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Yoga for Self-Care (This Practice Isn’t What You Think)

Yoga for Self-Care (This Practice Isn’t What You Think)

Practicing yoga on the mat is a wonderful form of self-care, but how do you care for yourself when you can’t get to the mat? What do you do during those chaotic mornings where rolling out your mat is just not going to happen, or you’re so drained at work but dropping down into child’s pose isn’t an option?

As good as your intentions may be, sometimes flowing it out on the mat and doing the physical practice of Asana just isn’t practical. The good news is that there is a yoga skill that can help you figure out exactly what you can do in any moment to practice self-care. Because let’s be real, you and I both know that self-care is essential to avoid burnout and keeping your gas tank from hitting empty. You want to be your best self, self care is the answer (yes, even if it seems too “easy”!).

Luckily, yoga philosophy has the solution to overcoming your draining energy reserves and it’s the practice of Svadhyaya.

What is Svadhyaya?

The meaning of Svadhyaya is most commonly known as self-study or self-awareness. This in itself is a skill but you can take it a step further and think of Svadhyaya as self-awareness that leads to self-care. This Sanskrit term is grouped in with four other principles known as the Niyamas. These principles are part of the 8 limbs of yoga which are said to help you reach enlightenment when practiced, the blissful easy-going state when everything feels like it’s working out and you transcend all problems.

These Niyamas, as described in Tantra of the Yoga Sutras are skills for “reprogramming oneself to live in homeostasis.”

This means that practicing Svadhyaya is a way to help you explore and evaluate your current habits – what’s working for you and what’s not. By coming back to homeostasis you willingly focus on what you can control and choose to take action (or not) to help you come back to your true self through self-care.

Svadhyaya is easy in concept but can be difficult to put into practice. Why do you think so many preach self-care as bubble baths and face masks? That’s easy, but it’s not necessarily personalized self-care that you need in the moment. The real act of self-care, of Svadhyaya, is getting honest with yourself, watching for habits that serve you or don’t and admitting that something needs to change.

How is yoga helpful for self-care?

You have to remember that yoga is a tool. It’s not simply something that helps you get in a good workout, but an entire philosophy and practice that requires you to get to know yourself on an intimate level. That can feel super intimidating!

Svadhyaya on the Mat

On a physical level yoga is exceptionally beneficial for your mind and body by helping to reduce stress through Asana, the physical practice. Through movement and breath control (Pranayama) you can bring your body into a state of relaxation, shifting from your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) to your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). This shift is exactly the aim of self-care, to be able to rest peacefully so you can come back into a place of homeostasis.

An example of noticing this shift in your nervous system is this yin class to practice when you’re heading towards burnout.

How to Practice Svadhyaya Off the Mat

But self-care can come in many other forms. Recognizing when and how you need self-care is another act of yoga – Svadhyaya. When you are able to recognize that you are getting tired and perhaps need a nap or to step away from your screen, you’re practicing self-care. But this doesn’t happen if you’re not first aware.

Imagine that you’ve just finished a long day at work and you have an event that you promised a friend you would attend with them that evening. You’re excited for the event but you feel completely exhausted. Your first instinct may be to just go, you committed to it so you have to. But if you pause and check in with yourself to ask what you not only need but want, you’re setting yourself up for a nourishing practice, aka self-care! Once you’re done with the practice you can then make your decision of whether to go to the event or not.

This is the power of Svadhyaya. It is a deep level of self-awareness that encourages you to take the steps you need to care for yourself without burning out, following the same patterns you always do and growing frustrated, and feeling like you’re running around like a chicken with your head cut off.

This is great, but what practices can you do? Well, it’s totally up to you! But I’ve got some ideas to inspire you.

Examples of Svadhyaya in Daily Life

One of the biggest setbacks I see my private coaching clients face when it comes to self-care is that they think it needs to be some grand event, that it takes too much time, or costs money. But none of this is true! The best self-care is honestly the most simple, like taking time to let the sun shine on your face or adding an extra 10 minutes to your walk is enough.

The most important thing to remember with self-care is that it’s personal. What works for your friend or me may not work for you. And it can change from time to time and even over time too! To get you started, I’ve listed some ideas below. Take what you like, jot the ideas down in the notes app on your phone and refer to them whenever you recognize that you need a moment or a few of self-care.

  • Reading a book simply for fun (nothing educational!)
  • Getting into bed half an hour early to “rot”
  • Walking by the water
  • Eating lunch outside
  • Working in a cafe instead of at home
  • Painting your nails
  • Taking a bath midafternoon
  • Making a mocktail for a nightcap
  • Taking time to color
  • Pulling cards for guidance/inspiration
  • Buying or picking a bouquet of flowers to display in your home
  • Putting your feet in grass
  • Roaming around a bookstore
  • Camping
  • Putting your phone away for a few hours
  • Getting a massage
  • Taking a shower by candlelight
  • Meditating or yoga before bed
  • Wine or beer tasting
  • Using Pinterest for home decor ideas
  • Scrolling through reels that make you laugh
  • Petting your pet
  • Getting under a blanket
  • Making a hot drink
  • Treating yourself to ice cream
  • Dancing
  • Yoga Nidra in the middle of the day
  • Being in the sand
  • Laying on the ground
  • Randomly doing a supine twist
  • Turning on soft lighting in the evening
  • Watching trashy reality TV

How do I know when to practice Svadhyaya?

Sometimes self-care is simply setting yourself up with good habits. This could look like consistently practicing yoga for 15-20 minutes every morning. But it could also look like parenting yourself and putting your phone away an hour before bed.

This shift in your actions is what’s called Tapas, another yogic skill that helps fuel Svadhyaya and helps you build good habits. These two skills work together, but Svadhyaya is the foundational skill.

Self-care can be looking ahead on your calendar and knowing to schedule in some downtime. You can prepare your self-care when you know you’re going to need it during busy times, when you’re with difficult people, or something new is in your schedule. For example, when I started teaching at a new yoga studio I knew that it was going to take more energy, and that I’d be nervous. So I made sure to not schedule any coaching calls that day so I could focus on the big event that day. I didn’t just treat it like any other day, because it was different!

Self-Care Tips

But what do you do when you can’t plan your self-care? Or your planning simply fell short? There are usually some telltale signs that things are going downhill for you. These signs are different for everyone, but it could be a physical sensation you feel in your body, like a tightness in your chest, a mood that arises like when you get cranky, or a feeling such as jealousy that comes up when your friend shares something exciting.

When these signs pop-up it’s time for you to take some self-care time. Maybe that evening you cancel plans and take a bath. Perhaps leave a tough conversation to go to the bathroom and practice some deep breaths. The ways to care for yourself are endless, and different scenarios call for different actions. This practice of Svadhyaya is something that you will practice for life. And it’s what will make you a more “advanced” yogi.

The secret of yogis is that the most difficult yoga is practiced in the moments of life that are the most challenging. Now you’ve got an inside yoga tip to help you through anything life throws your way.

What’s next?

  • Think self-care is hard or know you need accountability? I’ve got your back in my private yoga & coaching sessions where I introduce you to additional skills to help you move through self-doubt, become your most confident self and let the harsh realities of life seem easy to deal with. It’s yoga for real life! Find details & book your first call here.
  • This understanding of Svadhyaya was taught to me by my teacher, Brett Larkin. She has an amazing course on yogic skills for a self-paced look at yoga off of the mat.

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