Today we’re talking LOVE, but probably the hardest kind – SELF love.
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard every version of what self love means; what it is and isn’t, how to find it and that it can’t be found if you’re looking for it in all the wrong places. I’m pretty sure the topic is nearing burnout, but I’d like to think that it’s because the struggle of finding genuine love in yourself, for yourself, is a language most are familiar with; it's something everyone who's been lucky enough to "find" has fought hard for and it's something, I think, everyone wants for each other. There's something so confusing about this sort of love - maybe even more than love in general. Somehow, it’s so easy to love someone else – they’re good, bad and ugly bits – but even stranger, somehow, it’s impossible for us to put up with ourselves sometimes, let alone be gentle, kind, and dare I say- loving? So, if you’ll bear with me for one more rendition, I’d love to offer a bit of my journey and a couple of my favorite ways to cultivate some of that love of self.
My own self love is still very new to me, actually, but my largest strides were made when I realized that the relationship with my body, like any other, is two sided. When I started practicing awareness of my body, through massage and everyday mindfulness practices, I realized how well things can go when we work together- when we're balanced. Before realizing this, I was a serial-taker. I demanded that my body keep up with me, no matter how much pressure I put on it and how little I gave it to work with. On top of all the taking, I cursed it when it failed me. I didn't understand my body in the slightest- I had no idea what it wanted or needed. We were all but entirely disconnected.
In changing my habits and behaviors, I started small and there was a lot of “fake it ‘til ya make it” going on. Showing up to take responsibility, for every aspect of my wellness, was pretty difficult at first and I didn’t really believe in my abilities. Over time and commitment, though, I proved myself entirely wrong - so it’s true, these things do get easier with practice! You just gotta start with something and add to it as you go along. Continued habits get easier, allowing you to get a grasp on new additions. Eventually you’ll have it all down and you can just tweak things accordingly, to make sure you, too, are always feeling the love that you are always so generously offering others.
In the self love practice, the best news is that there’s no right answer or right way of doing things. Because this could double as the most intimidating aspect, as well, I’ve put together a list of a few realizations and supportive practices that proved helpful in becoming more familiar with what self love looks like, for me personally.
You are your body and your body is you. The way you talk to and treat yourself matters to your mental, emotional and physical self. To start better tuning in to yourself and recognizing yourself in a positive way, you might try some of these:
Ritualizing everyday tasks - the difference, to me, between a routine and a ritual is all about being mindful and present. Give yourself time to enjoy even the smallest of everyday routines, whenever possible. If you find that you do something consistently that you can’t find any joy in, you might start thinking of how you can tweak, replace, or cut it entirely out of your routine.
Meditation - stationary meditation is a great way to slow down and tune in to what your body is saying through what you’re thinking and feeling. In practice, the idea is to ask yourself about particular thoughts and feelings and just listen, leaving judgement aside so that you can answer truthfully, learn from and grow beyond the things that hold you back from enjoying what life’s got to offer. I find that this practice of letting go of judgement allows me to better listen and treat myself as I would a good friend or loved one - it also feels more useful and SO much better than analyzing things with my own ‘worst critic’ hat on.
Yoga - so great for incorporating mindfulness with movement, and controlling of breath while giving up the control that creates tensions in our bodies. Equally great is free-form movement, which allows us to break our patterns of motion and let loose. Personally, sometimes I need structure to ease my anxiety and the reminder that my breath gives me control, but other times I just need a good flailing around to shake things off!
Massage - when you really allow yourself to receive, bodywork is such a supportive and nurturing way to tune into the body. Massage is kind of like passive yoga and meditation, all in one, where you’re assisted in becoming aware of the sources of physical tension (sometimes sneaky ones) and you’re able to release with your breath. If you find it hard to relax and receive, you might express this to your Massage Therapist so you can work on ways for you to make the most of your sessions!
Practicing self care and making yourself a priority can be really difficult to practice, but also to wrap your brain around if you’re used to putting everyone else first. You know how, before any flight takes off, you get the talk?
“Pull the oxygen mask down, over the mouth, and pull”, something, something, something, “if traveling with someone who requires assistance, be sure to secure your mask first, and then assist”.
Be sure to secure YOUR mask first- it seems silly to some of us thinking, “but what about them?” Give it a second thought, though, and you realize you can’t help anyone if you’re not okay yourself. You could also, I guess, say that “you can’t pour from an empty cup”.
If you struggle with feeling selfish in taking care of you, you might try reframing the practice of self care to embody thanking your own body for everything it does. Even though we’re trying to be more connected with our bodies, sometimes we need to take a step back to allow ourselves to make space for appreciating ourselves. Luckily, when we remove our judgements, it becomes pretty easy to recognize that our bodies are constantly working.
If you were to ask yourself what you did today, you’d probably have a good enough list going to need a pause for a breath of air, but still feel the need to add in that you could’ve and should’ve done more. We have this notion, pretty well instilled in us, that we need to be always doing something, to feel good about ourselves and worthy of rest and care. What we’re really saying is, “I’m not going to fix it until it’s broken,” but we don’t usually take the time to do it then either- because our broken parts are difficult to diagnose and costly to fix.
When you, instead, think of all that your body does in a day- even your least productive days- the list is overwhelmingly long. Even while we catch the Zs, our bodies are working for us and, even we’re having fun, our body is putting in work.
If we’re always taking and taking there will come a point when the well runs dry and your body has nothing left to give. The good thing is, you don’t have to do all that much! Just find a few things that you’re able to squeeze into your schedule that make you feel good. If you just haven’t got the time, you can, literally, thank your body verbally or mentally. At the very least, this keeps you aware of all that you do, and hopefully allows you to be more gentle in your urges to do less and move slow when you’re feeling low in energy. Sometimes you just gotta take a rain check on that to-do list and make time for you. You deserve it and your body deserves it.
3. BE GENTLE
Taking care of anyone and anything can be hard work. Taking care of yourself is a whole other story. If you ask me, it’s similar to asking a child- with a killer sweet tooth and who’s favorite food is ice cream- what single flavor they want in a shop of thirty-two flavors. It’s hard to recognize what we want and need, it’s hard to make decisions on how we’re going to address those wants and needs, it’s hard to stick to something when it doesn’t work the first time and when we’re influenced and believe that a million other things could be a better route to feeling better, and being happier, maybe in a shorter amount of time and less work.
When you’re struggling to take care of others, take care of you and know that you deserve it no matter what you’ve accomplished that week, or that day. When you struggle to take care of you, remember that anything is better than nothing and all good things take practice. Start somewhere and be gentle enough with yourself to stick with it. All new things take adjusting. They’ll feel a bit difficult and strange at first, but give yourself room to explore why you feel the ways you do about loving yourself, and just keep doing them. Know that each failure brings you closer to figuring yourself out and thank yourself for trying.
Self love probably looks much different for you, or maybe it looks much the same. Either way, and whatever it takes, I hope that you find comfort in knowing and embracing that you are worth your own attention and love. If you care to share your self love journey and/or methods of practice, I’d love to hear them! Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org