“The pains which are yet to come can be and are to be avoided.” Yoga Sutra II.16, translation BKS Iyengar
It is never too late to practice radical self-care. The yoga sutras teach us that past pains are finished, current pains can be reduced, and future pains can be avoided with robust health, a strong body, and a stable mind. Unfortunately, no one can drag us on to our mat (or preferred exercise) for a daily practice or a weekly class. We must accept the responsibility for our self-care. And this is as it should be. It’s our body and our decision how we care for it. We have to accept and live with the consequences of our choices.
A little side note before I go on: I know serious depression and chronic disease can make self-care feel hard if not impossible. But it is still our personal responsibility to let someone know we need help even when we can’t expressly define the help we need. Reaching out IS self-care. Please reach out.
Forgive me as I now enlist an appropriate but overused analogy: if we don’t perform preventive maintenance on our cars, they will leave us stranded on the side of the road. Cars require gas to go very far. Every so many months and so many miles they need an oil and filter change. The tires need to be rotated or they wear unevenly. And at regular intervals, we need to give them a thorough check-up to see if other critical parts need repair or replacement. Without these things, our cars will break down.
Our bodies need daily care and regular check-ups or they will eventually leave us stranded. I’m reminded of a weekend workshop with a senior Iyengar yoga teacher. After she demonstrated her headstand, she dropped over into a very difficult backbend called Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (here is my teacher, David, executing a beautiful pose). When she was all done she sat up and said, “not great, but not bad for 73.” My in-laws were staying with me that weekend. When we were leaving the house for dinner out, I watched as they both struggled to get off the couch and headed toward the door. They were both 73 at the time. It was in that moment that my yoga practice became about more than immediate back pain relief. It became about the kind of retirement I want to have, the kind of grandparent I want to be, and the quality of my life as I age. Now I practice for two – present Gretchen and future Gretchen.
“No one can do a crappy job of self-care and not pay the piper. …at the end of the day, the costs of shortchanging your body, mind, soul, home, belongings, and relationships fall mainly on you.” Tracey Cleantis
You don’t have to change everything overnight. What is one small improvement in your daily lifestyle you can incorporate now that will pay dividends in the future?