In yoga classes from the beginning we are told that the poses we don’t like are the poses we need. So what if we don’t want to practice yoga at all? This theory would translate to us needing to practice yoga. I believe this statement wholeheartedly. Now let’s think about the root cause of frustration (maybe it’s not your body, maybe it’s your job, your living situation, or something else that brings you a great deal of frustrating feelings). If you don’t find the root issue, how can you expect to overcome the issue or heal yourself? Digging deep into ourselves is not easy, to say the least. It is really quite painful, whether it is an emotion (all of its own) that we feel that is causing us frustration or whether it is a physical pain that is triggering a slew of emotions that is causing us frustration. To help some identify with this, I am going to give an account of my own.
I do not have particularly high self-esteem, consider myself to be better than others or consider myself to be amazing (at least not all of the time). I have struggled with depression and anxiety. I have been overweight/fat/obese my whole life. The interesting part about being fat to me is that I know it is not the fat I need to change, it is the perspective. I am who I am at no matter what weight. Then…I became injured, again, carrying a bag of trash, no less. Something that everyone has to do, generally on a weekly basis. I strained some lower back muscles and gluteal muscles, causing me a world of pain and back spasms when I would exercise, stand too long (for more than 3 or 4 minutes), do house work, or just about anything you can think of. This injury lead me into discovery mode on a physical level, where is all of this pain coming from, maybe a tight psoas, maybe an anterior tilt in my pelvis, maybe tight gluteal muscles, maybe dreaded S.I. joint dysfunction. Realistically all of the above could have been happening at the same time. Emotionally I was drained from the physical pain and from the inability to use my body effectively. So what did I do, I stopped practicing yoga asana…or I rejected any physical form of yoga. One of the less helpful choices I made on my road to recovery and reduction of frustration. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way though, right?
Yoga is really this completely different world, it is forgiving and accepting…something that we are not used to in our daily lives. So why did I want to stop doing something that was so wonderful for me and brought me so much happiness? Well that is an important question, isn’t it? Frustration…that emotion that grows from disappointment and anger. The feelings that erupt when we don’t get our way, you know the feelings that can hold us back from getting over the shit in our lives. This is frustration and I felt it in exponential ways. In a sense I shut down, I was giving up because of the disappointment.
Yoga, this forgiving, loving, accepting, compassionate practice has it’s limits when you practice the physicality of it, though. Not always what we want to hear. If we are in pain it is not always going to cause us less pain (this can be emotional or physical pain). Sometimes the pain has to be put right in front of us for us to be able to understand what all of it is about. In a sense avoiding yoga is avoiding working through the stuff that is holding us back.
For a while I thought I would just take a step back from yoga, really from any form of movement…only to realize later it was a big mistake, I only caused my body more harm. More weight was gained, which only made my already debilitating pain worse. I was avoiding movement all together, sleeping with a pillow under my knees (shortening my psoas) every single day.
So why practice Yoga when you are frustrated with your body…because that is the one of the best ways to move through the frustration and meet it head on. The only real thing that can help get us past being frustrated is to experience the emotion, no matter how long or short the experience is. Yoga can help with that greatly. Each pause, each movement, the awareness that the subtle movements can give us, it is all part of the experience. When we hold onto emotions it makes us miserable. To experience the feeling, acknowledge the emotion and let it go…that is what the process is supposed to look like. Whether we are grasping at a happy emotion or clinging to a destructive emotion…at this point they become so similar because we become stuck. Stuck with that expectation that everything will be a certain way (i.e. our bodies will always be in pain, because we feel pain right now). So yoga…yes yoga…
The first moment I ever felt free in my life was on a yoga mat. My teacher helped me get into a forward bend where I could touch my feet, for the first time ever. EVER. What a feeling, I felt accomplished, happy (oh there is a feeling again), and free. I moved on to another pose and was able to let those emotions go because I experienced them, I allowed myself to experience them. So why do we allow ourselves to experience happiness because it leaves just as fast as it comes when we experience it. Then when we get to emotions like frustration we avoid experiencing them because we are constantly told that it’s not good/OK/acceptable to be angry, disappointed or frustrated…well this is what gets us stuck. This is what ultimately causes us the debilitating pain that we cannot get rid of in just one yoga class. All because we don’t want to or don’t think that it’s ok to experience an emotion.
Yoga helps, yoga is an outlet for us to experience emotions. Whether practicing alone or in a community it can be a very safe environment to experience our emotions. Yoga can be a meditation, a concentration so fixed that we are able to find that freedom in the mind. And we know, that meditation is where the magic happens. Where our subconscious heals us from the inside out.
