• Param Barodia

Self-Care in the South Asian Community

The South Asian diaspora is not exactly known for its forward-thinking attitudes towards mental health, although this is slowly changing with new generations being more aware. However, much of the community still values work and success over any notions of well-being and self-care, and in doing so unknowingly leads itself down the road to burnout. But why is this, and what can we do to spread the importance of self-care within the community?

In a way, the South Asian diaspora community is not much different to any other immigrant community in its attitudes to work. The first generation has moved halfway across the world, sometimes with very little to their name, to work and live in a new country. To have the same success as their local colleagues, and often just to prove themselves as good workers, they have to work twice as hard as anyone else. In conditions like these, it becomes almost understandable that the first generation developed the values that they did.

Attitudes differ little from South Asia itself, where, especially in underprivileged families, pressure on children to work hard and lift the family out of poverty is immense. These attitudes are then passed on to the following generations, some of whom are now aware of the importance of a balance between work and life, as well as how key mental well-being is.

Self-care as a concept has deep roots in South Asia, with the region being the birthplace of yoga and having a long tradition of asceticism. Before the advent of colonialism, meditation was an important part of all days, giving people time to reflect and separate themselves from the world around them. This unfortunately changed with the arrival of empires and industries, where only production was valued by anyone with power. It would take until the late 1800s for people like Swami Vivekananda to begin re-spreading the word of meditation and yoga. This time, however, it was on a global scale. People across the world began to take on yoga and meditation as methods of self-care, with Vivekananda, Yogendra, and Bikram Choudhury touring the world to share their schools of yoga.

A more spiritual side to this existed too, with its most famous proponents being the Beatles who were well known for their interest in South Asian music, spirituality and even mysticism. George Harrison’s Hertfordshire manor continues to be a centre for worship and yoga even 20 years after his death.

How then, does the South Asian diaspora reconnect itself with its roots of self-care? At its most basic, this will come with awareness among the new generations. Each generation becomes more removed from the original attitudes and has the freedom to develop its own thoughts regarding the importance of self-care. Voices from South Asia and the diaspora also raise awareness through groups like NotYourWife, South Asian Therapists, and South Asian Wellbeing. Younger people are well aware now that self-care is not a luxury that only some can have, but something all should be doing to remain healthy. The first generation may take some time to be convinced of its importance, but with the general awareness in society as a whole, some are coming around to it. Others will have to experience it themselves to understand it, but each one will come to it in their own way. All we have to do is keep taking care of ourselves and building awareness of its importance through initiatives like the ones currently being run for the diaspora.