Learning to Fail: What Every Yoga Teacher Wish You Knew
Yoga is meant to push us up against our rough and uncomfortable edges. Physically, we stretch tight muscles and learn to move towards the intensity, rather than away from it.
Holding presence while staying on that edge brings up discomfort. Some of it is physical, but if you stay long enough — both in a yoga posture and with your yoga practice — there will be an emotional component, too.
At this point, many people stop coming to class because they’re afraid of what comes up. They fear being overwhelmed and out of control. They are ashamed of crying in public.
Students feel like a failure because they can’t keep it together. They think something is wrong with them. They think the yoga isn’t working.
What Yoga Isn’t
Yoga isn’t about making everything perfect, or about being perfectly happy. It’s about learning to cope when life throws you a curveball.
It’s about riding the messy tides of emotion without taking it out on your spouse, or needing to go shopping to alleviate the pain.
Yoga is about living better and liking yourself more, especially when things are very uncomfortably not going your way.
Yoga is about the warrior spirit of showing up, regardless of the mess you find when you get there.
While many people are unskilled at holding space for this kind of emotion, especially in a public setting, when your sh*t starts coming up, it’s a sign your yoga practice is actually working.
That moment when you feel like a failure, like something is horribly wrong —that’s the doorway for growth and transformation.
Your egoic self will react in the way it always has, by trying to create some form of protection.
Mentally, this turns into an incessant stream of inner dialogue that drives many manic behaviors.
You may recognize some of these or their effects: constantly checking your phone, insomnia, headaches, overall stress, back pain, overeating, worrying what others think of you, needing a drink to relax, perfectionism…
These habitual, busy thoughts exist to keep you from feeling the very intensity arising from your practice.
At this point, some people switch to a different teacher or another style. Others decide yoga is not for them.
But if you have the courage to swim under the current of those repetitive thoughts, there’s a fragment of you that’s ready to be seen for all the pain it’s felt and the enormous strength of it’s persistent survival.
Bringing these fragments — especially the dark and icky ones — back together with acceptance (and maybe love) is the what yoga calls union.
Though it feels like failure, it’s actually the road to wholeness and healing.
What Every Yoga Teacher Wish You Knew
- Everyone feels overwhelmed and alone with their pain and like a failure because they have it in the first place (including your yoga teacher).
- Everyone wants to control and stop their emotions rather than letting them flow, which feels scary and painful; the non-stop mental chatter stems from this resistance.
- Letting your emotions pass through you, rather than resisting them, is how you create more acceptance, wholeness and inner peace.
- To the mind, this feels like failure —success would feel like holding on to control and making everything (appear?) perfect.
- Sometimes you feel worse after yoga because you’re facing the intensity of what you may have ignored for years —this is normal.
- No one in yoga class, including your teacher, thinks less of you if you cry; remember, other students are likely feeling their own stuff too.
- You can choose to open, soften and let go in the face of intensity, or to contract and hold on; the latter creates tension, increases stress, and keeps you stuck, while the former is temporarily more uncomfortable but brings more sukha, or ease, and transformation in the long run.
- Dedication to your yoga practice is actually dedication to yourself; learning to stay by your own side when things are most messy is unconditional love.
- “…organizing [your] reality around love will almost always trigger the experience of tenderness and penetrating vulnerability.” —Matt Licata
- This will be ongoing as long as you are alive, it never goes away, but you do get better at it if you keep trying —this is why yoga is called a practice.