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It’s Love Yourself First! Friday: Today’s Phoenix is Santana

Santana_LYFF_Collage

How do you love yourself first? What does that mean to you?

Loving myself means making consistent intentional choices every day that place my well-being first. It’s a philosophical practice that manifests in almost every facet of daily life. For me, it’s been evolving as my life and my demands have transitioned from college student to working professional.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned regarding self-love is that I cannot and should not think of acts of self-love as an indulgence, but rather as necessary maintenance. I am at my best when I place my personal care first. This was a surprisingly difficult shift for me to make and maintain. It requires a lot of work, but it’s the best kind of work. I had to expand my definition of personal care to encompass a variety of activities that make me feel my best, and allow me to take time to focus on nurturing my mind, body, and soul.

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Santana and her dog, Cassie, after a hike.

What actions demonstrate the self-care you provide to your mind, body, and soul? (Exercise, healthy eating, spiritual practices, etc)

When I’m feeling down about myself, I find a quiet place and repeat (out loud!) the mantra “Although (insert reason I’m upset or anxious), I love and accept myself completely.” It’s a striking physical and emotional experience to say that out loud. I’ve learned to own and accept my reactions and feelings, while reinforcing my self-love. I’ve learned I must take ownership of how I feel about myself. I am the only person who validates me.

This year, the most important change in my self-care ritual has been taking care of my body. I spend much of my work week sitting at a desk. When I was in college I spent much more time being active and walking and so physical activity was much less of a concern. This year, I noticed that my mood was becoming more variable, and my daily anxiety level was growing, so I decided to start making efforts to temper that. To be my best self I must make an effort to show love to my body by using it and learning about all the wonderful things it can do.

Yoga has been a transformative and complete self-love activity. Two to three times a week I spend an hour or so focusing on my body, my breath, and my soul. I love that yoga is non-competitive and that I have so much freedom in practicing it. Yoga can be modified to any skill or mobility level and the goals are personal. So often, we’re critical of our bodies and yoga is my favorite way to temper that negativity. Every movement is intentional and self-loving. I’ve gained so much confidence in myself through it—not because I’m particularly good at it, but because I’ve learned to be okay with not being successful at some poses. I can be a perfectionist, and yoga is a time for me to fail, and come out on the other side feeling proud of myself for just trying my best. In my last class, I fell over at least three times! I didn’t feel judged by anyone else there though, and I didn’t judge myself either—actually I found my failures kind of endearing! Philosophically, yoga has taught me about the importance of effort and surrender—I can place my full effort into anything, and because of that, I can feel okay about surrendering the results to the forces that be. This thinking is very helpful for my inner perfectionist and “control freak.”

Hiking is another way that I can work my body in a non-competitive and fulfilling way. I live in a rural area, and there are plenty of trails that match my comfort and skill level (which is fairly low). I can set my own pace when hiking, which I love. I bring my dog, Cassie, and we can bond through the activity. My favorite part is reaching the top and feeling like I’ve succeeded. Through setting physical goals for myself and then reaching them, I gain confidence and love myself.

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Bell peppers – Santana’s garden

The act of cooking is another way I nourish myself completely. I live in a different state than my family, so one way I can feel close to them is through cooking recipes that my mother and grandmother have taught me. If I’m feeling homesick, making a favorite meal is a way to temper that. These recipes are a gift that they’ve given me and that I can share with people close to me. I’ve taken more initiative with my diet by adopting recipes that are not only tasty, but healthy too. When I sauté kale, garlic, and beets, I know that I’m providing my body with strength, nutrients, and something yummy, that’s empowering!

Eating healthy is doubly exciting when I cook the vegetables I grow in my own garden. How fulfilling to till, plant, cultivate, and harvest your own produce! I maintain my connection to the Earth and nature and I remind myself of the sanctity of food. I feel like a shepherd to my garden and my vegetables. After spending all day inside an office during the work week, I love to kick off my shoes and walk barefoot in the soil while tending to my plants.

One of my most important self-care actions I practice is allowing myself to be silly! I embrace having solo dance parties (in the printing room at work, in my car, or the kitchen while cooking dinner). If I catch myself being critical of my reflection in the mirror, I’ll start making silly faces at myself until I laugh. Part of growing up for me has been learning to take care of myself in an internal way and being silly is sometimes the best medicine.

Is there an obstacle or challenge that you’ve overcome that led you to a deeper love for who you are?

