Today, Focus on Love

As I’m writing this, it is early morning on Valentine’s Day. I’m thinking about ways to express love. Traditionally, of course, Valentine’s Day is about showing love to others, but I want you to think a little differently. Yes, show those around you how much you love them, but I want you to show yourself some love as well. I don’t mean buying yourself flowers and candy…although flowers are nice, you can get them if you like…I mean take some time out for just you.

This is a concept we talk a lot about on DonWings, my mindset and personal development blog. The difference here is that DonWings focuses on the reasons why self-love is important and why you are worthy of taking time out. Here we will talk about the health benefits of self-care practices.

Self-care is important. These are practices that build you up and sustain you. Especially for care-takers and people with ultra-busy lives, it is important to take time out to energize and replenish your reserves. After all, you can’t give what you don’t have. For more about why you deserve a self-care routine, visit DonWings and search “self-care” or simply “love”. For what these practices are and why they are good for you, read on.

By the way, don’t worry about the length of this post. It may seem daunting, but just scan the headers to see if anything jumps out at you. If something looks interesting to you, read more about it. If not, skip over it.

Set Up a Morning Routine

The most important, self-care practice happens before anyone else gets up. The early morning hours are easiest for most busy people to steal for themselves because nothing is happening yet. So the routine can actually happen instead of getting put off indefinitely due to distractions. Additionally, how you start your day sets you up for how your day will play out. Starting in a positive, grounding manner allows your day to have that kind of spin. A mindful morning routine can increase your energy, curb cravings, detoxify your body, improve your digestion, and cultivate a sense of balance and inner peace.

Getting up early gives you a chance to create your day how you want it to be. If you start out by pushing the snooze button until you have barely enough time to frantically do the bare minimum basics before rushing out the door in a panic, you set yourself up for that type of day. Imagine instead, getting up early, mindfully moving through your uplifting morning routine, and feeling refreshed and whole by the time you tackle your first task.

What does a morning routine look like? Well, you probably already have one. You get out of bed, brew coffee, grab some breakfast get into the shower, brush your teeth, do your hair and makeup, get dressed, and out the door you go, coffee in hand.

Let’s add some love to this routine. Get up half an hour earlier. That’s asking a lot, I know. I am historically not a morning person. However, since I started taking better care of myself I have become an early to bed and early to rise type. I actually enjoy getting up early and waking up with the sun. This statement would have made me roll my eyes not long ago, so if you had that reaction we are kindred spirits. Stay with me!

To begin with, plan a morning routine that will take less than half an hour. Especially if you are a chronic snooze pusher. Start small and build. Usually what happens is that people love the difference it makes in how they feel and start adding to their routines or taking more time to do them. Incorporate some of the practices below into your routine in the order that makes sense for you. Don’t be afraid to try something new. It may not be something you keep, but you may end up loving it. Stay open to possibility.

Above all, do what makes you feel good and builds you up. Don’t plan an intensive routine that causes you stress first thing in the morning. The idea is to balance, restore, and invigorate you for the day ahead. Let’s set you up for success!

Gratitude Practice

Gratitude is always number one in my book. I practice gratitude before I get out of bed each morning. As soon as I wake up I ask myself, “What am I thankful for today?” Then I bring those things–my family, my home, my dogs–into my heart one at a time and allow them to fill me up. I literally feel my heart swelling with joy and gratitude.

In this way and with this mindset, I start my day. This is a feeling I can come back to throughout the day whenever I need a boost. I can pause whenever I need to and connect with this feeling before making decisions or reacting to stress.

Gratitude has the effect of lowering stress which has major benefits for the rest of the body. Every system in your body–your cardiovascular system, renal system, digestive system, nervous system, and skin–benefits from lowered stress. Blood pressure decreases, insulin levels even out, and digestion improves when stress is lowered.

Meditation

I talk more about meditation on DonWings, but meditation is highly beneficial for both body and mind, so it is worth mentioning here. Some people are weirded out by meditation and resist it thinking it is a waste of time. Meditation is nothing more than quiet time with yourself. You can also think of it as prayer.

When you sit quietly with yourself you can hear what the world around you is trying to tell you and can hear what you think about this information. Wisdom is all around us, we just need to be quiet for a minute and listen for it. That is all meditation is.

The health benefits of meditation are numerous. What you think will be. Changing your thoughts about a situation or an illness, even an injury, can change how your body deals with it. Healing rates in those who practice mindfulness are measurable. Pay attention to the Olympic athletes this week before they cruise down the mountain or step onto the ice. They visualize what they are about to do and focus their mind on a positive outcome which has the effect of improving their performance.

Scrape your tongue

No, really. “You’re inviting this food into your body to nourish you and your tongue is the first thing it meets. What if you entered a place and your first impression was a damp, squishy, bacteria-filled carpet?” This is paraphrased from a lecture by Daniel Vitalis.

According to Ayurveda, all toxins begin in the mouth. That white coating you may see on your tongue in the morning is known as ama or toxic slime. It is literally a collection of bad bacteria. I know, gross right? To get rid of it, practitioners recommend using a stainless steel or copper tongue scraper (available here). You can also use a spoon in a pinch.

Tongue scraping also gets rid of ambient tastes that may linger on your tongue. This has the effect of reducing cravings. Removing the coating of gunk also increases taste sensation. Thus, allowing you to be more satisfied with less food.

