As humans, we like to seek pleasure and avoid pain. So we should want to do things that make us feel good, right?
Most people start practicing yoga because they hear that yoga can make you feel relaxed, happy, blissed out, healthier, and less stressed. All those things are possible to feel after a yoga class. I know I’ve experienced ‘yoga brain’ (feeling both relaxed yet energised) after many a practice. But what happens when you leave a yoga class feeling kind of like crap? Your body is hurting in places you didn’t realise were in pain, you feel stressed out or anxious or sad and you’re not feeling any of the good things yoga promised you. What gives?
A few weeks after I moved to London, I had plans to go out with a friend, and her friend, for dinner and drinks one evening. I wanted to get in my yoga practice first so I said I’d meet them a bit later. I did a one hour practice, expecting to feel energised and happy, ready to go meet my friend. Instead, I felt bad. I felt irritable, and grumpy and not much in the mood to go meet anyone. What was going on? Was it the style of yoga I did? It was more energetic than the sequences I usually do. Maybe it had brought on a bad energy. Yet maybe, the yoga didn’t bring on those feelings out of thin air. Maybe I was already feeling grumpy and irritable and like I didn’t want to venture out into a busy area before I started practicing, but I didn’t want to feel those things because it went against my idea of being sociable, laid back, and ‘up for anything’.
If you leave a session feeling worse than when you went in, it might feel like yoga isn’t for you. You didn’t do it right, or it doesn’t work for you. Unfortunately, this is a symptom of how yoga is marketed. It’s not great business for a studio or teacher to advertise that you might leave class with your deepest anxieties etched in your brain.
While yoga and meditation can often leave you feeling better than when you started, that’s not the goal. What we are really striving for is to know ourselves- both the good and bad. One of my teachers used the metaphor of a garden- when the sun shines on a garden, it’s indiscriminate. It’s not only the beautiful flowers that grow, but the weeds come up too. It’s then up to us to do the hard work of pulling out the weeds again and again and again.
You might not have noticed that your neck was in pain, or you were feeling nervous about going out with your friends. The awareness you cultivate in a yoga class can bring those things to the surface. And that’s OK. In fact, that means your doing the work you need to do. Observing your thoughts, both good and bad, helps you better understand yourself. It can also help you see that your thoughts are just thoughts. They come and go like sunshine and cloud. They are not facts or permanent states of being. Just having a variety of outcomes from your yoga class can help you to accept the fluctuations of the mind.
If you’ve ever left a yoga class feeling worse off than when you began, don’t feel discouraged, or like you did anything wrong. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling, observe your thoughts, and tend to the garden of your mind when you need to.
Have you ever felt ‘bad’ after a yoga or meditation class? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!
If you do notice a pattern of negative thinking or feeling, this may be something you can work on with a therapist or healthcare professional to improve your mood and your health. Yoga takes a holistic approach to health focusing on both the body and mind, and can bring awareness to conditions that require further support.