Hug yourself today...

WHY DO WOMEN have such a hard time practicing self-care?

I write and talk a lot about the importance of self-care in The New Latina's Bible and in my talks. It's a practice that involves taking care of your mind, body and soul before attempting to meet anyone else's needs. As a lifestyle, it involves incorporating a philosophy that is infused with a first me, then the world attitude. Women of color, especially, find this a very challenging concept.

A friend tells me of the airplane story. The flight attendant encourages that in the case of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop and adults traveling with small children should place the mask on themselves before the child. For most women of color, that is a no no, "the mask goes on my child first!"

I get it... I have two children. But the thing is, a mom can only help her child when she is breathing right! That kind of sacrificed love is dangerous because ultimately a child needs a healthy mother, not a martyr.

During my talks, I usually ask women in the audience to raise their hands if they are at the very top -- as in number one -- on their daily To Do lists. I ask them for real honest answers, not the kind-a answers that impress the speaker or others in the audience. And 8 out of 10 women usually fess up -- no!! Sometimes, some confess that they are not even in the top 10 things they got to do for the day list! The reasons on why run the gamut from, "I have more pressing issues - my newborn, my toddler, my wayward teen, a sick parent, an intense job... etc etc" As they explain their many reasons, many of these beautiful, smart, professional women catch themselves in the apparent contradiction of their justifications.

Why is it so hard to place ourselves first on the TLC list? I think it's societal, cultural and familial. As the second sex we are socialized into taking care of others, first. As Latinas and women of color, we are raised to know that it's about the tribe, la familia, the community, church before it can be about the self. In many families, it's only the women who do all the work, and it is not only assumed, but expected from our males. I get it, I do, there is our history of oppression, of slavery... we had to think group, village.

But, we must stop the insanity chicas. This giving when, as beautiful sister Iyanla Van Zant reminds us, before your cup runneth over will leave you empty! It's insidious and subtle. I've lived it, I've seen it within my circle of family, friends and co-workers.

We mimic behavior of females in our tribe, in our circle, in our era, sometimes to our detriment. The notion of what it is to be a good hija, mother, wife, girlfriend, employee, aunt, church sister, etc etc has been confused with self-sacrifice. But, it can change, one act at a time.

Men seem to practice self-care much more easily. And society champions them -- boy time anyone? Football, soccer, basketball and other major sports in testament to that. Good for them, I say. They need it too. But, what about us girls?

I was sitting at a luncheon with a new mommy recently. She's a high ranking Wall Street executive. And I ask her if she is taking care of herself. And she says not really, she has no time. And I ask her if her husband if taking care of himself. And she says, funny you ask, he goes on his morning run every day, having the kids has not changed it. Whether the babies are fed, or not. It's his time that he says he needs. And good for him! I ask her if she has her 'jogging' time. No. But, she says, you've given me something to chew on... I'm kind of embarrassed by my own behavior. Before the babies I would.. and she trailed off all the things she did for herself before the children and husband were in the picture.

I've been thinking a lot about self care because in the last three months I have put this practice into full effect, in ways that I hadn't in the past. And its bearing beautiful results.

It started with a 30-day hot yoga challenge on December 27th. For those of you who are not familiar with Bikram Yoga practice, let me explain. A yoga studio is heated to 105 degrees and for 90 minutes you move through 26 poses that stretch your body from head-to-toe. This self-imposed daily challenge was tough, especially because it was my first time doing this form of yoga, and because I am not at all flexible. But I've stuck with it and go sweat three to four times a week and the benefits have been incredible.

I have a new relationship to my body, mind and soul. I learned that my body will talk to me, and tell me when it can't stretch anymore. I learned too that our bodies have the capacity to heal. My heart and mind are also more open. I am more peaceful. I am a better mom, friend, daughter, sister, citizen. I am more patient. More loving...

I've learned through this sacred space of meditation to say without equivocation or guilt "this doesn't work for me" when it doesn't. No more yes, when I meant to say no.

Self-care has been the most extraordinary gift I have given myself.