by Nicole Allan, Raw Yoga
Modern Yoga has become like therapy for a lot of us. Far from the traditional goal of gaining enlightenment, most are simply looking for a tool to help us stay sane.
When it comes to our sanity there are many factors to consider, for now, I have focused on a societal foundation – the blame/shame model of modern societies.
Blame and shame have become so ingrained it’s hard to know where it all began… It is embedded in our thoughts, language and behaviours.
I feel confident in saying most of us living in the modern world have been born into toxic societies, riddled with these ‘Blame/Shame’ cycles of doom! Blaming and shaming are currently how almost everything is run, whether it be the government, the legal system, corporations, businesses (small and large), charities, education systems, the church, family dynamics, interpersonal relationships. IT’S EVERYWHERE.
Blame is the idea ‘I am right, so you are wrong’
Shame is the idea ‘I did something wrong, so I am a worthless person’
Brene Brown defines shame as
The intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
The cycle of blame and shame together is toxic, and leads to external behaviours and actions that tend to harm ourselves and others to try and escape the unpleasantness of not feeling connected, loved, right, heard or valued. This cycle makes us lose touch with the fact that we are all individual sacred beings – spiritual beings having a human experience – and that every single one of us is completely worthy.
The model of blame and shame holds the view that only some of us are worthy and only when we are participating in worthy action.
This is a terrifying world view for the masses to hold. It leads to broken governments, broken families and often very broken and unaware individuals, not to mention the dangerous implications of sexism, racism, and the numerous other forms of separating and segregating minorities.
It’s not difficult to look outside of ourselves and see all that is wrong with this world, the injustice that seems to be everywhere. The root of a lot of this suffering and confusion comes from these toxic blame/shame cycles. Without the ability (or sometimes permission) to question ‘why?’, we become blind to the hurt and pain that is caused by blaming and shaming each other.
I could not count how many Yoga students and clients I have worked with who have experienced this hurt within their family dynamic. I think what is important to understand is that when you experience the behaviour and interactions of blame and shame as a young person it does affect your ability to step out of this paradigm within your adult life. You may become an excessive victim to this behaviour or you may tend to become the perpetrator of it, or even more common, both. I have been personally affected by these cycles deeply within my own family dynamic and it has taken many years of peeling back the layers to understand where some of my beliefs and hurt have come from.
One of the first things that triggered the desire to start to unpack all of this for myself was arriving back to New Zealand after being in India, I was ready to jump into my Yoga studies and was overly enthusiastic about the optimistic and magical world this new path now had to offer me.
What I found was a lot of judgment, self-deprecation and competition within the yoga world. Us ‘Yogis’ were not lifting each up.. Why?
How could we be studying one philosophy, which was inclusive and promoted unity and oneness; yet living completely differently? Claiming that one style of Yoga or spiritual practice was better than another…!?
Why was there competition? How was there competition!?
It comes down to belief and perception. We as individuals, and within our own collectives, (whether it be family groups, religious groups, community groups) hold strong beliefs and perceptions about life and how it should be lived. I think most of us as individuals can agree that this is what makes the world beautiful – our differences.
Most of us have experienced the desire to travel and meet other people, to experience another ‘way of life’, yet why then is there so much judgment and competition when beliefs and perceptions are different or clash with our own?
Why does it cause internal turmoil?
Why does business and success need to be based on being better than another?
Why are these questions not being asked more, within the Yoga community especially?
I believe it comes down to the blame and shame cycles we are basically indoctrinated into from birth. The depth of our own internal conflict is hard to see, let alone recognise within ourselves and our behaviour. It is a tricky paradox to accept and love others and also accept and love ourselves. The blame and shame cycle tells us that for one person to be successful another person has to fail, and if we are the ones failing it means someone else is succeeding with ease. But none of this actually reflects the truth. Every single human being struggles – in small daily ways, and in large life-changing ways. Why is it so hard to recognise another’s suffering and so easy to keep a narrow-minded view on ourselves?
What I experienced when I started my training was a very real reflection of myself and my core beliefs and perceptions. Growing up in the blame/shame dynamic has powerful long term effects on the way we see the word, and probably a huge reason why I have been so drawn to Yoga (like many of us).
Yoga offers a pathway OUT. It’s comforting ideals soothe the soul and start to coax us out of the world where competition and winning are given so much merit. Yet just because I started Yoga didn’t mean I would rid myself of these toxic patterns overnight.
In fact, I fell face-first into the ideals my particular training school and teachers held. I believed the style I was practicing was superior to others. It was the ‘Real Yoga’ and I would achieve the real rewards. It’s humorous now thinking about how I held this view with very little awareness or critical thinking – the painful truth is that I wanted to feel special and better than others.
My blame and shame cycles were telling me that for my Yoga to work it had to be better than others (that’s how blame works). Shame quickly followed as I left the comfort of my training and moved into the Yoga world and realised (fast) there was a whole lot more out there. I had to grieve the loss of my comfortable little life living in the studio where we all held the same safe belief that we were superior. Shit. I felt broken and stupid and here my friend, shame kicked in. I realised I wasn’t special and the walls come crashing down with that familiar old feeling of being completely unworthy once again.
It’s like floating between two worlds, I didn’t know which ship I should jump onto, whose Yoga? Whose path? Where should I scramble onto next to make myself feel special again and get myself out of the horrible feelings of shame… Well, to keep it short, I found people and I climbed right back into the comfort of that blame cycle… again making our group special and the rest wrong. It’s amazing how fast this all happens and how it really does appear we are wired for it, the grip that blame and shame has is strong…
It’s been a real journey since then to unpack so many layers of understanding and ownership of not only where I have been a victim but also where I have been the perpetrator – blaming and shaming others to get my own high. All I can really say is how damn important it is to understand that most, if not all of us, are affected by the cycles of blame and shame. It’s much more unconscious than conscious behavior, but it’s there.
Yoga has been my saving grace. It shone the torch so brightly on all my own shit and has demanded more from me every day since. The key concept for me is vigilance. It takes serious courage to start unpacking and recognising your own asshole-ness. It takes patience, and it means doing the work EVERY DAY. To liberate myself (to some degree) I have had to find my freedom through and within my discipline. To be vigilant with my thoughts, and actions, to keep balance in my life and to always, always be able to recognise when I am wrong, apologize, forgive others and ultimately forgive myself.
About Nicole Allan
Nicole discovered Yoga over 12 years ago, later she travelled to India where she was introduced to more of the Philosophical ideas of Yoga. She went on to train as a 500RYT Yoga instructor in Auckland, New Zealand through the School of NZ Yoga. In 2014 Nicole opened her own Studio – Raw Yoga – with now Husband John Allan, the two run the studio together along with both 200RYT and 500RYT Trainings. Nicole also works as a Holistic Yoga coach incorporating Counselling, Yogic tools and Energy Psychology to support people on their Journey.