FEATURE

Slowing down and stepping away, even for a minute, can save your soul. Try these six simple strategies for quieting your mind.

BY LIZZIE LASATER

WHEN I WAS 12 YEARS OLD, I hated having braces on my teeth. But when I begged my parents to have them removed, my mum responded simply: “Sure. We can have your braces taken off. You’re old enough to make this choice. But having the braces taken off now means short-term easy and long-term hard. Leaving them on for another few years means short-term hard and long-term easy. Which one do you want?”

Well played, Mum. In the end, I didn’t get my braces taken off until I was 14 when the orthodontist decided it was time.

These days, “short-term hard, long term easy” is my working definition for self-care. I’m not talking about the consumption-driven idea of self-care such as getting a pedicure or a massage or treating myself to lunch at a fancy vegan restaurant. Those are luxuries.

I’m talking about unglamorous, everyday self-care. Flossing my teeth. Cooking. Exercise, asana, pranayama, and meditation practices. And about spending time every day away from my phone and off social media and instead visiting inspiring places like art exhibits, old libraries, beaches, and forests. Put simply, I’m talking about slowing down and finding silence.

These acts share the quality of being short-term hard, long-term easy. With each, I must surpass a small hurdle of resistance or laziness or inertia—the short-term hard part. But the long-term easy part is the accumulated mind-body space that I inhabit when my days, weeks, and months begin to fill with tiny acts of self-care.

WHAT IF TRUE WELLNESS ACTUALLY MEANS DOING LESS?

  • Decreasing productivity and becoming more present
  • Choosing authenticity over efficiency
  • Pausing for pleasure instead of optimising each moment

To test this hypothesis, here’s a list of six simple self-care practices and a Savasana Prep sequence that you can weave into your daily life to see how slowing down and finding more silence helps you live more fully. Each one contains an element of short-term hard, but the rewards are immeasurable.

GO OUTSIDE

First thing in the morning, take a 20- to 30-minute walk by yourself. Don’t do it for the exercise or to get your 10,000 steps in. Do it simply to get your blood flowing, wake up your prana (life force), and feel fresh air on your face. Before drinking coffee or checking your email, just slip on your sneakers and slide out the door. Leave your headphones at home, and resist the urge to fill the space with a podcast or a phone call. The idea here is to enjoy the everyday silence and the soothing rhythm of your body, shifting your energy field as you move into the day.

SET A TIMER

On days when time is tight, I think, “If I don’t have 75 minutes for a full asana practice, it’s not even worth getting on the mat.” It’s just my mind making up excuses to avoid spending time breathing and moving and feeling what might arise. But I’ve learned time and again that spending even a few minutes on the yoga mat has the power to change my day. So, the next time you feel yourself resisting your practice, turn away from excuses, and instead set a timer for 15 minutes. Climb onto your mat and just follow the rhythm of your breath.

SAVOUR WARMTH

When you wash your hands (or even the dishes), choose warm water rather than cold. Instead of viewing these small acts as chores, pause, and give thanks to the planet for providing scarce resources such as water—taking a mindful moment of gratitude and self-care. Choosing the perfect temperature is not only soothing, but it reminds me to be gentler with my physical body.

MAKE SOUP

Soup is a universal symbol of nourishment. Try cooking before you’re hungry—after breakfast, for example—as an exercise in caring for your future self. As my Viennese mother-in-law likes to say, “Dinner is not a surprise.” Here’s one of my favourite recipes:

RED LENTIL SOUP

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 pat butter
  • ¼ clove garlic
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 ½ cup red lentils, dried
  • 1 tbsp vegetable broth powder
  • 3-5 handfuls cubed carrots, turnips, and potatoes
  • 1 squeeze tomato paste
  • salt
  • lemon juice
  • sour cream
  • parsley

1 Sauté the chopped onion in butter. Add garlic if you like. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, 3 empty cans of water, and the red lentils. Sprinkle in a healthy pinch of salt and the vegetable broth powder.

2 Add some cubed root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, or pealed potatoes, if you have them. A squeeze of tomato paste also deepens the flavour.

3 Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to low heat and let cook for another 15–20 minutes, until the lentils and vegetables are soft. Serve each bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice, a dollop of sour cream, and a pinch of parsley. For a complete vegetarian dinner, add a green salad and some good bread. Magically, this soup tastes even better the next day.

FIND A FOREST

Take yourself on a date with nature by visiting a forest or a beach by yourself. In a pinch, a backyard or park will do. First, spend a few minutes sitting in informal meditation. Begin with your eyes open, softly observing the energy of your surroundings. Then, close your eyes, and let the sounds of the space wash over you. Notice how easy it is to classify noises as good or bad: birds chirping, good; a text message notification, annoying. Instead of judging, invite yourself to let go of resistance to all sounds, allowing them to move gently through you. After a few minutes, blink your eyes open and close this practice with a small ritual bow to the magnificence of the earth.

PRACTICE SPONTANEOUS SAVASANA

This is a great practice for the busy middle of your day, when you come home from grocery shopping or go back to work after lunch, for example. After you’ve brought the bags up from the car or walked into your office, but before you’ve unpacked all of your treasures and checked your email, notice if your body feels exhausted. If so, give yourself permission, right here, right now, to lie down. I call this practice “spontaneous Savasana,” and I usually do it in my entry hall, without bothering to unroll a yoga mat or even take off my shoes. I simply lie down on the rug, open my arms wide, and close my eyes for 10 minutes.

Savasana