September 4, 2018
The Core Value of Self Care
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Part IV: Self Care
Self-Compassion, Healing, Rest, Tenderness, Kindness, Empathy, Nourishment
It’s time for a self care revolution. We have a collective wound to heal. It’s a wound made silent by our culture, the media, and our misinterpretations of success. We’ve been told that self care is a privilege, selfish, shameful, indulgent, inappropriate, expensive, luxurious, or otherwise lazy. We’ve convinced ourselves that we “have to” keep pushing until we are utterly exhausted, that we “should” keep moving through life at breakneck pace, or else we’ll fall behind, be forgotten, and never achieve our dreams. I practice, write about, and explore the value of self care for myself as much as anyone else because I too fall into this trap time and time again. And I know I am not alone. It’s not sustainable. It’s not healthy. It’s not the legacy we want to leave.
Let’s clear something up first: self care does not need to cost you a penny. Self care might look like an afternoon bubblebath or setting boundaries. Self care might be adding 30 minutes of sleep to your life. Self care might look like doing (gasp!) ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! On purpose! Can you imagine? Maria Baratta, Ph.D. says, “self care is taking mindful time to pay attention to you, not in a narcissistic way, but in a way that ensures that you are being cared for by you.”
There was a woman who took her dogs on an afternoon walk. One day an older dog joined the group, walked home with them, and jumped on her couch for a long nap. When the dog woke up, he simply existed through the doggie door. Returning again the next day, the woman pinned a note on the dog’s collar which read, “I wanted you to know that your dog is safely napping at my home each afternoon. He is kind and well-behaved. He is welcome anytime.” The next day the dog re-appeared with a new note which said, “Thank you so much. He is an old dog living in a loud home with small children. Can I come with him tomorrow?”
When I tell this story, everyone laughs. Not because it’s funny but because there is a collective understanding, a moment of release, in which everyone’s laughter says, “I get it. I’m tired too.” We are not alone in our need for self care. There’s a reason airlines tell you to place your oxygen mask on first before assisting another. We cannot continue caring for others effectively, passionately, and wisely without first caring for ourselves.
Acts of self care will feel uncomfortable, scary, and counterintuitive at first. And that’s ok! Like a new muscle being stretched and strengthened, you are experimenting with a new way of being in the world – a new way of relating to your family dynamic, workplace, or circle of friends. Pay close attention to your inner dialogue. You may bump up against an inner voice that whispers, “any act of self care is selfish.” Remind yourself, you are just as worthy of love, care, attention, and affection as anyone else.
Starting a practice of self care does not mean putting yourself first while placing others at risk – that would be selfish. It does however mean being honest with your energy, time, health, and mental-emotional state. With that in mind, self care often looks like saying no to tasks, events, and obligations that are not in alignment with your longterm health and well-being. I appreciate the reminder: “No” is a very, very complete sentence.
When you prioritize self care you make choices consciously rather than out of habit. Choices made with your health, longevity, and happiness in mind will move you away from resentment, move you closer to love, and keep you interested and positively engaged in the relationships that compose your life.
Radical Self Care
In the U.S. we can trace the emergence of self care back to the 60’s where it was taken on as a political act. Aisha Harris explains that as the women’s movement and civil rights movement progressed, self care was a way for marginalized groups to reclaim their health and autonomy in the face of a medical system that did not properly attend to their needs. In the late 70’s, as the wellness trend took off, many people became disenchanted with traditional Western medicine and began seeking alternative treatments. This rise coincided with the continuing self care movement until the wellness trend became a luxury, multi-billion dollar industry. While the wellness industry is still, well…an “industry,” self care saw a reclaiming, away from branded content and costly purchases, after 9/11 and again recently in the face of back-to-back police killings across the country. The truth is, the history of self care in our nation runs deep and requires a post all its own but for now I hope you understand that self care originated as an act of self empowerment, a reclaiming of choice, and a refusal to be governed by systems of oppression. To adopt self care as a leading core value possesses the ripe and beautiful potential of declaring radical commitment for the well-being of all people everywhere, not just yourself.
A Light Dose of Science
Imagine the last time a dear friend was having a hard time. Imagine the last time someone you love was in pain and suffering or made a mistake. How did you console them? What did you say? How did you comfort, embrace, or otherwise support them?
Now, imagine the last time you made a mistake, faced a challenge, or confronted a difficulty. How did you respond to yourself? What kinds of things did you say to yourself? Pretty different experiences, right?
