“Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
“Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” – Rumi
Self-care is the latest buzz word, especially in the health and wellness industry. It is being used to not only sell products, but to seduce people into hopping on the latest workout, fad diet, or cleanse all in the name of “self care”. But what does it really mean? The media and some so-called experts lump in everything from taking a spa day, to food combining, to reading daily affirmations and meditating. While self care may involve some of these things, any of these in and of themselves is not really it.
The concept also seems to be exclusively marketed towards women. A minute Google search and brief perusal of Facebook gave me “The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care”; “Self Care Girl”; “Self Care Tips; and “Self Care School”, all crafted in such a way to draw the feminine eye. Why is this? Do men not need self care? Are women more prone to burnout and driving themselves to over commitment, that they need to be reminded to practice self care? I think not. Men need to retreat and re-tune as much as women. They work as hard as women, and sad to say, often have less of a support network than we do; so, the burdens they carry often evolve to issues of the tissues: cancers, digestive disorders, depression, and weight gain. If we are truly touting self care, let’s not just target only one part of the human genome.
What self care is NOT:
Too many women and men do violence to themselves by confusing self care with maintenance or re-calibration. Maintenance are the steps we take to sustain life and health; re-calibration are the steps we take to reach a particular goal or ingrain a healthy habit. One is a daily set of steps, the other is a focused and deliberate reset of our normal routine.
Neither of these things can be considered self care.
Maintenance is NOT self care.
I will say it again, Maintenance is not self care. If we don’t want to be mistaken as homeless, we shower or bathe, brush our teeth, and wash our hair. We eat food to sustain us, and drink water. These are things we do for maintenance. If the self care buzzword didn’t exist, we’d keep doing them and call them what they are.
Re-calibration is also not self care. The latest diet or cleanse is not self care. Diets and cleanses are created to re-calibrate your metabolism and bodily function. Your exercise routine or a fitness challenge is also not self care. A regular routine falls under daily maintenance, a challenge falls under re-calibration. We do both with a particular goal in mind, and self care should not be goal oriented or a competition.
Self care should not cost you a ton of money, nor should it be an energy suck. If you are practicing true self-care, then your bank (financial and energetic) should be fuller at the end of the day, not empty.
Self care should inform and enhance our maintenance and re-calibration, not mimic them.
What self care IS:
When I think of self-care, I don’t consider a particular activity or program, set of steps, or any gender for that matter. For me, true self care involves participating in acts that Recharge, Replenish, and make you feel Safe.
The self care that I practice rarely involves money, and seeks to conserve energy rather than expend it. It also makes me feel stable and safe. So much of the faddishness of these self-care methods involve unsafe practices and dietary habits. Things that in the long run, are going to destroy your foundation of good bodily function, and good health, rather than build upon it. That is one of the indicators of whether something I am incorporating is self care: in the long run, is it helpful or harmful? I am 51 years old, and statistically, I have more years behind me than ahead of me; planning for the long term is a bit weightier for me than someone in their 20s or 30s. Therefore, self care always encompasses the gain, rather than the loss.
And to tie in the Rumi quote, self care involves self love, and allowing that self love to be embodied in my actions. To me, the concept of “kneel and kiss the ground” is to express love and gratitude for self. Excessive exercise, fad diets, and constant self competition do nothing to express this.
MY SELF CARE:
I spend one day a week attending to my wants, and only a few of my needs. How is this expressed? A number of ways:
I live in Los Angeles, where car travel over long distances and traffic are part of the daily routine. So, I break up that routine by not traveling outside a 10-mile radius of my home. TONS of self care and stress reduction in that alone, because I get to refresh and actually enjoy the community in which I live, rather than traveling along some road or freeway to a community in which I have no connection.
I sleep in, rather than get up at a prescribed time. I am a lifelong insomniac for various reasons: some genetic, others situational. Whenever I have opportunity to go with my natural rhythm (a later sleep pattern), I allow it. The conventional wisdom of sleep specialists is that you keep a consistent sleep and wake schedule, but I have found that my method has been a marvelous way to replenish my lost reserves, and also to feel as though I have ownership of my body, not the alarm clock.
I eat nourishing foods. Notice, I did not say “healthy” foods, because sometimes food that nourishes your body and soul may not necessarily fit into whatever is the current health foods paradigm. I’m not saying overeat or fill your body with junk food—that’s not self-care, that’s self abuse. I’m saying that if my soul is nourished by a bit of chocolate, I have a piece. If white potatoes are what I am craving, then I eat some and am satisfied. Shauna Niequist said it best: “I think preparing food and feeding people brings nourishment not only to our bodies but to our spirits. Feeding people is a way of loving them, in the same way that feeding ourselves is a way of honoring our own createdness and fragility.”
Finally, I spend time with those I love—my three dogs, my husband, and dear friends. There is nothing more refreshing, re-calibrating, or safe than basking in the embrace of people who love you, who help you to know YOU matter, and who allow YOU to love on them.
So, honoring myself: my rhythms, my creative drives, my body, is the highest forms of self care. This is why self care will look different, and be different for each individual.
If your self-care routine doesn’t Refresh, Replenish, or bring Safety, maybe you should reconsider it. I encourage you to find the self-honoring within your self care.
*Jennifer Oliver O’Connell is a senior staff writer and columnist for Communities Digital News, a reinvention coach, and an E-RYT 500 Yoga instructor who facilitates, plans and produces events, lectures, and speaks publicly on Yoga philosophy, careers and reinvention, politics, and social media and culture. She is a senior instructor and programming lead for CorePower Yoga, and runs her own Yoga and retreat enterprises: Fit Phat Yogini and Off the Beaten Path Retreats.
Jennifer has taught at the Yoga Expo—LA, a pop-up Yoga festival featuring instructors from Los Angeles in various Yoga formats, runs workshops on Yin-Yang Yoga, and was featured in the Yoga and Body Image Coalition campaign, “What A Yogi Looks Like”, an effort to challenge stereotypes about who practices yoga, who should practice yoga, and what a “yoga body” looks like.
You can keep up with Jennifer’s peripatetic adventures via her As the Girl Turns website, or via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @fitphatyogini.