This is the first in a series of eight interactive posts written and designed to examine, learn and take actionable steps towards the practice of self-care. We’ll also hear from professional practitioners who will share more of the “science” behind their practices. We firmly believe that having an educated view of the body and the brain makes it easier to process change in a less emotional way. Practical knowledge tames our inner critic that often prevents us from sticking with a plan until it becomes habit.
Please join us each Tuesday at 1 pm for some self-exploration + exercises to build good habits and instill positive self-care into your everyday routine.
I frequently recall an anecdote when I am in the throes of stress, guilt and over-scheduling — or in all honesty, all of the above. Let me just say, this phrase is burned into my head not because I have always been gentle with myself, but because I have said it over and over to others to help them out of a bad moment. Here it is:
“There’s a reason the flight attendants instruct you to use the oxygen mask yourself before you pass the mask to a companion or small child.”
Again, the habit of espousing this phrase comes from my desire to help others in crisis. I turned 49 three weeks ago and, as my daughter prepared to return to school, I knew deep in my gut that it was time for me to return to school, too. It was time for self-care. It wasn’t just about me remembering to carry my water bottle with me at all times or sign up for a yoga class. It was time to take a thoughtful inventory of myself on many levels and not run away from the good, the bad and the ugly. It is time for me to know deeply that there is no ugly.
This is very difficult to remember in the context of our technology-driven social landscape, where your dinner doesn’t compare to the photograph which represents the recipe you followed. We all consciously know these images are constructed and don’t necessarily reflect real life, yet over time, the images floating around in our brain and memory trump what we see before our very eyes. This results in involuntary, sometimes unnoticeable, discomfort. That is a nice way of saying we subject ourselves to so much stress unknowingly every day that it has become critical to combat that through a self-care practice.
It took me many years to realize that didn’t mean I had to give up certain material comforts or forgo bacon for a macro-biotic diet. I was thinking in extremes, in stereotypes, and it took many years and many baby-steps to reframe my vision of a healthy, balanced life. That’s why today, in this debut post of our new self-care and wellness column, we’re examining Patience.
Before you’re really able to be deeply in the present (where there is no ugly or best), you need to take a personal inventory of how much patience you currently possess. Even if you think you are the most patient person you know, trust me — there’s still plenty of benefits to this first exercise. In fact, if you think you’ve mastered patience and you commit to doing this exercise, I bet you’ll do a lot of heavy sighing and internal eye-rolling. I did. This immediately showed me that I absolutely needed to do this exercise!
We’ll be working with a brush and paint in this exercise. Before we begin, I want you to think about brushing. Yes, I mean brushing as in brushing your hair, brushing your dog, and brushing your teeth. Brushing is really an act of patience and care. It’s slow. It takes time. For some of us, it’s one of those “chores” we have to check off our list. Whole industries have been born so we care outsource brushing — think dog groomers, dry bars, even house painters. Enlisting the help of an expert is a luxury and is well-worth it in a lot of cases. But this is about self-care, so we’re going to review the benefits of common activities when we make the time to do it for ourselves.
Remember, hair brushing used to be a nightly female ritual. Think of an old movie where sisters in the film gather before bed for a marathon hair-brushing session. The act of brushing one’s hair before bed provided time for self-reflection and signaled to the body and the brain that it was time to slow down and prepare for rest. And bonus! It feels good.
Here’s the exercise for cultivating patience:
- Paint Brush
- Paints (I used craft paints, but any paint will do — make sure you have white!)
- Balsa Wood or Paper (I like to use balsa wood for its literal elemental quality. Paper works just fine, too.)
- String (Optional)
This exercise is simply about working with the fluidity of paint and the properties of a brush. You’ll be mixing colors to get as close as you can to the colors of the day in the Ayurvedic system of colors.
Benefits of the Exercise
- Noticing the passage of time
- Feeling fluidity
- Guiding change
- Letting go of perfection
- Developing patience through slow activity
Why the Ayurvedic colors? (Click through the slide show to see each day of the week and its color meanings.)
- We will learn about and appreciate an ancient system.
- We’re preparing the brain to embrace ritual in advance of creating our own good habits.
- We’re allowing for quiet contemplation of a system of ideas and how they might differ from our own.
- Download the Color System sheet here and click through the slide show at the top of the post to learn more about each color.
1. Use the color chart to blend your paint into the three colors representing the current day of the week.
2. Take your time mixing small bits of paints together until you’ve achieved a match you’re satisfied with. Notice any resistance or frustration you experience during the process.
3. While mixing the paint with the brush, notice the fluidity of the paint (or water and paint if you’re using watercolors). Feel how much control you have over the brush or how the stiffness of the brush is guiding the color.
4. Before you put the paint on the wood or paper, feel the surface of it. Notice its properties. Is it smooth? Rough? Thin?
5. Paint your mixed colors onto your wood or paper. Once you’ve finished, find a special place to hang your work where you’ll see it frequently. When you look at it, you will be reminded of the time and patience it took for you to create it and you will be reminded of this act of self-care. This should bring a smile to your face. If it doesn’t, repeat the exercise each day of the week until it does!
And YES, I want to hear from those of you who did this exercise! Let me know about all of the things you learned, and how frustrated and impatient you got. It took me over two weeks to get to a sustained calm throughout the entire process. But, now when I find myself getting impatient or stressed, my brain and body immediately remember what they are supposed to do — breathe, relax and smile.
Thank yourself for taking the time to read about self-care. You’re already building good habits!