Self help, fashion magazines, the spa and gym culture are all full of good ideas of how to “pamper” yourself. And sure why shouldn’t you? It’s fun, it can make you feel good about yourself for a little while to let yourself be nurtured, slow down, tone up or relax your muscles a bit.  But is that all there is to caring for yourself?

 

Beyond working out and getting tended to in a spa- it’s also important to take care of your internal world and to consider this question: What have you done for your mind lately?! The same applies for your body. More than doing cardio and pilates- this refers to dialoguing with or tuning in to what your body wants and learning about the inner workings of your mind – not just what you THINK or what the culture tells your body you should want.

 

I heard a meditation teacher discuss this idea once. She said “you take so much care of your teeth- twice a day you brush, you floss then you clip your toenails but what do you do for your mind?!! “

 

Think of how much time we take to clean (or think about how we should clean) our homes?   But how much do we work on cleaning up our minds? Feeling ourselves? And let me be really honest here- our minds need regular repeat deep cleanings like you can’t imagine! Our bodies need us to tune in to what we’re feeling inside so we can be gentle, respectful  and loving towards ourselves in an ongoing way by learning to interact with ourselves and our feelings in compassionate ways.

 

After years of great therapy- I really thought I was done. Little did I know, there was a lot more work to do internally. Therapy helps in many invaluable ways and can be part of the mindfulness process by helping you learn what you feel, why you act certain ways, how to make other choices, learning to reflect before you act etc.. But… it’s crucial to really learn to set up a practice where you make time in your life to BE WITH yourself which includes being with your experiences (feelings and sensations).

 

Learning how to be in the moment instead of in your thoughts all the time is an invaluable skill.  It’s also critical to learn about your mind’s tendencies and where it meanders to in its spare time (it’s a serious traveler!) so that you can teach it where you’d LIKE it to go instead. (Why go to Miami when you really want to go to Stockholm?!)  Once a week is not enough. As one of my clients said “I need to make time to do this! I feel it here with you but I have to create that time in my life”.

 

How do you do this?

 

Learn to notice your experience

As a Gestalt and Somatic psychotherapist, I teach clients in session how to sit with themselves and notice what they feel and experience in the moment. How to land from their hectic day or just notice where they are in the present moment.. do they feel scattered? confused? are they breathing in a shallow way or sitting on the edge of their chair? Worried about something they left unfinished at work?..  I have them do this by feeling and observing themselves when they first arrive to their session and throughout. (I have to thank Dr. Ruella Frank, the creator of Developmental Somatic Psychotherapy for her work in this way).

 

Usually when we’re rushing about our day and going from one appointment to the next we may not even know what we’re feeling/ how we’re feeling and we can then tend to plop down in a therapy session or meet someone for dinner and just launch into a topic we’re thinking about- often before “checking in” with ourselves.  Gestalt therapy aptly refers to this as “orienting the self”.  We often start from our thoughts but don’t look to the background to find out our experience of the moment.

 

 

Taking a minute or two to pause, breathe and notice any sensations, noticing the supports we have available to us by feeling the couch or the floor underneath us, noticing our breathing (without having to change it..), noticing the air in the room, what it’s like to be in the presence of the other person we’ve just joined… Just noting and really tending to our bodies and noticing what our minds are doing. Is your mind racing? Are you taking in the change of setting- being with this new person or spending time with your child after being on a crowded subway? etc…Have you noticed if you need a few minutes to transition?! Do you need a few minutes to orient yourself, go inside yourself and have a good look around (yes, inside!).

 

A word or two about the mind: everyone’s mind has its own conditioned nutty patterns. (trust me on this one). No one is immune! You have certain themes your mind goes to-  which if you’re not aware of and don’t learn to work with- will recur and recur and recur and steal a huge amount of your “life” time from you. This is why learning where your mind goes and what it does when it’s not engaged in a task is crucial for attaining inner peace and a happier state. (More about that in future blogs).

 

If I told you I went to see a movie and the theatre was smelly and cramped and had a leaky ceiling  and there were rats running around singing songs but I didn’t even notice because I just was really compelled to see the movie… you’d think something was up with me! But this is what we do!! We don’t tend deeply enough to our inner scenery- and pause to see – hmm.. how am I doing? (WHAT am I thinking? where’s my head right now…?) I had a really chaotic day.. what’s my breathing doing? How’s my body holding up in reaction to what went on today.. with that person etc..?  Have I landed? Hmm..okay I can’t seem to land…Okay so just noticing and allowing that with awareness can help.

 

We follow our mind’s most compelling themes without checking out the lay of the land….This happens too when your mind says “I should go to the gym” but your body says “I have a cold.. I feel weak.. I need rest” and you ignore this.

 

Sometimes people say “I like to relax by reading”. This is a nice way to unwind but it’s not what I am referring to. Reading is absorbing yourself in someone else’s story which is a great escape and you may even feel your body relax somewhat at those times. But reading is not quite BEING WITH your own experience at the moment.

 

Once I guided a client to slow down and feel herself in session and she said “wow I didn’t realize how tired my muscles are and that I have to go to the bathroom! How did I not even notice that?!”. Some of us notice this more than others but a lot of times the only time you really register the impact of your day or what your body needs (or has wanted all day!) is when you get into bed and have that huge moan.. wow my muscles….. Your muscles were there all day!. Did you check in with them earlier?

 

Think about it. You go through your day at work- you commute home, you see your kids or maybe you go online for awhile, work out and then watch tv. All the while, your mind and your body are collecting and absorbing all that goes on. Have you stopped to listen to in to what they have to say about what they (they are part of you..) have endured today?

 

 

We have a habit of pushing through what needs to get done.. In New York, we are especially good at this. My funny friend from England says “I don’t get how New Yorkers seem to be so damn productive in ONE day?! More than any other city.  How is this possible?! Do you have more hours in a day there?!”  Simple.  We push through.. we overdo it often… We’re also a highly ambitious bunch! It’s a mixed bag. This pushing through is an ability that serves us well in achieving but sometimes it shuts us off to a lot of really relevant information about what we need (eg slowing down).

 

Here’s an exercise you can try as a kind of mini meditation:

Try seeing what happens if you just sit down in a chair and do absolutely nothing at some point during your day for 5 or 10 minutes. This means no emailing.. no reading!… Notice your mind and where it goes to.  Just Notice! Notice your body and what it’s doing. Your body has a LOT to say. What’s it like to stop? The first time you do this you may not notice anything. Fine. Just notice THAT. How long can you stay like that? Is there space to notice your body or do you go into your thoughts right away? and if you do go into thinking- that’s okay. You’re just seeing what’s happening in there! What’s it like to just sit there and not DO? Do you feel guilty? Do you get restless? Bored? Do you immediately rush into your “to do list.”

 

Notice.. notice.. notice. This is how you begin this process.

 

Can you give your mind and body that space to tell you what it needs? Give yourself this gift. What you learn in that space will be more enduring in the long run than a pedicure or a massage.