Yoga and the Art of Receiving

If you come to York Yoga Studio, you probably know who I am, and you might have noticed that I’ve had a low profile here the last few months, and you may know that I’m now recovering well from a surgery.  It’s all good.  But I have had a bit of time where I’ve needed to rest my body and not do very much, and to accept help too.

During this time, I’ve been deeply touched by the lovely cards and gifts and messages from our wonderful yoga community.  My family and friends have really stepped up, and I’ve felt wholly supported, and super grateful for all the kindness and good wishes I have received.

This has made me think about giving and receiving….

We talk a lot about yoga and giving – most of us have heard about Karma Yoga, the ‘Yoga of Action.’ This path teaches us that by selflessly serving, we move towards our own spiritual enlightenment.  But my own recent experience has made me think not about how difficult it is to give from a place of selflessness, but how hard it is to graciously receive.  I had a tough time letting my friends and family cook and clean for me, to bring me things and entertain me while I rested.  I felt their love and compassion was a gift I should not take.  And we see this often: how many times have you shrugged off a compliment, replying something like, ‘oh, this old thing? I got it in a charity shop….’ Or ‘Well, I certainly don’t feel beautiful today!’ 

Why do we do this?  We are taught not to easily accept compliments or gifts in case we appear selfish or greedy or conceited or prideful.  We are also culturally dissuaded from really living in the moment, told to look ahead, and even more, to look for a balance, a sort of score sheet that we carry into the future.  This attitude can keep us from simply appreciating the fact that we are loved and cherished, and therefore connected to the lives of others in every moment.

So what happens when we shrug off gifts or compliments or offers of help? Well for starters we isolate ourselves, turning away from human contact.  We feed the cynicism and defensiveness which separate us from others. We give in to cultural overlays which do not help us to give and receive love and kindness.  In a way, we let the haters win and we do nothing for our own self esteem and sense of wholeness. All this because we want to be modest and selfless…

But the damage does not stop with ourselves.  Giving and receiving is an energetic and spiritual exchange.  Like two poles of a magnet, one is defined by the existence of the other.  To refuse to accept a gift is to deny the giver; it refutes their existence in a spiritual way; it prevents them from practicing their own Karma Yoga; it impedes their progress on their own path.  It is harmful.  It is a failure to practice the yoga tenet of Ahimsa on the deepest level as you do harm to yourself and to others.

So over the last several weeks, I have contemplated the cards and presents, the offers of help, the gifts of time and care, the messages of love and support, the loyalty of our yoga community and the compassion of relative strangers.  And I have been moved to a new understanding: it’s not all about me!  So I have accepted the need to simply open my arms and my heart and just say "thank you – yes please, I will accept your help, your love, your support, your kindness.”  I will accept your gift and embrace the connection that comes from being loved.  By practicing the art of receiving, I am more of a yoga teacher than any adjustment I can make in asana makes me. I become a more giving person.  I can help others to grow on their spiritual path, to practice Ahimsa and to experience the joy of selfless giving.   I can contribute to the balance of energy we need to be harmonious and stable.  We are all thereby enriched and connected, giving and receiving as equals, loving and loved.