The Dark Side of the Yoga Mat

evil yogaOn occasion my yoga practice turns into a messy throw down with an evil, two headed, mutant monster. I am surprised by the practices that go from a simple intention to ones that instead feel like wrestling with the beast, staring ugly in the face, or standing up to a relentless bully. I used to think that I could direct my practice by inspecting the longings of my spiritual body and connecting those desires with thoughts of wish and will. I imagined that by declaring a deliberate decision of my desires, I could partner with the divine to sweetly manifest my soul’s yearnings. I am not sure who runs the show when it comes to co-creating with the divine but I have noticed that sometimes it gets rough.

I can accept that a simple desire for inner peace may not be a fast or easy deliverable. I can also appreciate that hard labor bears fruit and that with time things may unfold like springs buds blossoming to blooms. However, I am still caught off guard when my respectful request of my maker is met with more flint and steel for my soul than I think I have brave skills to manage. When I find myself in that meeting place of mind, body and spirit on the mat, where hope meets dream slayer, I know I am in for a showdown with myself and I must proceed into the dark in search of the light.

I was not drawn to yoga to fight my demons. Like many, I had romantic notions about deep breathing, stretching and warrior poses. Yet, I got hooked after a conquest with self-doubt on the sticky yoga field of battle. I experienced the value of discovering just what it takes to look opposition directly in the eyes and to spit victory in its face. I have been in more than one down dog (literally and figuratively) determined to jump to the front of my mat and fallen short in both courage and ability.

That little catchphrase “on the mat” has complex and implied meaning when used by yogi practitioners. It denotes a special place and kind of yoga practice. A mat becomes a spiritual office. It transforms into the purposeful, sacred place to do the “work” of the mind, body and soul. It is the surgery and the medicine, the excision and healing, it is simultaneously all and none. It is mystifying that a 5 millimeter rectangle has the supernatural capacity to support the weight of a gentle or hearty work-out and the bright or dreary of a work-in.

Once our bare feet step “onto the mat” it is as if we have crossed an invisible threshold to meditate, center, balance, strengthen, and become flexible in both our physiology and our feelings. Collectively, we offer ourselves, we inquire, we practice, we breathe and we contract and expand. We courageously see the reflection of the internal to the external and the external to the internal and everything in between. Fortunate or not, a yoga mat is big enough for both our effervescent love and our looming shadows.good-vs-evil-eyes-1024x662

As humans sharing the planetary experience the external version of peace, love and happiness is more widely recognized than the universal internal struggle we have with our own good and evil. Our humanness, our imperfections, our perceived weaknesses can be difficult for our soft underbellies. We want to experience only the warm and fuzzy goodness of life. Most of us would prefer to wait another day for the emotions that are raw, guttural and exposed. We would rather watch the hero’s journey and allow ourselves to respond as the witness to someone else’s heart breaking open. We don’t want to be the sad sap wiping our tears away as we lower deeper into pigeon pose.

I have come to see those who practice yoga as fellow warriors. There is not a secret handshake or a universal tattoo denoting the battle scars of exposing our hearts in hopes of world or inner peace. I believe yoga practitioners develop a particular relationship with matters of the heart. Each time they step on the mat they understand that they may be invited to an unexpected emotional dual. If the practice presents the challenge of deeper choices related to true love and sacrifice we get to decide if we wrestle with our dark side or embody an expression of our divinity.

During our practice we may find ourselves up against one of those monsters. Perhaps our history, our difficult circumstances, bad judgement, lack of knowledge, unresolved hurt, rejection or carelessness are looming within and casting darkness on our hearts. It is during those times our yoga can become a practice of compassion and grace. The standing posture of a warrior pose can turn a shameful past into a laser beam of forgiveness, or a cowardice behavior into a brave stance against trespasses. A reach to the sky from crescent pose may become the expression of surrender or willingness to open a previously closed heart. It may be that by assuming child’s pose on our mat that we welcome humility, or discover a container for grief or regret. Sometimes, a sweaty sequence demanding rigorous core strength, concentration and precision may ignite and then extinguish the burning rages we all experience from time to time. What may present as an opponent becomes a well fought victory over personal challenges and suffering and a chance to disarm the boogie men of our minds. The reward will undoubtedly be the mark of a hero’s heart.

Welcome the monsters that step onto your mat. They may have joined you at your own wish and will.

Dr. Erika Putnam

By Dr. Erika Putnam

Dr. Erika Putnam is a chiropractic physician by trade, a writer at heart and a yogi by fate. She has practiced chiropractic for almost two decades and owns a yoga studio in Idaho. The two practices connect structural stability with the true core of well-being. As a doctor, she brings a hearty helping of nurturing nerdiness to her classes. Her venue is a colorful mix of teaching. She teaches anatomy to students at yoga teacher trainings, yoga for medical professionals’ classes, and creative writing classes with yoga-inspired exploration. She pines for a view of the Montana skies and the smell of Idaho mint from her road bike. Pedicures in the shade of Rocktoberfest are her favorite self-care indulgence.