I try and bust some myths about yoga on this site. And one of them is that yoga is selfish. Also, now that Restore and Yoga Quota are teaming up I explain how these un-selfish elements of yoga help your mental health.
Is yoga selfish?
Sure, if you are doing yoga in a purely physical way just to improve your bum and instagram-ing pictures of yourself looking sexy for self gratification then I could see that yoga is selfish for you!
But Yoga Quota certainly isn’t selfish and I was very concerned about this issue when I started deepening my practice.
You see quite a few critics of yoga think it is selfish. The aim of yoga- which is union, or self-enlightenment is by it’s very definition about the ‘self’. And so if you stop there in your understanding you are likely to then assume that yoga is just for selfish means.* But don’t stop there! Because every single text I have read has immediately followed with a phrase along these lines….”self enlightenment SO THAT you are a better person in society” That ‘So that you're a better person for other people’ is a KEY part of it that you really need to remember! Probably such an assumption and given for the nice yoga types who write books that they don't labour the point enough. (in my opinion)
It goes further though, one of the limbs of yoga- sense withdrawal really concerned me when I started getting into this side. "What???" I thought, "withdraw from feelings of love, joy, passion? What? Become a hermit? No thank you very much." And again, you need to pursue the reasoning further- don't just take it at face value. It’s not to “not feel” that you are doing this limb. It’s to observe your feelings so that you are not so swayed and manipulated by them! Which is much fairer.
So there are two things that at face value you could take to be selfish. Self enlightenment and observance of feelings.
Very excitingly today I passed an interview to volunteer at Restore. I have long realised how these un-selfish elements of yoga help you if you have a mental illness.
Restore are a charity in Oxford for people recovering from severe mental illnesses. They've been going strong for 37 years. As my Dad is a Psychiatrist I have been taught about mental illness from 4, maybe 5 years old and I am very open, atune and interested in Mental Health. I know that most people in society don’t get it yet, maybe they fear it? Anyhow. Restore and I are hoping to provide a monthly Yoga Quota class for the people who go there for recovery. When recovering from mental illness, yoga is a really helpful tool.
Well for One:
Embarking on anything to do with the self, (eventually self-enlightenment or even just doing 45 mins of exercise for yourself) is a challenge when you are suffering from Mental illness. Particularly depression. If you have severe depression it is quite a challenge in itself to think you deserve to do yoga. So accepting your self through yoga practice is a big step forward. Even if you do the practice from a purely physical stand point… ‘selfishly’… you are doing yourself a good service and your loved ones around you too. Not at all selfish. Everyone deserves it.
The limb about observing your senses is a good practice too for quite a few mental illnesses. One friend of mine shared on facebook her experiences with depression. She said now she’s better she accepts that the feelings of hating herself will pass, knowing they’ll pass she has hope and she sticks out the day. If yoga can help you get to this stage, then it is a true blessing.
I’ll admit that depression is the mental illness that I know more about and understand more but through the training I'm going to have with Restore and hopefully a few good discussions with my Father I will understand better how yoga practice can help lots of the other mental situations the people at Restore may have too.
I can't wait to work with them!
*By extension people have assumed that hinduism or buddhism is selfish, which is patently not so. I read a book that I DO NOT recommend pretty much stating this ridiculous misunderstanding (for Hinduism). It was called Christianity and Hinduism and it was written by a bias Bishop or Reverend(?) in the twenties and has been out of print (for a reason) for years. Some right wing US publishers have resurrected the book, not that I knew this when I bought it. I hoped it would deepen my understanding, this it did NOT. So read it for a biased opinion not for an interesting compare and contrast that you might hope it would be from it’s title. I'm not going to link to it from here or their sales will go up possibly. I'm sure you could google it but don't give them the satisfaction, please!