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Learning How to Take Care of Yourself

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I was lying on a table and she was hanging from two bars on the ceiling, skating over my back with her feet--a little like she was snowboarding or skating, only it was warm and there was a silky lotion and I could feel that her feet were not calloused like mine when I said, "It's amazing what you can learn here in just three days that you keep with you for a lifetime." She replied that it's also amazing how many people come back again and again and don't seem to learn anything. She's been working at Canyon Ranch for 23 years. I've been coming every few years for two decades. This time, I brought my 16-year-old for her first spa visit and my 31-year-old for her second. It's like an intensive health and healing camp, and this time I was signed up for the ashiatsu massage, which is when someone massages you with their bare feet. It was good--much more pressure than someone can get with their hands--but only able to focus on the biggest muscle groups.

You see, I come to Canyon Ranch both to learn what's new and to explore the edges of health and healing. I also come to take care of myself, which over the years I've gotten better and better at, thanks to Canyon Ranch. In fact, I told my daughters that this was the first time I'd come when I didn't feel I needed to be brought in on a stretcher.

So why is it so hard for us to take care of ourselves? What does it mean to take care of ourselves? After all, it's not like it's taught in school. It's up to parents to teach children. But if we parents don't know how, we may be teaching the wrong things, and then it's up to each person individually. Which it truly is anyway. My oldest, for example, won't listen to a thing I say about health, but THAT'S OK because what makes her healthy and happy is different from what makes me healthy and happy. (Although, for her sake, I wish I'd known what gluten intolerance was 30 years ago....)

I know everybody can't afford a few days at a spa every couple of years. So I'm going to share with you a few of the things I've learned from the experience that you can take with you and do anywhere.

• Get inside your body. The first thing you have to do is really, truly feel yourself in your body. Many of us spend a lifetime trying to pretend we don't have a body. We abuse it. We overeat. We think if we keep it covered or don't look too closely it will just exist without us. That may work for a while, but to truly be healthy and happy, you have to really feel your body and get to know it. That means exercising. Getting massages that help you feel it. Looking at it. Going to healing practitioners--medical and alternative--that help you see inside your body. Don't be afraid to push yourself--in fact that's where the good stuff is. We all took a kettle bell class together and it was HARD and I was SORE, but the soreness got into a place (which I won't mention) that I'd been trying to get into for years.

This isn't about having a perfect body; it's about learning to love your body. Your body is essential to every aspect of your life, so pay attention and take good care of it. Now, some people are ONLY inside their body. Athletes, for example, can be truly inside their body, but then it's easy to see that may not be enough on its own. There is more.

• Get beyond your body. Emotions, the way you think about things, your spirit or soul--all these things extend beyond your body but are rooted in it, and if you don't pay attention and work on those things too, a "healthy body" will never be enough. In fact, sometimes you can't truly get inside your body until you clear out the blockages that are in your head or heart. What are the emotional drivers and beliefs you hold that keep you from truly taking care of yourself? Sometimes those things need to be addressed first. For us women, it's almost standard to think we have to take care of everyone else first before we can take care of ourselves. I'm trying to teach my daughters otherwise, but sometimes the world around them enforces that stereotype more than I do and they need to learn to see through it. This is where it's really important to get different perspectives. Take a class. See a therapist. Read books. Which leads to my next point...

• Always go deeper.I think what that woman standing on my back was really talking about (because you never really know what's inside another person) is that you can stay on the surface or you can go deeper, and the good stuff is always deeper. For example, I'm sure there are a lot of people who go to spas and stay focused on the outside of their body--facials, mani-pedi's, and such--making their body look "perfect" to achieve some ideal of beauty that will never last. All this is fine, but it's not where true health and happiness live. I took a class with an energy healer who talked about the conditions he treats at Canyon Ranch: anger, depression, paranoia, fear, living with a sense of doom, worry.... All these emotions greatly impact health and are really avoidable if you learn how to deal with them. In fact, he said, another emotion he sees all the time is passivity--which he believes is at the root of back pain. Think about it. Passivity comes in all shapes and sizes and, as he said, makes a person shrink over time. "Spineless," he said. Medication might help, but it never addresses the root issue. To address the root issue of anything you have to go deeper. Underground! Into the dark, fertile soil where roots grow.

• Give yourself a break. I will admit, I worried about writing about this blog. Why? Because people can make up all sorts of things in their heads about what I'm sharing. They may be angry with me for taking time off or spending money they don't have. They may have a view that spas are hedonistic indulgences. But these are exactly the kinds of fears that hold people back. For each of us, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what other people think. What matters is what we think and how we live in the world.

The last morning at Canyon Ranch, the three of us woke up and went kayaking very early in the morning (a teenager woke up at 6:00 a.m. on vacation!!!). As we floated on a small lake that was smooth as glass, a warm rain started to fall, making a field of bubbles all around us, and the water lilies filled the air with a sweet, magical fragrance, and I simply enjoyed the moment. You don't have moments like that without "getting up early and getting on the boat," which is a metaphor for just doing it, whatever it is. Because...

• You have incredible power. Use it.
If you believe you are a victim, I can guarantee you will be a victim. If you believe that you will never have enough money to go to a spa, I can assure you, you will never have enough money to go to a spa. What I've learned from years and years of experience and learning is that we truly do create the world we live in. And if we believe the world is one of doom and despair, it WILL be a world of doom and despair, and everything you experience and see will confirm it. What harm would it do for you to try to see the world as a brilliant, wonderful, loving, and glorious place? Try it for a day. Try it for a week. You'll be amazed at how brilliant, wonderful, loving, and glorious the world becomes. Surround yourself with love--good things, happy things--and it will spread. It will infiltrate your body and your life and your heart. Doesn't mean you won't have bad days or sad days or troubles, but you'll have a greater context and power to work your way through them, and you'll see that you are capable, strong, and glorious.

You have incredible power. Use it.

For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com