I was speaking to a friend, giving them a lovely compliment that they took the wrong way. They said no they weren’t fantastic, they were shitty and awful, and if I thought they were wonderful then equally I’d dislike something they did soon. I laughed gently and explained I thought embracing both was a better idea. To be light and dark is important. To be selfish and giving. To be awful and great. 

In life, there is darkness, profound darkness and pain, and there is also light and bliss. If we deny our darkness we can’t find the light, we just evade our darkness. To know light we need to know dark. Yin Yang, Up down, sad happy.

Going up to go down

This really is yoga. Let me explain why. Yoga is primarily about union and balance. In yoga we work with stability, finding the floor and at the same time finding edges, balance and aliveness. Our bodies need to be soft to go with it, to adapt, to feel and yet strong in terms of muscles and alignment that supports us. We need to be active and yet passive. Using muscles and yet not overusing.

On a yoga mat when you come into a pose you are also almost contradictorily moving in the opposite direction. So in dancer pose I might think of my chest moving forwards and down, but to do this I need also to be moving upwards, this ensures my downward movement is alive and not a collapse. So chest is moving forwards and down, the lifted foot is moving upwards and back. It is this fluctuating balance that keeps it real.

But the perfect ones don’t have any dark

Yoga is often considered for the pure and light, the perfect ones. Indeed there can be some pressure from the yoga community to portray a perfect ideal, sell transformation and aspirations….  and to deny realness. Problematically I may play into this idea. A yoga teacher friend of mine Orla Beaton liked one of my yoga videos saying I was always cheerful. That really surprised me, as its not my perception of myself. It also made me think Id better address it. We talked about it together and I laughed saying it took a lot of crying to get this happy. That’s why I’m also writing it here. My experience is that you’re going to have to cry bucket loads. I’m not done crying, not nearly, I’ve only just begun. So when you see me laughing and playing remember where it comes from – from sitting with my darkness. I don’t mean some hypothetical darkness that I can do for an hour and then file as done, I wish. It’s a much harder darkness, it’s an ongoing process, never complete, never ‘done’, and refusing to be tidy.

Single sighted yoga

In yoga this doesn’t work on the mat. You can’t do tree pose and decide to ignore your knee or our hip or your back or your breath. When we forget a part of ourselves we ultimately hurt ourselves. We can damage ourselves or get a chronic condition. You can’t physically ignore one part of your body, just like you cant just put to one side a part of your emotional world. We can evade, ignore, shut down – it is possible. But it doesn’t lead well and in the long term, it damages. The body and soul can become pulled around so that you feel like you don’t know your body or mind. Meeting the contradictions is the path.

Embracing contradictions in yoga

In dog pose you need to meet the floor well, you need to find comfort in your hands and arms, your hamstrings. You need to drop down into the floor with your feet and the pads of your palm, and at the same time you need to lift up through the hips. Heavy soft in the hands and feet, light in the sacrum. It’s all contradictions, and what’s more they keep changing. Sliding back into dog pose there is heaviness in the pelvis, lightness in the arms and hands, work in the hips, ease in the shoulders. If you come straight up there is more work in the legs, and the interplay comes more into the feet, down into the feet, up through the legs and belly.  When we’re in dog pose we can slide back into the heels, feel the earth connection down through the back of the legs or we can stay more forwards feel the earthing more into our hands and arms. We might do neither and play with the spine, look for its flow is space, its undulations.

I suggest embracing opposites as a part of the whole, and taking the rough with the smooth. It’s a common phrase and it starts with ‘taking the rough…’, the idea being we tend to avoid the rough. I often meet people who find it hard to accept their light, to take the smooth with the rough.

Take the smooth with the rough

Mary Williams says it nicely:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world.”

Celebrate the good stuff – go for it, relish it. Mourn the losses, the pain, the mess – go down with it. Feel the joy in a flaky croissant, a beautiful stone, and kind touch. Feel the love, feel the pain. Try not to diminish either. Try to let your losses be huge and your joys to be huge. Be real with it, thoroughly real…. and try to, if someone gives you a compliment, to feel it for what it is – a nice thing. They might say they like your jumper, and tell you that you did a good job. You might be tempted to value judge the compliment to rebuff it – outright refusing to hear it. You might make it smaller, less meaningful: ‘yeah it’s lovely isn’t it, I got it from a charity shop’ (one of my favourites). They might say something deep or inane, but don’t get hung up on the words. I’m tempting you to embrace the compliment as a lovely moment in life where someone wants to share something they appreciate about you.

Yoga, flux and onwards

This is yoga, up and down, light and dark, strong and weak, bitter and sweet, soft and hard. A continual balance of opposites that leads us into harmony, again and again, and again. Not once, not twice, but continually into the dynamic flux of life. It can be yoga in a pose, or the yoga of a tiny interaction.

Find and live your darkness, find and live your light. They are interconnected. In short, take the smooth with the rough… and for those who rebuff compliments take it from me: you’re fantastic. Tomorrow you can be awful, and that’s still ok.