond my healthy boundaries simply because it’s not healthy and sustainable in the long run. These personal tips are meant to help inspire and motivate you to prioritize time to take care of yourself daily because you deserve to feel your best!
As a student and teacher of yoga, I continue to delve into the beautiful relationship of yoga and its effects on our health. There are more and more reasons why I confirm that embracing self-care practices like yoga and meditation as a lifestyle can offer us positive tools to 1) help us achieve and maintain optimal health conditions, 2) develop an infinite appreciation of life with a calm, present and balanced character, and 3) increase our ability to develop kindness and compassion for ourselves and others, giving us the opportunity to lead by example and inspire others to the same! It all starts within us first.
If you would like to receive my FREE Mindful Daily Self-Care Toolkit feel free to visit www.yogayely.com.