~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Self Care in the New Year

December 31, 2020

To help us manage our long pandemic season, I've challenged myself this winter to share favorite self-care strategies that can help us all stay afloat. The world is awash in simple practices that cultivate health and wholeness, and now is the perfect time to add them to your toolbox of wellbeing. I hope you'll find something here that brings you light and keeps your heart afloat all the way into spring.

First off, DANCE. Turn up your favorite music and let your body move to the beat. Doing this every day would be great, but if not, how about any time you feel the need to let life shake through you and out into the world? Kids don't care how they look when they shimmy through the living room, and neither should the rest of us. You are never too old to dance! Not sure about this? Movement educator Esther Gokhale holds a dance part/movement class every single day. I wrote about my love for these classes here.

 

MEDITATE.  It's everywhere these days, and for good reason. If you already meditate, the new year is a great time to reinvigorate your practice. Grab your favorite book off the shelf (or app on your phone) and get started. If you're new, here are a few ways to begin: Gil Fronsdal offers daily meditation sessions live on YouTube; Sylvia Boorstein offers a streaming class in mindful living; and Pema Chodron has a huge selection of wise and wonderful books and audio programs. If you're just starting out with meditation, here's my own guide to getting started

 

STRETCH. The body loves length and space and a sense of inner openness and ease. You likely already have your favorite stretches and strategies, and I'll add gentle traction to the list. Hang from ropes if you're a seasoned yogi, or dangle off the edge of your couch if you're a kid. Or,  simply pull your hips away from your ribs when you lie down, or gently cradle the back of your head in your hands and gently draw the head away from the shoulders. Here's a video of Iyengar yoga teacher Elise Browning Miller demonstrating one of my favorite ways to add gentle traction to downward-facing dog pose. My only advice is to check your door first to make sure your hinges are secure! (Also, you may feel more comfortable trying this the first time with someone else in the house, just in case you feel a little discombobulated when emerging.)
 

How about giving BOX BREATHING a try? This gentle breathing practice helps steady the nervous system while giving the brain something neutral - and perhaps more wholesome than your meandering thoughts - to focus on. The practice is simple: Gently shape the breath so that its four phases - inhale, pause at the end of the inhale, exhale, and space at the end of the exhale - are equal in length. I offer a box breathing primer here


If you are looking for a gentle and uplifting practice, explore THE EIGHT SILKEN BROCADES. This classic qigong flow takes about 20 minutes and can be practiced anywhere, any time. Once you memorize the routine, it's yours for life. Learn more about the eight brocades, and explore my favorite guided practices here.

 

Winter is the perfect season to master the fine art of DEEP REST. There is something delicious and healing about just giving up and lying down, surrendering to gravity and befriending the earth. You already know how to do this, but if you need some inspiration, here's my paean to resting deeply.  

 

SING! - Make a joyful noise, in the shower, in the car, in the backyard, in the kitchen. Now isn't a good time to join a choir, but we can still sing alone. Consider this a modern-day yoga  breathing practice to strengthen your lungs and your spirit. Need a little more inspiration? I wrote singing as a New Year's resolution here.

 

If you practice yoga, why not slip a new exploration into your repertoire? I have been inspired by yoga teacher Shiva Rea to develop my own PRANAM practice, a moving body-prayer of thanksgiving and devotion. Pranams resemble sun salutations (I call them reverse sun salutes because we start at the back of the mat instead of the front), but to me they feel much more fluid and silky. This video by Shiva Rea is so beautiful and inspiring, but don't be intimidated - pranams can be easily modified to suit the needs of each of us. Background about the practice, along with step-by-step instructions, can be found here.

 

You might just fall in love with the BREATH OF JOY, a simple movement and breathing practice that energizes the body and uplifts the heart in less than the time it takes to check your email. There are lots of variations, so if you explore the practice you will likely find one that suits your needs perfectly. Here's a gentle introduction by yoga teacher Amy Weintraub, here's a slightly more vigorous version, and here's a variation for school children.


Qigong offers a simple and beautiful BONE MARROW CLEANSE practice that combines movement, meditation and visualization, and feels so fortifying for the body, mind and spirit. Mimi Kuo Deemer offers a lovely guided practice here. It takes only eight minutes, and may just provide an instant reset to your day.


Restorative yoga offers simple and earth-bound yoga poses that are held for longer periods of time so that the body and mind can rest deeply. My very favorite restorative yoga pose is VIPARITA KARANI, also known as legs-up-the-wall pose. (It can easily be modified to legs-up-on-the-edge-of-the-couch pose, too!). I shared step-by-step instructions for Yoga Journal magazine here, long ago. 

 

And if you enjoy resting deeply, perhaps you'd like to explore a LUNG SUPPORT RESTORATIVE PRACTICE that helps restore a sense of openness and ease in the breathing body. I fell in love with this practice by Lisa Peterson early on in the pandemic and still practice it often. 


Perhaps you'd like to try a little YOGA FOR YOUR EYES? Now more than ever, screen time can lead to eye strain and brain fatigue. Several years ago I wrote an article for Yoga International offering simple practices that some say can help soothe and strengthen the eyes. The exercises are simple and can be practiced almost any time. Here's a link to that article.

 

 

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Check back here for additional self-care strategies shared throughout the winter season.