Anyone who knows me well knows I love yoga. Aside from the physical benefits of increased flexibility, balance and muscle strength, practicing yoga is good for my soul. My mat is my safe place, where I regain center and calm. Moving from pose to pose, I lose myself and find myself. Our teacher guides us to focus on the present and helps us learn to quiet the mind. That one-hour class, a few times each week, is a gift I give to myself.
With age, I have come to understand that it is only by taking care of myself that I am able to effectively serve others. We hear the instruction aboard an airplane prior to takeoff, “Secure your own oxygen mask, before assisting someone else.” Helping the person next to you is difficult, if you are experiencing pressure and turbulence yourself.
Why is it such a challenge to devote time to self? Often, the tyranny of the urgent seems to require us to meet the performance expectations of the people around us - whether at home, the workplace or in the community. In the face of that compelling force, we’re naturally inclined to give ourselves the short shrift. Focusing time and attention on self is too easily construed as being egocentric, and we’re inclined to feel guilty if we do so. While it might seem noble initially to sacrifice our own needs, over time it’s a journey to calamity. There is nothing selfish about cultivating mind, body and spirit to build a sustainable life that contributes meaningfully to the world around us.
If we’re more in touch with ourselves, we’re in a better place to touch the life of someone else. When we develop a strong sense of self, we evolve into authenticity. We understand, then, what motivates us and what brings us joy. A gift from that hand is a genuine gift, because no expectations are attached.
Not everyone is into yoga, and many of us do not have the luxury of taking long vacations or a sabbatical. It would do us well, though, from time to time, to refresh, re-charge and rejuvenate by doing something to care for self. My mother chooses to work in her yard. She’s a believer in the “farm effect” and thrives feeling the sun on her face and the dirt in her hands. She calls it her therapy, and I can attest to her brightness of attitude after time in the fresh air. For others, it may be trying a new recipe, getting lost in a novel, dancing to a favorite song or, like my dad, spending an afternoon alone with a rod and a reel. Sometimes it’s what we do for ourselves that adds more meaning to what we then can do for others.
The final pose at the end of my yoga practice is Savasana, when I lie flat on my back and surrender to total relaxation. In my mind’s eye, I see a better me. As I leave class, I am more self-aware, and I try to remember that intention of betterment. One of the greatest gifts we can give to each other is our full presence - the best of who we are. Pull down the oxygen mask, take a deep breath and give well.
Kristen Seeber serves as president of the Women’s Fund of Smith County, which leverages women’s philanthropy to bring positive change through community grants that benefit women and children. Membership is open to any woman who would like to be a part of this collective giving circle. To learn more, visit www.womensfundsc.org