July 24 is International Self-Care Day. On behalf of International Bipolar Foundation, I asked my friend, Mike, a fitness enthusiast, yogi, plant-based eater and animal lover, to share the benefits of practicing self-care.
As a person who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders, I know that self-care is important, but I have difficulty with change and implementing healthy habits. I can say that having a good support system is an important part of any wellness plan, and Mike is a part of my support system.
What does self-care mean to you? How would you define self-care?
I believe that “self-care” is making time for yourself. Everyone has a great deal of stuff to deal with in their life, whether it be family, friends or work, and we can get lost in all of that and forget about our own health and happiness. Unfortunately, making time for yourself and your health/happiness is commonly made the lowest priority.
How do you practice self-care?
I use the gym as a stress reliever and therapy. Whether I am having a good or bad day, I can go to the gym and just focus on myself, almost go into a meditative state while I clear my head and relieve stress. I also have a weekly yoga practice that is a great way to relieve stress, clear my mind and learn about the limitations and capabilities of my body.
What made you decide to try yoga?
A number of years ago, it had been suggested to me that I try yoga and at first, like most men, I feared the stigma of showing up to a mostly female yoga class. I now look back laughingly at the fear I had considering where I am now. I have thoroughly enjoyed the benefits of yoga whether it is the clear head and calmness I feel in all aspects of my life or the amazing results that I have seen with my body. I am very happy that I overcame the fear of judgment because it has changed my life.
What made you decide to change the way you eat?
Being a filmmaker means lots of sitting on sets with endless food options or sitting at a computer and editing for hours. The result of not taking time for myself or eating right, I gained a great deal of weight. Eventually, I had to put myself first and take the time to eat right and exercise.
After a number of years and losing a great deal of weight, I had become bored with my routine eating. I was eating lunch with a friend, who had already been living a plant-based diet for a year, and I decided to temporarily eat a plant-based diet for a couple of weeks. It began as a challenge to myself and have a change in my eating but within the first week, I saw and felt a great deal of benefits to the new diet and three years later I have continued to learn the health, environmental and animal rights reasons for maintaining this lifestyle and could never go back.
How has your life changed since implementing these changes?
Since I began living a plant-based active lifestyle, my entire life has changed. Living a plant-based lifestyle takes a great deal of effort and sacrifice. To stand up for what you believe in and putting yourself before all else can also cause issues with those around you. Making a big change does affect others who have only known you as your previous self. When you can no longer do things that you used to do, or begin choosing to put your health and self-care first, it can be upsetting or confusing for others. As many challenges and hardships I have faced in my transformation, I can not say that I regret what I have done because I know I am happy with the person I have become and I am hopeful for what my future will hold.
Do you think self-care means something different for men and women?
I believe that self-care is universal for all genders because it is simply focusing on yourself and your own needs and making time for yourself. This can vary from person to person. Many people may find going to the gym to be an annoyance and not find the therapeutic results that I may feel. On that same note, I may not find going to get a massage or sitting by a pool reading a book to be relaxing. Everyone needs to listen to their heart as to what they enjoy and make the time to do it, whatever it is.
What advice would you give to other men who are hesitant or shy to take up activities like yoga because it is perceived as a “feminine” activity?
I wish that I had some sage advice for those men who could benefit from yoga but are too afraid of the stigma of it being a “feminine” activity, since I was once one of them. Sadly, the majority of times when men see a man in a yoga class, they assume that he is there just as an excuse to look at women, as if that could be the only reason why a man would go to a yoga class. The stereotype is evident, even when I go to a local yoga clothing store and am approached by the staff (male and females) with the assumption that I have never heard of their clothing and am likely not someone who needs “yoga clothes.”
Even though yoga has been long considered “easy” and just filled with stretching and bending, these people are likely unaware of a large part of yoga which contains arm balances and inversion poses that take a great deal of strength and balance to accomplish. Even though I was once shy and reserved about being in a yoga class, I now enjoy breaking the stereotypes of male yogis. I believe that many men mock yoga because they know that they would be unable to do many things that they see and, as a defense mechanism, they mock and belittle others who do it to make themselves feel better.
Something that is important in all aspects of life is having the willpower to stand up for what you believe in and ignore those who may be jealous of your abilities or skills. Know that you are doing something to better yourself and that’s all that matters.
How do you use self-care to find and establish a work/life balance?
I must force myself to do what will help me physically and mentally. Sometimes it means rescheduling work or time with friends in order to be sure that I get my “me” time in every day. Of course, like many, I would love to stay home and relax on a weekend; but I have to remind myself that while going to a yoga class or the gym may be a bit of a pain, once I am there (and especially when I finish), I will, and do, always feel better. This is important for any activity that brings you balance or joy.
What are your tips for “grounding” yourself or “centering” yourself?
I find it very difficult to turn off my brain because I am constantly thinking about things that are going on in my life. The meditative parts of Yoga allow me to somewhat clear my mind by focusing on my breathing. Even if I am unable to completely clear my mind that day, I am able to think about a single issue much more clearly and remove all of the other “chatter." With a bit of practice, I have been able to meditate and think on a subconscious level. Sometimes, emotions will come out for seemingly no reason, but you have to let it out so you can move on.
What are your best self-care tips for anyone looking to practice self-care?
The most difficult thing about self-care is to find what it is that can provide you with that clarity or time to yourself. I find that people may pick things that are told to them and not really enjoy or continue with it. For example, someone may prescribe doing yoga for physical and mental health needs, but that type of activity does not give you enjoyment or all of your friends go to a Pilates class; this doesn’t mean that you have to do these things, too. I suggest trying things and seeing what works best for you. Find something that brings you enjoyment and peace of mind.
How does a healthy lifestyle help the mind?
I believe strongly in holistic living and that each part of our body and life are not in isolation. If one element of your life is off, it can cause imbalances in other things. If you are not fueling your body properly by missing meals or eating sugar-filled junk food, it is known that these issues can cause issues in your mood and overall happiness. If you are neglecting your mental wellbeing, it can sometimes cause physical issues in your body. On the other hand, if you know that you took an hour that day to focus on yourself and go for a walk or do some yoga, this may make you feel better for the rest of the day.
I find that the more elements of my life that are in balance — mind, body and spirit — the better I may feel.
I want to thank Mike for his time and insight on behalf of International Bipolar Foundation and for sharing his amazing photos. I hope that the readers of this post are helped by this information!
About Mike Bernofsky:
Mike Bernofsky is the owner of a media production company in Toronto, Canada. Mike has made drastic changes in the last few years in order to live a more wholistic life and focus on self-care. Teaching others from his experiences and knowledge has become a passion for him.