I’ve been doing yoga off and on for many years. I biked alot in my younger years, and this was felt in hips that dislocated and hamstrings that I didn’t stretch out properly, because I used biking as transportation and didn’t consider the consequences of failing to care for my body properly. When I was 15 years old I dabbled in yoga when I was home alone, and tried it more in my 20s. I would give up easily, figuring I was doing something wrong because I couldn’t make myself bend in the same way as I was being shown. I didn’t think I had the skill. I got frustrated. It took a few years after breaking my knee in my late 20s to pick it up regularly again, and it was the only thing I could do that provided nominal pain relief.
And then things started to change. I read an article one day about what yoga actually was, and what it wasn’t. What I had been doing wasn’t yoga – it was simply stretching. “Doing” yoga was exactly what I was doing wrong. It sounds like a play on words, but there’s the mental aspect as well. When I was “doing” yoga, I didn’t fully understand what it was.
The more I read, the deeper down the rabbit hole I fell, and it’s something I’ll never regret looking into. Once I learned a bit more and wanted to try incorporating yoga into my life as a lifestyle, however, was when my practice truly began. Yoga has extended beyond a yoga mat. It’s hard to know where to start when there is SO much to learn, though, and I was becoming overwhelmed with so much information.
And this is how I found myself longing to take yoga teacher training. I pined over a class in beautiful Bali for a year. I realized, though, that if I wait for the opportunity to go to Bali I may wait longer than I really wanted. I was ready now, but the opportunity to travel to Bali for a month was just not available. I came across a more local yoga studio offering YTT training, so one day I signed up for the course at Prana Yoga Studio in Edmonton despite never even stepping foot in the building. I didn’t ask the husband, nor did I ask forgiveness when I told him that I had just spent a lot more money than we realistically had at the time. This is something I was ready for, and I found a way to make it happen. I didn’t allow excuses. My intuition screamed at me – but it didn’t need to. I wanted to make this happen, and I found every reason to go for it instead of any reason to hold back from it.
One of the required reading materials prior to starting was “The Wisdom of Yoga” by Stephen Cope. I was keen to start reading it, but had no idea that it would take me into those raw parts of myself I had so recently exposed during my summer. Those parts of me I was new to and wasn’t quite sure what to do with yet. Those sensitive, raw, vulnerable parts that had never been nourished and were soaking up everything they could.
The author described samvega as what yogis refer to as an awakening and involves “at least three clusters of feelings at once“:
the oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it’s normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle. (p 13)
The first part of the above quote is something I’ve always related with. I fought my teachers in grade school with similar thinking. I fought so hard to be different, to be free, to go against the grain that all I ended up doing was confusing myself and chaining myself into a different cage as my peers. I was so adamant not to become a “sheeple” that all that resulted in was me just wearing a pink suit amongst the flock. I still walked the walk, talked the talk, worked day jobs I hated while bleating a pitiful cry of independence I didn’t really have. I was fighting so hard against not only society – but myself, as well. I wanted things that I thought would make me feel better, and when that failed I tried for something else to fill that gap. I wanted so badly to be different that I wouldn’t even consider embarking on a path that seemed mainstream in fear of becoming a slave to government and corporate slavery.
Something I didn’t stop to consider at the time were the shackles I implemented on myself for putting so many limitations on myself.
What I used to fill those gaps was not what I needed, but I wasn’t ready to face the reality that there was nothing else I needed at all except to just be honest with myself. That’s not an easy task though, so I avoided it by preoccupying my mind with preconceived notions of happiness and tried to do what seemed to be working for everyone else. I tried different jobs, different hobbies, different things that seemed to work for everyone else. It wasn’t working, though, and I just didn’t feel satisfied. (What I didn’t realize at the time was that this doesn’t work for anyone else, either.)
Samvega includes coming to a solid realization that all items are fundamentally void of nourishing one’s life. Those things I thought would fulfill my desires left me wanting more, and it didn’t really give me the happiness I hoped for. No matter what I did, where I went, what I bought – I wasn’t happy with what I had because it wasn’t enough. Rather, it wasn’t the right thing to fit that hole I was trying to fill.
And then – samvega becomes an overwhelming need and desire to break out of that cycle. This is described in yogic texts as a ” ‘wholehearted’ (or ‘vehement’) determination to find a way out of suffering.” This is what I felt during the summer. I was done with old cycles, old thinking, old habits and old ways of being that served no purpose. I was done. Just done, and it showed. Habits have changed significantly, health has improved remarkably, and I no longer have any excuses to hold myself back from myself. It required a lot of honest reflection, which was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do, but I didn’t want to live that way anymore. I stopped resolving to make changes and finally made the actual effort.
