YOGIS GET FLUSTERED TOO: Working Through versus Leaving Behind
I will never forget the reactions I was met with when I first shared the news that I was going to pursue a path in teaching yoga.
After a few months of careful deliberations, and some serious number crunching, I decided to enroll in a 200 hour yoga teacher training program. As I slowly began revealing the news to close confidantes, I was met with nothing short of genuine encouragement and words of reassurance.
“You are perfect for this!” they proclaimed.
“You’re so easy to talk to. You’ll be a natural,” they affirmed.
And, for a while, I believed them.
I have held a pretty consistent practice for a handful of years now, beginning with a regular home practice that evolved into belonging to a studio and eventually to a hybrid home + studio practice. I feel honored, and humbled to have close friends and family members come to me as a source of honest advice in times of trouble. I have always been comfortable talking to people, regardless of where they are from or what they do. I just might be okay at this, I thought as I approached my first day of teacher training with a healthy balance of confidence and trepidation.
I let others’ perception of me in relation to yoga shape my experience in teacher training, which entails more intensive practice and chaturangas than one could possible prepare for, for approximately a week and a half before yoga kicked my ass right out of oblivion and into reality.
It was on my mat that I discovered very acute and pertinent realities that countered my loved ones’, however well-intentioned, words of encouragement.
I may be an okay fit for this, but I am nowhere close to perfect. And while I don’t need to be perfect, I do need to work on how much I beat myself up for not being perfect. I am ample in self-criticism and barren in self-love.
I may be easy to talk to, but I often bury fears, desires, and feelings of unsettlement from even my closest allies. Sometimes, it’s to avoid confronting my demons and sometimes it’s to make space for the loved ones in my life to open up and work through their trials and tribulations. Sure, I may be easy to talk to, but I also rarely openly share my struggles. Which would make anyone easy to talk to.
I may be calm on the surface, but inside I’m all over the place, to say the least. I am good at keeping it together when I have to, and have put on some Oscsar-worthy performances of composed when I have been anything but.
All of this was particularly true when I embarked on yoga teacher training. I was on the tail-end of a long relationship that I knew was inevitably going to dissolve in the imminent future. I was feeling directionless professionally. And I was feeling more disconnected from myself, who I am, and who I am supposed to be, than I had ever been. I also knew I had an affinity for yoga. So, to me, embarking in teacher training, at this particular time in my life, made perfect sense. I would embark on this journey to immerse myself in an experience that would remove me from the heartbreak, fear, and discontent I was feeling in an attempt to heal myself, and once I got there, to help others in similar situations in their healing, too.
What intensifying my practice taught me, which was sparked by training and remains true since, is that as much as I would love for my yoga mat to truly be a magic carpet that takes me away from life’s inevitable ebbs and flows, sometimes, it’s just the opposite. Sometimes my practice stirs up some uncomfortable shit that I try to bury beneath the surface. Sometimes, for this yogini, practice isn’t always about leaving everything behind when I step onto the mat, but bringing that uncomfortable shit with me and working through it. Yoga, rather than healing me by removing me from the heartbreak, fear, and discontent I was feeling, healed me by making me confront the heartbreak, fear, and discontent I was feeling, and in some very profound ways.
All of this is not to say that yoga is not capable of whisking us away when we need it most; it absolutely is, and I, like any yogi, need those types of practices on my mat and in my life. But, as yoga teaches us, life is all about balance, and some of the most fulfilling practices on my mat have ended with me crying with my whole body in savasana as the weight of my hardships settled, loosened, and ultimately lifted.
And so, when I find myself frustrated in a yoga class during which I can’t leave my problems at the door; during which I can’t stop thinking about a fear or a disappointment; during which my mat feels more like a therapy session than a magic carpet, I do my best to pause and remember that for me, in that moment, working through is more beneficial than leaving behind. I do my best to pause and remember that sometimes mastering my thoughts by confronting them is my yoga. And I remember a yoga sutra that rings especially true, and near and dear, to my heart.
There are many different, slightly-varying interpretations of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.2, which reads yogas citta vritti nirodha. Despite the small differences in verbiage in our modern interpretations of this ancient text, yoga sutra 1.2 can roughly be translated as yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.
In my practice, ceasing those fluctuations of the mind, those vrittis, is not always as easy as stepping onto my mat and simply watching them vanish. Alternatively, I have found that when I confront those vrittis on my mat, asking myself why these thoughts are populating in my mind and doing my best to sift through what is merely a stray thought and what may actually require some introspection and reflection, I have some of my most enlightening and powerful yogic experiences. Sometimes, holding on and working through versus letting go and leaving behind is the only way I truly can cease the fluctuations of my mind.
I’m not saying that every single time I step on my mat, I work through my shit and have a kundalini experience. Sometimes, I do just want to leave everything at the door and flow to some loud-ass music. What I am saying is that sometimes letting go of the notion of letting go is not only liberating, but empowering. When we stop giving ourselves a hard time for not being able to let go, we force ourselves to confront what it is that’s weighing us down and examine why, ultimately allowing us the space and freedom to confront it, work through it, and let it go, if indeed letting it go is what is meant to follow.
So next time you find yourself on your mat unable to leave everything at the door; unable to stay in the present; unable to let go . . . Don’t panic. Confronting our demons, our fluctuations, our vrittis, is one of the bravest, and oftentimes most enlightening, endeavors a yogi a can embark on.