Recently, I had someone ask me if yoga was a selfish practice.
He was honestly inquiring and not, he assured me, in a “body-builder/dieting media-worthy body” sort of selfishness.
I thought about this for a moment and decided that, yes. Absolutely—yoga is a selfish practice.
But it’s a selfish practice in this way: if on a plummeting airplane, you would fix your own oxygen mask before helping someone nearby. It’s a selfish practice because whether you acknowledge it or not, you are a self and no matter how hard you try or how many moments of mindfulness you manage, you are still tethered to this self, this body, in this life.
And that’s a beautiful thing, I think. We are here to learn how to be with our bodies—how to be at peace, in love (or even “in like”), with them. We navigate the world in them; we abuse, celebrate, decorate, decimate, share, flaunt, and hide them. We can sit quietly in them, be in the moment, manage to ignore/forget/purposely overlook them, but the body is where we live, and there’s not much we can do about that.
I think yoga is helping to redefine the idea of selfishness. Where selfishness used to be an outlet for self-delusion or a lack of self-confidence, we can now redefine it to mean a (healthy) honoring of the self, a balance between mind, body, and spirit. Yoga leads us to that definition. Maybe we need a new vocabulary here. Maybe there’s already a word for this confidence, comfort, and deep, abiding love of the body. Let’s find it and claim it.
We’ll know when we’ve achieved this sort of yogic ideal of body-love when we find it extends to celebrating other bodies, all bodies. The beautiful phenomenon of self-portraiture in yoga demonstrates this love of the body. Let’s be clear here—this is not a worship of the body.
If you’ve spent any time with the extended and dynamic Instagram yoga family, then you know this to be true.
What I witness on Instagram is an incredible sense of inclusion and celebration—everyone celebrates everyone else. Of course there’s pettiness—that’s inevitable—but that’s not where I’m putting my energy or my focus. Instead, the focus is on the body, yes, but the body in motion, the body in practice. Yoga has led us here, to this open-mindedness, this lack of judgment, and this pure joy in having a body in the first place. Through the body we express grief, delight, gratitude, milestones, and setbacks.
Should we be attempting an existence outside the body? Above it? Not so attached to it? I don’t know. I don’t have that answer. Certainly, if that’s the case, it’s not easy (nor is loving this vehicle we’re moving around in, either—look at the fashion/cosmetic industry as proof of this). Maybe that’s the next evolutionary step. Who knows?
Regardless—it remains that the only way out is through (to paraphrase Robert Frost). To reach that bliss above the mind, above the ego, we cannot circumvent the body. We are elements of the earth; we are subject to decay, to age, to death. We can’t ignore that. Instead, we celebrate whatever we have, whenever we can. Yoga helps move us along that path.
So, is yoga selfish? Yes. Yes it is. And thank whatever spirit you choose, however you name it, for that.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise