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Vol 4. Non-Dualism as Prescription for Self-Exploitation

About how excessive positivity deteriorated my mental health, and and how I reconciled with myself by learning non-dualism.

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Sunshine Yang

Two weeks after returning from Morocco, I was again almost overwhelmed by the sea of anxiety, emptiness and loneliness the same as two months ago, amidst the vast gulf between the leisurely Morocco life and the reality of the upcoming school year. Although I wanted to start my yoga learning journey, I realized that just following yoga videos on YouTube like before was not enough. I longed to know more about the history of yoga, the rationale and evolution of each posture, and the spirituality.

After much consideration and comparison, I have chosen to enroll in the 200-hour online yoga teacher training at Akasha Yoga Academy. Although my initial intention was not to become a yoga teacher, I desire to thoroughly learn the theories of yoga practice and be guided by more authoritative yoga teachers.

At the same time, I also hesitated about taking an online yoga course for a long time. Without on-hand adjustment, will I be able to grasp the key-points of the asanas? Furthermore, I currently live in a share house with an area of less than 10 square meters, and apart from the bed, only a yoga mat can fit my space; will the lack of a suitable environment for practicing affect the quality of my practice? But then, I heard a voice from within saying: the most important thing is to start integrating practice into my life as part of my daily routine, because time waits for no one. Therefore, I embarked on the journey of studying yoga teaching in my spare time during my third year of college.

Now, I have obtained the hatha yoga teacher certification; however, the value of this 200-hour yoga learning journey is much greater than the qualification itself. It has improved my life, liberated my old mind concepts, and made me realize the possibility of spiritual freedom. I originally thought I would absolutely not become a yoga teacher, but now I cannot hold back the desire to share and pass on the wonderful feeling of yoga.

In this letter, I want to talk about how yoga philosophy has made me to perceive the nature of self-exploitation behind my excessive positivity, and to accept my true self.

Behind the Mask of Perfectionism

Being strict with myself was once my proudest quality. I was always trying to reach the highest standard for things I considered important since a young age. I experienced all kinds of joys and sorrows - contentment when things ran as expected, regret when the results were not perfect. Every time, I would blame myself for not trying hard enough and continue to progress by belittling and whipping myself.

Two years ago, when my anxiety symptoms and sleep disorders became severe enough to affect my daily life, I began trying to self-rescue by rearranging my life. I persisted in strength training and weight lifting for around one and a half years, with 4 day split workout routines, each lasting more than one hour.

However, despite my gradually increasing muscle strength, various problems also appeared. I deviated from the original intention of prioritizing health, continued to pursue better performance.

First of all, my life was hijacked and divided into fragments by my fitness routine. It was extremely difficult to squeeze in an hour for workout between 11am and 8pm when the school gym was open. Sometimes I would appear in the classroom, drenched in sweat, without time to stretch and relax.

Secondly, in order to ensure the maximum intake of carbohydrates and water after exercise, my diet was also extremely irregular. Sometimes I could only wolf down a bunch of food in 5 minutes to save time. As a result, in order to ensure the amount of training, I was unable to gather with friends or rest time. My body became a perpetual motion machine in the cycle of study-fitness-assignment-sleep, with no opportunity to relax.

As a result, when my body has failed to meet my expectations, self-condemnation and self-doubt arose. For example, when I couldn’t lift the same weight as last week, or still felt hungry after consuming enough calories in my calculation, I blamed my body. While hating my body without fitness talent, palpitations, sleep disorders, and anxiety also increase day by day.

At first, I thought it was just a common symptom of overexercising, and arranged myself an unload week. However, accustomed to daily high-intensive exercise, my body felt uncomfortable as soon as it rested. Moreover, with my progressive and excessive active mindset, the rest day actually became a self-condemnation day. In the end, I could not help but force myself to walk into the gym time after time.

This is my life state until August of 2022.

Exploring the Concept of Non-Duality

What first touched me when I learned about the history and origin of Hatha yoga was the philosophy of non-dualism. In Sanskrit, "ha" is translated as the sun, and "tha" as the moon; and Yoga is stem from the verb “yoke”, meaning bringing together, uniting. Therefore, Hatha yoga is a practice that unite the opposites, balances the sun and moon energies within the body and mind, leading to a state of balance and integration.

From the perspective of Western dualism, the manifestation of the complex world is simplified and characterized into polarities: yin and yang, good and bad, success and failure, joy and sorrow, love and hate, positive and negative, endeavor and decadence. We chase eternal joy and avoid pain, striving to approach extreme of the dual spectrum. Little do we know that on the infinite spectrum of manifestation, we will never be able to touch the ideal.

The belief that "I will be happy as long as I can obtain what I am pursuing" is just an illusion. Just as a magnet can be cut into two parts, each with its own north and south pole, human desires are endless. From a relativistic perspective, the first-level cognition in our limited thinking is only a tiny part of a much larger spectrum.

In fact, all the manifestation in the world are swaying between two poles, and everything is interconnected and constantly changing. Therefore, it is impossible to have eternal happiness, just as there is no endless sunny day.

However, in the uncertain duality of opposition, we can return to the center of the magnetic pole through mindfulness practice, and find inner peace at the vortex of the tornado. External factors such as time and place won’t affect us at all, if we only focus on this moment, this place, in the depths of our hearts.

It reminds me of the story of transformation and redemption of Milarepa, the famous Tibetan yogi. After causing harm and suffering to others, Milarepa realized the error of his ways and embarked on the path to enlightenment under the guidance of his spiritual teacher. He eventually became a revered teacher and yogi, sharing his wisdom and teachings with others. Even in a circumstance that is full of regrets without hope in the future, we can gain the peacefulness from the depths of our hearts through practice.

Note that a common misunderstanding is that returning to the center is to control emotions or judgments, becoming numb and indifferent. On the contrary, meditation is staying on a point beyond the body, as if sitting in a cinema, watching a documentary about myself, witnessing and observing the emotional fluctuations coming and going, without any judgments.

The approach to balanced mindset

Understanding the philosophy of non-duality, I realized that the intense emotions of joy and sadness which out of control came from a severe imbalance within myself. For over a decade, I had been pursuing a more perfect version of myself, glorify it as positive progressivism. However, I was never satisfied with the present. The self-criticism and the self-hatred that I couldn't escape from gradually distorted my original intention of being actively progressive into endless self-exploitation.

At the same time, my dissatisfaction with the present and my constant comparison to others is the tumor of my general anxiety disorder. No matter what field I look at, there are always people who you can learn from, so there is always room for improvement and self-exploitation.

However, in Hatha yoga, I have learned to be kinder to myself and to accept my negative emotions as a natural part of the human experience. I have also learned to let go of the need to constantly seek contentment, and to enjoy the present moment, just as it is. Hatha Yoga shows me the way to avoid excess, how to develop an equilibrium in our more or less imbalanced mind structure.


This letter was originally posted on my blog.

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