We move through the world, many of us, in a constant state of reactivity—a state that places our nervous system in an ever ready responsive place—Fight or Flight.
Fight or Flight response is awesome if there is a large bear chasing you, not so awesome if you spend all day in a low-level stress response to your Blackberry, because when that happens, the body diverts energy and resources away from what it deems less critical functions (like digestion for example) toward your Fight or Flight response. Reacting to our iPhones, Blackberries, traffic, digestive problems, shitty bosses, difficult family members and the economic downturn, many cannot seem to climb out of, and in the end, we are surrounded by an exceedingly large amount of physical, mental and emotional discomfort.
When I started practicing yoga in my very early twenties, I would lie on the mat after the class, wrung out in a sweaty wrinkly pile of skin and bones on the floor, staring at the ceiling, wondering what exactly was wrong with me because I simply could not understand how to reach the spot my yoga teacher implored me to reach. She would say, “Love the world, love your mat, love the people around you and love yourself.” And I got it, I really did, I understood why that was better than hating my mat, hating the sweaty heavy-breathing guy beside me who made it really hard to be ‘in my own space’ when he was breathing down my neck—literally, hating that I could not get into the one pose that the beautiful, flexible uber-balancing Yoga Olympian Chick beside me could apparently think herself into without even trying. Oh I got it: love is better than hate. Sure. I should be there, yeah.
But what I really needed was for someone to tell me how the f**k to get there… not just that I should get there.
That process of getting there is a complicated, and sometimes a perilous, journey, one fraught with revelations about the darkest and most challenging parts of your self. Often you start down that path and at some point it is really easy to give up, to walk off your mat, out of the room and out of the very studio that tries to center you directly in the Belly of the Beast …inside of Yourself.
For me, over the years, yoga has become a practice that has ultimately taught me to sit with and face, to stare at and to breathe in complete and total, discomfort. It is really easy, I often tell the students at Iam Yoga, to be relaxed, to be centered and grounded on the beach, Mai Tai in hand, warm breeze in your hair. It is really hard to be those same things when you are in gridlock, when your spouse is yelling at you, your phone is going off every 10 seconds, you have deadlines and you feel like you have not slept in weeks. But those moments, the ones where you worry that your head might explode, the ones that make you hate everything about where you are at in that second, those are the gifts, the opportunities, and the space to create peace.
Since suffering is impermanent, it will pass, so too will your victories, but too often we identify our Sense of Self with the ‘moments’ that—at best—are passing. Pay attention, this is a little experiment. Ready? Ok
This moment, it just passed, oh wait, so did that one, oh and this one just went too. See? Nothing lasts and the Big Secret is that it is not a bad thing or a good thing—it is Just A Thing that happens in time.
The absolute beauty of what Yoga can offer you is the chance to develop the ability to observe and to let go of these moments. We practice being comfortable with discomfort by sitting in certain poses or trying to be present to situations in class that make us anxious, irritated or pissed off. Your fists are clenched, your teeth grinding, a flurry of swearwords circulating through your mind that, if cycled through quickly enough, just might sound like Sanskrit, breath being held, but in the middle of all that, if you can learn to view those experiences as only experiences that exist outside of you, then you can begin to divest yourself from the development of an identity based on what is happening around you or to you. To do that, you relax your jaw, you breathe, you unclench your teeth and your fists, and then, oh wait a second, all of a sudden you realize that you are not screaming inside your head like you were a moment ago.
The small shifts beget the paradigmatic shifts that will happen over time. But you have to start somewhere, and you make a choice to do it on the mat.
You start to realize that entry into what seems like the ‘Exclusive Enlightenment Club’ actually begins when, in the face of discomfort, you take control of creating inside of yourself the same circumstances that exist when you are relaxed, and grounded.
For example, I often invite students to find Savasana (Corpse Pose) in the hardest, most insanely challenging sequence of postures we practice. (If you do not do Yoga, Savasana is kind of like that state that you are in right before you fall asleep or right when you wake up—you feel peaceful, light, relaxed and unattached to the rest of the day.)
Look for the most uncomfortable moments in your practice, in your class, in your work day and then find your Savasana. Bring Savasana into the places where your unthinking natural reactions to stress are to hold your breath, grind your teeth, make fists and hate the world. If you can do that, then you have brought your Mai Tai and the beach into the places where you need those things the most. You suddenly realize that you do not need to drag your ass to some random all-inclusive resort halfway around the world—you can actually find that space in every moment of the day that you choose to. You have learned at that point to be Comfortable with Discomfort and that is a lesson you will take with you off your mat.
Sex, Drugs and Yoga are some of the ways people choose to deal with things, people, situations and issues that make us angry, uncomfortable, irritated, frustrated, sad. Avoiding discomfort by blocking it does not make it go away though. Escaping discomfort is impossible because it will always be sitting on the edge of your mat, the edge of your day, the edge of your relationships, the edge of your job, the edge of your life.
Learning to love, I eventually understood, means that you sit down every day across from that discomfort and invite it to practice with you, to get sweaty with you, to be with you, to work with you and to play with you—because if discomfort can share your mat with all the things that come easily, then all of a sudden you realize that there is no such thing as one or the other. And when that happens, you can start to see what real freedom is all about.
Prepared by Soumyajeet Chattaraj/Edited by Tanya L. Markul
Linda Malone , B.A.Sc, E-RYT 500, is a self Confessed Type-A Yoga Gurl & Founder of Iam Yoga Inc., Creator of Yogologie, Teacher & Entrepreneur, Lululemon Yoga Ambassador, People Connector, Runner, Cyclist, Foodie and a Big Dreamer.