My name is Nic Malin and I have been practising yoga and meditation in various forms for over 8 years now. I teach Yin Yoga, Meditation and Mindfulness classes at The Full Spectrum Centre Limited in Dukinfield, Greater Manchester. Yoga has given me so much, I give thanks to my teachers after every practice as I am less reactive, more compassionate and more myself in this crazy, confusing world.
I write this post on the back of a very difficult few months. I’ve have made some big mistakes, I’ve hurt people I care about and feelings of guilt and shame are prevalent. As much as it hurt, it was also fair, I messed up, repeatedly. I have been taking some serious time out to look at what the past 8 years of my practice has led me to be and I have been questioning everything I’ve been practising: Mindfulness, in particular, as a long term practice should help me avoid pain and bad judgement, right?
A yoga teacher friend of mine, when I confided in her regarding my situation, put it quite succinctly: Yoga is not the goal. We do not get up early and step onto the mat for enlightenment. Yoga is a practice AND a process. The real work starts when we step off the mat and enter our normal day-to-day lives.
The point is: Even the most adept Yogi is still human and sometimes we make mistakes and sometimes we make BIG mistakes. If we were beyond the ego and its desires and aversions we wouldn’t have sought out Yoga in the first place. The best yoga practitioners I know are those that understand this and do not see ‘the mat’ as a goal in itself, ‘spiritually for spirituality’s sake’. Spirituality needs a purpose: Something in the physical ‘everyday realm’ to siphon this divine energy into.
I recently saw an article posted on Facebook about yoga now being a recognised therapy.
For most practitioners this will come as no surprise. Anyone who has dipped their toes into the world of Yoga can attest to the benefits of this wonderful art. But, what does this actually mean: Yoga as a therapy?
Anyone who’s experienced any form of therapy before, such as counselling or psychotherapy, will know that a session with a therapist can (and will) bring to the surface all sorts of emotions and memories. We can experience anger, sadness, rage and joy all in the same session. It can be very therapeutic to engage in these hidden and suppressed experiences for expression and ultimately for release. Does this mean after a powerful therapy session we always leave feeling happy and healed? Of course not. Sometimes these emotions can stay on the surface for days and we can feel angry, frustrated or sad. We sometimes just need to be patient and wait for these ‘surface feelings’ to naturally pass away. This is healing.
Yoga as a therapy works in the same way.
If we approach our practice as a therapy then we see that not all practices are equal. In fact sometimes we feel less centred than when we started. As we release tightness and blockages in the physical body, so too, we release the mental correlations, which means we can feel all sorts of crap coming to the surface. Regular yoga practitioners know what it feels like to be emotional after a class and without right understanding, it’s easy to see why people get frustrated or annoyed with themselves for feeling such a way (‘Why am I feeling like this? I’ve just done some yoga, I should be feeling great, Grrrr. This is frustrating!’ A not uncommon post-yoga sentiment).
Yoga as a movement therapy brings our yoga practice into the real world. If we believe every New-Age meme we see on Facebook about yoga we’ll disillusion ourselves into thinking that every morning we wake up and see a cloud or a tree we’ll instantly remember how beautiful the world is.
Sometimes life does not seem beautiful, sometimes our ebbs and flows of life take us down dark paths and sometimes we see a sunset and it makes us sad or angry. This is real life. Yoga will not make us happy. It will shine a spotlight on the parts of ourselves we are unhappy or uncomfortable about. What we choose to do with this new illuminated wisdom is up to us. Sometimes we need to leave our mat and spend some time processing the emotions that surfaced. This can take a while; we need to be kind and patient with ourselves. After a heavy session of other forms of therapy and leaving feeling raw and fragile, we wouldn’t think that getting back in the room ASAP to solve our ‘feelings’ is the right approach, would we?
Therapy is a process….
Its not a magic ‘one-off’ pill that will make everything sparkly and shining.
I am passionate about practising and teaching yoga, but I have no illusions, it isn’t the cure. It’s the light from above shining on our shadows. As I process these challenging times I find myself in I am reminded that I do not practice yoga to feel good. I practice so as to know how I feel when I step off the mat and re-enter reality.