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My Yoga is Bipolar

by Renee Downing, E-RYT 500

I feel great. Life is good. My yoga practice is on fire. I have energy when I move from one pose to another, strength in my inversions and arm balances, great range of motion in my deep stretches. Sometimes I dance as I flow. Nothing can stop me.

I’m overwhelmed, exhausted, depressed. My yoga practice feels like a punishment. Every movement hurts. I have to force myself to try a few handstands or forearm stands and when I do, I feel like a beginner in these poses that I have gotten into hundreds of times with ease throughout the years. Arm balances, which I usually find great joy in, are not appealing. My unusually inhuman flexibility is limited in my own deep stretches. I find myself constantly fighting the urge to just lay on my mat.

I used to take for granted those days when my asana practice flowed with ease. I enjoyed those practices but I didn’t fully appreciate them like I should.

I am in the process of accepting when my practice is what my ego considers to be lackluster. I tell my students all the time that every day is different and some days we need more rest than others. But I am still working on accepting those words for myself.

Some of it is fear driven. I spent so many years in pain and extreme fatigue without any tools for relief, that when I feel those sensations today my subconscious defaults to worrying that this is how I am going to feel for the rest of my life. For many years I have been collecting tools for relief, but that memory of the chronic hell still causes me to forget that I can now do something about it.

Studying Ayurveda has given me vital tools for managing my pain and fatigue. I can now pinpoint which dosha is out of balance and work to bring my constitution back to a state of harmony. When the high energy movement and mental stimulation of vata brings me to a state of exhaustion, I know I need to get more rest, slow down my movements in my asana practice, focus more on meditation and bring a vata pacifying diet into my routine. When the high intensity of pitta causes me to burnout, I know I need to bring the intensity down in my asana practice, avoid headstands when I feel like avoiding them, work on being less judgmental, focus on selfless acts and get stricter with a pitta pacifying diet. When the weight of kapha causes my lethargy, I know I need to push myself harder to invigorate my asana practice, get more movement throughout the day, create internal heat and stick to a kapha pacifying diet.

I want to feel good all the time. Who doesn’t? But that is not reality. Reality is full of dualities. Without bad we don’t know good. Without pain we do not know pleasure. Without suffering we do not know joy. None of these adjectives are important to find a life of contentment, but until the Dalai Lama’s soul enters my body and I levitate into the ether, the way I experience life is going to swing back and forth between the dualities. I’m getting closer to being able to sit with pain and suffering, but I’m not going to get better at it by running from those feelings or numbing them in hopes for the pendulum of life to swing back to their counterparts.

Progress for me is recognizing those split seconds when I am ok with not being ok (Tapas). It is reminding myself that “this too shall pass.” And when it feels like it will never pass, I can remember that what doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger.