Growing up I was often told that I was selfish and only thought about myself. And while that may have been very true, I some how missed the boat when it came to caring for myself. I learned not to trust my body, my thoughts and my emotions as so much of the feedback I received from the outside world seemed to contradict what was going on in my inside world. I eventually began to mistrust myself and disregard any of my internal intelligence. I have spent too much time looking outside of myself for the answers. I needed to learn to listen to and honor my body instead of beating myself up and denying what was going on inside.
I first started studying Ayurveda in 2011. Ayur means life and veda means knowledge or wisdom. It is a returning to earth based rhythms and is often referred to as kitchen medicine. Ayurveda believes that health and wellness is based on the balance of mind, body and spirit. At that time I was learning so many new self care techniques and one of them was self-massage with oil. I remember when I first heard about it I was so resistant to this practice. It wasn’t so much about the oil (my skin is incredibly parched and actually loves the oil) but it was the extra time the practice would add to my day. At that point, I viewed any extra time I spent on caring for myself as being selfish. I thought that I needed to be strict and stern with myself or these selfish desires would crop up and people would know how awful I was as a person.
When I began to befriend my body and treat myself as I would my best friend, fears, emotions, and thoughts of unworthiness came out of hiding. For me, it’s taken many little steps to move in the direction of looking at myself with compassion, understanding, and self-love. Self-love, which as a child I viewed as evil. I was supposed to love others, not myself, since that would be a sign of the selfish, awful, no good person that really lived inside of me.
It didn’t take me long to start to crave the feeling of self-massage, using my hands to appreciate my body, my physical form. A month or two later a friend asked what I had learned that was creating the biggest impact. Without a doubt the oil self-massage was the most most life changing. It may sound a little odd, but the word for oil in sanskrit, the ancient Indian language that yoga and Ayurveda use, is snigdha which is also the world for love! Oil creates a smoothness (much needed for my dry, rough skin) lubrication and vigor. It’s as if I am rubbing my whole body with love and nourishment, something that was lacking from my life. I am taking time to be with myself, to listen, observe and notice what I may have missed during the busyness of my day.
There are so many different types of oil you can use for self-massage. First off you want a high quality organic oil. Your skin is your body’s largest organ. Whatever you put on your skin is absorbed directly into your blood stream. Unlike food and beverages, that you ingest through your mouth, which first travel through your liver before entering your bloodstream, the skin gives you direct access. In fact lotion, created mostly from oil and water (which if you remember from school don’t mix) are emulsified. Separately oil and water are fine, but once you’ve combined the two they can go rancid, which is why preservatives and other chemicals are needed to increase the shelf life. When you use a high quality organic oil that would be safe to ingest you don’t have to worry about what other chemicals and toxins you could be adding to your body. My favorite is sesame oil from Banyan Botanical. You don’t use the toasted sesame oil sold in the grocery store. You can also use coconut oil, sunflower oil, almond oil or even olive oil. Be sure to avoid vegetable oil, canola oil or any cheap blended oil found in the supermarket. I also add a few drops of essential oils to my sesame oil, lavender and ylang ylang being my favorite mix.
Self-massage was one of my first steps to befriending my body. From this one habit I began to set the action in motion of taking better care of myself. Instead being so harsh, rough and critical towards myself, I was learning to soften and listen.
I need to remind myself almost daily that there is no such thing as perfection and even if there was, it would be boring. As you look for the next step you can take, start small. Often we want things yesterday, and in todays modern digital age where things happen instantaneously we often want the big change overnight. But it’s the smaller step by step changes that have more of a lasting effect. Most days my self-massage adds a few extra minutes to my routine. If I have it, it is luxurious to take time and really rub the oil in. What’s one area in your life that you could take a small step towards being kind to your body?