Why self-appreciation?

I want to talk about self-appreciation. Wonderful information abounds about self love (I googled it), and that is not surprising considering so many of us struggle with the concept. I know I have. What does it really mean to love and appreciate myself? To care for and nurture myself? If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to be seen as self absorbed or selfish. So where is the balance? What does it look like to really appreciate ourselves and still love and serve others? How is this done? And how do we find the time for ourselves when work, family and other demands really need us?

The best I can come up with is that we just make time for it. I have learned to do this by trying to write this blog. It has been an idea in my head for years. But I have a career and a busy life. I told myself I will start tomorrow. Then the heater dies in December and takes priority, or the plumbing gets backed up. My blog? Out the window once again. Thinking back on it now, sitting here at 5:30am in the coziness of June, I could have snuggled under a blanket and blogged anyway. I heard somewhere that needing or wanting to change or accomplish something isn’t enough-you have to do it. How simple that sounds but often difficult to do. Hence the early morning wake up call (not preplanned with an alarm – I think my intuition woke me up.)

How do you make time relax, play, or grow a hobby? What do you think?

What is Appreciation?

Hi there! I’m back with more thoughts on self-appreciation, and how important I feel that it is for us to have this thing called self-care/love. I love looking up words in the dictionary. Even though I know what appreciation means, do I understand it in a relatable way – including how it relates to my relationship with myself? Appreciation is defined as 1) to be thankful for something, 2) to highly regard or value, 3) to be fully aware or conscious of something, and 4) to raise in value.

Wow, so take a peak inside yourself. I see appreciation as having gratitude, the capacity for wonder, and the ability to truly know and value what is important to me. So, what are you grateful for? What brings a sense of joy and wonder to your heart? What gives you purpose and what are your unique challenges? What do you value the most, and how do you express those values? How do you value yourself? So often I think we treat ourselves like a car we have just purchased, that starts losing value the minute we drive it off the lot. Gratitude for who we are and all we have to offer, and the simple joys in life often get brushed aside. I think we depreciate ourselves far more often than we nurture ourselves.

It’s so easy to treat our lives as something to “get done.” We are busy people. There IS a lot we want and need to accomplish. The challenge is knowing and remembering our value, that we are valuable no matter what we do. Filtering our activities and goals through the lens of self-love, and adjusting our priorities to align more with our values, is a worthy endeavor. But self-appreciation is rarely a priority and usually gets lost in the shuffle.

Self-appreciation means loving ourselves enough to practice self-affirming thoughts and activities, and living from gratitude and wholeness. This can’t be done perfectly of course, and for me, perfection isn’t even the goal. Growth is the goal. We can make progress toward our perfect ideal as we care for ourselves each day. Self love grows as we push aside negativity, focus on our assets instead of our flaws, and don’t allow busyness or other peoples opinions to divert us. We can choose. We can no longer treat ourselves like a car being driven off the lot. What do you think?

Motivation

How do we make time for ourselves and still excel in other areas of our life -at home, and at work? I suggested in a previous blog that we just make time. For example, to start writing, I had to get up an hour earlier a few days per week. I am used to that schedule now and its a habit. But what took me so long to start? I think for most of us, if we are honest, we can always find the time for what is important. So the bigger challenge has nothing to do with the calendar, but lies in our heads and hearts- its a problem with motivation.

First, we have to find out what is important to us, right? Of course we already have value and goals around family and work, so we know what is important in those areas and have habits and structure around them. But what is the thing that is nagging at us, that is uniquely our own inner voice challenging us to do more?

Some of these promtings come from our goals. For the longest time, I wanted to lose weight. I knew I had to fit in exercise as part of that goal. I was Aware that that was a key in weight loss. I capitalize AWARE because as our inner voice speaks louder, and we learn to listen, we get to a place where we know, we have to do something. Once we are in this place of awareness, we must take immediate ACTION. We must start. We can start slow and imperfectly, but the minute we begin a switch happens in our consciousness. My experience with weight loss has been rewarding, and now exercise is a habit. It started with awareness, and acceptance that I needed to start exercising. Then I had to make a choice and just do it. The amazing thing is that my motivation became the exhilaration from my sense of accomplishment. And the results (15 lbs down) are really motivating. So, become Aware (through meditation, perhaps?), accept you must do, and take immediate Action. The most motivation comes from the doing, the habit.

