As with anything in life, practicing yoga has some risks. If you push too hard into a posture you risk injuring yourself. You know your back is feeling tight but when the teacher suggests bow pose you go
for it. The result? Back pain. These risks are 100% preventable. Afterwards we realize that it was the ego or maybe even absentmindedness that motivated us to push rather than back-off. But there are other risks when practicing yoga that no-one really talks about.
The practice takes us into places within ourselves that maybe we don't ordinarily allow ourselves to go. Some of these deep, dark corners of our minds are scary places. There's the risk of getting mugged by our old habits and old thought patterns. Is re-lapsing into old habits preventable?
Perhaps the biggest risk of the yoga practice is the risk to our heart. A lot of the work done on the mat is about opening our heart. The yoga teachings clearly tell us to be in our hearts and move from our hearts. This practice of opening the heart leaves us vulnerable. We know the benefits are great and so we begin to tentatively open the heart. It's scary but we do it. Unfortunately, sometimes that means we get hurt.
Over the years many of us build pretty solid walls around our hearts to protect it. After all, it's a very sensitive thing and it needs protection. (Doesn't it?) With the wall safely in place we can withstand the harshness of life. We don't feel the lightening bolts that are aimed straight at our hearts. When the yoga practice begins to dismantle the protective walls our hearts are exposed and we feel vulnerable. Without the wall there's no protection against the harshness of life, against the lightening bolts. What now? The thought of this is scary and makes me ask why? Why would I want to dismantle the protective wall? Why would I want to open my heart? We most definitely feel more when we do the work of opening our hearts. The harshness that surrounds us feels more harsh. There are risks to feeling more.
The risk of feeling your feelings is that you have to figure out what to do with them after you've felt them. How do you prevent those old coping mechanisms from mugging you? If you do find yourself falling back into old patterns how do you break the cycle? How do you protect your heart while at the same time keeping it open? Unlike the risk in the physical practice of yoga, I'm not sure that the risk in the emotional practice of yoga is preventable. My guess, though, is that we apply the same advice to both practices. With the physical practice we listen to our body. With the internal practice, we listen to our heart.
There are also risks to NOT opening the heart. The down side of that protective wall is that it not only keeps the hurt out but it also keeps the love out. When we avoid feeling our feelings we are preventing ourselves from feeling love and joy. Do we want to prevent that too? I don't. I want to feel love and joy so I have to take the risk that maybe sometimes a little pain will get in too. It's a hazard of this game we call Life.
As I do in the asana practice I realize that what motivates me to build the wall around my heart is the ego and sometimes even absentmindedness. And, that my friend, is preventable. My advice? When you are moving into the deep, dark corners of the mind - take a flashlight or in yoga words - the mantra. Where there is light there can be no darkness. Right?