Yoga also has many restorative properties, especially restorative, gentle and therapeutic yogic styles. When we have physical pain our body needs to heal. It’s so simple to say…just not as simple to do. We were not made to have debilitating pain, we were made to have minimal if any pain. Our body is quite the magical system. One thing that we mustn’t forget is that yoga and that freedom we receive from yoga is also a natural state.
Often the frustration of our bodies leads to such a destructive combination of emotional and physical pain. Here are some examples to help overcome these pains we experience. A simple meditation in sukhasana, balasana, or constructive resting pose where you focus on gathering all of the pain you feel in your body, emotional or physical and exhaling it out. Then on the inhale imagine breathing in anything and everything that can help heal and restore your body and mind. You can pick certain areas to breath the healing and restoring effects to, or the body as a whole. Self massage in certain yoga poses can help us process through the pain and release the negative energy we are storing in our body (an example would be in a seated side bend, massaging the side of the hip/back that is being stretched using wave like movements in the fingertips). Anytime where you can use more than one sense at a time you will be able to process through the emotion, pain, etc. more efficiently. When an emotion arises instead of telling yourself not to feel it, allow yourself to feel it and tell yourself it’s ok (it’s ok to be frustrated that your back hurts pain is not a normal state…say it out loud if that helps you process the emotion). If you have a tendency to be really hard on yourself, try telling yourself “I need to be kind to myself right now,” it is not always the case that the kindness will follow, but you planted the seed and when you plan several seeds something is bound to grow.
Every day is an opportunity to create a new habit, memory, relationship. When you return to your yoga practice do it with forgiveness and love for yourself. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it. Our natural state is to be free (free from attachment, free from debilitating pain, free from overwhelming emotions), so…practice yoga 😊.
I made the decision years ago to start recording myself in yoga videos. I have brainstormed the shit out of this idea...hours, days, weeks, months...have been spent trying to decide how, what, when...why. What really held me back was the intimidation of not knowing if I would like what I see. I pride myself on being body positive, this concept was only introduced to me recently (with in the last 7 or 8 years). Before I believed that I was acceptable, I always thought that there was something wrong with me, the fat, the rolls, the cellulite, the jiggle...society, my community had convinced me that it was gross and I needed to change. This programing doesn't change overnight. There are days where I am frustrated with my body, but it is so much different now, because I have the experience of acceptance. So you can understand why a visual recording would be intimidating, I don't want to look at my body and judge it, fall back into old patterns.
I recently gained about 60lbs, this is more than I prefer on my frame because the extra weight causes me too much back and hip pain. This doesn't mean that I love or accept myself any less. There is a part of being body positive that is supporting yourself in the best way possible and if you are in pain because there is extra weight, lose it to feel better (this doesn't make you any less body positive - it actually makes you more aware not only of physical pain but also of the different aspects of body positivity as a whole). And...I digress...this is what I tend to do, ha ha.
I have finally committed to shooting videos, specifically a youtube.com series called 'Fat People Yoga Hacks.' Unfortunately the majority of the world/society is a little slow at accepting that body positivity and body diversity is a thing...a necessary thing. Fat [bodied] people (and btw, fat is simply a noun, it is a piece of your body [everyone has some, some have more, some have less], flesh, tissue...that is all it is) are not accommodated well in yoga, they are often ignored because yoga teachers are uncomfortable with fat, told that 'this class' might be too difficult for them, are over adjusted because teachers do not understand the anatomy of the body when it is covered in extra flesh...can you see the difficulty and frustration on the part of a fat [bodied] person? Here I am an extra fleshy person who is going to put herself on video, emotionally I struggle with depression, anxiety, ptsd and other physical health issues (not weight related), and I have decided that one of the best ways I can help people is by making videos in the hope that others can find the beauty in yoga that I have been able to find.
The first videos I recorded were practice videos, where it's just me practicing. This was so much easier than I thought it would be. It wasn't a performance at all, instead it was a true meditation, I was just going with the flow and being aware of my body and the experience. In fact I nearly forgot that I was even recording myself, what felt like 2 or 3 minutes of practice was actually 7 or 8 minutes. When the moment came for me to watch the video I created, I was in complete awe at how crisp my lines were, how graceful I was, how unassuming I seemed, and the general feeling of just being inside of my body. It is a somewhat personal and vulnerable experience to share your practice with the world, and even though I was extremely intimidated and it took me years to make the recording it feels wonderful.
Julie is an advocate for women' rights, body positivity and diversity.