“Reach for your toes! Stretch your hamstrings! Now, stay there and breathe through the discomfort.”
Sound familiar? If you have attended a yoga class, and especially if you have tight hamstrings, you know the internal frenzy that can arise when the teacher cues the class into a funny position, then, with the softest voice, invites everyone to relaaax into the discomfort and even to enjoy it.
When I started practicing yoga, I could barely reach past my knees. It made practicing anything but relaxing. At times, it was borderline torturous. For the first few years, I got so uncomfortable and wound up that I used to look around the room and get pissed off at everyone. I judged the teacher and the flexible women. Hell, I even judged myself for being in class.
This eventually began to change when I realized that my mind and my attitude were the problem – not anyone else. This is the power of yoga.
Yoga has the power to transform because of the discomfort it offers the practitioner. When we form poses that draw us to our edge and stretch us beyond our comfort zones, we have two options: We can tense, resist, overwork, judge ourselves and others, and, in turn, create more suffering. Or, we can breathe into the discomfort, learn to accept where we are and what is happening in the moment, and choose not to create more suffering.
It is simple yet powerful because it is a metaphor for life. What you resist will persist – in yoga and in life. What yoga poses can teach us, if we let them, is how to be and how to approach life differently when it challenges us. Confronting our physical limitations more sensitively eventually allows us to inspect the emotions we have toward them.
Flexible hamstrings, strong abs, and the ability to do a handstand in the middle of a bar are attractive byproducts of yoga, but they are not my goals anymore. As a student and a teacher, I have become more interested in learning about my mind and relationships to the world so I can stretch past my limitations. I have realized that the way I am in poses and the reasons that I am attached to them are more useful focuses because they mirror back how I am in the world.
Am I grasping to achieve something? Do I believe that if I can do triangle pose perfectly that my life will become perfect? Or, can I learn to use the challenge of yoga poses to lessen my resistance off of the mat so that my life becomes easier?
The ladder from resisting discomfort to learning from it is where the juicy stuff lies. It is where transformation lives. You can stretch your physical limitations to uncover your other limitations. You can use this information to change your life.
Want to learn more about how to use yoga poses to transform your life? Come to any of my public classes as my guest or contact me about private lessons!