Welcome to the first Self-Care Sunday Series for Today's Parent!
This series is intended to support you throughout February–the month dedicated to cheesy romantic gestures, heart-shaped chocolate, and lots of red–by offering practices to help cultivate a deeper love: self-love.
Through these love letters from me to you each week, you will find a space where I will delve into a theme and provide ideas, helpful practices, and resources to support you. Together, we will build a greater sense of self-love in all the areas that, when working in harmony together, make us feel more whole: body, mind, heart, and spirit. Finding that sense of love and care from within makes it more possible to care for others without depleting our precious energy.
Today, we are talking all about The Body.
For women and mothers in particular, this idea of the body is a loaded topic. On one hand, for some of us, our bodies have carried our children into this world. Without our bodies, we wouldn't have our babies, and yet, as a natural result of carrying our children, we don't always love the way these bodies look and feel. On the other hand, for some of us, it is our bodies that have made it difficult or impossible to fulfill that dream of becoming a parent, which has caused us pain, depression, and even trauma.
And then there is the time before becoming a parent when our bodies were our own. They were the vessels that allowed us to move through the world, play, and experience life. But growing up, they may have also been a source of criticism or challenges, whether through the cruelty and misguidedness of others or our inner critics, egged on by distorted ideas of beauty and expectation from the media.
All of this–the before and the after of parenthood in our bodies–for most of us has led to a place where you might wake up one day to realize that you exist almost primarily in a place of stress, anxiety, maybe even health issues, where the body does not feel good.
So many of these stressful states of being we accept as "normal" are not. Much of it stems from the root cause of feeling unsafe in the body, either from a lifetime of harsh criticism directed at that body from ourselves and others, from pushing that body beyond its limits, from perceived stress such as deadlines or expectations, or genuine stress like financial burdens, trauma, or health challenges.
But the truth is, the body is our most precious friend and ally. It is the one thing that is with us from the beginning of our life to the end, so we owe it to the body if not to love it, then to respect it enough to listen to it and give it what it needs.
A wonderful book that delves into this topic of women's bodies is by Dr. Libby Weaver, called Rushing Woman's Syndrome where she details all how, over time, if we are constantly under the pressure of having to be everything to everyone and always under the pressure of rushing to do it all, the body, and specifically our nervous system, takes a massive hit.
Our bodies were not designed to be constantly scrutinized for beauty, continually working, constantly stressed, or continuously pulled in all directions. In fact, all beings, men and women alike, were meant to be balanced, to have time for work and, yes, even stressful jobs, but also time for rest, for ease, for play. Yet we have gotten so far away from that place of balance that many of us exist in a chronic state of fight or flight.
If you feel burnt out or stretched too thin, whether you're a working parent, stay-at-home parent, or some combination of both, you are not alone in feeling this way. I don't know a person in any of my social circles who is not under some stress and nervous system depletion.
Recently, despite practicing everything that I preach about slowing down and not overfilling the day with to-dos, I found that the months of working a demanding job, having to be done by 3 pm to pick up the kids from school, and the financial strains of the current economic climate, had taken its toll. I found that I had to force myself to work out or go for a walk, things I usually enjoyed and felt great doing, which left me more exhausted. I was unmotivated at work and mostly just wanted to nap.
I realized that despite my vigilance, I had slipped into burnout mode and that it was time to step up my self-care and listen to my body. To that end, I spent the month of January prioritizing a calm nervous system by incorporating slower movement (no HIIT workouts), gentler walks, and lots of yin yoga. I did deep diaphragmatic breathing, meditation and writing, and reduced caffeine, alcohol, social media, and–honestly– being around people or situations that stressed me out.
All of it combined was a game changer. I feel 50% better than I did at the end of December, and I know that if I keep going, I will find my way back to optimal balance. But of these strategies, I saw a few daily practices to be the most helpful in my journey, which is why I'm here to share. Not because I'm standing at the top of the mountain saying, "I made it!" but because I just got to Base Camp 1 and don't want to leave anyone behind.
So, if you're here reading, perhaps you've felt the same call I did–that it's time to get serious about chilling out. You recognize that it's time to dig deep to find some inner peace and calm, to live more of an unhurried life for the sake of your body. And to that, I say, welcome to the club!
Even by bringing your awareness to the fact that you need more balance in your life, you've taken an enormous step. Truly. And the next step after that is to start by bringing some calm, love, and respect to your body. A calmer nervous system, wherein you spend more of your day in parasympathetic nervous system activation instead of the sympathetic nervous system dominance (the flight or fight system), is a critical first step in bringing back a sense of health and well-being to the body.
