Yoga: A Selfish Practice.

Via Amy Jirsa
on Nov 1, 2013
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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


About Amy Jirsa

Amy Jirsa is a writer, wanderer, yoga instructor and master herbalist. She makes her home at her studio, Quiet Earth Yoga, in Lincoln, Nebraska and on her blog. And if that’s not enough, you can also find her at Twitter @QuietEarthYoga or on Facebook (Quiet Earth Yoga). She'll be releasing a book on yoga and natural health, to be released in 2015. Stay tuned!


3 Responses to “Yoga: A Selfish Practice.”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Amy thanks!!!! Thanks!!! & thanks!!!
    Sometimes i ‘ve had similar thoughts about the great selfiness & Gratitude I feel when I do my practice(and I recognize I just a newborn 46 years old soman) , but its very nice to read your thougts about it… Love!!!!

  2. Joe says:

    Very nice. I particularly like the oxygen mask analogy. It took me a long time to come to grips with the “selfish” aspect of my practice. As a Christian, my focus was continuously directed to “love thy neighbor” while “as thyself” was just an afterthought. Over time, I came to understand that it is practically impossible to love others, at least in the purest sense, if we do not love ourselves; that the second part of the Golden Rule isn’t just superfilous prose. To be a physical, emotional, and spiritual support to others, we must be healthy in each of those parts of our lives. At least, that is my truth. Thanks for sharing yours!

  3. Mike says:

    I though about this recently and fiound his pos via google.

    For me, one must take care of oneself, explore, love etc, and this is an end in itself. However, it is also a means to an end – one cannot be present or truly give to another, do good in the world, engage in social work/whatver practice, without having awareness of self and environment. Where that other directedness doesn't occur is where people can think of others as selfish – I agree that the other and self directedness balance can seem to skew too far to self directness with some people or at sometimes – and with these people or times, 'selfish' could ba a useful descriptor.There's a lot of porblems in the world, and one person can't solve' But one person can be part of something bigger – social change, ppoliicla ecnoomic change, traanscending class boundaries… Not uncritically accepting the satus quo, becoming adapted to it.. The normal isn't the ideal… In the current world, it seems often far from it…

    Generalisation coming, yes, but… People with access to resources and ability to practise yoga have responsbility to also be other directed, to use 'privelige'/resources for good… To be self and other dirceted – they cna converge and be one and the same in some sense anyway… Dichomies in langauge are like that… Impure ways of describing things, but some of teh best we have…


    That is part of my personal values/philsopophy etc…