You know the feeling, it’s that time of the month and you’re doubled over in pain, wanting nothing more than a hot water bottle and your bed. Now imagine that all the time, combined with a host of other painful symptoms including digestive complications and severe exhaustion. For the 1.5 million women in the UK who suffer from endometriosis this is their life.
Endometriosis is a chronic inflammatory condition where the uterine lining grows outside of the uterus. Each month these cells break down and bleed (as they would normally in your womb during a period), but they have no way of escaping, and so cause internal inflammation, scar tissue, and cysts.
It is thought to affect 10% of women worldwide, and for many of them the associated pain is intense and debilitating, affecting both relationships and careers.
While yoga is by no means a cure for endometriosis (sadly one hasn’t yet been found at all), the practice has been highlighted as a potential aid to help alleviate symptoms. A recent study in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine found that yoga not only helped endometriosis patients with chronic pelvic pain, but also improved their overall quality of life.
This was the experience of Jessica Duffin, from This Endo Life, who came to it in 2016. “Yoga helps reduce my pain levels, and really soothes me,” she explains. “It’s quite distressing being in pain, and yoga feels so comforting in that moment. I also find it really reduces my stress levels in general, eases my anxiety and alleviates my depression. If I do an hour of gentle yoga when I’m in pain, I usually find it’s dramatically reduced by the end, and I’m so relaxed I’m able to go back to sleep (I tend to come on at night) or rest.”
Below is a sequence of restorative/yin poses for those suffering from endometriosis and period pain. The postures, though technically simple, can have a profound effect on the body and mind, helping to relieve pain, reduce discomfort, and promote feelings of relaxation. It’s a gentle and slow series, designed to nourish and enrich. Spend time in each pose, letting go, listening and feeling into the body. Working in this way you begin to access the deeper, subtler layers, including internal scar tissue.
You could do the entire series, or just try one or two postures. The photographs don’t include props, however I would strongly recommend using pillows, bolsters, blankets, and anything else you have to hand to help support and cocoon yourself. Remember, you should never experience pain due to a yoga pose – listen closely to your body and if you experience any then come out.
DEEP ABDOMINAL BREATHING
This breath is deeply restorative for the nervous system, helping to calm anxiety and reduce pain. It also increases blood flow to the organs, to support healing.
Directions: Lie down in savasana with the arms by the side or with the hands resting on the belly. On your inhale let the abdomen fill with air so that it swells like a balloon, and on the exhale let it release back down. After a few breaths like this, begin to fill not just the abdomen but also the chest and lungs, all the way up to the collarbones encouraging the breath into the front, back, and sides of the body. On the exhale release. Breathe like this for 3-5 minutes.
WIDE KNEE CHILD’S POSE
This posture opens up the hips, sides, and back. It is known to relieve cramping, soothe anxiety, release tension, and can also help with exhaustion, dizziness, and headaches/migraines.
Directions: Place a folded blanket on top of the mat under your lower legs, then bring the feet together and separate the knees to a comfortable distance. Set a bolster or a couple of pillows under the torso and lay the body down so that it is resting fully and you feel held. Stay for 6-8 minutes (if the head is resting to one side turn halfway through).
This pose opens up the hips and chest, and gives a gentle stretch to the inner thighs. It also increases blood circulation around the abdomen.
Directions: Place a couple of pillows or a bolster toward the top of the mat, propping them up as high as feels comfortable for you to rest back on. Bring the feet together creating a large diamond shape with your legs. Hands can rest on the belly or down by your sides. Stay for 10 minutes.
This stretch opens up the pelvic area, helps ease pain, and increase circulation.
Directions: Separate the feet to the outer edges of your mat and turn the toes 45 degrees out. Lower the body down keeping the back straight. Place blocks (or books) under your heels if they don’t reach the floor. Bring the hands together at your heart. Stay for 1 minute.
LEGS UP THE WALL
This pose helps relieve leg pain and cramps. It improves the flow of blood to the pelvic region, refreshes tired and/or swollen legs, and gives the heart a break from pumping blood down the body.
