Yoga by Ceci, Dacia and Gina in Rogers Park, Chicago IL

Be Self-ish


Here they come: glittering, extraordinarily well-lit, rife with food-scented candles and relatives.

The Holidays.

Depending on your family traditions, The Holidays may be about giving to each other, giving to Those Less-Fortunate, or giving to Literally Everyone You See On a Daily Basis.  The tradition of gift-giving is, of course, lovely, old and distinguished, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that giving the perfect gift (or getting the perfect gift) feels like a tummy full of hot cocoa, but that is not my focus today. I am here to espouse the unpopular, Grinch-y quality of selfishness.   Selfishness is a favorite topic of mine because I love it’s super-American, capitalistic nature.  Ours is a country in which “looking out for number 1″ is paramount to success, greed is practically a value, and letting one’s self “go” is like committing a social sin.  However, selfishness has long been considered a negative attribute.  In a place where businessmen like Donald Trump are practically  deified and rich people are celebrated for their richness (ie: The Rich Housewives of Everywhere) to be considered “selfish” is actually a bad thing!

Today, this month, this Christmas/Hanukkah/Holiday season, I say LET’S GET SELFISH!!!

I know it’s not what you’re accustomed to seeing, this package wrapped in simple brown paper, stamped all over with the word SELFISH, I know a package wrapped in selfish paper doesn’t shimmer quite like the others, but let’s take the devil’s advocate position for a moment and unwrap it anyway.

What does it mean to be selfish?  Typically it means that you are thinking only of yourself, that your actions are not intended to bring about a greater good, or that you are not thinking of the feelings of others.  It could mean that you are taking more for yourself, taking more than “your share” or generally being miserly.

Now, let’s put the package on a yoga mat and see how it looks:

Here on the yoga mat, thinking only of yourself, you are transported from the world of others’ expectations.  Thinking of your own breathing, you begin to seek out your feeling body, the body that moves, senses and aches: in other words, your “self.”  You unhinge and remove the thick skin of the work-day, you loosen the armor around your “self” and begin to allow energy to move through your entire system.  As you become aware of your self you become sensitive to what that self needs, certain pleas rise up from the areas of your body that need the gifts of your practice.  Your shoulder asks for shrugs, your hips request a long stay in Pigeon pose, your neck begs for release.  The selfishness of the body is in its needs, and you have the power to meet them all!  The more attentive you are to your own processing, the better!  Get SELFISH with your yoga!  Once you’ve located yourself, ask what you need, it doesn’t really matter what your neighbor, your brother, your boyfriend, your cat or your parents need because here, on the mat, there is only you.  What can this yoga do for YOU?  What do YOU need?

In a yoga class, especially a Yoga Gratitude class with teachers who consistently remind you of your breath, the greater good is essentially a combined effort of everyone breathing together.  Though your attention should extend no further than the squishy rectangle you inhabit, your breath reaches out and contributes to the energy that radiates from your bodies.  If you don’t believe this, let me tell you something: I work all day on Mondays, with a baby–these are the most selfish beings you can imagine!–sometimes I come to class feeling like I have nothing to give.  That lasts for about 2 minutes, because the moment you all start breathing–when I start breathing to MAKE you breathe–I am fed by the energy that you give yourselves.  I leave class feeling like I could do all of Monday over again, and probably do it better!!  That’s greater good.

The wonderful thing about selfishness in yoga is this:  Though you may fuel only yourself, no one is depleted by your actions.  One person can’t have more than another in yoga, there isn’t a finite amount–there are no ceilings to hit, no fiscal cliffs to fall over, no caps or sanctions by which to abide.  You can have as much asana as you want and no one else will miss out!!  Likewise, breath isn’t a dish at a Thanksgiving buffet.  Your deepest quality of breathing depletes no one!  Take and take and take some more!!  Be SELFISH!  Actually, the only way to miss out in a yoga class would be to focus on another person.  In balance poses, especially, using another person as your drishti is a great way to end up in Splat-asana.  When you lose your inner focus to wonder about the needs of others, whether they are in front of you or somewhere far out of reach, you leave your body and you abandon your self.  You go outside of yourself when you think of the feelings of other, your breath quiets, your lungs putt-putt with the shallow breaths of an animal wishing not to be seen.  You become a car with the fuel light on, an engine with low oil, a hungry being without the energy to serve itself, much less that other person who occupies your thoughts.  To think of the feelings of others in your yoga practice is, frankly, perfectly useless!

By attending to yourself, giving each pose as a gift only to you, your selfishness has the power to bring you health, peace, and happiness, things which–by their very nature–improve the energy around you, and thereby improve the quality of the world you live in.  Now, which is better for the universe: some piece of property (that you may or may not use ever, except for when the gift-giver comes over) or your radiant SELF?  Treat yourself to the gift of selfishness, and the self you offer to others will be better, fuller, more worthy than ever.  Get full of yourself!  It’s not a bad thing!

Let me appeal to the thrifty folks out there by putting this another way: Being selfish is crazy cheap!!  Deep breaths are FREE.  Asanas are FREE!  Yoga mats are available at all price-points, and they are FREE to borrow at our studios.  Good feelings that last long after class are also FREE!  And Yoga Gratitude classes are 90 minutes long and cheaper than almost any other studio in the city.  Just. Sayin.

This holiday season, give yourself the gift of Selfishness.  Take yourself out!  Give yourself a foot massage!  Let yourself take seconds and thirds of everything yourself desires!  

Put the SELF back in SELFish!!!

Happy everything!!!  See you in class!

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