What is SelfCare?
SelfCare can mean different things to different people. A broad definition of SelfCare would include all activities (or lack thereof) that serve your physical, mental, and spiritual well being. At a higher level, SelfCare is a state of mind. A state in which you feel at ease, safe, and nurtured. This state of mind is self-generated. It is the result of something that you deliberately do or wilfully don’t. It does not come from any outside source.
Why SelfCare? What are the benefits?
If you give too much to a situation or a relationship, and at the expense of self-love, self-respect, and SelfCare, this excessive giving soon becomes counterproductive. You actually accomplish less by working too hard and will distance the person you love by chasing them too hard. You need to stop right there and think.
Is it possible that you could treat yourself more kindly? At least as kindly as you would treat a friend, if not more? Do you allow yourself enough sleep, healthy food, adequate exercise, rest, and recreation? Try making small decisions in your favor.
The next time a friend asks you to join her on a shopping trip, when you’d rather stay home and finish that book you were reading, politely decline. Or when things have been busy at work and you have been cooking family meals like you had no other job, stop the cooking and order take out. Or ask someone else to take over meal duty.
These small changes will send cues to your environment. It will let people know where you are coming from. Your friend will learn to acknowledge and appreciate your need for personal space. Your family will learn to make accommodations for your schedule. As a result, you will see changes in your everyday life. Changes that will let you relax a little more.
Even if you don’t see that change in your environment right away, at the very least, you have received care, love, and respect from your self. And you so richly deserve it!
If you are religious or spiritual, you will come to see that SelfCare is the first step towards Self Realization. If you truly want to know God or your Self, then it behooves you to nurture the divinity within your Self. Give your spirit the space and attention it needs to blossom. When the Self is rejuvenated, all spiritual pursuits become possible.
SelfCare is not the same as being selfish. A Self-caring person will be empowered to care for and nurture other people, treat them with love, respect, and care. In due course, those same traits flow from that other person as well and you have now created a positive ripple effect. To that extent, SelfCare is necessary for the universe as much as it is for you.
How to SelfCare?
There are countless ways you can care for yourself. The methods are many and as varied as there are people on this planet. Perhaps the easiest way to start is by finding some solitude and allowing yourself to acknowledge all you are thinking or feeling. Allowing it all to surface in a safe environment will relive a lot of the pressure you feel from daily challenges. To this, you can start to add SelfCare practices.
For example, for me, a few minutes of Pranayam each morning, quiet my mind and fill my body with energy to take on whatever challenges lie ahead of me that day.
Pranayam literally means controlling the breath. There are many different techniques of Pranayam but we will start with a simple Omkar (chanting of the holy word Aum).
Here’s how I do it:
Sit comfortably on a chair or on a floor cushion and preferably with your legs crossed. Rest your hands comfortably in your lap, preferably facing upwards. Close your eyes and take a long, deep breath. Let it go and repeat one more time. This time, on the exhale, speak the word Aum. Try to spend equal time on each of the three syllables of the word – A U M. Repeat this exercise three times. Follow the rhythm of your own breath and you will find that as you relax more and more, the breath becomes deeper and longer. After three Omkars, sit still and observe what the sensations are in your body and mind.
If you enjoyed this, there are more Pranayams that you can try. Each of these simple exercises has deep and lasting benefits. They will create a bubble of peace and tranquility around you that will last all day.
Where to SelfCare?
If possible try to find a room in your home that you can shut the door to and where no sounds or activities would distract you while you spend time with your Self. I started using my home office as that space. A place that was mine alone and where I spent quality time with my Self. In time my home office became my personal sanctuary. It is where I go for my morning ritual each morning. It is decorated to suit my taste and has objects that are inspirational, reminiscent of good memories, or in some other way positive to me.
It may be that there is no good spot in your home for this time of quiet contemplation. Such situations call upon our creativity to find other areas that might be available to you. Perhaps you can pick a secluded spot in your neighborhood park or a corner spot in a coffee shop for you to journal. If all else fails, you can take your car and park it in a quiet area that gives you the refuge you need. I have done all of the above in the course of my life until it became possible to have a designated spot in my home.
Make SelfCare a part of your daily routine
I do believe it helps to do the most important things as soon as possible after you wake up in the morning. Generally, it is rare to find a window of undisturbed ‘me time’ once the activities of your day commence. No matter how much room you may have in your schedule, distractions invariably show up in the day. If we don’t claim some personal time first thing in the morning, it is difficult, although not impossible, to capture another opportunity to steal an hour or so later in the day.
As a result, I would recommend you create a morning routine that allows for about an hour or so of SelfCare. This is your time and to be spent for you to do the things you consider necessary for your physical, mental, and emotional well being. Morning routines are again as varied as there are human beings on this planet. I would urge you to start with simple practices for no more than 15 minutes each morning. Do it every day without fail. Make it so easy to do that it becomes a daily habit. After 3 weeks, you can add another practice of 15 minutes and then another till you finally get to the full hour. Compositions of this one hour can vary and as you grow in your practice, you will want to add or take away pieces of it. Your SelfCare routine exists solely to take care of you, so your satisfaction is the only real guideline.
A word of caution here – don’t give up too soon. The first few days of waking up early may seem difficult, you may feel sleepy during the day or your mind may find some other reason to not want to do it again. But you are the captain of this ship. Once you plan a schedule, stick to it for 3 weeks to see what it can do for you. Any period shorter than that may not give you the complete picture.
If for some reason, mornings are not available to you, do not despair. It is still possible to carve out a slot during the day for you to retreat within yourself. For a period of time, my work routine did not leave time for my morning ritual without needing me to wake up exceptionally early. I found myself more stressed by trying to balance my early morning professional commitments with my scheduled personal time. And this state of conflict was really counterproductive to my wellbeing. So I switched it out. I started to schedule an afternoon slot for me to take a break. I scheduled going for a walk with an audiobook for 30 minutes. On my return, I drank my lemon tea where I had modified the recipe to use cold water instead of hot to help during the warm afternoons. While I drank my tea, I spent focussed time with my journal and planned the remainder of my day and the next day’s morning.
You may wonder what is the rationale behind the 3 weeks? There are several studies that have found that in order to build a habit, you must perform a desired activity for a period of 21 days. At the end of that period, the activity becomes a part of your life. Your body and mind will be so trained to perform them that they will become effortless and almost automatic. The trick is to be consistent and not skip even a single day, no matter what.