even a little of this practice
will shelter you from great sorrow. - Bhavagad Gita
Yesterday, I posted on the facebook page:
"In the course of my yoga, there have been times I've had to dig a little deeper to get myself to practice. Things happen. The fascination wears off. Dissatisfaction or busyness pervades, even when I most want to 'feel' yoga. The body feels cold and life just seems stuck. Sometimes, all efforts toward self-care and growth seem thwarted by a big, grumpy, demanding world. This is a thing; not personal, but a truth. At times, this signals a point of incubation, of the practice or some life path going deeper. Which might involve increased resistance or doubt, a knowing that to continue means we have to let go of something we're really not ready look at, let alone let go of. Sometimes it means the body itself is acclimating; the changes a yoga practice initiates are ocean swells of rearrangement. Sometimes its a recurrence of mind junk, periods of self-doubt and self-loathing, confusion and unclarity about what we're doing".
I post according to the conversations I'm having with students, and the conversations I'm having with student bodies. I posted this after someone told me the guts have fallen out of her yoga, and she missed it. Once I posted, there was a kick back. Many are struggling, a lot of us are confused and conflicted. Others have just noticed that while it used to be easy - they wanted - to come to yoga three and four and more times a week, the spark died and now once a week, if that, is all they really have time or care for. Many people want to take care of themselves, want to feel like yoga made them feel, once, but for whatever reason they just haven't gone. In years.
Sometimes the conflict is about yoga, sometimes not. But when we are seriously confused and conflicted, even our refuges like a yoga class become distasteful. Dubious. Effortful.
I posted precisely because this is a psychological reality, not a personal loss or failure. It isn't that the teacher isn't any good any longer or that the poses have gone old. It isn't- this is my, personal likely thought - that I was fooling myself all along, I was a sucker, that yoga is really just as meaningless as everything else. That I've been wasting my time. I can't do what I want to do. I do the things I hate to do. The disappointment is awful, in my mouth. Like old pennies. Rancid, old pennies.
Doubt and heaviness are a thing that happens to us, once in a while. It isn't your fault and it's isn't wrong. It means something.
We start, I said in class, by grounding. When we ground and sit still, we become aware of thoughts. This just happens. We become aware of the planning, observing, judging, uncomfortable, winding and chattering mind. This is chitta vrittri: Patanjali's twisting and tormented mind.
Sometimes chitta mutates into some whole other beast of a thing. It moves. It penetrates the body. We go cold, and dark.
As I wrote in the yoga of darkness, this doesn't mean yoga isn't working anymore, but that it is.
Often, it happens when the honey moon ends and real yoga starts. What was interesting and so exciting hits up against an edge. We realize how far our hamstrings can stretch and then the opening stops. We learned how to do a crow pose but no matter how much we engage the right muscles, our feet just never will leave the floor. We hit a point where the body really needs to be a different thing if it's going to go on, or where we ourselves really need to change our lives if we're going to keep practicing. And sometimes, we're just not sure we want to do that. Or maybe we would do, if we had any idea how.
Sometimes it happens because we are depleted elsewhere in our lives. When this is so - and it might be years in - even our refuge feels exhausting. Even sweet things taste half assed. It becomes really hard to care, let alone get up and do. We don't know what to do. We don't feel what we want to feel. The things that we loved - that we want to love - have become as burdensome as everything else. This hurts us. We're such bad mothers. We wasted our years getting into this career and don't know why any more. We forget what we loved about our lover. We disgust ourselves. We trudge on.
Sometimes, we have no idea why it feels the way it does or why we do the things we do.
Chitta seeps into the body itself, and we don't even know. Stuckness, samskara, blocks and stress are sometimes invisible to us. We can end up in the ER, thinking something is wrong with our heart, terribly wrong, and be told that we have 'anxiety', but be confused about how this could be true. Sometimes, sorrow eats our bones and we develop strange pains, neuropathies, fatigue syndromes, and when we're told it's a head thing we get pissed.
(As you should: pain in the body is real. It is not 'in your head'.)
The thing is this: what we are doing here is trying to feel into the space between body and mind, the place where they interface, to see how they tangle and observe. You cannot do this, yoga thing, and not eventually hit smack up against your personality and the reality of your life. You can't try to 'change' your self or any aspect of your days and not hit up on a deeply patterned body that wants ice cream, is depressed, feels vulnerable, old, wild, or dull. There is no separation and when we touch this - consciously or no, usually no - something very deep in us may recoil.
