"Your breathing is your greatest friend. Return to it in all your troubles and you will find comfort and guidance.". – The Teaching of Buddhist Master
I'm a big fan of taking time for self care and find that if I don't make the time for caring for me I either get sick or I get exhausted which forces me to take time off. Self care is vital especially if we are parents or care givers and find we have many tasks and responsibilities that we need to take care of.
These are my favourite ways of taking time out of my busy schedule and making time for me so I can more effectively do all the other things that are demanded of me in the rest of my life.
1. Start and/or end your day in silence. I know this isn't always practical, especially if you have young children or jump out of bed at the sound of your alarm and from then on your day starts at 100 mph but if we can spend even 2-5 minutes at the beginning of our day just to start and end the day in a meaningful way it can set the tone for the kind of day you want to create and end the day with a sense of closure so we can have a more sound sleep.
2. Breathing techniques. This is my go to when i'm overly stressed or tired, one of my favourites is sectional breathing where you lay flat on the floor (if you have any low back issues you may want to place a pillow under the knees). Place your hands on to your belly and begin to gently feel the belly rise and fall as you begin to slow the breath down, continue for a few rounds. Then place the hands on the rib cage and feel the breath moving into the ribs front, sides and back concentrating on slowing the breath down, continue for a few rounds. Following this place the hands on to the upper chest and begin to breath into the upper portion of the lungs, allowing the muscles surrounding the neck and shoulders to relax and receive the breath rather than them getting recruited into working to bring the breath into the lungs, continue for a few rounds. You can either end the breathing practice here or if you have more time you can integrate the three sectional breaths into one complete breath by breathing into the belly and pause, breathing into the rib cage and pause and breathing into the upper chest and pause and then slowly exhaling all the breath slowly out of the lungs, continuing with this breathing technique for as long as possible just feeling all the stress and tension just melting away with each exhalation.
3. Unplug and get out in nature. One of the best ways to unwind is to get out in nature, technology is everywhere and we can often be contacted 24/7, which can leave us a little overwhelmed so unplug and leave the smart phone at home and get out in nature. Taking a gentle stroll can be a great stress buster and the combination of the fresh air and the exercise can aid in giving us a good nights sleep. Just the simple act of sitting by the sea can be really re-energising.
4. Make sleep a priority. If I don't get enough sleep I am more likely to be reactive to small things, less likely to make healthy food choices because i'll be tired and looking for convenient food and foods that will wake me up. The amount of sleep needed is individual but generally around 8 hours of sleep is optimal, what seems to be more important than the amount of sleep we have is the actual hours that we sleep, sleep before midnight are the most rejuvenating in fact some researchers suggest that for every hour you sleep before midnight is equivalent to two hours sleep.
5. Make healthy food choices. We all already know this but cutting down on processed, refined and sugary foods and choosing foods that are close to nature will give us the correct amount of energy that we need throughout the day. Eating sugary, processed foods causes a spike in blood sugars and then a crash which often leaves us reaching for our next sugary fix, so start the day as you mean to go on.
6. Meditate. You don't need to learn any fancy techniques to meditate or a huge amount of time, just giving yourself time to find the pause and stillness during the day where you can check in with how you're feeling in your body/mind as you begin to slow down and tune in to your inner world. We spend so much time externally focused which is absolutely essential in the world we live in, its completely unrealistic unless you live in a cave to spend your whole day dedicated to your inner world, but to live a balanced live its essential to dedicate a portion of your day to your inner surroundings, in doing so you will be less reactive and more calm. Just dedicating 5-10 minutes a day can be hugely beneficial and if you find it hard to find 5-10 minutes start with 1 minute, yes just 60 seconds to slow down and tune in to the breath, every one can spare 60 seconds out of their day and often when you do 60 seconds you want more and you can grow your meditation practice from there. Taking time at the start or end of your day or even finding little pauses throughout the day can be as beneficial or even more beneficial than dedicating an hour or two a week to your meditation practice.