If you are feeling like I have- that following your inner promptings to (fill in the blank) … will be taking time away from the people in your life, I invite you to look at it a different way.

Developing ourselves and focusing some energy on our own values and dreams, nurtures our capacity to serve and help others. We show up for others best when we have shown up for ourselves first. When our physical, emotional and spiritual needs are met, we become unstoppable at being there for other people and our relationships.

What is your inner voice saying to you today? Do you appreciate yourself enough to listen to it?

Boundaries

Boundaries. They (define) We need them to take care of ourselves with others -to maintain the line between where we end and they begin. They help keep us safe, are essential to good communication, and improve self-esteem. We even need to have boundaries with ourselves; for example, the ability to put important tasks before pleasure, or to put a limit on our spending. But it is a complex, long-term job having and setting them. They are challenging, and some of us struggle with them more than others. There’s certainly no guidebook that maps out the trail. But we all have an inner compass we can follow to learn and establish the art of setting boundaries.

It begins with getting to know ourselves, our likes and dislikes. What do we appreciate? What moves and motivates us? What do we like to do, and who with?
How highly do we esteem ourselves? The more we have an internal sense of self love, the easier it is to care for ourselves, and have boundaries. Developing these assets understandably takes a long time. It’s a process which begins with learning about ourselves, and continues with growing our self -esteem, respect and love. We can’t have healthy boundaries without these ingredients.

I liken setting boundaries to cooking a meal. It takes time to develop and use the skill set it requires, similar to letting a sauce simmer longer marries the flavors. But First we have to prepare and mix the ingredients. We gently stir together generous amounts of self esteem, self understanding and self love. These are the main ingredients of the meal. Then it has to cook. And it’s ready when its ready. I can then set limits, gently putting out each fork, plate, napkin and spoon. I’ve beat myself up over the years for not having better boundaries.

Well-rested, Refreshed Skin

This time of year reminds me of nourishing and replenishing ourselves, whether that means sleeping more, cuddling up in front of a warm fire, or taking extra long hot baths. The cold weather drives us indoors, and sometimes inward. Now that the leaves have fallen and the snow has stuck (in some places), we tend to seek warmth, and a quieter way of being than in the warmer months. This got me to thinking about our skin and how it rests, not to mention how it handles the colder climate.

One of the most important things we can do for our skin, no matter what time of year, is get adequate sleep. Our skin doesn’t really sleep, per se, but when we sleep, our skin and muscles relax. Toxins are ushered out of our skin, and nutrients brought in, bringing healing and reduced inflammation. It is a beautiful process, really, one we don’t have to “accomplish.” It just happens naturally, as our whole body restores and replenishes itself. A bad nights sleep shows up first on our faces with saggy eyes and a lusterless, dull appearance. That is because, without enough sleep, collagen production is slowed, the skin’s structures don’t get adequate nourishment, and toxins linger in the skin.

But there is some things we can do to help it along, the first of course is doing our best to get enough sack time. Also, I recommend changing your pillow cases frequently, every night if necessary, especially if you’re a side sleeper. The skin thats smashed into the pillow doesn’t get to breathe and relax, causing irritation and sometimes blemishes. If you have oily skin and sleep on your side, change your pillow case every night. I know, Ugh.

