What do you think of when you think of self care? Even as someone who is certified in wellness practices (yoga, mindfulness, myofascial self-release), I instantly think of a million cringy Instagram posts, journals, and bubble baths.
I find that I try to steer clear of the words “self care” when I write about the practices I teach and implement partially because of the connotation, and because what we need to do to care for our well-being is different for everyone. What feels like self care to me, like a yoga practice or sitting for 30 minutes of silent meditation, might be tedious and stressful for someone else.
The other reason I don’t like the term “self care” is that I think it grossly undermines what we really need to be doing in order to lead healthy lives. Taking care of ourselves is not participating in a relaxing activity once a week. It’s doing boring, monotonous things day in and day out so that we can operate at a healthy base level.
Where the internet would tell you that self care is shiny and satisfying, I believe that if we are really caring for ourselves and our basic needs, it feels a lot more like tedious maintenance. Think grocery shopping, laundry, and cleaning your house.
Eating well is a excellent example of this. Cooking is work, buying fresh food means planning to use it so it doesn’t go to waste, and all of that takes a lot more effort than just pulling into a drive-through or heating up something you bought frozen. For most of us though, once we realize that eating well makes us feel better it genuinely gets easier to put in the effort.
Of course our relationship with our phones, streaming, and social media puts a huge demand on our self maintenance efforts. It’s so easy to lose ourselves mindlessly scrolling for an hour or watching Netflix well into the night. It’s not just that those are hours you could do other productive things - they may just be hours that should be spent resting or sleeping. Layered on top of that is that we end up viewing lots of people engaging in “self-care” as we scroll, perpetuating the myth that it’s something fancy and special.
What prompted me to think so much about self maintenance recently was that I downloaded a sleep tracker for my apple watch. I had a nagging feeling of always being tired, but was convinced my sleep hygiene was good and I wanted to get to the bottom of the issue.
There is absolutely nothing like data to absolutely knock you off your high horse. While I was, in fact, in bed for seven to eight hours a night, I was sleeping for only five to six of those and rarely in a deep sleep. Since I usually read before bed, put my phone on sleep mode, etc. this was shocking to me. How was I still sleeping so little? Beyond that, there was no fancy reason I was so tired. I simply wasn’t sleeping and my habits needed a reboot.
I’ve made a few changes, all of which require self maintenance, and I do already see a difference. Is it annoying and effortful? Sometimes. There is nothing even remotely shiny and internet worthy about cleaning up my sleep habits, but it did make me feel better and more energetic each day. As time goes on, I am starting to look forward to the changes I’ve implemented, like going to bed earlier each night, adding more exercise into my days, and taking more care in the routine of my evening hours.
So as I’ve been reflecting on all of this, it’s really made me consider how we talk about self care in our culture, and how much discipline it actually takes to instill healthy personal habits.
There is a concept in Ayurvedic medicine (the sister science of yoga) called dinacharya (dina meaning ‘day’ and acharya meaning ‘activity’). Translated from Sanskrit, this word means the daily routine that promotes nourishment and self care. In Ayurveda it’s considered one of the most powerful tools for cultivating health and well-being.
Dinacharya encourages us to become more in tune with ourselves and our unique biological clock, doing the same things at roughly the same times each day, with a focus on creating the sense of routine over the perfection of the activities. It’s not about creating a grand schedule or adding more to your schedule, rather it’s about finding and engaging in a routine that helps you feel nourished and more self aware.
In its truest form, dinacharya refers more to our morning routine, but it applies to the whole day, and I love the idea that the little tasks we undertake repeatedly become the foundation of nourishing ourselves and staying in sync with the rhythm of life.
And while the practice stresses the steady repetition of things that are good for us, it comes with a disclaimer that an appropriate routine will look different for each person. Dinacharya can be as simple as making your bed each morning or sitting to savor the first sips of your coffee without any other noises or distractions. Even washing dirty dishes can be part of our daily outine of nourishment if we take the time to appreciate the food that was eaten on them, our running water, and the freshly cleaned kitchen in which we are standing.
