Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.
— Audre Lorde, A Burst of Light: And Other Essays, 1988
Place one hand on your tender heart. Take an expansive breath, and notice how this invites you to take up more space.
It doesn’t matter if your bathroom is not perfectly clean. What matters is that you are here, in this body, tending to it in a small yet meaningful way. Your body is a sacred wonder, deserving of your respect. It is part of my job to remind you of this.
Begin! Time to wash your beautiful face, the one your ancestors adore. Cleansing the skin with oil is always a good idea. Sebaceous glands and sweat glands produce oil and water, respectively, which work with the acid mantle of the skin to offer protection to this most vulnerable organ. By washing our face with oil, we are giving our skin something we know it likes. It might seem counterintuitive, but oil gets the skin exceptionally clean, and is especially good for conditions like acne in which the skin is overproducing oil. You might consider olive or avocado oil from your kitchen. Or jojoba is a marvelous, affordable choice. If you use oil, you will want to massage it into dry skin with dry, clean hands. This is not a time for perfunctory rushing. This is your body we are talking about. The mind works fast, the body needs time.
Touching the skin with intention encourages the release of oxytocin—a hormone response that produces a feeling of connection and joy in the body. So it is important that we touch our face with gentle deliberation. How would you touch the face of your lover, a baby? Like so.
Allow your hands to breathe during your ablution. Use your palms, not just your fingertips. Soften your precious hands as you take a few minutes to slowly massage your face and neck. The idea here is to connect with the fascia and musculature of the face, with gliding, elegant movements upward. Don’t push too hard, but don’t be tentative—these muscles want a little workout. It will help to relax the mask of the face. Magazines may tell you never to stroke downward, as though you might massage your face into a craggy fallen soufflé. Nonsense. Rather, begin by massaging upward, then end your massage with feather-light strokes downward, saying hello to the lymph that lies just below the surface of the skin. The often overlooked and underappreciated lymphatic system works valiantly to strengthen our immune systems and clear waste. It’s made up of tissues, glands, organs, and an intricate network of stalwart lymph vessels, which wind like rivers toward the ocean of your heart. Lymph meanders. Maybe this is why it gets ignored so often. It needs a little help from us. It responds to gentle, soft strokes in this direction. When lymph is decongested, skin unfolds, glows—it’s really something.
Now you might cup your face with your palms, eyes closed. Breathing hands, softer even.
Now it is time to rinse the oil. Take a hot wet washcloth and press it into your skin, allowing the steam to draw out impurities from the pores. Don’t make it too hot, because this can be dehydrating—but doesn’t it feel good, the hot steamy washcloth? Press, don’t rub the washcloth into your skin. Follow with a cold rinse. You might get a little water on the floor. As long as you don’t slip on it, it doesn’t matter. This is a sacred ritual happening here. All water is holy water.
Now you have this clean skin. It is imperfect because you are not a newly born baby. But it is your skin. It has been with you for many years. It protects you, it enfolds you—it is perfect in that way.