Sounds good, right? But the last thing busy parents need is one more thing on the to-do list or one more self-help tip to wade through. Your time is precious, and when you're used to giving it all to everyone else, it's hard to justify carving out extra space for your body that doesn't involve standard exercise or basic hygiene. I've got you, though!
You can do these practices in minimal time or through habit stacking (which is a fancy way of saying multi-tasking for self-care). These practices are backed by science, so if at any point your inner cynic tells you that they are too woo-woo, visualize turning down the dial on that unhelpful voice. You can do them all in one go as you feel inspired or spread them throughout the week. Just listen to your intuition and go with what feels most supportive.
Most parents I know scoff when I suggest that they meditate, saying that they don't have the time or that "it's too slow," which is just another clue that it's what they need. But I know that when you're used to operating at 100, it can feel like a huge downshift to sit in stillness and make things worse. So one of my favourite ways to meditate, especially when my body has excess nervous energy coursing through it that needs to be released, is to practice walking meditation. You're getting in gentle movement and fresh air while reaping the benefits of meditation.
Walking meditation is, essentially, just walking (ideally in nature) without any noise in your ear to distract you; no music, no podcast, just you and your body in motion. There is some research on the idea that walking can provide similar effects to EMDR therapy by activating and building connections with each step between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. A slower pace paired with deep breathing is also excellent support for the nervous system as it tells the body "I'm safe" as opposed to more vigorous walking or running, which, when you're dealing with burnout or chronic stress, can signal to the body that it is under further duress.
As you get ready for your walk, make sure you leave your earphones and phone tucked away. Start walking and breathing, noticing your breath, in and out through your nose without opening your mouth if you can. Practice bringing it deeper into your belly, feeling the expansion of your abdomen on the inhale and then the release as you exhale. Do this until you feel your breath smooth out and notice you're even 10% calmer. Now, ask yourself a question you've been seeking an answer to. It can be anything, but since we're on the topic of our bodies, you might ask a simple question:
"What does my body need right now?"
Once you have the question, hold it in your mind. Offer it up, and then set the trust and intention that you will receive the answers, guidance, and wisdom you need to know right now by the end of your walk. I promise you will feel better and more grounded by the end of this practice. Just trust it and see what comes through.
Yin yoga is the style I practice most consistently as a yogi and as a teacher because it's what the world needs. The ethos of yin yoga is that it espouses the principles of the feminine, or yin, to balance the energy of the masculine, or the yang, which is more often dominant in the hustle culture of our day-to-day lives. The value of this style of stillness through movement in supporting the health of the body cannot be underestimated.
Here is a guided practice that I do, either at the end of the work day before transitioning to mom life, or after the kids are in bed before having my evening cup of tea and Love Island binge session, but any time of day that works for you is perfect. It will only take you 10 minutes, but in that brief time, you will have stretched out your posterior chain (the back of your body, which is essential for spinal health and posture), activated the parasympathetic nervous system, and assisted with lymphatic drainage to set you up for a calmer day or a restful sleep.
I pair yoga and meditation in my workshops, followed by a guided expressive writing practice. Dr. James Pennebaker has done extensive research to prove that there is a measurable benefit to a person's emotional and physical well-being by engaging in a directed, expressive writing practice. This means you are writing to deal with an issue or a topic that causes stress or emotional upheaval.
You might say, "But I'm not a writer," but being "a writer" has nothing to do with this and has everything to do with providing a tangible way to release unhelpful thoughts, energy, and emotion from the body that is no longer serving our health and well-being.
This writing practice is a perfect culmination of this week's self-care practice for the body, as it provides a great way to connect more directly to your physical being in a grounded way to discover what is calling for your attention.
You only need a notebook (a plain old spiral one works) and your writing utensil of choice to do this practice. If you have the time to light a candle and get cozy with a blanket, even better. Close your eyes, imagine a small light at the center of your heart that grows brighter and brighter as you focus on it, and then as you open your eyes, write this question on the page:
"What am I holding in my body that no longer serves me? What am I ready to let go of?"
Just write whatever answer comes to you, letting your hand move at its own pace. Don't force or doubt what comes through; allow what comes up. The answers might (or might not) surprise you. You can come back to this topic every day if you like, so if it resonates with you, be bold about coming to the page and seeing what comes up.
That's all for this Sunday's Self-Care Practice! Thank you so much for going on this journey with me. Next week, we will be talking all about The Mind. I hope to meet you here!
For more resources or to connect with me, please check out my website at allisonmcdonaldace.com.
Allison McDonald Ace is a YA Certified Yin & 200 HR Vinyasa & Hatha Yoga instructor, published author and expressive writing workshop facilitator. She is passionate about turning her own healing practices and experiences into offerings to help others on their journey.
Keep up with your baby's development, get the latest parenting content and receive special offers from our partners