The Art and Practice of Self Care for Women

              Many of my patients have a difficult time with the concept of self care. Often they are mothers, sometimes working full time as well, trying to keep up with household responsibilities, attending social obligations, and taking care of everyone else’s needs before their own. Often, the only rest they get is the time they are sleeping, and even that can be insufficient or restless due to worrying or planning for the day ahead.
We are often taught in our culture that self care is selfish. We feel guilty if we put our own needs before the needs or wants of others. This can often leave us feeling overwhelmed, unfulfilled, and exhausted.

So where to begin to create change? An important place to look first is into our minds. What is our belief system around self care? What did we learn from our role models? Were we taught that self care is selfish? Do we believe that we deserve to be nourished, nurtured, loved, cared for, and happy? 

Another essential place to be aware of is our body. What sensations or symptoms do our bodies express when we aren’t listening? What comes up when we are saying ‘yes’ but mean ‘no’? Is the body screaming for rest? Does tension in the body let you know you are feeling angry? What is your experience? 

Finally, it is imperative to become mindful of our emotional reactions. When we do for others before ourselves do we feel upset? frustrated? resentful? or perhaps needed? Do we get a sense of self worth from doing for others? 
Once we tap in deeply to our internal world, the picture becomes clear and we gain insight into where we can begin to create change so that we can live a more fulfilled, meaningful, happy, and healthy life. We can create this AND still be a good mother, employee, friend, wife, etc. Both are possible.

I would argue that self care is SELFLESS! When we create time to nurture ourselves we are able to serve others in our lives to a greater capacity. When we are rested, we have more energy to get what needs to be done accomplished. When we are grounded and centered, we are less likely to be reactive in our relationships at home or at work. When we make time for our health and well being, everyone benefits from our increased vitality. It’s a win-win. Sure, initially when you first start to create time for self care, those feelings of guilt or uncertainty might come up.

Sit with those feelings too. I have learned that if you sit with a feeling long enough, it transforms. In my own experience, guilt shifts into gratitude. I have learned to see self care as a significant accomplishment, more than any other task crossed off on my to do list. I come first, so that I can serve the world better of a place of fullness, vitality, and authenticity. I want to give more because I have been nurtured. I shift from guilt to gratitude, because I know how much more others with benefit from my being grounded and energized and I’m grateful to have the opportunity and wisdom to take care of myself. 

Just over 4 years ago, I made the commitment to make the very first thing I do on my to do list something that serves me. For me, it is often a yoga practice, a hike in nature, journalling, watching a majestic sunrise over the bay, or a slow morning with good food and cuddles with my baby, pup and hubby. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as I am left feeling nourished. I believe this commitment has served me more than anything else in life. I am able to serve my patients better because I feel full and can be present to their experiences. I am more focused and more productive. I have more energy. I can connect deeper in my relationships. I am less reactive. I am more in touch with the big picture. I can connect to life in a deeper way. It has been invaluable! 

As with any big shift, it can be helpful to start with baby steps. Take some time this week to contemplate and plant seeds. What nourishes you? What lights your fire? What helps you to ground? When do you feel most alive? What do need more of in your life? Once you have planted seeds, begin to water them. Perhaps once each week or each day if you can, carve out time in your schedule that you dedicate to care for yourself in the ways you need most. Practice, practice, practice. The practices you create will become habits. These habits become your life. Imagine a life where you feel constantly filled up, energized, and would that feel for you? How might it change the world?

Laura is a licensed naturopathic doctor and certified yoga instructor. Her naturopathic practice Awaken Wellness Within is located in Synergy Wellness Centre downtown Collingwood. 

"As a naturopathic doctor, through education, empowerment, and example, I endeavour to guide patients toward manifesting optimal health and living their most inspired life!" 

“As a yoga instructor, my intention is to guide students towards getting in touch with their breath, listening to the innate wisdom of the body, observing the connection of the mind, body and spirit, and awakening the life force within.”