Self-care is a term that we hear quite often nowadays. I believe that it is possible and easy to misunderstand this expression so this is why I wanted to dive in this post into the nuances of what taking care of ourselves means.
Taking care of ourselves is not so much about spoling or indulging. In my opinion self-care is about increasing our vitality through physical, mental, emotional and spiritual practices.
Many people would agree that we naturally tend to associate a happy life with a life full of ease and comfort. Rarely will we look at someone who is going through a hard illness and desire that for ourselves but commonly we will see a nice house or a nice job and desire that for ourselves. We normally crave pleasure and avoid pain. This has been a long term yogic conversation!
The truth is that to feel really empowered in life we need to dissociate less from the discomfort areas and befriend them more. As we rename disconfort into “opportunity” or “unknown” then our mind starts reframing each experience with this pattern. The word opportunity is, in my opinion, a very good one to guide us through the hard times. There is always an opportunity waiting for us, behind every situation. It is an oppportunity for growth or for loss and we decide (to a big degree) how things turn out in the long term.
The best way to manipulate our tendency to avoid challenges is to become observers of our inner worlds. Every time we sit to start and finish our practice I like inviting people to feel three layers of their experience in the moment: phyisical sensations, emotional textures and mental qualities. When we realize that after the disconfort of our practice we feel better then we start loving, chasing and embracing discomfort. This is why I think that, to the degree of our capacities, we want our asana practice to be challenging.
Though it is nice to relax and just linger in our bodies this is great to do when we are in restorative yoga or yoga nidra but asana must include the effortful side of body and movement. Effort is not forcing. Effort is creating enough energy as to be stable, grounded and powerful. Forcing is breaking the balance of our body to go to a place where there is no growth but there is violence. We do not want to exert on ourselves a level of stress that is overwhelming. We want to provoke a level of stress that is helpful for stimulation and aliveness. All our tissues need it, our mind needs it.
Relating the word “care” to discomfort requires some degree of passion, some degree of willingness to train body, mind and heart for challenges. If you want to get addicted to something, get addicted to overstepping the known areas to meet new people, apply for new opportunities, ask a little more from your body, be a little more hungry, a little less warm and less fearful.
In this context, another thing so commonly avoided is doing things we don´t know how to do. If you are doing very well something because you have mastered it, congratulations! Now you need to move forward and do things that you have not mastered to keep the learning curve ascending and cultivate a humble mood.
I am sometimes afraid of exposing myself in certain situations where it will be obvious that I am ignorant of something. Nevertheless, I try to force myself into those situations. ThoughI know I chould do it even more!
This post is for you and for me, to remind us that discomfort is growth, the unknown is opportunity, power is in our freedom and passion is a must to engage in life facing storms, sun, wind, day and night with a radiant smile and a curious gaze.
* I include here an image of how different levels of stress create different effects in performance. Note that our performance improves with the right level of stress and decreases when too much or too little stress. Self-care is most probably about being in the right side of the hill!