I am so grateful that a few weeks ago in the Yoga Tune Up® (YTU) classes at 8 Limbs, Diane asked if I could offer a routine that folks could do at home. This was probably one of the most challenging requests to date, and I’m soooo happy for it. Answering this request gave me a lot of clarity about what a self care practice was and how I could teach it to a larger group (and then write about it for you!).
Because YTU classes are predominately focused on the physical body, I starting thinking of parts of the body that commonly need some love. What set of techniques/movements would benefit almost everyone and how can I put that into a 10-15 min morning routine? Focus on the feet? Upper back? I. Got. Nothing. Except the gut feeling that I was being really narrow-minded.
This is gonna get long, but bear with me. I promise there's a REALLY sweet payoff...
Within the practice of Raja Yoga (the King's path, the type of yoga most commonly taught in the United States), there are 8 "limbs" or "steps" to follow. The second one of these steps is a group of principles called the niyamas, and within the niyamas there is self-study. It kinda gets tucked away, without nearly the focus that we give the physical practice you see in most yoga studios. But it’s a powerful, foundational part of yoga as a whole. This was the missing ingredient as I pondered an at-home self-care practice. We can’t care for something unless we know it.
The following self-care routine is the result of this exploration. It is an invitation to know yourself more deeply and care for the person you are in this precise moment. It can be done anywhere, under any time constraints with any props or none at all. There are four steps: 1) check in, 2) spend time with what is working, 3) spend time with the parts that need extra love, and 4) look at the big picture. If you have 4 minutes total, spend a minute on each step. If you have an hour, luxuriate for 15 min with each idea. Do what you can. I’d love to hear how it goes for you!
Step 1: Check In
This is where the magic happens. This step is the most important, so if you just get through this one piece, you’ve done well! This is the self-exploration where you honor and explore exactly where you’re at in this moment.
Before you begin, get comfortable. That might be seated or lying on your back, free from distractions if possible. If gentle music or lighting a candle sounds nice, do that. You can check in by ask yourself one of the following questions, or something similar.
- How does my body connect to the ground?
- Which parts of my body feel grounded and which feel lifted?
- What parts of my body am I breathing into?
- Am I experiencing any strong emotions (joy, fear, sadness, anger) and where do I feel them in my body?
Step 2: What’s working?
Upon your reflection, which part or parts of your body feel good or at ease? We don’t often focus on the things that are going really well in our bodies. It’s pretty easy to pick out something that feels painful, creaky or off. To set the tone for a richer experience of self discovery and care, spend time focusing on what feels good, noticing the positive emotions that live in your tissues and loving up the parts of your body you’re grateful for.
You can practice self-massage, roll these parts with therapy balls, find a restorative yoga position or anything else you can think of.
Step 3: What needs some love?
Now you get to explore the parts of the body that don’t feel so great. Which parts of your body are feeling creaky/tired/painful/irritable or generally need some love? Approach these parts of your bod like you would a good friend that is having a hard time. Maybe thank it for the work it does regularly and show it some love in a way that feels really good. As you do, breath deeply and try to relax the surrounding musculature.
It’s REALLY important to not aggravate existing injuries or create new ones, so if you have injury or pain, please follow your doctor’s orders and avoid rolling/massaging/activating/stretching/etc. that spot directly. You can check out Yoga Tune Up®’s rules for rolling if you’d like to use your therapy balls at home.
Step 4: Look at the big picture or build a bridge
You're more than your parts. Spend this last moment caring for the body as a whole. The following two approaches have worked for me in the past, but I'm sure there are many.
Look at the big picture. That might look like savasana, meditation, dry brushing, taking a walk, etc. Do something to care for your whole person. Use this time as an expression of gratitude for the things that your body allows you to do and feel.
Build a bridge. Pick a spot between the good and the not-so-good spots you've explored and focus on that. Think of this as a bridge where the good energy can expand and overflow into the spots that need it. I find it helpful and often illuminating when I explore this bridge. And it may just get you to love on a spot you don’t typically think of caring for