There are many ways to practice self-care, from activities like going for a walk, to do things that you need for your mental health, like learning how to say no to people and focusing more on your own goals.
The most important aspect of self-care is doing more for yourself to improve your mental and physical health.
Personally, my go-to practices for self-care are yoga and meditation, which sometimes I do separately or during the same routine. The consistent practice of yoga had an enormous impact on my life, in my wellbeing and in my confidence and self-esteem… So let’s see how it relates to self-care.
1. What is Self-Care?
So… what is self-care and what isn’t.
Basically, self-care is an activity you do for yourself. It might help you physically, such as with exercise or going for a walk, other activities combine physical, mental, and even emotional benefits.
In other cases, self-care is something you do deliberately to help your mental health and overall wellness, from telling people ‘no’ to learning how to delegate and understanding why being overworked isn’t good for you.
It really can be anything you want or need it to be, but it all starts with deliberately doing things, starting routines, changing your habits, and making choices for yourself.
What is not – Common Misconceptions
On the other hand, there are some things people often mistake for self-care, which might not be bad for you, but doesn’t really fit into this spectrum of doing something good for you. Here are a few things that should not be considered self-care:
Activities you force yourself to do – Whatever you choose for self-care, it should never be forced. While you might see, for example running or meditation, as a good self-care activity, if you feel like you are forcing yourself to do it… then it is no longer benefiting you. Perhaps at another point in your life that would be exactly what you need, it’s good to remain open and flexible.
Participating in something you don’t enjoy – Similar to the point above… Find something that you enjoy doing today! Sure, physical activities are good for your physical health, but they are not considered good for your self-care and mental health if you hate doing them. There are many movement and exercise modalities for you to try, from dancing like nobody is watching to a slow and mindful yoga or Tai-Chi practice.
It’s something selfish – Self-care should not be confused with selfish acts. Self-care is about doing something for yourself that is healthy and good for you, but not painful or damaging to someone or something else.
Think about the fact that if you don’t take care of yourself first, you can’t be there for other people. This is the same concept behind putting on your own mask in an airplane emergency, before a child’s. You can’t help your child if you are not there.
Benefits of Self-Care
Here are some of the top reasons why self-care is important:
Improving Your Self-Esteem – When you practice more self-care, you automatically boost your self-esteem and self-confidence. Dedicating more time to focus on yourself, will improve your physical and mental health which in turn can give you natural confidence.
Better Productivity – Carving more time for yourself during the day will give you back more time! Or at least more focused and creative time. You might notice a lack of focus and concentration as a result of getting over-stressed. Some activities like yoga or meditation will help you get back on track and improve your productivity.
Giving more to those you care about – Another side effect (in a good way) of self-care, is that it allows you to give more to others. If you are not healthy, fatigued, or overwhelmed, you are not in a good place to help others.
Improving Physical Health – Think about activities like walking or hiking, doing yoga, and eating a healthier diet. These are common self-care recommendations that will help your physical health just as much your emotional or mental health.
Improving Mental Health – It can reduce anxiety and depression, help with your stress levels, and help you feel better as a whole.
So now that we know how important self-care is for us and how it can help our relationship with others… Let’s explore how we can use yoga and mediation.
2. Yoga for Self-Care
You probably have an idea of what yoga is, and you might have even taken a class or done some poses at home. This is a great start, but there might be more benefits to doing yoga than you have imagined.
Here are some things to know about yoga, including reasons to do them specifically for self-care.
Yoga Gives You Time to Yourself – First of all, if you are looking to do more activities on your own to give your mind a little break from your hectic life, yoga is perfect. By committing to doing yoga daily or at least regularly, you can tell your family that you want this time to work on your yoga alone. You may want to do it in your own home or by taking an outside class.
Some people benefit from going to yoga classes with their friends and getting to know likeminded people. Just remember your main purpose is self-care, so keep that in mind when deciding what the best decision is for you.
It Can Be Done in Any Length of Time and Anywhere – Another reason to start practising yoga for self-care is that you can do it any length of time. Classes can vary in length, being often around 60 minutes, or even 90 min, but that doesn’t mean you have to do a complete class every time. I am a great advocate of doing only 10 minutes if that’s all the time you have! Consistency over length.
