When Familiar Self Care Stuff Isn’t Working, and What To Do About It.
“Trust the wait.
Embrace the uncertainty.
Enjoy the beauty of becoming.
When nothing is certain, anything is possible.”
– Mandy Hale
In case you need a reminder, this is aaaall new. This, ya know, global pandemic, social distancing, unknown futures, unprecedented changes to some foundational aspects of our life…that new stuff. We haven’t experienced this before. And your intelligent, sensitive nervous system alerts to anything new. So beyond all the aspects your logical mind can spin on about this, there’s a LOT you’re reacting to. Integrating. Processing. And there’s no one right way – no wrong way – to get through.
This newness means our old ways of coping, feeling like ourselves, and experiencing wellness, health, and pleasure have shifted. We no longer have the same access points to the things we relied on to feel good about life. It’s likely some of the things that used to help you feel good, no longer are. Or, simply aren’t accessible to you any more, in the old familiar forms.
If you’re like me (and likely, most folks) you probably haven’t chosen how to react the last few weeks, you’ve just been swimming through it. Maybe you’ve been hyper busy to distract yourself from all the feelings, maybe you’ve been dull, heavy, numb, maybe scattered, anxious, exhausted, overwhelmed. Maybe familiar difficult emotions, thought patterns, or habits feel amplified, erupting with surprising intensity.
This is completely normal.
I’ve been exploring this because not only am I trying to cope, I’m super curious – like a scientist in a laboratory exploring my own mind body connections. I’m also here to serve others in their own explorations. And how do I serve – when everything is stirred up and …so “new?”
Well, just exploring the body-mind–breath relationship helps send a message to our brain that we are safe enough to remain present, adaptive, autonomous. I deeply trust the wisdom and efficacy of the ancient Indian teachings of yoga and I know science backs it up. And yet – the practice feels, looks, functions differently now. Have you noticed that too? Asana feels different. Embodiment feels different. So how to we practice now? How do we find our ground?
Turning to the Yoga Sutras has once again shed some light. After all, the first word in the whole book is now. Maybe a clue for us.
Our sense of self is usually ensnared, entangled with the outer world. Now, this familiar relationship – and our sense of self -has been disrupted. On the surface, naturally there’s a lot we are processing: we may be afraid for ourselves and our loved ones. We may be grieving he loss of a sense of economic security, social gatherings that have been canceled, loved ones now distanced. We might feel outraged at the disfunction of capitalism, at the heartbreaking effects of injustice being amplified by coronavirus.
However, in the bedrock of all we are working to intellectually understand, there is a deeper loss that’s more elusive: the loss of our old sense of self. This is one reason such widespread change is so unnerving, deeply uncomfortable: the ways we move through the world, define ourselves, and the very ways we know ourselves, have been disrupted.
The massive changes we’re experiencing reveal the very nature of prakrti – of the world, the body, the mind – all part of what is ever changing. Patanjali, who thousands of years ago codified the Yoga Sutras, urges us to detach from identifying with the external, from the hamster wheel of cause and effect. *Sutra 11.17 says “The cause of pain is the association or identification of the seer (atma) with the seen (prakrti) and the remedy lies in their dissociation.” And BKS Iyengar’s commentary further explains:
“The intelligence is the vehicle closest to the soul, which must be wary of its influence if the seer is to remain free. Otherwise intelligence enmeshes the seer in a painful relationship with external objects. ….The seat of the ego or small self is the seat of the brain, and the seat of the great Self is in the spiritual heart. Though intelligence connects the head and the heart, it oscillates between the two. This oscillation ceases through right knowledge and understanding. Intelligence is then transformed: free from polarity, pure and unbiased. This is true meditation, in which ego dissolves, allowing the great Self (purusha) to shine in its own glory.”
Right now the very idea of my self, your self, as being separate from, independent, has been shaken. This virus is showing just how interconnected, interdependent, and vulnerable we truly are. It has cleared away so much illusion.
So long as we were caught up, attached, identified with external sources of happiness, we were distracted from the true source of freedom from suffering, which is within, which is the soul. Now, the terrain has shifted.
