In Yoga Thoughts

Take care of yourself. You never know when the world will need you.” – Rabbi Hillel

For most of the last two decades, taking care of myself has meant taking the time each day to unroll my yoga mat and practice.

The choice to take care of myself – and it is a daily choice – asks a lot of me. Many days, it means waking up earlier than most anyone would choose to be awake. One day a week, it means squeezing in a practice after teaching two classes when I’m feeling pretty yoga-ed out. My practice often requires me to eat at odd times (nothing worse than yoga with a full belly) or to come home from a fun night out with friends earlier than I really want to.

But the costs of my practice pale in comparison to its benefits. I learned early on (when I still had two little ones in diapers waiting for me after yoga class) that if I didn’t take care of myself, I was simply unable to take care of the people in my life the way I felt they deserved to be cared for. Which is to say, patiently, lovingly, creatively, energetically and, most importantly, mindfully.

Day in and day out, by prioritizing self-care, I prove that flight attendants know what they are talking about when they instruct us to put on our own oxygen masks before trying to help others put on theirs.

Taking care of myself is a self-fulfilling prophecy in my life. The more it works, the more dedicated I become to it. I make decisions that probably look odd to the rest of the world. Years ago, I would choose to pay the babysitter while I went to yoga, even though it meant shopping for groceries with three little “helpers.” To this day, I sometimes wistfully skip walks with friends I love, choosing instead to get on my mat.

I make these choices because I know they make me a better mother, wife, friend, sister, daughter and teacher. These choices would be hard to make if they were only for my own benefit. The fact is, they are pretty easy to make because I know they benefit all the people who fill my life.

In fact, it has proved to be more of a struggle to relax my discipline of self-care than it ever was to establish it. You see, over the last two years, I slowly started to realize that I was tired. Though my yoga practice was well-intentioned, I began to question if the way I was approaching it (to practice – literally – at all costs) still counted as taking care of myself.

In the kind of yoga I practice (Ashtanga), one rest day a week is prescribed. I’ve always been (mostly) disciplined about taking one day off each week. But Ashtanga also prescribes rest days when there is a full or new moon and for women based on their cycles. Somehow, for the better part of twenty years, I decided that practicing was more important than rest and I ignored these “extra” days off.

But for the last two years, I have been dabbling with them. I am a little astonished (and embarrassed) at the will power it has taken for me to embrace these prescribed rests. I am even more astonished at how nurturing and nourishing they feel.

A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.” – Christopher K. Germer

I am surprised to discover, as an old, experienced yogi, that I am learning anew what it means to practice as a means to take care of myself.

This new form of “kinder, gentler” self-care is slowly becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy in my life. As I become accustomed to taking breaks from my mat, I am observing myself ease up on many fronts. I am (a little) more tolerant of piles sitting on counters. I am more patient with slower than expected projects. I make dinners (which for some crazy reason had become for me the gold standard of being a good wife and mother) when I have time and energy, and order out when I do not. Daily, I am working hard to work less and play (rest) a little more.

Even with my new, less rigorous, slightly softened standards, my yoga practice is still the best way I know to take care of myself inside and out. Somehow, practicing a little less has made it even more effective at caring for me so that I am better able to care for the people who fill my life.

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