One of the driving forces for most massage therapists today is a deep desire to serve.
When people around you are in need, you notice, and you offer your gifts: your time, your hands, your heart, your listening ears.
Being of service feeds you. You’re not just making a living; you’re helping people in the process.
This innate generosity can also take a serious toll on your career.
When you give so much of yourself, how can you continue to have the energy to stay successful year after year? How can you maintain your ability to use your gifts and skills effectively? How can you keep your container full so you can best be of service?
By making time for yourself.
That may sound simple, but it’s not always easy.
How can you take time to rejuvenate yourself on a regular basis? The short answer, to borrow from the sneaker company, is just do it.
Set aside time on a regular basis to do things that nurture you. Design your schedule so you’re not overbooked and make time to nurture yourself a priority. Don’t let those opportunities slip away.
The problem is, once you start down this path, you’re likely to bump into two hurdles that can block your path—and they’re often intertwined.
Boost your self-worth
The first hurdle is that of self-worth, of feeling you deserve to take time just for you. If your self-worth is dictated by how well you care for others, you can easily lose sight of the value of your own self-care in the process.
Take a look at therapists who have been successful for many years. The vast majority have regular self-care routines that are a top priority. (Most of us have discovered the hard way what happens when we stop taking care of ourselves.)
It’s also important to know the habit of honoring the needs of others first is generally an old, unconscious behavior pattern, one we often operate from without thinking. Unfortunately, this pattern will sabotage your success and rob you of the joy in life.
Grow Your Self-Knowledge
To shift this outworn pattern to one that helps you build the life and practice you want, look closely at the second hurdle standing in your way, that of self-knowledge. In this case, that means the ability to clearly recognize what is nurturing for you in any given moment.
When you focus on the needs of others, you’re generally focused outward. Add that to the fundamental message most of us received growing up:
“Keep your attention on the external world to survive,” and it’s no wonder you may feel like a foreigner in your own inner landscape. Yet your inner landscape is the very place you need to feel most at home to understand how to nurture yourself.
How do you overcome this second hurdle? First, be honest with yourself. Do you have difficulty making time for your own self-care? If so, do you know why?
If you’re a go-with-the-flow kind of person and your self-care just never seems to happen, your first line of action is to create that time. The same way you book your clients in your schedule, fill in some blanks in your calendar with your own initials.
Call a colleague today and schedule a regular trade. Set aside time to take a long soak or a nap in intervals that work for your personal system. Schedule longer meal breaks so you can take a nice walk after you eat to refresh yourself.
If you have an internal message about self-worth – that self-care is just plain wrong and your mandate is to care only for others – take a moment to sit back and reflect. Is that internal message outdated? Perhaps it was true at some point in your life, but do you want to be living from it now?
Journal about it. Reflect on the price you’re paying.
You may decide it’s worth making a different choice.
4 Steps to Self-Connect
Once you’ve established that your self-care is a must, the next step is to take time to listen to your inner wisdom to discover what you need to regularly refill the container of your being.
Look at schedule and insert time each day to check in with yourself, whether it’s in longer periods or shorter moments. Even five minutes before or after every session or at the beginning and end of each day will help.
Checking in requires you to come off auto-pilot and really feel how things are going inside of you. This can be a challenge. Like many of us, when someone asks how you’re doing, you may be programmed to say, “Fine!” without even a glance inside to see how you really are in that moment.
Here are four simple steps to accurately assess the needs of your inner landscape and discover some ways to address them. Before you begin, relax in a seated position with good back support and your feet resting on the ground.
Step 1: Take a regular breath and allow yourself to become curious about how that feels. Is it an easy, full breath? Does it catch anywhere in your chest or spine? Do you feel it more in front than in back?
If so, you may want to take a moment and let your sensory awareness settle into your spine as you continue to breathe naturally and as deeply as is comfortable for you.
Step 2: Now go directly to your spine. How is your backbone feeling resting against the back of your chair? Can you feel all of it or do you have more sensation in certain areas than others? Do the parts of your spine with less sensation have anything to tell you?
This may be a message to get yourself horizontal and rest for a bit, or it may be a signal to go get some bodywork. Or it may simply be an urge to stand up straighter or pay more attention to your body mechanics at work.
Step 3: Ask yourself how your sitting bones feel on the seat. Is one resting more fully than the other or are they resting equally? How is your sacrum feeling?
Notice by bringing your sensory awareness here and simply being curious, you may feel a sense of steadiness growing inside you.
Certain martial-arts systems refer to this as “noticing weight under,” meaning any part of your body that’s in direct contact with the earth’s gravitational field. This practice has long been known as a way to gather steadiness and strength.
You may also be hearing a signal you need to attend to something in your torso. Sometimes your heart will be sending you a message about having as much love and compassion for yourself as you do for others. Sometimes a gut hunch will pop into your conscious awareness about how to better care for yourself.
Listen to this. Take it seriously, and commit to doing something about it now.
Step 4: Allow your awareness to drop down into your legs and feet. How do they feel resting on the floor? Are they resting equally or is one resting more fully than the other? Are the balls of your feet resting more securely than your heels? Can you adjust them to feel more comfortable and easy resting on the ground?
Notice any information your legs and feet may be giving you. It may be an image or a sensation, or even a whispered message about some healthy movement or exercise you need to add to your life. Pay attention to what you’re hearing from your legs and feet and make a commitment to do something to support them.
A Lifelong Journey
Now that you’ve listened to your inner landscape and set the intention to follow through, take a moment to close your eyes and notice how you feel. You have just taken the first step in a lifelong journey of inner listening and self-care. This is a moment-by-moment process. And personally, it’s something I return to every day.
I recall when two feet of snow fell in our neighborhood. As everyone in the house piled out the door to play in the winter wonderland, my inner wisdom said, “Wait. Nestle inside for the day.” So I waved goodbye to my family and did just that.
The next day I woke up and that same inner voice said, “Now let’s go play in the snow!” So I donned my snow gear and spent hours strolling outdoors. It was the nourishment my body, mind and spirit needed most.
Open the lines of communication with yourself, and keep listening. The messages and signals may change as your life changes, but your inner wisdom is always ready to guide you. And when you’re feeling energetically full, life feels juicy.
About The Author:
Suzanne Scurlock-Durana, C.M.T., C.S.T.-D., author of Full Body Presence and developer of the Healing From the Core curriculum, teaches conscious awareness and its relationship to the healing process internationally. She inspires health-care practitioners, coaches, teachers and caregivers to stay energized using her life-changing tools for stress management and full-body presence. She has taught CranioSacral Therapy and SomatoEmotional Release with The Upledger Institute since 1987 and has been on the faculty of Esalen Institute since 1994. She is a frequent contributor to MASSAGE Magazine, and her articles include “Use Your Body Sensations to Self-Connect.”