The Central Self

The middle-aged man in front of me is almost face down on a sandy tarp, reverse hog tied with his hands locked behind him. We’re doing yoga on a beach in Grand Canyon after a day on river rafts, and I am facing him as we talk and stretch.

Grand Canyon walls lit by late day sunshine

MMKohli 2009 – Grand Canyon

“I started doing yoga with my personal trainer,” he says in a Chicago accent. His doughy, pasty body rolls over and starts meagerly stretching towards his feet. “She really helped me with my back and she’s not into meditation and other that other self reflective crap that most yoga instructors are into. It’s just the stretching. That’s all I really need. I think that other stuff is so self-centered.”

You prick, I think. I’ve been listening to his city slicker self drone on all day…past majestic walls of purple swirled sandstone, through river rapids,

Close up redbud blossoms

MMKohli 2009

and up side canyons with trickling streams and redbud blossoms fluttering past… the endless nasal drone of his opinions.

I go on with my yoga routine, rolling towards the clear blue sky, and tune him out. He has hit a soft spot with me. It’s not the first time I was indirectly called self centered. I have heard people call yoga, meditation, alone time, and – god forbid – being single selfish and self-centered. (Not just in a literal observation, as in self-centered because one is looking inward. As in, self-absorbed, disregarding of others’ needs, focused only on one’s own gratification).

But here is the thing. Despite being raised in a gracious church that taught Christianity as a peaceful, generous, loving, humble life path, I didn’t learn most of the lessons of a gracious life until I started practicing yoga. Peaceful, self-absorbed, internally focused, self-centered yoga.

That new age-y yoga crap taught me what my body feels like when I forgive, when I surrender, when I balance power and grace, when I radiate love from my center. Teaching my body taught my mind how to take the high road. It taught me how to take care of this human vessel like I would a baby and forgive its creaks and tweaks that change from day to day. Cobra and downward dog and savasana taught me to cleanse anger with breath, to show mercy on my racing, perfectionist mind, and give myself credit for the toughest part – showing up to practice.

These acts of self compassion (or self-centeredness) are a revolution. I’m now in my late 30’s and, being a perfectionist in public service and youth development, I’ve lived through a few burnouts. That’s a trend I see among my friends, too – whether working moms in the Midwest, activists, park rangers, writers, ministers, teachers or professors. They deny themselves the very compassion they give to their children. Deny themselves the nurturing they lobby for others to have. Deny themselves something as simple as three deep, quiet breaths a day.

woman gazing at a canyon

Peace on the Plateau

Self care is a dirty word. Self compassion? What’s that? Is that, like, masturbation?

Most of us have this in common: we want to do and be good. We dump ourselves every day into doing and being good. (Sometimes three meals a day and no car accident is as good as we can do, but gosh it sure seemed to take all we had to accomplish that.)

So in response to my pasty friend in the sand on my beach, I say, “No, you prig, the meditative, introspective, self care part of yoga is NOT self-centered.” Neither is leaving your kids and husband to fend for themselves for a half hour while you go for a walk. Neither is leaving work at 5 or letting the phone go to voicemail so you can drive home in quiet. The world will survive without you for 5 minutes.

I propose a revolution. I propose that whether we are moms, ministers, carpenters, accountants or park rangers, we stop feeling guilty for refueling our bodies and spirits. We stop making excuses for why – just this once – we need this 15 minutes of quiet time. And we absolutely, positively stop feeling like we must be sick, crying and overcommitted before we have “earned” self care.

We wouldn’t drive our cars until the gas runs out and then push them to the gas station. (Well, not most of the time.) We wouldn’t refuse to feed a horse until he was sweating and emaciated on the stall floor. Why do we think this is an appropriate way to treat ourselves?

Aren’t you less likely to flip the bird on your evening commute if you ate lunch instead of powering through?

angry stick man with boxing gloves

That’s a Megan Kohli original Sharpy art.

Better you, better world.


4 thoughts on “The Central Self

  1. eleonora says:

    Awesome! And I just had “this” conversation with my mom who is having hard time to go to yoga for one hour week: what about the kids and the house???

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