Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Self-care Isn't Selfish

I practice yoga. Every day (almost). Sometimes I have to do it while my kids are eating breakfast before school. Sometimes I go to class on a weekend morning before they're up, and I miss their breakfast time that day. I don't think they are psychologically damaged by my brief absence, and yoga is something that keeps me grounded emotionally and physically healthy. I recognize that I am a better mother (and person in general) if I take that time on the mat. But there's always that nagging guilty feeling in the back of mind that I should be sitting there with them for breakfast. Even if they're just fighting with each other.

When I talk about self-care, especially exercise, I meet a lot of resistance from people. They never have time. Yet physically their body is exhausted, they are unhealthy, and irritable all the time. Taking time to replenish your own energy can only make you calmer and more able to cope with stress. My yoga teacher gives the analogy of the airplane: the flight video always says to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others. You figure it out, if you put the mask on your kid while you are gasping for air, pretty soon you're going to be of no use to anyone! Yet how many of us live our lives constantly giving to everyone else before ourselves?

I will give another example. I'm almost embarrassed to write this one... I have started eating more fruits and vegetables, but it was hard for me at first because I felt that the good fruit (blueberries, nectarines, kiwis) needed to be saved for the kids. I cannot explain this feeling, it is ridiculous to see it here in print, but there it was in my delusional brain. I buy extra berries now, and have some myself, but I still feel guilty about it if I finish them and Zee asks for more (she really loves her berries). But fruits and vegetables are good for my health, too. We can get more fruit. Why on earth would I deprive myself?

I think women, in particular, have this mindset that if I am not doing everything all the time for everyone, I have failed. We multi-task to a ridiculous level, and never take time for a night out, or a bubble bath, or a yoga class. I am going to take the radical view that self-care is not selfish. In order for me to get the oxygen mask on Zee and DJ, I need to inhale some of that stuff for myself first. Then I will be clear-headed enough to get them to all their activities, prepare dinner, do the laundry and dishes and scoop the cat box. If I have taken care of some of my own needs first, I will be less likely to holler at them for a minor offense, or fall asleep in front of American Idol at 830pm. I am going to continue to do my yoga and eat my blueberries. I will acknowledge my guilty thoughts as irrational and continue to breathe through my own mask first.

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