In my years of practicing yoga, I have found myself stuck as many time as I have had A-ha! moments on and off of the mat. The practice is just that way. Yoga gives and takes equally, providing both the opening to see our unique obstacles and a space in which to work with attachments to all sorts of emotions, good, bad or otherwise. The yoga itself is neutral.
Deep down, I know this to be true. Yoga doesn’t ‘do’ anything. We do it. Our bodies and minds do it. Individually and collectively, we do it. We do the yoga, as it’s said. T.K.V. Desikachar describes this as the intimate dance between duhkha (discomfort, pain) and sukha (lightness, happiness). Sattva (clarity as a part of matter) is truly without value, although through the lens of overcoming obstacles, we think of it as good. Clarity is, well, simply clear. Cloudy and muddy also have equally important places in practice because they are part of the dance, too.
The great poet Rumi wrote that the palm and the heart can neither always be fully open nor fully closed because perception will get stuck in either state. Relaxing into the opening, where we spend most of our time and energy, reveals the practice and passion as it is, as it was meant to be.
As part of the Tranquil Space Advanced Teacher Training, I lead a series called Thesis Development. In this process, experienced teachers flesh out their passion for yoga by connecting research and practice. One might assume that “advanced” teachers have their acts together, and know exactly how to do this yoga thing. In reality, humble teachers are always, always stuck first. They stress over selecting just-the-right topic for their thesis. Is it good enough? What will others think? Am I worthy to talk about this? I am no authority. Why would anyone listen to me? It is exactly the same in the yoga practice when we roll out our mats and start judging how we’re feeling before we have even begun to move or meditate!
Inevitably, this period of stuckness (duhkha) is long for teachers in thesis development hell! Like the practice itself, shapes are tried again and again until just the right lightness and ease (sukha) reveal themselves by relaxing into the process (sattva). The mind is suddenly neither fixed on nothing (stress) or only one narrow path (rigidity). Suddenly, the words and ideas flow and mesh effortlessly, like they were meant to come forth all along. This is sthira sukham asanam – remaining steady, alert, and comfortable in a yogic state or shape. Without the long examination and period of reflection, the equation would not balance appropriately, or at all.
Coming to yoga to get stuck seems silly, right? We come to the mat because we are stuck already. Why add to it? We are suffering, and we crave lightness from fears and anxieties, crave being the key word. Craving is precisely the attachment we let go of by relaxing the palm or heart ever so slightly.
In practice, we need to sit with our attachments to both the negative and positive thoughts that come up. That way, we can see the opening as an invitation to be with those emotions, thoughts, and physical feelings, without judgment or value. We can relax into what everything is at that moment, and allow the body to grow into the practice versus forcing an expected sensation either way.