I can’t keep this up. Something has got to change. That’s what I usually tell myself, as I sit at my desk at 7 or 8 o’clock (sometimes later) at night chatting with the cleaning lady. Plagued by more to-do lists than I can keep up with and a fatigue that lingers no matter how much sleep I get, I frequently think about my need to de-stress. Sometimes I feel so exhausted and overwhelmed that I can feel a stroke coming on – not that I’ve ever had one. But, my pounding headaches and bouts of dizziness tell me that I need to find a better way to handle stress than drinking Cokes and Frappuccinos. So, I started looking for ways to relax and unplug from my Blackberry, computer, and the manila folder full of work I carry in my bag every day. I started reading New-Age-Buddhist-Change-Your-Thoughts-Change-Your-Life books in the morning. That lasted for a few days. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood for all of that esoteric philosophical Super Soul Sunday-ness, and those books are never as entertaining as the books I read during my daily commute. Books like my most recent read, the memoir Black and (A)broad: Traveling Beyond the Limitations of Identity by Carolyn Vines. That book is amazing, but I digress. Then I started writing in my journal every morning. A writer by nature, I like processing my life and purging all of my angst onto the page. I even bought purple pens and Moleskin notebooks in vibrant joy-inducing colors like yellow, hot pink, purple and turquoise to mark the special occasion. I enjoy journaling and it has helped. There’s something very liberating and cathartic about writing through your stress, fears, plans and dreams without worrying that others will read it and judge you. But, I don’t journal every day and needed something more. Although (I’ve heard) exercise decreases stress, the experience of going to a crowded gym after work, jockeying for enough room to change my clothes and waiting in line for the Elliptical machine adds another unnecessary layer of stress. Besides, I cancelled my gym membership on New Year’s Eve. Being a gym rat is just not in the cards for me.
And then I took my first yoga class. Who’d a thunk it? The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art (MoCADA) recently started a series called Self-Care Sundays, featuring yoga classes and meditation sessions every Sunday morning. I was intrigued by the fact that a Black museum was offering yoga classes. Although many Black folks practice yoga, I don’t know very many who do. I don’t normally associate yoga with Black folks. Instead, the image of a thin white woman marching earnestly with her yoga mat slung across her back or shoulder comes to mind. Making yoga and meditation accessible and emphasizing the importance of self-care in the Black community was a wonderful idea. Self-care was exactly what I needed, except I didn’t know that’s what it was called. I’m not a morning person, so I knew I wouldn’t show up to a 9:00 yoga class. So I decided to look for yoga classes in my neighborhood – and found a yoga studio nearby. I signed up for the beginner’s class and loved it! Hell hath frozen over.
My class only had six people in it, which is great because I hate crowds. The class was pretty diverse – ethnically and in body type. Two Black women, a White guy, two Asian women, and one Asian guy. Some folks were very thin. Others, including the instructor, weren’t thin and had butts and guts. But, there was no judgement or competition. Folks were friendly and just coming to get their Zen on.
My body is not very flexible, I have no upper body strength, and my gastrointestinal system does strange things. This hurts! Gravity is a muthafucka, I thought as I attempted the downward facing dog pose before giving up and falling flat onto the floor. When I hugged myself during another pose, my joints cracked. Clearly, I need to love myself more and am an 80 year-old in a 36 year-old’s body. As I leaned forward in the child’s pose with my arms stretched out in front of me and my head turned to the side and resting on a rubber block, I thought What the hell am I doing? As I twisted my torso into unnatural positions, I tried not to fart out loud. With my legs lifted in the air, I ended up rocking from side to side and wiggling around on the floor trying not to let loud gaseous bombs escape into the quiet room. With one eye open, I gave my instructor and classmates the side eye during our Namastes, Ohms, and prayer poses. I can see how some religious folks might be skeptical.
But, yoga was also relaxing. I think I fell asleep briefly. Yoga forced me to slow down and be still, which I rarely do. We focused on our breathing, coordinating our breathing with intentional controlled movements. We stretched our bodies. The teacher prompted us to think about our bodies – what felt good; what felt uncomfortable; what was tense and tight; and what was loose and relaxed. Yoga required letting go, which I also don’t do often. Letting go of vanity – I looked like a damn fool. Letting go of expectations and perfection, or even basic competence in my case. Yoga required me to test my body’s limits – which wasn’t very far, but was further than I initially thought. The next morning was the first time as far back as I could remember that I woke up without my back hurting. And I woke up more rejuvenated than I had in a long time. Since that first class, I find myself feeling less stressed and exhausted; and more relaxed, restful and focused during the day. I’ve gone back to yoga class since that day, and even bought my very own yoga mat and a few yoga DVDs. I make sure to eat light and avoid gassy foods on yoga days. Mind over gas, mind over gas.
Like yoga poses and breathing exercises, self-care is an intentional act. We have to make time and room for self-care in order to sustain ourselves and replenish our energy reserves. I need to do that more. We have to remember that we matter. We matter just as much as our jobs, co-workers, bosses, family, children, and friends. We must show the same care for ourselves – our physical, emotional and spiritual selves, that we show for others. Because we matter.
In honor of myself, I’ve resolved to:
- Not work past 6 (ok, maybe 6:30; I left work at 7:30 tonight; baby steps);
- Practice yoga at least twice a week;
- Go to sleep earlier (I’m watching Little Women: New York for the second time tonight as I type this post; I’m a work in progress);
- Use my vacation days for vacationing and doing what I enjoy (I’m planning a trip to Sydney, Australia!);
- Say “no” more often (I don’t need to join every committee/meeting);
- Wear dresses more often (I recently re-discovered that I have nice legs and dresses make me feel sexy/happy/fabulous); and
- Use lotion everyday (let’s just start with using it “more often”; don’t judge my ashy elbows; God ain’t through with me yet).
Self-care is a journey and the struggle is real. How do you care for and pamper yourself?