Not everyone who practices yoga is happy; and that’s okay
I experience anxiety and depression.
In my life, I have fallen into despair and loneliness, had suicidal thoughts, cut myself to purge the pain, taken anti-depressants, and curled up on my floor in isolation. I’ve held hands with terrible feelings and had many “dark nights of the soul.”
I am sharing this confession because I want you to know that you are not alone. Society encourages a pleasant disposition. Public media feeds such as Instagram and Facebook show us photos of friends, adventures, happy families, and celebratory events. Yoga – branded by vibrancy, positivity and Lululemon smiles – may seem unwelcoming to those who don’t currently feel like life is great.
You may start to think you’re the only one who feels so bad.
The pressure to be pleasant may deprive you of the opportunity to connect honestly with your fellow soul travellers. Or even worse, it may deprive you of the opportunity to connect with yourself.
Our mats are not places to be perfect, or even places that we have to be particularly happy. They are places to be authentic. The mat is a place where it’s okay to cry. They are places to give ourselves permission to feel, practice self-care, and use our beautiful physical bodies to potentially shift our experiences. We can move with our feelings, rather than cover them up. If we are anxious or depressed, the physical practice can help us shift our physiological and psychological states, even if it’s just for an hour. We remember that we are more than just our thoughts and emotions. We have a glimpse that there is something stable, pure, and beautiful within each of us.
My invitation: please come to the mat. And bring your whole self.
Bring your fatigue, your soul hunger, your yearning, your imperfection. Bring your sadness, your disappointment, your anger, your fear. Bring your anxiety, bring your depression. The yoga practice celebrates all of your humanity; not just the shiny bits. Of course, bring your joy, your excitement, and your utter magnificence as well. But they are not required for admittance.
Has the yoga practice helped me personally with my anxiety and depression? Yes. It’s one of the reasons that I am a teacher. Yoga has given me an alternate form of self-care, when I’d rather just drink wine, eat cake, and watch Netflix to numb the pain. The yoga practice helps me to find the crack where the light comes in, to break my heart open rather than close. To lean in rather than run away.
I’m going to share a secret with you: most of your yoga teachers don’t do yoga because they are naturally happy, benevolent, and grounded. They are teachers because they also need the practice.
You are not alone.
So come to practice. Your whole self is welcome here.
Let’s light our lamps in the dark.