Self Care December Challenge Week 1
All through December I posted on self-care, and you can see day 1 - 8 here!
Does Self-Care give you a pain in the neck?
Welcome to Restore: A month long exploration of self-care! For the next month you'll receive an email with a quick thought and action on how we can practice effective self care. Let's start with something we can do anytime - neck stretch! Unlike Forward Head Posture (the dreaded slump or 'dowager's hump') Neck stretch lengthens and stretches the short, tight muscles that run down the back of your neck. Here's how:
chest is relaxed, not lifted or slumped
let your chin nod down
imagine the back of your head 'rolling' up and forward
feel the back of your neck with your fingers - we want long and smooth, no inward curves or big bumps.
Feel free to practice this anytime you think of it, but especially in the evening when you're winding down before bed. And beware: your dog may want to 'help', but you'll probably get kisses. And that's self-care too.
What does rest mean to you?
Sunday is traditionally a day of rest. Rest is a vital part of our well-being - we can't be on, going, and doing all the time. We need rest. But is rest the same as sleep? I say not. And I would also say that we must be wary of escapism and numbing pretending to be rest. I've found that while laying on the couch and binging Netflix seems like rest on the surface, I don't feel particularly refreshed or replenished by doing so. I'd call that escapism or entertainment. And being busy, even doing cool things, can still be depleting. So rest is a time when we can truly recharge our batteries and feel rejuvenated. There's no single way to do it, no 'right' way, but there IS a movement called the Constructive Rest Position. You lay on your back with your knees bent. I prefer legs elevated and supported, and a little something under my head too. Arms are wherever they are most comfortable. The challenge here is simply to relax and surrender to gravity. And your self-care allies too, if they are assisting by holding you down. They're so helpful, aren't they?
Do you think self-care is self-indulgent?
I think self-care and self-indulgence often get confused, and it gives self-care a bad reputation. Eating an occasional piece of cake is awesome; using cake as a food group would be safely categorized as self-indulgence. So really self-care, when done well, looks an awful lot like good parenting. And any parent knows that napping is REQUIRED when raising a healthy child. So why is napping in adults seen as such an indulgence? I see napping as responding appropriately to my body's needs. You would never force a child to stay awake and drown them with stimulants, but we do that to ourselves every day with coffee and energy drinks. Interestingly, studies have shown that a nap is actually more effective than drinking caffeine when you need a pick me up! Napping has a ton of benefits including improving memory, problem solving, mood, alertness, creativity, and sleep (weird but true). It eases stress and actually allows for MORE productivity. So don't let babies and grandpas hog all the naps - get some for yourself as well.
Let it go!
This is one of the hardest exercises for me, but has proven to be one of the most beneficial. I am in recovery for sucking, tucking, gripping, and bracing my abdomen. Some of it was from over-exuberant exercise, and some was from stress. Some was from abdominal surgery and scarring. And some was from the self-consciousness of needing to look thin or have flat abs. Some was from the notion that you should have your 'core' engaged all the time to support yourself. That sounds like a good idea in theory, but consciously holding tension there, otherwise known as bracing, is not the full time solution. Your body is smart, and if you give it the opportunity it will make good decisions. It will support you all the time, more or less support as the situation demands. That's a reflexive core, and it's excellent. To release the belly you are on hands and knees, and then, well ... you let it out. All of it. All the tissue, organs, and intestines you've been sucking in. You use your body weight, gravity, and breath to completely release your abdomen. No tail tucking, butt or gut clenching. No rib squeezing. Just delicious, juicy belly space. Breathe deep and be here as long as you like. This exercise has softened my over-tight places, enlarged my breath, released my diaphragm, improved my digestion and elimination, and decreased my feelings of stress. That's some powerful benefits for just 'hanging out!' And my coaches (Loki the cat and Hunter the dog) are on hand to make sure I'm letting it all out.