Directions: Sit as close as you can to a flat wall, lie down and swing your legs up to rest at a 90 degree angle. If this is too much for your hamstrings you could also use a sofa or chair. Stay for 10 minutes.
This pose helps open up the pelvis, and increase blood flow to reduce pain. By providing a gentle compression to the reproductive organs, it can help stimulate, detoxify, and create circulation in this area.
Directions: Lying on the back bring the knees in and let them fall to the left, turning your head to the right and lifting your right arm up alongside your ear. Place a pillow underneath your right shoulder for support, and perhaps also one between or underneath the knees. Stay for 4 minutes and then move to the other side.
This posture can help alleviate pelvic pain by providing gentle compression to the lower abdomen and reproductive organs.
Directions: Lie on the belly resting on the forearms with the elbows roughly underneath the shoulders. Keep the head upright with the neck soft. Stay for 2 minutes.
This ‘do nothing’ pose is immensely restorative, perfect for when you’re in pain or exhausted (or even when you’re neither of those things!)
Directions: Lie down with the feet separated and the arms away from the body, perhaps with a pillow or bolster underneath the knees. Try to rest the mind –when thoughts arise, acknowledge them with compassion and then invite them to let go. Stay for 5-10 minutes, or as long as you like.
Original Feature on Whatever Your Dose
With more than 4,000 apps out there promising to improve our mental wellbeing, even self-help can feel overwhelming. Vogue looks at the pros and cons of smartphone therapy.
hen it comes to self-care, prevailing counsel says put your phone away – but what if technology can actually help? After Alexis (25) was diagnosed with severe depression and PTSD following a traumatic loss, she turned to a source of help that she knew she could always rely on: her smartphone.
But it wasn’t WhatsApp, Facebook or Instagram that Alexis was opening; it was Shine, one of a number of “self-care” apps she’d recently downloaded. As a third-year pharmacy student at a demanding US college, Alexis was already under considerable stress and pressure. “Shine gave me motivation,” she explains. “It helped me feel understood, and focus on positive thoughts. It was lifesaving.”
Shine is just one of the thousands of self-care apps (including Aloe Bud, Happify, Happy Not Perfect and Self Checkout to name just a few) now available in your iTunes store.
Using mood trackers, trigger alerts, reminders, self-care suggestions, guided meditations and more, they aim to help users such as Alexis understand and improve their mental wellbeing. The techniques they use are not new – they are essentially very basic and established self-help methods repackaged using sunny visuals. However, the medium is. We hear a lot about the damaging effects of smartphones (and particularly social media apps), yet, given we spend an estimated average of five hours a day using them, it makes sense that some of that time be channelled into fortifying – rather than challenging – our emotional health.
But while apps such as these have many redeeming features – they are free (or certainly affordable), non-judgemental, they have no waiting lists, and they are accessible 24/7 – do they really cure? Or are they part of what Hannah Jane Parkinson refers to in the Guardian as “hashtag healthcare”, a conversation around mental health “dominated by positivity and the memeification of a battle won”?
One thing’s for sure, they’re coming at a vital time. We are told we’re living through a global “mental health epidemic”, with record levels of stress, anxiety and depression. According to the World Health Organisation(WHO), one in four people will experience a mental-health difficulty at some point in their lives and 450 million are currently suffering – making it one of the world’s leading causes of ill health and disability. Distressingly, nearly two-thirds of sufferers never receive any help. “Stigma, discrimination and neglect prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental disorders,” says the WHO. Not to mention the all-too-common barriers of time, money and physical access.
These days we might understand mental health better than ever before, but people aren’t receiving the support they (often badly) need. Psychological support services are facing funding cuts and a marked increase in demand worldwide. In the UK, the British Medical Association warned that thousands of patients are waiting more than a year for access to counselling or therapy on the painfully underfunded NHS. A year is a long time, especially if you’re feeling depressed, anxious or worse (one in six people on waiting lists for mental-health services are expected to attempt suicide).
