When I tell people that I get a massage every two weeks on average they exclaim “Oh, I should do that.” But there’s no time, no money, too far to travel. Always a reason.
And I get it. Even though I really prioritise self nurturing in my life, there are times when it takes a little more effort.
One of my favoured ways to take time for myself is to get thee to a massage table and receive some body work.
It’s been super easy for me to keep up that routine in places like Thailand, Guatemala and India where it’s on every corner for a great price, or where I have therapist friends to trade with.
But lately I was in Israel for an unexpectedly long time where things are more expensive. Plus I was living in suburbia with no network of healers around me. I was helping to care for my mother-in-law who broke her hip, as well as working full time on-line.
So I recognised early on that I was gonna need to support myself through this time.
If you spend a lot of time in a caring role, self care is an important priority. Perhaps vital to avoid burnout and exhaustion.
And yet we don’t all do it well. I’m not talking only about therapists and care workers. I’m talking about everyone who gets into that situation of feeling like you are giving out a lot but not necessarily giving back to yourself.
This is one of the first things that Etai checks in with certain hypnotherapy clients, are you meeting your basic needs?
It’s true that caring for others meets a lot of our emotional needs such as intimacy, connection and greater purpose. But are you taking care of you body, mind and physical health? Are you taking private time? Time for reflection?
All living organisms have basic needs. A plant needs water, air, sunshine and soil. If those needs are not readily available it will go to strange places to find them, sending its roots through rock or reaching around obstacles.
Likewise if we don’t meet our basic human requirements for wellbeing, we can do weird things or contort ourselves to seek the fulfillment of those needs.
Physical touch has long been recognised as a basic human need. As infants it is necessary for our survival. In a tragic trial from the 13th century, a German Emperor ordered a study in which babies were fed and bathed but not spoken to or played with. He wanted to see what language they would develop innately. He never found out because “the children all died. For they could not live without the petting and joyful faces and loving words of their foster mothers.”1
Throughout the developmental years touch plays a vital role in forming us into emotionally grounded, socially adept and psychologically resilient people.1 The need for touch continues all throughout life, to differing degrees in each of us.
From our early development in the womb when our whole body arises out of 3 layers, the skin is formed from outer layer, the same layer of our being as the nervous system. Touch is the first of the senses to develop.
You can think of the skin like our outer nervous system, connecting us with the world around us. No wonder that we can break out in a rash when nervous or get pimples when stressed. The outer reflects the inner.
And so, it’s no wonder that many of us, me included, seek forms of touch like massage. Other than healing in times of need, it can be an appropriate way to meet our basic needs so that we can be vibrantly well in body and mind.
So what to do then if massage is unavailable to you right now?
How do you stay nurtured in ways that are nearly as good as a massage?
Well, delightfully, there are many ways. And the great thing about these ones that I share with you here, is that you really do them for yourself.
In massage you hand over your body to someone else. As much as you are in partnership with the role of communicating and relaxing, and you can take the credit for getting yourself to the table. But the nurturing touch of the other, the therapist, plays a bit part in whether you come out relaxed, re-energised or nourished in whatever way you were seeking.
When you do these self-nourishing practices, you are the one that is in charge of providing the love and relaxation for yourself. You are in partnership with nature and her potently healing elements like water, fresh air and herbs. But it’s up to you to serve it lovingly to yourself.
The self nurturing practices that really got me through this time were self-massage, baths, yoga and time in nature…
1. Daily self-massage with oil
This technique I learned from Ayurveda. I chose to do it religiously at this time in Israel because it is winter. While it is admittedly a very mild winter, I know that I have a tendency to get irritated by dry cold winds and air. This reflects a vata imbalance if you are familiar with the Ayurvedic doshas. Daily oil massage is recommended in this case to really ground and relax the erratic tendencies of the air-head Vata. Having said that, daily massage is recommended for everyone.
The recommendation is to use a natural, cold-pressed, chemical-free oil. Sesame oil, coconut oil, almond oil and sunflower oil are all good choices. You could even use a good quality olive oil.
Warm the oil. This is easily done by pouring boiling water into a container and sitting the oil jar in it for a few minutes.
In a warm room, slowly massage the oil all over your body from head to toe, taking about 10-20 minutes. Use long strokes of even pressure with your whole hand for the large parts of the body like arms and legs. Use small circles for areas like the face, hands and feet.
It’s good to do the massage after a shower, with a little bit of water still on your skin, which helps skin hydration.
If possible relax for 5-10 minutes to allow the oil to soak in.
Now, this is the recommendation. And do you know how hard this is to do when you are having a Vata imbalance and wanting to get on with the day, get dressed, have a coffee and start working already?
It’s readily acknowledged in Ayurveda that the thing that is best for you to do is usually exactly the thing that you really don’t want to do!
