Self care. This short phrase immediately conjures up a scheduling effort. As in the frequently exhaustive scheduling and coordinating of appointments like a manicure, massage, yoga retreat, "girls night out," doctor appointments, dinner with your sister or just getting away from the kids for an hour. Let's consider how we might not make such an effort, let go of the intended result, and think about this phrase differently.
1) Self. What is the "Self", exactly? Is it a compilation of your mind, body, and various states of consciousness? What about the soul? Is it in there somewhere? What's the mix? In the science of yoga and other Eastern traditions, they refer to the "I" not as a reflexive pronoun, but as "the observer" or "the witness" to our Self. For example, when my brain says, "Melanie, you probably shouldn't put the knife on the edge of the counter, lest it fall on your foot," is my brain trying to have a conversation with my foot? Who or what is uttering the knife warning?
Whatever our Self is comprised of, consider this: it is possible for your Self to be in total communication/communion with it-Self at all times. Such a communication/communion would have nothing to do with someone else touching your feet or your body. Your Self would not tell you to "move into downward facing dog now," and to "breathe deeply" while doing so. It would not be concerned in the least about you socializing with your girlfriends, your sister, or care about your carefully laid out plans to flee the house. Self-communication/communion could be about your waking state of consciousness telling the body to stop cleaning, working, walking the dog, doing the downdog and to instead, sit down. We have heard of this concept: "the opposite of doing is being." To practice being, we must first be able to stop moving for a moment in order to practice being in that moment.
For many of us, this may take a herculean effort, but once still, a good question to ask your Self is, "how are you?"
2) Care. Let's define it first as a noun: "The provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something." and, "Serious attention or consideration applied to doing something correctly or to avoid damage or risk." (see knife analogy above). Defined as a verb: "Feel concern or interest; attach importance to something." and, "To look after and provide for the needs of." We know the definition of Self refers to you, as in "your-Self." Interestingly, this concept makes the word "Selfish" a positive word, and "Selfless"...not so much.
Self-care, then, requires the concept and practice of quiet awareness (Self) via stillness (care). This is exactly what we are striving to achieve by practicing yoga and meditation. When I ask someone the question, "How are you?" I am inquiring into what their present, past and future experiences and plans are. "What is going on?" (present) "What have you been doing?" (past) "What is coming up for you with travel/work/vacation?" (future). "Did you get that squirrel video I sent you last week? When are you going to Spain? Are you going to be able to Zoom classes with us or do you want me to send you a video?"
Aside from being interrogated by your yoga teacher, we must realize that in order to approach Self-care, we have to first get still and be quiet...for a minute, five minutes, an hour, maybe more. We are all different in our temperaments as well as our approaches to learning. Unlike being given the broad-stroked prescription by a macrobiotic nutritional counselor whose answer to everyone's dietary deficiency is to "eat more fish," we have to honor our individual and personal needs while being realistic regarding what we can accomplish. This is where the phrase "know thyself" is utilized. If you are over 40 and don't know your Self, you have some work to do. A habit takes six weeks to create and implement; but that's just the bell-curve timeline. For some, it takes less time. Motivation is an important element to the equation. If you have cancer, it's probably easier for you to lower your sugar intake if that is your new dietary goal, compared to someone who wants to lose five pounds for next month's high school reunion.
Unless you have the sort of good friend who can yell at you in that special, motivational way that gets you into Self-care mode (usually someone in the "friend from high school" category and of Italian descent, in my personal experience), you are going to need to 1) settle on and commit to the goal, followed with a 2) step-by-step plan on how to get there. Only you can create, implement and follow it through. This is not to say that therapists and self-help/life-coaches aren't helpful - most of them are - but it's you that will have to take responsibility for your own Self-care. It doesn't happen by osmosis, even if you are paying for it.
A favorite book title and a few song lyrics to emphasize my point: Wherever You Go, There You Are by John Kabat-Zinn; "And in the end remember, it's with you you have to live" (Graham Nash; Wounded Bird, but not on Spotify because he's still boycotting it); "You and you and that's the only way" (or, the entire song of Owner of a Lonely Heart by Yes); "You can go your own way...go your own way" (Fleetwood Mac; Go Your Own Way).
The Soul is, of course, what we are giving Self-care to. If we can give loving Self-care to the house (body) and give loving Self-care to the "management upstairs" (mind), then we can give Self-care to our soul in the process. I am not a believer in even the remote possibility of the existence or occurrence of a damaged soul. That has never rung true for me. Now, if your house or upstairs management are injured or out of town for a while, it may make communication/communion more difficult, but the soul still remains intact and present. Though it will eventually need to relocate when the house collapses and the management retires, our soul is there for us to listen to, commune with and care for.