- By Sannyasi Shivani Howe
As we fully come into the depths of Winter I wanted to share with you a few thoughts on Self-care. Firstly defining what Self-care is: Self-care how we care for ourselves, not how we get others to care for us. This takes a high degree of self-awareness, kindness and a fierce commitment and responsibility to our own health; mental, emotional and physical.
Self-care means creating a life where we care about and prioritize (!) what is going on inside of us, and take responsibility for how we are contributing to the health and well-being of the world around us. So Self-care is really an aspect of LIVING Yoga.
Sometimes, even if we have been blessed enough to create a life where we love what we do, and are financially supported to do what we love, (as I hope most Yoga teachers out there feel) it’s still important to recognize that feeling burnt out and tapped are a very real experiences. These feelings are great signposts that we are no longer living in the flow of Divine will. The reality is that, if we are not strong, healthy and connected with our cup runneth over then, we don’t have a lot to offer the community.
The key is to learn to pick up on our subconscious cues early so we can make small adjustments to our day and routines to help us stay on track. As opposed to waiting until we are frayed at the seams and about to crack before we take a step back and recalibrate. It’s all about moment-to-moment awareness and adjustments. The little efforts add up considerably and when put together create a Sattvic lifestyle.
This means having a toolbox that we can refer to to help recalibrate, and reorientate our internal world to a state of harmony so that we can hold that space effectively in the community.
Here are a few gems in my toolbox that keep me inspired, present, my eye on the light and my cup overflowing.
MOUNA - By far this is one of the most profound and strongly recalibrating practices I have ever practised as a Yogini. Challenging if you have small children, but it's more about prioritizing it than making excuses. 2 hours. 4 hours. 6 hours. Block it off. Prioritize it, prioritize YOU. No books. No phones. No social media. No talking. (obviously Mouna is much more than no talking but let’s start small ) - IT HAS CHANGED MY LIFE and literally changed my functional paradigm, especially if I can block off more than 6 hours. Not an easy practice, but nothing fills my cup faster.
UP BEFORE DAWN - Even if it is 10 mins before the sun rises, stepping into my day while it’s still dark outside is a real gift. To have the first light be a candle of remembrance and mantra rather than the blue rectangle of my phone is imperative to my mental health.
STARTING MY DAY WITH AJAPAJAPA or internal MANTRA - I’m not much of morning person. I love the mornings but I’m not always a big fan of other people in my mornings. So starting my day with my first words to be in gratitude to the Divine through mantra is really important for my orientation. My first words really need to be “Akhand-Mandalakaram” and not “Must have coffee”.
PUT THE PHONE AWAY - Seriously. It sounds do-able until I go to do it. Then I remember someone who is supposed to call, an email that I forgot to do three days ago… All of these things are Vata high (too much mental stimulation and anxiety - not enough grounding or presence) I try and keep my phone on silent or do not disturb outside of regular business hours. I love the practice of leaving my phone in the kitchen so that I can’t keep checking the time in the middle of the night or reading the online newspaper as I am known to do at 3am.
BALANCE THE WANT-TOS AND THE OUGHT-TO’S - Hopefully we are able to create a life where the ought to's and the want-to’s are one and the same. But even though I absolutely love what I do, sometimes even teaching feels like an ought to rather than a want-to. And this is my alarm bell that its time for some self-care.
Once we have established a baseline of Sattva (and I mean established - so that our wants are not just Swadhisthana self-sabotage desires holding us in Avidya) Our want-to’s will actually be showing us what we need to do to come back into balance and health so that we can serve.
And lastly, about four times a year I like to GET BORED. That’s right - I strip away any activity (sometimes I can combine this with a Mouna practice). No clocks, books, obligations, or plans. No cleaning. Just sit there. No chores. No hiking/forest walks. Nothing. I go outside, if I can, until I get utterly bored. So bored that cleaning or chopping wood or some other ought-to seems appealing. THAT’S when I know I have been reset, that my cup is full and I’m ready to serve.
I hope that some of these tools will also help you prioritize your self-care.
Gratitude and Grief are two sides of the same coin in the currency of Love. Just as fear is our experience of Apana Vayupushing up when Trust is moving down; Gratitude is the expression of Prana Vayu emanating outwards when Grief is imploding.
One of my favourite teachings of Martin Pretchel is ‘You have to praise (read be grateful/love) to the dead in order to grieve, and you must grieve the living in order to Love’. And it is through this lens that I feel the medicine of gratitude comes forth. For, when we bring gratitude, which lives in the heart and therefore is connected to the past, to the forefront of our mind we are allowing the positive flow of energy (prana vayu) of the past to empower the present.
As with Spring, Fall is also connected to one of Niwas’ Sadhanas - Navaratri; the nine nights of Durga. This Sadhana is a wonderful way of taking all that moving energy of the Fall, the change and the transition, and consciously directing it into a practice of mantra to refine and harness the energy of transformation for Spiritual evolution. The first three days of Navaratri are dedicated to Kali - in her ability to help us let go of all that is no longer serving us. The next three days are to Lakshmi, which allows her energy of abundance to come forth and fill the space created by Kali. The last three days are dedicated to Ma Sarsaswati to create integration and wisdom around the transformation (an important aspect that many in sadhana skip or avoid). The whole experience gives one a tangible cultivation of the energy of Ma Durga. Powerful, pure, loving and all-encompassing. If you missed the opportunity to practice the Navaratri sadhana this Fall, not to worry, you will have another opportunity in the Spring.
'Til then, keep your heart flowing in gratitude; love the people and beasts in your present and your past, and drink many cups of warm turmeric milk. A wonderful elixir for this time of year.
To set a Sankalpa that is befitted to a soul such as our own, first we need engage in some self enquiring and dreaming. Take stock of your strengths and weaknesses, ambitions and needs, a technique known in our lineage as "SWAN". Dig deep and get an honest, inquiry of who you are and where you are at. What qualities do you like about yourself? Are you kind? Are you generous? Be honest and find out which of the qualities you express could benefit from some refinement. Do you anger quickly, for example? Is your generosity tethered with strings of expectations in return? Only when we have the courage to be really honest with ourselves are we able to see our true opportunities for growth. Then, with this honest picture in mind, dream about who it is you want to be. Do you want to be kinder? Do you want to experience less anger? Do you want to give more without worrying about your own coffers, thus coming into a deeper direct experience of faith? DREAM BIG. Dream your fullest potential… and then set a resolution, a Sanklapa, that is the (present tense) embodiment of that. For example, "I AM HEALTHY", "I AM UNCONDITIONALLY GENEROUS", or "I AM LIVING MY FULLEST POTENTIAL."
When these seeds are planted firmly in the heart, the universe will quickly manifest opportunities for you to move into the embodiment of this. And this is where awareness, courage, and action toward resolve comes in for, if we want to experience a change in our reality, we have to be the ones willing to change! Not always an easy pill to swallow in a society that is always looking to the outside to conform to our comfort.
Next, create ceremony. When you know your heart's desire for your inner potential, write out your Sankalpa on a piece of paper, light a candle, put the paper on the altar and sing or chant mantra to create an orb of frequency in the room that is of the light and that can receive this prayer of your heart. When you can feel this shift in the space, set alight the paper with your intention written on it. Dissolve the intention so that it permeates the very air you breath…
My prayer to you for this year ahead is that you experience the courage and Grace needed to journey consciously and with gusto toward your fullest potential, your love of life, and your path to Re-membrance of your soul.
Om and Prem.
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