Yoga is one of the most popular ways for people around the world to get a workout. People come to yoga over CrossFit or running or any number of other sports for a reason: They are looking for that extra spiritual aspect. They want an infusion of heart and soul with their body movements each day.
I know this feeling. I have practiced daily yoga for months, and prior to that, I practiced on and off for the past 30 years. Yoga is a huge part of my life — I recently became a yoga teacher — but I have always struggled with what I call “relentless positivity.”
Both on and off the mat, the notion of constantly focusing on the positive is a difficult one to embrace. I think of myself as a realist, and when bad things happen, I like to face them head on. Yes, a positive attitude helps ease some things, but it can also feel trite and shallow when faced with real-life issues. There is no silver lining to losing someone you love. There is no happy side to truly painful events. And sometimes that’s OK.
It was toward the end of my 300-hour yoga teacher training when I finally realized that I didn’t have to constantly focus on the positive to still be an effective teacher. I tend to be an angry person. When things happen that are beyond my control, I work it out on long runs and enjoy using my physical practice to tire my mind and calm that anger. It works. But I don’t reframe the issues so much as beat them into submission. A yogi attending my classes won’t get a lot of dharma talk. But she will get her butt kicked. I worried this might make me a bad yoga teacher. But how can I practice something that doesn’t feel authentic or work in my own practice?
In every class, I try to meditate on problems in my life and use the movement to help me work through them. But I still very much feel my problems. I use that anger as fuel. Things such as “Rage Yoga,” the yoga that uses swearing to replace meditation, are built for people like me. But I have always felt like a bad yogi. Like maybe I am doing something wrong by not being more Zen and positive in every interaction.
Until a couple weeks ago.
All through my teacher training, I have struggled with the sutras — the ancient text that makes up much of the philosophy of yoga — and with the notion that all problems are creations of our mind. But what if I accepted who I am? What if I offer my students a practice that is both honest and spiritual? What if I said it is not only OK to be positive, but also that it is OK to wallow once in a while — as long as you bring that fighting spirit to your mat. If you feel terrible and still make it to practice, then you have done something more difficult than a person who merely shows up happy and serene. You have more to be proud of!
I will never be a Zen master. But I show up every day, ready to practice, ready to go through the mix of emotions that come to me on my mat. And in the end, that might be healthier than stuffing problems down and pretending they don’t matter. Or maybe I am kidding myself. Either way, I show up.