But, what about before you even hop into bed? Its imperative to clean your face at night with a cleanser made for your skin type. Freshly washed skin has a better chance at replenishing and restoring itself overnight. Removing makeup and the well, gunk, that ends up on our faces after a day in the world, (think pollution etc) takes only a couple of minutes and is worth it. Your payoff will be reduced inflammation which means less redness, pimples, and blemishes. It’s your first line of defense for waking up looking great. But you’re not quite done. What you put on your face at night is just as important as your morning regimen (cleanse, moisturize, sunscreen right?) Nighttime is the perfect opportunity to use a treatment serum (Vit A, maybe?) and nutritive rich moisturizer. Good quality products will help your skins refreshing and healing process as you get your z’s.

In upcoming posts, I will talk about some skin care products on the market, which ones I like, and why. I’ll also give you some information on the professional lines I use in my skin care treatments and facelift massage sessions. So, wake up rested with glowing skin and say tuned!

A Society of Slumpers

When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, I couldn’t comprehend a time when I’d be in my 50’s, troubled with the common problems of that age. Now at 52, I have more compassion for my mother, who suffered from arthritis in her fingers, and for my dad, who had constant back pain. Finding myself now with sore hands and an achy back is a humbling situation!

Growing up, I remember my mother telling me to stand up straight, and maybe more importantly, sit up straight. Often annoyed, I’d push my shoulders back, pull in my tummy, and straighten my back. This occurred most of the time as I sat at the dining room table doing homework, hunched over my books. Or we would be standing in the grocery store line and she’d tell me to hold in my belly. Boy, did mother know best! I didn’t realize then that I was developing habits that would serve my health and well-being today. As I sit at the computer right now, I don’t have to think about sitting up straight. And although I have some stiffness and pain from old injuries acting up, I usually feel pretty darn good.

Fighting gravities pull is a challenge in the best circumstances, but is tougher considering our modern culture. We live in an era where sitting is practically a full-time occupation – driving, long airplane flights, computer work at the office and at home, and watching TV. Prolonged sitting puts pressure on our low back and hips, and strains our upper back and neck, especially if we are hunched over a desk. Back muscles get spasmic, and shoulders get tight from rounding forward too much. Neck pain is common because our head is jutted too far forward and not seated comfortably over our shoulders. Over time, this takes its toll on our bodies. And even if you have an active job, like mine, you can find yourself slouching by days end. In essence, we are a society of slumpers.

As a Massage Therapist, I’ve helped many people get relief from tight muscles and stiff joints, and even heal from injuries. Over years of experience, I have noticed that some clients recovered easier from injuries, had better range or motion, and had less aches and pains in general, as they got older. A lot of these clients had one thing in common – they had good posture.

So, I think a contributing factor to aging more comfortably is a healthy posture. When our joints line up properly, especially the spinal column and shoulders, they incur less wear and tear stress. There is less breakdown of cartilage, which leads to arthritis. (check out the bottom figure in the above photo.) The result is less joint pain and easier freedom of movement. Our heart pumps easier and our lungs function better because our chest cavity is more open. (see above how the being hunched over really closes off the chest!) This is great for our muscles and joints, which are bathed with more nutrients and oxygen. Even though “Skinny” in our photo is a bit exaggerated, you get the point. How do you think he’s going to feel when he’s 60?

So what do we do if we can relate a little too much to Skinny the Skeleton? I believe exercises like yoga and pilates are really helpful. These exercises strengthen our midsection, and stretch and tone the upper body, as well as our legs and hips. When our core is strong, our back muscles can relax. Lengthening the hamstrings (for example, downward dog pose or forward bends in yoga) eases tension in the low back. Strengthening upper back muscles offers better support for our shoulders which creates less strain on our neck. (think more down dog and lots of planks)

Strength and flexibility training is also helpful. I recommend finding a trainer or a class, and starting out slow, and sticking with it. Weight loss, of course, helps, and we all know exercise is a major component of that. In a society where sitting (overall inactivity) is the norm, movement and more movement is the answer to a lot of our woes.