“The systems designed to deliver effective emotional health and wellness resources are broken,” say Happify founders Ofer Leidner and Tomer Ben-Kiki, and they believe that apps can help. In 2013, they took their knowledge from backgrounds in immersive gaming – a field often criticised for its negative impact on health – and combined it with help from leading experts in positive psychology, CBT and mindfulness, to take the kind of support traditionally only offered in therapists’ offices and put it in people’s pockets, allowing them “to access care on their own schedule, in ways that match their personal needs.” With accessibility and being “fun to use” its core priorities, Happify now has more than 3.3 million users worldwide, and is available (in a linguistically and culturally adapted form) in seven languages: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Chinese and Japanese.
Chen Li, a 27-year-old entrepreneur from Beijing, used Happify last year. “I was struggling with work pressures but didn’t want to tell my family. I took the quiz (Happify asks a number of questions to gauge your emotional health) and it said it seemed like I was having a bad time.” Chen says it was a “relief” to feel “seen and understood”. Happify’s approach in these circumstances is (appropriately) to recommend professional help. After all, it takes between 8 and 12 years to train as a licensed clinical psychologist – longer than any app has been on the market. Li took the advice.
The International Self-Care Foundation (ISF), an independent, non-profit organisation with outposts in the UK and China, defines “self-care” as “the actions that individuals take for themselves, on behalf of and with others, in order to develop, protect, maintain and improve their health, wellbeing or wellness.” Now, while “self-care” is not (yet) a specific app-store category, Apple placed “health and wellbeing” as one of its four biggest breakout trends for 2017. “Never before have we seen such a surge in apps focused specifically on mental health, mindfulness and stress reduction,” the company said. There are close to 4,000 apps dedicated to self-care, and according to app-store intelligence firm Sensor Tower, in the first quarter of 2018 the top 10 highest-grossing self-care apps earned $27 million worldwide.
The market continues to grow, thanks in part to the technology on which it relies. Earlier this year, Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said that the UK’s free public health service was “picking up the pieces” of an epidemic of mental illness among children, fuelled principally by social media. “In our society we are almost constantly stimulated [by technology],” says specialist consultant psychotherapist Sara Rourke. “[It’s] a source of stress.” The relationship between our lives and our screens becomes increasingly more blurred by the day, and a strong connection is emerging between obsessive use of the internet/social media and the urgent need for self-care.
Nowhere is this more apparent than among millennials and Gen Z, who, it appears, make up the highest number of users and founders of self-care apps. Frequently referred to as both the most tech-savvy and the most anxious generations in history, they’ve come of age with mobile phones, so it’s little surprise they’re now turning to them for help. And while self-care apps may not be an adequate replacement for traditional mental healthcare (especially when it comes to serious conditions – suicide is currently the second-leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds), perhaps any help the apps offer is better than none at all.
This was the case for Eliana (22, who prefers to be referred to as they/them) from Chicago, who began using Self Checkout in January to help with their depression and anxiety. “The whole process of identifying my mood triggers was so powerful. It helped me take control of my life, create a more positive reality for myself, and build a groundwork to work on in therapy,” they say. Mel Wells, wellbeing coach and author of The Goddess Revolution and Hungry For More, agrees: “Let’s not be in denial – we are already addicted to our technology. Incorporating these apps can remind us how important it is to take care of our health – much more so than checking Instagram or tracking our steps.”
The two most recent apps to join the market – Aloe Bud and Happy Not Perfect – launched in May. The latter, founded by British entrepreneur Poppy Jamie, came out of her own experiences with anxiety and stress. “[It] left me aware of the horrific impact stress was having on my physical and mental health, and I noticed that everyone around me was feeling the same,” she explains. Both apps employ millennial-friendly visuals that invite users to engage and check in every day. “I want to empower people to look after their minds like they do their bodies – like a gym for mental wellbeing: it requires regular practice,” Jamie says. The “treat your mind like your body” is a tempting comparison, yet they are completely different (as the title of Parkinson’s Guardian feature states: a mental-health condition is “nothing like a broken leg”). The path to wellbeing is much more complicated than that of swimming or jogging a few times a week to get fit.
