The Trouble with Yoga

"The trouble with yoga," she said, "Is that you see things clearly, you become calm, but then you notice the anger and the difficulty much more." 

She has been practising for many years, a gentle, subtle and patient practice including pranayama, meditation, asana and yoga nidra; she hasn't fiddled around the edges of practice, like many of us do, leaping about like gymnasts for years until we finally get an inkling that something much more amazing and life-changing is going on than mere physical contortion, no, she has always been a serious and humble yoga student, dedicated and committed to a regular practice.  But she is facing some difficulties in her life and when you have a serious yoga practice there's no escaping them, because in the stillness of yoga we see ourselves clearly.  That's the trouble with yoga, she's right.

Yoga transforms people; it is alchemical.  As a teacher it is my privilege to watch people reach the point of transformation and to bravely step towards it.  If you practice yoga it will change you; always for the better, but not always without troubles.  I have watched people learn to accommodate serious physical illness and injury; come to terms with mental illness; learn to accept themselves and therefore find love; move through relationship break-ups.  I have watched people stumble towards self-understanding and make their first tentative moves towards truly valuing themselves and thus changing their lives. 

People move towards transformation slowly and falteringly, periods of denial punctuated by moments of sometimes painful clarity; and when transformation seems to happen quickly, it is only that what is being observed is years of stored up transformative energy bursting forth in a blinding flash: suddenly someone changes job, alters their priorities, ends a relationship, or starts a new one, moves house,  etc., etc., but in truth 'sudden' transformation has its basis in years of slowly moving towards understanding.

Patanjali tells us that our view of the world is coloured by our subjectivity, as the old Talmud saying has it, "We do not see the world as it is, but how we are", he counsels that we must clear our minds and our hearts so that we might see clearly and live better.  He assures us that once we have cleared our minds, we will realise the truth of human life: all is one, separation is an illusion.  Once we know this, we live better lives, we are happier, more fulfilled, kinder, more eager to serve.

I have a friend who says that yoga is "too quick" and I think I understand what she means; sometimes we don't feel ready to sit quietly with the maelstrom that whirls inside us; with the damage, the love, the joy and the hurt that we hold inside (it is a strange fact that sometimes it is as hard to sit with our own joy and sense of freedom as it is to sit with our pain).  But we cannot live full lives if we do not learn to sit with the dark and light within, to encompass them both as part of ourselves and through doing so forgive ourselves for our weaknesses and know our strengths.  Forgiveness and compassion must begin within our own hearts, for it is absolutely impossible to give those things to other people when we are unable to give them to ourselves.

When we delay the transformation that beckons, and all of us do this sometimes to a greater or lesser extent, then we live for that time within a false sense of comfort, as the Bhagavad Gita says, with pleasure that later brings pain; refusing to remove the sticking-plaster that we know must be pulled off at some point.  But everybody does this sometimes.  Transformation is very rarely easy.

Easter is a good time for considering transformation, whether or not you are a Christian, because the story of Easter tells us that we can all be born again and again, that this is one of the gifts of being human.  I heard a Bishop's letter this weekend and in it he said, "Resurrection is not for the faint-hearted", I loved that phrase for the encouragement it gives (you are finding it difficult because it is difficult, don't blame yourself for that) and because it implies an immediacy to the story of Christ: resurrection is not just what happened in Christ's life, it is happening to you too.

This is the other trouble with yoga: transformation happens constantly and will continue throughout your life and your yoga practice; there will be no defining moment when everything becomes clear and you get it all right.  It is more akin to stumbling towards the light on an uneven path with steep inclines, the occasional exhilarating summit (look how far you have come!) and moments of great loss, when you stand by the road lamenting that not so long ago the path was clear and you knew the direction in which you were headed.  Sometimes a strong hand will draw you forward, at others you will be inching forward alone and in darkness.

So she is right, my student, this is the trouble with yoga: once you have experienced the peace that lives inside you as a naturally arising state, you ask why it is that you do not feel at peace more often.  It is in seeking the answers to that question that the way rolls out beneath your feet and your own ever-evolving transformation begins.

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