When I hear the words “self harming” I think of teenage girls cutting themselves or monks and religious fanatics practicing castigation. I picture extreme cases of physical self mutilation or deprivation. But recently in my reflections about the first moral precept of yoga, ahimsa, or non-violence, I’ve begun to see a different picture of self harming that may be even more frightening than the extreme cases.
Ahimsa is often translated as “non-violence,” but in the yoga tradition implies so much more than simply abstaining from violence. It means to approach all things with an attitude of non-harming, compassion, kindness and love.
In the 30 Day Yoga Evolution this week we’ve been reflecting on how to practice non-violence in our lives, and one thing quickly becomes very clear about this practice; when we don’t have an attitude of non-harm, compassion and kindness towards ourselves it’s nearly impossible to have this attitude toward others.
When I think about when I’ve been my worst to the people around me (over demanding of my partner or over critical of my mother), I also see those are the times in my life when I’ve been most critical and hard on myself.
It’s not just negative self talk that is an act of self-harming, but it’s also how we take care of ourselves. When I jam one more thing into my day and ignore my signs of fatigue or eat something I know will deplete my body or have one drink too many, I’m harming my body. And overly tired, hung over or malnourished people don’t tend to be poster children for non-violence, compassion and love!
At the end of the day, practicing non-violence has to start with ourselves.
The opposite of self-harm is self-care and self-love. Sadly, so many of us see self-care practices as luxuries and even feel guilty for doing stuff like getting a massage or taking time out for ourselves.
But if we stop and look at the big picture we can see that these acts of self care ripple out to our loved one, community and society. All we have to do to see this is think about the costs to our lives of not taking care of ourselves.
Firstly, there is a cost to how we feel, our energy levels and creativity. When we’re over taxed and tired we don’t function optimally, and as a result our work suffers, our relationships suffer and our health suffers.
Not only does this effect our individual lives and the lives of our loved ones, but if we stop to think about how much the nation spends on healthcare to treat lifestyle diseases we see that self care (or lack there of) has a massive impact on our society.
WebMD estimates that 75 to 90 percent of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
So how can we take care of ourselves better?
Firstly, remind yourself of the greater costs of neglecting this healthcare practice, and stop feeling guilty about relaxing and pampering yourself.
Second, make it a priority and actually schedule some acts of self care into your calendar. Literally write it down like you would an appointment with your doctor.
Third, listen to what your body is telling you it needs. We so often over-ride the indicators of fatigue by having another coffee, or we respond to them in a way that isn’t really self care. Like having a glass of wine at the end of the day to release physical and mental tension rather than doing some stretches or taking a bath. Ultimately, the wine will just dehydrate our tissues more, disturb our sleep and keep us in a cycle of self-harming.
More Ideas for Self-care
- Long walks to clear the mind, move the body and have some “you time.”
- Take a bath, add some epsom salts to nourish your muscles and read a great novel to nourish your soul.
- Foot massage is a great thing to do at the end of the day before you hop in bed.
- Yoga stretches get you out of your head (and stress) and into your body and relaxation.
- Legs up the wall is especially good for people on their feet all day and also boosts the immune system.
- Pack a healthy lunch to avoid the pitfall of eating low quality food simply because that’s whats around.
- Meditate for even 5 minutes in your day to re-boot your energy levels and give the old gray matter a break.
- Listen to a Yoga Nidra as a way to improve sleep, clarity of mind or simply take a break. It’s been shown that 15 minutes of mediation or yoga nidra is equivalent to one hour of sleep.
- Massage both professionally or giving yourself a massage improves circulation, muscle tension, mood and refines our ability to listen to what our body needs.
One of my favorite daily self care practices is self oil massage after my morning shower. Not only does it make my skin really nice, but according to Ayurveda oil holds the quality of love, so I feel like it’s an act of appreciation for my body. This has helped me so much with my issues of self criticism and body image. What is one of your favorite self-care practices?