One of the biggest components in my self-care toolkit is yoga.
The most important place to start with self-care is to actually understand how you’re feeling in this moment. You can’t begin to know how to take care of yourself if you’re not entirely sure what you’re experiencing.
Start with this.
Create a regular practice of dropping into your body and breath
This doesn’t need to take more than 30 seconds. All you have to do is notice how you feel.
1. Scan the body
Let your senses wander the inner and outer trains of your body and check in with the physical sensations that are present.
How do your shoulders feel? Are they heavy? Is there a throbbing or pulsing sensation?
How about your jaw? Are you clenching your teeth or even your tongue? Can you release the lower jaw just a touch so the tongue is softly set in the mouth?
How is your neck? What does it feel like as you invite micro movements into this area? Can you respond respectfully and tenderly to what is there?
The more regularly we make this part of a daily routine, the quicker the process becomes, and the more apt we get at reading the messages our bodies send us.
Vitally, we start to recognise that the physical manifestations are more often than not a direct reflection of how we’re feeling emotionally and mentally. Receiving this information and acting on it is crucial for our wellbeing.
2. Tune in to the breath
Like the feedback we receive from our body, our breath can often act like a mirror for what is happening in our lives at any given moment. Do you know what you breathing feels like when you're tense? How about when you're nice and relaxed?
Often, the mere act of observing the breath is enough to slow the rate of breathing down, which soothes the central nervous system and helping us feel immediately more at ease.
So try to weave these questions in when you next tune in to your breathing.
Where do you notice your breath originating from? Is it low down in your belly? Higher up in your rib cage or maybe under the collarbones?
Does the quality of your breath feel smooth or choppy? Does it have a steady rhythmic feel or is it unsettled, irregular?
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to breathe.
A slow, natural breath is typically associated with the way we tend to breath when asleep or feeling relaxed.
Breathing slowly and deeply begins to recalibrate our nervous system, bringing it from 'fight or flight' (sympathetic nervous system) back to 'rest and digest' (parasympathetic nervous system).
Our bodies can't differentiate between real and perceived danger so the stresses of everyday life mean we tend to hang out in 'fight or flight' mode far too often. But it's only when we're in 'rest and digest' mode that healing takes place.
Once you've established how you're feeling in the moment, you're better equipped to decide what sort of yoga practice will guide you towards a place of balance and wellness.
Exhausted or overwhelmed? Try 20 mins of restorative yoga
If you're feeling tired, overwhelmed or depleted, a 20 minute restorative practice might be just what your body and mind needs.
Using props is particularly effective here as the weight of your body is beautifully supported. Muscles, skin and bone are gently invited to let go and your nervous system noticeably exhales along with the rest of the body.
Don't have props? That's totally fine. Just tapping in to the feel of the ground or earth beneath you will be enough to offer that feeling of being held.
Feeling stuck? Flow on your mat
If you're feeling stuck emotionally or perhaps in a work situation, getting out of your head and into your body can be an incredibly effective way to release.
Try a simple flowing sequence like a few rounds of sun salutations, paying careful attention to linking your breath to your movements. Take deep, generous breaths as you move and keep your gaze steady.
These postures should be gently aligned in a way that feels harmonious for your body so there's no need to overcomplicate the sequence.
Feeling scattered? Tap into the power Tadasana (mountain pose)
The next time you feel like your attention is being pulled in a hundred different directions, try standing in Tadasana (mountain pose) for a full minute.
Feel your feet in contact with the earth and try to embody the qualities of the mountain - steady, focused, connected, rooted. Breathe deeply.
The beauty of this pose is that you can do it anywhere, when you're standing in a queue or at the kitchen sink. It's always there when you need it.
Short on time? Do some breath-work
Try this next time you feel overwhelmed for whatever reason. It has a profound effect on the nervous system, gently guiding it back towards its natural state of 'rest and digest' (parasymathetic mode).
Take a comfortable position, either lying down or sitting
Bring your attention to the breath and notice its rhythm
Internally repeat the word 'let' on the inhale, and 'go' on the exhale
When you're feeling more in tune, try extending the exhale so that it's twice as long as the inhale (perhaps by 1-2 counts)