Sitting into discomfort.
All through my week, I encourage yoga students to breathe deeply in their flow, move further into each pose and find comfort far within the discomfort of holding the asana. I am often challenged to explain this contradiction of finding comfort within the discomfort, relaxing within contraction…yet I know from my own practice that it exists and strive to bring this to others and out into my world.
Chair pose (Utkatasana) is often where I present this challenge. With feet firmly grounded, bend the knees over the feet, drop the tailbone and sit down into the air. Holding the core tight, roll the shoulders back/down and extend the arms out to create a dynamic tension through the body. Within this isometric hold, we must breathe to find balance and strength. After a period of time, the thighs begin to burn, the arms feel heavy, the breath wants to shorten—we long to come out of the hold and shake it all off.
In the beginning of our practice, the body must adjust to the position, building up stamina and familiarity with how to flow in and out of it. Then after a while, we expand our practice by lengthening the breath and sitting more deeply into the pose—sitting more deeply into the discomfort and allowing the body to release tensions—until we finally find a place of comfort far within the burning and work of it all.
Utkata means “wild,” “frightening,” “intense,” “furious,” “heavy”; and asana means “seat.”
As we come into Utkatasana, we are asking to literally sit into a heavy, frightening, wild, intense fury—and honestly, it can feel that rough! To understand this and then find myself saying to students, “breathe, and sit deeper; find the comfort within the pose,” I must reflect back on my own practice and ask how I breathe and sit deeply into the discomfort of my own life.
There are so many uncomfortable aspects within our day to day actions, thoughts and relationships. There are moments I find myself alone when I wish for company, or around people when all I want is a moment to myself. I hear compliments and get embarrassed or commentary that I take as criticism. I am reminded of bad choices or jealous of others. I feel anger, sadness, entitlement, hopeless and so many other challenging emotions…sometimes all at once.
We all do this; we all have this aching internal dialogue inside our Self. These small moments add up until we may find ourselves sitting into the utkata of our own being to feel the fear, intensity and discomfort. We long to escape, to come out of this state and shake it all off. As creative beings, we have found so many methods of escape: some of us literally stand up and run away, some seek drugs, sex or another person’s validation, some look for a fight.
Do you know how you try to escape?
Unfortunately, humans cannot selectively numb out emotions entirely. If we run from the pain, anger, fear or sadness, we also lose contact with the joy, pleasure and bliss that comes from living fully.
This is the comfort found deep within the discomfort of our being.
If we choose to move through the pain of Utkatasana, train our body, mind and spirit to sit more deeply into it, fully expand our breathing and find the heart center of our practice, we take a step towards integration of our whole being. When we acknowledge the discomfort of life, yet stay there a moment longer to allow the feeling, acknowledge it as real, feel its presence fully; hold it…and allow it to pass…then we give our Self the gift of complete presence and find compassion.
Chair pose is one part of a larger sequence, and each asana offers its own challenge and, in turn, joy. The flow of our practice builds internal heat, releasing impurities and helping us understand that no matter how uncomfortable one moment is, soon we will flow to the next.
In the end we come to Savasana (corpse pose), where we allow it all to melt away and come into a full resting position. As we lie here in corpse, there is no discomfort or noise; only a soft breath and thoughts gently floating by. We have worked through a practice of mindful, moving meditation, enduring moments of intense burning, discomfort and hard work, challenging ourselves to the limit of what we can take. And then we allow joy, contentment and bliss to fill the space that has been created by releasing the discomfort that was once there.
Each day is a practice of life, whether we include yoga or not.
Each day, we experience a moment of discomfort when that voice inside tells us to run away. Some days, the need to escape can be so intense and burning it is difficult to think of anything else. But rather than leaving the discomfort, can you stay there a moment longer—a breath longer? Can you find yourself fully present within the discomfort of being? Can you find the comfort embedded far within?
Can you sit deeply into the Utkatasana of life?
Merin Perretta is a MA level wellness counselor, nationally certified personal trainer and yoga cross-trainer. She lives, loves and breathes deeply amongst the mountains and rivers of central Vermont.
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Ed. K.Macku/Kate Bartolotta