But can these apps cause harm? “Our phones add to the noise of life, and the incessant din of almost constant notifications can be a source of anxiety and stress,” says Rourke. “Plus, it promotes a reliance on technology.” ISF’s president David Webber agrees: “It’s possible to overuse technology. Measuring your blood pressure a few times a year to check it’s normal is [good practice]. Measuring your blood pressure every day is unnecessary, and bad self-care.” As with everything, excess isn’t healthy. Furthermore, these apps shouldn’t become another area in life in which to feel judged.
"With Shine, I used to feel pressured to complete the motivating/reflection task of the day," says Alexis. "Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t doing enough for my mental health, or that I was too mentally weak." It’s crucial to recognise that not only is it sometimes OK to fail at self-care, but also that your needs might exceed what an app can offer. Research published by Evidence Based Mental Health, co-owned by the British Medical Journal Group, concluded that mental-health apps “lack an underlying evidence base, scientific credibility and have limited clinical effectiveness.” The study also highlighted the dangers of over-reliance on apps, equity in access and “increased anxiety resulting from self-diagnosis”. Of the 70 or more health apps on the NHS library, only four were found to be clinically effective, and two of those – Moodscape and Big White Wall, both currently only available in the UK, were in the "self-care" category. Crucially, too, if an app doesn’t work, that might compound feelings of anxiety or helplessness.
No doubt self-care apps can be helpful in the short term, as well as acting as a triage for more mild conditions, but many countries worldwide have free healthcare and offer – if not immediate therapy – telephone support and access to community groups. (There are also charities that provide help – the Samaritans, Mind, Childline, Nami, Sane, and the Centre for Japanese Mental Health, to name a few.)
“I believe apps can be used wisely, for tracking medication and moods for example,” concludes Rourke. “But I would encourage an exploration of other ways of connecting to the self. Also, self-care is just one aspect of good mental health – there should also be a focus on reaching out to support networks such as friends and family.” In other words, instead of trying to fix the problem with the problem, try putting the smartphone down altogether. Wells agrees: “Hopefully, these apps ultimately remind us to actually get off our phones and really take care of our mental health.”
Original Feature on Vogue.co.uk
When you’ve had a few too many the night before, the last thing you may feel like doing is moving from the safety of your bed. But these gentle yoga postures from Lily Silverton will help to ease those nasty hangover symptoms…
A hangover is your body’s way of telling you it needs some repair work. And while it’s exceptionally good at detoxing and cleansing itself (‘detox’ diets can do one), yoga is the perfect recovery assistant. This is because it’s one of the few physical activities that has the ability to work beyond the superficial layers of the body (skin, muscles, etc.) and into the organs. It increases blood flow, revives digestion, improves circulation, and even supports the function of the lymphatic system – one of your body’s main methods for removing metabolic waste products (aka: that 4th Aperol Spritz).
Finally, it can really help with feelings of depression and anxiety – common after-effects of alcohol. Not only does yoga re-stabilise your endocrine system (which is closely linked to your moods), but also the philosophy itself encourages acceptance and kindness. Yes, you had a big night, but there’s zero need to beat yourself up about it now. You probably also had a lot of fun, so eliminate those toxic thoughts (along with those actual toxins!)
Now while I wouldn’t recommend a hot yoga class, a few gentle postures can make a big difference. As you move through the practice be mindful of how you’re feeling – the last thing you want to do is to revisit last night’s Rosé. Take it slow, and don’t be afraid to stay a while in child’s pose or savasana. Both these active rest postures help reset your nervous system into a state of relaxation – the perfect place from which the body can replenish and restore.
MEDITATIONFind a comfortable seat and start your practice with a few deep, cleansing and calming breaths. (If you smoked this will really help clear the stale air from the bottom of your lungs, as well as encourage blood flow and regeneration of the damaged tissues.) Sit for 2-5 minutes, keeping your focus on the breath. Don’t worry if your mind is racing – this is 100% normal – try to simply let the thoughts come and go, without attachment. And remember: be kind to your mind.