‘Happiness is an inside job’ is a cute hashtag/ pop saying, but experiencing that spacious clarifying shift is very different from intellectually “understanding.” Even a glimpse of that innermost essence is deeply transformative, and healing.
We now have a fresh reset, a new door opening to discover what brings us inside, to the experiential peace, clarity, resilience that is rooted within our own being.
Perhaps corona virus is giving us the opportunity (gift? if you really want to embrace this idea) of dissociation, stripping away old paradigms, familiar comforts, old definitions of individual self… of ego. What a discovery! We are in a new terrain in our nervous system, mind, heart. We have the opportunity to be attentive, creative, to listen deeply to what is nourishing us and bringing us deeper into a sense of resilience – a sense of now. We haven’t experienced this before so it will be different from anything in the past.
My teachers often urge me to get out the mechanical, into feeling what is right NOW. This is a precious opportunity to become present, and to recognize the source within as the true sanctuary we are seeking.
So, I’m inviting you to wipe the slate clean on what you think you should be doing these days. Let your practice become inquisitive, intuitive, spacious. Let your days become explorative. You have permission to experiment.
Listen deeply to the effects of your decisions. The feedback loop is clear right now.
I wrote a post about a month ago along the lines of “5 Things You Can Do To Calm Vata This Spring” but… it evolved into this. The fact is, I don’t know what’s going to help you. I don’t even fully know, for me! But I’m exploring it, and wow is it interesting.
And! Even though I don’t have the answers, I think you do. I think you have what you need within yourself, to find out. What helps you recenter is up for you to experiment with, and see what actually brings harmony, acceptance, being-ness. Self care gives stability for the inward journey.
Here are a few ideas (see, I’ll still share the 5 things with you! Plus a few more) but keep in mind, what you’re needing in this moment isn’t a prescription. It’s an experiment. An uncharted journey, towards the soul. You’re allowed to play around and see what works!
Let the old definitions of self fall away. Let the old false comforts fall away.
Can you stay curious about what wakes you up, brings you home, now?
- Regulate sleep and get lots of it. (Back body breath and long exhalations help with insomnia…!) Wake up and bedtime: keep it consistent. Bonus: Avoid any screens for the first and last hour of the day.
- Practice savasana. Ideally, 10-20 minutes a day, even if it’s not part of an active asana practice. Make sure you’re warm; supported; use a timer. Bonus: Lay in a hammock. Rest. Daydream. Allow for shameless laying around to rest. When we rest, we integrate.
- Take hot baths, or sun baths. Water and warmth help us feel grounded. Compliment this with fresh air.
- Go for extra fluids; herbal teas with ginger, turmeric, lemon balm, saint johns wort, passionflower, chamomile, etc will help stregthen you immune system and calm your emotions.
- Eat lots of ghee! Scoop into tea, soups, cook with ample amounts. Coconut oil, butter, yum. Good fats. Grounding nourishing internal lubrication!
- Doodle. Paint. Arrange rocks, draw patterns in the dirt or mud. Go for the process, not the product. See what the medium is telling you.
- Create an imaginary compost and whenever you have a thought like “I should be … (more productive, more calm, exercise more, etc) just put that shame and disapproval in that compost pile. Lavish in ample self compassion. You’re going through A LOT. I am too. Stop shoulding yourself.
- Asana is always a win, in my book. But do you need to slow down? Move more? Be in a zoom class? Do you own quiet thing? Practice difficult poses to wake you up and get you out of your head? Chill out in restorative poses and let yourself finally wind down? Both?? Explore and be open. Get on your mat, guidance will come.
- Pranayama. Pranayama. Pranayama.
- By now I know you’re making your own list.
- Cook amazing food.
- Call politicians.
- Study spiritual texts.
- Listen to revolutionary analysis.
- You have so many cool things you love… and theres no rush to do them all right now. Maybe just a take it a day at a time. A breath at the time. We may not have asked for a deep dose of spiritual practice, but hey. Here it is!
“Resilience does not mean we never experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity in their lives. The purpose of practicing a resilience skill is to increase emotional well-being in the face of events that can lead to physical and emotional upset.”
.-Randy Ernst, Scott Reed, Virginia Welle
*Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by BKS Iyengar