Embrace Your Demons in Your Yoga Practice.
Yoga practice is for everybody, which means that there is no reason to exclude yourself or aspects of your personality from the yoga mat.
Each of us has our light, and each of us has our darkness, and yoga is a means to unify it all.
I don’t know anybody who is free from the demons of addiction, aversion, and attachment. Everyone in my acquaintance experiences the occasional urge to do things that they know are bad for them, to fight or run away from experiences they don’t wish to have, to cling on to people or ideas in all kinds of ways that are not always rational or healthy.
In short, I don’t know anyone who is all light or all darkness, and I do not know anyone who is in balance all the time. Everyone has their demons.
Patterns of addiction, aversion, and attachment can lead would-be yogis and yoginis to think that they are not suited to yoga practice. That yoga is for people who do not have suffocating internal forces that distract and dismay them on a daily basis.
Before I started practicing yoga, I had plenty of reasons why fitness was not for me:
Though I would happily dance for hours in a bar or club, and then walk a couple of miles home afterwards, I didn’t really think of it as exercise;
I smoked, drank, and ate in ways that caused me frequent and distracting levels of physical and mental distress;
I had an extra-special fear of gymnasiums and classes which involved an element of coordination;
I was not flexible, and never had been, and yoga seemed to involve a suspicious amount of bending and stretching;
It was too difficult, too expensive, too inconvenient and time-consuming;
It involved far too much Lycra, too much effort, too much discipline, too much patience, too much silence, too much self-control;
I wanted no part of this wellbeing deal and I was pretty sure that it did not want me back;
And to top it all off, I thought that ‘healthy’ people were so very boring, smug, and superior.
Despite all these reservations, I wandered into a yoga center one day, and completely fell in love with the practice of Hatha Yoga, not that I realized what that was at the time.
As my relationship with yoga blossomed, I still had lots of reasons to not show up to class:
I had eaten and drunk too many of the ‘wrong’ things;
I was too tired;
I couldn’t cope with other people;
I couldn’t cope with myself;
I wasn’t in the mood;
I would rather be sitting in a café writing;
I was not feeling capable;
I did not feel strong;
it might hurt;
it might be embarrassing;
it might be hard work;
it might take too long.
And, let’s face it. I would never, ever be all that bendy.
What I didn’t realize for a long time was that none of these things are important at all if you want to start and maintain a yoga practice. I didn’t realize that addictions, aversions, and attachments are there to be practiced with, and that is the whole point.
If you want to get down to what the real work of yoga is designed to be: the process is about freeing yourself from suffering in order to benefit all beings, and you definitely do not need to be demon-free, Lycra-clad, bouncy, or capable of physical contortion to begin and sustain a dedicated practice.
Yoga involves working with physical form, energy, breath, emotions and the mind. All that is actually required is having enough motivation to show up to do the bare minimum in your practice. Even better if you then also pay attention and make some sort of an effort. That’ll take you to another level.
You do not need to free yourself from all kinds of wrong behavior or meet certain criteria in order to be permitted to do yoga.
You do not need to stop smoking, drinking, having sex, snorting coke, or dressing up as a pony, or anything else you might enjoy in order to practice yoga. You do not need to be flexible. You do not need to be mindful. You do not need to be in fantastic health. You do not need to be thin. You do not need to be young. You don’t need a yoga mat or any special equipment. You do not need shiny clothes.
You do not need to follow a special diet. You do not need to be happy. You do not need to be disciplined.
But, through developing a yoga practice, you may find that you experience some side effects. You may want to change some of your habits, you may feel happier, healthier, younger, fitter, more flexible, more mindful, and you may become more disciplined.
None of these side effects, positive as they may turn out to be, are actually the goal of yoga, and neither are they prerequisites of any kind.
I used to believe that my addictions, aversions, and attachments were demonic patterns that I needed to struggle with and eradicate because they were obstacles to my wellbeing and otherwise perfect angelic nature. As long as I continued to grapple with these demons, then I would be too broken, bad, and wrong to get anywhere on any mundane or spiritual path.
However, I came to realize that every time I jumped into compulsive consumption, obsessive thinking, craving, and escapism, I had an opportunity to become more self-aware and creative. Each time I sought particular substances and experiences or ran away from them, I had a chance to learn skills that would allow me to see the present moment with greater clarity and make better decisions.
Demons offer choices.
The sensations of craving, grasping, or running were huge, difficult-to-ignore signposts directing me to abandon what I was doing in order to sit down with myself and pay attention to what was going on. The trick was not to fight, not to wrestle, but to become more aware of how my mind and body behave.
This enabled me to meet discomfort or insecurity I was feeling in a more responsive, less reactive way, to give it some space, some compassion, some kindness. Even demons like it when you love them.
My addictions, aversions, and attachments are not evidence that I am too plagued by demons for yoga. They show me the places in my life where I am liable to become triggered, unconscious, panicked, and reckless. These are all places that I can explore in the bounded and safe space of my yoga mat.
Now, I am not glorifying addiction, attachment, or aversion. I am not minimizing the obvious fact that these three forces can wreak havoc, destruction, huge loss, and pain on people’s lives. They can make people take terrible actions that harm themselves and others.
Having said that, addictions, aversions, and attachments are gateways to greater understanding and ultimately having a more marvelous human experience. Now that is a yoga practice worth undertaking.
Alexis Blenkarn is an independent yoga teacher who lives in the wilds of Central Portugal with her husband, three children, and assorted happy demons. Her favorite pastime is to explore the place where yoga and creative practice meet. You can find more about this on her website. You could also connect with her via Instagram or email.