The other day, I received a text from a friend and fellow yoga therapist asking me to cover her class. Now of course, asking to get a class covered is no big thing. However, this conversation went on to inspire this post. I soon found out that my friend needed coverage because she was sick from being overworked, overwhelmed, and just plain over it. The irony here is that her/our work is focused on healing those who are overworked and overwhelmed with chronic pain, stress, or simply life.

This isn’t the first time that one of my fellow yoga therapists or yoga professionals have compromised their own health for the health and wellbeing of others. Not to mention, the drastic rise in stress and chronic disease has demonstrated the desperate need for self-care and self-care education in today’s world, resulting in a $400 billion industry. Many of us work a solo practice (one-man/one-woman show) and spend our days on the road running from one client or class to the next with barely enough time to eat, hydrate or use the bathroom. With that schedule, it’s only a matter of time before we experience burnout and compassion fatigue (a state experienced by those helping people in distress) from pouring ourselves into our work.

We yoga therapists and natural caregivers alike readily give and give to others until our personal cup is empty (Remember our ROOT Hero Connie Sintuvat? Read her story on self care here!). And as we’ve said before, we could learn a lot from flight attendants who ask that you put on your own oxygen mask before you assist anyone else. This is because we can only effectively help others after we help ourselves.

Oh, I am not to be excluded from this group either. If you knew me a couple years ago, you would find me almost always saying “yes” to clients in place of my free time. My thought process was simple and went something like this: I love what I do and want to offer this gift of wellness and healing as much as possible, whenever and wherever I can.

It wasn’t until I was at a point of complete depletion did I notice that I had not seen my friends in ages and was struggling to find time to expand my work in ways I felt I could only dream of.  By ignoring my own self-care and growth, I was impairing the way I delivered my work to my students and clients. I was physically and emotionally exhausted, frustrated and felt less creative and less connected. I was forced to ask myself, “how is this serving?”

Once I came to the thrilling revelation that I had to dramatically change my mindset to create space to live my life, a rush a fear washed over me. I had no idea where to begin. I was so overwhelmed by all the things I felt I had to shift, that I almost considered ways to figure out how to maintain an unmanageable schedule just to avoid the change. Taking responsibility was so foreign to me, that it took some real self-reflection and help from my tribe (Check out our blog on Healing With a Little Help from Your Tribe) to get me to take the step that I had long used to guide my clients.

There are several steps I go through as I progress with a client, but for our purposes and to keep things simple, I have outlined 3 must-do’s.

#1. Assessment: The yoga therapy process always begins with an assessment and so does the process of nurturing our own self-care. Often our attitudes and beliefs form personal barriers that stand in the way of caring for ourselves. With that, it’s important to evaluate our self-care history and identify any and all imbalances. Ask yourself:

  • Has this been a lifelong pattern?
  • Do you think you are being selfish if you put your needs first?
  • Do you have fears around tending to your needs?
  • Has it always seemed easier to take care of others first?

For me, lack of self-care had been a lifelong pattern and I had a lot of guilt around tending to my own needs. I remember being assigned group projects in school and I would always offer to take on the project as a solo mission. I would drown myself in a workload for 4 while the others were probably cruising through their weekend without a care in the world. I also began to explore my family history. My mother worked (and still works) as a full-time teacher. On top of that, she raised three kids, drove us all over the city (in LA no less) as we participated in many after school sports and hobbies and still managed to cook dinner every night. With a schedule like that, she certainly had little to no time for herself. (Check out our blog on Healing what we Inherit!) In short, for me, these behaviors run deep.

#2. Plan: In yoga, to create healing and balance, you have to cultivate the opposite way of thinking (known in Sanskrit as, Pratipaksha Bhavana), which ultimately will turn into inspired action. When we are in a self-care deficit, our plan must include tools to begin to move the self-care needle in a positive direction.

Let’s go back to my self-care journey. In my assessment, I discovered fear and guilt around tending to my own needs. Because of that, I lacked proper boundaries around my “me” time. The first step in my plan involved changing the way I thought about my own self-care. I started to tell myself (whether I believed it or not) that I was going to be more efficient, productive, and would be able to develop deeper connections with my clients if my cup was full. I told myself this for a couple months before I started making serious schedule changes. I found I needed that space to build my confidence around taking time away from working in and on my business.

The next piece of the plan was around setting boundaries. I decided that I was going to literally schedule in my “me” time every day.

  • I no longer wanted to regularly work on weekends as this was the only time I had to connect with family and my significant other. I would make an exception for personal/professional growth opportunities (being too rigid never works).
  • I would set specific office hours and organize my day in a way that best served me versus what others asked of me.
  • To believe it, I had to see it, so I wrote out various versions of my new schedule which included everything from scheduling my meditation and yoga practice to answering emails. I even created spacefor a true lunch break. No more lunches stuck behind the steering wheel of the car for me! Now that I had begun to change my thinking and poured hours (yes hours) to writing out versions of my new schedule, which was basically creating a new business model, I was ready for step 3!

#3. Implementation: As yoga therapists, we know that developing awareness and creating a plan is not enough to make change. It is a great start to making dramatic improvements in our life. Yet, without proper implementation, we can easily fall back into the same patterns which can leave us feeling stuck, resentful, and unhappy. It is also not uncommon to start beating ourselves up for not following through with our plan. I wish I can say it was as easy as 1, 2, 3 with regards to my self-care development. But the reality is, it took me a few more months after creating my plan to begin the implementation. And believe me, I needed a lot of encouragement and support from my network to reaffirm that the life I was living was unsustainable and that this change was not a luxury but rather a necessity.

Implementation for me began by changing one thing- free up my weekends for family and friends. I started having conversations with my weekend clients. I discussed what my new hours were, and offered various times and days in which I would be available to meet. At first, I was fearful that no one would work with my new hours. Yet, to my surprise many of my clients expressed how much they valued our time together and were open to being flexible. I was overwhelmed with joy and for the first time was truly able to receive my worth. After a few weeks, I had no weekend commitments. This opened the door for me to take weekend trips, go to a movie, or (dare I say) stay at home!

For us caregivers, applying self-care to ourselves can seem like rocket science. However, you don’t need an engineering degree to analyze, invent, and design a schedule that fuels your needs and your passion for your work. You simply need to recognize that there is a deficit and then take interest in and prioritize your own wellbeing. Being a yoga therapist and/or care giver of any kind is hard work and you deserve to place your health and quality of life at the top.

Are you a caregiver or someone in the business of service and feeling challenged in creating a schedule and life that fuels your needs? You’re in luck! Self-care development includes changing our mindset and ultimately our self-care habits. Join me December 2nd for my “Changing Our Habits to Heal” workshop. REGISTER NOW! 

Can’t make it? Reach out and receive a free 15-minute coaching consultation on self-care development.