As I stepped onto my mat I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of peace, from the moment I raised my arms I was totally calm. When I finished my practice I lay in savasana totally blissed out and completely surrendered to the feelings of joy flowing through me.
No...not feeling like that? Feeling more like a strung out, sweaty yogi with an overwhelming urge to run for the nearest door whilst tossing your yoga mat aggressively in the air? Don't panic because you're not alone!
The media has an insatiable appetite for all things yoga and all that is loosely related to it. With that has arisen an ideal; a supposedly perfect yoga body, a wardrobe full of expensive yoga pants, Instagram photos of peachy bums and bendy backs beyond belief, magazine images of gently closed eyes with a faint smile on impossibly perfect lips, not to mention a steady stream of Pinterest memes captioning feelings of immediate bliss and calm.
It is believed that yoga will make you relaxed and at peace with yourself. There is no doubt that with a regular yoga practice you will feel these benefits. However, there is a process to get to that state of bliss and acceptance; yoga is a journey to be walked and there are no shortcuts.
So, it seems to be a bit of a taboo somehow to discuss the reality of our journeys; the unpleasant bits, the less appealing aspects of our own unique yoga path - the one we must all find our own way through.
Maybe you feel frustrated when you step on the mat? Feeling resentment, perhaps when being told to breathe it makes you feel like you want to shout "I know, I'm trying!" Yet you don't know why you have these feelings, and you might be thinking why aren't you feeling all glossy and zen, and moving into asanas with ease like everyone else seems to be? These feelings are internal and often no reflection on the yoga teacher (although a good one will recognise these internal struggles and guide you through them as well as face them). I had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful yogi at Purple Valley, the Ashtanga yoga retreat in Goa, whose journey resonated with mine and I now want to share. We chatted lots about our lives, yoga practice and feelings on and off the mat. It was during breakfast, after practice, that she confided in me that she used to feel intense anger during her Ashtanga practice; a feeling of impatience, feeling like she was getting it "all wrong". I loved her honesty and immediately confirmed that yes, it's totally fine to feel like that, I did too and at the time, I thought I was the only person who did. Now I know it's all part of the process! What a relief..
In my teachings, I try to empower my students to accept all feelings, the good and the bad. Feeling anything and everything is acceptable and encouraged - a teary savasana is not uncommon. The practice of yoga is designed to cleanse the mind and body in preparation for meditation. Basically bringing the shit we have continually pushed down deep inside (where we can't feel it) back up to the surface and then out.
The yoga Shala or yoga studio is foremost a safe space, where we come together to return to our authentic self. The ego is to be left at the door and the process of healing begins.
The wonderful Dena Kinsberg, an authorised fourth series yoga practitioner, described it like this to me...
We have these tiny black seeds and these seeds represent hurt, grief, anger, disappointment and trauma. We push these seeds deep down inside, where we can't see them, down and away hoping that they won't come out. Then we practice Ashtanga, the same sequence over and over again. Just like kneading dough with these seeds pushed down inside we pull and twist, fold and press, kneading the dough again and again and again. Eventually these black seeds are going to come to the surface. It doesn't always feel good working to get these little seeds out but we're going to keep going till we've pushed them out completely.
Practicing Backbending (otherwise known as front stretching) is a common place where emotions aren't all rosy and happy. It works deeply on your nervous system, opening the heart and stretching the intercostal muscles, all of which affects us emotionally. What's more during all of this you are under pressure to trust and have faith in yourself to do something that nobody as a human was naturally designed to do - fall backwards!
I have met a lot of ashtanga second series practitioners, where the backbends are frequent and intense, who have spoken frankly about intense emotions and blazing arguments with their partner a regular occurrence after a Mysore practice. Many students experience immediately bursting tears as a result of an emotional release after backbending. So what do we do if this rings true? If you feel like the hot, flustered and sweaty one in the room on the verge of tears?
Firstly it's ok - it's an amazing gift to be emotional, to be present and accept how you feel. It's totally OK.
Secondly breathe...yes that's it, just simply slow it down. Inhale to the count of three, exhale to the count of three, even inhale and exhale, free breathing. Relax your face, drop your shoulders, relax into the postures, allow a softness and gentleness to lead you.
Thirdly let go of the stories; the stories in your head that are be holding you back. The voice that says you're not doing it right or it's not good enough. These are false stories and they do not serve you.
You are absolutely perfect, your journey is as unique as you are. The feelings you experience will continually shift and change and with regular practice in time you will step on the mat and you will meet yourself with peace, the seeds will work their way out and you will find your yogic bliss.