How “Yogaface” Covered Up My Trauma

A Yoga off the Mat Realization

Yogis, Relax Your Faces

When people attend yoga classes, they are instructed to relax their face. They are told to have a slight smile and to breathe steadily with gentle eyes. I have named this yogaface (YF.) I have been taught YF for the past 15 years as a regular student and teacher of yoga. I have truly learned to embody YF and to breathe steady even as I stand on my head. How can Yogaface backfire and cover up a full-blown crisis within?

Me and my new baby girl at a photoshoot for flowandgrowkidsyoga.com

What’s Going On In My World?

For context, allow me to explain my past 12 months on this beautiful planet. I moved into a new home, gave birth to my first child, launched my business investing time, energy, and money, rekindled and got dumped again by my biological mother after 20 years apart, and planned and had a huge wedding. All the while, my childhood traumas were being dredged from the depths of a muddy pond inside me. I had my yogaface on, so people that don’t know me really well had no idea I was suffering. But those that are close to me know that my turmoil erupted in a seemingly spontaneous and unprecedented way.

No Mud, No Lotus, No Problem

The problem I have with yogaface off the mat is that by keeping my face steady and easy, I was lying to myself about the pain and depth of trauma that was arising. I was denying myself the process of going through the mud to let the proverbial lotus rise up into full bloom because my yogaface asserted that nothing was wrong. Nothing needed to rise up. No blooming can be done in denial. Why was I experiencing all these emotional outbursts, thought loops, and assertion that panic was the only way to handle what was happening? My face didn’t match what was taking place inside me. Not at all.

Why All The Straight Faces?

I do understand why we teach the yogaface. Its similar to the Buddha smile and meant to help the practitioner feel light and slightly detached from outcomes, though deeply connected to what they are experiencing. Yogaface is meant to help maintain equanimity, a homeostasis of mind and emotion.

Scathed Or Unscathed? That Is The Question

Our faces contort when our bodies hurt in a yoga pose, and the newer we are to the practice, the more we make these faces. And when we are sad, we cry and when we are mad we scrunch our faces. So my face should have been contorting as my deepest pains clashed with brand new challenges while trauma was rising to the surface. As my greatest fears were being tested, a hurt face could have signaled me to get more help. Even though the challenges I was going through were unprecedented, I was trained to appear unscathed. I had my Yogaface on.

The reality is that I used YF to push down the hurt and act the part of strong and unaffected. Then, I had those childlike outbursts as my child-self was defending and fighting back. It felt like it was starting to happen more and more as the challenges and commitments piled up.

I don’t want to knock YF as I note that it has served me to stay focused and on task throughout my development. I have to wonder how a deeper mindfulness practice could have revealed the depths of my suffering. How might a truer me have been revealed to myself if I had the courage to sit with myself and view it? I also wonder if my attachment to yoga and mindfulness as my medicine perhaps prevented me from reaching out for medical treatment when it may have helped me. I also wonder why that same prejudice against prescriptions remains as I continue to flounder, straight faced as ever.

Let Your Truth Be Worn On Your Face

Sometimes I think that my programming to constantly prove myself a strong, independent woman is damaging. And this year, in the face of countless changes, challenges, and commitments, I could not do it all by myself. I asked for more help than ever. I gave into the fact the my Yogaface was a false depiction of my inner state; an inner state of chaos, fear, and deep yearning for approval. So I challenge you as I challenge myself to test your Yogaface for truth. When you are strong and steady, let yours your Buddha slight-smile shine your state of grace to the world. And when you are hurting, be brave enough to grimace. For the information in the wince can be a signal to reach out for help. Sometimes the best letting go, is letting go of Yogaface and the thing you are trying to prove by wearing it.

Gratefully yours,

Lara