Taking care of ourselves first

Every day, I practice yoga. It’s where I go to spend time with myself, where I breathe in and exhale out and try to articulate what is in my heart. It’s the place I go, in solitude with my thoughts, to take care of my soul.

Last weekend, my yoga teacher asked ‘What is it that revives you? And what is it that depletes you?’ He likened it to an airplane, where we are told to fasten our own emergency masks before helping others. Because if we don’t take care of ourselves first, how can we take care of others?

In learning how to be kinder to myself without feeling selfish or apologetic for putting on my own emergency mask first, I have explored my heart and discovered that the things that revive me are those that are amongst the simplicity of my life, the ordinariness of the every day. I now know my heart well enough to know what recharges me. I make time for it. It’s a habit.

Yet as much as I try to fill my days with things that revive me and that take care of my soul, I also have to ride the turbulence that is the ebb and flow of grief and everything in between. Waves of feelings and emotions come crashing down. Sometimes I don’t even see them coming. It’s in those moments that I feel like I can’t breathe.

I guess, in a way, it’s all about contraction and expansion, a letting go of perfection and control, and the taking of one step in front of the other towards acceptance. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that it is in changing that things find repose – ‘no man ever steps into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man’. Feelings and emotions are transient. They can both revive and deplete us. But to face them with self-compassion, understanding and acceptance is where the difference lies. By applying care to the heart.

My reflection on what revives me and depletes me brought me back to my values, which I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I have just finished Susan David’s book ‘Emotional Agility’, and in it she asks:

When you know what you do care about, you can be free from the things that you don’t care about.

Will you move toward your values and act like the person you wish to be, or will you move away from your values and act against them?

With each yoga class, and each decision that I take in accordance with my values, my own emergency mask, I become more and more myself, the person I wish to be.