Stop Thinking Positive! Do Your Shadow Work Instead


Last February at Ballethnic, the dance school at the end of my street, where I attend afro-yoga classes. What I love about my teacher, Theresa, is that we both share who we are, our shadow side, before or after dancing.

Ready to feel your heart with authenticity, speak your truth, and free up the energy stored as suppressed emotions?

When you attend one of my group classes you practice yoga for sure. You also, at some point in the class, whether at the beginning or the end, sit in a healing circle. “What do you feel, right now?” “What do you need, right now?” are questions I’m likely to ask you. That’s because I believe healing requires each one of us to have the courage to go inwards, connect with, and recognize what we truly feel—whether it’s what we consider positive or negative emotions.

Some call this process the “shadow work”. I call it “self-awareness”. Regardless of what we call it, this process is at the opposite end of the spectrum from “positive thinking”, which has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Visionaries of all sorts (authors, doctors, celebrities and more) have done a great job convincing many of us that we have the choice to either hold on to our painful emotions and suffer until the end of time, or let those emotions go and replace them with the beautiful things we want in our lives—a loving partner, a tribe that understands us, a job that is the reflection of our life’s purpose, the body of a god(dess), the financial abundance we deserve—and live happily ever after.

The thing is, forcing ourselves to think a certain way despite what we may truly feel, splits our soul instead of serving us, as a Brazilian shaman explains in an article originally published in the Huffington Post.

I believe the process that brings healing has nothing to do with thinking. I believe healing arises with our ability to feel our heart with authenticity. Feeling fully what is weighing on our heart, becoming aware of that emotion, whether it’s sadness or anger that we’ve suppressed, so we can keep going on with our lives. Experiencing that feeling in all of its stages and accepting it, is what makes us, ultimately, cross over to the other side, and become the entirety of who we are and find peace with ourselves. Just like a seed needs to live a certain amount of time in the darkness of the soil before it grows into the light and turns into a flower, that’s also how healing occurs.

Another component I find to be essential to healing is speaking our truth and sharing it with people who have the ability to receive who we are. When we voice what is going on deep inside us--when we show our authentic selves to others, we free the energy that we’ve mobilized to hide ourselves, we find our soul--our home, and we feel “whole” and more alive. See and recognize others. Being seen and recognized is what makes healing circles so powerful.

So what about yoga? The yoga I practice and teach is at the service of the “shadow work” or “self-awareness” process. It melts our emotional barriers down so we can have easier access to our true feelings. It also helps us integrate what we truly feel right down to the cell level. It makes us breathe into the space where the suppressed emotion was stored and free up that energy so we can live our full potential.

How interesting life goes... At the end of my visit on St Helena Island, SC, last year, I bumped into the Penn Center, the first school for freed slaves in the South before being an important refuge for Civil Rights leaders. This is where Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous " I Have a Dream" speech.

In August 2016, I spent a week in St Helena Island, SC, alone. I rolled my mat out in the Airbnb, and each day I walked back and forth between the mat and the beach. One day, I contacted the sadness I had felt and suppressed back in 2014, the day after my surgery, when my dad came to visit me in the hospital. We had both been diagnosed with cancer the same week, a month before. For the first time in my life, I sensed that my dad was lost. I felt I had to be strong for him and swallowed my tears. Two years later, in St Helena, that sadness surged. The ocean and the solitude helped the sadness to arise. And wow--did I sob that day! Then, my body and soul started a yoga practice, organically. On that mat, I felt all of my cells process the sadness, feel it, accept it, respect it and find peace with it. On that mat, I connected with my dad, sadness to sadness, in a powerful way, even though he had passed away a year before. Finally, on that mat, I arose from my ashes.