Sitting in Discomfort
One of the ways that we can take yoga off our mats and into the world is by learning to manage our discomfort. For me, one of the hardest parts of a yoga class is not knowing what comes next: is it going to be hard? I’m already sweating and working; will the next pose push me into greater challenge?
Or will it be easy? Will I feel strong, capable and accomplished if the next pose the teacher guides me into is one I can nail and sustain?
It’s hard to surrender myself fully to the current pose when I have no idea what’s coming next. But isn’t that how life works!?
As humans, we want to control every aspect of our lives. We want to know what’s coming next so we can minimize intensity and discomfort. That’s not a realistic or sustainable model for life; by holding back from the present moment, we’re actually creating more discomfort and uncertainty for ourselves.
Living in that held back manner minimizes our trust in our own abilities to manage discomfort, adversity – or even pain! It also minimizes our capacity to receive fully what we’re experiencing, including the pleasure and joy that can come in moments of intensity and challenge.
One thing I love about yoga is that it helps me to lean into the intensity of life, moment by moment, trusting that I will have what I need to manage the next pose > and the next wave of life events, even if it’s intense or challenging.
And if I don’t, at least I’ve given it my all and can fully have the experience of “falling off the surf board”. I’ll pause for a moment, letting the waves support me – then get back on the board and try to surf again after I’ve caught my breath.
Another way that yoga serves me off the mat is the ability to sit with – and breathe into – my discomfort. For example, I don’t do well with temperature regulation. I tend to chill or overheat very easily and have a hard time when yoga classes get hot. I’m already sweating and working out, now I have to experience heat from the room too!?
But I’ve found that by be willing to stay present in my yoga practice > by be willing to stick with the discomfort of sweating and feeling warmer than I’d like > I feel empowered. While at first it feels uncomfortable and very intense, if I can sit in that feeling and welcome it instead of pushing it away – not only does the moment pass, I feel like I’ve conquered it!
Learning how to breathe through intense poses and physical sensations on my yoga mat helps me do the same thing when life presents me with intensity, challenge and discomfort (which it does pretty much every day). In these challenging and charged times, see if you can use the intensity of what you experience in class to serve and empower you off the mat.
While certain things should not be just “breathed through” – you’ll need to use your wise discernment to know what’s a discomfort that you can manage versus what’s not ok to push through – play with this in your next yoga class.
Maybe you try staying in a class that feels “too full” for you, breathing through your inclination to leave because you’re close to your neighbor. Or maybe pause that urge to turn the fans on and let a little heat build before you flip that switch to get relief.
The beauty of yoga is not only that it makes you feel amazing in the moment, bestowing peace and strength – but also that it gives you valuable skills that serve you in your life outside of your practice.
Leigh-Ann Renz is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and part of the management team at Waynesville Yoga Center.