What is self-care, and how can it vary from person to person? In this article, I explore what self-care means to me and why it doesn’t always mean slowing down.
This year for Valentine’s Day, I’ve made a vow to myself to spend time on self-love and self-care. Why? Because I’m officially in the “hustle” phase of my yoga teaching career. I teach a lot, I’m constantly on the move, and I’m continuously working on writing deadlines in between classes. As a former competitive athlete, having a demanding teaching schedule isn’t necessarily a physical challenge. I enjoy being active, and I keep demoing to a minimum so that I don’t break down my body. Teaching makes me feel happy and energized, but it also takes a great deal of emotional energy to be fully present and responsive. I’ve learned that I need self-care often, and I frequently need to find it quickly and effectively to continue to put 100% of myself into each class that I teach.
I personally can’t afford the time or money to take a spa day, nor do I believe that luxuriating in charcoal baths (or whatever the equivalent trend of the moment) is the most effective way for me to recharge. In fact, the today’s stereotypical image of soft “self-care” is a far cry from the original meaning of the term. Self-care wasn’t coined by the white elitist wellness industry, but by the self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde. During the civil rights era, Lorde is famously quoted stating, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Self-care for Lorde’s followers – mainly women, Brown and Black communities, and LGBTQ communities – was a radical concept that gave oppressed populations permission to acknowledge their need to find time and space to heal from historical trauma. The concept of self-care empowered countless marginalized individuals with the courage not only to live, but to live well. So how has self-care deviated so dramatically to a term to justify whitewashed wellness in the modern era?
Self-care marketed as spa-care dilutes the original political significance of the term, and it restricts the originally-intended audience from accessing it. Everyone deserves self-care, not just those who can afford to slow down and spend up.
Rather than slowing down to a halt to care for myself, I personally prefer to integrate small pieces of self-care into my daily life. I thrive on movement and activity, and I have found that when I slow down completely, it takes a lot of momentum to catch up to my typical, fast-moving pace. I’ve known this fact about myself since my competitive running days. No matter the distance in high school and college and no matter how hard I tried, I could never start out fast. I would always begin at the back of the pack both in races and intervals. With time, I would catch up to where I needed to be, but if the distance was too short or that course too flooded with runners, it was at times impossible to make up the lost ground. For this reason, I dreaded interval workouts. Yet I learned that I was actually able to keep my momentum up with active recovery, or jogging between sets.
The same concept of active recovery applies to my strategy for self-care. If I spend an entire weekend vegging out over Netflix and nail polish, re-starting is a nightmare. Yet if I spend an off-day (or off hours) staying moving with activities that fill my cup, I return refreshed and replete with life to give to my classes.
Self-care is effective and accessible when we choose to find activities within our reach that meet our physical, mental, or emotional needs of the moment. These activities can vary widely from person to person, but the common denominator is that we all deserve to pursue our chosen mechanism of self-care whenever the opportunity presents so that we can give more of ourselves to the world. Here are my top self-care activities of the moment:
Writing in a coffee shop
Okay, so the title of this sub-section is inaccurate. I don’t actually have to be writing in a coffee shop to feel that sitting in one is an act of self-care. I could be reading French literature, scrolling through Instagram, or doing my taxes, but in whichever case, I am instantly charged by tuning out from the world in a busy room of conversations. I have realized that I am the odd type of introvert – I am energized by people when I don’t have to interact with them. I feed off of the vibe of hipsters and musicians, so I am always at Broadsheet in Cambridge or Pavement Berklee when I have free space between classes.
Running first thing in the morning when my mind is still half asleep is my favorite moving meditation. There is something so calming about running near bodies of water in a city environment. I run slow, and I never tire of my route.
As much as I love teaching yoga and barre, I also equally love taking classes. Wall-to-wall matted classes give me the same feeling as busy coffee shops: I feel as though I’m part of a community without actually having to interact with people (again, my odd type of introversion). I can be anonymous, but still tuned into myself. It’s a perfect way for me to recharge.
Baking vegan pancakes
If I ever have an entirely free day, baking vegan pancakes is an absolute must on my agenda. I love the act of solo-baking heaps of them to the tune of Latin hits or my podcast of the moment (currently Yogaland). Crafting interesting flavor combinations is an outlet for my creativity and setting up elaborate food photography displays brings my artistic nature out. Sometimes this long, crafty routine even energizes me enough to share them with a lucky guest or two.
Self-care is many things. It’s personal, it’s nourishing, and it’s often radical, but it doesn’t necessarily mean spa-ing up or slowing down.