What do you picture when you hear the word “yogi”?
For me it was always a calm, beatific person at peace and one with the universe.
When I signed up to do a yoga teacher training with Meghan Currie, I looked forward to a month of pure bliss and intended to cultivate and share the “love and light” in the universe. Little did I know that spending a month on a tiny island off the coast of Nicaragua would be the closest thing to hell I had ever experienced.
People say that emotions are stored in the body. Tears streamed down my face during hip opening pigeon position and giant lumps surfaced in my throat during heart openers.
There were times when I was overcome with despair and unconsolable cries. It was like I was observing the emotions course through my body. Not only did I witness my own pain, but saw too the pain that other girls were experiencing. Heartbreaks that had never fully healed, self loathing, and guilt were moving through the group like a plague.
I desperately attempted to book a premature flight home yet, to my dismay, was forced to hold out for the entire month.
It has taken well over a year to process the training. The storm of emotions I had resisted and refused to feel over the course of life had finally reached land upon which to break. On the desolate island I was without my normal means of distraction, be it food, drugs, the internet, etc. I was forced to be with my naked raw self for the very first time in my adult life. The yoga was untangling knots I had weaved myself into for 23 years.
Attracted to its highlights on the suffering of the human condition, I become insatiably interested in Buddhist meditation. Yes, I believe life is also “love and light” that the Bhakti yogis describe, but Buddhism teaches to embrace the darker aspect of the psyche as well. Feeling darkness does not mean something is inherently wrong with oneself. If we allow ourselves to witness and fully feel it, it primes the heart for compassion and empathy for oneself and for the world. It takes courage to practice feeling this entire spectrum of feelings but I’ve come to the realization that the pleasure, as well as the pain, are both essential elements along on the path to inner peace.
Perhaps the pain we feel most is the pain of resisting, avoiding, fighting the feelings that are present. When we feel a knot in our core or fear fluttering in our chest, it can feel overwhelming and lead us leap for a distraction. These methods of avoidance give us the illusion of control over our feelings, an alternative to the vulnerability of raw emotion. But maybe these bypassed emotions are in fact stored in our body. And if we have the courage to feel emotions as they arise, we save ourselves from the completely crippling rapids of repressed feelings that are released when the floodgates inevitable crack at some point, as well as the dullness of not feeling anything at all.
Once we learn to recognize emotions as they feel in the body, we get better at dealing with them through feeling them. Even the scary ones aren’t so bad in the light of awareness (and support from those around us). As I heard in a Dharma talk (can’t remember which), it’s like the monster under the bed: when we turn on the light and look directly at him, we see that it’s actually this silly creature that’s more afraid of us than we are of him.
The vulnerability of feeling the whole spectrum of emotions softens our heart and expands our ability to feel empathy for others—-in other words, when we know our own pain we are able to relate to that in others.
Coming to terms with our own suffering strengthens our ability to show up in the world for others.
When we aren’t caught in the hurricane of our own emotions, we are then available to pull people into our newly found peace.
Author: Kristen Buchan
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Wiki Commons