I often see advertisements for various products cleverly disguised as things we can do for self-care practices. Whether it’s a new organic face mask, diet trend, spa day or vacation trip everyone has something to sell you labeled as self-care.
Self-care is a radical act. Self-care is about prioritizing the things we need to not just survive, but thrive, and those things don’t need to cost a penny. In fact, it’s a good idea to be discerning about the types of self-care products that do cost an arm and a leg to take part in. If these practices aren’t accessible to people outside of elite wealthy communities, they probably don’t actually do much to take care of humans as a whole. Self-care practices don’t have to break the bank. Here are six simple (and free) self-care practices you can try today.
Pranayama (praa·nuh·yaa·muh) is the practice of becoming deeply conscious of the breath. Through the yogic lens, we take our prana (aka: life energy; vitality) in through the breath. One simple way this is understood: if the breath goes out and doesn’t come back in we lose all of our vitality. If the breath comes in and doesn’t go back out, we lose all of our vitality. We can maximize our vitality, by consciously choosing to breathe more deeply, and by training ourselves to take deep breaths more regularly.
Cleanse Your Space
It’s amazing how creating a little bit of outer space can help to create a little bit of inner space. That said sometimes cleaning can feel more like a daunting or overwhelming chore. Here are a few tips to create a self-care cleaning ritual.
Open a window to let some of the stale air out of the room and let fresh air in.
Light a candle and set a simple intention like: “I am creating space.”
Let go of the need to clean all the things, and just start small. Clean out a purse or backpack. Tidy a single counter top, sort the mail, or empty the kitchen sink. One task is enough.
Remember to breathe with intention as you tidy.
Check in with yourself once you have tidied your one area and see if it feels good to continue. If it doesn’t feel good to continue, thank yourself for taking the time to create some space. If it feels good to continue, begin again with another intention and slowly and mindfully continue your cleaning.
Create Ephemeral Art
One of my favourite self-care practices is to create an intentional piece of art. Tending to my creativity helps me express feelings that can be too difficult to verbalize. Ephemeral art is art which only lasts a short period of time. Creating ephemeral art is a good way to work with the intention of creating without the need to cling to our creations, since in time all of the creations made through this process will dissolve. Before beginning you can take a deep breath or two, and set an intention to be graceful in the process of creating and letting go of all attachments to your art. Here are a few ideas:
Using gathered pieces such as leaves, seeds, pinecones, flower petals, or found feathers, create a mandala-like piece for the garden. Over the weeks the birds will pick at it and carry away twigs and seeds, feathers will float away on the breeze and leaves will rot and dissolve.
Visit the beach during low tide and draw intricate designed in the sand using a stick. As the tide comes in, watch the art disappear back into the sea.
Draw patterns in the condensation on windows in cars or in the house as the weather shifts and cools.
Use sidewalk chalk to create colourful and intentional art outside of your home that can be washed away in the rain.
Rake the garden leaves into patterns or art pieces to be enjoyed by neighbours who walk by, and blown around when the winds return.
The key to the practice is to create the art with no attachment. Simply enjoy the process of making, without the need to keep, share, show, or cling to the piece. Release it back to nature to do what nature does best: dissolve all things over the course of time.
Unplug from Social Media
Social media can really bombard the senses. There is an overabundance of information on the internet – from opinions and facts, to pictures of your friend’s vacations, to advertisements and propaganda – it can be a lot to take in mentally. The internet is the perfect breeding ground to become infected with misinformation and fear. Seeing a constant stream of curated content can to feelings of comparison, envy, jealousy and discontentment. When we are plugged in, we are often missing what is happening in the reality of our lives. Sometimes we might even connect in order to escape what is happening in our real lives. Here are a few ideas for unplugging from social media:
Charge your mobile device away from the bedroom. It will help you avoid logging in first thing in the morning, or go to bed looking at your screen.
Choose a specific time of day when your power down your device. This may be the first hour when you get home from work, or the first hour when you wake up in the morning. Other times might be on your lunch break, or on your commute home on the train. Use this as an opportunity to practice being present for one hour. Whether it’s being present while you prep dinner, or striking up a conversation with a stranger on the bus, or finally delving into that “to-read” pile of books. You’ll feel better having spent an hour being present in life than endless scrolling online.
Set boundaries for yourself on the internet around how you engage. For example, “I will not engage in educating people who refuse to listen”; “I will not engage with trolls who purposefully seek arguments or play devil’s advocate.”
Practice gratitude after scrolling, rather than letting the perfectly curated versions of other people’s lives to cause you feelings of envy. Before you unconsciously start comparing your life to others, consider writing down three things you are grateful for to begin building a different narrative, and awareness in your mind.
Do A Nature Meditation
One of the easiest self-care practices we can do is to take a few minutes to outside into nature. This can be in a small city park, or you can go for a stroll through the woods, to the beach or near a body of water. Go alone, or with a friend.
Find a comfortable place to sit, and allow the body to relax, while keeping an upright position if possible. Alternatively you can try laying on your back.
Close your eyes and take a few minutes to notice the natural pattern of your breath coming and going.
Open your eyes, and begin to extend your awareness through your five senses.
Look closely and notice 5 things you previously hadn’t seen. Don’t search for anything in particular, just notice.
Listen carefully and notice 4 things you can hear that were not immediately obvious.
Gently notice 3 subtle things you can feel through your sense of touch.
Take a deep breath in through the nostrils and notice 2 things you can smell.
Notice 1 thing you can taste.
If you like you, you can repeat this simple mantra three times. “I am here now, and I am aware.”
Rest, Nap, and Go To Bed Early.
Earlier this year I was really struggling with exhaustion and burn out. I cut back on my coffee intake, cut sugar out completely, and yet I still felt exhausted all the damn time. I told this all to my therapist who pointed out that I was sitting at the edge of the couch as I spoke, and she simply inquired if I ever let a chair support me when I sat in it. This question absolutely BLEW my mind as I realized no, I do not allow myself to rest once I am out and about for the day.
For many months I have sat with, explored and processed this idea. Through deep meditation and self-inquiry I discovered my body had been seeking out energy in auto pilot mode. My body was trying to find something to give me energy in the most direct way. Whether it was late night snacking, sugary foods or craving caffeinated teas my body was asking for energy and I wasn’t listening. So why is it hard to rest? We might feel that we are what we produce, and that our worth and value is inherently linked to how productive we are. Narratives around resting can make us feel lazy and unworthy. Capitalists often exploit these ideas to keep folks working until they burn themselves out.
Of course the reality is we are worthy and have value even if we produce absolutely nothing in a day, or a week, or a year. In addition good sleep and rest actually helps us to be more productive, creative, emotionally stable and alert, so not only is this narrative about rest being for lazy people false, but it’s actually not even helpful. Scientists have shown that a quick 60 to 90 minute nap can actually be a refreshing to the brain as a full night’s sleep. During deep sleep the body works to repair muscles and organs as well as other cells. Chemicals released during sleep strengthen the immune system. Deep non-REM sleep lowers your pulse and blood pressure which give you heart and blood vessels a little break and a chance to rest. Sleep reduces stress, and inflammation. Sometimes self-care means prioritizing sleep at the cost of productivity. We have to trust that we are still worthy, whole, and have value even when we are not being productive. We can also trust that when we do have enough sleep and rest we will be able to better utilize the time that we do spend awake being present with the work at hand, whatever that may be.
Self care practices don’t have to cost a fortune. So don’t let capitalism get the best of you when it comes to taking care of yourself!