Discover everyday joy: 10 self-care practices

As the days of summer wind down, take a moment to consider this. When you think of self-care, what does it bring to mind? We asked this question of our friend and massage therapy colleague, Val Guin, whose website mission statement is “create a stronger practice, create a stronger life”

Many of you already know Val as the Creator of the Forearm Dance ™ Massage technique. Some of you may even have spent the day with Val, at one of our Tools for Touch™ (TFT) webinars, which are co-hosted with Val. Learn more about the next TFT webinar by clicking on the photo of Val above.

So do you think looking for ideas on how to manage injuries, correct posture, increase flexibility, and fixing your body takes care of your self-care needs?

Stop. Take a moment. There’s more and it’s not hard.

Breathe. Eat. Sleep. Drink. Make time for yourself.

1. Start with the basics

One of Val’s favorite Chinese proverbs is the following, “Eat before you are hungry, drink before you are thirsty and sleep before you are tired.” When you feel anxious, hopeless or overwhelmed, Val says, “Start with the basics. Are you eating well? Eat something fresh instead of processed. Even so-called nutritional bars can be loaded with sugar and salt. Drinking lots of water?

Are you making time for yourself?  Val puts in long days as a massage therapist – she often books 8+ clients a day. What does she recommend at the end of a long work day? “Go outside.  Do something that makes you sweat – jogging, biking or surfing Just getting outside after being indoors with clients all day can clear your head and restore your energy level. Don’t just wait for the perfect day to go do something outside – do it everyday”, according to Val.

Keep those brain juices flowing with daily stimulation, like this exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum

2. A daily challenge

Sounds tough right? Not so, says Val.  She keeps herself motivated and energized by doing this – learning something new every day. Broadening your horizons has the added advantage of making small problems or issues seem less earth-shaking.  Learning new stuff  – whether a factoid related to the weather or climate or the nutritional advantages of some kind of food – all of this helps us to achieve balance. The key, says Val is curiosity.

3. Stay curious – ask questions

Have you heard the expression – active mind – active body? Val makes it a practice to involve people to participate as often as possible. So she asks a lot of questions – How do you communicate your ability? What about your senses – what does your nose pick up today?  Val always engages her clients in questions that makes them realize she cares – and provides her with valuable information about their mindset, what might be bothering them, what has worked since the last visit and more.


Nothing in this world is perfect. Our bodies are constantly shifting systems, each wavering in and out of its unique rendition of homeostasis. Even if we were somehow able to attain physical, mental, and emotional perfection, it would be gone in a moment, as our hearts beat, our lungs exchanged gasses, and our cells grow are divided and die. This is not to say that we cannot move towards greater strength, ease, and grace. But just as important to self-care as working towards future growth is finding balance in the present. Take time to appreciate your body, your life, and your surroundings, as they are just now. Even though her work schedule is busy, Val takes the time to balance her work with time for play, family and a social life.

5. Cultivate Body Awareness

Where is your body in space right now? Where are your arms, legs, and head? How deep is your breathing? How fast is your heart rate? What is touching your baby toe? Where does your tongue meet your teeth?

So often we focus only on the outliers of our physical selves, including hunger, unexpectedly pleasant sensations, or pain. But caring for the body means knowing and loving the body, and not just in moments when something has already gone awry.

Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique can be very helpful in gaining this sort of awareness, as can body-centered meditation. Focus on your toes. How do they feel? Can you feel each one individually? Are they warm or cold? Without moving them, can you feel the pressure of your shoes or the texture of the floor? Take a minute with your toes, then move up to the balls of your feet, continuing up until you’ve covered the entirety of your body. Experience being inside yourself clearly. You can only love what you know.

6. Celebrate Ability

It’s extremely easy to focus on what our bodies can’t do, whether that’s a backbend, a six minute mile, or the ability to get upstairs with a load of laundry gracefully. But our bodies do magnificent things all the time, and with remarkable ease. So take time to recover the joy in what your body already knows how to do. Some ideas include:

  • Go for a walk or hike in nature
  • Dance, either out with friends or in the comfort of your home
  • Find a playground and swing on the swings
  • Shoot some hoops or toss around a frisbee
  • Practice a musical instrument

Whatever you choose, allow yourself to marvel at the complexity of what your body can accomplish, whether it’s a jitterbug or a stroll around the block.

