This work of loving ourselves is constant. It’s not like we can say “I did a week-long retreat of reflection and now I’m going to love myself forever and always.” Why is self-acceptance and self-compassion so hard? Even if we are naturally compassionate people, and even if we think we are really good at showing compassion towards others, we often fail miserably when it comes to taking care of ourselves.
There are lots of ways to show compassion towards ourselves—a spa day, a walk in nature, a favorite movie or book, and dinner with friends (maybe after COVID) can all be means of self-care. These longer practices are important for our well-being, but perhaps even more important is developing strategies that we can implement on a regular basis, on short notice, when we’re short on time, and when the negative self-talk surprisingly rears its ugly head, invading our space.
My favorite way to take care of myself is to promise 10 minutes a day, no matter what. No excuses. Sure, I’d love to have time to do an hour or more of asana practice per day, or take a long walk in nature, but that’s not always possible. So, sometimes those ten minutes take the form of sitting and counting my breaths. Other times it means sitting and repeating an affirmation or mantra, such as "I love myself unconditionally". Another favorite strategy is to set a timer and set myself up in a restorative pose for those 10 minutes.
My favorite restorative pose is Supta Baddha Konasana, and I’ve spent a lot of time here this week. This is the best pose for me when I’m feeling depressed or anxious.
Here’s how you do it: Lay out a sturdy cushion or several blankets with one end on a block (or a big, sturdy book), so it’s at an angle. Sit with your sacrum up against the lower edge of the cushion. Bring the soles of your feet together into Baddha Konasana / Cobbler’s Pose/ Bound Angle Pose and place a folded blanket or towels (or a block) under each knee. Slowly lay back onto the cushion. If your arms feel any strain, you may place additional cushions, pillows or blankets under the elbows (I love this option—feels even more relaxing to me). Finally, place an eye pillow or a scarf over your eyes, relax into the pose, and let the tension melt away. Stay here for as long as you like, preferably for at least 15 minutes for maximum benefit, but less is good, too. I often set a timer so I am not worried about knowing when to come out--this allows me to fully release into the posture--and sometimes I turn on instrumental meditative music to help calm the mind.
Keep in mind that in restorative yoga, the intention is to fully release into the posture. When the body feels supported and safe, we allow the nervous system to being to rebalance itself--out of fight or flight mode and into rest and digest, which is key to our long-term health. So... be sure to support yourself with a sufficient amount of props to allow for zero muscular effort. I'll talk more about this rebalancing of the nervous system in another post at a later date. Stay tuned!
Author // the skating yogi
My name is Sarah Neal. I have been immersed in the world of figure skating for over four decades. I have seen firsthand the abuse that happens at the higher levels of our sport and experienced how that trickles down into unhealthy training practices and habits at the grassroots. I have seen this play out in the operations of the very institutions that control our sport. Whether for a profession or hobby, pursuing skating should be a joyful, rewarding process, an opportunity for athletic and personal growth, and a place to build lasting friendships.