7. Yoga. This is my number one method of self care, whether it includes breathing practices to re-energise me, restorative yoga practices to de-stress me or the yoga postures to open and strengthen my body depending on my needs on any particular day, taking just 5-10 minutes a day can really change my perspective, alter my energy levels and make me feel wonderful. One of my favourite restorative yoga postures is viparita karani (legs up the wall), so simple and easy to do and is it is restorative so you just allow yourself to sink into the shape, perfect after a busy day on your feet and the bonus is you can do the above breathing technique while you're there, I don't normally recommend multi-tasking but there is always exceptions to the rule! So all you need to do is find a wall space, you can use a bolster or pillow underneath the pelvis to elevate the pelvis or simply snuggle your seat as close to the wall as possible and ahhhh relax and enjoy!
What are your favourite methods of self care? please share in the comments below I would love to know.
Over the past few months i'm noticing more and more how my massage practice is being informed by my Yoga practice, they may seem very different from the outside, but I apply the same principles to both.
The beginning of a yoga class sets the tone for the whole class and I always begin the practice both when I teach and when I do my own practice at home with a few minutes of "grounding", this very simply means to begin to connect with and deepen the breath, to let go of to do lists and slowly allow my mind to quieten so I can be more "present" rather than thinking of the journey to work or what I am going to eat for dinner. I have the exact same ritual prior to doing my massage treatments this enables me to be able to feel what's happening underneath my fingers, knuckles, forearms, elbows or whatever is in contact with the client, so i'm not just going through the motions. When I am able to be present with the person in front of me whether they are on my massage table or in line at the checkout that's where the magic in life happens, not when we are checking out from life and all it has to offer.
Whilst many people will be familiar with the Asanas or the physical postures, Yoga's underpinning philosophy is based on Patanjali's eight-limbed path the physical postures being just one of these. The first and possibly the most important is Ahimsa which is often translated as non-violence but can also be thought of as doing no harm in thought, word or deed. Fortunately for many people massage and harm couldn't be further away from each other, but for others especially in the sports massage world they often come hand in hand. Many people have the outdated belief that there's no pain without gain and that bruising following massage is the norm. Causing pain and trauma to the body in any way is craziness! Thankfully many sports massage therapists are coming to the realization that a gentler approach often gets even better results, this is especially true with Myofascial Techniques.
For those of you who are familiar with the physical Yoga practice there is a fine line between finding a comfortable level of sensation, where your body is opening, you can feel the change occurring in your muscles and connective tissue and you can soften in to it rather than feeling like you are fighting with your body and that everything is tensing up in response to that, putting yourself in a position where you may be causing yourself pain and possibly injury and to quote Erich Shifmann "Somewhere between these two points is a a degree of stretch that is in balance: intensity without pain, use without abuse, strenuousness without strain. You can experience this balance in every posture you do". For those of you who come to my yoga classes you will know my classes are very breath centered for several reasons one of which if you are able to breathe smoothly and deeply whilst in a posture the chances are you're not going to be pushing yourself further than you should in any given position. If the breath is strained in any way its a good indication you've gone too far and should back out to a place where you can find that sweet, juicy spot.
Every time I place my hands on a clients body I am refining and deepening my "listening touch", I work slowly so that that I can feel through the layers of the clients body, waiting for the clients tissues to allow me in rather than pushing my way through in an invasive way and I feel for the softening in the muscles and the connective tissue so I am then able to work deeper if necessary. Sometimes during a massage there are areas in the body that are tender to the touch but it should never be painful, your muscles should still stay soft and not feel like you are bracing yourself and the breath should be full and deep, if you are holding your breath waiting for it to be over that's not a good sign!
At the end of each massage session I end with some still work either holding the feet or the head depending on what part of the body I have been working on, it's like a mini shavasana or relaxation that happens at the end of the yoga class where all the effects of the massage or Yoga practice can be integrated into the body, it's a really beautiful and magical moment as it has a powerful effect on the nervous system. Deane Juhan so beautifully wrote "When you touch someone they are touching you back" its a magical exchange that happens at the end of the session as I simply cradle the clients head and have a moment of stillness and silence and feel that its not only calming their nervous system but a feeling of calm just washes over me and I feel like I could sit there all day!
Advanced clinical massage therapist and yoga teacher.