photo credit: Oleg Oprisco,

The Asana of Rejection

A teacher of mine, Thomas Huebl, came up with this beautiful image: learning to be fully human requires that we practice the asana of rejection. The minute I heard the words, I knew this was my next assignment from the universe: to practice the asana, the yoga pose, of rejection, and find a way to enjoy it. To stop designing my life so that I can avoid the experience of being rejected, and to become deeply interested in it instead.

It sounded impossible to me, and that’s how I knew it was a true assignment from the universe. Lately, all of these cosmic pieces of homework have felt impossible in the very moment they were delivered. It’s like having one of those owls in the Harry Potter books swoop through your window and drop a magic letter in your lap. How glorious, how fortunate, to receive a letter from one of those owls! Except for one thing: the glory lies in the fact that the message is a little challenging.

Basically it reads like this: “You are so busted Shayla. You think you’ve been practicing so hard and so long, but you still haven’t learned how to get right down into the asana of rejection. Your downward dog and your cobra, your bow and your camel and your bridge are all coming along great. But you haven’t even really started with your rejection asana. In fact, it’s looking pretty shaky. You need to find a new foundation for that posture, so you can learn how to breathe there, how to ground, how to stay inside that asana for a while. You know how it works Shayla. If you want to master this asana, you need to learn how to inhabit it, instead of shrivelling up inside, whenever it’s time to practice it. ”

Ah yes, I get the picture now. A whole new world opens up for me when I stop avoiding this asana, this experience of being rejected. I have to hide so much, and play so small, and be so careful, when I am running away from this kind of pain.

I was a yoga teacher for many years, and I noticed such an interesting thing, over and over again. Everybody has some poses they enjoy, even if they are quite challenging, even if they are a bit painful. Somehow, in the poses we feel good in, even the pain and discomfort are okay. It’s a good pain, a discomfort we can lean into, and open to, and permeate with our breath. That’s the fun part of yoga. If you practice for a while, you discover that the body is very intelligent-it naturally avoids the poses you need to practice the most. These are the poses you don’t like, the poses that challenge your rigid structures, or the places where you are weak. In those poses, even the tiniest bit of pain or discomfort feels unbearable. You don’t know how to stay there, how to open up inside that structure, how to find your willingness, your presence, your breath.

I would often ask my students to describe to me the difference between the pain that felt good and the pain they didn’t want to go near. It was hard for them to put their finger on what was happening with these two experiences. All they could say is, “When I feel that stretch, I just want to run away. I don’t want to feel those sensations, those feelings. And when I am inside the stretch I love, I just want to go deeper into it.”

That’s what the universe so kindly revealed to me about the Asana of Rejection: it’s time to go deeper into it. I have been rigorously avoiding this pose, but only for my whole life. Happily, I’m not dead yet, so I still have a chance to practice it, to even consider the possibility of enjoying it, of leaning right into it, and opening to the juicy, edgy sensations and feelings of being rejected.

How will I accomplish this? I don’t know yet. I surely don’t intend to do this alone. I will be asking for help in the invisible and in the human realms. Because it’s suddenly apparent that life often brings us the experience of rejection. We are going to be criticized as well as praised. We are going to be uncared for, as well as deeply loved, seen, and acknowledged. Sometimes it hurts a lot, sometimes it doesn’t. It hurts when I forget that those voices of rejection are me! If those voices are not going on inside my head, I won’t mind what anyone says about me. I’ll hear their words, maybe their ‘no’ and I’ll be fine.

We have not been born into a universe where all we will ever hear, if we are smart enough, or good enough, or enlightened enough is ‘yes, you are wonderful.’ ‘No’ is just as essential to our human existence as ‘yes’.

I know I am not alone here. It’s clear I’m not the only one who has been avoiding the Asana of Rejection. It’s actually a universal asana, but I’ll just start with myself. I’ll get up each morning and remember that if I want to live fully, if I want to open my heart to life, I better get ready to hear the ‘no’, respect the rejection, and maybe grow one day, into loving it all as myself.

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