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Soul Nourishment and Self-Care
by Jane Alexander

How do we care for our souls? Where do we find nourishment for our innermost being? If we have belief in a religious faith we tend to look to the time-honoured sanctuaries of the soul--church, synagogue, temple, mosque, perhaps the sacred grove. Other seekers try to nourish the soul with meditation and ritual, by talking to angels or walking with power animals. And yes, these certainly can nourish the soul, and nourish it well. But I also feel that in our hunt for spiritual meaning, we can lose track of simpler ways of soul nourishment and self-care. Sometimes we can touch the soul just as deeply with a carefully prepared meal as we can with an intense sweat lodge. A genuine conversation with a neighbour can be as nourishing as an hour of prayer or meditation. I suppose I'm talking about soul nourishment as a daily practice. It shouldn't be a chore, yet one more thing to squeeze into an already overcrowded day; but a pleasure, a break, a moment aside. It's about loving yourself--even the bits you don't like. It's about being kind to yourself. It's about accepting that life is not all angels and transcendent experiences, but also about disappointment and routine--but that our souls can find treasure here too. It's about looking out for our bodies; it's about being kind to our feelings. It's a kind of coffee break for the soul.

I can almost hear a collective cynical intake of breath and a rather ambivalent "hmmm". I know what you mean: finding the soul through the humdrum, particularly in the body, sounds a contradiction in terms. Surely our souls are as far removed from our earthy, mundane, physical bodies as the sun from the earth? Not so. One of our greatest mistakes is to shun the body and seek the soul only in other, more "elevated" places. After all, who out of us truly knows where the soul lies, where it makes its home? We tend to think of our souls as residing somewhere in or above our heads, glittering in our auras or floating gracefully at a discrete, rather coy, distance from our fleshly being. But other cultures claim the soul lies in the heart, that steadily pulsing great muscle deep in our chests. Others believe it hides in the liver, the great detoxifier; or in the stomach, the great processor; or in the lungs, the great inspirers; or in any number of corporeal places: the spleen, the gall-bladder, the solar plexus. Who is right? Maybe they all are. To my mind, we can do far worse in our soul nourishment than to look within, to discover the wonder of the body.


Try this exercise. Stand naked in front of a full-length mirror. Quietly look at your body. Really look at it. At first you will probably only notice what you see as imperfections: you're too fat or too thin; a funny shape; too short, too tall; you have a horrible nose or breasts or stomach or feet….. Accept that everyone has parts of their body that they don't consider perfect and let the thought go. A practitioner of Huna massage I knew advised that you do this exercise every day until you start to feel true acceptance of your body. You should start to notice the parts you actually like. Appreciate the parts that work for you - your strong legs that carry you; your wonderful hands that write, draw or work machinery; your belly that has carried or could carry a baby; your breasts that could feed a child. Your buttocks that cushion you…… I'm not going as far as to suggest you write affirmations to the tune of "I love my beautiful bowels" as some people prescribe - frankly, that makes me crease up with laughter. But accept that they do have a point--your bowels are pretty amazing, actually. So is your lymphatic system. So is everything within your body.


Bodies are meant for movement. There is nothing more wonderful than a fit healthy body moving freely, flexibly, to its full potential. Yet remarkably few of us exercise regularly and, strangely enough, those of us that do often inflict almost more harm on our bodies than good. Everyone has seen the exercise addict, pounding the Stairmaster every night for hours; doing three aerobics classes on the trot; running until they are gasping for air and their joints are pleading for mercy. This is punishing the body and it does as little for the soul as it does for the tendons, muscles and bones it mercilessly pounds.

Soul exercise is not about pushing your body to the limit. It's not about proving anything. It's not about being the best, the fastest, the thinnest. It's not about wearing the latest trainers or doing the trendiest class or fad. It's about discovering the joy of moving your body. It's like moving meditation.

It doesn't matter what form of exercise you choose. All that does matter is that you should choose something you enjoy. Why waste hours and a fortune going to a gym when you hate weight training and loathe aerobics classes? Why run if you hate running? Don't pick a sport because it's fashionable or because your best friend does it. Pick something that makes you smile when you think of it.

Of course, if you are very unfit or haven't exercised in years, you will have to be patient with yourself. It might take you a while to get into your chosen exercise and to begin with, it could well be tough. The key is to do it slowly, carefully and gradually build up your strength and stamina. You can do it.

The great news is that, if you haven't exercised for ages or ever, you will see real results really quickly. And you will discover the pure joy in feeling your body working--and enjoying the work. Aside from enjoying what you do, the other key factor in this "soul exercise" is that you need to keep in touch with your body as you work out.

I see people going around my gym with headphones clamped to their ears, music blasting out or cycling away, nose deep in the paper or a book. That defeats the whole point. Try instead to connect with your body, really feel the muscles working, check out how your heart is coping; how you're breathing. Be in your body, not evading it. Use your exercise time as mindfulness time: focus on how your body feels; become aware of your heart, listen to your breathing.


