Leah Santa Cruz’s Self-Care Routine: “I am committed to showing up as the best version of myself.”

Leah Santa Cruz is an expert meditation coach with a background in neuroscience and psychology. She’s the Co-Head of Meditation for the award-winning Balance app and the co-host of the Well Balanced podcast.

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What does self-care mean to you? 

To me, self-care is not limited to simply pampering or resting. It’s actually a lifestyle choice that informs how I expand my energy in every moment of my day. I draw inspiration from Abraham Maslow’s theory of human needs, which includes categories like physiological, safety, belongingness and love, esteem and significance, and self-actualization. By paying attention to these different areas of my life, I get to experience my full potential and express my creativity.

For example, I make sure to eat healthy and get enough quality sleep for my physiological needs. For safety, I show up as accountable and responsible towards my work, finances, and investments.

For belongingness and love, I create daily check-ins with my spouse and quality time with my son, and schedule a weekly date night with my husband and two fun weekly meetups with friends.

For esteem and significance, I focus on my life’s purpose of teaching meditation, and I contribute to charities that support children, animals, and the environment. And for self-actualization, I regularly practise meditation and yoga, do creative hobbies like writing, art, and ceramics, and participate in philosophical discussions within a mastermind group for change makers.

Ultimately, self-care is about so much more than just taking time for myself. It’s about creating a holistic lifestyle where I prioritise my own needs and desires, while also making a difference in the world around me.

How do you know when you’re feeling stressed or burnt out?

As a meditation teacher, I prioritise a healthy and happy life, but I still experience stress from time to time. I believe that anyone living and engaging in the world today can’t help but experience stress. It’s a normal reaction to the personal, social, and environmental crises’ we’re encountering. As philosopher J Krishnamurti once said, “It’s no measure of great health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

So, I’ve developed a keen awareness of the early warning signals of stress. For me, they may appear as a tightness in my chest, racing thoughts, forgetfulness, misplacing things, irritability, impatience with others, fatigue, headaches in my temples or behind my eyes, shortness of breath, or worrisome thoughts about the future. Sometimes, I may forget to eat or drink enough water, and my yoga and meditation practice may become restless experiences.

Recognizing these signs, I know I need to quickly shift into my nervous system’s relaxation response. Thankfully, I have a range of tools to help me accomplish this. Including calming breathing techniques, yoga and meditation, stepping away from the source of my stress response and taking a walk in nature, conversing with a supportive friend, and reminding myself that at this moment, my self-care is my priority. Asking, “what is it I need right now to thrive?”

Do you have a regular self-care routine? If so, what does it look like?

My routine may change from day to day, depending on my greatest needs and desires that day. I like to think that the same part of ourselves that knows what we want to wear, what music we’re in the mood to listen to, or what food we desire to eat, is the same discerning part of me that can curate my self-care routine for the day according to the greatest needs. 

Some things I regularly do is meditate for 20 mins in the morning and evenings with the Balance app, spend quality time with my family, practice gratitude, drink lots of coconut water and eat lots of fruit, exercise for an hour a day, limit my alcohol, gluten and sugar, limit my screen time (to 20 min of social media a day), turn off my notifications, go for sunset walks with my family and fall sleep by 9pm. 

What bumps you off your self-care routine and how do you get back on course?

When I’m travelling with my family, it’s harder to stick to a routine and I often end up skipping my exercise session unintentionally. It can feel hard to fit it in when we’re busy on the road.

Knowing this about myself, I’ve learned to be more purposeful and plan my days in advance while travelling. This means scheduling exercise time either during my son’s nap, finding a babysitter, or asking my husband to spend time with our son so that I can break away for yoga and meditation.

Over the years, I’ve learned that life can be unpredictable, and unexpected challenges will arise where some of my self care practices will fall through the cracks. And in those moments, I need to show myself grace. I’ve found that criticising or shaming myself for falling off course, isn’t productive or helpful. Instead, showing myself a little compassion can go a long way in helping me get back on track with the healthy habits that help me thrive.

Where do you go for inspiration, ideas or tools for self-care?

I believe it not only takes a village to raise a child, but also a village to support an adult to live a healthy, happy life. I feel incredibly grateful for the inspiring teachers and mentors in my life who have helped shape my self-care journey. Lorin Roche Ph.D and Camille Maurine’s teachings on meditation have been particularly life-affirming and transformative, while Mark Whitwell’s approach to yoga has helped me connect more deeply with my body and breath. 

When it comes to challenging my limiting beliefs and engaging in philosophical conversations, I turn to my wise and supportive coach Saqib Rasool. And to improve my relationships with loved ones, I always look forward to tuning into Esther Perel’s insightful tips.

But above all, I have immense admiration and respect for my husband, Paul Teodo. As an incredible yoga teacher and embodiment of self-care, he not only serves as my biggest supporter but also helps me identify my blind spots and prioritise my well-being during life’s busy moments.

What do you think you need to improve in terms of your self-care practice?

My current focus is on enhancing my family’s well-being by being more mindful of our screen time. With my young son in mind, I am acutely aware of how excessive screen time becomes addictive and negatively impacts our mental health.

In my quest to reduce our digital dependency, I’ve come to realise that it’s more than just tweaking notifications or imposing time limits on apps. It involves me consciously setting aside dedicated periods for self-care and setting boundaries around the hours I spend working on my computer.

Admittedly, sticking to this schedule can be a challenge at times, but I am committed to showing up as the best version of myself and setting an example for my son. In fact, the very action of putting away the screens, deepens my sense of purpose and leads me to a greater sense of self-actualization.

Before you go…

Self-Care is a content series exploring the different self-care routines and habits of people from all walks of life. Get in touch with us today if you’d like to talk about your self-care routine.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.