Often the way we treat ourselves in a moment of pain is drastically different than how we would treat a friend. For most of us, we would never treat a friend with the same harshness with which we treat ourselves. Learning to treat ourselves as we would treat a dear friend is called self-compassion.
Self care arises from self-compassion. To have compassion for yourself means noticing that you are suffering and offering yourself kindness or understanding in the face of your pain. Self-compassion is often described as a practice of cultivating inner friendliness. It means recognizing what’s arising for you, which might be exhaustion, overwhelm, or stress, and from a place of loving-awareness, taking your next steps with insight and compassion.
Collectively we believe that self-compassion is a weakness. I’ve heard this firsthand from new mothers to C-level execs and employees of Fortune 500 companies. To combat this misunderstanding it’s critical to understand the research. To date there have been over 1,200 clinical studies on self-compassion and the data clearly demonstrates when self-compassion is practiced, negative states decrease and specific signs of strength, such as resiliency, increase. So, rather than being a weakness, we can now say with complete confidence that self-compassion actually leads to stronger, healthier living.
These studies show that people who practice self compassion are actually more likely to take bigger risks, not less. They are more likely to aim for higher goals and put themselves out there because they know that if they fail or do not succeed, they have a safe space inside of themselves to turn to. When you get caught in a negative thought loop your fight/flight/freeze response gets triggered activating your body’s defense system, releasing adrenaline and cortisol, the body’s stress hormones. When you refuse to attend to your self care needs and criticize yourself for having needs – your body takes it as an attack, leaving you feeling unsafe, with lowered immunity, and decreased resources to face the task at hand. People who practice self-compassion have less fear of failure, are more likely to try again if they do fail, have healthier behaviors like diet and exercise, possess greater motivation to learn and grow, have greater resiliency, are more conscientious, and possess greater empathy for others.
In these moments, you can return to the practice of Praktipaksha Bhavana which was introduced in Part II: The Core Value of Growth. Hopefully you’re beginning to see how every core value, and the skills you are practicing weekly, build upon each other for increased resiliency, clarity, well-being, and a life well-lived. The poet Valerie Burton writes:
If strong means taking care of everyone else to the detriment of yourself,
if strong means pretending everything is okay when clearly you’re hurting,
if strong means keeping it moving after you’ve suffered disappointment,
then, strong becomes weak.
Strong is good, resilience is better. But resilience can sometimes look messy.
It may look as if you’re down for the count,
but as long as you eventually get up you’re resilient.
You have permission then to be human.
To grieve, rest, cry, and feel what you feel.
Learning to face your fears by being vulnerable is the first step.
A Brighter Future
Arianna Huffington said, “burnout is the disease of our civilization.” With this comment she points out that our lack of personal sustainability is a reflection of our lack of planetary sustainability. If we cannot rise up to take care of ourselves, we will not rise up to take care of our planet. Once we learn how to compassionately, effectively, and consistently care for ourselves we will learn a new way of being in the world and we will learn new ways of using the resources our world provides.
Self care is preventive medicine for yourself and our shared future. Too often we wait until illness strikes, sickness arises, or fatigue brings us to our knees. We are so afraid to take our foot off the gas of our lives, as if the world would stop spinning, and in the race we lose ourselves, our spiritual connection, our most precious relationships, and our health.
I once asked a group of students, “what does mindfulness mean to you?” A retired student, new to meditation, raised his hand and said, “mindfulness means to be conscious.” I asked him to elaborate. He said, “I spent so much of my life unconscious that I missed it.” Do not miss your life. Do not miss the lives of your loved ones. Do not wait. Start your practice in small ways today. It might be a short walk, 5 quiet minutes, or listening to one favorite song. Self care is not a spa day (although for some it might be), alcohol induced memory lapse, or expensive purchases. Self care is medicine, and it costs you nothing, but will grant you everything.
You can follow the outlined practice below or visit Inner Dimension TV and enjoy Day #4 of my program Journey to Yoga for a video of this practice.
Read this invocation as you begin. An invocation sets the tone for your practice and establishes intentionality.
Begin in an easy, cross legged, seated position. Allow your eyes to close and rest your hands on your knees, bringing the thumb and first fingers to touch…Today, you practice implementing the core value of self care. Self care is essential to your experience of connection. As you practice, honor the power of self care as a key component of health and well-being. While it may be easier to care for others, recognize that if you are not taking care of yourself, you are unable to care fully for your loved ones and your community. With this intention in place, promise to use today as medicine, to fill your energetic cup fully, and replenish deeply.
