I just returned my first day as a graduate student in Social Work. Class 1: Social Justice in Social Work: a class dedicated to detailing how messed up the world is. (i.e. 1 in 2 Black children are living below the poverty line. 1 in 4 American women have been sexually assaulted. The top earning 1 percent of households gained about 275% after federal taxes and income transfers over a period between 1979 and 2007, while the lower 60% of Americans experienced declines in financial wellbeing. And on, and on.) After three hours of this, I moved to Class 2: A policy analysis class based on the premises that it is not only my personal and moral obligation to make the world a better place, but now as a Social Worker, it is now my professional responsibility as well. From the National Association of Social Work: “The primary mission of our profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with a particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.”
Needless to say, I left feeling heaviness, throughout my body, and heart– Every other breath was a sigh. How am I supposed to help meet the basic human needs of all people? How am I supposed to change systems built around systematic oppression, marginalization, and violence, that are so entrenched that most of us are unaware of how permeating they really are? These were the questions racing through my mind as I laced up my tennis shoes, and literally tried to run away from all of the responsibility. I sprinted a few laps around the nearby park, and ended up in the grass, finding my asana practice. Breathing in deep Ujjai breaths, and turning in, I began to finally ease the sense of panic, and return to a place of calmness.
In the last 2 months, my practice had been selfish in many ways. For me, the month-long YTT was intentionally a time of complete focus on my own internal landscape, my own physical and mental health. I spent each day eating well, breathing well, playing and surfing with an incredible group of humans. But now, just one day into graduate school, and I already felt completely overwhelmed by the reality of our world.
When I am on my mat, it is no doubt self-focused. It is my time to escape the pressures of the world, and be in a way that feels safe, familiar, and comfortable. But as I’m learning, it is not entirely selfish. Self-care is perhaps the most important thing we can do as humans. If we don’t take the time to take care of ourselves, our anger, sadness, or cynicism will begin to pour out in our everyday actions, affecting those around us. Similarly, if we can make the space for ourselves to find joy, happiness, and all the rest of the good things in life, we may be prone to leave bigger tips, let the person behind you at the store go first, and truly express love and appreciation to those in our lives. Doing yoga is not an escape from the world, but a practice that readies us to be fully present to it. As a social worker, I would be of no use to anyone if I was to remain in a place of panic–If we are not well ourselves, how can we begin to share wellness with others? As the Buddha Says:
Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened– Happiness never decreases by being shared!
As I like to remind my students– if you find yourself on your mat this week, or participating in any other measure of self-care, thank yourself! Not only for doing something good for your own mind, body, and spirit, but also for contributing to the good of your family, friends, community, and global world. Lord knows we need it!