Embracing Anxiety: A Yoga Teacher’s Journey to Acceptance

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‘When people start to meditate or work with any sort of spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they’re going to improve, which is a sort of subtle aggression against who they really are. It’s a bit like saying, “If I jog, I’ll be a much better person.” If I only could get a nicer house, I’d be a better person.”

But loving kindness toward ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything. It means that we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to throw ourselves away & become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.

The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That’s the ground, that’s what we study, that’s what we come to know with tremendous curiosity & interest’

PEMA CHODRON – The Wisdom of No Escape & the Path of Loving Kindness

Many of us turn to yoga & meditation in an attempt to “fix” various aspects of ourselves, our bodies, minds, emotions, & spirits. This journey takes us through diverse landscapes, some serene & others marked by profound challenges. As both a practitioner & a teacher of yoga, I find myself navigating a particular terrain.

At the age of 11, I unwittingly welcomed an uninvited companion into my life, a companion that would remain by my side through the ups & downs of adolescence & into adulthood. This unexpected guest went by the name of anxiety, & it entered my world with a quiet but persistent presence.

Anxiety, in its myriad forms, has emerged as an unexpected yet formidable teacher on my path. It serves as a mirror, unearthing my inner struggles, trust issues, & the deep-seated fear of relinquishing control. This paradoxical role of anxiety as an unwelcome yet invaluable guide propels me on a journey of self-awareness & self-acceptance, compelling me to confront facets of myself I might otherwise evade or deny. In its relentless spotlight, my vulnerabilities, insecurities, & doubts are brought to light.

My journey with anxiety has also been shadowed by a sense of shame & self-criticism, particularly as a yoga teacher. Western yoga often places disproportionate emphasis on the physical aspects, primarily asana (postures), often side-lining the deeper philosophical & emotional dimensions of this ancient practice. This skewed emphasis can foster a perception that a yoga teacher must embody an idealized image of serene poise & unblemished perfection. This expectation can be especially burdensome when one grapples with imperfections like anxiety.

The concept of “fixing” within the realm of yoga is not just unhelpful; it is profoundly counterproductive. It perpetuates the idea of our inherent inadequacy, fuelling a ceaseless cycle of striving & discontent. This mindset can be further detrimental to our mental & emotional well-being, driving us toward an unattainable ideal of perfection.

Yet, the teachings of yoga philosophy can remind us of a transformative truth: we are not inherently broken, & there is nothing within us that necessitates repair.

 This revelation stands in stark contrast to the societal narrative that perpetuates the belief in our inherent incompleteness, urging us into an endless quest for self-improvement & self-repair.

The profound truth illuminated by yoga is that we are already whole, complete beings. Our emotions, whether they manifest as anxiety, sadness, joy, or any other feeling, are not problems to be solved but profound experiences to be witnessed. Each emotion holds a unique place & purpose in the intricate tapestry of our existence. The concept of embracing ourselves as whole  & perfect beings in yoga philosophy resonates deeply with several key teachings & principles.

Particularly within the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

One foundational teaching in the Yoga Sutras is the concept of “Svadhyaya,” which translates to self-study or self-inquiry. This principle encourages individuals to explore & understand their inner nature, including thoughts, emotions, & behaviors. Through Svadhyaya, we gain insight into our true selves & cultivate self-awareness.

Svadhyaya aligns harmoniously with the notion that there is nothing within us that necessitates “fixing.” It underscores the significance of acknowledging & embracing ourselves as we are, with all our imperfections  & emotions. The practice of self-study invites us to approach our inner world with curiosity & without judgment.

Additionally, the Yoga Sutras advocate for the “Ishvara Pranidhana” principle, which can be interpreted as surrendering to a higher power or divine consciousness. This principle emphasizes that there are forces beyond our control, & surrendering to these forces can bring a better state of inner peace.

When we apply Ishvara Pranidhana in the context of our emotions, including anxiety, it encourages us to release the need to control or “fix” everything. Instead, we surrender to the natural ebb & flow of life, including the fluctuations of our emotional states. This surrender can help us cultivate acceptance & trust in all the unknowns of life.

Furthermore, the Yoga Sutras highlight the cultivation of “Vairagya,” often translated as detachment or non-attachment. Vairagya teaches us not to cling to or identify with our thoughts & emotions. By practicing non-attachment to our emotions, we create space for self-compassion & a sense of wholeness, just as we are.

In essence, the wisdom of yoga guides us to relinquish the concept of ‘fixing.’ In doing so, it empowers us to live authentically, accepting ourselves & our emotions as they are, with all their intricacies & imperfections.

For me, & my ongoing relationship with anxiety, these teachings from the Yoga Sutras, such as Svadhyaya, Ishvara Pranidhana, & Vairagya, are more than philosophical concepts. They’ve become a personal resource to be remembered in my moments of self-doubt.

These principles gently remind me that nothing within me requires fixing. Instead, they’ve guided me towards the continuing journey of deeper self-awareness, acceptance, surrender, & the art of non-attachment to my emotional experiences.

I’ve also discovered the importance of self-care complementing these teachings. Embracing self-care in various forms, such as prioritizing adequate sleep, seeking the company of supportive & positive friends, immersing myself in music, reconnecting with nature, & allowing my Yin Yoga practice to take priority. All are instrumental in nurturing my well-being. Through these acts of self-care, I can find the layers of self-compassion that can act as my inner blanket of love & care, just as I am.

Yoga philosophy, coupled with these self-care practices, has woven a tapestry to continue to build resilience & inner peace, helping me navigate the intricate terrain of anxiety with grace & authenticity on my unique yoga journey.

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