SITE UPGRADE COMING SOON: On or around January 31st, 2022, I'll be moving Mindful Teachers to a new, more mobile-friendly platform.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Realistic Self-Care: What Does Your Body Need?

by Catharine Hannay

I know three super-responsible women who are constantly on the go, taking care of their own children as well as their students or clients, never taking a break... except when they get migraines and have to cancel everything and stay in bed all day. 

Personally, I've never suffered from migraines, but I have noticed that the more stressed and preoccupied I am, the more likely I am to catch the flu. And I've finally let go of my tendency to return to work far earlier than I should, which only makes it take longer to recuperate (not to mention the risk of infecting other people, which isn't exactly responsible or kind). 

Your situation may be different.

Perhaps you need a glass of wine (or two or three) every night after work to unwind... 

or perhaps you don't exercise or eat healthy meals because you're in survival mode pretty much all the time...

or perhaps you spend several hours a day hunched over a desk and then slouch your way home on your commute only to spend the rest of the evening slumped on the sofa mindlessly consuming snacks and infotainment.

None of this makes you a bad person. 

However, it does mean you need to start taking better care of your body.

In an earlier post on on self-care ('Is It Possible to Keep All the Balls in the Air?'), I mentioned that "I've finally learned to let go of my list of what I 'should' do to be healthy."
"Now, rather than pushing myself to be dutiful, I regularly ask myself, 'What does my body need right now?' Most of the time there’s a clear and simple answer. Sit up straight. Stop staring at a screen. Take a walk."
I invite you to ask yourself that question, and then to think about how you can get what your body needs in the midst of everything else that's going on in your life. (You know, all those things that normally take precedence over taking care of yourself.)

Your answers might be quite different from mine, but they will likely fall into the same three general categories: movement, nourishment, and rest.

from Make It a Good Day, by Jennifer Universe. Used with permission.

1) Movement

Rainbow Walk” is one of the most popular activities here at Mindful Teachers, for all sorts of ages and contexts. It started when I realized that I kept walking past beautiful spring flowers every day without really seeing them. 

My apartment was about a 15-minute walk to the bus and subway station. I was walking anyway, so it didn't take any additional time, and this way I spent the whole time noticing the vibrant colors in my neighbors' gardens rather than worrying about work.

This is still one of my favorite ways to clear my head and get some gentle exercise. Depending on the season, though, it can be more like a Nothing But Brown and Gray Walk. So I switch to Counting Sounds Walk.

And when the weather's really bad I switch to walking-based workout videos on youtube: Jessica Smith, Leslie Sansone,  Jenny Ford, and Lucy Wyndham-Read all have a lot of options. (Jessica Smith has a 'walk and talk' series that focuses on self-care topics, which is a nice bonus. I've included a few of them on the Self-Care Video Playlist: Gentle Yoga, Mindful Movement, and Indoor Walking)

2) Nourishment

What's fueling you?

At least here in the U.S., a lot of so-called 'healthy' snacks are basically just cookies or candy in disguise. (I'm thinking of things like trail mix with a lot of chocolate mixed in, and all the various types of granola bars, cereal bars, and energy bars.) And wellness coach Debra Mazda points out that “muffins may seem healthy, but if you think about it, they’re just small cakes that are simply loaded with sugar, fat and lots of calories.

As I mention in a post on quick self-care breaks:
"I used to be convinced that I didn't have time to eat lunch, or that I had to correct papers with one hand while using the other hand to mindlessly shove food in my mouth.  
I finally decided to time myself. It only took five minutes with no distractions to enjoy a small salad or half a sandwich. I ate the rest of my lunch in another short break after classes ended for the day." 
Realistic Self-Care: How Many Minutes Have You Got?

from Make It a Good Day, by Jennifer Universe. Used with permission.

3) Rest 

When we think about what we're consuming, we should also focus on how we're filling our minds. 

When you take a break, do you really take a break? 

With so many screens and distractions at our disposal, a 'break' often means overstimulation from infotainment. 

As my husband puts it, 

Most of what's on the internet is like corn syrup. You get a big rush out of it, but then you crash.

I suspect that mindfulness meditation has become so popular in the past few years because we're all so overwhelmed. 

“Even if we're not talking with others, reading, listening to the radio, watching television, or interacting online, most of us don't feel settled or quiet. This is because we're still tuned into an internal radio station, Radio NST (Non-Stop Thinking). Even when we're sitting still, with no external stimuli, an endless internal dialogue may be going on in our head.”
Thich Nhat Hanh Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise

I don't do a lot of seated meditation, since I spend so much time sitting already, but I try to do a lot of mindful walking. One time, I was strolling along the side of the road trying to bring my attention back to the present moment, but instead I kept talking to myself about a stressful incident that happened a few days earlier.

Suddenly this voice came down from the heavens and shouted:

“Would you just SHUT UP!”
That really freaked me out, especially since it happened when I was spending the weekend at a Christian retreat center. 

But then I heard more shouting, and I realized that I wasn't about to face the wrath of God. I just happened to be passing a house where a couple was arguing.

Now, whenever I find myself caught in unproductive rumination, I think of that incident and it makes me smile and refocus my attention.

If you're new to mindfulness meditation, here are a couple of  posts that can help you get started:


The two biggest misunderstandings about self-care are that it's selfish and self-indulgent. Quite the opposite. It's helpful and healthy.

When we feel strong and centered and calm, well-rested and well-nourished, we have more energy to help others. There's nothing selfish or self-indulgent about that.

Illustrations for this post were provided by author/illustrator Jennifer Universe from Make It a Good Day, a children's book that also offers encouraging tips for adults to create a positive self-care routine.