However, and here comes my favorite part: I think some postural issues can be improved in the hands of a good massage therapist. I have done Myofascial Massage, which unwinds tight muscles and scar tissue, for years and know that coupled with therapeutic stretching, it can unravel tension in any area of the body. To help with posture, I often work on the chest muscles first, ironing out the pectorals and opening up through the front of the shoulders. I use trigger point work on tight traps and neck muscles, which often instantly relieves neck pain. Deep massage of the entire back musculature, particularly around the spine, is helpful, and feels so good some people fall asleep! With spinal, neck and shoulder muscles released, it is easier to stand or sit in a more upright posture. Some of my clients say they feel taller the minute they get off the table!

Now, not one of my clients has come in asking me to help them with their posture. But they do come to see me because they are in pain. Being dedicated to helping people reduce pain and stress in their lives, I have found this to be very rewarding work. And if better posture comes from healing touch that lessens stress and tension, I think thats icing on the cake. So, stand up straight, hold in your gut, and pull those shoulders back. Get some therapeutic bodywork, and try a yoga or pilates class. If it hasn’t done so already, your body will thank you.

April Showers

I would like to venture off my talks about skin care and massage today and relate an experience I recently had.

How many of you have experienced something like this?

Last Saturday my day started out as usual meeting a friend for coffee. I dragged my heavy coat along because the forecast was rain, and I like to be prepared. Hesitating, I took my coat into Starbucks with me, thinking I might get caught in a downpour on the way out, but fearing I’d leave it behind. (a bad habit of mine) I had a lovely visit with my friend, and we continued to chat happily on our way back to our cars.

Arriving at my office, I noticed a text from my friend saying “I think you left your jacket…” I had just enough time to zip back to the coffee shop and not be late for my first appointment, but I was irked nonetheless. At the coffee shop. I ran in and scooped my jacket off the chair I had occupied, grateful it was still there, but still kicking myself for leaving it behind. Strike one for the day.

I tossed my coat in the trunk and got back in the car, deciding to check my messages before taking off. There was one text – an important appointment I had was canceling, one I had prepared hard for and now couldn’t get back the time. I started the engine and began the drive back to my office, feeling frustrated and disheartened. Strike two.

Still grumbling to myself, I drove into the parking lot of my office, which happens to be in a busy shopping center.

Now, I’m a stickler about parking. The first thing I noticed was one car had taken up two spots- literally parking in the middle of two stalls. This is one of my biggest pet peeves. And have you noticed that, like airplane seats, parking spaces are shrinking in size at an alarming rate? I finally found a spot at the end of the lot (of course the furthest from my office) and squeezed in between two other other cars. As I opened my door, the passenger in the car next to me opened theirs and our doors collided with a “thunk”.

Expletives exploded in my brain. This was strike three for sure. Alighting from our cars, the driver and passenger and I assessed the damage, the driver giving me a cross look. But, luckily we concurred there was no damage to either car, and we strode off in opposite directions.

At this moment it occurred to me that I had a choice. The day was getting off to a rough start. I could greet my coworkers and clients grumpily, or I could decide to start over. I could either be resentful or gratitude. Do I want to stay mad at myself for leaving my coat behind (again!), or be grateful I got it back? Do I want to find a constructive activity since an appointment canceled, or do I want to complain because of all the time wasted? Can I focus on how nice it was to see my friend, and how great it was that neither car had any damage after the little mishap? (which is actually kind of funny once you think about it). One thing I have learned in life is that resentment casts clouds over joy. My attitude shifted. I was no longer having a bad day – but a good day with some bad moments. Besides, it was still early!

Grateful for a more positive attitude, I went on with my day. I can’t say it was all smooth going, but it felt good to remember that I can choose my interpretation of my experiences. I was however, looking forward to the end of the day and going home. Throughout the day, rain clouds formed and resulted in some sprinkles, but I never needed my coat.

Grateful to be home that evening I happily thought about what awaited me. Dinner, and a little TV. My two precious kitties. Opening the door, I stepped inside and immediately felt something squish under my shoe. I tossed my coat on the couch and looked down. My Siamese Blu had coughed up a hair ball. Welcome home.