When it comes to yoga, meditation and even me-time in general, we can sometimes worry we are being a little selfish. Dedicating time to our own wellbeing can feel overly indulgent, and there’s even a creeping suggestion self-care is little more than an excuse for self-absorption. Dr Alison Gray, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has warned that “inward-looking” spiritual practices (like meditation) can make us more selfish – but is this actually true?
Like most things, this would depend on how you look at it. You could say that any action that isn’t taken for the betterment of humankind is selfish – from eating what we like for dinner to pursuing our hobbies – because we do them primarily for our own benefit. But unless we’re planning on becoming monks and completely giving up any notion of doing things for ourselves, there doesn’t seem much to gain from worrying about this.
In this context, meditating and other forms of self-care are no more selfish than having a bath, and the fact they’ve been singled out as particularly self-indulgent starts to look rather strange. However, it can be pretty easy to feel guilty about doing things for ourselves.
Why Self-Care Isn’t Self-Indulgence
People start meditating (and carving out a little time for self-care in general) for all sorts of reasons. It might be that we need a way to calm down, have a health problem that meditation helps with, or have found ourselves burnt out and chronically stressed. We may even have a religious reason.
But as soon as we’ve decided “you know what, I’m going to take a little time for myself,” the guilt can start to creep in. Shouldn’t we be working, volunteering, or spending that time on our kids, partner, or friends? Maybe we should be focusing on changing the world rather than pursuing personal happiness, and the people who claim it’s selfish to think of ourselves in this way are right. Meditation, yoga, and self-care are no longer neutral acts that you can pursue in peace, but have joined the truly vast number of “Things People Have Opinions About.”
That’s why it’s a shame that certain voices have found a place in the media to criticise meditation as selfish, because it adds yet another thing to feel guilty about in our daily lives – as if we don’t get told enough that everything we do is wrong, in one way or another. Women especially can feel guilty for devoting time to our own personal development, and so much cultural messaging reinforces our fears; pursuing a career = bad mother, focusing on the family = lazy and spoilt, being interested in health and wellness = self obsessed.
At the end of the day, life can be tough even at the best of times. If we’ve found something like meditation or yoga helps us, then we can probably safely ignore any idea that we shouldn’t be so “inward-looking” in our hobbies.
How Taking Care of Ourselves Helps Everyone
It’s become a bit of a cliché to say that you have to put your own oxygen mask on first before you can help others, but it really is true. Practices like meditation give us the breathing room to calm down, de-stress, and understand ourselves better, all of which can make us much nicer people to be around. It’s often the inward-looking habits which help us understand ourselves better, and in turn, understand other people as well.
Some of us can even find that regular meditation increases our compassion, as we experience less stress and therefore become less fearful, irritable, and angry – negative emotions that can drive some pretty problematic behaviors. Meditation and yoga are also habits which very rarely take more than an hour out of our day. It’s not as if they take up time which could be spent helping others – it’s perfectly possible to do both.
Ultimately, self-care is about keeping ourselves as healthy and happy as possible in a world that can feel pretty hostile at times. It isn’t selfish (in any meaningful interpretation of the word) to want or need coping mechanisms, or to pursue self-improvement. In fact, many of us want to improve ourselves in order to become kinder, more well-rounded people, and do more for the world around us. And if me-time is the thing that keeps our heads above water, then there’s nothing wrong with that.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Holly Ashby. Holly is a wellness writer who has worked with the London meditation center Will Williams Meditation for three years. They teach a form of transcendental meditation to help people cope with the stresses of modern life, and help those living with issues such as anxiety and depression.