Yoga’s not all “shanti shanti,” sweet smelling incense and tighty-brighty yoga pants.
Amongst the deep stretches and soothing pranayama, the journey of the soul is available for you, if you want to pursue it. And damn—it can get gritty, messy and confronting, in the best possible way.
Yoga cracks me open; it’s not all peaceful oms to enlightenment, oh no, the good the bad and the ugly are all there. It’s just that now I can see and feel more clearly, I understand my sublime gifts and my dark edges with greater depth of awareness. I feel personal power and deep gratitude almost as much as I feel vulnerable and raw.
One day I’m good and the next I’m having a really hard time, which is a shock to me (and those around me) because I kinda thought this yoga business was meant to make life all good and easy. Nope, I’m just the same as I ever was, really, I’m just beginning to live with a growing awareness of all that I am, healing the hurt parts, letting go of the crap and moving towards more of what serves me on my life path.
I’ve been reading Stephen Pressfield’s, “The War of Art” (to my surprise a very yogic book) in which he wages a war on resistance: procrastination, self-sabotage and indecision, among other things. He urges his readers to knock down the barricades that stand between them and their most productive, awesome, creative self (in yoga speak- Atman).
His language is strong; he uses battle metaphors and talks of resistance’s MO to crush, conquer and kill us. I love it. It resonates with themes in one of yoga’s greatest text, The Bhagavad Gita, and it gets me fired up to fight back against my own sabotaging demons both on and off the mat. Most of all, it inspires me to pull down the walls between myself and the spectrum of human experience—I want to feel—everything! No more stifling tears, burying anger down in the pit of my stomach, no more pushing myself for others when my tank is empty.
So how does this translate on the yoga mat?
Imagine—you are immersed in asana, it’s your favourite style, you’ve got your awesome yoga gear on, it’s your favourite teacher, the music is just right to help you get in your flow, then you hit a glitch—the teacher leaves you in pigeon for five minutes and you start freaking out, “What sort of masochistic move is this? I didn’t sign up for yin. I’m so ready for savasana,” you check out and the shanti shanti goes out the window.
Whenever resistance comes up, the yoga mat becomes your battleground. This is a gift. Think of it as a testing ground to explore yourself, safely, through the body and through the breath. Notice feelings that come up and welcome them like you would welcome an old friend into your home. Rather than running from feelings, explore them because there are treasures to be found if you look a little closer.
Now, everyone’s resistance manifests differently, yours might take the guise of distraction, blame, fear or excuses. It might be a certain pose you avoid, a wandering mind or your propensity to become absorbed in what other people are doing rather than facing yourself and your experience. Now with respect to “avoiding poses” I’m not saying if you slip into child’s pose instead of taking the final lunge sequence that this is necessarily “resistance,” because maybe letting go and taking a rest when you are exhausted is exactly what you normally resist.
If you find you strive to please the teacher or show off to those around you, backing off, letting go and dropping into child’s pose is possibly the bravest and most powerful choice for you in that moment. Whatever your resistance trigger, commit to being there when it shows up, as this can be an incredibly powerful moment for reprogramming old patterns of behaviour and facilitating the soul’s growth.
For me, one of my many resistances was an avoidance of pigeon pose. I realized that my discomfort in this posture triggered anger, blame, fear and even tears. The next step, was to stalk that emotion (a teaching I learned from Ana Forrest). Like a lioness tracking her prey, follow the emotion to its source and find out where it’s coming from. This might take all of five minutes, or a lifetime of yoga and meditation. I’m still stalking, unraveling the layers in my sacrum, sometimes it’s two steps forward one step back. But this is the juicy bit—it’s the battleground, the process and it’s right there for you if you seek it.
Resistance is the only thing standing between how we live right now and our soul’s greatness; we must fight it by showing up and being present for the battle no matter what. This might mean having the consistency to show up on the yoga mat or meditation cushion, everyday, showing up for life just by getting out of bed or being present with yourself as you feel sadness allowing the true depth of the emotion to rise.
Resistance will never leave us, because the war is never over, so we might as well get used to it and keep showing up for battle with the warriors spirit in our heart and a glimmer in our eye ready to dance with both the light and dark of our soul. This is the yoga I live for.
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Editor: Travis May
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