A while back I was chatting with a student who was struggling with a long term niggly injury.
They’d been doing a great job of adapting their practice to accommodate this injury - and an equally great job of telling me how it had been a really valuable opportunity for learning and finding new ways of practising.
I didn’t doubt what they were telling me - injuries can indeed be great opportunities for learning and reflection, for trying new approaches to practice - but I just had a sense they were holding something back.
And so I replied “it’s ok to be angry about it”.
The sense of relief was almost palpable - I could visibly see their body relax as they gave themself permission to really open up and articulate honestly how frustrating they’d been finding the injury.
I find that sometimes in the yoga world there’s an unspoken pressure to put a ‘spiritual sheen’ on things - to impress upon others (and perhaps ourselves) that ‘everything is great’ or that our practice is ‘so nice’ when the reality is anything but (and anyway, yoga isn’t meant to be ‘nice’!).
That to be honest and say “actually things are pretty shit right now” or to acknowledge ’negative’ emotions such as anger or sadness is somehow ‘unyogic’ or calls into question our commitment and relationship to practice (surely if we were a ‘proper yogi’ then we’d be all sweetness and light 100% of the time?)
This notion that our practice should somehow insulate us from all the unpleasantness that life flings our way is a deeply flawed misunderstanding - and deeply pernicious too because it encourages us to bypass how we actually feel and avoid facing up to reality as it is (which is in fact the diametric opposite of the purpose of yoga practice).
Not only that, but it can cause us to compound our suffering - giving ourselves a hard time for slipping below the impossibly high standards that we set ourselves as practitioners of yoga.
But if we don’t face the reality of life, as ugly as it can be, or the reality of how we truly feel, then how can we develop appropriate strategies for managing our responses to whatever arises?
Because whilst yoga and mindfulness are indeed powerful tools for helping us to develop these strategies and responses, they absolutely should not be used to bypass or deny what’s actually here or how we really feel.
Rather, they should be a means for allowing and connecting all the more deeply to what arises - thoughts, emotions and sensations - and the life situations that we’re presented with. A way of being able to offer some genuine care and kindness to ourselves and others as those phenomena manifest. And a way to identify the most appropriate responses to those experiences - ensuring that we’re not at the mercy of powerful emotions, but that we’re able to work with them in skilful and compassionate ways.
I’m not saying that I’ve got this licked. In fact, as a teacher I often find I’m prone to putting even more pressure on myself to demonstrate to others that ‘everything’s fine’ when really it’s not.
But it’s something that I’m consciously working with in practice and life - and as I’ve said before, shining a light on our existing patterns of thought and behaviour tends to weaken their hold over us…and can often be the first important step in identifying new ways of moving through life that can serve us better.