Why yoga isn't relaxing

One of my students asked me recently if I found yoga to be relaxing.

It’s a valid question.

Pop culture has represented yoga as a way to shut off your mind. To be instantaneously flung into this peaceful, floating bliss state in which you don’t care that your ex is looking a little too happy on Instagram and you have to get your car in for service and the dog is still throwing up.

But it’s not like that at all.

Is yoga relaxing?

Hell no.

Yoga is about being in the discomfort of doing strange things with your body and learning to ride the wave of emotion that comes up. It’s about working with the feelings of uncertainty or anxiety or wondering if you’re a giant failure at this — and pretty much everything else, really. We are walking right up to that emotional pain and looking it right in its stressed-out face. It's about seeking out that place where you feel challenged, and meeting that challenge by taking a deep breath, letting your shoulders drop away from your ears, and deciding to not running screaming out of the room.

The only way out is through.

The only way we move through, and move on, is by looking right at the hard stuff without numbing out.

This is the practice of choosing to be fully awake to your life.

Yoga is intended to be difficult so that we can learn to self-soothe in difficult situations both on and off the mat. We put ourselves in a challenging position within the safe space of the yoga studio, so we can watch how we deal with it. We are facing our physical and mental states straight on, and learning to compassionately manage our patterns of panic, anxiety and disordered thinking. The real work is in how you react to those feelings when you start to fall into the brutal mind-spiral. That’s the practice.

90% of the time, yoga is not relaxing for me. In fact, I would say that unless I’m feeling emotionally and physically challenged, I am not doing yoga. I am stretching.

It's nice when things are relaxing and easy, but it's not going to shift anything. No one ever became a better person because shit was easy. There is no growth if there is no challenge.

For me, I look at how I feel after class. Do I feel like I worked through something? Challenged myself? Maybe got a glimpse of that clear stillness that comes from doing the kind of soul work that leaves me wrung out?

It doesn't matter if you do a single one of the physical postures, instead, focus on dealing with the emotional state. Set aside the guilt, the fear, the sadness. And move from love.

That's yoga.