Shadow Work

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana from Lesley Kaminoff's "Yoga Anatomy"
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana from Lesley Kaminoff’s “Yoga Anatomy”

As we stretch the body, we stretch the mind, which in turn stretches and thins our boundaries creating a stronger divine connection to all.  I’ve been doing some deep hip work lately in my asana practice.  The hips tend to be a place where many people, women especially, store unresolved emotions.  Therefore, it should be no surprise that the emotions brought up in my asana practice have been reflecting in the world off the mat.  The universe has given me some very clear mirrors in this work in the form of different interactions that bring up the same emotional patterns.  I was hashing out the latest form these patterns have taken with a dear friend, and he suggested that it sounds like I’m being called to do some shadow work.


The yoga and tantric philosophy that I study states that we are each perfect and that our imperfections serve to awaken us to our deeper divine self.  This philosophy holds that nothing happens by chance and that each moment provides an opportunity to learn more.

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.”

  ~Leonard Cohen

Shadow work is an examination of our cracks.  Shadows are the bits of ourselves that do not fit within our ideal.  Often, these are pieces of our personality which have been shoved down or denied, which we have tried to change, or that are causing us to unconsciously act out old stories.  This is because on some level, we don’t approve of these pieces of ourselves and we’ve turned our back on them.

When we do shadow work, we begin by acknowledging  these shattered or dark aspects of ourselves.  We may look back to the instigating cause of the wound that caused us to exhibit a specific behavior.  We can do this by sitting quietly with the energy – starting first by noticing where in the body this energy lives.  As we become conscious that we’re working from an old script, it helps to pause and draw the focus back on the breath.  With the focus on the breath, it’s easy to notice where energy might be hitched up – perhaps a clenched jaw, tight shoulders, or hips.  As we study this energy, we’ll often find that the root emotion behind the block is shame or fear.  With the focus more on the blocked energy and less on the undesirable behavior, it’s easier to soften judgment and to feel compassion.

photo from Costa Rican Times
photo from Costa Rican Times

Shadow work encourages us to not only acknowledge this dark side of our personality, but also to embrace it.  Pull that shadow into your arms and into your heart and accept it as part of you.  Accept the lessons that you’ve learned and the range of experiences that you’ve gained as a result of this struggle.  Notice the opportunities for awakening that your shadow has placed before you and the people that it’s drawn into your life.  The amazing thing about shadow work is that when you work the shadow, you realize that “good” and “bad” are really just two sides of the same coin.  You begin to respect the wide spectrum of human emotions and behavior, and to remember that we each are drops in a larger ocean of humanity.  It helps to remember that this is work that has been repeated throughout history by saints, poets and musicians, yogis — everyday folk, and that this work will be continued in next generations.

Once you pick this work up, you never really put it down.   So I find myself pulled back to this moment and to this gentle reminder.  My same wise friend reminded me of the illusion of time.  So often, we want this work to be linear with a fixed beginning, middle, and end.  The truth is that the universe is more circular.  We’re presented with different mutations of our shadow again and again, giving us many opportunities to study and consider them from many different angles, like a well-read favorite book.  And so we do the work, and draw closer together in this One Human Experience.

औं Shanti औं

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