So, I did stick to doing daily massage, but it didn’t always reflect the recommendations. I sometimes put coconut oil on while I was still in the warm shower. I sometimes massaged almond oil over my whole body in about 2 minutes. Most days I didn’t include my scalp in the massage. I never relaxed after the massage in the morning. But I kind of made up for it with long relaxations on some evenings after a bath.
I didn’t do it perfectly, but I did it, and I really felt the difference. For one my skin stayed intact and felt beautiful throughout the dry winter. I felt really great going into the day or into bed with the softness and glow of supple dewy skin.
It also felt really good to make a commitment to my wellbeing and stick to it. This sends such a strong message of self love and self nourishment, it’s a beautiful feeling.
It is wonderful to relax in a hot spring, river or waterfall. But when the Mediterranean sea is 15 degrees with a strong cold wind blowing. Or when you are living in suburbia where water-bodies are positioned for aesthetics rather than use. Then a bath does the trick divinely.
Seeing as you are going to the effort of running a bath, it is really worth making it as special as possible. The warm water and steam does wonders alone, but you can go the extra step to care for yourself.
I used whatever was available locally to give my bath a vibrant healing boost…
A few big sprigs of rosemary which boosts immunity, eases pain, relives stress and boosts circulation.
A lemon. The oil from the skin is mood boosting and skin toning. Put in in the bath whole. You can use it to massage your body like rolling your feet over it and putting it behind you back on pressure spots. Then eventually pop it open and let the lemon juice infuse the bath.
Aloe Vera is soothing and moisturising for the skin. I used 2 big leaves of it in the bath. Cut off the spikes beforehand, and peel open the leaves from bottom to top. Apply it to your skin by either rubbing it straight on from the leaf, or scrape out some pulp and rub it over your whole body. It’s great even for your hair.
Mud from the Dead Sea, it’s packed full of minerals and is great to use as a body scrub and facemask. Leave it on for 10 minutes while you relax in the warm water.
These are the gifts of nature that I had available to me at this time. You can use whatever you have in your “backyard”. Perhaps eucalyptus leaves, hibiscus flower, rose petals, pine needles, orange peel, sweet basil, neem leaves or natural clay.
You can also buy products like essential oils such as tea tree or peppermint, epsom salts or oil. If you get the healing ingredient from a local source and use it as close as possible to the time that you take it from the plant or ground, it carries more potent life force energy. But of course bought products are also great.
It really is amazing the feeling of bliss that is generated from a fairly short time of breathing, relaxing and moving the body mindfully in ways that it might not have moved all day, let alone all week or eek, longer!
To fuse yoga with self nurturing, it is really lovely to do your own practice at home in a quiet time. You can set a beautiful environment with warmth, cushioning, candles and incense. Or you can just enjoy to be in the comfort of your living room in your pyjamas.
Taking time to tune into the body and choose your own sequence of postures, breaths and movements gives you a great opportunity to honour your body. Whether it wants to lie in a restorative pose with an eye pillow on for 20 minutes. Or to flow through vigorous downward dogs, lunges and cobras. You can choose your own flow and really listen deeply to yourself in a way that you may not experience in a class.
Moving through the postures alone gives an abundance of touch as your body parts press against each other and the surfaces. You can also take it deeper by spending a little longer in a pose and using your hands on your body to give that extra bit of feedback and loving touch. Holding the back of the legs when you are in a forward bend. Massaging the feet when you are in a cross legged position. Massaging the face and neck when you lie down for savasana.
If you haven’t tried it before you’ll be amazed at the relaxation this loving self touch provides.
4. Time in Nature
This one can be difficult to do when you are feeling busy, because you have to actually leave the house and take a walk or maybe even jump in the car if you need to travel far. But it is so worth it. The healing powers of nature are great in so many ways.
When we are comparing being in nature to getting a massage, I must say, it is amazing how often nature just has the right quality to make you feel really relaxed. The perfect softness of grass or sand under the body. The perfect little knob on a rock to massage your back muscle. The perfect head rest or foot rest. The most healing sounds and colours. Yup, she’s got it all.
So if you are seeking a deep relaxation in nature, I find it’s important not to just walk through nature spots, but to find the spot that calls you and lie down or sit down. Just as you would with a massage, breathe and relax. Take it all in. All the textures and smells and temperatures. Allow a good 20 minutes or more for the healing to go a bit deeper. If you are on soft sand, dig your feet in. If you are in water, soak. Take the time to let nature do her work.
We are all different when it comes to what makes us feel nurtured and healthy. If you are one who likes massages and body treatments then you will enjoy these self nurturing practices.
I found that by using these along with other vital factors like nourishing food, vibrant drinks and stimulating company I got through this time with fine health, a balanced perspective and a good dose of self-love – the joyful feeling which arises from experiencing that you love yourself enough to do kind things for yourself.
Tell me, how do you like to nourish yourself?
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