Oil Pulling

This is the practice of swishing oil around in your mouth like mouthwash. It has the effect of removing toxins from your mouth, the rest of your digestive system, and over time your body as a whole. It is also a peaceful, meditative practice.

How does it work? Fat has a proclivity for sucking things in. It absorbs parts of practically everything it touches. This is why it is not advised to use oil or fat products that are stored in plastic bottles. Also why butter left uncovered in the fridge will start to taste like whatever is in your fridge. So, swishing oil in your mouth will pull bacteria and other toxins into the oil and when you spit it out, the bad bugs go with it.

I just started doing this as part of my morning routine. At first I thought it would be a more involved practice than I really wanted to do every morning. I soon discovered that it really isn’t. Some people will say that it has to be done for 20 minutes to gain benefit, however Ayurvedic texts and the practitioners I follow say this isn’t true. Start with 5 minutes and work up from there. If you get to 20 minutes and feel it is still serving you, that’s great. If not, don’t sweat it.

One side note: You don’t want to spit the oil out into the sink. Oil may build up and clog your drains. I use coconut oil, but you may prefer sesame, almond, or olive oil.

Healthy Movement

Getting some movement in every day is important. How much of it you get and what you do is completely personal. I’m pretty sure everyone knows exercise is important for whole body wellness. It benefits your skeletal system, muscular system, fascial system, cardiovascular system, and even your digestive and nervous system.

The lymphatic system is especially affected by movement. Since it does not have a helpful pump, like the heart, to move its contents around the body, the lymphatic system depends on muscle contraction and limb movement to get from one place to another. Thus, exercise is good for detoxification. Plus, sweating is good for your skin!

If you are currently sedentary and exercise doesn’t appeal to you, start with walking. Everyone can walk at least a short distance. Try to improve either your speed or your distance every day. A pedometer or fitness wearable may be helpful because it tracks your steps and can motivate you.

You may also want to try yoga. Yoga is good at every fitness level. It is also a holistic practice, meaning it is good for both mind and body. Balance, focus, flexibility, and strength can all be improved with a regular yoga practice. I highly recommend attending live classes at a local yoga studio. You may want to try several teachers to find something that works for you. All yoga is not created equal. There really is something for everyone.

Strength training, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and a variety of cardio routines also have benefits including increased longevity, increased bone density, and increased endurance.

The point is to find something you will actually do. You don’t have to do it in the morning, you don’t have to do it for long periods of time, you don’t have to do anything in particular. Just start with something. Maybe that means dancing like a fool in your living room. I won’t judge!

My favorite activities involve getting outside. You get the benefits of fresh air, sunshine, unique microbiota, engaging scenery, there is no end to this list. Hiking is my all-time favorite.

Infrared Sauna

This, my friends, is a gem. I have one of these babies on my wish list. An infrared sauna is different from a steam sauna in that infrared saunas penetrate deeply and heat your body from within. Steam saunas heat the air around you. This penetrating heat is super effective at decreasing inflammation.

Infrared waves can transform the water inside your cells into a type of water called Exclusion Zone water (or EZ water). This water supports mitochondrial function which can improve your energy level and ability to detoxify.

You can find infrared saunas at some spas, massage therapy studios, some yoga studios, and some fitness clubs. Or, they really aren’t crazy expensive, you can get one for your house. Put one on your wish list like I did!

Dry Brushing

This is another technique I learned from Ayurveda. I didn’t understand it at first. I thought it was just exfoliating, big deal. Then I remembered the lymphatic system. The gentle pressure applied by the loofah or dry brush to the skin stimulates the lymphatic system and promotes detoxification.

Your skin is your largest organ. It needs to breathe to be able to do its job and remain healthy. Dry brushing removes dead skin cells and other contaminants to keep the skin operating to its full potential. Bonus: Dry brushing can decrease the appearance of cellulite!

Self-Oil Massage

Another Ayurveda practice is Abhyanga, or self-oil massage. This is a service provided by many day spas, retreat centers, and massage therapists, but you can do a reasonable job at home. Abhyanga involves massaging your skin with oil to hydrate your body from within. Oil is recommended over lotions because it is absorbed better.

The Sanskrit word for oil is sneha, which means love. This is the ultimate act of self-love. It is similar to putting on lotion but more deliberate. Pay particular attention to dry areas, especially around joints and on your feet. Some people like to start at their feet and work up, others like to focus on one area at a time. Take your time and concentrate on each bump. Generate feelings of love for your body while you’re at it.

Choose your oil wisely. The skin absorbs everything it comes into contact with. A notable Ayurvedic belief is that you should not put anything on your body that you would not put in your body. Think about your lotion, cosmetics, or hair treatments. Would you eat them? My teacher recommends using organic oils from an Ayurvedic herbal company to assure quality.

Other Helpful Practices

There are so many ways to show yourself love. Give yourself good food, take a break and get outside for some sunshine, take yourself to a museum, read a book, take a class, watch a show that only you like, attend a play, visit a friend, do something you don’t have to do, maybe even be a little naughty from time to time.

Whatever you choose, enjoy it fully without feeling guilty about taking the time for yourself. You are worth it! Besides, when you consider that you can only give what you have, doesn’t it make sense to build yourself up so you are giving the very best of yourself to others?

If you find this useful, there’s a good chance your friends will, too. Share this with your friends right away while you are thinking of it. Thanks for reading!

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