Monday, October 7, 2013

Yoga is Self Serving

I am a practicing Yogi(ni) and a parent.  I very often hear other parents and other Yogis talk about selfishness and not wanting to be or appear "selfish." For example, a working mother I know who loves to practice yoga recently joked with a group of friends about having gone back to work, "It's been a hard year. I guess I could lie around and do yoga instead." I have heard other people say that they just can't make time to meditate, do yoga, or any other type of exercise or self-care because their jobs and families are just too important.  There is a suggestion that once we grow up and live in the real world, we must dispense with such selfishness. That is one of many viewpoints we can choose to adopt, or not. I would like to share an alternative perspective.

Yoga, meditation, time in stillness, time to simply be, and go with the flow... these things are not selfish in the sense of lacking consideration for others. On the contrary, when we center ourselves, when we make time to become grounded, to connect to the Self at our core, to attain unity and wholeness within ourselves, this has a positive impact on everyone around us, even those beyond our immediate reach. The Sanskrit word "Yoga" means "union," and the root of this word, yuj, is literally, "yoke." As human beings, we are collectively yoked in this life. Everything that happens in our sphere of existence, everything each of us thinks and does, has a far-reaching impact, whether we are aware of it or not. We sometimes get glimpses into our interconnectedness and shared consciousness. Some people are very attuned to others' feelings, even when they are far away, like a mother who knows that her child is sick or frightened though they are miles apart, or twins who always know when to call one another if something is wrong. If you are familiar with the movie Star Wars, then you may remember this quote from Obi-Wan Kenobi: "I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened." The Star Wars films allude to a shared energy that unites everyone and can be properly harnessed with the right training. Like the Jedi, we can do practices to refine our own energy, empowering ourselves to fight the good fight. Training takes time, but training is never selfish.

Our own energy is affected by the energy of the people around us, and vice versa. We are inextricably woven into a World Wide Web of Consciousness. There is some level of scientific evidence affirming this, resulting in the "unified field theory" in Physics. Some people believe in the power of collective prayer, and even more believe in the power of collective action to bring about change in the world. We should first understand that change begins within the individual. Through practicing yoga and meditation we can transcend the isolated self and deeply connect to life and to others; this is a real connection, not a text message or Instagram or Facebook kind of connection, but a connection that impacts the whole of our being, individually and collectively.

We are each part of a greater whole--our altruistic, empathetic nature wants to reach out and serve the collective. We don't want to be selfish. But we must realize that our individual consciousness is tied into a greater, collective consciousness. When we connect to the purest part of ourselves, when we access the peace and equanimity deep within us, that action has a limitless ripple effect. It is not only in doing for others that we help others. We help others by our being, as well.  Improving the quality of our presence and consciousness helps us, and in turn has an inevitable impact on others. To be or to do? That is the question: the answer is, both, yet emphasize quality over quantity. When the quality of our being improves, the quality of our doing follows, and we can do greater things for others.

As parents, this translates as centering ourselves and practicing mindfulness in our parenting, being truly present with our children in this age of unlimited distractions.

As yogis, this translates as an effort to be present and connected in our practice. In our time on our mats today, we can focus our attention to cultivate union, connection and wholeness with each breath, with each asana, and in the flow from one asana to the next. As we leave class or end our practice, we take that deeper, connected quality of being off the mat and back into our homes, our work, our relationships. This does serve the self, but in so doing, it serves the whole world.

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