of Self Care
If you were to ask yourself what it is you really need and what it is you really want, how would you answer? How do we start living into those questions rather than getting lost in the sea of healthy lifestyle suggestions? What would actually make a difference in your life and how do you start to activate the healing practices of yoga and ayurveda, rather than just getting jazzed about the idea and then getting stuck in your own habits all over again? What's true and what's promotional crap? The Art of Self Care is an 11 week online course that will help demystify what it is yoga and ayurveda are actually doing in ways that make sense for ordinary modern human beings. The heart of the course is going to be personal realities and biofeedback - as in how are you really doing, right now?
Tell me if this doesn't sound familiar. Something in a yoga practice calls to us. This is true. This is true even if you've only flirted with the idea, looked at the pictures, seen a kind of poise in the images of contemplative life. You're reading this, aren't you? This is also true if you've practiced for years, gone to a handful of workshops, gotten certified as something or other. There remains a hunger. A kind of call. There is something that hasn't quite been answered, yet.
Something in it feels magical. Once you give it a shot, changes happen. Our body, itself, gets a different texture. Our mind, shifts, once in a while. We tap strength we didn't know we had. We start having hope we didn't know we had. Courage. Grins. Our energy levels shift. Our low back pain eases up. We're thrilled with the beautiful postures and beautiful feelings a practice gives us.
And then, something happens. We hit a plateau. The motivation flags. Or we get hurt. Or, like me, a chronic illness recurs. We fall out of love with our teacher. We want, so desperately want, to find a teacher who can really help us. We start to realize that most of the yoga world is hype, and we feel betrayed.
Sometimes, people quit.
But sometimes, this is the point at which we begin.
Lost isn't Loss
We can find our way out of lostness. We need a practice of honest to god self care.
We need to finally understand ahimsa (non-harming) and satya (truthfulness) not as pretty ideas or dumb platitudes but as something recklessly personal. Self care is where vitality comes from. Self care is scary, disarming and chaotic. Self care is devastatingly beautiful.
To take our practice to this depth means we need to break all the rules and put yoga back together again. Ourselves, back together.
Practice showed us, once, quietly, a swung open door of possibility. In the zen tradition, it's sometimes called the ten thousand things.
Practice gave us ten thousand things to love. Without a deeper practice, we'll get lost, in them.
Stay with me.
Self care isn't a plan. It isn't a goal. Self care is a very open question. The kind of thing you have to touch with your own hands, just in case.
There are two issues at play here. They are interrelated. The first is our own tendency toward self-sabotage and the brain's inclination toward negativity. We, ourselves, buy into the better, faster, more, deeper mentality. We, ourselves, slip into believing we should be skinnier, stronger, better somehow. We get stuck in petty and unhealthy habits, swaying from disconnect to obsession. We still throw enormous energy into getting the right stuff, working harder, desperately trying to hold it all together and maintain control. We still, after all these years, tend to be very hard on ourselves, indeed.
The second is a failure in the way yoga is being taught, credentialed, and sold, which is a direct child of our cultural tendencies toward consumption, mass marketing, endless judgement and disparagement of the individual and preference toward the superficial, the 'sexy', the 'productive', 'success', and the best.
The endless ways we harm ourselves marry the relentless pressures from outside. We end up battered. Yoga, which offered such sanctuary and sweetness, ends up being just one more fad, one more ideal we can't live up to, or one more thing we give up on. Most yoga teachers have good hearts, but not enough information. They are pushed to perform, to give students what they want. They end up speaking in platitudes, teaching poses students aren't ready to do safely, making allusions to happiness and personal power and core strength and weight loss. Yoga teachers, classes, and studios are stuck in the paradigm as much as students are.
This isn't a bad thing. Stay with me.
This realization - even though it's experienced as self-loathing, frustration, or loss - is a key moment of honest practice. It throws open a door. What we need are tools - not theories, not a philosophy, not a new fad, but a real honest tool you can lay your hands on and directly apply to your circumstances in the moment - so we don't turn away but go more deeply in. We need something realistic. We need something honest. We need to take steps toward honest to god healing and self care. We need to stop measuring our practice and ourselves by how deeply we can go into a pose or 30 day challenges, and begin from something more tangible. The key reference point in both Yoga and Ayurveda is self. The practice is the self. The laboratory we work in is the self. So we'll start from that, and measure our questions and actions with one simple question throughout the course: how do you feel when you wake up in the morning?
We have to realize, sooner or later, that there is something in 'the practice' that is not the practice. We've heard this from the beginning; all that 'the poses don't really matter', stuff. It becomes more obvious over time: the practice is NOT a certain brand of mat. It isn't the wisdom of a certain teacher. Healing isn't going to come from a holier than thou vegetarianism or finally figuring out the right combinations of food. It isn't exactly the amount of time you spend practicing each week or the thoughts or break thoughs you have. It is something less purchasable, less easy, and less concrete. But it is none the less real.
