I am “blessed” with a fair amount of sensitivity – feeling everything quite immediately and deeply. At times, this really doesn’t seem helpful – like when I burst into tears when I’d prefer to maintain my dignity. But overall, my sensitive nature has taught me a strong lesson in self-care, because I really feel it when I’m not taking care of myself. Becoming a mother, I knew in my bones that I had to practice self-care or I would be overwhelmed by this experience.
Many moms, influenced by our culture which values women’s “sacrifice” more than our fulfillment, find themselves subsumed by parenthood. The demands are constant and the expectations are high. Somehow there isn’t enough time for that work you used to do, exercise, any kind of creative expression, or sometimes even a shower! Motherhood can feel all-consuming, and self-sacrifice is celebrated in our culture. Yet, we lead by example. If our children have a parent who is feeling bad in mind, body, and spirit; who is unfulfilled – will they really be getting the best from us?
In yoga, the first moral guideline is Ahimsa, or non-harming. Non-harming is, of course, caring. All great sages, including the Buddha, recognized that it must be practiced first with ourselves, that self-compassion is a cornerstone of the path. Practicing ahimsa means treating ourselves with as much kindness and care as we would a good friend.
Can self care be taken to an extreme? Of course. In fact, we know societal messages push us toward indulgence. Consumer culture tells us to distract ourselves from any discomfort with new clothes, a manicure, some chocolate..the list goes on and on. And the tricky part is, that sometimes this is self-care, but often it’s not.
How do we tell the difference? How does it feel to you? This is where the self-awareness training of yoga and meditation are helpful. Do you feel connected and grounded, or excited by the prospect of something new? Do you need the goods or service? Will the use of your time and energy nourish you or take precious time and attention away from what is really important?
For Service. You know that self-care is for the highest good when it helps you become more present and joyful for your family and your life. Start to discern when your choice helps you be of better service to the world. For parents, you know that the way you live your life is what your children really learn. Give them a model of someone who knows how to be healthy, body, mind and spirit.
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