Let’s talk about the demons lurking in the closet, and the evil inner voices saturating the depths of our DNA, occupying our thoughts, and paralyzing our actions. These devilish beings spill toxins into our headspace, firmly lock into our shoulders, and root into our hips, creating physical blockages. Their mystical powers manifest into varying levels of discomfort and push us headfirst into the fires of self-loathing. The crazy part is that we know these demons hold us back from living our “best life,” but somehow our fear keeps us under their control.
You may have heard the phrase “shadow work.” This is definitely a buzzy concept within the self-help arena, and many spiritual teachers, healers, and therapists integrate these teachings into their sessions. Before facing your demons, it’s important to understand shadow work. Your shadow is the dark aspect of your personality that plays on the grounds of human emotions such as shame, envy, rage, anger, and greed. Your shadow also includes wants, desires, and the need for power. As young children, we freely feel and experience all human emotions. Rays of light (love, tenderness, kindness, and compassion) balance effortlessly with the cast of shadow emotions. But as we move through childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood, we learn by discipline and example to suppress feelings like anger and shame. No, acting out and kicking your siblings or schoolmates wasn’t the proper way to express fury; however, repressing your anger and feeling a sense of shame isn’t the best way to live through your teenage years either.
Over time we master the skill of hiding and disowning our shadow. We learn to suppress that side of ourselves and cloak our emotions with dysfunctional behavior such as over eating, working too much, numbing out with our phones, or betraying ourselves through behaviors like people-pleasing. Or, we project our feelings of anger, envy, or shame toward others. These processes happen unconsciously and often we are completely unaware of our behavior. As a result, we sabotage relationships and careers, but mostly, we sabotage our souls. The disowned shadow can begin to dim our light.
The deep spiritual work of facing your demons requires you to peel back layers of old habits and be brave enough to release heavily ingrained behaviors. The work may include committing to a 40-day yoga practice, or morning breathwork aimed to purify your body and mind. This will help you create the tolerance for sitting with difficult thoughts and feelings–to help you befriend them and realize they too can pass. In the fog of uncomfortable moments you will begin to design something more authentic; you will see the light of your soul that you thought was lost. With this clear understanding of your value and worth, and a healthy relationship with your demons, you will gracefully elevate into the full expression of you.
The following asana practice supports that spiritual work by building heat through challenging physical postures and Breath of Fire, which will allow you to see and feel your shadows, sit with discomfort, and realize that transformation is on the other side of the uncomfortable experiences. On a physical level, if you can hold challenging (not painful) poses for longer than you believe you can, you realize you are stronger than you think. You’ll build tolerance for discomfort and gain physical strength. When you feel fortitude from within, you know you have the capacity to face and dance with your shadows.
Agni Pran (Breath of Fire)
Find a comfortable seat with a long spine. Breathe in through your nose, then exhale quickly through your nose, drawing your navel toward your spine. On your inhalations, your solar plexus and belly will naturally move away from your spine. Practice for 1 minute.
Sit crossed-legged, with your palms resting on your legs. Create a circular motion with your upper body: inhale and bring your chest forward then right and exhale while you round your back and shift your torso to the left. Repeat this spinal warm up 7 times, then reverse directions.
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), draw your navel in toward your spine. Press firmly through your feet as you lift your arms to frame your face. Reach your arms and spine to the right. Relax your shoulders. Draw the left side of your torso back to ensure your chest faces forward and remains open. Hold for 5 breaths. Inhale to come back to center. Repeat on the other side.
High Lunge With Cactus Arms
Step your left foot back. Press firmly into the sole of the right foot while balancing on the ball of the left foot. Bend deep into the right leg so your right knee stacks directly over the ankle or slightly behind it. Draw your right hip back and your left hip forward. Maintain a stable left leg by reaching back through your left heel and keeping the left quad engaged without locking the knee. As you lift your chest and lengthen your spine, reach your arms out to your sides, in line with your shoulders. Bend your elbows to create a cactus shape. Hold for 5 breaths. Return to Mountain Pose, then repeat on the opposite side.
High Lunge With a Twist
Return to High Lunge with your right foot forward. Slowly exhale as you twist your torso to the right. Lower your left palm or fingertips to the floor or a block, keeping your hand 3–5 inches from your right inner arch. Extend your right arm up. Reach the crown of your head forward, and relax your shoulders away from your ears. Hold for 5 breaths. Exhale, release your twist, and inhale back up to High Lunge. Repeat on the other side.
Sit on the floor, bend your knees and place your feet on the floor, hip-width apart. Rest your palms on the floor a few inches behind your hips, with your fingers wide and pointing in the same direction as your toes. Inhale to slowly lift your hips. Balance your weight between your hands and feet. Straighten your arms and draw your shoulders blades into your back as you lift your chest, bringing your torso parallel to the floor. Keep your chin tucked comfortably in toward your chest, or, if comfortable, gently release your head back. Hold for 5–10 breaths.
Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend)
Sit with your legs extending wide in a V-shape and your feet flexed, toes facing the sky. Hinge at your hips and lower your torso toward the earth. Engage your quads, reach your chest forward, and lengthen your spine as you fold. Keep your hips pressing down and back. You can rest your palms on the earth or place them on a block. Hold for 10 breaths.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Rest comfortably on your back with your feet wider than your hips, arms wider than your shoulders, and your palms facing up. If you feel tension in your lower back, place a blanket, bolster, or pillow under your knees. Close your eyes. Take 3–5 deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Release this deep breathing, soften your tongue, and relax your jaw muscles. Simply let go and chill for 5–7 minutes.