The therapeutic potential of yoga is amazing – but not unlimited. As a practitioner and teacher I have witnessed some of this transformative capacity in awe and wonder.
But I have also seen yoga lead to repetitive stress injuries, aggrandized egos, and abuses of power. People who care about yoga need to be careful not to ignore its’ shadow side. Even if yoga is not contributing to our problems, it can take the form of an anaesthetic and lead one toward an addictive and neurotic relationship with this otherwise liberatory practice.
Yoga can be an escape from the unpleasant aspects of ourselves and our lives that should probably be embraced, analyzed, and considered from a number of perspectives. Yoga offers no antidote to tragedy, loss, and trauma. Sometimes it is not the quieting of the mind that is required, but rather exploration and reflection on our thoughts.
Yoga and meditation might help us stay grounded as we work through our personal issues and conflicts with our friends, families, and communities – but there is no substitute for talking it out and making it work. This does not happen while sitting quietly all by yourself. It certainly does not happen while you are standing on your head. It involves expressing the thoughts that make us most uncomfortable.
Working through our issues, in a yoga studio or in a family, means being bold. It is telling our friends and family that we love them and that we have made mistakes. Working through our issues involves crying and all kinds of the most human ugliness rising up to the surface. None of this is poetic in its yogic simplicity. It is exhausting in its human complexity.
The mantra of the contemporary yoga world must be “its all love” or “its all good” or something similar. We would love for this to be true. Wouldn’t it be a delight to discover that the pain you feel is all love? Wouldn’t it be a relief to discover that fleeting moments of jealousy, contempt, and shame are not a problem we need to deal with and better understand. After all, its all good right?
Yoga is not a panacea. It is a prototypically complementary therapy. Used intelligently and in tandem with other forms of therapy (counselling, allopathic medicine, massage, for example), the benefits of yoga are hard to overestimate. But it is not a cure-all.
For further reading I suggest The McMinfulness Craze by Dr. Jeffery Rubin,