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Self Care is Not Selfish

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  Howard Thurman

In my work as a fitness professional, motivation is a hot topic.  External motivation works to a point, but intrinsic motivation seems to inspire for the long haul.  As I mentioned in my last post, I’m in the midst of studying to become a Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga facilitator.

When I looked on the syllabus and saw that this module was titled “Self Care”, my mind immediately turned to bubble baths and pedicures.  Self care is another hot topic in the health space these days, though the deeper meaning of the phrase sometimes gets lost in translation.  Bubble baths and pedicures are nice ideas in and of themselves, but caregivers require deeper nourishment to remain present and connected to their work.

In her book “Trauma Stewardship”, Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky addresses this conundrum pulling from her own experience.  Spurred by witnessing suffering as her mother died from cancer, she made a career out of helping others through trauma.  After years holding a variety of jobs in her chosen field, those she interacted with started noticing the work was taking a toll.  After much consideration, she realized that she could no longer effectively work with others if she did not change the way she related to herself.

After my daughter died, I became familiar with a phrase that is popular in the baby loss community: “Be gentle with yourself.”  In a society that praises both dogged determination and a stiff upper lip, this seemed somewhat controversial.  I wanted to forge ahead and do things like donate my milk to charity (I was a first time mother and did not realize that if I pumped the milk would keep coming…) or teaching yoga to a grieving population.  Lipsky uses the phrase “mastering trauma” to describe this type of thought process.  Skipping over the dark and trying to force light can be very seductive.

Had I skipped over feeling my grief entirely (and believe me, I tried…) my proverbial empathy well would be very shallow.  To stay truly present amidst pain and suffering is not easy and, as Lipsky points out, can drive one to unhelpful behaviors such as numbing.  As she states in her TED talk “While I know we have so many different life circumstances, I believe we have a shared ethic of doing no harm.  If you are numb, you will not be able to gauge whether or not you are doing harm.”

One thing that is helpful about having a body centered practice like TCTSY is that it fosters interoception.  Being aware of our internal state and working skillfully with it is the first step to creating a better world, both for ourselves and others.  As Lipsky says, “We don’t get to selectively numb.  If we numb out the sorrow, we numb out the joy.”

One important aspect of trauma stewardship is to actively acknowledge both ends of the spectrum.  Since the human brain has evolved to focus on the negative, recognizing the positive can require some practice.  I’ve learned to never underestimate the power of a beautiful sunrise (or a hilarious YouTube video…..).

Coming back to the body is one way to reconnect with intrinsic motivation.  Noticing what we feel physically, whether working in a trauma setting or lifting a 100 lb barbell, is not only safer for us but for all those who cross our path. Perhaps the same could be said for noticing what we feel emotionally.

For more tips, tricks, and musings on health, head over to the Joyful Gym Rat page on Facebook or follow on Instagram!


Though T doesn’t always agree, rest is an important component of self care…..

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