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Toxic Positivity and Yoga

I promise I am not trying to yuck your yum. I joke around about just about anything. Sometimes too much but that's for another post. When I first started practicing yoga I noticed this "good vibes only" and "no time for negative vibes" undercurrent. It was like, let's not talk about the tough stuff, the stuff that can bring others down.

I had this impression that everyone else was so happy and I was one of the few struggling to work through trauma. "What's wrong with me?" And that's the problem with toxic positivity. It creates a hint of shame if we're not all catching skittles out of a unicorn's tail. It feels like that's the Cadillac standard no matter what's happening in life.

Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. While there are benefits to being optimistic and engaging in positive thinking, toxic positivity rejects the emotions in favor of a cheerful and often falsely-positive façade.

Examples of Toxic positivity:

  • Hiding/Masking our true feelings

  • Trying to “just get on with it” by stuffing/dismissing an emotion(s)

  • Feeling guilty for feeling what we feel. Not wanting to burden others with our feelings

  • Minimizing other people’s experiences with “feel good” quotes, statements, actions

  • Trying to give someone perspective (e.g., “it could be worse”) instead of validating their emotional experience

  • Shaming or chastising others for expressing frustration or anything other than positivity

  • Brushing off things that are bothering you with an “It is what it is”

Toxic Positivity vs. Optimism
Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, defines optimism as reacting to problems with a sense of confidence and high personal ability. It's addressing negative emotions through positive thinking strategies without denying that the pain has a right and a reason to be there. Toxic positivity ignores the emotion and tries to fix the emotion with redirecting only the thoughts.

Here's the Sound bite

Yoga Sutra 2.33 says, “When negative thoughts present themselves cultivate and think the opposite thoughts with feeling;” When we have a negative thought, replace it with its opposite seems easy enough. We find a passage in a book, remind ourselves of our affirmations or find just the right meme. For the moment it works but have you noticed that the emotion keeps coming back and we need to change our thought again? Let's look at the sutra again. “When negative thoughts present themselves cultivate and think the opposite thoughts with feelings." This time I highlighted the part that we usually don't see in this sutra - with feelings.

We FEEL good; we don't THINK good

The thing about emotions is that they scream, sometimes literally, to be felt. When we think ourselves away from them they don't go away. They marinate and lay in wait for another day to arise.

In order for yoga sutra 2.33 to be applied fully we want to apply both parts into our life:

  • We interrupt the negative thought simply by acknowledging our thinking about something or someone with negativity and realizing that our Inner Being is thinking about the same thing or person with love and compassion. Note that we are not trying to convince ourselves to think something differently but to be aware that our higher self sees the same thing differently - less personally.

  • Then we acknowledge and accept what we are feeling and where we're at. Acceptance does not dictate that we change our emotion. It doesn't say to like what we're feeling. Acceptance means to realize what we are feeling and feel it.

Feeling what we are really feeling is sticky maybe even uncomfortable. It places us in a vulnerable state. Our comfort with our vulnerability is in direct correlation with our past relationship with vulnerability and safety. Emotions are also really inconvenient. They pop up at the most annoying times, like when we "should" be happy or having fun.

The Gem

Thought is a force of energy but emotions are at the core of yoga sutra 2.33. When what we think and feel and do are different we sabotage, slow down or block what it is we say we want. Embracing this sutra means we don't go around our emotions, we go through our emotions so they can be reconciled and released. We also don't allow ourselves to drown in the emotion. Depending on our past relationship with emotions, it can be scary, uncomfortable, frustrating, maddening to face them. However, the only way out is through.

Soooooooo, How Do We Go Through This?

Let's say we're ready to sit with what our feelings. What we'll notice is that the story not the feeling will continue to bubble up. The story blames, creates victims and basically keeps us fearing the emotion. It'll take practice but getting behind the story and into the emotion is key to working our way through the emotion. More on this in my my podcast episode "The Healing is Behind the Story"

Next time you or someone else is vulnerable maybe we should think to ourselves or say to another:

  • Describe what you’re feeling, I’m listening.

  • I see that you’re really stressed, anything I can do?

  • Failure is a part of growth and success. You're not alone.

  • This is really hard, I’m thinking of you.

  • I’m here for you both good and bad.

  • Everyone’s story, abilities, limitations are different, and that’s okay.

  • Suffering is a part of life, you are not alone.

  • I see you. I’m here for you.

  • Sometimes we can draw the short straw in life. How can I support you during this hard time?

  • That sucks. I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

In the above list notice we're not trying to make the other person feel better. Instead we are acknowledging their experience the way it is. If we're trying to make someone else feel better we're minimizing their experience. We've slowed down their way through the emotion.

Keep flowing and growing!

All my love,

Hello, my name is Vikky, and I am thrilled to share my passion for yoga with you. I have been teaching yoga for over 13 years in South Florida, and my journey with this ancient practice started over 37 years ago. As a registered yoga teacher and 200 Yoga School with Yoga Alliance, I hold expertise in multiple disciplines of yoga, including yogic anatomy, 500-hour yoga teacher training, yogic philosophy, and meditation. My classes are a blend of dynamic movement, breathwork, and meditation, providing a holistic experience that nurtures the mind, body, and spirit. I believe yoga is for everyone, regardless of age, fitness level, or experience. My approach is welcoming and inclusive, creating a safe and nurturing environment for all my students to explore the many benefits of yoga. Through my teachings, I hope to inspire and empower students to connect with their inner selves, cultivate mindfulness, and lead healthier, happier lives. Join me in my classes to experience the transformative power of yoga firsthand.

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