I was sitting in a large room, very much like a sanctuary. It was fairly dark, the room already filled with 60 or 70 people. I followed three people in and walked over to the wall to get one the stacked chairs. I carried the chair to the far side of the room. I noticed no one had shoes on, I cringed as I walked quickly outside and slipped off my shoes, putting them on a shelf by rows of sandals. I hurried back to my chair.
There was a man, I want to call him young, but that seems strange. He was in his twenties, I am in my forties, he was young. He had a beard and pony tail and used his hands to great effect as he introduced us to Kripalu. “All of you are here, have come here, to this place, for different reasons. Some are here for a detoxification, others for education, some of you are here for relaxation. Whatever reason it is, you have a thing in common, which is that what we want for you is self-care. Here there is no shame in self; self-care is not selfish.”
My cheeks burned. “Everything about self-care is selfish,” I thought. “I am not parenting, not working, not investing my time or myself in others. I don’t do self-care.”
“As you experience Kripalu, the things available to you are all designed to cultivate an approach that allows you to choose what is best for you at this moment. Choose what you eat from our meals not by what you think you should, but what you want. You think you should eat a salad, but your body craves soup. Maybe the truth is you should eat the soup.” He said this all while nodding and scanning the room. I shifted in my seat, hearing his words as if I were somewhere else. I imagined what people outside this dimly, but warmly lit room would think of this attitude toward choosing whatever you want. It sounded selfish. I imagined saying, “That’s so obnoxious to think of nothing but yourself.”
He continued, “These cues that are all present in you every single moment of the day are often ignored. This time of self-care is supported by the space and encouragement to hear those cues. Be here in this moment.” I tried to suppress my removal from the moment, the sense that I do not belong. I do not have a yoga practice. I cannot say namaste without smirking. I am an imposter, too not this for this place. Someone sneezed beside me. “Bless you,” I whispered. She turned and held my gaze, “And you. Thank you.” I nodded and turned back to the presentation.
“However, in the eating areas please don’t carry your yoga mat. Being clipped with a yoga mat while carrying hot tea is not an experience we wish for you,” he smiled out at us. I realized that maybe the only difference between me and the other people here was their willingness to be present in this moment. Self-care is not selfish, mocking self-care at a conference you’ve attended by yourself is selfish.
Why is it that self-care seems unnecessary to me? I’ve constructed roadblocks and stop signs that are so rigid I’ll go through meetings without using the bathroom. I’ll just hold it, but then before I know it I am at the bust stop, and then doing homework, and then it’s time to rush to karate and I still haven’t peed. How is that any more reasonable than carving out time to make sure I’m ok?
I woke before dawn, no alarm clock, no sense of time. I checked the schedule and saw a 6:30 yoga class. Maybe I’ll just try the gentle yoga, I thought. I splashed water on my face, pulled on comfortable clothes and padded down to the room. There was music playing in the background, a woman’s voice carrying words I didn’t know through the candlelit room. I remembered not wear my shoes and I followed other people’s lead in what things to take to my space-a mat, two cushions, two blocks, a strap, and a blanket. I had no idea what to do with the blanket and I began to doubt myself. Looking around no two people had done the same thing with their blankets.
I felt panic bubbling up and I made the deliberate choice to pretend like I knew what I was going. I kept my blanket partially folded and laid it across the center of the mat. I sat down. I breathed. The instructor spoke to us softly, “Thank you for coming. We’ll be going through a gentle yoga class with some meditation. You can follow along, modify, or change things up however you need. This is for you, so stretch or extend as you like.”
The class lasted 75 minute. I did not know each move, sometimes peeking to see that my hands were at my sides and everyone else’s were outstretched over their heads. I’d adjust. Certain things hurt, so I switched things around until they didn’t. At one point she guided us in a rotation of our hips to massage our lower back. “Imagine golden light, see the warmth going into your hips. As you move understand that your body is opening and relaxing and becoming stronger. You are becoming stronger.” I felt the blood coursing through my body, warming places that normally hurt. The more I felt the motions impacting me, the more confident I became.
“The chant you hear is ancient Sanskrit. She is saying surrender. Surrender to this moment. Surrender to what you need. Ayurveda is the 5,000 year old science of health. Your dosha is your individual constitution. As we practice mindfulness, we are aware of each moment. We see what we are doing and thinking without judgement. When we remove judgement from our observations of self, we create energy and the ability to choose an intention.”
I thought about how often I judge myself, in fact I would say that I have almost an inability to do or think anything without critiquing myself. The idea of having an intention beyond survival or not screwing up usually feels impossible. “You should all feel good this morning, you woke early and practiced yoga. Now, remind yourself of the earth, feel it beneath you. Feel it supporting you and accepting you. The earth takes everything, is always there. You can give it your worries, your secrets. Now elongate your spine, opening your center, with your neck loose, press the top of your head into the morning. You are rooted and reaching, the earth solid beneath you.”
As happens to me with yoga, tears slipped from the corners of my eyes. In all my life it had never occurred to me that every moment of the day I am being held, that the earth keeps the ground beneath me safe, no matter how tumultuous the rest of the world feels. A cloud moved and sunlight moved against the sky light like a veil. I felt my body sink into the ground and I turned my face toward the sun, pressing my hope into it and letting my doubt slip into the earth.
I am curious, do you feel the same doubt about self-care? Have you conquered the fear of being selfish? How have you done it? Or how will you?