Engaging in a daily routine in the attitude of dinacharya can encourage connection, release stress, and build peace and happiness into our lives in simple ways that are attainable each and every day.
If you want to implement dinacharya into your day, start with your mornings. You might wake up at the same time each day, begin your day with a hot beverage (Ayurveda suggests hot water with lemon), brush your teeth and wash your face, make your bed, and spend a few minutes in meditation or exercise. Nothing Earth-shattering - rather, simple and nourishing.
What we are willing to lovingly layer into our every day life with consistency is what will create the greatest impact in our well being long term. Just like my experience with improving my sleep, the generic and mundane can become special and meaningful when we understand that it helps us to feel more energetic, more present, and more connected with our lives.
Anatomy and physiology are long and largely underrated topics and areas of understanding for musicians that are finally gaining traction as an important component in the regular instruction of how we both teach and become musicians.
Even with the sudden surge of popularity and acceptance both wellness and anatomy are experiencing among musicians, we have a long way to go to make up for both our lack of understanding and our deficit in awareness.
There are many entry points to developing your own understanding of your anatomy and its role in your music making. Playing an instrument can be one. Yoga, strength training, physical therapy, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, working with a personal trainer, body mapping, swimming, running…the list is seemingly endless. Anything that helps us draw a connection between what we are experiencing and how the body works is moving us in the direction of understanding.
Before we can really put our knowledge of anatomy and mapping to use, however, we have to learn how to read our body’s cues and become comfortable doing so. I’ve written before on embodiment, and it’s something that many of us lack in our personal experiences and in how we teach.
Embodiment by definition is the tangible form of an idea, feeling, or quality. If we are embodied, we are present to our emotions, mind state, and physical state, and able to stay engaged with them.
Modern life gives us many ways to escape the tangible form of ourselves - TikTok, Netflix, food, plenty of numbing substances - there is no shortage of methods or advertisements encouraging us to check out from whatever unpleasant or real thing is happening for an alternate reality.
Our cultural habits of escapism make it hard for many of us to truly “drop in” to our body and use the information it is giving us in a positive and beneficial way. Even for musicians, who do a physical and tangible thing for many hours at a time, the normal encouragement and instruction we receive when it comes to our craft is mostly cerebral.
The first step to incorporating any knowledge of anatomy into our playing should always be a development of our felt sense. We must learn to be open to what our body has to tell us and willing to feel whatever it is. Sometimes this is pleasant, and sometimes it is uncomfortable or even painful, but all of those varieties of somatic clues have one important thing in common - information. (It’s worth noting that the path to finding this comfort in sensation can look quite different from one person to the next.)
Are you feeling pain at it’s source of origin, or is your shoulder pain referred from the way you are allowing your hips to kick to one side? Do you feel suddenly tense and grippy in your hands because you are now on stage and in a nervous mindset? Our mental state can be manifested in our perception. and the appearance, of physical sensations.
Growing your felt sense of the body means that you can intelligently use the information you receive somatically about your very personal experience in tandem with your knowledge of anatomy. You can start to understand the reasons why your shoulder might feel the way it does, and whether there is a physical or mental habit or cause at the root of what you are experiencing.
The other, perhaps deeper and maybe even more important, benefit of pairing our knowledge of anatomy with our felt sense of the body is that we learn how quickly things change. If you’ve done yoga or meditation you know how much your thoughts and physical feelings can shift from moment to moment. Even if you haven’t done those practices but you practice your instrument multiple days in a row, it’s likely that you have realized each day feels different in some way and that all of those different sensations are in fact part of your experience of playing your instrument.
Being more in tune with ourselves means that we can see these ongoing changes clearly, recognizing what part of them might actually be a useful habit or pattern to address and what is simply a passing observation or sensation.
Growing your knowledge of anatomy is a must for every musician, but we stand to gain the most benefit by simultaneously growing our knowledge of ourselves and our internal experience. Anatomy is simple a template for understanding. By becoming more acquainted with ourselves we become more efficient observers and more accurate and efficient managers of our construction.
Hi, I'm Morgann! A flutist, teacher, meditator, aspiring yogini, and life long learner figuring out how to create my way through life one crazy idea at a time.