WIDE-KNEE CHILDS POSEThis peaceful posture places the head below the heart, which in turn soothes your nervous system into its restful state. It also helps direct the energy flow to your liver and kidneys, regenerating them. Stay here for a few minutes or as long is needed, gently rocking the skull from side to side to massage and relieve that pounding head.
KNEES-TO-CHESTAlcohol can irritate the stomach and intestinal linings, causing bloating, nausea, and sometimes pain. This posture helps reset the digestive system by stimulating the colon. Hold for 5/10 breaths.
DOWNWARD DOGHeadaches are a very real consequence of drinking (especially when coupled with sunshine). Before you reach for the paracetamol, try this trusted posture – it relieves neck pressure and spinal/lower back tension. It also encourages blood flow throughout the body, and acts as a gentle inversion – which can help banish that dreaded brain fog. Hold for 5/10 breaths, or if you’re feeling up to it build into a few slow rounds of sun salutations.
TRIANGLEDehydration can lead the body to feel a bit like it’s collapsing in on itself. Lengthen it back out with this side stretch, which also releases tight hamstrings and IT bands – ideal for tired post-dancing-all-night legs. Hold for 3 breaths on the left, before transitioning slowly over and repeating on the right.
SPHINX OR COBRAA big night can sometimes leave you feeling like you don’t want to face the day. A gentle backbend is ideal here as it opens up the chest and lungs, giving you a false sense of confidence (fake it till you make it). Hold for 3/5 breaths.
SEATED SPINAL TWISTTwist it all out! This pose encourages fresh blood flow to the digestive organs, thereby improving the health of the whole digestive system. Also, abdominal organs are massaged, promoting swifter toxin removal. Hold for 4/6 breaths, and remember – the twist comes from your stomach not your neck.
PIGEONThe liver and kidneys are brilliant at detoxing (it’s literally what they do), but this posture can help them along by increasing fresh blood flow to the area and stimulating a quicker response. Use props as needed to make it restful. Hold for a few minutes each side.
DRAGONFLYFinish your practice with a Yin yoga posture that targets the liver meridian running up the inside of your legs. Make sure you have a block (or better yet stack of pillows) to prop your head. Breathe, release. Stay for 3-5 minutes.
SAVASANAMake yourself as comfortable as possible and allow your body to soften and sink into the mat beneath you. This posture helps reset the nervous system and banish fatigue. Stay for at least 5 minutes (and feel free to fall asleep!)
Original Feature on Whatever Your Dose
Whether it's professional or personal, we all experience rejection at some point in our lives and it can take a long time - months, or even years - to recover. Vogue provides advice to help expedite the bouncing back process...
Marilyn Monroe was told by modelling agencies she’d have more luck as a secretary; Michael Jordan was cut from his high-school basketball team; Lady Gaga was dropped from her first record label; Einstein was expelled from school; and the world’s highest paid author, JK Rowling, saw her first Harry Potter book turned down by publishers over and over again.
Rejection happens to all of us. And regardless of the context, the experience of being unwanted, of feeling that you’re not enough, can feel too much to bear.
Of course there are the “big” rejections–infidelity, being fired, losing a friend; but it’s arguably easy to make sense of the hurt caused by huge life events. What’s harder to understand is the subtler pain of rejection in the digital sphere– a friend not replying quickly to a message, a colleague not following you back on Instagram, or an unchecked comment on a mass Whatsapp group. With smartphones dominating modern life, dating apps, social media and the passive-aggressive, read-between-the-lines nature of texts and email all provide fertile territory for daily emotional wounding.
Our reaction to rejection is both neurological and primal: we care because our brains are wired to do so. “The pain of social rejection is similar to physical pain, and both are processed in the same regions of the brain,” explains Dr Martina Wicklein, Senior Teaching Fellow for Neuroscience at University College London.
During hunter/gatherer times, as Yuval Noah Harari explores in his book Sapiens, humans would hunt in groups to boost their chance of survival, and rejection from the group effectively meant a death sentence. Rejection therefore acts as an early warning system to alert us to the risk of ostracism. This is why it hurts – and aside from emotions such as hurt, anger, fear, and shame, it can even produce physical responses, like nausea, cramps, and chest pain (see broken heart syndrome).
