Self-care, self-nurturing, self-love, call it whatever you want— it is something I had barely heard of before moving in with my friend Gema in Vancouver. She is a massage therapist and body worker, and she taught me more about self-care than any person has in my entire life. While very feminine in appearance, my mother is very masculine in her characteristics and personality. I was raised thinking that only rich women wasted money on things such as massages and yoga— let alone bubble baths and journaling. My mom would make fun of those women with “too much time on their hands.” I was taught those were not necessities, but indulgences.
My mom is right about so much, but she was wrong about this. Self-care is hugely important. Prioritizing your time and yourself are essential. I fell in love with the saying “You can’t pour from an empty cup” meaning you have to be full before you can ever expect to give to others. Recently I heard an adaptation that I love even more. “Only pour from your saucer, never your cup” meaning you are not able to serve to your highest good until your cup is so full that it runneth other and you pour into others from your saucer that catches all of your run off. LOVE!!! Prioritizing yourself, being compassionate with yourself and loving yourself MUST happen before you can give it to others in any real, authentic way. This notion that self-nurturing is not an extravagance, but a necessity was my greatest lesson from my time in Vancouver with Gema.
The girlfriends I met in Vancouver most likely do not know how impact they were in my life. They knew who they were, their worth, and what they deserved. They taught me to be unapologetically the truest version of me that I can be. Between Gema, Fleur, and Kate I was given as healthy a dose of “I am woman, hear me roar” as “I am woman, watch me rest”. It was eye-opening for me to be with women with such potent talents and personalities also allow their mind and bodies what they needed and wanted for what was best for their overall health. I was there for a brief time, but these ladies taught me some valuable lessons.
Dry brushing and Abhyanga (body massage with oil) were my two biggest physical takeaways. Dry brushing, combined with Abhyanga made the biggest change in my skin, specifically my stretch marks. I went to Ohio University, and between the frat parties and dining halls, I came home for Christmas break a solid 30lbs heavier than I left. My mom was mortified, but I couldn’t have cared less. That is until the stretch marks showed up! I wouldn’t trade them for the world because the memories and life-long friendships I made while I was earning those strips are core to my Marandaness, but when one of the kids at the beach asked me what “those lines” on my thighs were I could have done without them.
For years I used creams, coffee grounds, and essential oils- anything that might help. Especially after my travels took a front seat in my life, my appearance has been booted to the trunk. I don’t really care if you think I’m pretty, I care if you think I’m intelligent, kind, and fun. So the hunt of the magic stretch mark remover ceased. Without getting too deep into the details, Ayurvedic medicine tells us that we are all one (or a combination) of three ‘doshas’ or body types- Vata, Pita, or Kapha. I am a strong Vata and thus tall and lean with very dry physical characteristics. In the winter my skin tends to be dry and cracks easily and my hair can become tendrils of coarse, curly locks with minds of their own.
Gema and I met in India while she was furthering her study of the body and she’s a wealth of knowledge. When I asked her to clarify what dry brushing and Abhyanga was, in true Gema fashion, she bought me my own dry brush, moved the couch out of the way, heated up some oil, and directed me to strip and put a towel on. She started with the dry brush which you can use on your whole body. Start at your feet and using three strokes on each area of skin. Upward strokes towards your heart. Working up your legs, joints get three clockwise, circular strokes. On the belly, follow the track of the large intestine or up the right side, across the top, down the left side, and back across. Again three times. The back can be tricky, especially with the upward motion strokes, but with enough reaching and different angles or a family member, it is manageable. I spend extra time on my thighs and booty because that is where my stretch marks are. Not only does dry brushing exfoliate; but it moves lymph for detoxification, firms, and tones the skin, and makes for a more even, bright complexion.
I now usually do this in the shower before turning the water on because of all the dead skin and hair that comes off. Easy clean-up when you turn on the water to emulsify the oil you massage your body with during Abhyanga. Because the oil can be slippery, I step back out of the shower to begin my Abhyanga. Look for what oil is best for your dosha, for Vata that is sesame oil. Most oils are fine, but coconut oil is a bad choice because it will re-solidify in your drains when washed off and cools which will make for a disastrous and expensive outcome.
I’m cold almost all the time, so I heat my oil either on a hot plate or on the stove top with low heat. This is such soothing, warm, nurturing treat for my physical body. Again starting with your feet (be very careful getting back into the tub with oily feet!) you rub the oil into every pore on your body. Massaging the muscles, moving lymph, moisturizing and cleansing. It takes about the same amount of time as washing your body in the shower does. I have stopped using soap, opting instead for this option, so I pay close attention to my tits, pits, and naughty bits as my best friend Tony refers to our tricky spots. Again, I spend more time on those cells that need the most repair, vigorously rubbing the oil into the recently exfoliated skin. Once even the inside of your nose and ears are oiled you step into the shower, and the water rinses off the oil along with all of the dirt and bacteria the oil has accumulated during the rub down.
A bonus to this cool new to many Americans, but very old practice is that your water use will go way down because all you’re doing with the water on is rinsing. I wasn’t convinced that oil would keep me as clean and smelling good as soap does, but it has! And the results?! My skin feels nurtured, moisturized, supple, bright, even and the stretch marks have lost easily 40% of their visibility in only two months! I listen to one of my podcasts or something uplifting while I do this and it has become one of my favorite times of the day. Just for me and my body. I particularly enjoy matching my movements to my breath and reciting my affirmation during this time.
I working hard to incorporate more self-nurturing into my daily routine. Massage, Reiki, acupuncture, and chiropractic will all be a more serious part of my future self-care regimen. Adding on to my current list of yoga, meditation, reading, long walks, playing outside, journaling, and dates with friends. But more than that I will be sure to speak more highly about self-care in front of my fellow women. Between my big family and teaching kids yoga, I spend a fair amount of time with children. It is important to me to speak words of love, encouragement, and support into these brilliant little beings. Previous generations didn’t have the liberty we have to be as happy as we are and I only want more happiness for our future generations. We’re all learning as we go. I want each of them and every adult to realize (really remember) how worthy they are and to take care of themselves mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically every day. We are all worth it. Make the time.