It’s the Christmas season: time to remember the self-care gifts we need to give ourselves
I am just back from the world of shopping malls decked out in fir trees, faux snow and fairy lights. I am so happy that for another year, I don’t have to participate in the madness of Christmas shopping.
It’s not that I don’t like gift giving. On the contrary, I think it’s an important ritual that creates connection and goodwill between people. It’s a way of spreading love in a world that needs all the love it can get.
But I object to waste. Like many of us, I prefer to give gifts that don’t create extra clutter in the recipients home. This year my friends received fresh dates and halva I brought back from Iran. In the past I used to make things, like jams, or home-made cookies.
Since I’ve already given abundantly to my nearest and dearest this year, there will be no Christmas shopping for me this year, hallelujah!
Don’t get me wrong, I actually love Christmas. I grew up in Germany, how could I not! There is an introspective quality to this time of the year, especially in the Northern hemisphere, when the days are short and the air is crisp. It’s time to take stock, to contemplate what has been, what will be and to give thanks to the abundance in our lives.
It’s also a time of the year when I like to think about the self-care gifts that I’ve given myself. How have I made sure I nourished myself?
Aside from my regular daily practices of meditation, yoga and journaling, all of which I usually manage to do in any random order before noon, I’ve given myself exactly three massages and four pedicures this year. Totally ridiculous seeing that I live in Vietnam, the land of cheap spa packages! But it’s better than the previous year.
There are also three essential self-care gifts that I’ve recently added to my life and that I’d like to share with you. More sleep (sensational!), Yin Yoga and Contemplative Photography.
Four essential self-care gifts I’ve indulged in this year
Yin Yoga popped onto my radar a few years ago and suddenly it’s hip all over the world. I’ve intuitively practised it for a long time, without knowing its name. When I ask my students if they’ve done Yin Yoga, I am always surprised by how many hands go up.
Yin Yoga is a cooling, quiet practice of long-held floor poses. What I love about it, is the emphasis on cultivating contemplative stillness. We typically hold poses from 3 to up to 7 minutes. Trying to stay with your comfortable edge while your hips are talking to you, can be as challenging as a Vipassana meditation. But it’s worth it. Staying present with whatever arises can teach us a lot about who we are.
In my workshops I combine that kind of insight, straight from the body, with journaling. Both are forms of deep listening, to the tight muscles and to our reactions to going deep into our connective tissues and all those knobbly bits in our body that are hard and tight.
It’s a practice I also do at home. I think of it as a form of preventative medicine. It’s like a mindfulness pause that is ALSO good for my writer’s back. Yes, I do spend way too much time in front of the computer.
You don’t have to have a regular yoga practice to benefit from Yin Yoga. I treat it like a little treat I give my body in the afternoons to wind down and to remember to stretch, or maybe before my daily yoga practice to ground myself.
Stretching my body in a long-held forward bends, or even just in a wide-legged dog pose, listening to Dewa Premal or one of our sound bowl meditations feels so good. It’s like injecting a shot of wheatgrass into my ligaments and connective tissues to keep them all juicy. Delicious!
This one should have been a no-brainer. I can’t believe it took me so long to accept that the gift of eight hours regular sleep is the best thing you can do for your skin, your focus, your mood and the well-being of those who live and work with you.
For decades I was a bad sleeper. I’d work late, I took ages to fall asleep and I’d ponder monumental problems at 3 am. The next day I’d be cranky, unfocused and reactive. It felt like I was living with a perpetual hangover. Sounds familiar?
When I first started freelancing, things got worse. It took me a while to realise the simple fact that looking at a computer screen, including my Firefox Kindle e-reader, told my brain to stay awake.
So now I do what all sensible people do. I don’t allow myself to look at the screen for an hour before bed time. I’ve changed to a Kindle Paperwhite and I put my phone on flight mode 30 minutes before bed time.
But the biggest and most valuable change is my new bed time. Ever since moving to the rice fields of rural Vietnam, surrounded by neighbors who rise before the sun does, I generally go to bed when they do. It’s rare for me to be out and about after 9:30 pm, in fact on many days I am in bed by 8:30 pm. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but it feels so good!
Thanks to Arianna Huffington and her new book The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night At A Time, prioritizing our sleep is the new sexy. She calls our collective sleep deprivation the new smoking.
So for 2020, I plan to continue to go to bed with the farmers and rise at dawn. On Sundays I am allowed to stay in bed to read. Yum! How about you?
A new hobby: Contemplative Photography
This one found me. Like Yin Yoga, I’ve intuitively practised contemplative photography before finding out it had a name and a hashtag. #contemplativephotography
I discovered photography as a mindfulness practice accidentally during my healing journey. Going through the darkness of grief, my camera allowed me to take a pause from my pain to focus on the light around me. Experimenting to shoot in manual mode, trying different ways to capture the first and last light of the day, made me become absorbed in the creative act.
Wandering the length of the beach alone with my camera at sunrise and sunset is still my favorite thing to do when I am back home in Far North Queensland. The spectacular landscape of the Wet Tropics, especially in the wet season, when monumental cyclones and double rainbows form, is like a giant, ever-changing canvas.
Playing with composition and exposure, takes me into a zen state. I am simply in the moment. I zoom in on the beauty of the shifting skies, a storm cloud as it sweeps across the island opposite my home, rain falling in sheets, or the silhouette of palm trees reflected on the sand at low tide after the rain. It’s a form of mindful seeing, of capturing what is impermanent and fleeting.
Moving back to Vietnam earlier this year, photography has been instrumental in connecting with the land and the people. This year, I’ve consciously played with it as a mindfulness practice. It’s so grounding.
A new hobby can be life changing. Learning something new for the first time as adults opens us up to our creative potential. Painting, drawing, calligraphy, maybe even knitting, can take us to that same zen-like state of being in the moment of creation.
4. The gift of deep listening
I first learned about the value of deep listening as a precious gift we can give ourselves and others when I stayed at Thich Nhat Hanh’s Mindfulness Meditation Practice Centre.
Journaling has been my way of deep listening to myself. But Thay, as the Vietnamese Zen monk is affectionately known, opened my eyes to another way of practising deep listening. As a gift to others. By listening deeply and with compassion to others, Thay says, we can help relieve the suffering of another person. It requires us to listen with the sole purpose of helping the other, without judging, reacting, criticising or analysing.
Deep listening is the kind of listening that helps us to keep compassion alive while the other speaks, which may be for half an hour or forty-five minutes. During this time you have in mind only one idea, one desire: to listen in order to give the other person the chance to speak out and suffer less. This is your only purpose. Other things like analyzing, understanding the past, can be a by-product of this work. But first of all listen with compassion. —Thich Nhat Hanh
So there you have it. Four self-care gifts I’ve indulged in this year. What gifts did you discover for yourself this year? I would love to hear from you.
Please feel free to pass on to your friends and family!
I’ll share three mindfulness self-care gift ideas,
for yourself or others.