What is self care?

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I’m quick to the keyboard this morning as I drink in the words of Bridget. I’ve been gratefully turning to her Wild Well Project as we’ve moved through india and ourselves. Each new moon and full moon, she freshly presses some head and heart juice and shares it with the community. She invites us to task, contemplate, read and journal. She shares inspirational material, yoga practices, meditations and interviews with some of her wildly well and wise women. And this new moon, the subject is ‘Make your own Medicine’.

“’Self-care’ is a bit of a buzz word at the moment and I have been wondering what does self-care really mean? I often think of self-care more as radical self-love. Self-care is a deep medicine for our mind, body and psyche. And I believe it is different for different people.” Bridget Luff

So what does self-care mean? Sounds obvious doesn’t it. Self. Care. But how do you really nourish yourself? Where do you draw your boundaries so that you get the rest you need? And what do you need to do every day, week, month and year to feel well? These questions have been swimming around me since we decided to take ourselves on a month-long retreat to the cool and calm of the Himalayas and this is what I’ve learnt.

I’ve learnt that my Dad was right and early nights really are radical. I’ve learnt that all the studies are right and eight hours sleep is indeed optimum.  I’ve learnt that my body loves warm food and that my digestion needs grounding bean stews, hearty grains, warming spices and lentil soups – all made to be mouthwateringly tasty by two meter Peter.

And that’s another thing I’ve learnt. Part of my self-care practice is letting someone care for me. I’m an independent human, so not feeling like I have to do everything all the time to be a good person is actually, ironically, conversely, an act of self-care. I’ve also learnt, over the years, that feeling like I have to do all the things is part of my shadow. It’s been driven by a sense of low self-worth where I didn’t feel like I deserved other people’s time and care. I now know better but I’m still afraid to ask for help. All of which leads me to prefer Bridget’s rearticulation of the phrase ‘self-care’ to ‘radical self-love’. How can we come to love ourselves? How can we activate our sense of self worth? Where can we be more generous to our bodies? Who can we invite into our lives for real support? How can we yield more and do less? And what would it feel like to do less?

Through seclusion and inquiry, I’ve learnt to embrace my shy, quiet self. I’ve recognized that I need peace and solitude, as much as relationship and excitement. That’s it’s ok to do less and that I don’t need to achieve all the time.

So. Right now. Without rubbing it in too much. My day pretty much looks like this:

5.30/6am – waking up naturally followed by hot lemon water and Pete

7-7.30am – Pranayama

7.30-9am – Asana

9-9.30am – Meditation

10am – big bowl of porridge

10.30 – back to bed to rest and read

1pm – A bowl of something spicy and hearty followed by one or two of the following, depending on my mood: writing, reading, cleaning, cooking, social media, emailing, typing up my training notes, doing bits of work, planning classes, a walk through the hills to buy some biscuits

4.30 – tea and biscuits then more of the above

6pm – a different bowl of some warming, hearty nourishment then more of the above

8pm – reading in bed

9pm – Nidra and sleep

Yes, I am a smug little yogi. I’m on retreat and it’s something I choose to do to learn what’s good for me. My self-care means slowing down, getting quiet, giving myself some time and really noticing how my mind and body respond. Going into seclusion for a couple of weeks gives us the opportunity to experiment, to settle, to reduce the stimulation and calm our nervous systems. And this is a non-negotiable, annual self-care practice for me. At least two weeks of the year in total seclusion. Ideally in a mountain cabin. With Pete. And bean stew.

When I get back home, I’ll bring a couple of these new offerings in. Like eating warm foods at regular times or getting to bed early but we’ll see how it goes. Over the years, I’ve gradually integrated daily practices but it takes time and if we start beating ourselves with the self-care stick then where’s the love in that?

Do what you can. Find out what self-love, or self-care, means to you. Bring awareness to your patterns. Notice. Experiment. Set some boundaries. And take it from there.

In a couple of weeks we’ll head off to Bangkok to meet our wonderful buddy, Hazel, and I can’t wait for a cold beer. The last one was on Tuesday 18th April. (I promise I’m not counting. I’m just a mega geek and have a daily budget app, which is, btw, an amazing way to stay on track when you’re traveling).

Thanks to Bridget for all the inspiration. These links are pretty much all from her latest post on the WWP.

Is this it?

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Achy, yearning hunger. An appetite for something always out of reach. Something ineffable. Something we must keep searching for. Working for. Hurting for. This indescribable emptiness that hangs low and nibbles away at your would-be satisfaction, as your inwardly overt dissatisfaction resounds. Mildly anxious and just not sure whether you are in the right place at the right time with the right person. Because everything should be right. Right?

