Summer. A time of fun in the sun, pretty clothes, romance, rainbows, and unicorns.
Or, if you’re me, a bad breakup, moving back in with my parents, getting hit by a car, two rounds of strep throat, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, and then, yeah, my cat died.
Or, if you’re my mom, a dislocated rib, then a broken knee, sitting around crying with her daughter, and THEN her TIME magazine never showed up in the mail (I quote: “This is the worst summer ever!”).
So when I show up to teach my yoga classes, you won’t see me telling everyone how wonderful the world is and to smile because it makes their faces look better. I’m going to be honest. Well, maybe not about the TIME magazine.
But honestly, the reason I show up to the mat every day isn’t because it makes unicorns and garden gnomes appear in my bedroom every morning. It’s because it gives me this huge, amazing toolbox for dealing with the random crap that happens in life, both good and bad.
According to yoga philosophy, we have this central channel or river of energy running right through the core of us, called Shushumna Nadi. Its name in Sanskrit means “very gracious,” but if you break it down, it’s shus (good), shu (very good), and mna (song), from the same root word as our English “hymn.” So a really, really beautiful song. When this channel is clear, we are at our most beautiful, most honest, most creative selves.
The thing is, we also have these two other rivers, Ida (“pale channel”) along the left side of your body, and Pingala (“red channel”) along the right. Ida is your Yin channel—associated with the feminine, passivity, the moon, and ‘cool’ emotions like the grief and attachment that come after a breakup. Pingala is the Yang channel—the fiery, masculine, determined, sun-oriented side that is associated with ‘hot’ emotions like the frustration and anger that come with having broken your knee and not being able to practice yoga, let alone walk (and my mom is a fiery lady, believe me).
When this random crap happens to us, and we have these emotions, Ida and Pingala get all crunched up and push into Shushumna Nadi so that the energy gets plugged up, and we will not be able (or willing) to sing that beautiful song.
But the lovely thing about practising asana (posture) yoga (especially twists) is that the physical movements help us to move through those emotional blockages and make space for the energy to run clear. And we don’t need to analyze it or judge it or even know specifically what it is we are letting go of, we are just letting it go.
Yoga’s connection to Buddhism also teaches us that considering a certain emotion to be negative just gives it more power over us. Another really powerful way of helping to move the crap through your body is just to relax take a deep breath, feel the sensation of the emotion, let it wash over you full force, and just be willing to let it make its way through. This way we don’t clamp down in shame on the emotion we are having, we just let it be a part of our human experience.
When we are able to do this—feel feelings, however uncomfortable they might be, and even if our asana is parked on the couch watching ’90s TV dramas about aliens on Netflix, we are doing our yoga. We are willing to let the emotions do their work, teach us something and move on. Then we can find that really beautiful, honest song inside of us no matter what kind of crap is happening on the outside.
And if anyone knows this wisdom, it’s my mom. So when she turned to me, TIME-magazine free and tearful, and said “this really is the worst summer ever!” we looked at each other, and just laughed and laughed and laughed. And that right there was a pretty beautiful song.