Empowered Self with Mandy Ryle

The Pillars of Self Care

The Pillars of Self Care

The Pillars of Self Care

Years ago, when my two children were young, I started a business. I took out a commercial lease, and purchased a pricy LED sign that said Sound Method Yoga. My little Yoga studio was already 2 years old at that point after having rented space in a community center for a couple of years. It was the most stressful time of my life. I just knew I was letting my kids down when I was at work and screwing up at work when I was at home.

It was about this time that I started hearing the term “self care”. The proponents of self care made it clear that it was non-negotiable, something you really should be engaging in. And it really pissed me off. It felt like one more thing that I was terrible at. I wanted nothing to do with it and yes, I was a dedicated Yoga practitioner at that time.

Over the years my business has changed quite a bit. I now work mostly as an evidence informed wellness/fitness coach for people who are challenged by persistent pain. My clients are generally people who have also abdicated their responsibility to “self care”. My efforts to understand and guide these clients has led me to study not just nutrition, movement and pain science. But also the science of human evolution and an unfortunate predicament known as Evolutionary Mismatch, a biological concept that suggests that traits that were once beneficial to animals or humans may become maladaptive due to environmental changes.

Humans now exist in an environment that we are not adapted for. The conditions that shaped our species over milenia are no longer present. The diseases that now plague humans, especially those who live in the West, were uncommon or non-existent for our ancient ancestors. Cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, etc… are a result of a total shift in lifestyle of evolutionary mismatch. Our bodies have simply not had time to adapt to modern conditions and this causes us to suffer immensely.

When we understand this, self care is transformed, from something that we “should” do, into something that is required to an environment that is hostile to our biology. I now understand that self care is a radical and necessary choice to overcome this hostility. The list of evolutionary mismatches is a mile long. So my self care framework is built on the mismatches that we can address through lifestyle changes. The pillars of self care are; Mindfulness and Self Compassion, Connection, Challenge and Nourishment.

Mindfulness and Self Compassion

It’s a fact that you exist within a swirling nexus of events and circumstances that you have no control over. You were formed millennia ago and have been shaped by the lives of hundreds of generations before you. Acknowledging this may help you to find a bit of compassion for yourself and others. Millenia ago human lives were organized around family and community. “Work” was in harmony with nature and connected people to the resources from their environment that were free and abundant. Life could be stressful, but stress was acute and resolved quickly. Women who were raising children had the support of other women and the vast wisdom of older family members. Today we toggle between home and family, never feeling like we can be truly present with either. Our stress is often acute and always chronic. The stressors we encounter cannot be resolved. We’re struggling to find balance that can never truly exist. It’s no wonder that we are stressed, anxious, burned out. This is an evolutionary mismatch. Though we cannot shape this new society to better fit our biology, we can practice compassion. To understand that these conditions cause suffering, that you are not alone, that you are well equipped to provide yourself with care and compassion is the foundation of self care.


When you consider the arc of Darwinian evolution, it seems unlikely that humans could become the dominant species on the planet. We don’t have sharp teeth or claws. Our skin is shockingly vulnerable compared to scales or hides. We are quite slow, and comparatively weak. So how did we get to the top of the food chain? We can connect. We can cooperate. We form bonds of love or security or convenience which make us formidable. To our ancestors, social isolation was dangerous. They would do nearly anything to stay connected to their group because to be on your own meant death. So our biology evolved to react strongly to even the hint of rejection or isolation. Strong, supportive connections today are associated with positive health outcomes across the board; reduced cancer risk, reduced cardiovascular disease, reduced risk of developing a chronic pain issue etc… In other words, isolation is toxic to us. Today we are more isolated than ever. True connection is a major challenge in a post covid, social media driven society. When most of us think of self care, we think of something we do on our own. But making time to connect with supportive peers and family members is a form of self care.

The Pillars of Self Care


To nourish is to provide your body with what it needs. To take in health promoting sustenance. On a recent retreat, my group visited a bio organic farm in the highlands of the Dominican Republic. We were completely blown away by the diversity of the farm. The incredible intelligence of nature, and the commitment to sustainability of our hosts, Paolo and Nora. All we have comes from the Earth and they were certainly a shining example of this. For much of human history, calorie dense foods were rare. So humans evolved to crave these foods to promote survival. Even today our nature compels us to binge on high fat, high sugar, energy dense foods. Unfortunately our bodies have not evolved to tolerate the calorie surplus that assaults us every day. So we are stuck in a cycle of excess and deprivation. Commercial food producers have masterfully manipulated our biology in packing food with empty calories, making their products highly palatable and advertising them mercilessly. To overcome your nature to find true nourishment daily is a fierce form of self care. For many it requires a seismic shift in lifestyle. My clients benefit from compassionate guidance and gentle accountability to find sustainable nourishment to support robust health. But food is more than calories, it’s energy, it’s connection, it’s community, it’s culture, it’s joy. Nourishing yourself is not about deprivation. It’s about feeding your body what it needs to thrive.

The Pillars of Self Care


For all but a tiny fraction of human history, homo sapiens had to move. A lot. On my Dominican Republic retreat, we were always on the move. Hiking, biking, swimming, Yoga, etc… As we all return to our daily lives, we find that instead of spending time outdoors, moving our bodies. We sit. Our modern lives discourage movement. Many of us are required to sit to make a living!

Humans are brilliant at finding ways to increase efficiency and therefore reduce energy expenditure. This trait promoted survival for most of our history, but now promotes disease and infirmity. To challenge yourself daily may not feel like the self care of the media which characterizes self care as passive, like a massage, or relaxation like a bubble bath. But this model of self care is different. It’s aim is to return you to the innate intelligence of millenia. To challenge yourself is indeed a challenge because most of us have lives that will currently not support time taken for movement. This will require a re-prioritizing and an acknowledgement that you are the sole guardian of your body and your health. Even though it is in your employers best interest for you to spend 8+ hours a day sitting, it is to your detriment. Finding ways to not only move, but to challenge yourself is a powerful declaration of your independence and your commitment to your incredible, resilient body.

Fierce self care is how I think of this model. In working with my clients I can tell you that it takes effort, but that the outcome is extraordinary. While we can never truly correct evolutionary mismatch, we can mitigate it’s harmful effect. You do not need to tackle every pillar. If you can schedule time with friends in the next couple of months, or schedule a daily walk in nature you will be making important changes. Please remember that the foundation is always compassion, not recrimination. You did not choose to live in a society so ill suited to your health. But you are the only person that can provide balance.

If you need help, let’s chat. Set up a free 25 minute strategy call. I’ll help you chart a path forward that will fit into your life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *