Can a Skin Care Routine Count as a Mindfulness Practice?
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Can a Skin Care Routine Count as a Mindfulness Practice?

Jul 29, 2023

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Every morning and every evening, I engage in a self-care ritual. It doesn’t matter if I’m sick or tired. It doesn’t change if I sleep in or it’s late at night or my kids need me. I always bookend my day by taking the time to mindfully wash my face.

On the surface, this may seem like ordinary hygiene. But I’ve become so intentional with the practice that, for me, it’s risen to the level of meditation.

In my 20s and early 30s, I didn’t put a lot of thought into my skin care routine. I’d use different brands, maybe try the occasional mask. But washing my face always felt like something I had to do. That meant I had zero qualms about skipping it or skimping on steps when I got home late or needed to get out the door quickly in the morning.

My asana practice took priority above everything else in my life back then. It was my anchor in a world that felt chaotic. It held me when my mom died. It celebrated with me when I got married. It came along with me when I traveled the world to teach yoga.

After my first son was born, I found myself exhausted, overwhelmed, and struggling to stay committed to my meditation and movement practices. Even simple tasks felt mammoth. I could hardly get out the door for a baby and me class, let alone for a yoga class.

Yet I still craved the dedication and ritual of having a daily yoga practice. I needed to find another way to get that fix.

After I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, I sought help and my overwhelm as a new mom lessened. I could see tiny spaces throughout my day where I could be alone and quiet. My face washing slowly shifted from guiltily rushing through a quick splash of water to a longer and more intentional practice.

It’s been 15 months since I made face washing a ritual. After my second son was born. I wanted to show up in the world fresh every day. Washing my face and getting dressed represented this new beginning.

My entire routine, from the first drop of cleanser through the swiping of serums to the massaging of moisturizer, can take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, depending on how many steps I include that day.

I begin by washing my face with a rich oil-based cleanser. I take care to massage it horizontally across my forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin. I then do a circular temple massage and end with a light tug on my earlobes. I rinse the oil off my face with a hot face cloth, pausing to breathe into the steam of the cloth before swiping off the cleanser, methodically and symmetrically, in downward strokes from the center of my face to the sides. Once a week I give myself a turmeric exfoliating mask, rubbing the tiny beads gently in little circles across my skin.

Next, I use toner, which I splash onto a reusable makeup pad that’s soft as velour and I swipe it from midline to ears. From here, the routine varies depending on the time of day or day of the week, but I usually put on a serum or retinol cream, swiping upward from my chest to my throat and along my cheeks up to my scalp. Then I take my eye cream and circle the puffy bags and dark circles that seem to have taken up permanent residence on my face since having children.

Finally, I put on moisturizer. In the mornings, I mix sunscreen into my moisturizer in the palm of my hand, observing the alchemy of the different substances as they blend together in swirls. In the evenings, I use a heavy cream, which feels akin to putting on a warm sweatshirt or socks before slipping into bed.

I’m not entirely certain whether there are any outward change in my complexion, but dedicating myself to the practice has created an inward evolution that is worth far more than any fine line I might have erased.

My routine began with adding one product here and another one there. But what makes it a “ritual” has less to do with the steps I take and everything to do with how I approach and appreciate it.

It helps me feel more grounded and present. This makes sense considering that a recent study found ritual behavior is linked to anxiety reduction. As the study explains, anxiety is our body’s response to our perception of a future threat. Rituals are tools for cultivating presence. They ground us in the moment.

Rituals also give us a semblance of control and agency. I often wonder if part of what contributed to my postpartum anxiety was the absence of some steadying presence in my life since I wasn’t getting to my mat and had yet to start my formal skin care practice.

My skin care ritual has become an act of making myself a priority. As a yoga teacher and caretaker of two small children, I often put everyone else’s needs first. Washing my face is a moment in my day when I prioritize myself.

According to my research and my experience, there are three factors that shift an everyday action (done on autopilot!) into an essential ritual.

You don’t need to engage in a 10-step process for your skin care regimen to qualify as a ritual. In fact, you’re more likely to engage in a ritual when you rely on simple actions, according to researchers at the Health Behaviour Research Centre at University College London.

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, focuses his work on helping people form beneficial practices. He speaks about the “scientific argument for mastering one thing.” I understand this to mean even a single step—splashing water on my face—can count.

In a 2017 study, researchers exploring the psychology of rituals observed that subjects consistently performed the actions in the same exact order, without fail. The researchers hypothesized that the order of steps separates ritual from routine.

When you continue to engage in a behavior on a regular basis even when there is no outward result from the action, it has likely already become a ritual. According to a 2019 article in the Journal of Cognition and Culture, action becomes ritual when you show up to the experience with no attachment to the outcome.

Of course, non-attachment is a basic principle of yoga, too. And it brings us back to the component of ritual that relates to how we approach it. Even when it’s as mundane as personal hygiene. It’s all about the intention.

RELATED: Is Your Routine Actually Keeping You Stuck in a Rut?

About Our Contributor

Sarah Ezrin is a mama, a world-renowned yoga educator, a popular Instagram influencer, and the author of The Yoga of Parenting. Her willingness to be unabashedly honest and vulnerable along with her innate wisdom make her writing, yoga classes, and social media great sources of healing and inner peace for many people. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sarah is changing the world, teaching self-love one person at a time. You can follow her on Instagram at @sarahezrinyoga and TikTok at @sarahezrin.

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