And it can also be practised anywhere! You can do a quick chair yoga session at your desk, a long stretch at the airport, in a park or the beach, even on your own bed… You don’t need a mat or fancy clothes, you only need yourself and a few minutes to move, and to turn inwards.
Try different styles of yoga, there is one for you – Nowadays you can explore many different types and schools of yoga without leaving your own home!
Don’t give up because you didn’t like that one class, I truly believe there is a yoga teacher and style to suit everyone at any given time. Also, remember that your needs will change with time as well as depending on your circumstances.
Perhaps today you need a very dynamic and athletic practice like Ashtanga and tomorrow your body and mind may need to recover with a slower Yin or Restorative practice. Or maybe you are more suited to devotional practices and would like to try Kirtan.
My advice would be to explore whatever calls you and give it a chance to find that teacher you resonate with.
Improve Physical and Mental Health – Through yoga, you are going to learn how to calm your mind, find clarity and release stress and anxiety. It is also wonderful on a physical level, toning and lengthening your body, improving your flexibility, and strengthening your muscles.
There aren’t many reasons NOT to do yoga and a lot of reasons to do it.
Keep reminding yourself that you want to do yoga for self-care, and you will be encouraged to make it a part of your routine.
3. Meditation for Self-Care
The next practice that can help tremendously with your self-care journey is meditation. You can do this as part of a routine with yoga, or on its own. Meditation takes practice, just like yoga, but what you gain is astonishing.
How Does Meditation Work?
With meditation, you are working towards clearing the mind of unwanted thoughts, not by pushing them away but by focusing on something else instead. When we sit to meditate we first learn to focus and it’s this constant focus on an object, word, breath, etc that will lead us into a place of calmness that can teach us to see things as really are.
Different Types of Meditation
Breathing Meditation – This is the most used form of meditation, where you practice focusing on your breath. This is often done sitting in a quiet and comfortable position with your eyes closed. All you are going to do is take deep breaths in and out, focusing on the inhaling and exhaling. Focus on your breath, the feeling of your chest moving up and down, and nothing else.
Guided Visualization – You may be someone who benefits more from a guided visualization. It is great for beginners because when you listen to a guided mediation, a lot of the work is done for you as far as what to picture and how to go through the steps.
Mantra Meditation – In yoga, as well as in many Buddhist practices, mantra mediation is commonly used. A mantra is a syllable, word, or phrase that is repeated during meditation. Mantras can be spoken, chanted, whispered, or repeated in the mind. In yoga mainly Sanskrit mantras are used, but some people may use positive affirmations.
Mindfulness Meditation – Here the aim is to be extremely aware of everything happening in the current moment. Turn off distractions and focus on sights, smells, and sounds around you. Look at your surroundings, understand what is happening right at this moment, and continue focusing on it. It can be done walking, seating, even sipping tea or eating.
Candle Meditation – When you focus on an external object, in this case, the flame of a candle, for as long as you can. In Zen meditation, they focus on a point in front of you, maybe on the floor or wall. You can focus on a flower, a mandala, etc. With time you might become ‘one’ with the object.
There are many other types of meditation, like ‘Metta’ or Loving Compassion meditation, but the above are some of the most basic that you can try.
But if you’ve ever tried to meditate you’ll know it’s not as easy as just seating down and dropping into a blissful state of awareness. For most of us, the path of meditating has been a slow process of first not knowing how to do it or how to stick to a routine… or even getting bored with it!
So I’ll leave you with a few tips to help you succeed.
Tips to start your meditation journey
Start with just a few minutes a day – Don’t stress about having to meditate for an hour! Start with 1-3 minute sessions that you time, so that you can get in your practice without becoming frustrated or overwhelmed with it. This is definitely my tip number one! As in with yoga, you don’t have to complete any long amount of time, if that’s going to stress you out. Start small and build up over time.
Schedule meditation daily – In the beginning, meditation takes a lot of practice, so you want to do it often, preferably once or even more than once a day. If you struggle with motivation, schedule your meditation times for when you know you will be alone or can shut a door in your home to keep out distractions.
Incorporate music or sounds – Another method you can use is using sounds or even soft music in the background to help you re-focus your attention.
Turn it into a daily routine – Finally, making a routine out of it can be useful and help motivate you to continue with it. If you are also doing yoga, why not combine them? Attach your meditation time to any other routine you already have established to help you turn it into a habit.
What is your favourite Self-care routine or activity? Make sure you incorporate one in your day.