And it doesn’t stop there. “We remember emotional pain for longer and in more detail than physical pain, which makes sense for us as social animals,” says Wicklein. “Social contexts and rejections are nuanced – thus it might be important to be able to relive the whole scenario to analyse and compare it with what is currently happening.” No wonder many of us find ourselves lying awake at night, obsessing over our most excruciating moments.
Nevertheless, there are times when a thicker skin would be very welcome. In 2009, Canadian web designer Jason Comely created a unique method for overcoming his own fear of rejection: he sought it out, over and over again. For more than nine months, Comely put himself in daily situations where he was likely to be told “no” – asking a stranger on a plane for her phone number; requesting a tour of the kitchen in a restaurant; applying for a job for which he had zero qualifications.
After some initial serious embarrassment, Comely ultimately found it liberating. “It was about reframing rejection as something good,” he explains. “Once I got into that mindset there was this freedom. It was amazing. I realised my comfort zone was more like my cage.”
Comely turned his experience into Rejection Therapy, a social self-help card game that has been played by thousands of people worldwide, and will soon be made into an app. Journalist Max Grobe, 28, is one of those who picked it up, shortly after he moved to London in 2015. “It was a game changer,” he says. “The rush of fearlessness allowed me to keep a sense of humour in most situations, no matter how dire or socially awkward. It relabelled rejection as something that a) doesn't hurt me and b) is completely manageable.”
He’s not the only one. Jia Jang found Rejection Therapy so beneficial, he wrote a book about it (Rejection Proof), before buying the rights to the game in 2016 and recording a hugely successful TED talk on the topic. “It’s not like we’re not used to rejection,” he says. “We all get rejected every day. Our goal is to make you see it in a completely new light.”
This was the experience of Whitney Gardner, a 31-year-old mother and entrepreneur from Idaho, USA, and one of the thousands of people to have completed 30 days of the game. “I asked two women in the park if I could braid their hair, to which their reaction was unkind,” explains Gardner. “It felt horrible. And it happened in front of my boys! I decided to quit. But then it hit me: ‘You won! The challenge was to actively seek a “no”, and you did that.’”
“It sounds ridiculous,” she continues, “because you've just been asking silly questions for a month, but it changes your life. I learnt to be bolder, braver and more resilient.”
If this doesn’t feel like the right approach for you, there are less scary ways to steel yourself against future rejection. “Spread your sense of self, identity, and self-esteem across many areas of your life (work, family, friends), so that if a rejection is experienced in one area, there is a resilience,” advises psychotherapist Sara Rourke. Basically, make sure you’re not carrying all your emotional eggs in one basket.
And if you’re experiencing a painful rejection right now? “Allow yourself to feel the feelings that come up, so that they don’t get suppressed and fester,” suggests Nicky Clinch, who describes herself as a transformational life coach. “Remember that your pain is a clear sign of how much you wanted that thing in the first place. Use that opportunity to reinforce how much you care. Once you have moved through the painful feelings, you can use this reminder to motivate you.”
The good – and bad – news is that the relationship between rejection and self-esteem is symbiotic. Higher self-esteem leaves you less susceptible to feeling knocked down by rejection, whereas recurrent rejections can leave you feeling completely defeated.
“Repeated experience can lower self-esteem and perpetuate critical and unhelpful internal narratives, such as ‘I am unlovable and always rejected’,” says Rourke, who sees this frequently with clients who have experienced ghosting – the complete and sudden disappearance of someone they’ve been dating, most commonly on apps. (Interestingly, Rourke says that some of her clients with high levels of social anxiety find dating apps hugely beneficial, because they lower the risk of being rejected face to face.)
Don’t internalise a rejection. “Being rejected is not a reflection of who we are inside,” says Clinch. “Yes it is a disappointment, yes it hurts, but focus on the idea that everything happens for a reason, and on the fact that you tried. There are no mistakes, only more opportunities to learn and grow. Is there something to reflect on in you? Something you may need to improve, grow, evolve, strengthen–so that the next time you try, you’re in a stronger place than before?”
Whatever method you choose, remember that if you weren’t right for that person or situation, then they weren’t right for you. Acknowledge the disappointment and pain, but don’t beat yourself up. “Imagine if it were your daughter or son who was going through that–would you berate them further or reassure them and love them?” asks Clinch. “Treat yourself with the same compassion and kindness.”
Original Feature on Vogue
To mark International Yoga Day, Vogue asks eight celebrated yogis what self-care means to them and what asanas they turn to for TLC.
n today's culture of always being available and "on", the ancient practice of yoga can offer a holistic approach to combating the all-too-common ills of stress, anxiety and exhaustion. Modern yoga has grown to include more dynamic workouts, with varying styles of practice - from more traditional Hatha yoga to modern interpretations like Rocket - but taken back to its roots, yoga is a meditative and holistic practice, more focused on self-awareness than calorie-burning.
The philosophical teachings underpinning the physical practice are known as the Yoga Sutras, the Ten Commandments of yogi living, if you will. They encourage us to adopt concepts like non-harming (ahimsa) and tapas (discipline) not just in the postures we adopt on the mat, but also into our actions, words and thoughts off the mat, approaching ourselves and the world around us with care and kindness.
To celebrate International Yoga Day, we asked eight of our favourite yoga teachers around the world - from celebrity favourites Nadia Narain and Mandy Ingber (who teach Kate Moss and Jennifer Aniston respectively) to Tara Stiles, founder of Strala Yoga, and renowned teacher and author Judith Hanson Lasater - to give us their personal recommendations and postures for self-care.
Rachel Brathen, Yoga Girl, ArubaSelf-care for me is more about balance than striving for perfection. I take care of my body through movement and eating well, but it's equally important that I have space to enjoy dessert and wine without guilt. I am a working mother and self-care for me these days involves both quality time with my daughter, without distractions, and time for myself at the end of the day. I take a lot of baths and, of course, practice yoga.
For restoration I always come back to Viparita Karani, legs-up-the-wall pose. It calms the nervous system, helps ground you and is also great for lower back and neck pain. It doesn't require any "doing"; it's a passive pose you can completely relax into without thinking. Many things we do on the mat require coordination and focus; this pose does not. Just stay aware of the breath and let yourself be.
Judith Hanson Lasater, PhD, PT, San Francisco, California
We are often told that self-care means that you should treat yourself in some way - get a massage, soak in a tub - but there's a much deeper meaning to the word. For me self-care means paying attention to the thoughts about myself that I feed and ruminate on. Through this process of awareness we can release (without judgement) the thoughts that are preventing us from loving and accepting ourselves. The phrase I use often when I reflect on my actions and words is: "How human of me." How human of me to judge myself so harshly, or to push myself to achieve. That mantra helps me take a step back and approach myself from a place of deep empathy.
It's ironic that when we need self-care the most, we believe we don't have the time for it. That's exactly when we need to go set ourselves up in savasana, corpse pose. Propping the head and knees, supporting the ankles and wrists, and covering the eyes. Remain in stillness, soften and let go of all that we think we are and all that we think we need to do. Research shows that relaxation and the reduction of stress in this way actually causes us to become more productive. You take savasana not only as a way of showing love and acceptance for yourself, but also showing love for the people around you.
Mandy Ingber, Los Angeles, USAFor me self-care means being responsible for myself - practising patience and taking care of myself emotionally as well as physically and mentally. Knowing how I feel is really the seed of all that. How can I take care of myself if I don't know how I feel? I've recently realised how much I feel in my body physically - even my emotions create physical reactions - and often when I am unhappy, it is due to a physical discomfort that comes from emotional distress. What is the resolution? Attention.
It's unrelated to exercise or yoga, is universal and anybody can do it. In the morning (or any time) I sit quietly and scan my body inch by inch from head to toe. As I sit and meditate on my body, I notice the sensations that are present and give every inch of my body some attention. I do this for five to 20 minutes, and then I check in with myself emotionally. I write a list - three things I am grateful for, three things I did well that day and three things I can let go of or have no control over.
