Darkness, Dedication, Digging In: Yoga’s Dynamic Action Of Balance

Houses of Light

As we approach the shortest and darkest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, we often long for the return of the light. Everywhere, houses are adorned with lights. Lights drape around trees, wrap mantels and bannisters. Candles glow in window sills. Wood fires crackle and burn in the hearth.

Light carries a joyous, celebratory quality of vibrance. It brings life-giving heat, and with it the ability to grow, to stretch, to extend. Like flowers, we reach for the sun to blossom. We want to learn, we want to evolve. And the universe is pushing us to change; it’s the only constant.

The Climber in Me

It’s one of the reasons I rock climb. To be on the summit is to be exposed. There’s nowhere to hide, it’s all exposure, all light. I have to be in the moment, no matter what that brings, and adapt if I want to stay safe.

Yet to get there requires digging into the darkness. It requires will power, tenacity, strength, courage, fear, discomfort, even suffering. To come into the light, we must travel through the dark.

On my way up Mt. Emerson (pictured below) I was somewhere constantly between needing to throw up and thinking I had to take a poo. All the while, clouds were building around us, dark and threatening. Talk about uncomfortable!

On the summit of Mt. Emerson at 13,204' (yes, that’s snow!)

On the summit of Mt. Emerson at 13,204′ (yes, that’s snow!)

Effort = Results

I was celebrating as I climbed over the summit (as you can see in the photo). From the high point, I got the most massive, unobstructed view. The chance to see where I’d travelled, and to go beyond my normal scope of vision.

I got teary-eyed right after that, overwhelmed with my own willingness to push through the discomfort and make it to the top. The payoff of all that effort was celebration. We work hard, then feel rewarded with success.

Some other aspects we can associate with the dark are: patience, devotion, humility, dedication, repose, moderation, reflection, listening, contemplation, meditation. Abhyasa, dharana, dhyana, nirodhah, pratyahara. (If you don’t know what these mean, please get to googling). These are inner traits, things we may not see, we only see their results.

The Relationship of Opposites

One of the key teachings of yoga is to find balance. Specifically, it’s about putting two seemingly opposite things in harmony with each other. Yoga, then, becomes about these relationships and how we manage and engage them.

We cannot continually grow and expand. Nor can we always be quiet, restful and asleep. To be in all dark or all light —think staring at the sun, the result is the same; we see nothing at all.

Doing Our Soul Work

Those underground places where we do our soul work, those are what help us grow roots and find stability. In the dark, we reconnect with our minds and hearts, heal and make the space we need to grow again. Then we punch back through and resurface to stretch out into the world once more. It’s a constant dance between the two —sometimes simultaneously!

How do we continue to be our authentic selves while we have other people’s expectations to meet at work? How do we find joy in life, even when we suffer tragedy and loss? How do we accomplish all of our daily tasks and still find time to rest and care for ourselves. These are the dynamic paradoxes that life presents us with.

Living At The Extremes

Most of us tend to linger in one end of the spectrum or the other. We want the light and try, with all our hearts, to live there. Instead of being willing to dip down into the uncomfortable feelings —the sadness, the hurt, the past, we push them to the side, hoping they’ll work themselves out or just go away.

The work of the dark is the heavy lifting in our yoga practice. It takes effort to move the mountains of memory and fear that hold us back from our own joy. It takes dedication and consistent effort to re-align to our own inner light and be authentically happy and at peace.

Some of us perpetuate the dark and have no access to light at all. I can’t tell you how many students have approached me in yoga class to complain about a particular injury or challenge and then refused to receive the help I offered them. If we identify with our story, our past, our injuries, we have no room for gratitude, celebration and joy.

Being at one extreme end of the other is necessary from time to time, but we can’t stay there forever. It’s unhealthy, and a crash will eventually come.

Being a Gardener

The reality is we have to cultivate these skills. Plant seeds. Tend the soil. Some of it will be back-breaking work. Some of it will be absolute joy. We have to take time to meditate, to go within and rest in the shadows. And we have to come out into the light, willing to be seen. It’s the only way we will ever feel whole and complete.


Meditating in the Bristlecone Forest in the White Mountains, CA