At our last teacher training session, we talked about the four duties of a yogi. These duties are not for renunciates or monks but for householder yogis, yogis in the world like us. Here they are, in order:
What do you think about that order? Does it seem selfish to put yourself first? This is something that many people struggle with. “My family has to come first in everything,” someone might say. But really think about it. Putting others first is a concept that many of us, especially women, have taken to heart as our duty. We’re constantly giving everything we’ve got – driving kids to soccer practice, staying late at the office, making time to help your husband with a project or to visit your in-laws, but never making time for yourself. And when you don’t make time to take care of yourself, you can get burnt out or even sick. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time. It can be something as simple as making sure you get to yoga class once a week, getting up early for some private time in the morning, getting to bed early to get a good night’s sleep, or treating yourself to a pedicure or a bubble bath. It could be scheduling that long overdue doctor’s appointment, getting your teeth cleaned, going for a massage: taking care of your own health so you don’t get sick or hurt. Whatever it is for you, it will help you to relax, recharge, and stay healthy. And when you’re healthy and you have a lot of energy, you have so much more to give to your family, work, church or community. If you take care of yourself first, you’ll be able to serve others with more energy and joy.
Compare that to when you’re feeling burnt out – how long does it take you to get back on an even keel? We can rarely give up our duties entirely for a vacation (and even a vacation away from home involves making travel plans, caring for the kids, worrying over the budget, etc). Sometimes, when we keep on putting others before ourselves, we get so run down that we become sick, our bodies forcing us to take a break, and even then we’ll still keep pushing on, going to the office instead of getting the rest we need. And really, what’s so important at the office? Things at the office will go on without you just fine, or things will wait until you’re feeling better. There are few things so important that you need to attend to them while you’re sick. Give both your body and your ego a rest and take care of yourself.
By caring for ourselves first, we can stay healthier, avoiding getting sick and rundown in the first place. By taking care of ourselves, we have more energy, more balance, and are happier and fuller in ourselves, meaning we have more to give to the people we love. The ancient yogis realized that when you take care of yourself first, everybody wins.