When teaching yoga to young people, especially when many of them are new to yoga, I remind them that the practice of yoga is really about learning about themselves and perhaps how they each relate to the world. I ask them to be selfish; to take away from their yoga practice the necessary skills and knowledge that might be relevant to their current lives and their personal goals.
At a fundamental level, our basic instinct is to survive. We can’t help anyone else if we aren’t alive and able. Learning how to adapt and be resilient in a changing world is fundamental to our existence, each of us, individually and collectively. This starts with awareness and presence. What’s going on now? Use yoga to learn present-moment awareness. Use mindfulness-based practices to not let your personal intentions get “hijacked” or disrupted by distractions and unimportant mental constructs. Use yoga-based movements to train your body to be balanced, strong yet flexible, hard yet soft, determined yet adaptable, aging yet youthful. Use these skills to be aware of change as it happens and to survive through, or breathe through, or move through, the inevitable hardships and stressful challenges in your life. Use yoga to re-program your body when stressful or traumatic events happen, to re-wire your neurological circuitry and let go of bodily stressors which no longer serve you, and to build resilient whole-bodies.
In a competitive world, our desire is to perform well. To win a game, we practice playing the skills of the game better. To score well on an exam, we study and learn the information being tested. If we don’t perform well, it’s not a reflection on who we are, the fabric of our being; we just didn’t perform well. Use yoga to learn focus and to enhance personal mind-body-spirit performance. By learning to let go of thoughts and behaviors that aren’t serving you well nor enhancing your overall ability to perform well, you are better able to focus, to see clearly, and to perform naturally as you have learned and practiced. By focusing on the performance of your whole being – body, mind and spirit – you bring your whole best-self to the game of life.
In our modern world, our instinct is to strive for happiness. We tend to be happier when we are well. We tend to be happier when we feel engaged and connected to people in our lives and in the natural world around us. Use yoga to discover your strengths, what makes you thrive, and to learn how your body responds to healthful and unhealthful habits. Use yoga to discover the natural and instinctive needs that our bodies desire for supportive personal interactions, community, time in nature, and feelings of acceptance, compassion, gratitude… and love.
Of course, survival and performance and happiness are all connected. We are all connected. Use yoga to explore the wondrous possibilities of mind-body-spirit connections, the miraculous possibilities of our human existence, and the infinite Oneness of our Universe. Feel connected. Accept possibilities. Have faith. Practice.
Yoga is not just about seeing how far you can stretch or push yourself into a posture. Yoga is about learning about yourself and how you relate to everything around you; it’s about finding balance between your desire to strive and your natural instinct to just live; it’s about learning how to move through – and breathe through – life’s rough spots and living well when you’re tested; it’s about being aware, paying attention, and letting your whole-self thrive naturally and holistically.
Go ahead. Be selfish.
Survive well and be happy. For yourself.
We’ll all benefit from each other’s wholehearted practice!