For a long time I wrestled with my racial identity. Largely because the way others viewed my racial identity varied so much depending on what part of the country or the world I was in. I’ve always dreaded the “what are you?” question because my answer is so complicated and normally the person asking isn’t looking for an answer that’s been 23 years in the making. Although it is still a work in progress, I’m learning to embrace the fluidity of my identity. Rather than thinking of myself as an outlier or outsider because of my varied experiences, I’ve learned to see it as a tool through which I can more easily connect with a wide range of people. Through changing my perspective, I’ve learned to see my experiences as empowering rather than exclusionary. I’ve learned that I don’t owe an explanation to anyone regarding myself, and the way that I navigate my identity can be personal, unique, and special. Developing and naming my own agency in potentially marginalizing encounters has been a huge step in my own self-care.

What have you learned from self-love?

Self-love spills over into all other aspects of our lives. When you’re at your best, you provide so much more positivity and light. In many ways self-love is the best act of kindness. I’ve learned that if I want to have meaningful and beneficial relationships, self-love needs to be my top priority. I think in many relationships, the idea that “I’ll take care of you and you’ll take care of me” is common and potentially detrimental. That mentality can lead to a lot of pressure, false expectations, and resentment. I’ve found that in reality, the better philosophy is “Because I love you, I’ll love, take responsibility for, and care of myself.” Self-love translates into healthier, more supportive partnerships. It’s the foundation to a beautiful life.

Santana’s LYFF Collage:

We asked Santana to also submit photos demonstrating self-love in action or even photos that radiate the feeling of loving who she is. We created a collage (shown above AND below, because they were too inspiring to just choose three or four) of the awesome images she wanted to share.

Santana selected these images because “these photos make me proud of myself. In these moments I was trying something new, enjoying outside, or being exuberant and joyful. These are moments where I felt truly alive and in the moment!”

santana_collage_2[the phoenix rising collective]

Thank you for sharing your self-love story, Santana. You are definitely a Phoenix rising!

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If you’d like to share your self-love story with The Collective contact us here.

Love Yourself First! Friday is a weekly self-love series created by The Phoenix Rising Collective. Beautiful, diverse women tell stories of triumph, share personal affirmations, and declare love for their lives! The series is meant to inspire and empower women to fiercely demonstrate self-love in action in order to build and sustain healthy, positive self-esteem.  Be sure to read some of our other inspiring stories.


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It’s Love Yourself First! Friday: Today’s Phoenix is Latisha

Latisha_LYFF_The Phoenix Rising Collective2[2014]

Love Yourself First! Friday (LYFF) is part of our Shed Light series collection. We invite women to tell their LYFF stories to inspire and empower others to also fiercely demonstrate self-love in action.  The questions are meant to  “shed light” on various ways our featured Phoenixes are making self-care and intentional living a priority. This week’s motivated and courageous Phoenix is Latisha:

How do you love yourself first? What does that mean to you?

I think the most important element to loving yourself first is having a deep understanding of who you are and the things that are most important to you, things that bring you happiness.  It takes time to unravel the real nature of yourself , since we learn and grow through trials and errors. For me, I am great friends with myself.  I love me.  I feel that I’m beautiful.  My beauty is enhanced by the love I have for life and helping others feel the same way.  I appreciate my uniqueness and know that no one else is like me.  I want to be the best I can be and improve each day.  I understand that I have greatness within and believe God made everyone special.  I embrace my love for life and am constantly working on the barriers that lie within; and as I do, it brings me closer to peace and love, and also understanding who I am. I know we can’t fully love anyone until we love ourselves.

What actions demonstrate the self-care you provide to your mind, body, and soul? (Exercise, healthy eating, spiritual practice, etc)

My spiritual well being is very important to me.  I love God, and I believe that with Him first in my life, all things are possible.  I include God in every decision and thought I make.  I keep prayer in everything I do.  Spiritually, I am connected with God and that keeps me at peace – even during tough times.

I love to read and have quiet time.  For example, I love reading biographies. True stories give me different perspectives on life and a larger lens to appreciate everyone’s struggle.

Exercise has always been a priority, too. I am up at 5am, in the comfort of my home, exercising every day.  It empowers me, and it keeps my mind and soul clear of clutter.  Exercise also gives me energy, keeps me healthy, and makes me appreciate the temple God has given us.  Clean and leaner eating is a must in my life.  I indulge in a few carbs every now and then for a treat, but I eat lots of vegetables, fruit, and protein to sustain my youthful and healthy lifestyle.  I’ve lost 20 pounds over the last year, and I feel great!

Lastly, I also love spending time with my family. We love to travel.  I am a beach bum and love being near the ocean. I think it’s the closest thing to heaven we will see while on earth.

