Dealing With Setbacks

There are times in life when we experience setbacks. We all have them. They can be minor or major, affect many or be deeply personal. Setbacks are unexpected and take us by surprise. You may be coasting along in life and working towards some of your goals and then bam, you’re broadsided by something unexpected. 

Setbacks impact us in different ways. They may be related to relationships, have to do with work and livelihood, or they may be centred around one’s living situation, for example. Whatever the setback there is an initial shock after which the stages of grief kick in, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is possible to get stuck in any one of these stages. 

The yoga teachings about non-attachment are instrumental in how much setbacks impact us. Effectively both the yoga and Buddhist traditions teach that the root of all suffering is our attachments. It’s pretty easy to understand attachments to physical stuff and how the loss of something we love can be a setback. And clearly, the loss of a loved one, a pet or even a teacher we admire can feel like a huge weight. Many are feeling the heaviness of the loss of the much-beloved teacher Thich Nhat Hanh this week. But what about a belief, an idea or a concept that’s gone bust. This type of setback is more subtle yet no less deserving of processing and grieving.

Yoga has a beautiful way of slowly awakening both self-awareness and self-acceptance in us. When living a life with greater awareness we can better identify our needs when setbacks occur. Rather than pushing forward and ignoring the emotional response to setbacks, we can more readily feel them, digest them and then move forward in a healthy and whole way. 

This important work of processing setbacks and dealing with grief is done by legions of counsellors and therapists. The aspects of yoga that most powerfully support dealing with setbacks include practices that connect us to a releasing or letting-go quality. These include forward fold practices with a lengthened exhalation. The use of kapalabhati breath (fast stomach pumping with an exhalation focus) helps to physically expel heaviness and mental clutter. Meditating on the heart centre can help move through the emotional pain of loss that is related to any setback. 

Yoga practitioners also learn not to identify with their emotions; experience the emotion and move through it. The idea of digesting the emotion is front and centre. There is no wallowing in the emotion or worse yet suppressing it. This ability to experience and move on is essential to emotional well-being. 

Once the impact of the setback is experienced and digested then we can move on to what the future has in store for us. The yogi is always curious about what is next; an element of inquiry keeps us moving forward. Life is not static. It is full of setbacks but also opportunities. So when a setback occurs - and it will - yogis are equipped to process and get on with their lives.

I’ve recently experienced a setback in terms of something I’ve been passionately working on for the past three years. It has been my goal to offer a course using yoga tools and techniques to address anger issues. The idea stemmed from a very expensive training I did that encouraged us to create an online signature yoga program. The problem is I did no research to determine if indeed there is a market for such a course. Recently, a copywriter I hired to help improve the sales page copy for the project did research indicating there is not a market for such a course. Hearing this was not easy and a huge setback for sure. 

I digested the information he shared. He helped me understand what to do next to build a course that serves my intentions and meets the needs of students. I let go of the yoga for anger approach and am pivoting to create something different and will repurpose my efforts. 

We have collectively suffered setbacks over the last two years. People are frustrated and at their wits end in terms of how much more of this pandemic they can take. We need to be kind and patient with each other over the coming days and months. If you are feeling out of sorts due to the ongoing pandemic restraints, for example, get on your mat, do a releasing practice, and give yourself permission to cry. It is helpful to process the setbacks you’ve experienced. After you’ve released you’ll be better equipped to focus on what’s on the horizon for you. 

If you like the idea of having more tools and skills for addressing setbacks, why not check out my membership. There are many classes in the archives to assist in building your capacity to deal with setbacks.

Have a great week!


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