In yoga classes, books, and lectures, we hear that yoga is union – a union of the divine and individual self. We hear that the ultimate goal of yoga is samadhi, bliss. We see images of relaxed, smiling, blissed-out yogis. But is that blissed-out, feel-good vibe a reality? What does it mean when your yoga experience is rooted in frustration? Recently, a student questioned whether yoga was right for him because he felt frustrated on his mat: frustrated with his body, frustrated with his moving mind, frustrated with frustration. I shared with him how I have watched his practice evolve from quick, forced movements to a more fluid, patient practice. Although he was happy to hear my observations, he was surprised because the “stuff” that comes up while on his mat was starting to become more prevalent throughout his entire day. He had begun the process of sifting through his mental and emotional baggage.
The practice of yoga is hard, continuous work. Like anything else, some days will be better than others. Some days our bodies cooperate, we find balance, we watch our breath, and we leave the studio in a euphoric, yogic comatose high. Other days, we struggle, fall, fight demons, hold our breath, and collapse into an open-eyed savasana. This is all part of the normal process. This is how we learn to connect to that divine self, to that place of beauty and bliss that lies in all of us, at all times.
In a workshop with yoga educator Leslie Kaminoff, I was reminded that yoga is not about what we add but rather about what we remove. We come into our yoga practice to identify and remove the obstacles that prevent us from recognizing our true potential. My student was becoming aware of the obstacles that inhibit him. We all have obstacles and many of us have created habits to avoid recognizing the obstructions in our path to self-growth. We manipulate our minds with self-criticism, blaming others, over or under indulgence of people, food, or substances.
So, how do we deal with this negativity when it creeps up on us? Attitude is everything. We are breath, energy, emotions, and thoughts. We are not just our physical body. The oxygen we breathe into our lungs is absorbed into our blood and carried into all parts of our body. Our thoughts and emotions will settle into our hips, shoulders, and gut. Kaminoff asks, “What is present that needs to express itself?” When you get on your mat set an intention for your practice. Tune-in and find what you really would like to focus on – what is your attitude for your practice, for your day. As you go through class, notice when you begin to build obstacles, hold tension, increase self-negativity. At those times, remind yourself of your intention and the primary attitude you want in your life and in your body.
I could not tell my frustrated student if yoga is right or wrong for him – that is his decision. I could tell him that everybody gets on the mat and works with the obstacles that hinder them. Self-study and awareness are constant rest stops on the yogic path to samadhi. To everyone who gets on their mat: I won’t promise bliss will be your best friend but I can promise the unpredictable yogic path will always be beautifully transformative.