Latisha_LYFF[the phoenix rising collective]Is there an obstacle or challenge that you’ve overcome that led you to a deeper love for who you are?

Yes, I am hearing impaired.  I was born in the 1960s with a progressive hearing loss that damaged my nerve cells.  My mom died when I was six weeks old, leaving my dad and grandmother to raise me, and they also had hearing impairments.  My impairment went undiagnosed until I was 19 years old.  I remember that as a young child I took speech classes and constantly took hearing tests. I was told to sit in front of the classroom, but I was never told that I needed a hearing aid or had hearing loss.  I always thought I heard well.  The blessing is that when I was born I heard the beginning of language, and that formed my communication.

I remember never being able to hear the words in a song or what was said on a TV show.  I also recall that in  5th grade my grades began to plummet, and that carried on until I graduated from high school.  I did graduate, but I missed out on so much in school. However, I always had this tireless drive to succeed.  I stayed in talent shows or on stage performing; again, never realizing that I wasn’t hearing so much, yet still beating the odds.

After moving from Ohio (where I’m from) and living with my older sister in New Jersey.  She immediately recognized that I couldn’t hear well.  She had me tested.  During that one visit, the specialist explained to me how my life was from newborn to 19 years old. I was flabbergasted.  My heart sunk to the bottom of my feet.  I cried and grieved.  At that point, I understood that I’d never really heard words, but had mastered reading lips.  I was proud that I did that, but my goals and desires for my life went in another direction.  I began the selective process of what I could or couldn’t do because of my hearing impairment.  I had to learn to accept and embrace my disability.  As time went on, I read more about my hearing loss and decided I wouldn’t allow it to stop me from the plans God has for me. After bypassing the insecurities about my hearing loss, I proudly wore my hearing aids and began the self-empowerment journey.

I always had a desire to continue my education.  I completed 33 credits in the classroom with help from some great and phenomenal friends.  They would take the same courses with me to write my notes.  I am indebted to them for life.  I had a few best friends who always made my phone calls for me and did anything to move the barrier that stopped me from effectively communicating.  I stopped going to school after my buddies couldn’t go any longer.  After a few years, I had the most beautiful son.  I knew then I had to do more and better. I took the chance and registered with the University of Maryland’s Online Distance Education.  Although online education had been around for a while, I was still skeptical and took a census for opinions about its effectiveness versus the classroom. There were some naysayers, but plenty of my friends and family supported me and said DO IT!  I did.  It was the greatest challenge that I appreciate to the fullest.

I started in 2003 and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business with a minor in International Law in August 2008. That was the liberating point where I knew I could keep going.  At the time, my job was restructuring and we had to attend a paralegal program and pass to keep our employment.  I passed with flying colors.  I received my paralegal certificate with honors in 2009.  Oh no, I didn’t stop there!  In 2010, I registered with Seton Hall University to receive my master’s degree in Strategic Communications. And guess what?  To its entirety the classes were mainly in the classroom.  I contacted Seton Hall’s Disability Support Services and was able to receive remote closed caption for each class.  Wow, was I so excited! The professors and my classmates were very helpful during the whole process.  I’m so thankful.  Today, after 24 years I’m still working at Seton Hall University.

I am also a travel agent for Paycation.  This is allowing me to build my network and reach higher goals. In addition, I would also like to teach.  I trust God knows my desires of the heart since “He plans to give us hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

I’m so thankful for my family and friends that have supported and helped me overcome many obstacles.

What have you learned from self-love?

Self-love is about treating myself with special care and loving who I am.  It’s not selfish. It’s what God intends for us to do. I can only love others completely when I love me first.  I can care for others when I care for me.  I do things that make me happy and keep me at peace, as self-acceptance is loving me.  With that I am able to do things more freely and without concern about how others perceive me.  No matter what I experience as good or bad, with self-love I will be provided a good, healthy balance of emotional well being.  With self-love I accept others, and I accept kindness without expectation of anything else.   Self-love means to care and accept myself with everything I got!

 

Thank you, Latisha! You are definitely a Phoenix rising! Happy Friday.

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If you’d like to share your self-love story with The Collective contact us here.

Love Yourself First! Friday is a weekly self-love series created by the Phoenix Rising Collective. Beautiful, diverse women tell their stories of triumph, share their personal affirmations, and declare their love for their own lives! The series is meant to inspire and empower women to fiercely demonstrate self-love in action in order to build and sustain healthy, positive self-esteem.  Be sure to read some of our other inspiring stories.