Is Self-Care Selfish? (Spoiler alert: no)

We hear so much in the yoga world and beyond about self-care these days. About how it’s important to put our own proverbial oxygen masks on first so that we have the resources to then care for others. But there’s a countervailing ethos that posits it’s simply selfishness disguised to spend time and resources on self-care.

What does the history of the yoga practice offer in the way of guidance?   The very first ethical rule of yoga philosophy is ahimsa, which means non-violence or non-harming. It’s like the Hippocratic oath of yoga, plus some. Many philosophy scholars interpret this as necessarily starting with the self. To go into the world and not just refrain from harming others but to actually be of service, we must be kind and loving towards ourselves first.

My personal experience reveals this to be true. In my twenties I suffered from an eating disorder that left me at war with myself internally. When I binge ate, I would hate on myself in every way I could think of. Work out excessively, try to restrict my eating, and call myself every nasty name in the book. The result? Another binge eating episode on the way, and the cycle beginning anew. I was far, far from living a life of being of service to others. In fact, I was a pretty miserable cur and not that much fun to be around.

Having been immersed in the world of yoga for a decade and a half now, I have come to truly understand that to show up for those around me, I need to show up for myself first. It’s that simple. I exercise, practice yoga, meditate, try and eat and sleep well. When I get off track for more than a few days, I notice a negative shift in my ability to be there for my loved ones. I would argue that it’s selfish of me not to take care of myself, not the other way around.

Take a little time and discern what feeds your body, mind, heart and soul. And then make some time for that, because self-care is a necessary part of being there for others.