Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Ally Hamilton, author of Yoga’s Healing Power.
There’s no doubt that we all face challenges in this world, and that few journeys come without some heartache. Being human is a vulnerable undertaking, and no one even asked us if we wanted to undertake it! We arrive in the world, and we are loved and nurtured, or we are not. We are cherished and celebrated, or we feel unsafe, abandoned, or neglected. It’s not a level playing field, the spectrum is wide, and the possibilities are endless. On top of that, we have unknown expiration dates, as does everyone we love, and we don’t know for sure what happens after this.
Nonetheless, at a certain point, we have to take the reins and decide to grab a hold of the part of the story we get to control—namely, how we respond to what we’ve been given. Life is a co-creation, after all. There’s also an incredible amount of beauty in being human, but sometimes we block ourselves from opening to it in an attempt to protect ourselves from getting hurt. There’s no doubt that most people will face obstacles along the way—life rarely unfolds like the picture in our heads of “How Things Should Be.” The more we contract against our experience, the more we grip to a reality that’s different than the one we’re living, the more we suffer. So what to do?
- Allow yourself to be where you are, and to feel how you feel.
Knowing yourself is the key to finding inner peace, but so many people run from that work. The most loving parents say things like, “Don’t be sad,” “Don’t be angry,” or “Don’t be scared,” but sadness, anger, and fear are perfectly normal emotions we’re all going to face. Culturally, we’re taught that certain feelings are not okay, or that they make other people feel uncomfortable or inadequate. When we start to edit ourselves, we create a state of inner confusion. If you habitually repress your challenging feelings, you cut yourself off from the wisdom of your intuition and lose any hope of understanding yourself—of recognizing what lights you up, and what tears you down, what inspires you, and what terrifies you. If you’re lonely and you have a glass of wine, you might shift the way you feel for a little while, but you’ve also lost an opportunity to examine your loneliness. What’s at the root of it? Are you longing for connection? Could you lean into the reality that you have a beautiful, open heart, and you want to share it? Is there something old at play? Do you feel unworthy of love? All these questions go unanswered when we run from what is real for us. Fear is at the root of this behavior—if I allow these feelings to rise to the surface, they’ll overwhelm me. The truth is, it’s the repressing and denying that overwhelms us, and makes us feel depleted and defeated and unknown to ourselves. There’s nothing lonelier than that. You don’t have to let your pain own you, but it will if you allow it remain un-examined.
- Break free from comparing and contrasting your journey with the journeys of those around you.
Ever have a day when you’re feeling low and you decide to get on Facebook or Instagram to make yourself feel even worse?! This is another cultural norm—we’re taught to “keep up with the Joneses,” but the truth is, who are the Joneses? Do you even know them? Are they happy? Do you think they’ve gotten the breaks that you should have? Is that a story you tell yourself? Maybe life inside the Joneses’ house is a disaster. Things can always look one way, and be another. We never truly know the interior world of another person unless we’re given access. There are roughly seven billion people on this planet, but only one of you. There has never been, and will never be, another you. Comparing your life to someone else’s is pointless and irrelevant. There is no formula for life, no one way to “get it right,” or make your mark. No one else can take your place in the sun, because no one else is you. When you have a day when you forget that truth, you don’t want to turn to social media, you’re much better off finding your meditation cushion so you can witness your thoughts with compassion for yourself, and maybe even a sense of humor.
- Starve a loud inner critic, and feed a loving voice.
When I started practicing yoga 25 years ago, I had a very loud inner critic. She was relentless and unforgiving, and there at every turn if I made a mistake, small or large. Always ready to berate me, or tear me down, or make me feel ashamed for being fallible, and human. That is a very rough way to live, but it can be so habitual that you don’t even question that voice. When I got on my yoga mat and started paying attention to my breath, and sensation in my body, there was no denying that booming voice any longer. I started to see her for what she was—a liar and a bully—and I decided I did not wish to bunk with her any longer! How do you evict your inner voice? For me, whenever I was on my mat, when that nasty voice arose and told me I shouldn’t take child’s pose, or I was pathetic for falling out of an inversion, I just stopped feeding it and heeding it. Instead, I started replacing that diatribe with an inner cheerleader, who’d tell me things like, Of course you should put your knees down if you’re tired! Have some compassion for yourself. Or, It’s totally fine that you fell, gravity’s been around a lot longer than you. Get up and try again! Little by little, that voice followed me off of my mat, and into my life, and that changed everything.
Our thanks to Ally for her guest post! For more from Ally Hamilton, read her article, “3 Ways Yoga Changes Your Life for the Better.”