"Self-care relies on self knowledge and the ability to check in with ourselves to see what we truly need at a given time." - Tracey Cleantis, LMFT
One of the most confusing things about self-care is what it IS. Everybody is unique and therefore their self-care needs are different as well, but solid definition of self-care is pretty hard to come by. Most oftent it is a list of ways to treat yourself, at worst it's simply a statement that self-care is important, the end. I definitely think self-care is more than a list of ways to pamper yourself - self-care is the foundation of our well-being. It is the way we satisfy our NEEDS, not just our wants or cravings. What I need and what you need may differ, and so the heart of self-care is being able to check in with ourselves and determine what's required for us to not just survive but thrive. My favorite check in is the psoas release. It is a tremendous way to down regulate the nervous system, position the body for full breath, and use our bodyweight and gravity to release our tissues into more optimum alignment for function and health. I'm a using a yoga bolster under my shoulder blades but a few cushions or a rolled up sleeping bag will work as well. I also slid something under my head so my neck relaxed better. We're aiming for legs fully supported by the ground, upper body supported so that the ribcage and pelvis are aligned - as in, my bottom ribs are not poking up higher than my hipbones. From there your job is to relax and breathe into your entire body. As you rest in this position you'll gain a lot of information about how your body is doing and what it needs. It's a daily practice I look forward to.
What does your self-care teach others about you?
Self-care is more than the occasional enjoyments, it is how we treat ourselves every day, in all things. From the food we eat to prioritizing rest and sleep, to setting healthy boundaries - what we do for ourselves every day matters. How we care for ourselves can be a barometer of how we feel about ourselves and how much care we think we deserve. And this outward manifestation of your self worth sets the tone for how you show up in the world and how others behave towards you. This was a huge realization for me, and a VERY big blind spot. By exploring this one statement - that how I care for myself teaches others how I would like to be treated - was like being able to stand outside myself and really SEE my habits and behaviors. Your challenge today is observation. If you were someone else observing you, what would your self-care say about you? This is not a shaming or judgement exercise, please treat yourself with compassion. But one thing I've learned is that we can only change what we're aware of, so awareness has to come first!
Attend to yourself, anytime, anywhere
Bringing mindfulness to myself throughout the day is one of my most valuable forms of self-care. Not only do is it a practice of checking in with my myself and my needs, but it also is very calming and allows me to be more fully present in what I'm doing. My favorite method of practicing awareness is Grounded Aware Presence (GAP). Here's how to do it:
Grounded: Bring your attention inward and allow your focus to settle to the part of your body in contact with the ground. If you're standing that's your feet, if sitting then it's your seat. Allow yourself to feel completely supported and at ease.
Aware: Close or lower your eyes. Allow your focus to come to your hearing. Notice the individual sounds around you, especially the background noises that we usually ignore. Label each as your awareness finds them. Feel your awareness reaching out far beyond your body, taking everything in.
Presence: Move your attention to the center of your chest, place your hand over your heart, and experience the presence of being here, breathing, heart beating, alive in this moment.
Allow your attention to encompass your entire body. You're grounded, aware of your surroundings, and present in your self. Grounded aware presence!
So today, try creating GAPs in your day for friendly awareness! (Pun totally intended)
It's a big stretch!
This stretch for the backline of the body is like one-stop-shopping, it's got a lot going on! Your back line includes the bottoms of your feet (plantar fascia!), calves, hamstrings, back muscles from bottom to top, and the neck. So if you want to give some love to the backside of your body all at once, this is what you're looking for. Here's how to do it:
Feet against the wall, knees straight
Sit up as high as you need to so that your pelvis is upright to start. If your tail is tucking under you are sitting too low
Lean forward from the hips your pelvis is a bowl and you're pouring it onto the ground in front of you.
Then Let your chest roll forward. I imagine the my back ribs rolling up toward the ceiling as my sternum (breast bone) rolls down.
Let the head do the same, back of the head rolls up as the forehead rolls down.
This can be pretty intense, so take it easy! More forward is not better, so laying on your legs isn't the goal. Don't be shy about sitting up higher to get a different stretch. Enjoy!