It is widely known that yoga can contribute to health and longevity, by increasing strength and flexibility and by reducing stress.
But it isn’t always easy! Even after 15 years of practice—intensity, resistance and doubt bubbles to the surface of my consciousness.
Yoga is a practice in the art of staying.
We learn to control our minds, our thoughts, and our reactions. We learn to breathe and create pause.
The physical practice of yoga encourages us to find comfort in the discomfort of a challenging pose. We find our edges, we nudge them, lean on them , and explore resistance when it arises. Through yoga practice, we learn to welcome intensity, relishing in that intensity one breath at a time until it fades away and we move to the next pose.
Intensity. How do we meet it?
Do we run away or numb out? Or do we stay and soak it in?
My first instinct has always been to run. I can be deep in a pose—muscles trembling, body shaking, sweat running like rivers across my skin—and my mind’s first response would be to flee.
“This is too hard,” I’d tell myself, coming out of the pose and resigning from the experience of going deeper.
For the first several years of my yoga practice, I’d hide when things got intense!
I’d be on my yoga mat, and when it was time for pigeon pose, I’d design an escape in the form of a perfectly-timed bathroom break. I’d actually plan ahead to avoid facing the intensity of being with myself, on my mat. Thoughts would come up in the stillness of a deep hip-opener, or feelings I thought I’d buried; doubt would creep in during a long hold of warrior two, and instead of opening and shining my light into these dark places, I’d just leave.
This truth parallels my habits in relationships too—when the going would get tough, I’d bail out.
When things got intense: Peace, I’m out.
If it came down to fight or flight, I’d fly as fast and as far away as possible, because escaping seemed far easier than experiencing the fear of loving someone, being vulnerable, or challenging the pain of a false core belief I’d made about myself.
And just as yoga brings up stuff, relationships bring up stuff too.
This is okay! Relationships exist for one reason—to teach us something about ourselves. We are meant to learn. But our reactions to that stuff that comes up determines what happens to the relationship.
When things become intense in a relationship we have a choice. We can build a case against the other partner, and use it as an excuse to run, hide and avoid feeling what we feel—or we can stay, communicate, and stand in the face of intensity. If we run and hide, we risk repeating our habit all over again. If we stay, we give our partnership an opportunity to thrive by creating support, trust, and communication.
Relationships have a rich way of exploring intensity. Not only are we challenged to face our most primitive feelings of longing, loss, love, and fear, but we are also challenged to accept feelings of joy, bliss, even sexual pleasure. This exchange of emotional currency can be an exploration of the love we have for ourselves and others. Some people crawl out of their shells for a little while to taste a new relationship, but because their ego is attached to security and predictability and former rituals, they decide to retreat.
Love is a practice in the art of staying.
I’ve noticed that those times when I avoided intensity in my yoga practice, my practice wasn’t growing. I wasn’t expanding. I wasn’t learning anything new because I wasn’t willing to do something new. My relationships mirrored this stagnant routine.
Life would happen and things would come up, but because I chose to leave a relationship rather than face the truth of the fear or love or uncertainty I felt, I wasn’t able to thrive in a partnership or experience it fully. Entering a relationship means that life will change. Change is a truth of life. Being open to life means being open to change and meeting resistance with mindfulness.
Living from heart-center and embracing intensity means that our shells might crack open, and we may never be the same again, because we have grown just a little bit. This is the very essence of yoga. This does not mean there is a perfect way of being, or a perfect love.
Every path carries its own unique challenge. The practice is to stay, surrender our ego, and cook in the spiritual fire.
And it’s all just practice.
Author: Shawna Reece
Assistant Editor: Yoli Ramazzina / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Flickr/Andreas Ivarsson
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