the yoga of sadness

the yoga of sadness

yoginis feel sad too
Sometimes it’s just a tender ache, sometimes heart wrenching, face full of snot, ugly-crying sadness. Because, you know, life. The idea that yoga puts rose coloured glasses on everything is a myth to be debunked here and now. That’s not to say that yoga doesn’t make you feel good or isn’t helpful when life throws a shitstorm in your face. It is in fact immensely helpful. But not by zapping your emotions so that you will never feel pain, grief or hurt ever again. Let me explain.

instagram rage
There are times when my heart swells with joy and love and it spills over into social media. Then again there are times when a voice inside of me rebels against the shiny, happy, “oh, I’m so grateful and blessed” posts by myself and others that dominate my instagram feed. Because life has a lot in store, and it sure isn’t all blessed. Sometimes really horrible things happen, so horrible I’m not going to pull some BS about being grateful for the valuable life lessons they offer. Here’s the deal: Every moment is a valuable life lesson anyway. You don’t have to pretend the things that hurt don’t hurt and mask them behind a perceived obligation to be grateful for the lesson. Sometimes the lesson sucks. You’ll grow from it, sure. But you don’t have to pretend you enjoy it.

welcome to sad central
My mother is severely ill and I just lost two friends, one of them to suicide, the other to a sudden heart attack. I’m not going to  smile and pretend a fibre of my being is grateful for this, no matter how much I will learn and expand and grow down the road. Because right now I’m just really terribly sad.
Yoga teaches us to be with what is, observing what is, without judgement. That means being with the feeling that arises as a response to our circumstances. It doesn’t mean you can’t allow yourself to think that something sucks. It just means observing that thought and the emotions surrounding it without judgement. It means accepting that feeling of sadness or anger or grief or whatever. Actually feeling the feelings as they arise is the key to emotional freedom. Taking time to notice what happens in the body is the deepest honesty you can give yourself. You can play the tape saying “oh, I’m fine” in your head until you’re blue in the face. The lump in your stomach, the shortness of breath, the pain in your chest – those are the real feelings. And they don’t need to be translated  into words. They just need to be noticed and acknowledged. They’re there. Let them be there. Become aquainted with them. This is the practice.

be with it
It can be tempting to stop tuning into an honest awareness when things get rough. Under the pretext of having to care for others or having more important things to deal with, we tune out to avoid feeling the stuff that really hurts. But in moments of grief, I’d suggest that mindful awareness is essential, more than ever. It’s not about digging a hole in the ground and staying there, but about taking a few minutes to just step out of the loop to observe your own emotions with compassion. Sometimes even less than a few minutes, because it hurts so much you have to leave it. Sometimes you do have to let yourself be distracted for a while, to give yourself a bit of distance. But there is a fine balance. If the distractions take the place of true, raw emotion, we lose touch with who we are. We become fragmented. The opposite of yoga, really.

the blaming game
When my friend commited suicide my immediate response was not very useful, to say the least. I started thinking about what I could have done. I blamed myself for not knowing how she had been the last couple of years. I jumped straight into the blaming game, in truth a very egocentric game where there is no way of winning. If you play along, guilt wins every time. Guilt is probably my primal demon. Others have theirs. There was a time when guilt used to haunt me no matter where I turned. That was before I found yoga. Now guilt is more like an old aquaintance that I’ve realised drains my energy and thus choose not to hang out with anymore. Practicing yoga, both in movement and in stillness, is what brought that change about. Because it taught me mindful observation. Mindful observation and the acceptance of things as they are. “… if only” isn’t going to bring my friend back to life or cure my Mother. It is the way it is. I can choose to stay miserable and feel guilty for all the things I cannot change or I can move into a space of acceptance. For anyone struggling I do suggest the latter path. It’s a rough one, without the cushioning of wishful thinking or the pool of misery to wallow over in. But it is the one that brings strength, and down the road, happiness.

Get it out
Go find the ocean. Swear. Yell. Cry. Sing your heart out.
No ocean? Find a forest or a mountain or even just a piece of paper.
Take a breath. Deep breathing is a bit like coughing up hairballs of pent-up emotion.
Get it out. That’s what I’m doing now, I guess.

Disclaimer. For real:
Please note that this is just a reflection on dealing with the shitstorm of life when you’re in a place where you can actually do so. There are times when things get too heavy. If you are suffering from depression, eating disorders, self-harming, any addictions or have suicidal thoughts, please seek professional help.

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