I do love it when my students glow with joy and attribute this to their new yoga practice, but I am deeply aware that pain and sorrow do not evaporate when a person begins to feel better with asana practice. Asana and meditation draw the energies of the body and spirit into active engagement, and can bring feelings of well being, acceptance and strength that are quite rejuvenating. This is terrific indeed! But at the same time I find sometimes my students, and even myself, approach the mat with the hope that it will solve the problems, bring peace and in some way wash away the hard parts of life. We just want the troubles to go away if we practice enough.
Practice does make us feel better. The core of this soothing, deep peace that can be gradual or sudden as one effect of yoga and meditation practice is real. It is accessible and amazingly liberating for any one, regardless of how long they have practiced. I believe, though, that this impact is the result of accepting what actually is, and letting go of judgment and attachment to defining good and bad, to playing the past or projecting the future. Sometimes this process brings up the roughest stuff, and can shake a person up. It is at this same moment that we can realize we are actually sitting through this, shaking yet not falling, or even falling yet not suffering any the worse for tumbling out of the asana onto the mat.
When I meditate, or practice on the mat, I am still going to find that I am out of balance, or that my mind is circling the same defeat, or my heart is aching with fear of loss. The acknowledgment of this is in itself a relief. The view of the tangle, or the deep pit, or the aching desire, comes clear when there is nothing else attached to it. I don't have to avoid or deny the sources or the troubles, nor condemn or praise my own or anyone else's reactive nature. I do not have to solve the problem. I do not have to know everything that I do not seem to know in order to comfort myself. The comfort actually comes from seeing that I crave those things - solutions, knowledge - and I can tolerate my own human condition, to be craving or judging.
In acceptance and letting go I free myself to relax, sitting with the fear or the dissatisfaction. Through the practice, I learn the range of my emotional reactions. I can listen to the story without being the story. I can actually relax all the mechanisms that otherwise get in the way of being at peace and accessing the fullness of my energy. My troubles don't go away, but they no longer define me or run shotgun over what I feel and do.