The boundaries between ‘self care’ and ‘self obsession’ are always at risk of becoming more and more blurred, as we continue to wade through what is reportedly the ‘age of narcissism’; a period of time in which caring for number one is indeed the number one priority.
Google the word ‘self care’, and almost 55.5 million results appear. However – google the phrase ‘books about’, and what you’ll find is both inevitable yet actually unsurprising: ‘self care’ and ‘self harm’. It seems that if you aren’t loving yourself, you’re loathing yourself, or are at a complicated place in-between the two.
Self Loathing To Self Love
Those who enter deeply into self care practices are most often those who come from a place of self-loathing and self-abandonment. Self-abandonment is evident in instances of under-eating, over-eating, not taking time to exercise, socialise, or sleep enough, but it can also be masked in an outwardly spiritualised need to ‘help others’, ‘be of service’, or ‘put others first’. In an effort to ‘help’ it’s not unusual to feel drained, but if what’s been drained isn’t re-filled, exhaustion and break-downs are just around the corner. We’re not disposable cups, our minds and bodies are meant to be reused over and over again….
So fast forward to moving from self loathing to self love, and it’s easy to slip into self-obsession, especially since the wellness world makes it seem completely normal to spend 95% of your day at the gym, at a juice bar, photographing your food, in a yoga class, or buying more expensive powdered superfoods and athleisure wear online – and the other 5% of your time at work, because who has time for work when we’re perpetually encouraged to ‘Live each moment like it’s your last!’. If that isn’t putting yourself under pressure, I don’t know what is….
So, how do we find balance? How do we make sure self care is relevant and not self obsession or narcissism? How do we make self care useful? It could be about realising
why we’re doing it, before we do it.
Observe why you drink the green juice, guzzle kombucha, buy the over-priced powders or consume kefir? Why do you body-brush, self-massage, obsess over your next gym workout or swap an evening on the sofa for an evening on the Yoga mat? Mostly – probably – because you’re a better person when you do do those things, ands you’re a bit of a nightmare when you don’t. Because – probably – people around you benefit when you do those things, and they suffer when you don’t. They benefit from your kindness because you were kind to yourself first, they benefit from your respect because you respect yourself, and they benefit from your time and care, because you took the time to care for yourself first. As long as we don’t make it obsessive, looking after yourself well really is the key to looking after everything and everyone around you successfully. But. It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. And how you use it.
Journey To The Self
Thinking about yourself isn’t something restricted to millennials; the Bhagavad Gita tells us: “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self” so you kind of do have to care about yourself a bit in order to start that journey. The issue is – and what a lot of
articles are pointing out at the moment – is that it’s easy to get stuck in yourself. It’s easy to lose the return ticket and spend years retreating inward, making huge personal leaps and bounds, whilst the world around you is increasingly backwards, or to retreat inwards and find that spirituality, wellness, or indeed Yoga are just the crutch you’ve been looking for to help you hobble through obsessive eating or exercise habits. Maybe things on the outside are just too hard to face up to, and so it’s much more pleasant to spend a while in the depths of me me me, than it is to care about poverty, nuclear war or deforestation.
Whilst the Bhagavad Gita told us to journey to the self however, the text was directly focussed upon dharma (duty or purpose), karma (action), and selfless service. We’re not just supposed to sit there Om-ing and smelling like patchouli and reading these books; they’re supposed to inspire us to go out there and do something with all of this new-found knowledge, wisdom, kindness, compassion and insight. Eastern cultures are inherently more concerned than we are with community, sharing, and doing something for the good of others, so as well as Yoga and meditation, we could learn this aspect from the East too. Indeed, self care could be the key to a kinder world, if we take the energy we get from doing these self care practices, and use it to make a positive contribution to the world around us. It could be just that simple, and it could help prevent more criticism of Yoga, healthy eating, and looking after yourself. If you practice Yoga, you then become a representative to what Yoga ‘is’ to those who know you.
