"Becoming friendly with the body means recognizing "I live here" and feeling appreciation and love for the body..."
~Jasmine Lee Cori, Healing from Trauma
I remember, as a kid of the 90's, watching those commercials where there was a person in the kitchen about to cook something. They have an egg in one hand and they say, "This is your brain, this is your brain on drugs" throwing the egg on the wall. In this day and age the most toxic thing that precedes the drugs that are prescribed to us, is stress. Whether mental, emotional, or physical, stress can lead us to unhealthy habits which can transform into diseases, like heart disease.
My PSA would be, "This is your body, this is your body on stress." Stress also has a strong hold on our brains and nervous system (they are literally connected), not just the body, but we feel the lasting effects of the stress in our bodies. When we are constantly stressed out by either work, school or making ends meat on our survive essentials (water, food, shelter); our bodies never go into the rest and digest (nervous) system. Our bodies do not get the time to replenish chemical and hormonal sources and become imbalanced. I think maybe I need to explain further, I need to quickly explain the two nervous systems, so I can be clearer on what we are talking about.
Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)
The Sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is the system in charge of flight, fight or freeze. It is your SNS when you need to get up and out of the house to get to work on time, or get out of the way of the lion so you don't get eaten. Nowadays we don't have a threat of a lion, but our lifestyles have changed and so has the lion. The lion may be work, school, or past experiences of trauma. When we are always in this go-go-go state/SNS our body is releasing chemicals and hormones to get out of the danger, or out of thestressful situation.
Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)
The Parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is the part of your nervous system that helps rest, digest, and rebuild your body and mind. Your heart rate lowers and your body is able to rebuild neurons in the brain and tissue throughout the body.
"However, even though the mind may learn to ignore the messages from the emotional brain, the alarm signals don't stop. The emotional brain keeps working, and stress hormones keep sending signals to the muscles to tense for action or immobilize in collapse."
~Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score
Breath in. Breath out.
Ah, a more simpler way to think about the two systems is with breath.
Breathe in. What do you notice? Heart rate rises? Tightening of the muscles? That is SNS.
Breathe out. What do you notice? Deeper awareness of your body? Maybe more relaxed? That is PNS.
Breath in. Breath out.
How do we release this held tension contractions from our body? If the body is consistently ON: on edge, on the go. In the SNS your hormone levels will become out of balance and then we begin to self-sooth with external things (i.e. alcohol, drugs, shopping, t.v. etc).
But this lifestyle of using external THINGS to self-sooth you as a human do not teach you how to process the pain, stress or discomfort of what may be happening. The patterns of stress stay contracted within your body. With the use of external self-soothing of our nervous system we use toxic ways that can lead into even more detrimental ways of life just to cope.
Self-Care is not self-ISH
Self-care is what sustains us in our human bodies. We must put on the oxygen mask first, otherwise we take on others' stress or trauma and we burnout. Some ideas of self-care could look like: going on a walk, journaling, venting to a friend, or doing yoga. These are great! Keep doing them! Sometimes we need to be inspired to add more to our routines because we have hit our limits and need more tools.
Here are my top 3 self-care rituals for a more balanced life.
1. Wake up with gratitude
When I wake up, whether I want to get up or not, I simply say how grateful I am to be alive. The more I have been practicing gratitude, the more aware I am of the simple things can be the biggest blessing. This also changes my brain and outlook on life. Moving from external things to make us "happy" to honoring what we already have in this present moment. Some of us live in abundance (warm bed, roof over our heads, job(s) to pay the bills, etc), but we are not living here appreciating what we already have. The more we practice gratitude the more we realize what we are grateful for.
Gratitude is my attitude!
2. Waking up with yoga or movement
Before I hit the shower, before I hit the yoga mat, before I have my breakfast. I roll out of bed (or roll over in the bed, sometimes it's too cold to leave the warmth) and I find a child's pose (Balasana). I start slowly, I start in stillness, reminding myself I have the whole day to go quickly, now is the time to wake, slowly. Maybe that is not your pose. Maybe you could instead find a creative way out of your bed, like a modified downward dog pose, into some lunges, maybe rolling out the body or dry brushing is what you need. But by using movement this helps move the blood flow and in turn helps wake you up faster. A more natural coffee approach if you will.
3. Eat Nourishing Foods
This may be a complicated idea, since eating is external to internal, but it is what happens chemically inside the body to the greens and veggies that are being processed. When you eat nutrient dense foods you are not only getting fueled up, but you are also rebuilding your body one molecule at a time. I am not here to shame anyone, but I will plea with you all to eat as much WHOLE, natural, non-processed foods as often as you can. Think about it this way, you are made up of 75% of water. Fruits and veggies are also made up of mostly water (AND minerals and vitamins). So when you are eating your water, you are eating your multivitamin, and your rebuilding cells. How awesome!
When I prepare my food that becomes my meditation as well. Have fun. Enjoy this simple pleasure of being able to cook one meal a week for the nourishment of self.
"For it seems like I am telling you what to eat. look again. I am sharing with you what and how I eat. The pleasure we seek in our desire for food is a pleasure that we must find for ourselves by turning into the arcing, rhythmic character of our desire for food..."
~Kimerer L. LaMothe, What a Body Knows
I hope this has inspired you to add these simple practices to your daily life. Moving from a stressed out state of survival to a place of thriving, we then can listen to our needs of the self. It has been a life long evolving experiment of mine to bring balance and nurturing self-care practices into my life. There are no hard or fast rules of well-being and everyone is different and at different levels at Earth school. Listening to what we need when we need it, that is the greatest teacher. Sometimes we only listen to our bodies when we are burnt out, injured, or get sick. We then have to slow down and listen deeply. So before we get to the rock bottom of our bodies on stress, let's listen to the body when there is a small amount of stress and move with compassion from there.
Interested in learning more? I will be hosting a workshop (more associated with the physical practice of self-care) THIS Saturday Feb. 10th 1-3pm at Square One Yoga in Emeryville.
Sign up HERE.
What are your self-care rituals?
Let me know in the comments down below!