When I read this part of the book I had to stop and put it down. It filled me with overwhelming, inexplainable emotion and I found myself sobbing on the couch. Which drove me even crazier because I had no idea why. My husband, best friend and perfect distraction was alarmed to walk in the room and see the almost-ugly-cry face. He’s been through a lot of things with me, and he knows just what to do when I’m not able to explain what I’m feeling in that moment. Snuggles, smooches and love. And he’s happy to provide, like he did in that moment that made me feel exactly what I needed to feel: loved.
This section about samvega came up on Day 2 of YTT training, and as soon as the instructor opened discussion about it I couldn’t help but start blubbering like I did when I first read it. I STILL didn’t really understand why I was experiencing all of this unknown, raw emotion. I shared with the class, because I was literally melting down and had NO idea what was possibly going on in my head, and I couldn’t stop it even if I wanted to.
The crying I would have preferred to stop, so I could focus more on the emotion. I was ok feeling the emotion so I could try to figure out what it was.
This book had summarized exactly what I experienced so clearly, so why did it make me so upset?
I found it – that EUREKA moment of realization – a few days later. Discussing this with a dear friend, something just clicked into place. It had been meant to be a brief discussion that ended up being more of a novel in my excitement to try to describe how I felt.
(Sorry, D…. (but not really sorry. Thank you for your patience and love in my moments of typed babbles!!))
It all came down to something I had never truly experienced.
I felt validated. Everything I went through last summer was a release. It was freeing. I should be happy! And I was, and still am, but there was also this other feeling I couldn’t put my finger on because I was having a hard time focusing on it. Validation was tied to it, though, and it slowly started to connect.
It’s terror. Sheer, penetrating, debilitating terror. I have known a certain way of being my entire life. I am a product of Western culture, after all. The expectations, the excuses, the “way things are” – these are the things that most people aspire to be because “it is how it is”. This theory has never felt real to me, but I didn’t know what else there was so I hesitantly travelled that same road with everyone else, unhappily onward in a direction that I didn’t feel right going towards.
Suddenly I found myself in a completely different world, with a completely different view, different breaths, different perspectives. It’s all so new, and me and my raw new sense of self and raw vulnerabilities are suddenly faced with great and terrible things:
The unknown. The new. The change.
Validation is not something I would ever have admitted to wanting, but the ego wants what it wants. This isn’t something I’ve ever truly felt I’ve fully received. There was always a string attached to validating moments, whether that attached emotion or stipulation came from myself or another – an expectation, a disappointment, a better way or even outright disapproval for decisions I’ve made. This definition of samvega gave me a sense of validation I never felt I had, and it’s a new feeling. And this new feeling was overwhelming. I’ve never known the calm and stability it could offer. I’ve always been so used to turmoil, so that peace and calm of this new sense of knowing felt more like someone screaming inside my head and wanting out – this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, according to my normally turmoil-filled brainspace. The silence was peaceful, reassuring, soothing – and terrifying. Because it’s new, it’s change, and one of the most terrifying things in the world is change.
I never knew that feeling truly validated would cause such intense emotion, and it definitely took me by surprise. There was a huge emotional upheaval between the freedom and exhilaration of experiencing samvega combined with the panic and shock of what to do next.
When a bird has been raised in a cage all it’s life, all it wants is to fly. When given that opportunity, though, it may be faced with the realization that it has never flown and doesn’t know if it can do it or not, so will decide to stay in that cage where it knows it’s safe.
But, just maybe, that’s what it was born to do and it will find a way to fly regardless of what it has done (or hasn’t done) in the past.
I’ve stepped back into that cage enough times in my life, and this time is different. This time I took that step and allowed myself to free fall. It has sucked the air out of my lungs and the stars out of my eyes, but I’m ready for this. I’ll either fly, or I’ll fall. And if I fall? I’ll get back up again, and keep practising. Fear is just another emotion that doesn’t get to control this flight path – but it’s welcome to join me for a short while as I learn how to live again.
It’s an amazing feeling, and now that I know why I felt so overwhelmed, I’m ready to spread those wings and do those things I know I’m meant to do.
(If this isn’t a Matrix kind of moment, I don’t know what else is.)
I’m perfectly vulnerable in this moment, and I never thought it would feel this amazing.
Always in kindness,