When I first started practicing yoga, I had hopes of becoming a zen princess…that all of my struggles would just fall away effortlessly, and I could become one with my truth, one downward-facing dog at a time.

However, my relatively brief experience with yoga has showed me that the process looks more like this:

plan reality

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love yoga and think it has done wonders for my physical and emotional health.  Plus, I simply have fun doing it!  However, for some of us, once we become more settled into our practice, the sticky gunk within us begins to rise to the surface. It’s kind of like when you unexpectedly have company coming over, and you “clean up” all the random junk lying around your house by stuffing it under beds and in drawers. (Wait, am I the only one?) We do the same thing internally – only our “stuff” consists of the habits and thoughts we don’t want to acknowledge, but that nonetheless still clutter our minds.  Our fears that we keep buried waaaay below the surface. Our not-so-pretty habits that we don’t dare face directly.  Our shadows.

Ugh, that’ll take some of the fun out of tree pose.

Alas, what I didn’t know about yoga when I started, was that this whole “path to oneness” thing also requires us to face our shadows, because unfortunately we can’t understand our full selves without also acknowledging the dark aspects. Those shadows are just as real and important as the shiny, golden parts of us. Being fully integrated requires that we accept both.  And this is NOT easy – it is incredibly challenging, no matter what our age or stage of life.

If you’re in a stage of your life in which you shed more tears on your mat than sweat, please don’t despair. You’re growing, and you are becoming more of who you truly are.  The more we can face all parts of ourselves – the light, the dark, and every shade in between – the more we can live an honest and open-hearted life. The shadows do not make us bad or ugly. They simply make us human and guide us toward the areas of our lives where we may need to devote a little extra TLC in order to grow.

None of us came into this world with a secret instruction manual on how to master difficult life changes (much to my annoyance – because I really want to sit next to that person).  But the beautiful thing about having a community of like-minded peers, is that we will never be alone in this endeavor. So, we can take solace in the fact that there will always be others to help support us through fear, loss, and other experiences that highlight our shadows. With each other’s support, we can gradually learn to face our shadows more honestly, and perhaps even see what they might have to teach us.