Easy Cross Legged Seated Position/Sukhasana
Side Stretch (hold for 5 breaths)
Twist (hold for 5 breaths)
Switch Cross of Legs and Repeat on the 2nd Side
Cat/Cow (8 rounds)
Child’s Pose (hold for 5 breaths)
Downward Facing Dog (hold for 10 breaths)
Half Sun Salutation A (3 rounds)
Downward Facing Dog
Chair Pose: Inhale to Stand and Release Arms by Sides, Exhale Return to Chair (repeat 3 times)
Warrior II (hold for 5 breaths)
Reverse Warrior: hold top wrist with back hand (hold for 5 breaths)
Reverse Triangle (hold for 5 breaths)
Triangle Pose: Circle Top Arm Forward, Down, & Back (4 times)
Standing Wide Leg Qi Gong Arm Flow: Inhale Prayer/Anjali, Exhale Press Palms Away Along Inner Thighs, Inhale Draw Backs of Palms Up to Heart, Exhale Press Palms Forward, Inhale Arms to Sky, Exhale Prayer/Anjali (repeat cycle 3 times)
Return to Warrior II
Repeat on the 2nd side
Single Pigeon (hold for 10-15 breaths)
Janu Sirsasana (hold for 10-15 breaths)
Double Pigeon (hold for 10-15 breaths)
Repeat on 2nd side
Supported Bridge with Pranayama Viloma 1
Knees to Chest/Apanasana (hold for 5 breaths)
You can read through the meditation instructions below or download my FREE audio meditation course, 7 Days of Meditation, and listen to the Day 3 meditation for a guided version.
In this meditation you’ll practice embracing yourself with loving-awareness. Loving-awareness is a form of self care and a form of self-compassion. People who practice self care, have higher rates of resiliency, a greater sense of purpose and wellbeing, and higher immunity. Self-compassion has been clinically proven to be a tremendous strength so although resistance is natural, let your intention be to embrace yourself with this medicinal, loving presence. Begin by closing your eyes or softly resting your gaze.
As you arrive, take a moment to settle and feel into your body. You might notice where your body touches a surface, or, you might feel the sensations in your palms or the soles of your feet.
Begin to bring your awareness to the center of your chest, the space around your heart. You might notice your breath rising and falling in this place. You might notice the subtle or obvious beating of your heart. You may even feel inspired to rest a hand on your heart as you move through this practice, a tender reminder that you are deserving of love and compassion. As you rest your awareness on your heart, internally and silently repeat these 3 phrases for several minutes, knowing that you are deserving of your own tenderness and affection as much as anyone in the world.
I am deserving of love and affection…
I am worthy of compassion and care…
As you come to the end of a cycle of repetition, pause for a moment and return to your breath. As you’re ready, continue repeating the phrases, as if you could invite each one to land in the center of your heart.
I am deserving of love and affection…
I am worthy of compassion and care…
Pause for a moment and notice if there is any resistance…Know that this is a normal part of the practice and hold your resistance with kindness and gentle awareness and simply begin the repetition again when you’re ready…
I am deserving of love and affection…
I am worthy of compassion and care…
As you come to the end of your next cycle of phrases, allow them to fade away. Pause for a moment and sense the effects of the practice. As you enter the day remember the saying, “love is always loving us.” Allow this practice to come with you today and as often as you can, repeat these phrases to yourself throughout the day.
- When you are overwhelmed, stressed-out, or otherwise suffering, what are you most needing? Is it love, space, tenderness, or touch? Take a moment and ask yourself, “what does this vulnerable place inside of me need?”
- Write these self care actions down on index cards. Then, over the next week when you are in need of self care, pause and gift yourself one of your answers from above by choosing one of your cards. Self care takes commitment and an understanding that you are worthy of caring for yourself as much as you care for others.
- Share your most healing, medicinal acts of self care in the comments section of the blog. You might inspire someone or you may be inspired by how others support themselves. This is a great place to share, especially when you could use additional support from our bigger community on the harder days.
- Continue repeating your affirmation from Part I: Intention. Continue reviewing your goals from Part II: Growth and practice implementing them daily.
Teach me how to trust my heart, my mind, my intuition,
my inner knowing, the sense of my body, the blessings of my spirit.
Teach me to trust these things so that I may enter
my Sacred Space and love beyond my fear
and thus walk in balance with the passing of each glorious sun.