Negative thinking

This is what your yoga practice is for: we practice not panicking, we practice breathing, we practice looking directly at the thing that scares us until we stop flinching, we practice overriding our Discomfort, and rediscovering with delight our possibilities. Recently after completing a yoga sequence the teacher encouraged us to drop “negative” thinking for 40 day challenge. As she elaborated I realized she had a very dualistic definition of the word “negative.” Ironic, right? The teacher had just led us through two hours of grueling physical work and yet she was defining “negative” as anything we might not like. Huh?

Ok, so what’s confusing about that is maybe you don’t “like” being sore and tired and worst in the class – so you might take her advice to avoid yoga for the 40 days, and I am SURE that is not what she meant. I am pretty sure she was imagining that you would avoid bossy in-laws, awful food, traffic jams and other common stuff that makes one go “Yuk!” And if you want to be the kind of flowers and tie-dye yogi who spiritually by-passes much of life you would do just that. Your life might be ok, and all very safe, but not very real.

Lord knows there ARE negative things which ought to be avoided. Once you’re past yoga 101 I deem you deep enough to get the more arcane instructions. Don’t define “negative” dualistically. Don’t get caught up in the nothing is good or bad / I-can’t-have-a-judgement /blah blah blah either.Because that’s silly. Some things are clearly bad: exploiting the vulnerable, THAT’S Bad! Some things are clearly good. And Yes YOU get to have a judgement.

There is a way. A middle path. But the middle path requires more of your brain power and introspection. It requires a highly personal, highly subjective definition of “negative.”

For example, maybe your mom listens to your piano practice and tells you you need to practice more. Or maybe you judge your own asana practice and wish you were stronger, more flexible or able to leap buildings in a single bound. The question is, is such judgement “negative”? If you quit berating your self, you would certainly feel happier – but if you quit caring you would never get more proficient. Can you judge, and judge dispassionately? Can you realize something is not perfected without having a cow about it? THAT would be one way to drop the negative.

But can this really be done? In my early 20’s through my 30’s I met a lot of people with alternative lifestyles. I observed they didn’t get there out of the blue. Most of them were reactionary. An over controlling parent, or an unsupportive family, pushed the person into an adulthood of anxiety. In an attempt to navigate life these people would vacillate between trying to accept themselves warts and all and self loathing. While it’s easy to see what’s wrong with self-loathing, it is more subtle to see that some self reflection helps you become a better person. Improvement has to start with some level of dissatisfaction or you’d get nowhere.

Seriously. If you are willing to accept yourself warts and all, then you no longer have any incentive to change. But if you self loathe, you’re going to feel too crappy to do anything about yourself. So find the middle way by acknowledging the warts without hating the warts.

It’s because dissatisfaction sometimes leads to improvement that I have a hard time considering unhappiness “negative.” Dissatisfaction becomes negative only when you embrace it, wallow in it, define yourself by it. Don’t do that. Didn’t Jesus say something about hating the sin but loving the sinner? I paraphrase to make the point, you can dislike something enough to make changes without disliking it so much you paralyze yourself.

A regular yoga practice will bring you face to face with your limitations on a consistent basis. You can practice both acceptance and improvement at the same time! A strong body builds confidence but a strong body is not required to start. Start where you are!

Find peace through constant exploration!

Sat Nam!