As I write, know that when I speak of Yoga for this post specifically, I am referring to asana, or the physical practice.
For those of you who knew Hunter, you’ll watch this video and know the torment he’s feeling here. You’ll sense the intensity of the battle he’s having with himself. He’s trying to get into his trademark pose from crow to scorpion handstand. He usually did this with such ease.
He had a motorcycle accident at 22 which left him riddled with injuries and arthritis in his joints and pain was a daily struggle for him, but as you know, he didn’t let it stop him. He was the strongest, most determined soul we ever knew. His arm rejected metal plates and so they could never truly reconstruct the damage caused and so his elbow was literally crumbling (you could hear the bones when he moved it) and on this specific day, the pain and struggle was just too much.
There seems to be a culture right now where it’s believed that Yoga will leave you calm, zen, happy, upbeat, energized and the list of ‘positive’ adjectives continues.
However, we have to be careful when preaching this, because it leaves no room for the other side of the coin, where it can, in fact, be messy, painful and downright frustrating.
Yoga is not always rainbows and unicorns and is not a ‘cure-all’.
Imagine the brand new Yogi, arriving in class after hearing all the pseudo positivity and leaving feeling ‘worse’ after or melting into a puddle of tears during (this happens – A LOT). It’ll leave them feeling unsettled and it’s unlikely they’ll come back. They may think “Yoga just isn’t for me, because I didn’t feel all the good feels”
What does Yoga do?
It allows the practitioner to peel back the layers and sometimes, when we do that, it’s not pretty!
Don’t get me wrong, Yoga and Yogic practices often do leave us feeling better when we step off our Yoga mat, but it’s a slippery slope when that becomes the expectation. Yoga opens us up to both the good and the bad, the light and the dark, our freedom, yet also our limitations.
When we step onto our Yoga mats, it’s important to be honest with ourselves. If we’re feeling sad, feel sad, if we’re feeling stressed, feel stressed, don’t bypass. We’re humans, having a human experience and we need to feel all human emotion to understand it and hopefully move through it. That may take some time and practice and perhaps more than just a Yoga practice. Yoga is not an escape from reality, but it can help us deal with the heavy realities we may face on a day to day basis.
So now that you know the practice can leave us feeling all sorts of emotional – angry, frustrated, sad, vulnerable etc, we have to ask why?
The Yoga practice purifies not only the body, but the mind and spirit and as you move through the practice, the body responds in many different ways. When we move and rinse the body through asana, we release blocked energy, some of it stored away for years now slowly bubbles to the surface and this can cause a surge of emotion. Sometimes ‘positive’ and sometimes ‘negative’, but always necessary, whatever comes.
When we are in these moments, we are shown what’s happening within us and it can be surprising as to how much unrest there is.
It forces us to truly see what we sometimes choose to ignore, and this takes bravery, but we keep showing up, doing the work.
So, what do you do when you’re feeling overwhelmed on your mat, filled with emotions, perhaps the tears arrive?
Firstly, know that this is okay. It happens more often than you’d think. Don’t be concerned about those around you. This is your time. Truly feel what it is you are feeling. Feel it in the body and honour it. Allow it to be there and acknowledge it and observe. Breathe. Let go of judgement and labelling and watch what happens.
A beautiful quote which I refer back to often is:
“Crying is one of the highest devotional songs. One who knows crying, knows spiritual practice. If you can cry with a pure heart, nothing else compares to such a prayer. Crying includes all the principles of Yoga.” — Swami Kripalvanandji
So, embrace what will come, but those of you thinking of beginning a Yoga practice, it’s so much more than what you’ve heard. Try to arrive without any goals or expectations and just see what happens. That goes for those seasoned practitioners too!