I was having lunch with one of my dear friends after class, and this was one of the subjects we landed upon. Is this it? This job, this relationship, this house, this child, this sense that you should be grateful and satisfied but, quite frankly, you’re not. As long as we keep on looking outside of ourselves for what ‘it’ is then we will remain achy and hungry and always looking for something else to quench our insatiable thirst to arrive. To be complete. To get to that place we thought we were supposed to get to.

What about if we started to look within for our answers? And what if we started asking different questions? Like, what is that creative energy that pulses inside of you? What is that life force? That itching, yearning, willful being that wants to know? That seeks for answers? What is that space that sits between your thoughts? And if you’re not your thoughts, or your job or your actions, your name or your beliefs, then who are you?

We each have a purpose. Some souls know theirs from an early age but most of us are still trying to work that bit out. And that’s where the emptiness can really eat you up. What is it that I want? In my experience, those answers can only come from the deepest place in your heart. The trick is learning how to listen.

I’ve had a meditation practice for a number of years and I make sure I sit every day. It’s taken time to build up to that and I’m not dogmatic about how many minutes I sit for, or what time of the day I practice, but I (nearly) always create space to check in, reset and get quiet. I didn’t practice yesterday because I was a bit hungover and I felt bonkers mental inside. Like, seriously. If that’s what it’s like to not meditate then no wonder the world has gone raving mad.

“If we could teach all children to meditate, we could change the world in one generation.” Dalai Lama

There are many ways to meditate, including a myriad of concentration techniques, but the approach I have found to be the most powerful is to not try to control anything. The mind is meant to think. That’s its job.

I was introduced to this style through Adyashanti, and he describes it so clearly in his book True Meditation. Working in this way feels more like an act of generosity where you can separate yourself from your thoughts. Bearing witness to where the mind wanders and gently bring yourself back into Presence when you notice you’ve gone on a merry little journey into headland. It’s amusing to watch your thoughts and rest back into the space behind them. It’s deeply profound to connect to your awareness and it really is pure bliss to come home to yourself in this way. Moving into a bigger space gives rise to insight and allows your intuition to speak up and participate. Adyashanti prescribes the practice of Inquiry; dropping a question into the meditative space can be very powerful and it’s quite magical to see what comes through. Journaling after your practice is a great way to articulate and crystallise your insights and experiences but I don’t always feel like I have time. Which, of course, isn’t true.

We can be resistant to spirituality, often because of its attachment to religion, but many of us are spiritually bereft. We have been led to believe that growth is defined by achievement. By what we can attain outside of ourselves. But even with the perfect job, house and family, if we don’t have the opportunity to commune within, if we are disconnected from the flow of our creative awareness, from the deepest life force essence that is inside each of us, then our satisfaction, and our life force, will wane.

If you feel like nothing is quite cutting it or you just don’t know why you’re here and what you’re supposed to do next. Sit for five minutes. Try to sit everyday and see what happens. Over time you’ll be able to sit for longer and longer and that’s when it gets all kinds of next dimension exciting.

Give it a go.

What have you got to lose?

Want some concentration techniques to get you started? I hear the headspace app has got it going on.

Want to know more about True MeditationBuy it here or learn more about Adyashanti.

Looking for a meditation group in Leeds? I recommend this or come to Yoga Hero on Monday nights and meditate with us there.

everything in relationship

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I’m sat in Pete’s bedroom with the door closed. Everything is white. The strong silence is ringing and I close my eyes to begin the descent. Travelling through tense tissue and frozen flesh, along boiling rivers of muddy blood, accessing the inner reaches of my body until I am fully submerged and come to learn that the tube of my entire torso is on fire. I’ve tasted this experience once before and now know that this is the flavor of fear and anger. Acidic foam. Caustic and surging. I sink into the flames and discover that I feel sick but not in a way that disturbs me. I’m curious. Fear and anger manifest as sickness in my body and as I track the embers to the pit of my stomach I’m strangely pleased with this affirmation. I fuse out and my head takes over. I’m inventing a conversation and fuelling a reverie before I realize and send myself back to sit beneath the acid tree. The journey is cooling and it calms me to travel through these rivers and streams and move into the experience. I ask my body what it needs … breath. Deepest breath. I breathe into the coals, offering more ease, helping the sensation to soften by stroking the inside of my heart. How can I create more space with this breath and how can I bring myself to a place that honours my feelings but clears my head?

