Over the years, I’ve settled on a personal mantra that helps me to make sense of the world, to make sense of how I feel about and interact with it. That mantra is this:
“Everything good in life begins with self care and service to others.”
It’s a deceptively simple premise: do good for yourself, do good for others, and good things will happen to you. But our modern lives have a way of complicating these kinds of simple concepts and obscuring from our view what is honestly good for ourselves, and how to serve others in a way that’s enriching. We get mixed messages, about self care in particular, and dealing with them can be very stressful.
A very simple example of this is my allergy to eggs. If I eat any kind of egg or have anything with a little bit of egg in it, I get sinus congestion, hives, stomach pain and inflammation in my joints. Eggs are not good for me.
All around me, however, I am receiving messages that eggs are in fact good for me. Starbucks wants me to eat them in their protein lunch boxes, super trendy “healthy” diets like Whole 30 want me to eat eggs for breakfast every day, and brunch with friends is a minefield of my pals’ testaments to the mighty egg’s power to cure hangovers contrasted by my disappointment in being stuck with the single afterthought of an egg-free item on the menu.
I know what’s good for me. I know what happens when I stray from the egg-free path. I experience actual pain and my mobility decreases. I compromise my health. Self care, in this case, should be simple: don’t eat eggs, ever.
But the flip side is that this choice is not so easy. As a first generation daughter in a family of immigrants, my parents and aunties don’t understand why I can’t just “have one plate.” In our family it’s an act of love to cook for someone, and saying “no” can cut like a knife. I don’t want to hurt people I love. At birthdays I often stand awkwardly on the perimeter while everyone else chows down on fluffy piles of egg-containing birthday cake. In these examples, since food is one way we humans come together, self care comes with the feeling of being left out and being isolated.
Those feelings of being left out and isolated, of being different, are at odds with our nature as human beings. We all want to be loved, included and part of a group, to move in the rhythm of our peer group unimpeded. Social isolation can have devastating effects on a person. And so it comes to be that in certain cases, eating eggs – the very opposite of what I’ve defined as self care – becomes an expression of self care as well.
If one form of self care (not eating eggs) infringes on another form of self care (a deeply-rooted need for approval) then how do I choose which path to take?
When do I eat the cake, and when do I say, “no thank you?”
These days, I’ve created strategies for lovingly letting people know that I would love to eat their food, but I just can’t. I’ve even found ways to gently steer my egg-loving friends to restaurants with tofu scrambles on the menu in a way that doesn’t feel oppressive.
Creating those strategies took a lot of trial and error, though, and I wasn’t always capable of making decisions that served my overall good. Sometimes I would just eat the eggs, to fit in, to feel loved, to be kind to others. And focusing in on this one small area of how to take care of my needs without disrupting others’ needs has had a ripple effect into other areas of my life. Bigger stuff, emotional stuff, has benefitted from figuring out “the egg conundrum.”
As in most things that require us to become very familiar with who we are inside, the concept of practice becomes essential. We must practice self care because we are never perfect, we are always aiming at a moving target. We must practice being gentle with ourselves and agile in avoiding the guilt of external reprimands. It takes time to know ourselves in these situations, and it takes practice, practice, practice to make decisions in which we’re confident among all of the winds and tides and cosmic forces at work, shaping our hectic lives.
When you’re in your yoga practice, working on keeping your body flexible, you are always free to give some space in your thoughts to keeping your mind flexible as well. When you’re ready, when it feels like self care to do so.
Taking care of ourselves is not selfish; it has a radiance to it that takes hold not only in other areas of your life, but in the lives of those you touch. It can be one of your gifts to yourself, and your community.
On Saturday, November 4th, Hustle and Flow is hosting a workshop with Jamie Colpoys, “Break it Down: Turn it Up.” In this 90 minute workshop you will have the opportunity to focus back in on your own form and postures, dive deeply into how to isolate muscles and engage your core, and identify areas that you’d like to shift for more comfortable movement. This amazing opportunity for intensely-focused self care will end in a 45 minute class with Jamie to apply what you’ve just learned. Sign up or find out more here.