Self-Care: The Jewish path to Good Health

According to my good friend Selina, I scored a minus one on the “pamper scale” when we first met. Selina could book a massage or take time out for a cup of coffee without giving it a second thought. I, in the other hand, considered spending more than 15 minutes or $15 on a nonessential service as totally frivolous. Obviously, I needed some serious self-pamper coaching if we were to remain friends.

Rather than spending countless hours in therapy, I altered my behavior by asking a simple question whenever I considered doing something special: “What would Selina do?”

The answer was much clearer when the question was asked in the third person. “Just do it!” my brain screamed. Now, years later, the benefits of self-care, of treating myself to “pamper perks,” has become clear to me as both essential and necessary to maintaining optimum mental and physical health.

Jewish wisdom beckons us to take care of ourselves. At the heart of the Torah is the Holiness Code, which tells us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” These five simple words speak volumes about self-care. They teach us that we must first learn to love and care for ourselves before we can hope to love and care for others. And since loving and caring for others is a quintessential Jewish value, it is imperative that we take care of ourselves!

Maimonides, the noted 12th century Jewish philosopher and physician, taught that true health depends on moderation and balance – between work and play, activity and rest. The Sabbath, a day where we are commanded to refrain from work, is a perfect example of how this balance is integral to Jewish living and life itself.

Actively engaging in self-care is not the same as being self-indulgent. Self-care is about taking time away from the demands of life to pursue things that make you feel refreshed, renewed and “your best self.” It is a process of consciously creating ways for being in the moment, and feeling joy and gratitude for life. Getting a massage, reading a book, listening to music or taking a walk with a friend might work for me, but the choices are totally personal, limited only by your imagination (and wallet).

There are countless ways to take care of yourself, depending on your age, interests, limitations and daily responsibilities. As a start, I offer Lederman’s Top 10 ideas to encourage and inspire your own path to self-care:

10) Take time for being: It is always productive, even when it doesn’t appear to generate results.

9) Be authentic: It is much healthier to be real than to try to be what others expect of you.

8) Find outlets for your creativity: writing, painting, cooking, dancing and singing are great ways to express yourself.

7) Go outdoors daily. Walk in your garden, look at the sunrise or night sky, watch the changes of the seasons. Stay connected to the world around you.

6) Use your body, not just your mind. Find a form of exercise you enjoy. Yoga, walking, swimming, cycling – even hugging a friend – can make you feel energized.

5) Smile. You will be amazed at how good it makes you feel and how it affects others.

4) Do the unexpected. Travel to a new place, eat a new food, buy a hat or crazy pair of sunglasses just for the fun of it.

3) Be grateful for the simple pleasures in your life. Pay attention to how a good meal, the work you do or a call from a caring friend can lift your heart and spirits.

2) Take stock at bedtime: Look at your day to see what you have learned. A good day teaches; a difficult day often teaches more, and helps us grow and change.

1) Think of something that feels like a special treat and DO IT! Pamper perks will make you feel great.

Amy Hirshberg Lederman has written more than 300 columns and essays that have been published nationwide.

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