I’ve recently added a new dish to my self-care menu: Abhyanga, or the Ayurvedic practice of oil massage.
The idea is that you spend some time each day (or most days), applying seasonally appropriate oil to your skin. The oil is said to pacify/nurture the body, and the massage is a practice of bodily connection as you lovingly move your hands over your body, taking the time to help the skin absorb the oil.
Or, rather, that’s the intention.
Because here’s how I’ve been doing it: “Oh, crap. I forgot Abhyanga again and now I’m ready to go to bed. Well, here. Where’s that coconut oil?” I get a little in my hands and then here’s my application process: Slap it (almost literally) on my feet, legs torso, arms, chest and done.
Abhyanga done. Check and mate.
RUSHING VS. NOT
What often happens to me if I’m adding another element of self-care to my routine is that I either forget it or resist it. Or forgetting is my form of resistance. Or all of that on different days.
And then when I do, I make it another weapon with which to beat myself about the head (in this case not literally).
So rather than just accepting that – hey – I’m just not doing it today and that’s okay, I choose to do it the most haphazard and, honestly, punishing way possible. I WILL get this oil massage done, even though I don’t want to and I’m pissed and my inner critic is screaming at me. I will grit my teeth and put it on as fast as possible before moving right along.
This might be a wild leap here, but…I don’t think that’s the point.
CREATING A NEW ROUTINE
Adding self-care to your routine, whatever it may be, can be challenging. It’s just like starting any new thing: It takes some time for it to become consistent.
What I suggest (to me as much as you, if not more) is that we take kindness as step one. Without kindness, we get a rushed and angry massage – something that I’m pretty sure doesn’t sound appealing to too many people.
With kindness, though, we get a chance to try again. That could look like rethinking your plan for the day and making a little more time, or just acknowledging that starting a new thing is hard, you didn’t do it today, and tomorrow you’ll adjust accordingly to start fitting it in.
WHAT RESEARCH SHOWS US
Many people push back against this approach, deeming it lazy, undisciplined or just not enough to actually form a habit. But what’s interesting is that research is increasingly showing us the opposite.
People like Dr. Brené Brown and Dr. Kristin Neff are showing us the power of self-compassion and how when we’re not in a place of shame (like feeling like we’re terrible people because we forgot Abhyanga – again), that is the only way we can create sustainable change.
Note the emphasis on sustainable, because that’s important. Yes, people can create temporary change with a more bullying/strict approach. But for most of us, we can only sustain that level of intensity for so long. And when we lose it, we often go right into shame, using it as evidence against ourselves for how we are the slackers we thought we were after all. And then the whole process repeats.
What creates change that lasts is change that is integrated with self-compassion – acknowledging that, yep, we’re human, and we’re not the only people on the face of the Earth who have figured out how to beat the “system” called human nature.
It’s when we approach our self-care with the realization that we’re people getting used to something new, and that takes time, and has ebbs and flows, that we build towards what we’re hoping to create – and enjoy the process a little more along the way, too.
To read more of Anna’s work, click here.