What the heck is inner peace, even? Is it just spiritual fluff?

IMG_0978You’ve probably heard it before: find the peace within. Perhaps it was one of your yoga teachers. If you’re anything like me—a little cynical, skeptical, and a serious over-thinker—you might simply toss this aside as empty, pseudo-spiritual speak. I mean, haven’t we all had that yoga teacher that just went on and on about finding our inner centre, our inner bliss, while we suffered endlessly in triangle pose? Can’t they see how much we are struggling?! Yeah, yeah, connect to the wisdom within, peace is the path, be my own guru… Got it! Now, move on to something easier already!

But that’s exactly it. Even if the cynic in us might hear it as disingenuous spiritual fluff at times, it’s in those specific moments when we’re the most annoyed, the most closed off, that we really have something to learn from ourselves, when—dare I say—we can be our own biggest teacher. Why is it that in the hardest poses do we find ourselves the most easily annoyed? Is this how we always respond to challenge: hardened, suffering, waiting for it to be over? That internal dialogue that happens in practice and meditation doesn’t make us failed yogis for thinking and feeling instead of floating blissfully in an alternate state of consciousness (does that ever even happen to anyone?). Misunderstood cultural references to yoga and meditation may have us thinking that if we just practice hard enough we’ll suddenly get to some other level where all of life is just so much easier, so much more peaceful. But that thinking, that feeling, that internal dialogue: that IS the practice!

In those moments when we’re struggling the most, when we have the urge to give up, when we’re irritated, when our internal dialogue is running wild, that’s when we can learn the most from ourselves. What are we saying to ourselves? How do we speak to ourselves? Are we kind? Are we judgmental? How do we respond to challenge? Do we resist? Do we struggle? The big shift or change that brings about peace isn’t that we magically transcend to some other plane of existence, it’s a mental shift. Instead of feeding into the negative self-talk, we stop in our mental tracks and notice just how mean we can be to ourselves. In those moments when we’re thinking, “shut up, teacher and just get me out of this pose already,” instead of continuing to shoot our laser eyes in the back of our yoga teacher’s head, we might notice just how reactive and frustrated we can get when we’re uncomfortable.

That’s the thing, it doesn’t make us bad people, or bad yogis to think bad thoughts or get annoyed or angry. That’s a part of being human. How we find our “inner peace” is when we step out of the reactive cycle of feeding into negative self-talk or anger and investigate our feelings. What is it that made us so uncomfortable about our teacher telling us to “find the peace within” while we held triangle for so long? Is it the aversion to physical struggle? Is it the belief that the teacher lacks compassion and is simply speaking insincerely? Why might we immediately assume the words are dispassionate and insincere? Is it because we regularly speak dispassionately and insincerely? Is our ego flaring because our teacher is telling us something we already know, yet we continue to allow ourselves to suffer? After all, isn’t suffering a choice? We can choose at any moment to come out of a pose, or we can choose to focus more intently on softening our efforts and finding more of a balance between effort and ease. But, instead, we might tense all of our muscles as tightly as we can to force ourselves into a shape, but then get annoyed when we have to stay there for too long. Right? We all do it!

Sometimes it’s because of our religious upbringing, or social expectations of work ethic, or culture in general, that we’ve been saddled with this idea that life is supposed to be hard. Life is supposed to be a struggle. If we’re not beating ourselves up with harsh criticism about our bodies or how we performed at work, then we better be punishing ourselves at the gym, or denying ourselves of the pleasure of leisure and family time, by staying extra late at work.

What I have learned most from my yoga practice isn’t the perfect alignment of downward dog, or how to stay in crow pose, or advanced breathing techniques. It’s that I can be really freakin’ hard on myself! I’ve learned that I have a habit of shying away from challenges and that I have a serious fear of imperfection. I’ve learned I get annoyed when someone calls attention to things I already know in my heart but have been ignoring. I’ve learned through tears that came from absolutely nowhere, that my own expectations of myself are impossibly high, and that my negative self-talk really hurts my own feelings. What I’ve learned the most from my yoga practice is that things don’t have to be a struggle, and that I don’t have to suffer. It doesn’t mean I should continue to shy away from challenges, difficulties, or possibilities of failure. I should embrace them knowing that it is only human to fail sometimes, and there is no reason to be afraid or to beat myself up.

That is the peace within I have found in my practice. My peace is the freedom to move through all kinds of experiences—pleasant, unpleasant, uncomfortable, challenging—and observing my thoughts, the feelings that arise, my habits, my physical reactions, so I can do my best to adjust accordingly. Can I notice that I have become extremely rigid in order to continue to hold myself in this extended hold of triangle, and instead of getting annoyed at continuing to be here, soften my efforts and come back to my breath? Can I see the negative self talk and instead of feeding into it, smirk that my pesky old habit has returned? When I am fighting with my partner, can I recognize that my interpretation of what has been said may be due to my own insecurities and hang-ups? Can I notice the urge to react to the feeling of my ego being hurt by offering cutting words in return before I actually say them? Can I step out of the habit of feeding into hurt and anger and instead examine those feelings of hurt and anger to find the root of what is making us uncomfortable or hurt or angry?

It’s still a work in progress. That’s why they call it practice, right? It took awhile to figure out that the shift that comes with peace doesn’t mean I have to become a passive observer. It doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to feel hurt or angry or upset or that the goal of noticing those feelings is to stop them. It doesn’t mean I have to constantly stop myself dead in my tracks whenever I’m worrying or fretting about something, so that I can stop worrying or fretting. It just means that in those moments when I’m feeling worried, or angry, or hurt, that I can notice that I’m feeling that way, take some deep breaths, and climb into those feelings, feel them fully, and trace them back to their root. So, that at least when I’m feeling hurt or angry, I know why I’m feeling hurt or angry, and instead of suffering by trying to suppress the feelings, or allowing them to completely consume me, I can simply feel them for what they are. And, when all else fails, a super deep breath makes the perfect reset button.


andrea p 1Andrea has newly arrived to Victoria, where she teaches at Moksha Yoga Westshore, from Peterborough, Ontario, where she lived and taught yoga for over 4 years.  She initially completed her 500 hour training in Moksha Yoga in June of 2011 right here in Victoria and has since then completed over 500 hours of additional training in various styles, including yin and vinyasa. Andrea has a passion for anatomy and functional-movement based yoga as a way become more intimate with our bodies, to physically address injury and compensation, and as a way to practice mindfulness and cultivate peace. Read more about Andrea…