Self-care is something many of us aspire to. Perhaps it is not easy to know how to be kind to yourself. Your body, your mind, your soul. I believe yoga answers those needs to a great extent. At times however, it may be hard to meet yourself on your mat. So where to start?
For me the holidays have not felt all that joyful this year. I spent over a month battling the flu and making a slow recovery. I started the year feeling tired, frustrated, emotionally charged and carrying a lot of anxiety. There were many sleepless nights worrying about my kids, who could not sleep or eat much. Once they got better, I started feeling poorly, my body weak, terribly stiff and uncooperative. The physical discomfort triggered my inner critic. After months of intense yoga practice, I felt as if all the hard work had been in vain. I dreaded getting on my mat, too afraid of how awful my practice would be. I felt like the old me, the me I had worked hard to leave behind. The me who judged myself harshly, feeling unworthy. I could write a long list of what I should do and what I should be like. So how was I going to get out of this all too familiar place?
Here is how I did it. The first step was to understand what got me there in the first place. It was not the flu, it was my reaction to what didn’t go as planned. I had succumbed to the pressure of the old saying “new year, new you”. While I was making progress in my life, certain interactions made me acutely aware of how this progress was being monitored. Instead of feeling happy and relaxed on my journey, I once again saw myself in the light of others’ expectations, leaving me with little energy and feeling insufficient.
In my daily life, I have to constantly check in with myself in order not to internalise other people’s disappointments. Yoga is where I get the space to do just that. Connect with my inner self and listen to the silence of my mind and the joy in my heart. After a month of tending mostly to the needs and wants of others, with no time alone, my body was begging for attention and my mind was sinking into self-doubt. Realising that this was happening, and that it was happening because I let it happen, helped me to slowly find my power again.
I decided to start by being kind to my body. I am so used to judging the way I look. How I feel in my body is deeply affected by this. Instead of looking in the mirror and saying I need to work out, stop eating junk, and so on, I decided to say kind things. Thank you for coping with the sleepless nights. Thank you for healing. I’m sorry I rushed you. Thank you for all that you allow me to do and to experience. You are not my enemy in a senseless quest for perfection. You are my ally in this beautiful miracle called life. When one is appreciative and grateful, there is no room for criticism.
I took long baths with salts and oils, gave myself permission to rest for as long as I needed, until my body and mind no longer felt exhausted. I decided to get on my yoga mat to relax and reconnect with my safe place, listening to soothing music and burning incense sticks. I remembered that yoga is for me. Not for others to be happy with me. It is not a tool to prove myself to anyone. I practice yoga because it allows me to connect with myself. With unconditional love. Yoga means unity and for me it means being in harmony with every aspect of who I am. It brings me peace and acceptance. The reason I teach yoga is because I want to help others find the same light and joy in themselves.
Another important decision I made was in changing the way I spend time with my kids. I used to be fully focused on them, hardly allowing myself any time to switch off in their presence. I had read so many parenting books about the importance of connection and had tried to implement this into our life as much as possible. While feeling sick, this was especially difficult. I very much needed my own attention and some personal space. Since I am never alone, this had to happen somehow in the presence of my children. I had to recognise that I have needs that compete with theirs. Instead of feeling guilty about it, I decided to try a more compassionate approach.
Many parents will have come across the concept of special time, where one child receives full attention, and the activity is led by that child for a given time without interruption. My two kids compete for attention and using special time has been very helpful. It has allowed each of them to feel seen and loved, while also learning to respect the needs of the other. They are comfortable with giving special time to the other because they know they both get to have their turn.
One day, something popped into my mind. I too needed special time. I said this to my kids, without necessarily expecting them to understand. I was more or less just thinking out loud. To my surprise, they totally took it on board. It was as simple as saying the words. I now try to put this into practice daily, while allowing them to choose the order in which we assign special time. We do activities together that are aimed at making each of us happy. Sometimes this means we allow the little one to have all the Lego pieces and help him to understand how they work, with a focus on having fun rather than actually building something. For my eldest it may be putting on a doll show, dancing, or reading. The point is we all respect the need for each person to do something that fills them with love and joy, including myself.
There are many ways to be kind to yourself. For me it starts with recognising what you need and how you feel, without judgment.