self-help

The Challenge and Miracle of Self-Care

I don't know about your mind, but mine is super-busy and it is easy for me to get distracted – and this has only increased as I get older and as technology has become such a part of my daily life. You probably have heard the expression "monkey-mind", our thoughts constantly jumping from one thing to another.

In addition to my active thinking, I am often distracted by various body sensations – pain, fatigue, and more as the result of my stem cell transplant almost 15 years ago. And even without that, I remember when the recurring sore back or strep throat would occupy center stage in my attention.

I have had a daily yoga practice for decades – at this point the practice involves minimal moving and more breathing, chanting, gesture, and meditation. I am repeatedly surprised to see how hard it is for me to settle into my practice at the times I need it the most. I have a few tricks to help myself with this, but I know it is a common phenomenon. (Those tricks and the options besides yoga for a daily practice are for another time.)

But when I can connect my body and mind to my breath or sound, amazing things begin to happen. I will spare you the science of what occurs, but here are my direct experiences:

  • My body relaxes and tension begins to lessen or even disappear.
  • My relationship to my pain begins to change and and my anxiety or fear decreases.
  • My breath slows down.
  • My entire being feels like it is having a massage from the inside out.
  • My sense of my place in the universe comes into perspective and the size of my distractions seems to shrink.
  • My attitude towards myself and the world is reset so that I feel calm(er), kind(er), and more compassionate.

So even though my body and mind may resist getting to my yoga practice, I am always glad that I did. There is no single method or practice that is right for everyone, but yoga has definitely been right for me. I would love to hear what works for you.

 

 

 

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First!

 

If you are on an airplane in an emergency situation, you may not save yourself or help anyone else if you don't put your own oxygen mask on first. And the flight attendants remind us of this on every flight. But are we really listening? Do we know we have to take care of ourselves first or risk perishing?

This is true for us as teachers, healthcare professionals, therapists, and caregivers, even though most of us don't learn this in our training and educational programs. We are too often focused on having answers and solutions and on giving to and serving others. Just yesterday I was reminded by a friend the we can neglect self-care because of our work or involvement in almost any activity.

What I notice in myself is that it is all too easy to give and not to take the time I need to replenish myself. I find myself exploring how to choose the right amount of effort to expend and committing and then re-committing to make the time for self-care.

My colleague Jim Gordon, MD, the Founder and Director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, always starts his lectures with the fact that the heart of good health starts with self-care. Contrary to popular opinions, self-care is not selfish. If we are depleted, we will eventually have nothing to offer anyone else. We are like the gas tank that is running on empty or the battery that is dead.

We must save the only life we can save*, our own! I write this blog first as a reminder to myself. Secondly I hope that those of you who know me will stop me if you see me charging ahead, full speed, heedless of my self-care. Please remind me to slow down, to take care of myself, and, perhaps, to do less. And, of course, to breathe!

Living with Uncertainty

For a good portion of my life, I blithely went along thinking I could plan my day, my week, my next summer vacation, with certainty. And in the course of one hour, that assumption was blown away when my husband was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

At some level, we all know that substantive disruptions in our lives are possible in every moment, but I was certainly unprepared for mine. During the 8 months my husband was alive after that diagnosis, my planning horizon and my certainty about what the next moment might bring got really short. Sometimes I could plan the next hour; sometimes not. It felt like a wild and slightly crazy dance where I could rarely get my balance.

Barely three years later I faced my own life-threatening illness, and the crazy unbalanced dance began again. My life today is more stable than when I was diagnosed and going through treatment, but I still find myself wanting to recapture that old feeling – that my life can be orderly and predictable.

I have spent a good portion of the past 16 years learning to do the dance of uncertainty with light feet and with a regular warning to myself – sometimes successful, sometimes not – that the dance floor could tilt at any moment. I have found the techniques of mind-body medicine and yoga incredibly useful at reminding me to embrace what is here now, rather than wanting something else for tomorrow. Anything that connects me with my breath usually helps. Still, I notice how easy it is for me to forget and to assume that my life is stable and change is somewhere in the future.

In the past few weeks I have been reminded a number of times that change is more the norm than I would like to think. Why is this lesson so hard to learn? I feel the seduction of wanting stability, of deluding myself during times when my health seems predictable. I would not have chosen the circumstances of my husband's illness nor my own. But I often think that these challenges have been – and continue to be – my greatest teacher.

What I have is now.

Here.

This breath.

This moment.