The heart of the practice was and is that original and more primal thing, the one we hit on a long time ago and have been lonely for for a very long time, now. The revelation, aspect. The hope. This is teachable, absolutely personal, and directly related to the quality of our lives.
The practice of yoga is the practice of your own heart.
The Art of Self Care, The habit of self-sabotage.
I'm often suspicious of the words self care and self love. They tend to be shadowy and insubstantial. Good ideas, sure. But so shallow and smarmy they don't really work.
Self love and taking care of ourselves can so easily lead us down paths of doing things that feel good in the moment. And that ties us up into avoidance of the real issues, procrastinating the work we have to do, eating a chocolate bar or taking a nap. It feeds and bolsters the ego, which ends up making us feel more alone. We end up feeling worse, not better.
That's the problem, isn't it? We feel broken, alone, or fat or anxious or stunted. But the way we deal with these feelings only wounds us, again. We know that we're supposed to love ourselves. We know that honesty has to come, sometime. But that's a hard thing, when you hate yourself so much.
We want, so very much, to call ourselves on our own shit. We want to be better people. We want to feel more alive, less burned out, comfortable in our own skin.
Self love isn't what we've been taught.
I don't think it comes from self esteem, readiness, or a decision. I think we often learn self care not because we want to but because we see our children, studying us. Or because someone so needs help that we step out of ourselves. There are times we learn the truth of self care when the need (of the work, of the child, of the diagnosis) is so vital we're finally ready to do something, differently.
I think self love is a thing born of urgency, tenderness, and fear. I think this is okay.
Self care is a question of who we are. How we are. Its an exploration into the ways we stand in our own way, what we crave, how we push, and what we feel.
This is where it gets real. At some point, you have to admit that simply doing more yoga isn't going to remove the stress from your life. A yoga class isn't enough, just like taking a Xanax isn't enough. Not really. Endlessly getting taken up by the latest superfood, protein substitute, or supplement does very little to help find a diet and lifestyle that work for you, realistically and personally. The burdens of chronic stress, poor diet, overwork and relentless social pressure are toxic.
We need a way to move away from the top ten lists, the self help books, the daunting and endless recommendations for 'health', 'diet', and 'exercise', and into our own lives. We need practices to bridge the gap between what we say we want and how we are. We need to bridge yoga philosophy and our dailiness. We need to let the practice center our lives and become the center of our lives, rather than being something we 'do'.
I think self love is an art. Art isn't what we thought it was, either. It's not some masterpiece, framed in the museum. Nor is it Shakespeare or the great american novel. Art is the urge that drives children to make messes with their hands. Art is the sensitivity that stops us dumb in front of a landscape. Art is hard in the conception and ruthless in the work and art is never really finished.
Art is that thing that when lived, when breathed, makes the whole of our being a bloody harmony. This can change the way you feel when you wake up in the morning.
A study came out recently. It had two notable findings. The first was that contemplative body mind practices do what we've been told they do: they make us more healthy, feel more connected to ourselves, our purpose, and other human beings. They reduce the suffering and often the symptoms of illness. They literally change our mind and in changing our mind, give us a whole different life. In having a different life, contemplative practice makes our very own selves agents of changing society toward a more equitable, safe, artistic and beautiful thing.
The second was this: commercial, workout based yoga doesn't do any of this.
It's wholly become the part of practice that is not the practice. (Caveat: I think the popularity of yoga means that more people will have access to it, will accidentally come across it, or will end up trying it somewhere or other. I think that initial exposure, even if it IS an attempt to lose 20 pounds fast or fix ourselves or simply do what all the celebrities and professional athletes are doing, is a doorway to deeper practice. I think that is good.)
Yoga has been mass marketed and sold to the highest bidders (the most privileged), making it one more aspect of inequity in an already unfair world. It's lost it's truths in pandering to what we want, rather than what is real. It's become no different than bulimia, private clubs, self-indulgence, fashion magazines, and fix your life in 15 days hoaxes.
On top of this, yoga injuries are becoming common.
I urge you, personally, to ask yourself what you're doing. And to turn some critical thought toward yoga culture in general. Not because I'm angry or it's fake or the whole thing needs to be tossed, but because there is something real here. It's our work now to figure that part, out.
We know this: there is something to this. We've been touched.
In order for that to stay in any way relevant, personal, and meaningful, we need to go deeper. Into self love. Which isn't hard, but isn't easy, either.
I call it The Art of Self Care. You'll look at non-harming and honesty, breath work, meditation, rest, nourishment, daily lifestyle. This is a kind of honesty about self-esteem, and the process of change. You'll understand what you've been taught, and that you can learn new things. I hope it will touch your heart.