When Yoga Classes are Triggering

backbends in yoga class
Photo by YogaKula

We’ve all experienced it, whether traveling or at our regular studio; we try out a new class, and the teacher or style rubs us in all the wrong ways. Whether we feel unfamiliar with the flow, assisted inappropriately, irritated with the intensity or lack thereof, or that the teacher talks too much or guides postures unsafely, seasoned practitioners bring a host of beliefs and expectancies to classes that can barricade their ability to drop into experience. Such experiences offer a rich laboratory to cultivate discernment of and loving-kindness towards our samskara (habitual patterns and preferences), as well as those of the yoga instructor we may be struggling with.

Triggers experienced in yoga always correspond to those arising in our daily lives. When observed mindfully and with self-compassion and discernment, triggers can be our greatest teachers, with the potential to birth us into our fullest expression. Jung and other psychological theorists have posited that the characteristics most loathed in others represent our repressed childhood selves; our shadow, or darker half. Our default state avoids persons and situations that hearken remembrance of the shadow and embraces those that reinforce our idealized (and false) self, although this unwittingly strengthens the shadow (and samskara); what we resist persists.

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Transformation occurs, suggested Jung, when we welcome and integrate the shadow—in others, as in ourselves. The “churning” of triggers can thus, if left unintegrated, facilitate stagnation and ossification, or burn samskaras and engender awakening if rendered conscious with loving awareness.

The key here is discernment. When we show up to practice, the best we can do is be open to what is offered, mindful, and self-compassionate to ourselves and the process. This may lead to discernment that what is offered is objectively “unsafe,” boundary-transgressing, or aggressive, in which case we take appropriate action. We may also discern that what is offered is not in service to our bodies or values, or that the instructor is not aligned with their own values and our studentship is thus unwarranted.

However, discernment is closely related to judgment, and many of us are yogier-than-thou when it comes to denouncing what we don’t like (the shadow) and idealizing what we do (the false self). Yogic scriptures teach that we are all divine, including those we don’t naturally vibe with; embodying our intrinsic wholeness means accepting their wisdom and teachings as signposts to inner freedom.

I am discerning here between unsafe and triggering, however; if you feel a class is truly unsafe (for any reason), then it’s probably best to avoid. However, if psychological triggering is the predominant impulse, then it’s a rich opportunity to delve into your own psyche to explore the roots of your resistance.

In our next blog we will share an example of how to face and integrate your “yoga shadow,” and implications for life off the mat.

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Do you experience triggers in yoga class? What is your biggest trigger?

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