(Originally published for The Dragontree)

When someone comes in to see me, I usually put a few acupuncture needles in them, I might do some massage, and perhaps I’ll prepare them an herbal prescription. I can give a person a pretty good push in the direction of health. But, I’m not able to give them the most significant kind of healing there is. That’s up to them. I’m talking about caring for one’s body like the priceless thing it is.

Because we live in a time when more supplements, medicines, and healthcare practitioners are at our disposal than ever before, it’s easy to feel like there are so many repair options available to us that it’s not really necessary to do our own maintenance. But if you’ve ever had a house, car, or bike, you know there’s a real difference between taking excellent care of it and rarely encountering problems versus taking mediocre care of it and making big and frequent repairs.

I’m not actually as much of a car enthusiast as it would seem from my frequent use of the car-as-human-body analogy, but it works, so bear with me. If you were in the market for a Ferrari and saw these two ads on Craigslist, which one would you buy?

#1: “Lovingly cared for 2001 Ferrari. 40,000 miles. Never missed an oil change or other scheduled maintenance. Driven fast, but treated well. Always fueled with premium. $70,000.”

#2: “2001 Ferrari. 40,000 miles. Frequently neglected, always fueled with the cheap stuff, driven hard. Several major repairs, but technically everything now works as well as that other Ferrari that’s for sale. $70,000.”

Same car on the surface, but different potential. There are two things we could say about the owners of these cars. First, the obvious: owner #1 has a car that will probably last her much longer than the other one. Second, owner #1 has an entirely different relationship with her car than the other owner does with his car.

The same is true, of course, with taking care of your body. You can do it grudgingly, making yourself exercise because you feel like you have to, eating greens because you feel like you have to, flossing your teeth because you feel like you have to, and your body will probably perform better and for longer than if you didn’t do these things. On the other hand, you could probably do less, but approach it with real love and enthusiasm for the vehicle and the task, like polishing and driving a gorgeous luxury car, and you’d likely have an equally long lived body. But longevity can’t be guaranteed, and the second approach ensures something the first doesn’t – something that’s arguably more meaningful – a cleaner and happier relationship with yourself and a sense of gratitude for the opportunities this living, well-tuned body allows.

What do I mean by a “cleaner” relationship with yourself? What if there were a part of you that could perceive the attitude with which you approached self care? I believe there is, and to illustrate this, let’s switch analogies from cars to kids.

Mom spends 3 hours a day with Junior. Dad also spends 3 hours a day with Junior.

Mom gives her attention completely to the child for those 3 hours. Dad appears to give his attention to the child, but he’s thinking about his own stuff and he sneakily checks his phone every five minutes.

While Mom helps Junior work through a problem, she reflects on how wonderful it is to have the opportunity to be a parent. Dad loves his child, but he’d really like to get back to his email; however, he’d feel guilty about that, so he sits here with his kid, doing the right thing.

Junior is your body and soul. Just as that kid knows – or at least feels – the difference between time with Mom and time with Dad, your body and soul can feel the difference between taking your vitamins out of fear of the consequences of not taking them versus taking your vitamins because you love treating yourself to things that are good for you. By the same token, even when you do the “wrong” thing, there is a qualitative difference between eating a doughnut with a sense of guilt or self loathing versus eating a doughnut with genuine happiness and enjoyment.

So, whatever self care you perform, even the littlest thing, imagine you’re doing it for your own beloved child (or car, if that evokes more compassion), with as much consciousness and love as you can muster, and not a hint of grumbling. If you need a push, Briana and I came up with a (free) 21-day “Rituals for Living” challenge in an effort to introduce people to self care in small doses and in ways that we hope you’ll enjoy.

Be well,

Dr. Peter Borten

P.S. Read on to Five Reasons to Take Care of Yourself