Before becoming a yoga teacher, I saw yoga as an escape where my worries would fade away.
I enjoyed nice Vinyasa Flow classes where the instructors were creative and kind.
They would magically wipe away my sadness with their tranquilizing yet assuring voices and gestures. However, as soon as I finished the class and returned to the “real” world, like a junkie coming off a drug addiction, I needed another yoga class to keep my sanity afloat.
It wasn’t until I started teaching yoga that I realized yoga was never supposed to feel good.
It is supposed to set us on our right trajectory towards self-realization, and the process isn’t always pleasant.
If not for pleasure, then what exactly is yoga for?
To Indian yogis, it is opening our stiff bodies in order to endure long meditation sessions, to connect with the higher consciousness and to be one with the universe. Somehow these sacred philosophies and beliefs became something drastically different when transferred to the West. Westernized yoga is an over-priced (and over-rated) hobby. It’s hippie festivals, expensive yoga wear and organic juices.
To me, yoga is a journey of entering a dark space within, to dissolve the rendering mind activities, to rectify our past conditionings (samskaras) and in the end, if we make it out alright, it leaves us exhilarated, as if we’ve caught a glimpse of our true being.
In a Lululemonized world, yoga has evolved to a “feel good” and soul discovering hobby that somehow, through flossing our teeth or doing a thing a day that scares us, will mystically lead towards spiritual advancement.
According to Benjamin Lorr, author of Hell-Bent, the yoga that we know is “a scam yoga that coddled American egos by refusing to push them beyond their comfort zones but still promised them the spiritual benefits of that struggle.“
Yoga should never hurt. Follow your heart and listen to your body. Well, honestly, if I followed my heart and listened to my body every time I felt my tight hamstrings stretching, I would roll up my mat and call it a day.
Let’s explore the concept of “feeling good.”
Is that before, during or after a yoga practice? Feeling good comes with a price. It may be monetary currency or spiritual progression. No doubt the physical aspect of yoga is revitalizing. It wakes up the nervous system, stimulates the brain and releases happy hormones, endorphins—it’s literally a chemical high.
Nonetheless, when the physical benefits subside and we’re coming off that adrenal bandwagon, what does yoga actually give us that differs from any other physical activities?
In other words: getting to know the good, bad and ugly sides of ourselves. Someone once told me that yoga is not a hug-fest. At first offended, I thought, “Why is he so condescending? What’s wrong with giving hugs?” Well, I later found out, nothing is wrong with giving hugs, but at the same time, hugs have nothing to do with yoga either.
The yoga I know rips my muscle tissues apart and opens my hips in ways I didn’t even know they were capable of.
The yoga I know unmercifully drags my over-inflated ego head-on with my neglected soul and forces it to acknowledge every flaw I have and that I’m never close to perfect.
That, my friend, is on a good day.
On a bad day, my yoga practice has almost nothing to do with the asanas. It’s a pure battle of remaining on the mat, physically touching the yoga mat and tolerating my inner self at its darkest moments. Anger, shame, guilt, insecurities and all other unwanted emotions rise to the surface, penetrating from the deepest part of my heart to the tips of my fingers and toes. Just one more minute of yoga and I will explode.
Usually two things happen on a bad day, either I endure the practice by sobbing through my yoga towel or I walk away repetitiously chanting, “F*ck yoga.”
The yoga that I practice doesn’t feel all that good, yet it’s liberating.
It painstakingly takes me out of this rat-racing spiritual circus. There is this infamous quote in Ashtanga Yoga by Pattahbi Jois:
Practice, practice and all is coming.
It simply means to reap the fruit of our practice, dedication and repetition are needed. In the current modern society, where we often experience instant gratification, the idea of suffering through yoga seems uncalled for. Yoga should feel good and it should feel good now.
I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way.
If yoga is about self-realization, then change needs to happen. To transform the body and mind, we need to step out of the comfort zone, familiarize ourselves with pain and suffering, so in the end we can come out stronger.
So, hug-fest or not, I try not to confuse yoga with a lonely heart support group. Every time I step on the mat, I take a good look within me. What state am I in right now? Compassionate? Agitated? Peaceful?
I resolve what needs to be resolved, one posture at a time, one breath at a time…and if I feel good after? I might give a hug away.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Guenevere Neufeld / Editor: Travis May
Photo: via author