Tips for taking care of you
Yogi and mindfulness expert, Chrissy Carter, shares her tips on self care infused with wisdom rooted in her extensive studies of Iyengar yoga
Motherhood is forcing me to take care of myself in a big way. These first six months with my baby girl have been a crash course in self-care. What I’ve learned is: I can’t expect to show up wholeheartedly for my daughter, my family, or my work if I first don’t show up for myself.
Self-care is a practice. It’s not about enjoying long, luxurious bubble baths, or sitting to meditate for twenty minutes every day, or savoring an actual hot cup of coffee. Taking care of ourselves is about the boundaries we create around our time and energy. Self-care is found in the daily, moment-to-moment choices we make about what’s important.
While I definitely do not have it all figured out, I’ve implemented some simple practices that have had a huge impact on my wellbeing. As a longtime student and teacher of yoga, many of my self-care tools are inspired by yoga philosophy. It’s funny—I’ve never practiced yoga less, but I’ve never used my practice more. I hope these tools help you take care of YOU.
IDENTIFY YOUR WHY
Why do you want to take care of yourself? My why is two-fold. I want to feel good about myself, for myself. But I also want to set an example for my daughter—to show her what it looks like to take care of yourself, but really, to love yourself.
Finding your why and circling back to it regularly will help you refocus your priorities when the going gets tough. The truth is there will always be a million legitimate reasons why you don’t have the time or the energy to take care of yourself. Knowing your why will keep you anchored in yourself when life pulls you in a million different directions. If it’s helpful, write down your why and put it someplace where you’ll see it throughout your day.
Satya, or truthfulness, is a pillar of yoga philosophy. In the context of self-care, the practice of satya is about stripping away the story you tell yourself about what you should be doing and embracing what works for you. After all, you can’t align your actions with your needs if you’re not being honest with yourself about what your needs really are.
For example, all I want to do at the end of a long day is collapse on the couch with a glass of wine and watch a little mindless television. Let me be clear: some days this is exactly what I need. But if I’m being honest with myself, it doesn’t always address my deeper need to rest. Putting my legs up the wall, reading a book, or practicing restorative yoga is sometimes the smarter choice. The practice of truthfulness helps me discern between habit and mindful action.
Satya will help you manage unrealistic expectations and stay true to yourself. Practicing truthfulness will remind you of your why and keep you on track by empowering you to make smart choices
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, concentration, or dharana, is defined as the binding of the mind to one thing. Simply put: pay attention. While the pressure to do it all, all the time, may seem like the answer to our busy schedules and endless to-do lists, it comes at a cost. The truth is, when we splice our attention, we diminish the quality of our experience. Despite the short-term sense of accomplishment, we’re ultimately left feeling unsatisfied. When I try to sip my coffee, take care of my daughter, answer emails, and clean my kitchen all at the same time, I’m not able to show up fully for any of it.
Real, lasting contentment can only be found when we connect with what we’re doing. Put this mantra on repeat: One thing at a time. Be with what you’re doing. Be with who you’re with. If I choose to spend time with my baby, I try to give her my full attention.
Choose where you want to devote your attention and then show up fully for that priority.
When we spiral into negative thinking, or waste precious energy worrying about things we can’t control, it can feel impossible to recover, redirect, and move on. Pratipaksha bhavanam is the practice of replacing negative thoughts with positive action. It’s an effective tool for K-turning out of a mental dead end. It’s not about magical thinking, or pretending to feel positive when you don’t, but rather shifting your focus to more productive thoughts or actions. For example, taking a walk gives me the mental space I need when I’m in active overwhelm. A little fresh air, a change of scenery, a little exercise—it helps me shift gears. I’m able to return to my day with a different perspective. Pratipaksha bhavanam allows us to revisit difficult thoughts and situations with an open mind.
Letting go feels less like a practice and more like the constant reality of motherhood. Balls will be dropped. But surrender is not defeat. Letting go is a powerful self-care tool that acknowledges our intrinsic worth—that we are not defined by results, or by the number of boxes we check off our to-do list. Admittedly, this has been a tough one for me. I’ve had to accept the obvious truth that I simply cannot do it all. As hard as it is for me to leave things undone, I’ve found comfort in embracing the big picture and remembering what’s most important to me.
We absolutely cannot do it all by ourselves. I repeat: We cannot do it alone. It’s important to reach out, not just for help with logistics, but to be reminded of your worth and your why. When we’re exhausted and overwhelmed, it’s easy to forget about ourselves. I reach out to my close friends whenever I find myself knee deep in self-doubt. No matter how much I’m struggling, I always feel a little clearer and more hopeful when I hang up the phone.
Lean on your inner circle and let them show up for you. They will remind you of who you are and what you’re capable of.
ELEVATE YOUR SPIRIT
The philosophy of yoga offers many different tools for connecting with ourselves, but ultimately suggests we work with whatever elevates our spirit. You can elevate your everyday life by incorporating the simplest rituals into your routine. Put on your favorite music while you clean; light a candle to start or end your day; add a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil to your shower; or spray your pillow with a little lavender essential oil before bed. Small things can make a big difference in your mood, attitude, and spirit.
This is a big one, and arguably one of the most challenging self-care tools to put into practice. We are so hard on ourselves. Forgiving ourselves—for dropping balls; for not having it all together; for not being perfect—is a cornerstone of wellbeing. Here’s the truth we all know deep down but need to be reminded of daily: there is no such thing as perfect. You’re doing the best you can. You are enough. Forgive yourself and embrace the amazing mother you are. I try to remember the example I want to set for my daughter. When I’m drowning in negative self-talk, I ask myself: Is this how I would want my daughter to talk to herself? I try to remember that embodying self-love is maybe the biggest gift I could give her.
SIEZE THE MOMENT
One of the biggest paradigm shifts I’ve noticed as a new mom is my relationship to time. Gone are the large blocks of time I can fill however I please. Now it’s all about seizing the moment. I may not be able to get to a yoga class or squeeze in a workout as often as I’d like, but I can make the most of the time I do have. For example: I take five minute cardio breaks from writing; I climb all the stairs on my commute instead of riding the elevator while looking mindlessly at my phone; and I practice seated poses or core work when I’m on the floor playing with my daughter. If you add up all the little moments in your day, you have something big.
Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Bringing your mind to your breath focuses the mind and connects you to the present moment. In fact, breath awareness is a major component of meditation. Try it now. Direct your attention to your breath. See if you can maintain that connection for ten cycles of breath. When your mind wanders off (and it will), simply bring your attention back to your inhalation and your exhalation. You can drop into your breath wherever you are, whenever you need a moment to connect. I tap into my breath when I feel myself getting sucked into reactivity. Before I jump to conclusions, snap at my beloved, or assume the worst, I try (not always successfully) to pause and breathe. That old adage of counting to ten works! Ten breaths and I’m more likely to respond skillfully instead of react mindlessly.
I invite you to see self-care as a daily practice, not a perfect balance you have to master. Some days are easier than others. There are so many different ways to take care of yourself, but ultimately it’s about finding a practice that works for you.
By Chrissy Carter, Yoga Educator & Mindfulness Expert
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