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Embracing life’s ups and downs

Life isn't just pastel colours and strawberry ice cream, sometimes it can be tough going. By Emma West

Recently, I’ve been rehabbing a very poorly hamstring after a hypermobility-related over-stretching incident whilst teaching a yoga class. Why is this relevant, I hear you ask?

Well, I’ve been feeling a bit sorry for myself. This injury left me with a serious case of imposter syndrome and a bit of a bruised ego. I injured myself (quite seriously) in front of a class full of students and it left me doubting myself.

Sometimes, things are bad. We feel sad or upset, and no amount of “put your positive pants on” or “think nice thoughts” can fix it. No amount of being told to “look on the bright side” will improve your mood or the situation.

Happiness is not always a choice, and we cannot simply plaster over sad feelings with a fake smile. Most of the time, these toxic positivity messages come from a place of innocence or unknowing, and usually with the best intentions. People may not fully understand the situation but feel the need to say something; they wish to offer sympathy but do not know how. Comments such as, “Everything happens for a reason,” “Cheer up,” “You’ll be fine,” and “It could be worse,” are usually coming from a place of love, a place of wanting to say something positive or be helpful. However, these comments can often belittle feelings, dismissing them as unimportant or not valid.

I often find other peoples' negative emotions uncomfortable to deal with and I can feel myself squirm when confronted with them. This discomfort with emotion might well be a cultural habit, but it is one that needs to be changed. If you find yourself being the shoulder to cry on for someone, watch out for your reaction and think carefully before you speak. Instead of dismissive remarks (such as the examples given above), try simply listening and responding with supportive comments such as “I’m here for you,” “That must be really tough,” or “Is there anything I can do to help?”

And if you are the one going through stuff, just know that it is okay to feel sad, or angry, or hurt, or any other emotion. All feelings are valid and justified, whether they are positive or negative. They are simply a part of the human experience.

In yoga, we are actively encouraged to acknowledge our shadow side and embrace the wobbles, both on and off the mat. This means recognise that something is difficult, accept it for what it is, and don’t punish yourself for feeling the way you do. If you are, for example, attempting a handstand and you fall over, does it make you any less human? No. It is perfectly understandable that, whilst trying to stand on your hands, you will fall over at some point. You accept that it is simply a part of the journey and get on with it.

Oftentimes, we learn the most from the negative experiences. They are our biggest teachers, our motivation for change and they encourage us to heal. If we push these emotions down, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn, grow or heal. If we never fell out of the handstand, how would we know how to distribute the weight for better balance or learn that we need to strengthen our wrists more? If we never felt sadness, how would we learn to appreciate the good times, or learn to be compassionate? If we never felt anger, how would we find the motivation to make changes or stand up for our beliefs? So never apologise or hide your emotions and don’t feel shame for being a normal human. Instead, embrace the wobbles and ask yourself: what can I learn from this?

Life doesn’t need to be positive vibes only. It’s okay to not be okay, and there is definitely more to life than vinyl wall stickers telling us to ‘live, laugh, love’. Imagine how boring things would be if everything was pastel colours and strawberry ice cream! Sometimes we need navy blue, urban grey, and salty crisps to balance out the sickly sweet.

So acknowledge it, accept it and try not to be hard on yourself. This doesn’t make you a Negative Nancy and it doesn’t make it a pity party. It means that you are human, and you are just feeling the feels.

Emma West

Emma is a Cornwall-based yoga and meditation teacher and positive mental health ambassador for WarriorKind.