The difference between mainstream “self-care” and caring for oneself
A conversation with Insiya Rasiwala-Finn, yoga teacher, writer, and Ayurvedic counsellor
YO: When you read “self-care” in a mainstream magazine or on a billboard, what does that bring up for you?
IRF: This is so pertinent right now. I was just scrolling through my email – which attracts a lot of junk mail unfortunately – and a button on an email from GOOP (Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness site) popped out, promising mobile manicures and spa treatments.
That is exactly what self-care has come to mean in mainstream culture: taking time out of the normal hustle of daily life to receive a treatment of some kind – usually from an employee at a business. You feel like you can “escape” your normal life, and return to it possibly more relaxed, and usually more “beautiful.”
YO: What does “self-care” mean to a Yoga and Ayurvedic practitioner?
IRF: To someone who understands and follows Ayurveda, self-care is not a means to check out of normal life. It is not a luxury, something for which we shell out a lot of money once in a while. Self-care is actually a daily caring for mind, body, and spirit in order to live with more presence and fullness.
YO: How can we integrate daily care? Finding time and money for weekly, or even monthly, self-care already feels like a stretch.
IRF: First off, you do not need to outsource self-care! That defeats its purpose. You are responsible for your own self-care. Daily purification methods in Yoga and Ayurveda are broad ranging, and could include:
- waking at a certain time in the morning
- specific pranayamas or breathing exercises
- jala neti or cleaning nasal passages with salt water
- abhyanga or self-oiling of the body to calm the nervous system
- chanting to orient the mind toward greater focus and calm
- hatha yoga for health and energy flow in the body, mind and spirit
The onus is on oneself to oil the human machine. We charge our cell phones, we service our cars, but we often forget to look after the most essential machine in our lives. A daily tune-up prevents negative or toxic buildup in the body and mind.
YO: Who is excluded from the idea of self-care and for what reasons?
IRF: Unfortunately in Western culture, self-care has become, like yoga, a class-based, aspirational activity. From a mainstream perspective, this compartmentalization of self-care makes sense. If you are in survival mode, working hard to feed yourself and your family, how can you possibly take time out to care for yourself according to the glamorous, aspirational definition of self-care as portrayed in the media?
There is no time for indulgence when life is about survival. That’s definitely systemic exclusion at work.
YO:Are there other factors besides wealth that exclude people?
IRF: It’s also exclusion when people deny themselves care because they feel undeserving. This stems from a lack of self-love and self-appreciation. People believe that self-care would be available if they deserved it, rather than recognizing it as something we have to bring into our life to cultivate higher self-esteem.
YO: How do Western attitudes toward self-care differ from those in India?
IRF: I think a lot about the culture where I grew up in India. There, the wisdom practices of self-care (as I defined in the yogic way) cut across class structures.
I would love to learn more about indigenous cultures around the world and their self-care practices, related to herbalism, eating seasonally, and living more in harmony with nature. To me, these are all self-care practices as they enhance, enrich and nourish our essential health.
YO: Do you think people are attending yoga class to fulfill this pressure to self-care?
IRF: What I see at yoga studios is all over the map. There are students who have been practicing for years and come to classes just for the discipline. There are students who are new and trying to figure out what this yoga thing is.
YO: How could teachers support self-care in a typical asana-based class?
IRF: What I try to offer is a real filling up of the energetic well, which is in constant deficiency given our chaotic and always connected lives. A balanced, grounded experience of practice and breath is very important. I’m also careful to offer students a savasana that really allows space and time (it could be as brief as six minutes), that resets the nervous system. This is self-care 100%.
YO: What other concerns does the term “self-care” bring up for you?
IRF: Just that self-care is more than being in a beautiful place with your crystals and flower mandalas. Self-care is about how you encounter and treat yourself consistently at every minute in your unique, beautiful life.
Insiya Rasiwala-Finn B.A., E-RYT, Ayurvedic Health Counsellor; is a yogini and writer from Bombay, India. Since 2006, Insiya has been on a radical journey of self-healing, simplicity and exploration; sharing her insights as a yogi, a woman and a mother through writing and teaching. Insiya is known for her lyrical, heart filled yet challenging vinyasa practice; a first-person, East-West perspective in her teachings; and the ability to make the ancient wisdom of Vedic India relevant, contemporary and alive. A believer in the power of yoga to heal communities, Insiya initiated a program for new yoga teachers to share classes in Vancouver’s downtown Eastside women’s medical clinic in 2009. Insiya has been featured in Yoga Journal magazine and presents internationally at festivals such as Wanderlust and Bali Spirit. www.yogue.ca or @yogue8 on Instagram
Got your own thoughts about self-care? Share them at Yoga Outreach’s first ever tough-stuff conference: Exploring Boundaries, Building Bridges: Connecting Yoga, Community, and Self.
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