I haven't done a book review for a while, but this new offering from Suzy Reading definitely deserves sharing. Published just a couple of months ago, it offers (according to the subtitle) "smart habits and simple practices to allow you to flourish" by firstly re-defining what 'self-care' is, beyond spa days and posh chocolates.
I've been following Suzy for a while on Instagram, but she also writes occasionally for Psychologies magazine (one of my favourites), and is a chartered psychologist and yoga teacher who specialises in "wellbeing, stress management, and facilitation of healthy lifestyle change" - and it's this work that has lead to her focus on self-care.
In the opening section of the book Suzy talks candidly about her own life and the struggles and circumstances that propelled her towards seeking healing, and describes how she has come to believe that self-care is of the same importance as what you might call 'traditional' healthcare. It's about nourishment of mind, heart, and body, and includes any activities that restore and replenish our 'energetic bank balance'.
I really resonate with this definition having walked my own path through difficult times, and I can completely appreciate how inextricably linked our mental and emotional wellbeing is to our physical health and symptoms that manifest with no apparent medical cause. Suzy's 'energetic bank balance' is also comparable to the metaphors of 'filling up your cup' or 'putting on your own oxygen mask first' that remind us that without caring for ourselves we 'run out' of the resources to help others - which so many of us feel compelled to do.
The book is divided into chapters relating to the eight spokes of the Vitality Wheel framework: Sleep, rest, relaxation and breathing; Movement and nutrition; Coping skills; Physical environment; Social connection; Mood boosters; Goal setting and accomplishment; and Values and purpose. But this isn't an eight-step programme to be followed through from beginning to end, more of a directory of possibilities that can be dipped in and out of as you feel the need or desire to focus on one or more different areas, or even skip some entirely. However, as a holistic overview, I think it would be useful to look at all the chapters because even if you think you're getting all the nourishment and energy you need from a particular area of your life, there will probably be something, even a tiny nugget, that you can take away from Suzy's suggestions, or something that will make you think or become more mindful.
Each chapter features a short but neat amount of background information, notes on background research, plus tips and suggestions, reminders and things to think about, plus mantras to keep in mind and a small selection of yoga poses and sequences to try in relation to each area of focus.
The philosophy I feel throughout the book is very much one of "take what works and leave the rest", so if mantras aren't your thing, then that's no problem, or if any of the other suggestions don't fit with your lifestyle, then you can leave them out too, and come up with your own ideas. As a yoga teacher, Suzy is understandably passionate about the benefits offered by the poses and sequences she offers for each chapter, but honestly - many of them are the most 'un-yoga' postures you're likely to find (things like forward folds, lunges, child's pose and savasana - basically lying down), and even things like the modified sun salutations are more about connecting with regular breathing and grounding movement than expressing any deeper spiritual or religious preference.
One of my favourite tips from the book comes from the chapter on Mood Boosters. It's one of those things that sounds incredibly simple, but takes a bit more awareness, focus and mindfulness than we perhaps realise, especially when remembering to do it regularly: it's savouring.
I know I can certainly go through days on auto-pilot, or rushing through tasks to get stuff done and move onto the next thing, and it can mean getting to the end of the day or the week feeling exhausted, drained, and like I've missed out on enjoying anything. But if I can remember to take a moment to tune into what I'm doing, to notice as much as possible about the experience, and to savour it, it could just turn out to be the trick that slows down time and helps me cement more good memories. It might be putting on a soft and cosy jumper in the morning, watching the birds in the garden for a minute, eating a delicious meal, or hitting publish on a blog post I'm proud of writing, but taking a moment to savour them will definitely help me feel more positive.
As well as being a reference in itself, the aim of the book is to guide you to creating your own bespoke Self-Care Toolkit which you can refer to when you need a bit of 'topping up' in an of the areas discussed. Suzy suggests annotating a Vitality Wheel in the style of a mind map, noting down the tips and ideas from each chapter that appeal to you, and adding your own. Towards the end of the book, she also suggests primer statements as a useful way of having something ready at your fingertips in the event of a self-care 'emergency'. In the style of "If I'm feeling ... then I will ..." these provide definite actions that can be taken when needed to help us reset and recharge. So I might include things like - if I'm feeling mentally blocked then I will go for a brisk walk and blow the cobwebs away, or, if I'm feeling bad about myself because of comparing myself to others then I will take a break from social media and do something I know I'm good at.
I was excited to get hold of this book, and I'm very glad I did, because it's going to be one that has a permanent place on my bedside table, ready at hand to grab for some inspiration, and gentle reminders that even "micro-moments of nourishment" can add up, and that looking after myself is one of the most important jobs I can do.
The design of the book is beautiful - a stunning selection of photos have been used throughout, plus delightful illustrations and pretty colours, and plenty of white space to keep things clear and uncluttered. The language used is gently guiding, warm and nurturing without being patronising, but with just the right hint of 'I know what I'm talking about'. I think Suzy has managed to create a definition of self-care that is accessible to everyone, but also feels important and something we should commit to, but in whichever ways work best for us.