In the two previous installments of this series, I wrote about mindfulness as an in-the-moment practice. But for this mama, one essential aspect of mindfulness has more to do with laying the groundwork for long-term balance and happiness than with peace in the present moment. That practice is self-care.
Self-care is a deep, beautiful and multi-faceted subject. In order to function wholly and optimally, we are called to care for ourselves on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual planes. Fortunately for us mamas, who are usually strapped for time to care for ourselves, many practices, such as yoga, can address many if not all planes at once. But a mama doesn't live by yoga alone. She must also drink her green smoothies, and then brush her teeth.
I do not intent today to tell you why you need to make self-care a priority, as I'm sure you already know. I also will not extol the virtues of sleep and whole, vibrant foods and dancing, because you already know that, too. Indeed, when it comes to caring for ourselves, most of the time, we already know what to do. Our self-care routines tend to lack not because we don't know what to do but because either we lack in commitment, or we're just too worn out to bother.
Here's where mindfulness steps in, and gently but firmly steers me in the way I should go. Say it's 8:30pm. I am spent from a day with the little one, and making dinner, and all of that. Now he is in bed, and it's my time. Yay! I get to lay on the couch and scroll through blogs or play Drop-7 or watch Gossip Girl (don't judge) because honestly, I'm too tired to get involved in anything else. While any and all of these activities are worthy and have their place, mindfulness will sweetly point out that none of them really contribute to my long-term health and well-being. I will not be a better mama tomorrow for having looked at dining room makeovers, and I won't be so glad in the morning that I've kept up with the shenanigans of Serena and Blair. Here mindfulness nudges me off the couch and into the bedroom, where I will take a shower, maybe even indulge in a homemade body scrub, I will brush AND floss my teeth, and roll out my mat and spent 5, 10, 30 minutes doing yin or restorative yoga.
I wrote before that I often feel too tired to even roll around on the floor. But the energy I need isn't the energy to do restorative or yin yoga: what I need is the energy to get off the couch and choose to do something nourishing for myself. Here's where habit helps. I sit for mediation practice most mornings, if I'm granted the necessary nap, because I have built up the habit over time. It's what I do, so I don't have to think about it, just like I don't have to think about reaching for the coffee when I stumble into the kitchen in the morning. So often, mindfulness is about remembering what we already know, and acting upon that knowledge. It's about making commitments to the practices we know will nourish and support us, and letting those commitments grow into habits that we no longer need to think about, until self-care--whatever that means for us--becomes what we do.
In no particular order, here's a list of my self-care practices:
-deep, mindful breathing & pranayama
-sitting meditation practice
-tending to my body: showering, washing my face, brushing & flossing teeth
-exercising: walking, running, lifting weights
-writing in my journal
-cranking up the music, singing and dancing
-giving myself a break
-saying yes to whole, vibrant foods: smoothies & salads!
This is what self-care looks like for me at this time. Some of these items are aspirational (my dentist would tell you my dental hygiene practice needs sprucing up!), but most of them are well-established. These are the practices I know will take me where I need to go; they are what I forget, remember, and return to over and over again.
Before I go, I want to leave you with a few of my favorite resources for developing, supporting, or augmenting your self-care routines:
I knew I was going to be writing about this topic today, which is why I was extra excited about this very well-timed arrival this weekend: my copy of The Way of the Happy Woman arrived on Saturday, and I've had my nose stuck in it ever since. This, my friends, is an excellent resource for building and expanding a regime of self-care through the cycles and seasons of our lives. I highly, highly recommend that you check it out. This is not a "you're doing it wrong! fox your life" kind of preachy tome; instead, it encourages you to incorporate meditation, yoga, nutrition and other supportive practices into your life in ways that resonate with you, to move slowly, to be kind to yourself. We could all use a bit more of that. Sara Avant Stover has many more wonderful offerings on her website.
I've also recently discovered the work of Lisa Byrne of WellGrounded Life and have found great benefit in it. She is specifically focused on the needs of mothers, which is a great relief. So often I get discouraged reading advice on nutrition, exercise, etc because it doesn't take into account the very real challenges of building those habits around the care of a toddler. (Set my alarm a half-hour earlier? When my alarm wakes up crying at 5am and has no snooze button? Get real.) I feel that Lisa gets me, and knows what I'm dealing with on a daily basis.
Lastly, I would be remiss no to mention the lovely Renee Trudeau, author of The Mother's Guide to Self-Renewal. I have the privilege of knowing Renee a little bit as a yoga student, and let me tell you that this woman is the real deal. I think we mothers owe a lot to her for making self-care such a big part of the conversation these days. Please check her out!
Don't go without leaving a comment on your own self-care practices! Where do you turn for support and nourishment? What are you inspired to make part of your daily routine? Is there a change you know you need to make, but don't know where to start? Do share!