Have you ever cried on your yoga mat?
I’m not talking about sweet, mysterious sobs welling up from recently opened places inside your beloved body, releasing stored tension and stuck emotion.
Nope; that is a beautiful thing and courageous yoga work.
I’m talking much less noble stuff: crying like a big old baby and pissed off because you couldn’t get your way—couldn’t get your arms to bind or your body to fly in vinyasa, even though you tried and tried again.
The yoga teacher is calling out bound turtle and the yoga princess in front of you is doing the pose perfectly. Five minutes ago, you were inspired by the yoga princess’s grace and ease—now you hate her and wonder if she’s looking for attention.
The teacher compliments her, “Oh, let me use you as an example,” he says to the girl, with her ankles crossed over her head and tattooed arms clasped behind her lumbar spine. You roll your eyes to the back of your head, the stench of your own bitterness clings to your lycra.
This class sucks. These people suck. Yoga sucks.
The rest of the class moves on to the next pose; meanwhile you don’t. You remain stuck in a wallowed heap, with your face pinned to the floor.
The first time it happened to me, I was not a yogi newbie—I had been teaching for a number of years but had a six month old baby and had been skipping my early morning yoga practice for some much needed sleep. I still taught at least 10 yoga classes per week, so I told myself this was enough to keep me in yoga shape. But I hadn’t lost my extra baby weight and poses that used to come easy to me were just not happening.
The combination of less practice and extra weight around my middle was preventing binds.
In the midst of an advanced yoga teacher training workshop, the semi-god yoga teacher came over to me and asked if she could use me as an example. I was in a seated side bend, clasping my big toe and rotating my torso towards the ceiling. It was actually the one pose that we had done that morning that I felt pretty good about—I imagined that she wanted to show the class what a full expression of the pose looked like.
Instead, she said to the other students, who were all yoga teachers, “Look over here. Let me show you how to assist a student who has a bigger belly that gets in the way of fully rotating the spine.”
She proceeded to put both hands around my padded torso and skillfully twist me even deeper towards the ceiling—the class “oohed” and “awed” at how deeply spiraled I was.
Inside I burned; my face flushed and sweat began to roll down my cheeks. Her words pulled my trigger of self-hatred, insecurity and long-standing body image issues. And, as inappropriate as I think the teacher was with her choice to single me out for the assist, I had brought the loaded gun.
My assault weapon was a constant barrage of self deprecating thoughts in which I am never good enough and everyone else is better than me. I keep trying to be perfect, yet I never measure up. In that moment, on the mat, I wanted to die because the teacher’s words confirmed that my post-baby belly was fat.
When the pose was over, I walked out of the room and began to cry. I was angry—I hated the teacher and every person in that room. Most of all, I hated myself for not losing my baby weight (like in my mind), I thought a good yogi should.
I was separate from everyone else and their flat bellies…I was a freak.
I don’t know how I managed to pull it together, but I did. I went back into the studio and finished the three days remaining in the workshop; I even forgot about the “belly incident” as the workshop progressed and eventually immersed myself in the process of learning and deepening my own practice, which was why I was there in the first place.
So you see, yoga is like that: sometimes, you are not holy or admirable. You might be like me: bitter, resentful, victim-like and even cry like a baby. We learn on a yoga mat that everything is not equal or fair…but then who said it would be?
Did anyone ever start a yoga practice to find fairness?
Those of us that stick with yoga do so because of what it reveals—it shows us our faults as well as our strengths. It shows us the areas where we need to bring in balance—it shows us the things we need to accept fully and the things we need to burn away.
I did not need to get rid of my excess belly fat as much as I needed to light a fire underneath my unrealistic expectations and low self-esteem around my body—I needed both discipline and compassion to bring about self-acceptance and ultimately freedom from my suffering.
Yoga is eye-opening.
I could have walked through door number one and blamed out; I could have walked away from the training and stayed pissed off forever at the teacher for her insensitive words. (And who knows? Maybe it wasn’t insensitive. Maybe she didn’t see my belly as anything shameful but as an obstacle in the way of twisting, which she could offer an easy solution.)
I could have walked through door number two and blamed in, which I started to do when I left the room.
But then there is door number three, and perhaps the scariest one of all: To face our own feelings. To be with ourselves without a buffer.
When we come across difficult feelings and depending on our individual conditioning, difficult feeling can manifest in many different ways. Joy, lust, ease, fear, anger, paranoia, self-hate, jealousy, bitterness, anxiety, boredom or sorrow are just a few.
While we practice, it is all OK—it all deserves a place on the mat.
There is right and wrong action in this wild, wonderful and wounded world but there is no right or wrong on our yoga mat; everything that reveals itself while we practice is an opportunity to discover and sharpen our yoga skills.
When uncomfortable feelings and energies begin to arise, the true work of yoga begins.
When the yogi is ready, the lesson will appear.
Go ahead and cry like a baby.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise