Utkatasana, Chair Pose….That’s what I was doing when I heard these words: “Find comfort in discomfort.“
My yoga class happened to have an instructor who had us hold poses for longer than seemed necessary, and she picked those moments to talk….lots of talking. In fact, several times in that class I had wondered if she’d lost track of time with all her talking and forgotten that she’d left us in really uncomfortable poses.
That’s what my brain was pondering as my legs were beginning to shake sitting there in chair pose. Couldn’t she wait until supine twist, or savasana—or some other pose where I was resting on the floor—to deliver her lengthy messages? Why now?
It would make a better story to say that her advice resonated right then, but that is not the case. In fact, I barely processed the words she said at all. I had already escaped into that corner of my brain where I attempt to just tuck away from discomfort. I breathed, and I waited it out. I waited for the discomfort to pass.
That’s often what I do with discomfort. I go to my “happy place”, as I call it. I breathe. I tell myself: This will be over soon. I’ve always thought that was a pretty good way to handle discomfort. Just power through it and remind myself that it ends.
In fairness to this instructor, I entered class that day with a busy brain and a tired body. I struggled to stay present and keep going. But I left feeling relaxed and calm. And most importantly, though I didn’t realize it at the time, I left with those words.
I understand that life is going to entail some discomfort. Especially in the area of exercise and physical goals, I know that some degree of discomfort is necessary for growth and improvement. But, I have never found comfort in discomfort. In fact, the concept was absolutely foreign to me. It seemed silly. That’s why I was a bit surprised that those words kept coming back to me.
This actually happens to me often. I don’t always realize the importance of words or advice when it is being delivered. Throughout my life, I’ve often heard my parents’ voices in my head replaying the advice long after it was given….and then you have that moment of dawning, “Ohhh, that’s what they meant!” (Thanks Mom and Dad!)
That’s sort of what happened here. I had my first “ah-ha” kind of thinking about this on a hike. It was a hike I had done many, many times. It has a pretty good incline on the first half, and I decided one day that I was going to go straight to the top without taking any breaks. I hadn’t done that before. So I began, and I began quickly.
A little past half-way, I was getting a good sweat on. My lungs and legs were starting to burn, but, surprisingly, I didn’t even think about stopping. I knew I could do it. I had nearly done it the week before. I knew I was over half way, and I knew the top would arrive soon. I knew all these things because I had been here before, I had felt this before. That was when those words came into my head again: “Find comfort in discomfort.”
Ah-ha. I had felt this discomfort before and I knew I could handle it. This discomfort was familiar, and because of that I could find strength, I could find motivation. I guess I could even say I found a little comfort.
(Now I just want to interject here that this all applies to discomfort. Pain is another category entirely. I believe pain, whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, is something else. It means something is amiss and often something bigger needs to happen to address it.)
Ok, anyway, on with discomfort. Discomfort, in physical fitness, makes sense. We all know that we are going to have to put in a little work and experience a little discomfort if we want to see changes, if we want results, if we want to grow. So it makes sense that my first “ah-ha” came in connection with this more basic level of discomfort.
But I also started to see how this same idea was applicable to discomfort in all areas of life.
We all have triggers—those things that make us uncomfortable, annoyed, stressed, anxious; and when they show up in our lives, they can come with physical manifestations of discomfort. They are different for each of us.
In the last few weeks I happened to have conversations with many friends about some of these triggers, these moments, situations or events that cause discomfort. For some it’s certain people they’re going to have to see, or anniversaries of difficult days; it could be confrontation, or trips to the doctor or dentist, or claustrophobia. Really the list of stress triggers is so varied. What bugs or stresses one person out might be a total breeze for someone else.
But, we all have things (some big, some small) that make us uncomfortable, unhappy or stressed. I started thinking about how powerful it would be if we really could find some comfort or strength in these “other” kinds of moments of discomfort.
Imagine how useful it could be if, when you find yourself in those moments of discomfort in life, instead of getting stressed or anxious, you could turn the lens a little and look at the situation differently. You could seek comfort. Yes comfort. Find comfort by letting that moment show you how strong you really are. Say to yourself, “I’ve been here before. I know how this feels. I got through it, I’ve got this!”
We can find comfort in recognizing the enormous potential we have to make it through, and be better on the other side of whatever discomfort is thrown our way.
If we could do that, those individual triggers that we each have just wouldn’t carry so much weight—they wouldn’t have so much power.
A Shift in Thinking…
For me, this way of thinking really is a change. First of all, it’s a different way of dealing with things. I’ve started to realize that my method to escape to my “happy place” really may not always be the best way to do it. Sure, it gets me through a tough experience. It gets me through discomfort. But when I land on the other side, I am not really in a better spot to deal with the next tough moment that may happen to come my way. I’ve missed an opportunity to foster a little strength and comfort so that I am better equipped to handle tough stuff.
I don’t want to miss these opportunities. Tough stuff happens. It happens to everyone, and it’s no fun when it does.
But I’m hoping that practicing this, working to find some comfort in discomfort, will make things a little less tough in the first place, and make the rest of it a little more manageable.
Brain, I’m Better Than You Even Know…
So maybe you want to try this with me? The next time we find ourselves in an experience that makes us feel any kind of stress or anxiety, the next time we feel discomfort, let’s try and hang out there for a minute.
I know, it’s kind of a weird idea. But, just like you would if you were in the last few minutes of a run, or you were holding plank position, maybe squeezing in ten more squats or just about to make it to the end of a hike, give yourself a pep talk. Pour on the gold stars and accolades, and let’s tell ourselves how strong we are and how much stronger we can be.
Find comfort in this knowledge; find comfort in the discomfort.
We need to remind ourselves that we can do so much more, handle so much more, and be so much more than our brains sometimes let us believe.
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Assistant Ed: Dejah Beauchamp/Ed: Sara Crolick