This is okay.
I want to say 'don't quit'. But what I need to say is that yoga is not on your yoga mat.
Yoga is a way of being alive.
And what you may need to do, warrior heart, is not pound yourself into submission or child's pose right now but be still, and listen. Be still, and know.
When yoga is seen as the feel good, flowy things we do in class you'll end up missing something. When it is seen as the feeling you get, and you get hooked on that feeling, you'll end up missing something. Yoga is not the postures, the teacher, the breath. If we try to keep it there, it will end up being a mere show of vanity and accomplishment and self-recrimination or loathing or boasting, just like everything else in life. If our yoga is not rooted in self-inquiry, non-harming, truthfulness, clarity, it becomes hollow. We will suffer.
What I need to say is ground: ground and root your practice in the yamas and niyamas. Use them like crutches, make them devotions you touch on at the end of the day, lenses through which you can actually see your day, touchstones to help you make decisions because you're so spent and confused you don't know what to do any more.
We are yogis; we're lucky; we have instructions and techniques.
What will happen is this: you'll have ways to see that it isn't, really, personal. It isn't. The fatigue and frustration. The sick of it all ness. The battle.
The battle isn't personal. You can stop fighting. Be still, and know the truth.
Real, actual practices you might use:
*use the yamas niyamas. As stringently as you use a weekly yoga class or used to. Work with your teacher. Get a book, a journal, a spiritual guide or a therapist. Start with ahimsa...do not harm. For the next week, notice harming thoughts, behavior, speech. For one week. Notice. Notice by writing, making a list, making an intention, meditating, talking with your teacher, or however you do.
If our practice is not rooted into deep psychological inquiry and the ways we're living, as much as it is rooted in body, our body is eventually going to 'betray' us.
What you'll find, in practicing the yamas and niyamas, is a deeper self and poignancy, a rush to live dharmically rather than stuck in yourself (all that 'self loathing', stuff). This is difficult, especially if where you are is self doubting right now. But listen to the truth of who you are, beyond tired. You'll suffer so long as you DONT see yourself as a divine spit of universe with mountains to move. You'll suffer so long as you can't love yourself as completely and wholly as Jesus loved, as you love your pet and a child, as you love your closest friends. This isn't easy and I'll write more on it. But it is true.
*Use all available resources. The heart of yoga is interconnection and the longing we all have for connection - an ultimate reality that we are not alone. Yet we need yoga precisely because we usually feel alone. Hire a babysitter. See a therapist. Call an old friend even though you feel shitty because it's been so long. Go see your doctor. Go to a meeting. Go to class. Hold your lover's hand and explain that all you can really handle is holding hands right now. Pray.
*The feeling that we are unsupported and need more support (affirmation, a thank you now and then would be nice, goddamn it can't you see how hard I'm working here) is an indication that our ojas is sapped. We're going to talk about ojas in this weekend's workshop. Other symptoms include: not getting real sleep and not feeling rested in the morning. Lack of care about the things we used to care about. Dull feeling in the body, in the eyes, in the hair. Bloat and brittle, or greasy and gross. Confusion, lack of knowing what it is we're supposed to be doing with our lives, inner conflict.
You're going to have to go forth, anyway. Life is going to go on. You might as well give yourself permission to feel what you feel and investigate it, invest in the process, go along for the ride. If you have to cry along the way, so be it.
*When our body is this cold and dry, we may need restorative yoga. Meditate. Practice self massage. Soak in the tub. Get a massage or a pedicure. Eat comfort food and lubricate: moisturize with coconut oil, sesame oil, shea butter or other like these, externally. Often. Thick, like. Oleate internally by getting lots of good fats. Take fish oil or flax oil. Use a lot of it on your food.
*Stay warm. Cuddle into socks, blankets, comfort clothes. Let yourself get a healthy sheen of sweet on once a day (which does not mean sweat buckets, it means healthy sheen). This can be yoga but doesn't have to be.
*Do try to get to the mat. This body mind thing is uncanny. It isn't in your head. You won't release what is happening in your heart until it's actually processed in your body. Yoga does this.
*Listen. Keep going. But listen close.