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You may not realize it, but you are always impacting others, through your presence and your energy, as well as your words and your actions.  Everything you do contributes something to the world and the people around you. 

If you want to contribute goodness and happiness and joy to the world around you, you have to start by contributing those things to yourself.  You can only give what you already have.  When you criticize yourself, tell yourself that you’re not good enough or not doing something right, you are planting seeds of negativity within you.  And from that negativity, only negativity can grow.  But when you appreciate and encourage yourself, when you take joy in who you are and what you are doing, you plant seeds of kindness and joy that can radiate outwards.  The more you love yourself, the more love you have to give. 

What does this look like in practice, and how can you practice it on your yoga mat?  When you’re in a pose you might catch yourself being self-critical, thinking, “I’m the only person here who can’t do this pose; my body will never be able to move like that; why am I not flexible?”  Just notice it.  There’s no need to judge yourself for thinking this way.  They’re just thoughts!  And they’re not making you feel good, so don’t believe them.   

Instead, try shifting your attention to your body, and focusing on what you can do.  Breathe in and create space; breathe out and see where you go in the pose.  It might not be very far.  Your body might not look like the other bodies in the room.  But what you’re doing with it, and the attention you’re paying to it, that’s yoga!  And if you tell yourself, “Hey, I’m doing it; this is kind of awesome; I’m kind of awesome,” you might be surprised at the vibe you give off to the rest of the room.  In fact, you might be surprised at the mood you’re in after you step off your mat.  That belief and confidence in yourself might just be reflected in your smile, your body language, your attention.  Only a small percentage of what people take away from their interactions with us is what we say; what matters is how we say it with our bodies and our energy.  So just by being yourself you are contributing to others.

And when we feel secure in ourselves, we no longer have to spend our energy worrying about what we’re doing wrong or whether we’re not good enough or why.  We have this store of love inside of us and now we can actively channel it outwards.  Next time we’re on our mats, we might notice that the person besides us seems discouraged.  Knowing the feeling, we can offer a smile, or introduce ourselves after class.  We can express encouragement authentically, and in doing so may even find ourselves more encouraged.

Imagine a reservoir of water at the top of the mountain.  But there’s a dam blocking the reservoir, so none of the trees and plants and animals on the mountain can drink the water.  Now imagine you are the dam.  If you can open up and appreciate the water yourself, you will also let it flow through you and out to everyone around you.

It feels good to give, to share the water of life with those around you.  And when you give like this, you don’t need to receive a thank you, you don’t need to be given anything in return.  You are merely contributing from the reservoir of love that we all need and we all deserve.  The act of giving is itself a gift, and it creates a cycle:  the more we give, the more love we create, and the more we have to continue to give.  As the Buddha taught, “When you move your focus from competition to contribution, life becomes a celebration.”