by Nikki Powers: Why our shadow side can be our greatest teacher…
Consciously (and unconsciously), we each have a “dark side” which includes the pieces of ourselves that we don’t usually want to see: those deeply painful, shameful stories. We know that this shadowy place exists within us, but how can we accept and embrace it? And WHY would we ever want to go there? Well, put simply, when we embrace our dark side, we create the possibility to experience greater emotional freedom, creativity, and joy. Psychologist Carl Jung wrote, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” In other words, the more we label parts of ourselves as “wrong” or “bad” and try to avoid the darkness, the more destructive it can become.
When I lost my significant other abruptly in a helicopter crash, my dark side was going through grief. My significant other was a helicopter pilot for the Army National Guard in July of 2011, and his death was the hardest thing I have ever endured. It took me a long time to embrace my pain and suffering.
After he passed, I found comfort in massage and yoga. Whenever I was still, whether on the massage table or in savasana, I just lay there and cried, and let go of the deep sadness I was holding within my heart.
How I Met My Dark Side
Within the past five years I have been on a particular part of my journey that has revealed my darker side. Upon starting an advanced teacher training in 2015, I came face to face with many challenges that were buried within my subconscious. As I experienced meeting my darkness, I became alarmed by what I was still carrying with me years after this tragic life event. My body was holding everything I wasn’t able to express. Over the course of a year and a half, I started to look, feel, embrace, and slowly accept these scars through my yoga practice, called samskaras, in Sanskrit.
After completing my yoga teacher training, I still continued to do self-work. Instead of looking away, I looked inward and stayed there long enough to move through the darker parts of myself. I learned how to overcome periods of grief, found acceptance and forgiveness, rebuilt my strength, and opened my heart and mind.
Living with Light and Dark
Today, I encourage my own yoga students to embrace their shadow. As a teacher, I close my classes by asking my students two questions:
1. How can you accept both lightness and darkness in your life?
2. How can you create peace within yourself?
After asking the questions, I introduce a Peace Mantra by Saul David Raye: “Peace in my body, peace in my breath, peace in my mind and my thoughts, peace in my consciousness, peace always within my soul.”
Pondering these questions is not an easy task. My role as a teacher is to assist my students in discovering their own personal journey by sharing teachings that they can interpret and apply to their daily lives.
Here are My 3 Tips to Living a Full Life with the Light and Dark
1. Resist Labelling
We are so quick to call something good or bad. What happens if you just feel the sensations without attaching a name to the emotion or feeling? This has a lot to do with emotions coming up for us, especially when we least expect it. When this happens, sit with the emotion, remember to breathe a full breath in and long breath out. Allow the emotion to come up without judgment, continue to be with it, and notice the emotion or feeling pass. As you come out of an experience like this, be gentle and kind to yourself. There is a reason why things come up, and it’s because we haven’t quite dealt with them or we have fear of something in our lives. Either way, don’t label yourself or the experience. You went through it to learn something about yourself, accept it just as you learn to accept the dark side.
Take the time to write down your thoughts. It is so important for our overall well-being to know what is actually going on in our mind and be able to go back to our journal entries to see what the common thread is. As you reflect after writing in your journal, see if you can find the common thread and tie it all together.
3. Practice Yoga and Sit In Silence
It is essential to find time to sit in silence. It can be at any point in your day. The best time is the morning when you are still in the parasympathetic nervous system instead of sympathetic, which is known as being in fight or flight. Find a comfortable seat or lie down on your back. Right away, connect with your breath and how your body is feeling in that moment. Soften your face, jaw, base of your throat, then take a full body scan down the front and back of your body. Breathe naturally for the next few minutes then slowly bring yourself out by deepening your breath and bringing some movement back into your body.
Accepting darkness in life can be very difficult, especially if we are not able to identify the light that each situation also carries. The stress of everyday life can make these challenges seem all the more daunting. Throughout my own journey, the play between dark and light has been my greatest teacher. I learn (again and again) how to hold space for the dark side, allowing it to exist but not consume me. At times, life’s darkness can be frightening but I continue to find ways to bring myself back into the light. I choose light through my yoga practice by continuously returning to the present moment.
I believe the lesson is to constantly work on accepting life’s darker side, striving for balance between both dark and light. In this way, we might cultivate peace within ourselves and in all aspects of our lives.
Knowing our dark side allows us to truly love and appreciate life, to love the light that we have within us and to share it and all of our gifts with ourselves and others.