Self-Cultivation vs Self-Care

Self-Cultivation is totally different to Self-Care.

Self-care is becoming accepted in our society - yes!!! It's a way to replenish ourselves after a period of hard-work or difficulty. Or it is a balanced weekly routine where certain times are allocated just for you to fill your personal needs. While its popularity is growing in the west, taking care of yourself is not a new concept!

Self-Care also involves gifting yourself time to do things you love. If you have a demanding job, or a family, or you care for someone in your life - this can often lead to forgetting the centrals pillars of who you are and what makes you. These are the times when most of your energy is outwardly focused which leaves nothing to fill you. This leads to burnout, or a disease caused by stress.

My mother was unwell for the past 6 months. There were times when every day I was with her, taking care of her, cooking and cleaning, then running home to teach a class then crashing exhausted at the end of the day. The next day everything would repeat again. All this happened during lockdown, so days became the same whirling wind of sadness, distress and worry.

There were a few things that kept me tethered to who I am. I made time for meditation and yoga practice - not every day but as much as I could. I walked to my mum's every morning with a coffee from my favourite place listening to podcasts or audio books I love - these were 40 minutes just for me. This, for me, was self-care and it meant that I didn't lose sight of who I was and my interests.

Remember moments of self-care are not selfish, they are a necessary part of living a happy and healthy life!

Now, self-cultivation! This is a way of life and it takes time. Self-cultivation helps to build a sustainable life that is imbued with vibrant health, mental and emotional clarity and the most basic human need of all: happiness. I believe in the fast paced world we live in, with the ability to obtain essentially whatever we want and do it pretty quickly, self-cultivation isn't something we place as much emphasis on. If self-care are titbits of 'me time' that we return to now and then when its convenient or necessary; self-cultivation is deep work that takes place over a life time.

In ancient Chinese culture, there was a tendency to think of human life as a kind of open “field” that could be cultivated. This field is cultivated and tended. You cannot cultivate a field once, and have it stay that way forever... it is a continuous process. Same with oneself - to a large extent our health and happiness are within the domain of our own control, we need to obtain the tools and have desire to use them for self-cultivation.

For a large part of my 20s, self-cultivation (and even self-care) was absent from my life. I worked a lot, sometimes drank a lot, and I had no purpose. My existence was mostly about survival. There were sparse moments of self-care, but even that was hard to come by because I couldn't really afford a massage on a regular basis. Even things I could do for free, I didn't do because deep down I was struggling with worthiness.

A tipping point came after a period of loneliness and depression. I knew something had to change. At the beginning I assumed, like many people do, that to heal myself meant embarking on a path of self-improvement. What I have learnt since is that rather than seeing myself as somehow damaged or flawed, beneath the exterior layer of tension, stress and anxiety there is beauty, wholeness, strength and love. My job was to excavate what was already present within me.

My path to self-cultivation was illuminated when I came across the right guides (the right guides for me, those whose stories touched me and whose voices struck a chord in my heart). One of the central influences has been Ana Forrest and Forrest Yoga, which involves way more than the physical yoga practice, it is a way of living and breathing in beauty. First I read Ana's book Fierce Medicine... now this is a phenomenal example of the power of yoga and Ana's unwavering commitment to self-cultivation. Then, I attended a Forrest Yoga workshop and the rest unravelled in beautiful and mysterious ways, involving synchronicity and wonderful miraculous moments which helped me get closer to who I am.

If you are on a path to self-cultivation, think about this:
  • Who are your guides? These could be your teachers, coaches, ancestors. Whose voice and whose words land deeply in your heart?
  • What do you do every day which helps you get closer to uncovering who you really are? For example, as a kid expressing myself through poetry, drawing, singing and dancing was so important to me. In the years when I lost touch with my true self I left behind all of that (often thinking it was lame and childish). Now I am finding in the path to self-cultivation, I am slowly returning to activities which made me so happy as a child.
  • What mindful practices do you incorporate in your life? This could be yoga, meditation, walking, hiking, praying - anything which directs your energy from external stimuli back to you and only you.
Check out this course as a great place to start your self-cultivation jouney...

The Yoke Wellness Ambassador,

Sabina Ahmadov

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