When you think of Self-Care, what is the first image that comes to mind? Is it a vacation? A massage? Time with people you love? These are wonderful things.

Self-care? Maybe later. 

Now, once you visualize these things, how quickly do you take action to make your day dreams happen? Or do feelings of fatigue and procrastination immediately derail your plans? If you can relate, then it’s likely that you are lacking in one or more of three fundamentals of Self-Care.

The 3 fundamentals of Self-Care are Sleep, Nutrition and Movement.

Catch some zzzzs

Sleep is important. When you sleep your body heals, recovers and integrates the information that you learned during the day.  Lack of sleep is a primary cause for reduced brain function. This manifests as poor short-term memory, brain fog, mood changes, anxiety, depression and reduced motivation.  When your brain is not functioning optimally, then finding the motivation to make healthy decisions is hard to find, in addition to being overwhelming.  Transformation does not happen with a sleepy brain.

Don’t skip a meal

Nutrition is important in order to feed your body’s system with the essential nutrients and minerals to survive and perform optimally. Skipping meals or fuelling your body with unhealthy options in the short, or long term can have negative effects on your metabolic rate, energy levels, body composition and stress levels.  Transformation does not happen with a nutrient deficient diet.

But I walked to my car.

There is movement, and then there is moving well.  Moving well means you’ve moved for at least 20 minutes continuously.  This is enough time to get out of your head and into your body.  Movement, no matter the method releases endorphins which are the “feel good hormones”. Healthy movement is the antidote to mobilizing fear, stimulating creative flow, improving physical strength, flexibility, brain function and more. I think that’s called transformation!

Need a vacation?

The key to understand here, is that when you are sleep-deprived, hungry and sedentary you are STRESSED. Sleep, food and movement are basic metrics to keep the body happy. If you are missing any of these daily, then the stress response is automatically triggered.  Chronic stress leads to the development of chronic illness and morbidities like high blood pressure, obesity, Type II diabetes, Thyroid dysfunction etc.

Hijack Your Stress Response

The secret to Self-Care then is making sure that your body isn’t stressed by taking inventory of the three fundamentals. Of course, there are many other triggers of stress that exist.  Even during other stressful events, your resilience to these factors will be highly dependent on the quality of sleep, food and movement that you’ve committed to at any moment in time.

Perspective

Self-Care doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to be expensive.

Simply ask yourself three questions:

  1. Did I sleep well?
  2. Did I eat well?
  3. Did I move well?

Did you?

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It is often emphasized that balance is the key to good health, but really balance in the sense that all aspects in life have an equal part of your “energy pie” never happens.  The the amount of energy that you give to each part changes in ratio with each day or season of life.  For example, when I was a student, most of my waking hours were dedicated to being in class and studying. Socializing, housework, saving money, etc. took a very small portion of my energy. Is that bad? Not really. It’s realistic for that moment in time. Is it balanced? No. But was I healthy? Yes, as much as I could for that moment.

Similarly, in my phase of being a mother to two young children I am content if on top of keeping my kids  happy and healthy that I can get in two days of exercise per week, sleep 4-5 hours a night , eat regularly, connect with my husband and keep my business afloat. Isn’t that nuts? Yes! It’s hard for me to swallow sometimes, but it’s as balanced as I can be for the time being. (Also note that housework didn’t even make the list).

So really, balance is elusive. Priorities shift and chaos ensues. The key to staying afloat of this chaos is the feeling and connection with being grounded.

Grounded? What the heck is that?

I would argue that most people do not even recognize that they are not grounded. Being grounded means having complete control of your breath, not being emotionally connected to the possibility of failing and having a consistent positive outlook on life. I’m touch and go with being grounded and currently I am working towards getting back there.

For me, I know I’m grounded when I can feel the ground beneath my feet. I get this feeling after a chiropractic adjustment or a yoga/pilates class. It’s very important for you to have the kinesthetic awareness of the ground beneath your feet. It means you feel stable. This stability is both figurative and literal.

I can empathize with my shallow breathing patients who feel like a “chicken running around with their head cut off”. Their minds are racing and they feel like a helium balloon floating away, disconnecting from the earth and their bodies.

Shallow breathers, return to belly breathing

Shallow breathing happens when your adrenaline is activated. Think of your adrenaline as your body’s internal espresso machine or “Red Bull”. Inherently, we have this mechanism to react to life-threatening dangers, but in the modern world we activate this hormone to meet deadlines, apease relationships and satisfy material needs. Ideally, adrenaline should be used transiently until the resolution of the stressor, however most people maintain adrenaline levels until it turns into complete disconnection with your body and eventual burn out.

Please acknowledge this: Constant shallow breathing leads to chronic tension in the neck, chest and shoulder muscles, dysfunctional ribs and anxiety. Like hyperventilating, your head is floating away like a helium balloon. Only you can keep yourself from flying away.

Pull that string

Bring yourself back to the ground by doing the following:

  1. Belly breathing:  As you inhale, your abdomen should be relaxed and your belly button should move away from your spine. Shoulder and neck muscles should be relaxed and stop gripping your jaw, eyebrows, fist, hips etc. There’s no reason for the tension!
  2. Meditate: Visualize the connection of your feet to the ground. Imagine the helium ballon returning to the rest of your body. Use whatever imagery, (ex. creating roots from your feet into the soil) that makes sense.
  3.  Go outside. Be present. Walk barefoot and feel the breeze against your face. City people spend too much time in front of machines.
  4. Get body work. See a chiropractor, massage therapist, osteopath, acupuncture or whomever you feel comfortable to help you release tension and reconnect with your body. 
  5. Move. Take a yoga or pilates class  or move in any way that nurtures your soul. Stretch and strengthen.
  6. Practice Gratitude. Be grateful for what your daily victories are instead of what the holes in your list are that need to be accomplished.
  7.  Acknowledge that balance is not the key
  8. Acknowledge that being GROUNDED is the answer.

