Many days, I understand, it’s hard to get up out of bed just to repeat the daily grind. You’ve done it for so long, and worked so hard, what’s the point anymore?!?! I want you now to take three deep breaths, and if you’ll humor me, please listen to the first 2:15 of the following link before continuing to read this article. I will time you, so I’ll know if you come back to the article ;).
Click here>>Yo-Yo Ma: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert
According to Medical News (news-medical.net), a survey on self-care conducted online in May and June 2019 showed “Nearly half of doctors (46%) say patients do not seem very interested in the topic, while a majority of patients (72%) say they are interested in discussing self-care with their health care provider, which includes lifestyle changes, healthy diet, regular exercise, stress management, and other alternatives to conventional medical treatment.” How can this gap between physicians’ impressions and patients’ desires be bridged?
First, we need to answer: What is self-care?
Self-care as defined by Oxford English Dictionary is “The practice of taking action to preserve or improve one's own health.” So, two very important key elements are present in this definition. One, self-care is a practice, implying that the action is done or performed repeatedly. Two, it is done to preserve or improve one’s own health.
Self-care is fun and successful in preserving or improving one’s own health when the action is ultimately chosen by the individual and also when the repeated practice (of the action) is performed. And, even though self-care is for one’s own health, it is not a solo activity. Self-care is best learned first from a teacher or coach with proper technique so that it can be practiced appropriately, and only from disciplined practice of self-care can preservation and improvement of health occur.
We can gain a tremendous amount about learning, practicing, and progressing in self-care from musicians like Yo Yo Ma, and particularly from the Suzuki method of teaching, learning, and performing music.
As Yo Yo Ma mentions after the first piece he plays in the Tiny Desk Concert, he initially learned the piece one measure at a time, practicing and gradually learning more of the piece one day at a time, and doing it daily. He states “so, it’s actually not painful to learn something if you do it incrementally.” I am certain, as a Suzuki Violin teacher, that Yo Yo Ma not only practiced the single measure per day, but reviewed each previous measure, made necessary revisions and added daily to his solid technical and musical foundation. The Suzuki method uses an incremental structure for many music students, by providing a solid foundation.
Self-care is most readily accessible when linking it with the fundamentals of health – Stress, Diet, and Sleep. These three experiences serve as key observation points to provide a distinctly personalized feedback system to practitioners as well as to the patient. In fact, the patients mentioned in The Harris Poll survey above reported “their top self-care practices as getting enough sleep (66%), eating healthy foods (62%), taking care of their mental health (60%), and exercising (59%).” For simplicity we will group mental health and exercising in to the fundamental of stress.
Likewise, the Suzuki method is rooted in fundamentals that include beginning at an early age, learning in small chunks, “mother tongue” learning, repetition, and continuous review of previous repertory. By first learning good posture and instrument set-up before trying to “play” any music, students lay a solid foundation that can then be built upon with simple bow strokes of “Mississippi Stop Stop” and “Down Pony, Up Pony” on the A string and E string. By listening daily to well-performed recordings of their own pieces and other music, daily review of previously learned material, and repetition of current techniques and pieces Suzuki students quickly progress in their instrument and musical ability.
Similarly, self-care techniques must be introduced in a simple, approachable, and functional way. Someone with intense low back pain will likely not be able to go to an advanced yoga class or run a 5K without first modifying their posture, gradually adding small stretches and movements, and incremental strength training.
One of my favorite foundational medicine daily practices is a mindful eating exercise. It beautifully addresses two of our fundamentals in health – both diet and stress. By being truly present with our food in our meals and snacking, we get the time to allow our senses to be incorporated which in turn allows our system to function as intended. For example when we practice mindful eating, grehlin and leptin, the ‘hunger hormones,’ are better regulated as are all of our digestive enzymes; when simply smelling our food, we initiate the release of saliva which contains amylase and lipase (among a host of other microorganisms and nutrients), necessary enzymes for beginning digestion of starches and fats.
If you’ll humor me once again, please pick a small item to eat (i.e., a raisin, a cherry tomato, a dark chocolate truffle) and use it in the following exercise: Mindful Observation
When creating a wellness routine, we will pick things you actually will look forward to trying. Try it for 30 minutes/day, and reflect each day on the successes and challenges. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and learn a new instrument or practice one you’ve already mastered. Although it will likely benefit you to do so, you don’t have to add anything new. You just get to practice the basics everyday, and when you have challenges, simply pay attention to the challenge, investigate where it came from, and gently nudge your body, mind, and/or spirit in the right direction again with the fundamentals. Please come see me for more tips on starting your daily self-care practices and return to WELLNESS!!