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by Trinity Mays
I have discovered how important self-care is from years of not doing it. I was tired, ragged, and felt unappreciated. In yoga teacher training, we talked about the importance of caring for your body with regular practice and meditation, but I didn’t get into it right away. Over time, my needs eventually pushed me seek out something that might help. I soon realized I had begun small steps of self-care on my own – intuitively. It started with little things in my morning routine like waking up and drinking warm lemon water while writing my dreams in a journal, then meditating for a few minutes to set the day. I preferred not to turn on the TV or anything until after I ate to keep a sense of calm and quiet. When I began Healing Touch training, they talked a great deal about self-care, the different healing modalities, and setting intention at certain times and for specific reasons. I soon began to add some of this into my day as well.
As the rewards of self-care appeared, I became careful to set boundaries on my schedule of teaching classes or giving a healing session, how often, and how long I would do so. As a result, I am now experiencing inner peace and a desire to do yoga more at home. I enjoy my classes more, as well as my day. Whenever I fall off the wagon and get stressed (which we all do), my body tells me about it. It’s during these times, I get back on track through breathing – I bring myself back to my breath.
Prana or breath is our life force. It is something that happens naturally, without thought. But when most humans become stressed, they hold their breath as a result of a conditioned response. This means subconsciously you may not breathe optimally during these important times of your life. You may not be able to stop this automatic response; however, as you create awareness through yoga asana, meditation, and journaling, you will tune in when it happens and choose to do something different.
One way to help raise your awareness, you guessed it – practice Pranayama. Practice can be as simple as noticing your breath, the sensations of your breath, and how it feels to breathe. You can count and alter the length of your breath or even pause your breath. As you practice breathing while reading this sentence, you may pause becoming aware of two or three breaths. Practicing throughout the day at different times and settings will make it a little easier to do when you become stressed.
The true practice is remembering to do it.
Meditation was one of those things I knew I should do, but 30 minutes, twice a day, was overwhelming for me and kept me from sticking to the practice. Practice is all it is in reality. If you can only practice for two minutes, then at least you have practiced. When I stopped beating myself up about the way I was “supposed” to meditate, my life became easier. (This aligned with my life practice of being nice to myself in general.) Therefore, I made a vow to myself to practice 4-6 minutes, twice a day for 40 days. Even if more sounded good, this commitment was low pressure. Also, had a personal disclaimer that if I missed a session, I would not care….yeah I said it – shit happens in life and sometimes I lose track of time in the morning and I’m running to class instead. What I discovered is that I really wanted to do it, and I would make a little extra time to do so.
Starting out, the easiest meditation practice for me was Japa or a repeating mantra. One, long-time favorite mantra I received from my yoga teacher training was, “Om Gam Ganeshya Namaha.” I sometimes repeat it with my inhale, then exhale, or with a Mala (garland), a 108-beaded necklace, which I repeat the mantra silently or out loud for 1-4 mala rounds. Then, I discovered the importance of the breath in my life with reducing stress and migraines. I count my inhale, then exhale to an easy count at first, and then extend the count a little at a time.
I often combine practices starting with the breath, then move into a loving kindness meditation. To begin, always send love and kindness to yourself first, then a loved one, then an acquaintance, and it can go on from there. When your mind wonders, which it will, just remind yourself that you are in meditation and go back to the practice you have chosen; keeping in mind the plan of not beating yourself up about it. Nothing in life is perfect, but a lot of things in life are pleasant, calming, delightful, and nurturing – so keep it positive. When we dwell on the negative, it only feeds the negative. Of course it exists and we need to become aware of it and learn from it. We don’t need to continue to go over how I did this or that thing wrong back when I was nine, or even yesterday for that matter. It’s in the past. Do something different. Savor the delicious meal you made yourself.
Practice, Practice, Practice, is all my teacher tells me and sure, it gets annoying; but yes he is correct in that whatever the practice is, whatever it is you are trying to achieve, it will only happen if you practice. If you want to get into a headstand in the center of the room, it will not happen by looking a pictures of headstands. A regular practice of a warm-up followed by trial and error, before long, you will do it in no time. I go back to being gentle with yourself and if you can get in an hour practice each day – great! But 15 minutes is nice too! Some days will be amazing practices and some days will be what I call, “roll around the floor yoga.” Either way, it happens on your own, be it in class, a video, or trying to remember what your teacher talked about in class yesterday. Even if you only get half of it, you are not only improving your yoga practice, but it is making better, nearer pathways for yourself.
When I talk about daily practice it is not just asana or meditation practice. For me, each day begins and ends with a ritual. Perhaps it begins with tongue scraping in the morning followed up with warm water and lemon, or making my bed to create a bit of peace and calm for the day, which ends up being a nice prep for when I come back to bed in the evening. I also smudge myself each morning as I get ready and in the evenings either when I get home or as I get ready for bed. Smudging is burning white sage and breathing in the smoke and “washing my hands in the smoke.” This is when you can see a difference between ritual as a daily life practice and the beginning of ritual as a Spiritual practice. I have several ritual practices for me to commune with Spirit and so do other religions: prayer, reading scripture or inspirational quotes. The goal of this kind of ritual is to connect to something bigger than yourself, be it nature, God, or Goddess. In doing so you are connecting to yourself and your truest peaceful nature.