A friend of mine posted on Facebook the other day that a recent yoga session had left her absolutely “gutted.”
She is fairly new to yoga and said she was surprised and a little flummoxed by that, as normally her yoga practice is very positive.
Isn’t that the perception?
That yoga is all light, connection and love and if you do enough down dogs, you become a better person.
I smiled a little when I saw her post, not because I’m glad she had a difficult session but because I’ve been there and I know the feeling.
I remember the glowy, first blush of yoga when after each session I felt lighter yet stronger; autonomous yet more connected.
Now, I’ve been practising yoga for 12 years, and if there is one thing I’ve learned from it, it’s that there is much more that comes up on the mat.
When you’re linking your breath with movement; when all you are focusing on is how your hips are positioned; when you have no distractions and nowhere to run; that’s when the deeply embedded self comes forth.
This is the self that we push down or ignore or aren’t even aware of because of all the pretty distractions of the world.
This self was never meant to be so hidden from our awareness. Every religion, every philosophy and every guru since the beginning of time has talked about the importance of getting still and connecting with ourselves and a higher power.
In general, many of us don’t do that very often.
This isn’t a diatribe against technology, or social media or “Game of Thrones,” or any of the distractions that keep us from focusing on our inner life. Good, bad or indifferent, this is the state of the world for many of us.
It just doesn’t surprise me anymore when I come away from the mat unsettled or when a friend says they’ve been left flattened after a session.
Yoga is that quiet time.
Yoga is that place where the inner self and the physical self come together, where they talk to each other.
Yoga is all those “airy-fairy” things you read about—connection, graceful and spiritual— but that doesn’t mean that yoga is all fun and positive.
Getting connected, really connected, means facing the stuff we don’t want to face. Hell, it means facing the stuff we forgot about or didn’t realize was still hanging on.
When we connect with all of ourselves, we don’t get to choose just the fun, happy stuff. We get slapped in the face with old anger, new resentments and the fight we had with our partners last night.
None of it hides on the yoga mat. Sometimes we breathe and it releases peacefully, other times, the hurts come up and leaves open wounds for us to deal with.
I remember at one point early in my yoga practice when a teacher said that we carried our emotions in our hips. At the time, that sounded like one of those hippie things people say until she led a practice with a lot of deep hip openers and I spent the entire car ride home in tears for no reason that I could pinpoint.
That’s when I really understood: yoga makes you face your shit.
I worry sometimes that this will turn people off. That once the honeymoon phase is over and they have that session that brings up something painful or disturbing or uncomfortable that they will feel betrayed by their practice.
It’s all supposed to be peace and bliss right?
I would tell them that the practice didn’t betray them, it gave them a gift. If there is one lesson that I have gleaned from yoga over the years, it’s that being uncomfortable is not the worst thing in the world we have to deal with.
And if we just stay with it for a little bit—either the physical discomfort of a pose (chair pose anyone?) or the emotional/mental discomfort that can come up from a practice—our fear lets go and it becomes easier to sit with.
We become stronger and more integrated human beings. Not in some idealized way, where everything is all chanting and light, but in a messy, very human but very real way.
We integrate more with our true selves and in doing so become more whole, less fractured.
So for what it’s worth, I think you should go get gutted on your mat.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Travis May