Nadia Narain, co-author Self Care for the Real World, London, UKSelf-care is an attitude of kindness towards oneself. It can be anything from taking some time for yourself, having a massage, cooking yourself a nice meal (even if it's just for you) to just being aware of the thoughts you think about yourself. Treat yourself with the same kindness and care that you would a dear friend. Notice what you say to yourself when you look in the mirror, or if you said something silly at work and are giving yourself a hard time, ask yourself – what would you say to your best friend?
My favourite self-care posture requires a rolled up towel or blanket, placed under the shoulder blades as you lay on your back, arms and legs stretched straight out. I like this one if I have been sitting a lot in the day over the computer or travelling. In just five or six breaths you can feel the difference it makes, and how open the chest feels.
Tara Stiles, New York, USASelf-care for me has to do with how I am doing everything I do. I don't think of self-care as scheduled time outside of my life. My process is slowing down, softening, breathing deep, feeling, believing what I feel and responding. That works for how I move in yoga, parenting, in relationships, at work, and everything else. Of course, daily meditation and easy-going yoga each morning help me stay connected to that process.
A breath-body connection meditation is great for self-care, allowing the body to lift on an inhale and soften and release on the exhale. I linger quite a bit in any place that feels nice or needs a bit of extra attention. It gives me a moment to check in with what is actually happening with my entire self. The breath-body connected movement works out any physical kinks while simultaneously getting in all the meditative aspects I need to access my best self. I go for anywhere from a few breaths to 10 or 20 minutes.
Duncan Peak, Byron Bay, AustraliaOne thing I've come to learn is that burnout doesn't come from overworking, it comes from not resting when you have the time - you end up addicted to the dopamine rush. I like to meditate for 10 to 20 minutes a day, incorporate some form of movement (a workout or surf) and a stretch. A book and a cup of tea is now a daily ritual. Most of the time, I don't want to stop, I'd rather charge and keep going, but I know I need to. Finally, I take some time to be present with nature and experience love as a feeling, not needing to direct it towards anything. Appreciate life as it is, not how my mind makes it.
I practice yin yoga when I wake up. Each morning I take four to six poses to forward bend, backbend, laterally bend, twist, externally rotate my legs and do lots of combination postures. The energetic release I feel is intense and each pose leaves me feeling like I have regained full range of flexibility with abundant energy flow. It's not vigorous, but it's perfect to get you ready for vigorous exercise. It's a great way to get in touch with yourself and sets you up for an amazing day.
Sandeep Agarwalla, Head of Yoga at Ananda, Himalayas, IndiaSelf-care for me is about taking care of myself on all levels. The body needs to be nourished and exercised so that it does not get too affected by diseases and age-related problems. The mind has to be channeled in the right direction so that we are not affected by the different triggers and negativities of daily life. The spirit, which is the source of our being, also has to be nurtured. If we ignore any of these aspects, we experience imbalance and disharmony.
My favourite posture for self-care is surya namaskar (sun salutations). It helps to move every part of the body and activates all the energy chakras. It's a complete workout, too.
Paul Teodo, The Yoga Barn, Bali, IndonesiaSelf-care is about maintaining a balance between my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing. It's about having a consistent yoga and meditation practice, but also having spare time set aside to spend alone and with loved ones. Living halfway across the world from my family and friends, it's easy to lose touch with people. So right now my self-care also involves regularly reaching out to friends and family to check in with them and see how they're doing. Picking up the phone to hear the voice of a good friend or my mum and dad is a great way to start or end the day off on a good note.
My favourite posture for self-care is trikonasana, triangle pose, a standing pose with legs apart, right foot turned slightly inward and arms raised parallel, going forward and down, resting the back of the hand on the inside of the thigh or shin, reaching the right arm straight up. I love the way it lengthens out my entire body, and holding it for several deep breaths always makes me feel great. It's a pose that isn't too physically intense, so I can incorporate it into any daily yoga practice.
Some of my yoga or body image related writings