Most of us live in our heads. We can go virtually from one end of the day to the other without really thinking about our bodies. Sure we stop for lunch--or to gulp down a sandwich at our desks. OK, we get up once in a while to go to the bathroom--our bladders are one part of our bodies it's pretty hard to ignore. But how often do we stop and sense our bodies, think about how they feel throughout the day? Probably not much, if at all. So stop this very moment and take an inventory. Sense how your body feels. Is it stiff? How's your neck? Tense? Are your shoulders relaxed or up around your ears? Are you clenching your teeth so hard that when you think about it you realise your jaw is hurting? Does your body need anything? Water perhaps (we easily become dehydrated and tea, coffee and fizzy drinks don't do the trick)? Food? (often our bodies are just plain hungry or hungry for food that really sustains. Some fruit maybe instead of a chocolate bar… or a proper lunch of soup, whole wheat bread and salad rather than a limp supermarket sandwich.) Have you been sitting so long that your back aches or your buttocks are numb? Do you need a good stretch? A quick run up and down stairs? Do your eyes feel bright and clear, or sore and itchy? If you stare at a computer screen all day, do your eyes need to rest or to focus on something long distance for a change? Are you tired? Does your whole body need a quick catnap or a longer rest?

Of course it won't always be possible to give your body precisely what it needs but try to give it something, even if at times it is just a quick fix. Learn to listen to your body and try to help it any way you can.


Even your daily cleansing and make-up routine can be transformed into a small but important ritual. Don't race through it--do it mindfully, carefully, thoughtfully. You are preparing yourself for the day ahead so think about how you want to face the day. What do you want to achieve? How do you want to feel? What do you want to remember throughout the day?

Use the time to ground yourself, to look at yourself in the mirror and think about who you really are. Will you act with integrity today? Will you give your best? Will you be kind - to yourself and to others? You may not feel your face is perfect but it is you, your outer self, so be gentle to it. Cleanse it gently, thoughtfully. Choose carefully the products you use on your skin. Cheap ones may be drying or coarse, pulling the skin. But equally expensive "designer" products may be full of unpleasant additives. Some are even cynically designed so your skin becomes dependent on them. While you use them, the skin looks wonderful but as soon as you stop, it loses its glow and looks stressed and strained.

Instead try to find pure, natural products which are made with integrity. "Soul" cosmetics need not cost the earth either. After all, why buy expensive toner when you could use rose water or witchhazel or orange-flower water instead? When I go to Italy I head for the nearest supermarket and stock up on bottles of rose-water. They cost next to nothing and are as good a toner as any fancy name product. Above all keep it simple. Cosmetic companies would have us believe that we need a whole bathroom full of fancy products to keep us beautiful. The most effective beauty regimes in the world come from the East, particularly Japan. There they say that for a beautiful face you first need a good diet. Second you need to protect your skin from the ravages of the sun. Then you need to cleanse thoroughly and finally protect your skin. So choose your products with care. But also pick things you love. If you can't afford fancy pots there's nothing to stop you transferring the product into a different pot. Rummage around junk shops and car boot sales for old-fashioned jars, cut-glass or crystal pots and attractive bottles. Clean them thoroughly and decant your new products into lovely old-fashioned receptacles.


Make bath-time soul-time--a time to lie and soak, and dream and muse and ponder. Run the bath, add your favourite herbs or oils or unguents. Light candles. Prepare warm fluffy towels for when you emerge. Lock the door and demand peace. You might like to play your favourite music, or you might like to relish some peace and pure quiet. Now undress slowly, step in, sink down--and relax. Feel the water holding your body. Feel the tensions sinking out of your body and into the water where they simply melt away. Stay as long as you like, topping up the water to keep warm.

You can buy expensive bath-soaks and unguents but the very best are the ones you make yourself. You know then they are totally pure and, by investing love and care in the making of them, you are providing your body with the extra knowledge that you are prepared to make an effort on its behalf. Try these…..

WARMING WINTER BATH: This is a recipe I've used for years for staving off colds and flu and generally strengthening the body. Take 3 large spoonfuls (tablespoon size) each of thyme, rosemary, basil, marjoram, hyssop and salad burnet (I grow these in my garden but you can use dried herbs - use a small teaspoonful of each instead). Crush four tablespoons of fennel seeds with a pestle and mortar and put all the ingredients in an enamel saucepan with five pints of water and simmer for about half an hour. Strain the herbs and add the water to a bath with a teaspoon or two of wheatgerm oil and two tablespoons of honey. (Note: do not substitute essential oils for the herbs in this mix).

SOOTHING SUMMER BATH: Make a decoction of the following: three large tablespoons of chamomile flowers; violets; cowslips; sweet woodruff; vervain and linden blossom (if fresh--or a teaspoon of each if dried). Strain the herbs after about half an hour and add the liquid to a warm (not hot) bath. Float rose petals and borage flowers on top.

CLEOPATRA'S SECRET BATH: Cleopatra bathed in asses' milk, so the tales go, but any milk makes a soothing bath. Add a few drops (no more) of your favourite essential oils--try lavender, geranium, chamomile, jasmine, rose or neroli for a soothing, mood-improving bath. If you want to feel energised and invigorated go for rosemary, sage and pine. If you feel you have a cold coming on, add a couple of drops of black pepper and tea-tree oil to help you fight the infection.


It's no coincidence that in all the great healing traditions of the world, food is treated with great reverence, as a great healer in its own right. In the past, when we only ate by our own efforts, by the hard work of hunting, farming and husbandry, food was treated with respect and eaten with grateful thanks. Now we buy whatever takes our fancy from supermarkets, in boxes and packets, neat and precise, cling-filmed and clean. Ready meals and convenience foods are pushed into the microwave. After a few minutes, we transfer it to a tray and sit spooning it into our mouths as we watch television. What has happened to our daily bread? It's a long way from the idea of food to nourish both body and spirit--what the West Indians so rightfully call "soul" food. It's not practical for us all to become hunters, or self-sufficient market gardeners. We can't all tend our own crops or raise our own livestock. But we can regain a feeling of respect for our food. We can care for what we eat, and how we eat it. There are very simple steps we can take to give food back its rightful place in our lives.

Think about where your food comes from and choose it carefully. Soul nourishing food is good food--food that is healthy both for you and for the earth. Try wherever you can to buy organic--vegetables and fruits which have been grown without chemicals are good for your body and good for the environment. Organic food is more expensive, at the moment, but try to support it if you can and then demand will gradually bring prices down. If you eat meat, insist on only choosing organic, free-range meat.

Put yourself back in tune with the rhythm of the year by buying food that is produced locally, food that is in season. We've grown so accustomed to having whatever we want whenever we want it that we have forgotten the joy of the first taste of the new asparagus crop, or the first strawberries, the soft gleam of chestnuts in their proper season. Seasonal produce is the food we need for each time of year: light fresh foods for the hot seasons; warm, nourishing foods for the cold.

Prepare food with love, care and attention. Cooking is an art, the first creative art of all. Cooking in a race, with irritation and annoyance at the "wasted time" turns your meals into sad, soul-less sustenance. Food prepared with mindfulness, with an idea of truly nourishing your self, your friends, your family, becomes a soul-feast. It isn't about concocting lavish repasts all the time--it's more about imbuing your cookery--from the smartest dinner party down to the quickest sandwich--with a sense of care. Make cookery and the preparation of food a small homely ritual--the food you create will be transformed into your very fabric, into your skin and bones and blood. It will give you the gift of energy and vitality, of peace and comfort. So choose food that your body loves--honest healthy food, not dead empty calories.

There a hundred and one other ways you can nourish your soul on a daily, hourly, moment by moment basis. These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg but I hope they have given you some pointers. If you want to find out more, then my books are packed with ways to nourish and care for your self, body, mind and spirit. They include:

THE FIVE MINUTE HEALER: takes you through a typical stress-packed day with ideas for healing body, mind and soul. Incorporates the best tips and techniques from a host of healing therapies, including shiatsu, jin shin jyutsu, aromatherapy, yoga, chi kung, reiki, homeopathy, flower essences, NLP, hypnotherapy, dance and art therapy and many more.

THE ENERGY SECRET: If you can recognise and work with vital energy you have at your fingertips THE tool for modern living. This is a practical guidebook for learning how to detect, feel and direct vital energy in all areas of your life. It investigates body energy, emotional energy, nature energy, work energy, sex energy and soul energy, helping you reconnect with your self, your family, your partner, your work and your soul.

SPIRIT OF THE HOME: How to make your home into a sanctuary. Our homes are vital to our sense of well-being yet many of us feel alienated by, or uncomfortable in the places we live. This book shows how to transform your home (whether a tiny apartment or a vast mansion) into a home which delights the senses and soothes the soul. Includes simple advice on decluttering, space cleansing, feng shui, smudging, decoration, home mythology and psychology. Comes in two versions: unillustrated paperback or fully illustrated hardback.

SACRED RITUALS AT HOME: Meaningful rituals can enhance our lives and imbue every day with a sense of the sacred. Ritual offers a chance to stop and take stock; to be in the moment; to make us feel more positive, more energised, more relaxed or more confident. This book gives clear instructions on how to create your own rituals: honouring the body; motivating the psyche; boosting relationships; soothing the soul and honouring the seasons.

THE DETOX PLAN FOR BODY, MIND AND SPIRIT: Detoxing isn't just about cleansing the body; it's about taking the opportunity to reassess every aspect of your life, discarding the old and welcoming in the new and fresh. This book cuts through the often misleading and confusing information on detoxing and gives you all you need to know to cleanse you body, mind and even your soul. It includes two full detox programs: a short weekend introduction and a full month-long deep cleanse.

Copyright © 2001 Jane Alexander


Jane Alexander is a UK-based writer on natural health, holistic living and contemporary spirituality. She is the author of ten books, including Spirit of the Home, The Five Minute Healer and The Energy Secret. Jane lives on Exmoor, an area of wilderness in South-West England, with her husband, toddler son and numerous animals. Read more of Jane Alexander's work on her website: www.smudging.com


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