Take Me To Church
Guidance for young people is scarce these days; everyone is encouraged to ‘think for yourself’, ‘make something of yourself’, ‘be an entrepreneur’, and ‘follow your dreams’, but how do you do that with a worrying economy and house prices that are wildly unaffordable for young people – especially those that did follow their dreams?! Religion is wholly complicated now, too, and followers are declining. Just 22% of Americans go to church weekly, and only 10% of us in the UK attend a weekly service. Of course, all the answers to life’s questions aren’t necessarily found in religion, and arguably religious people have caused more trouble than intended – but religion is where many young people used to get their guidance from. What now? Who do we look to? The Google God. The internet of course, and to Yoga teachers, who have somehow managed to cultivate a platform from which to speak something somewhat meaningful to a room full of people in an often vulnerable position – sometimes literally. With great power comes great responsibility – what do those who are most listened to have to say? Something meaningful? Something important? Something that matters? I hope so, because the world is listening, it needs guidance, it needs someone with energy, and it needs someone with a map (or a reliable sat nav)….
The self-care part….
As we approach Autumn, the qualities of the season begin to take their toll on us physically, mentally and emotionally. According to Ayurveda, the qualities of Autumn are rough, dry, changeable, cold, brittle and light, and as we are indeed a part of nature, we often feel these effects too, in little or large amounts.
Like effects like | Opposite brings balance
Traditionally, Ayurvedic practices look to balance our internal environment with the external world. If the weather is hot, practices are put in place to cool down, but our internal environment can also go off-balance too, and when they do, it’s important to recognise how to come back into balance again. Ancient self care practices are usually entirely necessary to living well throughout the changes in each season and within ourselves. If we feel down, how do we raise ourselves up? If we feel irritated, how do we soothe it so we don’t take it out on a loved one? If we feel cold and vulnerable – as is common in Autumn and Winter – how do we regain strength, inner warmth and vitality so we can get on with doing what we need to do? Ayurveda has many of the answers, and here’s five ways to start preparing to bring ourselves back into balance if Autuumn begins to shake us:
- Start consuming warmer, cooked foods: Raw salads can be difficult to digest, so opt for soups, dahl, broths and stews. Any vegetable lightly cooked will still give huge health benefits, with the added bonus of preventing bloating and gas from indigestion.
- Self Massage, Daily: Spending just a few minutes each day nourishing the outside layers of the body can go a very long way to nourishing the insides. Your skin is your biggest organ, and it’s closely linked to the digestive process, the ability for the body to eliminate toxins, and the ability to absorb valuable nutrients from sunlight and fresh air. (Granted, there isn’t a whole lot of ‘fresh’ air about for most of us….) Known as abhyanga, this process can also help reduce stiff and aching joints, improve suppleness, and encourage healthy circulation. Another wonderful way to incorporate massage into your day is to massage the head and feet before bed; the feet help us walk around all day and need nourishment, and the head is so often full of tension and worries, that it needs the calming sensations of massage in order to calm down before sleep. The best oils for Autumn are sesame or almond, as they have ‘warming’ and nourishing qualities. Coconut oil is too cooling for this time of year, and shop-bought creams often contain artificial ingredients and damaging chemicals. What goes on the skin, goes in the skin.
- Spice it up: Cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, cumin, and cardamom are all fantastic for digestion, which can often go a little awry at this time of year. Eating a small amount of fresh ginger with fresh lime juice can boost agni or ‘digestive fire’ before a meal, improving digestion and enkindling a healthy appetite.
- Surround yourself with loved ones: Ayurveda advises adding more sweet and sour tastes to foods during autumn, but the qualities of sweetness are also important to add into every-day life now too. Spend quality time with people you feel comfortable with, and make sure you’re getting enough physical contact – hugs, hand holding, etc etc, with loved ones in order to feel nourished and to nourish them.
- Choose Your Colours Carefully: Cold colours include blue, grey, black, and pale greens, so choose warmer colours to dress in and decorate your home with instead. You’ll notice these ‘warm’ colours are all around us during Autumn anyway – red, orange, mustard yellow, emerald and gold are all wonderful for wrapping up in and encouraging groundedness, stability and cosiness.