Although it can sometimes feel as if we’re too busy for self-care, it’s so important that we view it as a necessity and not a luxury. Even just a little self-care can go a long way towards living a happier, healthier, centered, and more peaceful life. Self-care can mean many things and differs for each person, but essentially it is developing an intentional practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health, well-being, happiness and peace. It can be anything that feels nourishing and includes tending to all aspects of our being; including the physical, social, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects.
Self-care can include special treats for ourselves, like a day at the spa, but more importantly it’s the little things we do on a regular basis that matter most. Cultivating a breathwork practice, also known as pranayama, and a regular mediation practice are wonderful self-care tools. Both are inexpensive, can be done anywhere and practiced for any amount of time you have available. Ujayii breath, sometimes referred to as “ocean” breath and Metta meditation, otherwise known as Loving-Kindness meditation are two of my personal favorites.
Ujayii breath is a simple practice that can be used both on and off your yoga mat. It has many amazing benefits, including:
- Increasing the amount of oxygen in the blood
Building internal body heat
Encouraging free flow of prana
Regulating blood pressure
Helping to regulate and soothe the nervous system by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system
Releasing tension and calming anxiety
Promoting mental clarity and focus
Increasing feelings of presence and self-awareness
Boosting the immune system
Promoting sound sleep
When practicing Ujayii, the breath takes on an ocean like sound, sounding similar to holding a seashell up to your ear or the waves gently rolling in an out. This sound or whisper quality of the breath provides an audible cue that helps to anchor us in the present moment. On the mat, during asana practice, Ujayii breath can help you stay centered and focused as you flow from one posture to the next. Off the mat, it can be used to help ground and center yourself during meditation. Additionally, it’s an amazing tool to utilize whenever you’re feeling stressed, anxious or nervous. You can simply take a moment to drop into this breathing pattern and notice as you begin to feel calmer and tension begins to melt away. It’s a very effective way to reset whenever needed.
It’s a simple technique to practice. If you’d like to try, find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down and then follow these steps:
- Soften your gaze or close your eyes
- Take a few slow, steady inhales and exhales.
- Hold your palm an inch or so front of your mouth.
Inhale through the nose and with the lips parted, feel a slight constriction in the back of the throat as you exhale out through the mouth audibly making a “Haaaah” sound. This should sound similar to the sound you would make when trying to fog up a mirror.
Repeat this a few times until you feel comfortable.
Next, seal the lips and start to inhale and exhale through the nose.
Continue to gently constrict the back of the throat and generate that same sound internally.
Feel the breath gently stroking the back of the throat and release any tension in the teeth, jaw or neck.
The breath should flow in a smooth, steady rhythm with the inhale matching the length of the exhale. If it’s helpful to you, you can inhale to the count of 4 and exhale to the same count of 4 until it becomes natural.
When you’ve completed your practice, allow the breath to slowly return to its natural rhythm and as you bring your awareness back to your present space. Allow yourself the time to notice and appreciate how you feel.
Meditation might be considered one of the ultimate self-care tools. The practice has numerous benefits, both physically and emotionally. To name just a few, meditation can reduce stress, manage anxiety, reduce feelings of depression, connect you to your inner self, promote self discovery, increase emotional intelligence, increase self-awareness, and improve sleep.
Metta mediation or Loving-Kindness meditation is a specific type of meditation I really love to come back to again and again. Sometimes, I can have difficulty quieting the mind and staying present during meditation. One of the reasons I enjoy Loving-Kindness meditation is because it’s a beautiful way to stay grounded and present during meditation, while giving my mind a point of focus.
Metta Meditation is traditionally a Buddhist practice that has been used for thousands of years. There are different variations of this practice, but the overall purpose of each is to develop unconditional feelings of goodwill, kindness and warmth towards yourself and others. Metta meditation specifically can have the following additional positive benefits:
- Increases positive emotions; including joy, trust, love and happiness
- Reduces migraines and physical pain
Increases feelings of compassion for yourself and others
Enhances empathy and social connection
- Promotes gratitude and appreciation
To practice this meditation, sit in a comfortable position. Soften your gaze or close your eyes. Take a few long slow, deep breaths in and out through your nose. Continue breathing deeply.
Focus on your breathing. Imagine your breath traveling through your body. Bring awareness to your heart. Notice it beating and generating warmth.
Choose a few kind, positive wishes. Silently recite the words, directing them toward yourself. You can say, “May I be happy. May I be safe. May I find peace.” Or any other kind, loving phrases that resonate with you.
Slowly repeat the phrases as many times as you’d like. Acknowledge their meaning and how they makes you feel. If you get distracted, avoid judging yourself. Just return to the wishes and keep repeating them.
Now, think about your friends and family. You can think about a specific person close to you or a group of people. Send the loving wishes outward toward them, “May you be happy. May you be safe. May you find peace.” Again, recognize the meaning and how you feel.
Next, bring to mind someone you’ve met casually, but don’t know well. Repeat the same phrases sending the same wishes. Appreciate the sincerity of the words. Take your time.
Now, think of someone who have negative feelings toward. It may be someone you know of or someone you know personally. As you bring this person to mind release any negative emotions and repeat the same loving phrases. Notice how you feel.
Finally, bring to mind all living beings, including as many people and animals as you can. You don’t need to make any particular effort to envision them separately, simply maintain awareness of the presence of all these beings who share the planet with you and send them the same kind, loving wishes.
As you complete your mediation return awareness to being present in your space, connected to all of theses beings through your wishes. Notice the positive feelings and energy you’ve cultivated. Allow love and gratitude to surround you.
I truly hope you find theses self-care tools to be helpful and that you make yourself and your well-being a priority. You are worth it, friends!
- Jennifer Cheatle