One of my favorite yoga teachers, Gillian St. Clair, used to say, “Don’t get frustrated, get curious” as she gracefully lead us into unfamiliar postures and balances during her classes.
Although I didn’t always follow the advice, the words resonated with me long after class and I would hear them again and again in my head in different situations. Now, as a yoga teacher, I find myself wanting to say the same thing to my students at times.
I can sense the frustration that comes up in deep stretches and the exasperation in tree pose—even a sun salutation for new students can bring up massive feelings of tension and insecurity.
When these feelings arrive in our asana, it’s a cue to back off. It’s a prime time to use some compassion with ourselves and let go a little. Pushing against a pose will only lead to tense feelings of frustration and, quite possibly, injury. All of this, of course, is coming from the ego.
The ego creates the desire to push harder, further, deeper. The ego brings forth the anger and, sometimes, even disgust with ourselves when our bodies will not cooperate. It can turn a beautiful practice into a tension filled hour.
It’s often said, “Who we are on the mat is who we are off the mat.”
Does this ring true for you? Are you okay with not getting what you want, exactly how and when you want it? Or do you push through barriers no matter what the cost to you personally? Some of us type A’s, myself included, definitely feel that sheer force and determination is what brings us closer to our goals, and this carries over into our yoga practice. To “get curious, rather than frustrated” is a whole new way of thinking for us.
Curiosity breeds growth, expansion, and self-inquiry. Frustration is a dead-end. Curiosity takes us deeper into ourselves, frustration shuts the door on all possibility. What feels better to you?
How to get curious, not frustrated:
1. Attend a different class than you normally do.
Do you always head straight for Ashtanga or Hot Yoga? What would it feel like to take a restorative class? Can you be curious about lying still and being with your breath rather than getting frustrated? On the other hand, if you only use yoga for relaxation then perhaps try a flow class and see how it feels to get your blood moving and heart rate elevated, without getting frustrated.
The more we vary our practice, the more flexible we will be with other things in life.
2. Learn and explore what you don’t know.
If there is a posture or a style of yoga that seems to frustrate you then make that a project. Give yourself plenty of time to immerse yourself with that one thing that seems to bring out the beast in you.
For instance, handstands have always frustrated me because I couldn’t get up into them without a wall. I blamed my lack of strength or fear of falling. I decided to find out exactly what I needed to do in order to get ready for handstands. I found videos online that gave me cues and ways to prepare my body for this inversion.
Now when I attempt them, I feel way more curious than frustrated.
3. Practice compassion with yourself.
What a great lesson it is to learn to be compassionate towards ourselves. If we can’t do that, how can we truly be compassionate with others? Love every part of your practice, including the parts that frustrate you. Be patient and loving when you try things and they feel awkward. Forgive yourself when you can’t hold a pose, or follow a flow. Laugh when you stumble or fall. Have gratitude for yourself for trying.
This leads us to probably the greatest lesson we can attain in yoga; self-love.
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Assistant Editor: Ffion Jones/Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Graeme Petrie Photography