December 28, 2010

Yoga’s Dark Side?

It Ain’t For Nothin’.

About a year ago, one morning a student arrived reluctantly to class.

She claimed that she had chosen to stop practicing for several months as she found that whenever she practiced that she came away feeling “depressed and out of sorts.”

My response/invitation to her was this: keep practicing. Sharing from my own experience, I related to her what I suspected may be happening within her. Given that our bodies are the canvasses upon which we paint our lives, perhaps her post-practice feelings were as a result of the body releasing untold works of art.

Something resonated because she chose to remain in class that day. At the end, I acknowledged her courage and willingness to just be with her Self throughout the process. Over time, she became a regular participant in my morning classes.

As practicing yogis and yoginis, we approach our mats in reverence, gracefully. Sometimes we are surprised when unpleasant memories arise during our practice. Without the proper tools to confront and channel in these moments, we may be tempted to run away from them.

The first and most important tool is always available to us: the breath. When we are afraid or angry, we may notice that our breathing becomes short and agitated and emanates from the chest, rather than from the base of our abdomens.

It ain’t for nothin’ that whenever we face anger, either within ourselves or another, our innate advice is to take a deep breath and calm down.

This morning, I found myself in precisely the same situation as that student of mine a year ago.

Since my arrival to the Central African Republic two weeks ago, my meditation and asana practice have been my refuge and my strength. Truth be told, had I not been blessed with the gift of yoga, I may have already flipped—perhaps this explains the sublime improvement in my inversions these days?

Heeding my own advice, rather than sit and ponder my frightful plight, each morning, in spite of some degree of resistance, I have approached the mat, humbly.

The question that arose this morning startled me: is there a dark side to yoga?

For a brief nano-second, my deepest, darkest inner voice mustered, “perhaps you should keep off the mat for a while.” Immediately, though, wisdom shone through and pushed me to keep breathing as I reached up toward the sky in Warrior I.

Here in the remote, forgotten heart of Africa, fear and anger—different sides of the same coin I might add—have arisen within, vengefully.

These issues that have spilled themselves from within and onto the mat have been “fast and furious.” My recurring question is: why am I here?

Suffice it to say, my initial impressions remain incomplete after two weeks. Usually, I am able to garner a feeling for a place from the moment that I step off the aircraft. Then again, in a place such as this where linear time seems non-existential, equanimity is essential.

Bangui, the country’s capital, is one long main red-dirt road with a few shops selling prohibitively expensive goods by shop owners who are mainly of Lebanese and Turkish extraction.

Characteristic of many developing countries, the polarities are stark. Along “The Strip” it’s not uncommon to see an array of luxury vehicles—I’ve even seen a Hummer. Yet right alongside this supposed mark of affluence, prostitution is blatant and accepted as part of the status quo.

As elsewhere, the level of poverty is incomprehensible, silencing almost. To see it creates a twisted, futile validation that perhaps holds the clue as to why I am indeed here. This remains to be seen.

Whereas my time in Sudan taught me patience, I see where my lesson here is one of acceptance. Acceptance, though, can be conflicting and contradictory because what I note here is one that is laced with numbing apathy.

So in this vision, I’ve accepted that these are the lessons that are forthcoming to a humble student of Life. My duty is to Face them, Embrace them, Accept them and then eventually Release them.

For me, this is the essence of FEAR.

The practice of yoga is not for the weak of heart. In the words of David Life in the film, Titans of Yoga, “yoga is not for everyone. If you’re completely happy, satisfied and at peace within yourself and your life, then there is no need for yoga.”

At the end of my practice when I bow my head in Namaste* and then I open my eyes and take in the view of the Oubangui River before me and the coast-line of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) just beyond I brim with gratitude for having the courage to approach the mat and to take the practice from it into my heart and out into the world.

For then, the real yoga begins.

*”The Divine within me honours the Divine that exists within you.”

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