One writer discovered that moisturising could help her be more mindful and less anxious.
I get out of the shower in a rush. I’m late for a meeting and all I want to do is throw on some clothes so I have time to get a coffee en route. But I can’t do that, because there’s something else I need to do first. I dry myself off with a towel, take a deep breath to try to slow myself down, and pull out a bottle of Green People’s delicious-smelling organic Quinoa and Calendula body lotion from my bathroom cabinet. It’s time for me to mindfully moisturise my body.
I never used to be the kind of person who used phrases like ‘mindfully moisturise’ - much less actually do anything mindfully. But in recent years, as the conversation around mental health and wellness techniques has become more and more mainstream, I’ve started to realise the immense benefit to mindfulness, yoga and meditation for the anxiety I’ve suffered from my whole life.
Instead of just turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms like too many after-work drinks or Netflix binges like I used to, I now (still do those) but also try to practise yoga daily, and come up with new ways in my everyday routine where I take time for myself. I spend ages making and sipping tea, I leave my phone behind whenever I go for a long walk, and I slowly moisturise my body every time I get out of the shower.
I started doing this around a year ago. I read somewhere that it was one example of a daily activity we all do that we can bring our mindful attention to. It struck a chord with me because I’m often so stressed, thinking about what I need to tick off next on my never-ending to-do list, that I rarely bother to moisturise my body. I just slap some cream on my face, and chuck my clothes on. If I do bother to moisturise my body – normally only post-holiday so I can try to conserve my tan – I do it in about 30 seconds flat with whatever was on sale in Boots.
But I quickly found that mindful moisturising - a term I may have possibly invented – is completely different. I have to force myself to do everything slowly. To open the bottle and sniff the lotion I’m about to put on my body. To realise I don’t like it. To go to the shops to buy a vegan, cruelty-free equivalent that smells so good I’m actually excited about this little bit of luxurious self-care I’m offering my body.
Smells are important. I learnt this when volunteering with children with learning disabilities, when we used to spend an entire hour rubbing hand cream onto their hands, and watching their faces light up as they took in the smell and texture. I try to do the same for myself with my body lotion.
I squeeze a large dollop onto my hands and feel its coolness on my skin, breathing in the scent before I slowly rub it into every centimetre of skin on my body, from my toes to my torso. I try and focus my attention on the part of body I am moisturising as I do it – kind of how my yoga teacher tells me to make each part of my body heavy during savasana – and I breathe in and out.
Sometimes I get bored. If I’m having a stressed-out day, I start thinking of all the other things I could be doing that are more productive. Sometimes I do it with the radio on, so it’s not just me and the cream. But the best days are when everything is quiet, I slow down, and can focus fully on what I’m doing. That’s when the stress and anxiety start to disappear, and I think of nothing bar the feeling and smell of the cream on my skin. It starts to become an act of meditation - and an act of self-love.
The whole reason I decided to mindfully moisturise was for my mental health. I wanted a more fun, less ‘full lotus’ way of meditating, and the fact that it made my skin smell delicious was a by-product I wasn’t going to complain about. But over the last few months, I’ve found that my moisturising has also had an effect on something I didn’t realise I was working on: my body image.
Every time I moisturise, I find myself accepting my body more and more. Back when I used to avoid moisturising or just do it quickly, I never really spent much time my body in all its flawed nakedness. But now I have to spend these five minutes naked, up close with the things I used to hate about myself, I’m realising that it’s not so bad. I used to think my cellulite was ugly and gross, but the more I calmly rub cream onto it, the more those feelings fade.
The same has happened with the various different patterned scars on my legs – from childhood accidents and chicken pox to an awkward first date in Israel. I’m now so acquainted with them that they feel like old friends, each one telling a story of my past. Slowly, I’m also getting there with my stomach. I always used to hate its squishy roll, which refuses to disappear no matter how many yoga classes I go to, but every time I moisturise it, I realise I hate it a little bit less than before. Some days, I even start to feel fondly towards its familiar softness.
I never expected that something so simple as spending a few minutes moisturising my body each day would have such a profound impact on my body image and anxiety. I always thought that level of change only came from intense exercise or meditation retreats. But my foray into mindful moisturising has shown me that so many of our daily activities – from chopping vegetables, to closing our eyes on public transport – can become mindful moments.
It’s just about finding which one works for you – and being grateful when your chosen method leaves you with skin so soft it could rival a baby’s.