My top two favorite ways to support myself and start the day off right are yoga and meditation, and oiling my body in an ayurvedic practice called abhyanga. When these practices are in place, I am physically, emotionally and mentally ready to perform whatever duties come up throughout the day. These practices reawaken me to the truth that my Soul is unlimited and eternally blissful, and so whatever energy or time or effort I seem to give to others, this knowledge that it is always only Brahman (a Sanskrit word for the pure consciousness that underlies all creation and existence) giving to Brahman keeps me from dropping into an ignorant view that when I give I am somehow depleted. My body may get stiff and tired by the end of the day, but my Soul is always fresh and whole, and when my body and mind are given the loving care they need, the aches are soothed and awareness of my wholeness bubbles back up.
I know that when I take care of my own body and mind, I take better care of my family. I also know that time for self care has to be prioritized or else it won’t happen. But to meet this need and overcome challenges to it, I have to get creative and adjust my definition of how and when I care of myself.
One experiment I tried for fitting in ‘me time’ around family responsibilities, was to just wake up earlier to try and complete my yoga and oiling before my children woke up and needed my attention. Yet no matter how quietly I moved around the house, it seemed like they could sense, “Mom’s awake” and would come pattering into the living room just as I had rolled out my mat. This happens to so many of us as parents. Just when we think we have carved out a few minutes of peace and quiet when we can be alone with ourselves, we get called back to our children.
Yes, there is a practical issue here, but there is also a psychological miscalculation at the heart of this problem. Getting silent alone time in a house with kids is going to be rare. Period. If we feel disappointed and resentful that we aren’t getting it, then the issue is probably our expectation and feeling of entitlement that these perfect windows of precious time should magically open up in front of us. When we are convinced that missing out on important self-care time is not an option, then we have to adapt and get creative or else we (and everyone depending on us) will suffer.
Renegotiate for Rejuvenation
Ideally we will have a support system - a partner, family member, neighbor - who can be with our children for a bit while we take time for self-care and rejuvenation. If we have it, remember that we have to speak up and ask for the support we need. Let’s be sure we aren’t saying that there is lack of support to hide our own laziness or indulgent self-pity when it comes to why we aren’t valuing and investing in our wellbeing. Open up a dialogue and speak up - if a half hour walk through the park in the evening is how you clear your head and reconnect with your body, then make sure the people around you know they can give support by making this time free for you. Trade a half hour of babysitting in the morning with a neighbor who also has kids so you can have a cup of tea alone and write in your journal. Renegotiate stagnant rhythms with your partner so that at the end of the day, you offer them a half hour of uninterrupted decompression time and they return the same to you by taking the kids for a walk while you listen to a recorded guided meditation. You may be surprised how the people around you respond positively to your clear and straightforward requests for support.
Self-Care Time Inside the Circus
There is a reason that Indian tradition says that after spending their childhood and teenage years learning, a person has to go out into the world and deal with the ups and downs of life. We have to put wisdom into practice and find out how much we have really integrated. If we can uphold our values and stay spiritually grounded in the world of family and work life, where there is so much for the ego to get attached to and run away from, then we can do it anywhere. If we find ourselves in a situation where being alone to reconnect to our sense of Self is next to impossible, perhaps we should not resist and rather seek our inner peace right where we are.
At some point it became clear that no matter what time I woke up to get my yoga in, my kids would wake up and disrupt me. This not only derailed my ‘me time’ but was also making them crankier in the afternoons from lost sleep.
When I mentioned this to a friend, she suggested I simply tell the children that it is silence time while Mom is doing her yoga, and they can sit in the room or get a mat and join, but Mom is not available right now.
The first few mornings I tried this, they curled up underneath my downward dog for a cuddle, or started telling me about a dream they had, but I reminded them once that this was silent yoga time. Any further conversation from them was ignored while I focused on my practice and they were usually groggy enough to stop pestering too much. After a few days they would come out of their room with a blanket and without question, cuddle themselves up on the couch for 20 minutes of pre-dawn quiet, while sometimes watching my yoga.
Embodying Boundaries of Love
Setting this boundary served a twofold purpose for me as a person and a parent. One, I have been able to reconnect with my habit of daily yoga which benefits every layer of my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual being. I find that when the first few movements I make with my body in the morning are done with intention and connection to my deepest Self, then it is easier to align my thoughts, speech and actions throughout the day with my deepest values. Life is easier to live gracefully when you wake up early and are ready for whatever comes.
Second, I feel satisfied that my two children are seeing their mother committed to taking care of herself first. A deep impression is made in them while observing an adult they love and trust stick to healthy habits and set boundaries with others to make space for this priority. In this world where burnout, overwhelm and stress seem to be an inevitable part of the deal, modeling an alternative way where our discipline sets us up for a day full of ease amidst activity and service to others is a gift I can give them for life.
Rather than feeling slighted or abandoned, their contentment is palpable as I chant a final AUM and join them on the couch, greet them, and ask how they slept and if they want to look at the sunrise together. After making time for my own Self Care, I come to them wholeheartedly. There is no internal friction of wishing I were doing something else as I enjoy those precious awakening moments with my children.