Selfish Is A Sacred Word


It was during a three-month, solo trip to India that my understanding of the word selfish was completely deconstructed. During my yoga teacher training, our instructor brought up the idea of selfish in a vastly different light. In many ways, he was living up to the term guru —one who dispels darkness — but he did so on a highly tangible and human level. He explained that from a yogic perspective, one can’t be selfish without first knowing the self. Yoga comes from the word yog, which means to unite, where our breath is the connecting thread. We are brought back to ourselves over and over again through the breath, to our hearts, our minds and our bodies. We are reminded that we are part of a greater whole, a universal whole, and therefore anything done with care for the self also benefits the greater good.

I began to look at Earth as a living organism. I am just one, tiny cell, and if I am thriving, I will positively affect the cells around me. If I am unwell, I will negatively impact the cells around me. It is within my interest, as well as the interest of the entire organism that I thrive. This is what selfish should truly look like. Instead families, friends, jobs, and religions urge and demand that we give to others with abandon. What we often fail to mention, is the fact that we can’t offer to others, what we are not taught to first cultivate on behalf of ourselves. 

A dear friend brought the word capacity to the front of my mind. He witnessed my incessant want and need to give. He saw someone who was continuously depleting themselves for sake of others. This lesson was brought back to me under many different guises and every time, I was incited to change. A call to arms on behalf of myself. I had to work backwards. I had to learn to become selfish. It started in small ways, and this process continues to grow steadily. My 'selfishness' doesn’t imply that I lack care or compassion for others, quite the opposite. It simply means that each day, I make conscious choices to begin with myself, and then I expand that care outwardly towards others. I can give more because I have the steady inner reserves from which to draw from — I have ways to expand and be aware of my capacity.

I began with waking up and writing. I felt more at ease with taking on the day, because I was giving myself the time to connect with my mind and my heart in an honest and uninterrupted way. I added yoga to my morning ritual. I learned to listen to my body and give it what it needed on that particular day. I began to accept that each day was different and I could not allow yesterday’s expectations to loom over me. I am ever evolving, adapting and continuously changing. I practiced saying no in situations when I was tempted to give beyond my capacity, so, that when I did say yes, it was heartfelt and my actions were able to equal my intent. I learned to heed internal warnings when I began to feel depleted so, that I could pull back and care for myself. I became stronger and happier and capable of giving more to others when they needed me, because I felt steady and nourished from within. 

There is an African proverb that reverberates in my mind and it says: “Be careful of a naked person who offers you their shirt." We simply can’t give what we do not have. If we want to offer love, compassion, empathy and understanding, we must begin with ourselves. This act will, in time, become a sacred and vital part of us, one deserving of our steadfast devotion. Small, consistent actions that, over time, become the habits that truly forge the pathways of connection to ourselves, and the world around us. 

*Sarah is a yoga teacher, writer, and Happy Giver. Follow her at for beautiful images, and reflections on life! 

all together