Don’t always carry the weight of the world on your shoulders – celebrate your own, unique ability!

7. Use Your Senses

For most people, sight is our primary sense, and the brain puts a huge amount of energy into making sense of what we see. If asked to describe a room, you’d probably note its dimensions, the color of the walls, and the nature of the furniture in it. But are the walls smooth? Is the temperature just a little cool? Does it smell faintly of licorice? Can you hear the air moving through the vents, or cars passing by outside? Val also recommends creating time to ‘unplug’ every day. How often do you see people walking down the street oblivious to everything except their phone?  All the time, right? Give your other senses a chance to feed your brain too.  Val likes to recommend ‘basket time’ to electronic multi-taskers; find a basket and once a day, put your phone in the basket and just turn it off (or shut off the sound). 

Our ordinary surroundings might seem boring at first, but taking time to appreciate them with all the senses can change a humdrum wait in line at the grocery store to a fascinating exploration. (As appropriate. Please don’t lick the magazines!) There’s plenty to hold your interest in the present moment if you’re willing to consider all the sensory information at your disposal, not just the latest apps you’ve downloaded onto your phone.

8. Donate your time

Not sure how this fits in the self-care equation?  When Val’s students are worried about not being busy enough or having enough work, Val recommends that they donate a few hours of massage every week. The advantages?  You’ll meet other people instead of sitting around wondering why you don’t have enough work. Use the pro-bono work as a great opportunity to practice and improve new techniques or strokes. Staying busy instead of bored will also keep you primed and ready. Just as athletes train daily, if you keep yourself up-to-speed with full-day of massage, it will be an easier transition for you when more paid work comes your way, according to Val.

Take notes (or take pictures) instead of caving in to the cookie cravings.

9. Take Notes

Sure, it’s easy to be happy in the calm, easy times, but what about when you’re upset and frazzled? One way to help you remember the beauty all around you is to take notes. Consider starting a gratitude journal. Every day, write just one line about something you noticed or experienced for which you are grateful. At times when everything seems to be falling apart, you’ll have a record of all the wonderful things that occur on a daily basis to give you some perspective.

If you have more time, traditional journaling can help process the day’s events. Some find Morning Pages (as set out in The Artist’s Way, a book that Val says ‘changed my life’) very helpful in becoming aware of their state of mind as they begin the day. The very act of intending to write something down forces us to pay attention to both our inner and outer lives, becoming more engaged in whatever we choose to do. Val makes it a practice to also tell her clients something beautiful she has found in the world – every day. Write down this thought and keep it nearby so you can share it with your clients.

Another way to do this is to employ a technique that Val has found useful for over 20 years – brain dumping.  Turn on a voice recorder or grab a piece of paper and record all the thoughts racing (or floating) through your head.  Not a morning person? Val uses this technique in the morning -  and also in the middle of the night. She says, “If you think about something at least twice, write it down or record it. Just getting the thought out there in the open can help you deal with it and come up with an action plan on what to do, which brings us to . . .

10. Be a Creator

Your environment isn’t something that just happens to you; you are a part of it, and a co-creator as well. You can make yourself at home in the world by adding a bit of yourself to it. Val recommends, “Make a choice to create an action – and spend less time worrying about something. Even if you don’t have a total solution to a problem, do something active that addresses some aspect of it.” Even tiny baby-steps in the direction of a solution will boost your self-esteem, energy and get your creative brainstorming juices revved up. Here are a few more ideas:

  • Write a poem
  • Make a flower arrangement
  • Doodle
  • Plant a garden
  • Rearrange your furniture
  • Sing
  • Fold an origami animal

Just like in school, we learn more from life when we actively engage with it. So embrace your creative self and add one more entry in the list of beautiful things in the universe.

What actions do you take to find everyday sources of joy?

What self-care practices work for you?

Val Guin will be presenting at our November 19, 2013 Tools for Touch Webinar. Register today!