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Natural Awakenings Greater Boston - Rhode Island

Body-Mindfulness for Self-Care: How to Be Self-Centered Without Being Selfish

Apr 30, 2021 09:31AM ● By Alison Shaw
It wouldn’t be going out on a limb to say that women are not always great at taking care of themselves. By their nature, women are care givers, a beautiful and noble quality. Women are culturally assigned caregiving roles, also a noble thing. So, the issue is that too often women lose a healthy balance between caring for others and caring for self, particularly when surrounded by those with great needs, like children, aging parents, an ill spouse or friend, a demanding job and/or a pandemic.

Women often find themselves centered around others’ needs and can lose awareness of their own feelings, needs and even bodies. For some, the mandate to prioritize others begins in childhood. Subtle or overt rules create beliefs that being loved, valued, sometimes even safe, requires focusing on others’ expectations. Caring for self is often judged as selfish and disrespected as shameful and weak. This insidious cultural message has created an either/or dichotomy between self-ish-ness and self-less-ness.

Finding Balance

Imagine living in a tree. Connecting with others and the world requires standing out on the tree’s branches. But when too far out helping others, the thinning branch tips cannot hold the weight, and falling is inevitable. This is the place of self-less-ness. There is no way to maintain balance or health for giver or receiver. Conversely, staying in close, hugging the trunk focusing only on self (self-ish-ness) means no relationships or life.

So how does one live a balanced life in a tree? Balance is found by reaching out toward others with one hand while the other holds firmly to the trunk at all times. That way we can only reach out as far as our personal limits allow. Personal limits are not failings; self-care is not weakness. It is possible to have relationships and self.

Since most humans do not live in trees, the translation to real life is in finding and holding on to a sense of center on all levels—mind, spirit and body. On the mental level, the tree trunk is the awareness of feelings, thoughts and needs. For many women, speaking their truth, setting limits, saying no, or asking for help is difficult. When aware of our feelings and needs, it is easier to stand by them and address them for ourselves.

For many, a spiritual faith, belief or contemplative practice acts as a tree trunk that steadies and strengthens even when there isn’t time to meditate or pray. Finally, the body, the most easily forgotten part of our center of self, is actually the quickest way back to balance. When focused on others under stress, senses get flooded with outside signals and our body becomes that thing below our heads that moves us around.

Here are three quick body-mindfulness steps that will foster healthy self-centeredness. As often during your day as you remember to:

Pause: don’t stop whatever you are doing, take one or two breaths (they don’t have to be deep). Simply feel the sensations of the breath in nostrils, chest, belly.

Notice your body: focus on the sensations in your face, shoulders, arms, torso, legs, feet.

Feel your body’s weight wherever you sense it: bottoms of your feet or seat, perhaps head or limbs. Become aware of gravity’s pull. See if there are any muscles you can release into gravity’s steady support.

Deceptively simple, these three embodiment techniques bring us back to our tree trunk. Once back and connected to our own self, body, mind and spirit, giving becomes more effortless, productive and healing for all.

Alison Shaw RN, LMT, CEH, is a body-centered therapist in private practice in Lexington, MA. She has developed, practices and teaches programs in Bodymind Repatterning, working with the body and mind together for deeper healing of physical and emotional struggles. For more information, call 781-646-0686 or visit