Svadhyaya – Sad Yogi

Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.
~ Carl Jung

This week in yoga teacher training we are focusing on svadhyaya, or self-study.  I will admit that self-study isn’t much of a stretch for me, which you probably already know if you read this blog.  I’m prone to a (maybe excessive) level of self-reflection and analysis (and I suppose my characterization of it as maybe excessive is sort of meta-svadhyaya).  So, I wasn’t shocked to find myself thinking today a lot about where I am emotionally and trying to observe it.

The last few days I’ve been feeling sad.  Some of it may be due to work-related stress, but I know that is not all it is because I’ve had more stressful days at work that didn’t affect me like this.  Some of it may be due to the cold; I’m not at my best in the darker/colder months.  Some may be related to just hormonal cycles or the effects of recent medical treatments.  Whatever the reason, I’m sad.  I have found myself near tears on several occasions.

There isn’t anything particularly interesting about the fact that I’m feeling sad.  As Jung correctly notes in the quote above, sadness is a part of our lives.  It’s inevitable.  What is of interest to me today is that, when I feel sad and I don’t have a really good reason (like someone being really ill, losing my job, a family tragedy), I also feel very silly and guilty.  Hmmm… (more svadhyaya – I say hmmm a lot when I’m not sure what else to say and I like parentheses).

Why do I feel so guilty about being sad?  I don’t feel guilty about being happy.  Both are just emotions and neither is worse than the other, right?  My best guess is that it is related to cultural and family socialization.  I grew up in a culture dominated by a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” philosophy that doesn’t have much use for being down and tends to treat it as something that must be fixed – just watch television for 60 minutes and see how many commercials you see for psychotropics.  “Bad” emotions are suspicious.  I also grew up in a household with an adult who experienced serious and prolonged bouts of depression, resulting in hospitalization on several occasions.  Even as child, I knew that wasn’t considered normal, and saw how people pretended not to notice, suggesting to me that not only was it abnormal, but it was shameful.

Yeah, so I internalized all of that and I’m not good with sad.  I’m not even good with other people’s sad, unless they are very small people or it’s related to something specific.  It’s something to work on, and by “work” I don’t mean doing something but doing nothing, just observing the emotion and letting it go.

How do you respond to your own blue periods? (Yes, that’s a Picasso reference, but you get extra credit if you are thinking about the Smithereens right now)



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3 Responses to Svadhyaya – Sad Yogi

  1. yvonne says:

    I think mental illnesses in the US are stigmatized socially. we’re all aware of what they are (depression being maybe the most common that touches the most people), but as you noted, I don’t think we’ve been taught as a population at large how to deal with them. they’re popularized in movies, romanticized to some degree in the news, etc., but when it comes to understanding the day-by-day challenges of living with them or someone who’s affected by a mental illness, I don’t think American society has the attention span or the will to educate ourselves – specialized professionals, yes. But as a general population, no. I won’t even talk about China, where people can’t even get adequate mental health care, and you see flareups like last summer’s attacks on schoolchildren happen as a result.

    but for starters, I think that we as a society don’t look very deep internally. I was thinking during svadhyaya in class, and that I think the majority of people move through life without real self-examination – because what we see can be so disappointing by cultural standards. think of all the messages we get through the media and politics and whatnot on how we should eat, think, look, vote, parent, behave… there are some pretty impossible standards out there. and when it comes to being real and being yourself, people have the most ingenious ways of self-deception when they want to avoid pain, or truth, or effort. (this is terrible. I guess you can see I’m a pessimist at heart!)

    for really bad days? I sleep. It doesn’t make whatever’s making me sad/mad go away, but that’s my immediate coping mechanism.

    if I’m in a funk, I first recognize it and then let myself go with it. eventually, I guess I get to a point where I’m tired of being sad and realizing that it’s not doing me much good.

    I pray or try to list the things I’m blessed with. and believe it or not (because I know you will love this), singing really does lift your spirits. even if you don’t feel like you’re in the mood for it, something about using song stirs emotions and generally makes me feel better afterwards.

    • theveganasana says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Sometimes this culture is a mystery to me, even after studying it for years. We glorify seeking psychiatry in one sense, with media portrayals of anyone in the upper class seeing a shrink weekly. But, at exactly the same time, we treat any sort of dis-ease in the psyche as a shameful thing. It’s quite the dichotomy. As far as my mood, sleep sounds good – though really, when doesn’t it. 🙂 With regard to singing, I’ll sing – I just won’t sing in public. In my car is fine. But, I probably shouldn’t sleep in the car or sing while I sleep!

  2. Madeleine says:

    Thanks for discussing this! The “shame” you mention I think prevents a lot of yogis from having this conversation. Besides the usual cultural avoidance of mental health issues, I think yoga practitioners do a double whammy on themselves because somehow all this yoga should be making us happier right? Right…

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