The Downside of Yoga

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Yoga is my favorite thing.

I teach it; I practice it. I write about it; I praise its glorious benefits.

My definition of the yogic lifestyle is when yoga follows us off the mat and into our moment-to-moment experiences, into our lives.

When we carry our intentions during the formal practice (asana, pranayama and meditation) with us, into our every interaction with ourselves and all others.

Into what we eat, drink, say, pray, write. Into how we walk, drive, speak, cook, share and explore.

I aspire to live a yogic lifestyle.

However, the truth is that yoga isn’t all lovely rainbows and butterflies.

Did you know there are some difficulties that arise along with a consistent, devoted yoga practice?

Here are five that I’ve experienced.

1. Heightened Body Awareness = Hypochondriac

One of the most immediate effects of practicing yoga is that we develop greater awareness of what is happening in our bodies (and minds). In other words, we will begin to notice every ache and pain, every negative mental thought-loop, every tickle in the throat that threatens to turn into a full-blown head cold.

Of course, increasing our level of awareness is good, but this is the reality of what happens along with that—and it’s not always easy to deal with.

With continued practice, we learn how to sit with the pain, not get involved in the thinking and heed the advice when our intuition tells us to slow down, rest and heal.

2. Beware of Bruising

Yoga practice on the mat tends to bring our egos right to front and center. Notice the mental chatter that happens during yoga. How do we talk to ourselves? What is the tone of our inner voice? How do we relate to our bodies—both the parts we love and the parts we sometimes want to disown?

By ego, I mean that part that sees itself as separate from—and either better than or worse than—everything and everyone else.

Are we letting our ego rule our practice? Sometimes we don’t realize the answer to this question until we injure ourselves. It’s one thing to feel sore in a good way the day after doing yoga; it’s quite another to pull a muscle or worse as a result of our asana practice.

Yes, in case you didn’t know, it is possible to get injured in yoga. It happens when our ego and/or our teachers’ egos take the helm and push compassion, mindfulness and kindness overboard.

3. Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Yoga?

Yes. If by “yoga,” we are referring to asana.

Ten years ago, I was teaching yoga in the San Francisco Bay area up to 12 or 15 times a week and not giving myself the time and space for my own personal practice. I was overstretched from demonstrating yoga poses and leading so many classes and burnt out from not feeding my own spiritual practice when I needed it most.

Whether you’re teaching or practicing, beware of overdoing it physically. Asana is just one little slice of the yoga pie. There are plenty other, less physically-demanding, aspect of yoga. Breathing exercises, for one. Meditation, of course.

In addition, karma yoga (community service), contemplation, reading and writing are some less taxing options when we need to give our physical bodies a break.

4. You are likely to become irritable, tight, tense, stressed, overwhelmed or in some other state of dis-ease if you quit practicing.

The trouble with having a balanced body and mind thanks to yoga is that it requires upkeep. In the form of regular practice. And when that regular practice slips or disappears altogether, bad things start to happen.

I have experienced this downward spiral more times than I can recount. I know I need to do more yoga and get back to the meditation cushion, but instead I keep feeding detrimental habits and resisting what I know is best for me.

Of course, the solution to this dilemma is to just keep practicing. Easier said than done, sure, but it works—100 percent of the time.

5. Your life will change.

Is that what you want? Because it will happen.

Okay, the fact is that our lives are changing all the time; we just usually try to ignore that and cling to the familiar and comfortable.

When you start practicing yoga all the time, it becomes very clear that things (emotions, relationships, attitudes, jobs, ideas, projects, situations) are always shifting, evolving and changing—sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly but eternally in flux.

Yoga will change your life. It will affect your relationship with yourself, with food, with your partner, family and friends. Embrace the change and you are a yogi.

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