Angry yoga—you know what I’m talking about.
We’ve had a sh*t week, our bodies are heavy and full of toxins and our chakras feel about as balanced as our brains after a night of Molly. The normally soothing and pleasant voice of the teacher is all of a sudden saccharine and infuriating. As she tells us to let go of our day and tune into our breath, we fantasize about a dramatic exit and heading home to a pint-sized glass of Malbec.
But of course, we don’t do that. We push ourselves through the sweat and fury and often those sessions turn out to be the most fulfilling.
Anger—like fire—can blaze down a home or burn through illusion. We choose.
On the last day of my yoga teacher training program, this scenario was turned upside down, when I experienced my very first, truly angry yoga teacher.
One too many students had slept in past the 5 a.m. start time and this teacher was livid that the discipline she had spent a month trying to instill in us was now nonexistent. As I was still rubbing the sleep from my eyes and leisurely making my way to the yoga shala, I heard the gong echoing loudly. This was my first indication that something was wrong.
Then I passed her on the banana leaf laden path. “Good morning,” she said tersely as she narrowed her eyes at me. She proceeded to bang on all of the doors where students were still in bed. In the shala, the stragglers trickled in, looking sheepish and sleepy.
Cranking the house music and raising her voice to shouting level, she was visibly shaken as she began teaching. Some students looked bewildered, but tried their best to keep up. Some ended up in child’s pose for half the class, fighting back their own reactive anger and tears.
Others, like myself, thrived.
Her anger fueled me. We held asanas for what felt like interminable amounts of time. At one point, about five minutes into a downward dog, I felt my arms start to tremble. Just as I began to relish the thought of dropping to my knees for a few moments of relief, she walked past me and bellowed (as if reading my mind):
“Go into child’s pose if you must, but just remember: How you do yoga is how you do life!”
Boom. Never had any words from a yoga teacher resonated so deeply with me.
I instantly came to the harsh realization that I live most of my life in child’s pose. I am lazy, passive and easy going. I procrastinate. I do not like doing things that I am not inherently good at. I follow my natural tendencies and generally feel like I have nothing to prove.
I rarely push myself to try new, demanding poses. Instead I opt for traditional Hatha and slow Yin—styles that perfectly suit my personality and are incredibly rewarding, but not personally challenging.
Yoga teachers are constantly telling us to slow down, because most people in the west live way too fast. I happen to be naturally relaxed, so when a yoga teacher tells me to be easy on myself, it is a self -satisfying affirmation of my inherent laziness. I lower down into child’s pose and think smugly to myself as my neighbor sweats it out “I am so zen. I have nothing to prove.”
But the truth is I have been proving that fear and complacency rule my life—on and off the mat.
Last week in class we were in a standing forward fold when the teacher suggested that those of us who tend to be more passive in life should try pushing a little further, and those who always push too hard should back off a bit. I pushed myself a little further forward only to find that there was tons of room for me to move my nose closer to my legs. The result was a fantastic release and opening in my hamstrings.
How many years had I been stopping at the same spot? Content with where I was because it was comfortable and non-threatening? Because it was better than average, and therefore good enough?
The beauty of yoga asana is that it can help us learn acceptance while teaching us how to break through limiting beliefs. As we push towards our edge we almost always find that it is further away than we thought. Our practice and our lives can expand in ways we never thought possible. It took an angry yoga teacher to help me smash down the walls of my comfort zone, and as bizarre as the experience was, I will forever be grateful to her for that lesson.
These days, I dare myself to try more challenging asanas. I no longer go into child’s pose unless I know my body truly needs the rest. Yes, there is beauty in surrender and acceptance, but there is also freedom in discipline and challenge.
And sometimes anger is the vehicle that gets us there.
Author: Jaime Jacques
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Image: Seth Woodworth/Flickr