Five Self-care Strategies For a Long Race
September 16, 2021
Frozen lake Ladakh

“Start a run and make sure you finish the run. Don’t mind how fast or how slow you are running. Just run. But the ultimate goal is to finish” ~ Eliud Kipchoge

Many years ago I signed up for a yoga teacher training program. It was a four-week residential program located in a verdant ashram in Kerala, India. I assumed that with my devotion to the practise of yoga and my enthusiasm for structured learning, I would breeze through the curriculum with flying colors.

I did not. 

Instead I found myself limping – literally and figuratively, through that difficult month, nursing my injured toes and my ego which could not comprehend why I was struggling so much. 

It’s not them, it’s me

The well-planned and executed 200-hour program that was certified by Yoga Alliance was offered several times a year and my cohort had over 100 students from far-flung countries such as France, Iran and Dubai. For my classmates, the food, the weather and the general rules and etiquette were unfamiliar. Yet all of them seemed to be managing just fine. I, on the other hand, struggled with the rigorous daily demands of life in an ashram. I chafed at the rules and the unchanging routine despite my own stated  preference for structure and love for interdisciplinary learning.

At the beginning of week 3, the director of the ashram gave us a pep talk.

“This week is the most difficult. You have completed half the program and each day will bring you closer to the finish line,” he said.

What he didn’t say was that quitting would reverse all the progress we had made and negate all the benefits we had derived from following a strict regimen of asana practise, theoretical discussions on yoga philosophy and an austere lifestyle. Yet we knew that we had to persevere through this tough climb to see the  gentle slope at the other end that led to the finish line.

Time to buckle up

As I get closer to my book launch date of 15 October 2021, I am reliving climbing that steep slope of week three when the end seemed far away. While I can’t deny that I have come a long way from December 2020 when I embarked on the plan to write my book and overcame my hesitation to ‘build in public’, the book launch itself still seems far away.

There are several loose ends to tie up. There are new avenues to explore, more people to contact, more guest blog posts to write. There is never enough time. Even as I tick off several items from my to-do list, new ones pop up, accompanied by what I imagine must be an evil laugh!

Am I losing it I wonder, as I get through another grueling day. The threat of burnout is real!

New ways of being

In the ashram we had Friday’s off. Except for the timings for the food service (two meals a day) that remained unchanged, there were no strict rules to follow. Students could signup for a day-long sightseeing tour and physically get away or chose to remain on site and follow a different routine.

On the first Friday, my friend and I decided to signup for the sightseeing tour. It was great to soak our feet in the pristine waters of Varkala beach but the day proved exhausting. We had no reserves left to resume the regular schedule the next morning (at 5.30 a.m.)!

From the next week onwards, we chose to stay put on site. We woke up late, caught up with calls to family and unfinished chores (handwashing our clothes), took a nap after lunch and walked down to the lake in the evening. We generally lazed around, resting our tired bodies and refreshed ourselves by stepping away from the prescribed schedule.

Pandemic times

In any other year I might have rejuvenated myself by planning a long(ish) trip but I am stuck in Singapore for now. I need to create a different coping strategy that lets me blow off steam periodically so that the stress doesn’t lead to burnout.

This is how I loosely schedule my days:

  1. Daily dip – Step away from the screen. Go for a walk (or a swim). Even if it rains, as it often does in Singapore, I make it a point to head out. In fact my favorite time to stroll through the park behind my home is right after the rains when everything is green and glowing.
  2. Weekly win – With in-person yoga classes becoming unreliable based on changing rules about gathering and social distancing, I signed up for an online yoga class which offers me the flexibility to choose dates/times that suit my schedule. My body is so thankful.
  3. Biweekly beverage break – For having totally random conversations that almost always lead to new ideas, nothing refreshes me like meeting a friend for coffee or a quick bite. Just the fact that I don’t have to constantly measure my progress or report on my work refreshes and relaxes my brain at the same time – does the same thing to my brain as yoga does to my body.
  4. Massaging away the stress every three weeks – I had my first ayurvedic massage at the ashram on one of the Fridays. It was therapeutic. So much of what we experience is held in our bodies and we don’t know how to move it out. Whenever I find tension curling around my neck and shoulders, I know it’s time for a massage. I found a great place near home and it’s the best investment in the physical part of self-care that I have embraced.
  5. Monthly getaway – Over the past months I found that invariably there would be a day when I would have zero productivity. Despite my best intentions, I would find myself moving sluggishly, berating myself for not doing what needed to be done, yet feeling powerless, as if my body was immersed in a viscous honey-like fluid where movement was difficult, if not impossible. Over time I understood this as a signal that things had gone too far without course correction. Now I know better. I plan a monthly ‘day out’ where I intentionally turn my attention to other things that are not on my to-do list.

All of this adds up to my personal formula for a wellness break. These interludes help me enjoy my work and paradoxically improve both efficiency and satisfaction. It forces me to acknowledge everything that does get done, even if not done perfectly.

While I try not to pat myself on the back for my accomplishments, I am pleased to have found a way to intercept the beast of burnout through these simple strategies. As the Olympic god medal marathoner, Eliud Kipchoge advises, the ultimate goal is to finish what you start. And I am committed to my goal of getting my book into the hands of readers!

How do you recharge?

Photo credit: Ranjani Rao

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