I hope this helps.

This red pointe shoe, interrupted my walk on Queen Street West in Toronto. It was a blazing sign that dance was my passion.

Tonight, I watched a childhood friend of mine dance in Geometrix’s show called ” Work Vs. Passion:  The Dynamic Struggle between necessity and desire”. And the theme of the show was loaded with the message: “listen to your heart “. It featured a student and a doctor who repressed their desire to dance because of the practical and necessary pursuit of a career which they believed would help them to survive in this crazy world.

I cried during this show. Firstly, because I was so happy to watch my friend and secondly, because the show represented my life. I started dancing when I was four and met my friend at this age. I am inherently a shy person, but on stage, forget it, I was in my element. But in school, I always excelled and envisioned myself as a speaker, a teacher and a healer and was intrigued with the human body. So the tension between dance and school was very present at an early age.

Yet, despite my efforts to repress my artistic passion, dance always chased me. In university, my childhood dreams of professional dance came true when I got scouted at a dance show. And in my fourth year, my wildest dreams manifested when I auditioned for the musical “The Lion King” after submitting my application to chiropractic college. I was progressing further and further in the audition and I was ready to push back my admission to chiropractic college, but ultimately, it wasn’t meant to be. Heart broken, I left the studio wondering, “what if”.

back in the day…

During chiropractic college, I threw away the dream of dancing again to focus on school, but a friend of mine encouraged me to go to a casting and that spiraled into commercial and television dance gigs which were practical for me because the contracts were short and I didn’t need to take time off school. From that, I became a member of ACTRA and met and worked with talented Toronto dancers who are well established choreographers today.

My last dance contract was back in 2007. I was pregnant with my first child, but I didn’t tell the director. They were all wondering why my wardrobe never fit and my little baby kept dancing in my tummy every time the music played. Today, she’s my little ballerina at 4 years old.

Now, I am a chiropractor, a pilates instructor and a mom. I love my job and am proud to say that I had complete control on how I designed my life to this point.  I still love to dance.

You’ll still see me in the dance studio training in hopes that one day I’ll make it back on the stage. I miss the lights beaming on my face. I miss the feeling of weightlessness in a jump. I miss performing.

Sigh, life goes on. I have no regrets.

Dance always finds me. I have faith.

The perfect example of something that totally wasn't planned. When you are present, you notice the beauty in things. In my case, hearts show up in my food. This shot was taken as my husband and I went on a road trip for our 4 year wedding anniversary. A heart showed up in my take out burger.

If there is one thing that I can take away as a lesson from the year 2010, it would be that nothing is certain.  Every year I write a list of goals that I plan to achieve.  Well this year I’m not doing that. I’ve learned that in life, things will unfold at the rate that they should and no matter how prepared you are, what you envision will not manifest if it is not the right time.

This may sound a bit pessimistic at first glance, but in fact it is not. For as far back as I can remember I’ve written lists and I’ve pretty much ticked off a lot on those lists with great efficiency. Some would say that my list is quite extensive, but my “A-type” personality disagrees. Nevertheless, I’ve evolved from a rigid list maker to one that throws her hands in the air and says, “Just let it be”.

Within the past five years, I’ve experienced many transitions in my personal, family, academic and career life. That’s just how I am. Life is not stagnant and I am grateful for that. During each transition, the degree of uncertainty can overwhelm myself and the lists fly out.

Well, no more lists for me! I vow to relinquish control so that life is much more enjoyable and meaningful.

I will be present, be grateful and take a leap of faith. (I guess I just made another list).

Historically, the Philippines was ravaged by many years of colonialism from Spain and Japan. Despite this, Filipinos are master survivors whose culture has family at its nucleus.  I am a first generation Canadian Filipino brought up to value family, yet I didn’t realize how true to nature family is to Filipinos until I visited the Philippines for the first time in 31 years.

Filipino folk dancing in Bohol, Philippines

In Makati, there are so many shopping malls it makes Toronto look barren.  Moreover, they are FULL of people….eating.   I was shocked to see how many eateries there were and all of them were full of customers.  Initially my thoughts were, “Gosh, Filipinos are gaining weight here. They are so indulgent.” (Side note: I had a preconceived notion that all Filipinos were skinny and ate lots of vegetables and fruits as in the days of my parents).  But if one takes a closer look, one will notice that every restaurant is full of families.  Food is one ingredient that brings family together.

Now what happens when you don’t have food?  The Philippines has a distinct separation between the poor and the rich.  Shanty towns line any available pocket in the city. These people don’t go to the malls. They don’t have plumbing. They don’t have jobs.  Food is scarce and not readily available. So how do they survive? Once again, family. They beg as a family and they suffer as a family. Yet even though they don’t have much, they are content.  Their family bond is what helps them to get through the day and counters the negative effects of poverty like exploitation, sickness and lack of education.

It also shocked me that both male and female employees in Customs at the airport would forget about their stern faces and “coo” at my 23 month old daughter.  Even in restaurants male and female servers would love to talk to my daughter as if I was at a family reunion!

Filipinos prove that rich or poor, happiness is achieved by nurturing relationships. In a world of materialism, wealth is misconceived as the accumulation of things.  However, true wealth is the balance of material goods, family, spirituality and personal fulfillment.  Wealth equals Health.    A positive environment filled with a positive support system make life’s struggles short-lived so that life can go on. Evaluate your relationships and relate them to your wealth quotient. Make the adjustments necessary to bring your life into balance and happiness will come to you.