My head wants my voice to be heard. I have so much to say … but my body wants to me listen. So I sit a little longer.

Feeling your feelings is shaky work. Going into your body and tracking those elusive articulations takes the skill and patience of a hunter. Sitting, waiting, watching. Returning to the battleground and scouring the landscape of your anatomy to wash and cleanse the killing fields. Observing yourself in relationship to others and looking for repeated patterns of behavior. Hungry to break old cycles and cultivate new neural pathways. Understanding what is really present at that moment in time, instead of through a distorted lens of past events or future fear. Coursing the emotion through your systems and structures to allow it to pass through. To see where you’re holding it. Where it rises. Where it burns and sears and tears from the inside out. Breathing yourself back to life by expanding from the inside so you can feel your way back in because, somehow, somewhere along the way, you forgot.

We forget that our bodies have wisdom. We forget to listen to what they have to say. We ignore their pleas at the cost of our deepest truths. And a voice that isn’t heard only gets quieter.

“A body whose wisdom

has never been honoured

does not easily trust.

An animal with a crazy trainer

learns crazy habits,

runs wild.”

Marion Woodman

If everything is in relationship then how am I in relationship to myself? My body? My thoughts, feelings and emotions? How does my perception affect my relationship to the world around me and if I shift my perception does the world shift too? Coming into deeper relationship with yourself can have a profound effect on how you communicate, how you see the world and how you interact with everything inside it. But what does that even mean? A deeper relationship with yourself?

When we get curious about why we react in a certain way, who we judge, what we believe. When we explore the different shades of red we can begin to catch ourselves before our knee jerks. Before something harmful, callous or cruel leaps from our suddenly forked tongues. When we begin to inquire we can start to observe and become the witness to our own triggers. I will never forget a class I took online with Elena Brower. It was all about automatic reaction versus conscious response and it has stayed with me and supported me in so many situations over the years. It’s such a beautiful play, so cleanly articulated, and I see myself in this dance, daily. I know when I’ve reacted badly. And when I do, I get curious. I try my best not to judge myself. I work to acknowledge my shadow, dive into my body and follow the emotion so I can taste it, drink it in and ask it to pass through. So I can release the pattern and deepen my intention to respond with greater consciousness. To move from a place of truth and to speak that truth quietly, fearlessly and with love.

To quote my soul sister, Rikke Brodin, “become so fluid that the waves of stimuli and emotion can glide through [you] unbroken and ‘untrapped’”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

take your seat

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In out-of-the-way places of the heart,

Where your thoughts never think to wander,

This beginning has been quietly forming,

Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

John O’Donohue

Do not take lightly your tentative toe steps or the whispery calls of a long hushed voice. Do not take lightly a sudden awareness of being or the experience of your whole breath. Do not take lightly the awkward sensation of not knowing and the fear of getting it wrong. And do not, for one minute, think that you are not supposed to feel this way, as you begin to gradually unfold.

Those first steps onto the yoga mat might seem inconsequential. They might seem small. They might just seem like a bit of physical juju as you foofoo around from one ‘pose’ to another. But when you step onto a yoga mat, you take your seat. The word ‘asana’ means ‘seat’ and though you might not feel like you’re doing a whole lot of sitting that is exactly what you are doing. Taking a seat inside yourself. Seat by seat, pose by pose, you come into view. You make contact with the ground of your being, landing softly and remembering that it was always already there but you somehow forgot. That this fluorescent, vital, life-force managed to somehow become dim. That the very essence of you became wispy, imperceptible … hard to reach.

Every organism on this planet is here to grow and each time we take our seat, we reaffirm our commitment to that process. Yoga is one way to take that vow and, more often than not, it takes us by surprise. It begins with the sweet remembrance of embodiment. Of what it feels like to become alive from the neck down, and not because our head is telling us that our body should exercise but because we have actually started to feel again. Droplets of awareness sink into our cells, and, before long, we can hear our bodies speak. Breathe into their message. Receive their wisdom.

I deeply wish to grow. I deeply wish to grow. I deeply wish to grow.

Our breath seems fuller, sensation more acute, our capacity to feel becomes more present and our understanding of embodiment transforms, as we wake up to ourselves. Those first steps onto the yoga mat can lead to the deepest seat you might ever take inside your own being. They can take you to unexpected realms of perception as your intuition sharpens, your awareness expands and your reality takes on a whole new level of detail. As your relationship to the world around you shifts, your relationship to yourself can truly evolve. And that is the stuff of miracles.

There is a voice that doesn’t use words.

Listen.

Rumi