Into The Shadows – the elusive search for happiness in Ashtanga Yoga

A question from a long-time student:

“Some days, the Ashtanga practice leaves me feeling peaceful, light and joyful. Then other days I’m left feeling grumpy, and tight with heaps of unpleasant feelings bubbling up inside. What the h*** is wrong with me?!?!”

Here are my thoughts:

The practice of Ashtanga Yoga shines a light in our hearts, it shines a light on our true Self. And it’s not until this light is shone that our darkest and deepest shadows are finally revealed. They are revealed as a part of the path to healing, a part of the path to happiness, but at first, they are often painful, and they sometimes cause sadness, frustration and/or anger.

Yoga is a practice of turning inward and connecting with the true Self, the light, the divine, the God within each one of us. But first, Yoga asks us to begin by calming our mind, trying to tame the monkey mind.

The monkey mind creates fluctuations in the mind like the ripples created from throwing pebbles into a lake; one thought, one pebble creates ripples that expand outward and continue rippling long after the pebble first broke the surface of the water. If we can start to calm these fluctuations, begin to still the waters of the mind, only then can we begin to see the true reflection of our Self. Only then can the light begin to shine, allowing us to see the shadows lying deep within.

While the initial work of calming the mind is crucial, it really is only the beginning of the journey. Once the mind is calm, then we’re finally able to actually see the shadows which have been buried in the depths of our consciousness. Like debris, which has settled on the bottom of the lake, long forgotten, these shadows are still there, shaping the landscape of our mind, and altering our behavior and thought patterns whether we realize it or not.

Ashtanga Yoga provides an opportunity to dredge this lake of the mind, an opportunity to finally remove the debris which no longer serves us, chipping away at the shadows which cause us suffering, this is the real work of Ashtanga Yoga, and this is the really really hard work of Ashtanga Yoga.

This is also the best work we can do for our Self, the best work we can do for our world.

As these shadows of our consciousness are revealed, in some way, we must re-experience them. We must accept that they are there, and then we have a choice to make. The choice to either continue carrying them around buried within our minds, allowing these shadows to shape who we are. Or we can start to release them, facing them honestly as we begin to clear away the debris, and let the light of the Divine shine on these shadows, filling our hearts and our lives with peace and light.

So, if you sometimes feel grumpy in or after your practice, maybe that’s OK – maybe it can be another way for us to heal if we let ourselves honestly surrender to the process of releasing past pain and suffering. But, it is our choice. We can choose to release the shadows and rise above the suffering of our conditioned minds. Or not, and continue to let these shadows rule our consciousness.

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