Self-care comprises four pillars: movement, stillness, touch, and nourishment. These pillars came to light through the work we have been doing with individuals and families since 2003 at my wellness company. We witnessed and realized that true well-being does not come from a single magical solution or practice, but rather, it requires a holistic, integrative approach.
The four pillars align with the basic ingredients a newborn baby requires for healthy development—and when they’re out of balance, our foundation becomes less stable, and like a baby, it becomes more difficult to thrive.
We must pay attention to all of the pillars as they are the vital ingredients for a healthy, happy life; if one or two are strong but the rest are wobbly, we lose our balance and can feel unhappy, unwell, and stressed out. In this post, we’ll explore each pillar together, discussing the theory and practices that can help create balance from the inside out and a state of well-being that we all crave and deserve.
Our bodies were built to move. Movement helps us develop a sense of skill and invites us to celebrate being alive. Our ancestors moved all day long, yet we’ve become a sedentary society. Despite the evolution, our stress hormones still function from fight-or-flight reaction mode, releasing cortisol and adrenaline, even though we no longer worry about running away from saber-toothed tigers.
Centuries ago, escaping from harm released the stress hormones that our bodies adaptively produced in a moment of danger. Today, we’re far less likely to have to outrun a predator, but we experience stress that leaves us feeling threatened and vulnerable. What does that mean? The fight-or-flight response is designed to trigger a burst of activity.
Movement can calm the nervous system and support the body in breaking down stress hormones so the body can return to homeostasis. The movement also stimulates the body to produce endorphins—those feel-good hormones that make life exponentially more manageable. In addition to addressing daily stress related to work, family, and relationships, movement becomes particularly important when navigating a major life circumstance or transition such as illness or divorce.
Different types of movement can calm us down or lift us, depending on what we need. Ideally, if we’ve incorporated movement into our lives before these transitions happen, we’re in a better position to face the challenges they bring. Movement is an antidote and can be discovered and incorporated at any time as a tool to help us flourish through more and less challenging chapters in our lives.
We all have our reasons for prioritizing movement in our lives. For some, it’s about longevity, brain health, overall fitness, or a sculpted body. For me, it’s about all of those things, but most importantly, I know that yoga and exercise enable me to face my day, help me focus, and put me in a better mood.
When my alarm goes off at 5:30 in the morning, a very big part of me wants to press the snooze button. At that moment, if I think about the challenges of the day ahead, and the strength, focus, and calm I will receive from some morning movement, I can access the motivation I need to wake up and move. I am less motivated by some abstract idea of health or longevity, and exponentially more inspired by the idea of how the movement will help me feel better today.
The movement pillar includes practices related to programmed movements, such as fitness and exercise; integrated movement, such as adding movement to our normal routine; and yoga and stretching. Instead of thinking of movement as a chore, I like to think of movement as a celebration and a gift of the human experience.
In our digital world, there’s no question most of us are overstimulated and overworked. We all have a lot to juggle and may work late hours into the night. Even when we are lying in bed or waiting for a train, we are mentally stimulated by the media on our phones. The experience of being in our skin, feeling our feelings, and listening to and witnessing our thoughts has become a rare occasion for so many people.
The flip side of mental and physical movement is stillness—in other words, the companion to work is rest. Our bodies and minds need time for recovery and reflection. A once or twice-a-year vacation or even weekend downtime isn’t enough to make up for the daily stressors of our lives. We need to consistently integrate restorative and relaxing moments throughout our normal routine. The stillness pillar includes practices of meditation, rest, and reflection.
When we slow down, we recalibrate and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Stillness is like maternal love for ourselves. It’s centering and grounding. It’s an opportunity to feel the energy of our life force and connect with body and mind. If movement is about building strength to face life’s challenges, stillness is surrendering to the flow of life in the best possible way.
Nourishment begins with the nutrients we introduce to our bodies. It’s not a specific diet per se, as I believe that the food formula is truly different for each of us. It’s more about mindfully feeding our bodies with gratitude and joy. And while food is incredibly important, we could be eating the healthiest diet on the planet yet still feel hungry if we are not nourishing our hearts and minds as well.
We must make an intentional, concerted effort to partake of art, music, literature, and pure beauty to nourish and stimulate our minds to grow and flex. Likewise, we must fill and expand our hearts with those in our community, and spend time with family and friends to complete the circle of nourishment. The nourishment pillar includes food to nourish our body, art, and natural beauty to nourish our mind, and community to nourish our heart and soul.
Touch speaks to connection, relating and communicating to ourselves and others, and a primal need to be held and supported. On a surface level, connection happens nonverbally, through touch, yet we live in a society that is either deprived or phobic about touch as a way of connecting. We walk about with our phones in our hands instead of holding hands.
The language of touch is about giving and receiving, nonverbal communication between two human beings, listening and feeling between “healer” and recipient. In massage therapy and bodywork, physical touch solicits a deeper, therapeutic exchange between two people, physically and energetically. While community nourishes our being on one level, a deeper connection in a relationship fulfills a primal need for love and true friendship.
Lastly, in our digital world, we must be cognizant of how we touch others and how we are touched virtually. The virtual connections that happen online impact our offline connections. This is a new and ever-changing aspect to explore. The touch pillar includes massage and bodywork, relationships, and plugging into life (and unplugging from everything else).