Let’s get something out of the way from the start: no, I don’t hate* yoga.
However, as my practice has progressed I’ve noticed that negative emotions sometimes emerge which don’t make me feel great. So I started to untangle the mental elastic band ball to find out what was really going on. The results were amazing (and probably made one cab driver’s life better in a very small way).
My most frequent experience of “hate” is our all time favourite emotional asana: pigeon.
Bang on cue of “right knee to right wrist, left ankle to left wrist” my practice could transform from serenity to impatience accompanied by subconscious teeth grinding. The mantra begins. “I hate this pose. I hate my teacher. No, breathe, relax into it. I’m trying. I hate this pose.”
One day, after a frank conversation with a fellow yoga teacher about the differences between our practices, I slid into pigeon and our conversation popped into my head. As well as the pose-hating voice, I found I was comparing myself to her.
First came jealousy of her ability to open her hips fully and place her left butt cheek on the floor. What?! Now a feeling of inadequacy because I, a yoga teacher, couldn’t go as deeply into pigeon as one of my students who has been able to do so since day one.
Hold on…this is actually kind of interesting.
This voice came from a different place than the hater ego chatter. “Keep going. Ask more.” Ok then. What else is in there? Anger. My right hip is restricted by an injury from trying a showoff kiteboarding move. I was still cross and ashamed at myself that I had let my ego get the better of me six months earlier to the extent that I had injured myself.
I kept going. Once I’d delved into the emotions that were really there, the one that was noticeably absent was, of course, hatred. I came out of pigeon blown away.
And we still had another side to go.
In the days afterwards I started to apply this process of gentle questioning whenever I felt negative emotions in my practice. My press up into handstand went a little like this: “I hate—hold on. What I actually feel is inadequacy because I’m a teacher and I can’t perform it perfectly every time and I feel I should be able to. That’s all? Yes. No hatred? No. Oh. Cool.”
I began to test out this approach on broader aspects of my practice. 6 am and I’d had one of those random sleepless nights. I look at the alarm. I’ll get up when it says 6:10. Ok, 6:15. Here it comes: “Man, I hate yoga on days like this”. Groggily, the deeper questioning voice somehow managed to mumble, “Really? Don’t you just feel guilty about not practising?”
Oh. Yeah. “So if you get up and practice, then you won’t feel guilty?”
Hm. Interesting. So I got up.
I began to wonder if this approach could apply to non-yogic situations. 11pm, an airport taxi stand, three flights down, exhausted. I ask for a cab to X Brand Airport Hotel. The guy laughs at me.
“That’s a one minute ride, you won’t get a cab to take you there.”
“I’ve never been to this city before, I didn’t realise it was close.” I reply.
“Did the name not give it away honey? Airport hotel?”
Hearty laughter from taxi-guru and his friends.
Although my initial reaction is probably highly guessable, I paused and smiled sweetly whilst I did a quick, honest, analysis of what was really going on with me. 50 percent exhaustion. 45 percent feeling slightly foolish. The clue to its location really was in the name. You can work out what the remaining five percent of emotion was but at least the process stopped me from saying something I’d later regret. We can’t all be perfect.
So in conclusion, what I’m advocating is that the next time you feel a negative emotion in your yoga practice: don’t necessarily accept it at face value.
Be honest with yourself. Unpick it, dig at it, get the earth stuck under your nails and you might discover a completely different root. By examining what’s actually going on I’ve discovered what I’m truly feeling on and off the mat, where I otherwise might have missed a valuable signpost. As a result my practice has become deeper, more truthful and I’ve made better decisions.
And yelled at one less cab driver.
*Health warning: I don’t like to use the word “hate” and I try to avoid labelling emotions. Replace this word if you like. You know what I’m talking about though. It’s that heavy, extra math homework, eye rolling, ugh-do-I-have-to feeling.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: lyntally at Flickr