I remember my teacher telling me once - "Anna," she said, "if ever at the end of the practice you have this feeling that you never want to do it again, not because you are in physical pain, but because you simply didn't like it, be interested, be very interested, and go back and do it again. It means that you are up against something, and you can actually make some progress."

When it happened to me for for first time, I will never forget it. It was a level 4 class that I signed up for as part of my teacher training. By that time I had become very proficient in my Asana practice and could do many poses very well. I was looking forward to this level 4 class, thinking that I finally get to show off my skills among peers. But, instead of doing arm balances and head stands, we mostly sat around in a circle, talking. All of the students in the class were older women. For over an hour, there hadn't been much movement, certainly not the kind of rigorous Asana I was expecting, but rather, all this sitting around, chatting, chanting, being still. I remember walking out of that class irritated and confused. "Jeez," I thought, "I sure won't be coming back for this!" Miffed, I got into my car and drove home. On my way, I remembered my teacher's words: "Be interested, be very interested."

Dutiful student as I was, I decided, what the hell, I will give this class one more chance. Maybe my teacher is right, maybe the inner revolt against this kind of practice means that it is the right practice for me, that it threatens to shift the status quo I am entrenched in, and by working through this inner discomfort with "doing nothing" I can actually advance in my inner growth.

Guess what? It became my favorite class of all time. The teacher, Alex Levin, soon became my favorite at the studio, and I never looked forward to a class more. I had my first good cry in a Pigeon Pose in that class (after which my least favorite pose became my favorite!). And I discovered hidden reservoirs of deep peace within myself that I thought I'd never find. I still remember my teacher's advice (thanks, JJ Gormley!), and it still holds true - there have been many instances where I found myself struggling with something, resisting something, becoming angry or frustrated, and if I stayed and looked at it with interest and open mind, I always, always ended up glad that I did.

So, can Yoga make us feel bad? Yes, it can. Yoga is meant to cleanse our deeply seeded ignorance, to help us transform so we can change from within. And that means sometimes we have to do things that make us feel like crap. Inner work is very scary, frustrating, and confusing, especially if all we ever hear from our teacher - Yoga should make you feel all good, all the time!

There are several signs to look for, actually, that maybe you are onto something good. One is that you find all sorts of excuses not to do it. You are all of a sudden too busy, although when asked what you did or accomplished that day, you would be hard pressed to come up with anything much. Or you decide that it is simply not your thing. Or you feel emotional during or after class, and not in a good way - feelings of rage and grief are common, because we store unprocessed emotions in our bodies. When during Yoga we move through those areas of holding, they serve us what we have been repressing. Or you get hurt, injured - nothing major, maybe (or something really major sometimes), so that you can have the best excuse of all - I can't. I broke my foot, for goodness sakes, how can I do Yoga now?

But that may be a sign that your practice is exactly what you need, and in order to move forward you need to keep practicing. Modify your practice to accommodate injuries (and if complete rest is required, there is always breathing and meditation!). Stay present with the rage and the grief, so you can finally begin to digest years of toxic energy that you've been carrying around. Be disciplined - set a time every day for your practice, and if all you have courage for is to roll out your mat and spend five minutes in child's pose, then that's something.

Think of it this way - our inner growth is never a straight, steady line. There are peaks and valleys. There are ups and downs. The first hill is usually the hardest - the effort it takes to establish a new routine, the courage it takes to look at yourself, your procrastinating, your excuses, the self-castigating that follows, and still remain committed to your practice. It is too easy to say: Oh, I am who I am, it'll never work. Why bother? That's the cowardly choice, and many never make it past this first obstacle, up this first hill.

If you do, however, you will be blessed with a new view - you can look back and see clearly how far you've come. You can see others down there, mired in their problems, stuck in their ways, just as you had been, and your heart will fill with pride that you made it, with compassion for those that haven't, those that never will. Because everyone has to make that first climb up the hill by themselves. A Yoga teacher can only point out the way. A Yoga teacher can tell you - watch out for that boulder there, I tripped over it, watch out for the hidden hole - I twisted my ankle there. But the actual climbing you have to do yourself - your teacher has already climbed it. And probably the hill after this one, and maybe even part of the mountain beyond.

Because when you get up on that first hill and look ahead, you will see that you are only at the beginning of the journey, that there are more heights to gain, more things to learn. It was at that point I decided to become a Yoga teacher - I saw that I could help those below, who wanted to climb up to where I was, but also that there was more growth to be had, that it was infinite, that it wasn't about making it to the top of this small hill, or the top of that tall mountain, but rather about the journey. It never ends.


Anna M.