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Feeling Perturbed? The Beauty Of Irritation On The Yogic Path

I have seen it first hand at yoga events. I have felt it powerfully myself. Everything is going great in your practice when suddenly everything around you is making you want to go crazy. The person next to you is breathing too loud. Someone in the room desperately needs to take a shower and their smell is haunting your every inhalation. The yoga music the teacher is playing is bugging the crap out of you. Everyone around you seems to be itching, squirming and feeling the same as you.

This my friend is perturbation. It isn’t fun when you are not expecting it to come up, especially when you are trying to be so yogic, and even when you have experienced a few times it still isn’t fun- until you realize what is happening.

Here is my understanding of what this intense sensation of irritation is and why it is a really beautiful milestone in your practice. I will use a story to illustrate.

Once upon a time, I took a level one yoga teacher training with Harijiwan and Tej in Santa Monica (which I highly recommend- details here). A few of us would drive down from Nevada City for the weekend (7 hour drive) and head over for the training together. One weekend we were lucky enough to stay in a really sweet vacation rental not far from the training- this is a blessing with the traffic that the LA area is famous for and that fact that we had plenty of driving time under our belts and to endure on the return trip.

The first day of our training was lovely, it was super cold for LA but we were super positive about the experience and just so happy to be there. We were such a short drive to the center and not far from the ocean too. Nice! Second day just as lovely. Our focus- rewiring the nervous system for optimal functioning. Sounds cool. I like optimal. The course was intense, the practice demanding, but we felt great and that drive to our home away from home just a few blocks away- piece of cake.

Third day. We are running a little late but have just enough time to get to the training since like I said we are so close. We get to the path we had driven the last couple days and there is a detour sign. Curious. The car in front of us drives through without pause. We, on the other hand, hesitate since, well there is a sign there, and follow the detour arrow instead. We get to the next block but can’t turn there either. We come to a couple police women who tell us that to get to where we need to go we need to take a huge detour around onto the Pacific Coast Highway and around through the opposite end of downtown. We feign compliance and instead follow the loop back to where we started to see if we too can break through the detour lines like our more ambitious counterpart demonstrated earlier.

We make the loop and go to follow the path we had taken the day before, now running even later (you must understand that I hate being late for anything). We are ready to break on through to our destination but alas, this time instead of just a detour sign there is now a police car to enforce the detour. We have to go on a new route to take us to where we need to get to, the old route no longer exists.

As you can imagine, especially now knowing my aversion to being late, I was steaming at the situation when all the sudden I started laughing, hard. I am sure it was alarming to my companions, but then I started explaining what was so wickedly funny. “This is exactly what is happening to our neurons!” and it was.

In our practice we were working with yoga and meditation to enhance our nervous system which meant we were creating new neural connections. We were also reconfiguring those connections so that we could grow which meant that the old patterns of thinking, of existing had to fall away or be detoured to the new pathways. All this detouring and reconfiguring gave rise to irritation and perturbation. It was worth laughing about as it was an actual sign of progress on the path. It wasn’t that we were just uncovering our inner angst- we were actually rebuilding ourselves from the nervous system up. No need to go into stories about how messed up the morning was or how this kind of thing always happens when we are late. It was just time to deal with the situation with the freshness of being fully present to the internal and external realities we were experiencing.

We took the detour, waving at the police women, and if I remember correctly we arrived just as things in the training were getting going. Nothing missed, but a lot gained in accepting the experience of perturbation as part of the practice we were so diligently seeking to grow through.

So there it is- irritation, perturbation- both signs of progress on your path and not a excuse to change course or be hard on yourself. Bring it into your practice as the blessings it is when it arises and watch the experience wash over you like a wave. The next thing you know you will have reached that next stepping stone on the path and will actually look forward to that next wave of growing pains, or at least be more accepting of them, and yourself in the process.

About the Author

TayaTaya Malakian is a poet, an artist, a yogini, a mother, and a minister/spiritual advisor. She strives to bring deep wisdom, ceremony and soulfulness into every aspect of daily life. She lives in Nevada City, Ca.View all posts by Taya →