Image (c) Grit Siwonia
Yoga has become something of a cure-all these days. From reversing heart disease to easing anxiety as well as depression while rewiring our brains for the better, and enhancing our general moods, the research on the benefits of yoga is revealing new amazing facts every day. For me personally, yoga became such an essential part of maintaining sanity and health that I became a believer and, consequently, a teacher. Yoga, pranayama (breath work), various meditation techniques have provided a tremendous source of support in my life. I have seen my students, especially my male students, change dramatically from breathing with much less effort to translating their practice to their day-to-day lives. No doubt, a regular yoga practice has the potential to reshape our perspectives on many aspects of our lives.
That said, what about the really big emotions, the primal, instinctive, seemingly uncontrollable ones? What do we do when white-hot anger is pulsing through our veins or our grief has become so all-encompassing that we – quite literally – don’t know where to put it? What if an emotion grows both in intensity and longevity to the point where we feel like the vessel that is our body won’t be able to contain this paralyzing brew for much longer?
Well, that was the situation I was faced with for not just a day or two but for months and months on end this past year. A relationship and an important friendship had come to an end and try as I did, I could not resolve them in what I thought was the “yogic way”. I wanted to walk away in love. I asked for forgiveness and tried to return the favor. I talked, sometimes loudly, then deescalated, cried, prayed, practiced yin yoga, took spinning classes. These were all helpful but temporary in effect. I still couldn’t shake the feeling of anger and vindictiveness over having been treated unfairly and being too powerless to stop it. As a yogini, my initial approach was supposed to be reasonable and loving because I got the big picture, right? The whole “what would love do?” approach comes to mind. As a result, I wanted to keep everything so damn civilized and peaceful, usually with one of two consequences. Either I wasn’t taken seriously and the abuse continued or I found myself apologizing over and over just to be able to move on and get to the actual issues at hand. I became the doormat that paved the way to my own very-near emotional annihilation.
This pity-party continued for quite a while…until I rediscovered Kali. Kali, you may know, is a Hindu Goddess who is known for her unprecedented destructive (and renewal) powers. She is depicted with her tongue sticking out, often black or electric-blue in skin tone, a fierce woman warrior with each of her multiple hands wielding a weapon of (mass) destruction, shrink heads dangling from her belt. Where did I find her? I’m not sure where it started but suddenly she was everywhere: in a phone call to my friend, in a book I had stumbled upon on my shelf, in a session with a healing therapist I had been working with.
I realized, simply pouring love over everything and channeling my anger in Trikonasana was not enough. Forgiveness meditation, though useful at times, was not enough. Carefully verbalizing my anger was not enough. Staying reasonable was not enough. None of these strategies made the emotion leave my body and let me breathe freely for a sustainable period of time.
The most astounding insight was, however, that my idea of “the yogic way” was completely off! The yogic way of discipline and surrender does not necessarily mean controlling all of our emotions or waiting for it all to be dissolved in love by the Universe/Goddess. I think it means honoring these states as true for the moment, not denying ourselves the right to feel, as that in itself is an act of resistance (against ourselves) not surrender.
It wasn’t until I gave myself permission to be out of control and livid that things started to get better. I listened to really loud music (AC/DC anybody?). I danced around my apartment to the point of exhaustion. I told people just how dark my fantasies of revenge really were. I wrote them down. I stopped censoring and “adulting” as we say.
Uh-oh. So I’m not always a good person. I’m not always kind. I have a tongue that can backlash so fast, it’s got its own stick shift. Inside me is a person (thankfully only one of many) who, like Kali, wanted to remove anybody standing in her way and not look back. No regrets, no guilt, no emotions. One raging bitch whom you had better not mess with. I knew all this about myself but it had been caged in by feel-good phrases of “everything happens for a reason” or my favorite “just let it go”. Are you kidding? I’d rather hit a pillow, you know, like in that movie Analyze This.
Having admitted to all of this to myself as well as friends and healers around me, the most amazing thing began to happen: the anger started to dissipate. I could feel it loosening its grip in places of concentration: my shoulders, neck, jaw, my belly, the whole reproductive area. It took a few more weeks but the cloud was visibly lifting. The idea that I was allowed to feel the full spectrum of human emotions and name them broke the spell. I could be a yoga teacher and still human-mercy me.
Toddlers do this so much better. When it all gets too much, they throw themselves on the supermarket floor and whale. I mean, don’t we all want to do that sometimes? We do, we should. So, when it comes the deep, violent emotions, I have come to realize, maybe the question isn’t always “what would love do?” but instead “what would self-love do?”.
What do you do when the big emotions strike? Lemme know in your comments below and thanks for reading!