self-care

A sustainable practice, a sustainable life, a sustainable planet – how it’s all connected.  

During two of the most intense months we’ve had in YOMI; organizing a retreat, finishing and filming two new programs and offering a YOMI class and lecture at Yoga Games Malmö, we decided to spend some extra focus on the subject of sustainability.

Sustainability lies close both to my heart and my fears, as we live in the midst of a climate crisis that’s creeping closer upon us which each day that our greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing.

As I’ve for the past four years worked more and more with climate psychology it’s also become apparent how the issue of sustainability relates to all levels that we live and act on: from the practice on our mats to the entire planet.  

Let me explain:

Sustainability is about carrying out actions whose consequences won’t do us or others harm either now or in the future: on the mat having a safe practice, adapting to our own current conditions. In our lives meeting the needs we have, adapting to however they’re changing. On the planet ensuring that our lust for things now won’t do the planet harm later on.

Truth be told, we’re not there yet. Neither in regards to how we’re treating the earth, but in all honesty a lot of the times nor in regards to how we’re treating ourselves on and off our mats.

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali outlines the core of the yoga practice, including the eight limbs of yoga where Yama (abstinence) is the first one. In this limb ahimsa, non-violence, is an important aspect. Putting this in relation to the current state of climate disaster it’s called upon us to reflect on how we as yoga practitioners treat this first limb of yoga. Is the current yogic lifestyle compatible with not doing the earth harm? With not doing ourselves harm?

As for our own lives, there seems to be something in the system we’re living in that’s creating an unsustainability in the way we live. We know that psychological distress is on the rise, as are the sick leave numbers. All of this in spite of economic growth increasing alongside emissions. It’s like we’re making ourselves sick at the same pace as we’re making the planet sick.

Is it then possible to create a sustainable world where we still are able to lead good lives? Trusting what we know about what people need to be healthy and happy the short answer is yes.

The tricky part about this is that we at this point don’t know the exact consequences of the climate threat, as we don’t know how the world will choose to act in the coming years. All we know is that the less we act now, perhaps in favor of our short-term pleasures, the graver the consequences will be for us long-term.

That said, we do know from years of research that what makes people happy, what makes people thrive and live well is not connected to living a fossil fuel intensive life. What seems most important for our happiness is good, social relationships. Physical activity, recreation, a meaningful job, helping others and being in nature are other things that seem important for our sense of happiness.  

In light of all of this, I would like to believe that by creating a practice for ourselves that is sustainable for our bodies and minds, we can expand that knowledge into creating actions that help ensure the sustainability of the entire earth.

/Frida 

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On being good enough

You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.
— Brené Brown

When I went on parental leave I struggled for the first few months with the demands I had on myself to make the most of my time off from work and achieve as much as possible. Behold, seven months of not working! What a glorious opportunity to do all those things I never have time to do: sort through papers, organize the computer, read through all those scientific papers piled up, develop a new YOMI program, hell, develop two new YOMI programs, get back into shape, meditate, read all those books on the reading list, maybe even write a book. Because when will I ever again get the chance to have this many months off work ever again?

You know how plans can seem quite reasonable as long as they are just that: plans for a future you yet haven’t experienced. Enter: reality, everyday life and endless interruptions to the plan. External as well as internal interruptions; baby crying, mind wandering, facebook tempting, news feed upsetting. Sometimes it seems life is nothing more than a long line of interruptions to the plan. Annoying, irritating interruptions we wish to get rid of.

But perhaps the real issue here isn’t how to get rid of the interruptions, but rather how we deal with them. How we act towards ourselves when things don’t go as we had laid them out. And this is where the self observation can get both interesting and painful. How do I react when things don’t go as planned? How do I talk to myself when I lack focus or motivation? How do I talk to others who, perhaps unintentionally, interrupt?

It seems we often tend to blame ourselves, others or even life itself for the things that come in the way of our planned achievements. Like it’s some sort of failure that the plan that is life needs constant revision, rather than the plan being flexible to start with. Like we are failures when we don’t achieve all that we set out to do. Like we are insufficient if we’re not perfect. And with that the struggle goes on.

But if we shift the perspectives and acknowledge that we are imperfect to start with, but that this imperfection doesn’t make us any less worthy, doesn’t make us anything short of being good enough, maybe that’ll make it possible to start viewing the interruptions as a part of the plan, rather than obstacles to it. Perhaps it even enables us to make room for interruptions in the original plan. That it – the plan that is – and we ourselves are good enough without achievements, are good enough whilst just being. That the level of good enough should lie wherever we find ourselves every day. That just where we are, just where life is, is good enough. Wired for struggle but worthy of love and belonging.

Nurturing a better self-care: Introducing the concepts of ”topography/form” and ”function”

Most of us know that taking care of ourselves generally is a pretty good thing to do. Feeling well and helping yourself to feel well makes intuitive sense.

In therapy, when we as psychologists bring the issue of self-care up, a lot of clients look at us and burst out: “Oh, you mean I should go to a spa or something?”. Or they quickly say that they have been to the spa several times, but it didn’t make them calmer at all, on the contrary it made them even more stressed.

It seems as if taking care of oneself is not always as easy as it seems, and that taking care of oneself is a concept that has a lot of misconceptions and notions tied to it. Like the one of self-care equaling going to the spa, or getting a facial.

Not surprisingly though, what’s nurturing for one person might not be so for another. While going to the spa might make me calm, going for a run, to a sports game or even watching some TV might do the trick for my friends. So how do we know what works for us, and if we don’t, how can we start to find that out?

In order to nurture a better self-care we can start by getting acquainted with two concepts from the behavioral psychology: form/topography and function.

When we start to look at different behaviors we can describe them in various ways. We can do it by looking at their topography or form, namely what they look like from the outside (for example “watching TV”, “eating an orange”, “taking a bath”). The topography of a behavior is comparable to drawing a map of the behavior, of what we can observe from the outside.

But if we want to get closer to learning about what is a nurturing and self-caring behavior we shouldn’t be too blinded by what we see from the outside, but rather start looking at what functions our behaviors have, what motivates us to do something. If I do something, say, go for a run, it will make a difference whether I do it because I’m scared of gaining weight or because I genuinely love being outside and feeling my body move. Even though the run will look exactly the same from the outside it will in these two examples serve different functions. If I call a friend due to not wanting to feel alone it will serve a different function than if I call him due to wanting to speak to him and hear about his ongoing life. Behaviors that look exactly the same from the outside can serve us in very different ways, varying between people or even between different times for the same person (one time looking at TV might serve the function of distracting me from negative thoughts, whereas the next time my motivation might be that I’m interested in the show that’s broadcasted).

So this is the reason why going to the spa not necessarily equals self-care for everyone (note: to make it a little bit more complex, one behavior can of course serve more than one function, but there is usually a primary motivation behind it). If we want to nurture a better self-care we need to look deeper into our behaviors than their topography, and try to peel away our conceptions of what taking care of oneself should look like. And instead try to get to know what taking care of ourselves feels like, so that we can start looking for behaviors that nurture that self-caring feeling.

We will get back to this subject several times, digging deeper into it with the main purpose of better nurturing our own self-care. But as of today you can start by noticing and observing, not only what you’re doing (the topography), but also what your primary motivation behind doing something is; what function the behavior serves.