What nourishes you? What sustains you? What fills your cup to the point of overflowing and how can you travel to that well-spring often? Maybe a few times a year, we might think about taking a weekend off and doing something that feels delicious to the soul. Truth is, we all need to replenish more often.
Occasionally, my two worlds collide: the world of yoga and the world of acupuncture. This week was the perfect example. Throughout both worlds in which I spend my time, Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic and Revolver Yoga Studio, this pervasive theme of good Self-Care was made evident. People were talking to me about either embracing or struggling with self-care. Articles were put into my hands, inspirational books were opened to just the right sections, snippets on the radio all reflecting the same thing: self-care is essential.
We could all probably use a little more of it and it’s usually the first thing we let go of in order to make room for someone else (a child, a friend, a partner) who might need us. Truth is, we need ourselves. Just like the stewardess tells us when we fly: in case of an emergency, secure your oxygen mask first, then assist someone else. Minus the emergency reference, it’s good analogy for life: we cannot take good care of anyone else if we are not taking good care of ourselves.
Good self-care can look like a weekend retreat, a massage, or a hot bath. However, these are not always accessible or feasible as often as we have the need to tend to ourselves. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or even cost money, but it does need to show up for you regularly so that you can be operating from a place of fullness; the cup that overflows with generosity and not the cup we must scrape the bottom for a single drop. One way we can begin this type of self-care is by working with our minds to integrate good, daily self-care routines.
In yoga, this aspect of self-care can be seen as the practice of Santosa (san-toe-sha). The Yoga Sutras (the classical text on how to practice yoga) give 196 directives. Only two of them have to do with the physical body or the shapes we think of when we think of yoga. The other 194 have to do with the mind. Santosa is no exception. It is a Sanskrit word that is often translated as ‘contentment’. It is one of ten virtues cultivated through the practice of yoga. Nestled around this section in the Sutras are several directives that disclose how negative thought patterns impact and prevent contentment from taking root in the brain.
In medicine, I find the practice of Santosa to be challenging and yet a natural place to begin. Sometimes in the world of acupuncture, a person will come in right away after an incident. Those are the people who have been using acupuncture for a while and understand that with muscular skeletal ailments, getting in right away works better than waiting. More often, people come into the clinic with an ailment that has lasted a few to several years and are finally willing to try acupuncture. Sometimes it can take a little longer, but pain levels generally begin to lower with consecutive treatments. It’s natural. The momentum of acupuncture in the States is just beginning to roll. Most insurance policies now have acupuncture benefits. People are willing to try something different because of something that has often bothered them for years. This chronic, long-standing experience is what I want to talk about.
When something happens in our physical bodies that prevents it from functioning optimally, we begin to think negative thoughts. It’s rather insidious in how it happens, but it is the nature of the mind. First, the thoughts seem to be a logical sequence of our experience, an objective note: “my knee hurts”, “my heartbeat feels weird”, “I’m exhausted”. Very quickly thereafter, we attach an emotional experience to the observation. Even if we do not give voice to the emotion associated with the experience in our body, it is there. From this conscious or unconscious emotion that takes root over time, negative thoughts arise like sprouts in a field. One only has to think about mainstream media and body image issues to find another parallel. Dr. Bruce Lipton, Ph.D. discusses this phenomena in his brilliant book: The Biology Of Belief. Modern neuroscience continues to discover what yoga has been teaching for 2500 years: the nature of our thoughts affects the experience in our body.
One way to practice Santosa is to think one positive thought about your body every day. It can be in a form of gratitude, taking a moment to appreciate all the body does without any conscious effort on your part. Or it can simply be a compliment to some aspect of your body as you look into the mirror (“Good posture!”, “Nice smile!”). Changing the narrative and focusing on positive body thoughts ensures the unconscious negative thoughts don’t take root in our psyche. Or in Yoga Sutras terms, we begin to find peace in our minds and hearts even amidst the suffering in our bodies. Here we find a simple way to incorporate good, daily self-care: take a moment (or several) to think one simple positive thoughts about your body. Let it seep into the soil of your mind over time and allow a new positive emotion to flourish from it: joy, gratitude, contentment.
Beyond the daily routine, taking a time-out to do anything that brings you joy is important. Set an attainable goal such as: once a season, go for a hike or go fishing. o once a season, try a new wine at a new winery. Once a season, get a massage or a facial. Making longer experiences of wellness and self-care a priority in your life will quickly begin to accumulate. You’ll feel more relaxed and more willing to give if you feel full to the point of overflowing.
Lastly, consider doing the professional Autumn cleanse that Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic offers in October. It’s a great way to clean out the Liver and blood while revitalizing the digestive system. Lindsey has created a program with meal plans and support for the 21 day cleanse that is easy to follow. Contact the clinic via phone or email if you are interested in participating (clinic contact). Save 20% by signing up before October 5th.
Julie Baron is an East Asian Medicine Practitioner at the Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. Julie seeks to empower individuals and communities. As a movement and mindfulness educator, she has a penchant for functional anatomy. As an EAMP, she also has a passion for herbal medicine.