Afflictions of the self

I love yoga asana, but lately my practice has been focused internally; more off the mat than on. Deep self reflection and growth are occurring. Sometimes asana helps me work through it. Sometimes sitting and meditating, being alone in nature, or talking to a good friend or writing is my practice.

The Kleshas (afflictions) of Yoga are often referred to as the seeds of suffering. They are negative patterns we develop that keep us from reaching samadhi (enlightenment).

The 5 kleshas are: Ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred and clinging to life. But there are also believed to be as many as 108 afflictions; another significant factor of the number 108 in yoga and buddhism.

Todays blog is about my own battle with these afflictions. I hope that it can bring some insight into your own practice, primarily your practice of real life-Yoga off of the mat.

During the youthful years of our lives, we tend to be quite focused and caught up in imagery. What we watch, what we read, what we hear, what we learn, all factor into this image of what we want to be; what we think we should be. Then we grow up a little more through experiences life hands out. These images are in hindsight a kaleidoscope of emotional chaos and beauty, and when the focus settles a little more clearly and we are able to take a breath and calm our mind, we find that maybe what we really need is to let go of the images we thought we needed to represent, and just be what we actually are. That part takes guts. Because what we actually are sometimes is nothing close to the idea of what we thought we were or what we want to be. And the only way we will ever reach that ideal of the self is through deep and honest examination of who we truly are.

We all have parts of ourselves which we prefer not to address because we don’t care to come to terms with the realness of those parts. So we try to sweep it under the rug. Its only when we start to recognize that those negative traits are actually hurting us and keeping us from being happy. Once we realize that, we have a decision if we are going to examine that part of ourselves and try to emerge from it, and overcome it, or if we are going to let ourselves dwell in the negative patterns, hence continue to create a cycle of negativity -thus lack of fulfillment.

For a long time I suppose I just thought it was everyone else making me feel the way I do sometimes. I had to finally admit to myself my deepest insecurities were my own doing, and I was continuously creating the same patterns in my relationships because of my lack of understanding of myself, moreover my unwillingness to change.

Its been said that you have to love yourself first before you can love anyone else. I have heard that expression my whole life, and it wasn’t until recently that I actually “got it.” If I love myself, faults and all, I can love another for who they are, without transferring my patterns of negativity  onto them. Maybe my faults aren’t really faults, maybe they just make me wildly-uniquely-beautiful-lovable-take me or leave me- me.

Realizing when something is an issue only because I created it to be so in my own mind. The mind can be dangerously powerful. Sometimes against our greater good.

I recently fell in love with someone. The kind of love that makes you realize you can have everything you want, and you deserve it. The- you want to give it back like there is no tomorrow kind of love. The kind of love that has forced me to address my patterns of jealousy and insecurity as my own bullshit. To simply let myself be loved without attachment because love has no attachments it just IS. When its real it is this constant energy that you cannot subdue regardless of your patterns of escaping who you really are. Jealousy is a very real, very ugly, very mind altering emotion, that we all experience to some degree or another. I hate it. When I notice the green eyed monster emerging for within me, I literally start to feel like a different person. A person I don’t want to be, with thoughts and feelings I don’t ever want to take me over. But they have a tendency to do just that. And this is why I brought you here today. My work, my practice is to break those habitual thoughts that in no way serve my well being, or the well being of those I love.

My yoga mat is a good place to take that intention. One thing I admit about myself as a practitioner is that I have a fear of falling because I don’t trust that I can hold myself up. Why am I afraid of falling? Because I don’t want to lose control? Why don’t I trust the tools I have in my practice? The mental overload of getting hurt becomes so great that I tell myself its not worth it to just go for it. But the infinite wisdom of my higher self reminds me that  even in mastery one can make mistakes. There is no such thing as perfection. Own your fears. Own your faults. Own your setbacks. Only then, with practice, will they go away. My intention is to deeply examine those afflictions I have on and off my yoga mat. My asana practice is simply a form of understanding myself better. The ultimate realization the the mind should not be my higher power.

Teaching Yoga When you’re having a bad day

Theres something interesting about the profession of teaching yoga. That when you show up to teach, you assuringly have to leave your baggage at the door, in an attempt to maintain the “holier than now-guru-peace and love rules all- mentality. I can try to do that. Sometimes successfully and sometimes not. I’ve always been a sensitive being, wearing my heart on my sleeve with a face that cannot even minutely hide my true feelings.

The other day I was experiencing anxiety in a way I never had before. Things had been building up and I completely broke down. All I could do is cry. I had just minutes before yoga students were going to walk through the studio doors to attend my evening Hatha yoga class. I was mustering up everything I could to try to conjure up the yoga teacher mentality I have practiced as a life style for years now. But I could barely keep a straight face. I could barely breath. And I had to teach a yoga class to a room full of students. Anticipating the dreaded questions of “how are you?” when there was no way I could look them in the face and respond “great-fine-,etc” and not be completely translucent. I’m all about authenticity in my practice, and I preach it to no end when I teach. It would be inauthentic to tell a student I was fine when I was near an anxiety attack. What I could do is be honest and say it wasn’t the best day, and proceed to use whatever energy I had to create a good practice for the students who showed up.

I feel like this is a situation that us yoga teachers can find ourselves in more often that most people would expect. The thing is, just because someone is a great yoga teacher, or has an admirable practice, a great philosophy and attitude towards life, doesn’t mean they have it all figured out. Yet we are expected to smile and praise sunshine and rainbows when shit gets hard. We are all initially drawn to the practice of yoga to better ourselves, and the deeper we go into the practice, the more we dig up, and its not always pretty. It can be downright challenging, and scary, and very painful. As teachers, we use our own lessons to pass on to others. Allowing our students to know that we don’t have it all figured out could go both ways; they either respect and connect more to us, or they feel let down. I choose to be real. News flash- just because you spend your life practicing yoga doesn’t mean you don’t still have afflictions. Practicing yoga helps us ameliorate our afflictions though, and emerge into greater more enlightened beings. But never will any of us be perfect.

My good friend attended my class that evening. She held me in her arms as I cried and then I splashed my face off with cold water and went into the practice space to teach. I felt like throwing up the whole time, as I told my students to let go and be present and breath. After class my friend and I were walking to our cars and she told me it was an amazing class, one of the best hatha classes she has ever been too. I told her that was odd to me because I felt like I was going to throw up the whole time and she responded surprised and just gave me a hug and told me that my rawness and sensitivity is what makes me such a good yoga teacher, and to embrace that in myself.

Your yoga teacher doesn’t have it all figured out. But they are on the path to it, and respect them for sharing that path with you, and wanting you to find that awareness as well.

The light within me honors the light within you. In darkness and in Light.