I had a very similar conversation twice in one day this week with a couple of my students. And then I had another one the next day that was almost the same.
Whenever I notice a theme like that coming up, I do my best to pay attention. I figure it must be coming up for a reason, that there’s something in it.
Those three conversations had different contexts but all came back to the same idea — that “true yogis” don’t have feelings, especially fluctuating ones.
While in the midst of these conversations (about various personal situations going on in their lives), each of these people apologized to me about their feelings. They laughed and said sheepishly some variation of: “Sorry; I know this isn’t very yogic.”
Trust me when I tell you I do not want to be the police of what is yogic.
What’s even more interesting is that their feelings had literally nothing to do with me. They weren’t apologizing for anything related to our relationship or what we were working on. No, they were just telling me about difficult circumstances in their life that didn’t involve me at all.
But after sharing a painful story, few of us know how to end it. We don’t want to make the other person uncomfortable because of our grief, embarassment, anger, so we find a way to diffuse it. And many of us invent a story that the person listening is judging us because we are judging ourselves.
What Is and Isn’t Yogic
Last I checked, no one appointed me queen of what is and isn’t yogic. So I hesitated to even weigh in. But I knew I didn’t want to let it sit that maybe they weren’t “good” yogis because they felt their feelings.
So, of course, I did jump in. And I said that, if anything, I thought they were being highly yogic.
I think many of us know that yoga doesn’t teach us to avoid, stuff down or otherwise suppress our feelings. So sometimes it’s easier to figure that part out. But what to do next is fairly tricky.
Because if we were really in our practice and present, wouldn’t we notice our feelings and just let them wash by like clouds? Wouldn’t we just bear witness without having to take them on? Isn’t that what we hear from all the yoga and meditation teachers?
Well, yes and no.
Feeling vs. Attaching
This is, admittedly, quite a fine line to walk (at least for me). But what I believe I hear in the teachings about witnessing your feelings is that we should definitely feel our feelings. That, on some level, that is what we’re here to do.
But what we’re working on is not overly attaching to our feelings.
In other words, if someone makes a hurtful comment to me, my job isn’t to ignore it. Because if I ignore it, it will probably come back in some other form, like snapping at my partner later in the day. My job is, however, to feel it. To say to myself or that person, “Ouch. That stings.”
To acknowledge my truth but then not get sucked into the story.
Getting sucked into the story looks like making up an internal dramalogue about how terrible the person is who made a hurtful comment to you, and how she never understands you, and how she’d ruin your life and take your last dollar if she could — and she probably will the next time you turn your back. How if you weren’t such a worthless, stupid person, this wouldn’t happen to you. And that you deserve “friends” like this because who else would want to be friends with you. After all, you’re disgusting; your body is too big and you’re lucky that anyone will talk to you in the first place. Maybe you should just stay home and stop pursuing relationships with other people at all, because they probably only talk to you because they feel sorry for you anyway.
And before you know it, you’re off to the races: the day is over and you feel like crap, haven’t gotten anything done, have picked a fight with your kids, and have sworn that you’ll start a diet the next day.
Yoga = Feeling Your Feelings
We all know what it’s like to get hooked into the story. I find myself having to unhook constantly, certainly daily in some form or another, and sometimes hourly (if not on a minute by minute basis).
To me, what is yogic is staying present with my feelings as they arise. Because what I’ve noticed is that if I stay right here with them, they come and go rather quickly. I think I’ve heard that it’s something short like a minute or a minute and a half that we have to endure them if we don’t go to one of our avoidance tactics.
But that’s the hard part, right?
Fortunately, our yoga practice teaches us about awareness and presence, the two things we need to fully feel our feelings for a couple minutes and them move onto whatever comes next — not ruining our morning, day, week, month, year.
Feeling a feeling coming on? Take a deep breath and close your eyes (so long as that’s safe in the moment). See if you can identify what the feeling is as precisely as possible.
From there, try greeting it — “Oh, hello shame.” “Look who’s back, anger.” Something about saying that out loud (or in my head) helps me to see my feeling for what it is — just that, a feeling. Not a judgment on who I am. Not an exam on my self-worth (or another person’s).
Just feelings — which should be moving on soon anyway. So long as I unhook — or don’t get hooked in the first place.
A girl can dream, right?