I’m stuck in a Yin yoga pose in an outdoor veranda at a retreat center outside of Bangkok, Thailand.
There are about 20 other people in the room, in addition to Sarah Powers, who is the leader of our week-long Yin yoga retreat of this session.
And dammit, we’ve been in this pose longer than the five minutes she usually keeps us in a pose.
I heard Sarah’s timer go off five seconds ago. I heard her click it off. I know I did.
But she has not yet given us the cue. She has not yet said, “Inhale, and slowly come up.”
I’ve studied with Sarah several times before this retreat. I’ve gotten used to the sound of her timer. And, I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that when I hear that timer, I get to get out of the pose I’m in. So perhaps, now, she’s trying to break us of the habit she’s instilled in us. Maybe just a few more breaths and she’ll let us out.
That might be okay—but, as it so happens, this pose is one of my least favorite Yin yoga poses. She calls it “Wide-Knee Child’s Pose.” I call it torture. It’s similar to Child’s Pose except, like the name implies, our knees are wide apart, even while our big toes stay touching. We lean forward in the pose, elbows—or, for the more flexible, the entire belly—resting on the mat.
It has to have been 10 seconds now since the timer went off. And I’m in pain. I have to get out.
But, then again, do I?
Sarah makes it clear in her classes that we must learn to differentiate pain from discomfort. While I might like to cry out that I am tearing a muscle (pain), in truth, the pulling in my inner thighs and groin isn’t pain. What I’m experiencing is better-termed (if I’m being honest) discomfort.
And, if I stop and explore the sensations more closely, it’s not even my body that feels uncomfortable. Not really. My body is fine—settled and still. It’s my mind that wants out. It’s my mind that has decided that this experience is not acceptable, or that it should be over by now. It’s my mind that is becoming desperate.
It is this same finicky mind of mine that will later, in another pose, want to get out all over again. It’s possible that in a future pose, Sarah will again let the timer go off unnoticed. Maybe it will be with an even more uncomfortable pose. So why not just accept this current discomfort? Whether or not life will be easier or better down the road is unknown. My silly mind, always pushing away “what is” in favor of some mythical “what could be.”
I think about how our modern, finicky minds are incapable of accepting even the slightest discomfort. Our ancestors would probably cringe. Perhaps we can blame marketing and consumerism to some degree, which teaches us that for every discomfort—hunger, thirst, cold, fatigue—there is a quick and immediate fix. Perhaps, instead of trying to fix my discomfort, I can learn to find some comfort within it.
Sarah remains quiet. It must be 30 whole seconds since that timer went off. She really should let us out, my mind says, clearly thinking it is in the right.
No, she knows exactly what she is doing, I realize. She’s letting us watch the thoughts in our minds. She’s letting us feel more deeply into these thick seconds. She’s letting us practice the mantra she gave us this week: This too, I can include.
She’s giving us time to explore our own discomfort by not indicating when an end will come.
I repeat the mantra again and again: This too, I can include. This too, I can include.
And then, it hits me. I’m not just practicing this mantra so I can stay a little longer in Wide-Knee Child’s Pose. I’m practicing this because I need a technique—a mantra—to stay a little longer in an uncomfortable place in my life.
In fact, I am on this retreat for a brief respite from a partnership gone bad. I’ve spent months and months fighting and pushing, all the while trying to hold on to my sanity. What is left of my initial hopefulness about this partnership has been ripped to shreds. It is past salvaging. All that’s left to do is get out. And all I can think about, like right now in Wide-Kneed Child’s Pose, is how desperately I want out. Right now.
But every day, I wake and remember that I am not out. Just like I don’t know when Sarah will let us out of this pose, I don’t know when I’ll be free of the difficulties I’m facing in my life. The knowledge brings me a fresh wash of pain. Or wait—is it merely discomfort?
I feel my breath soften, and my mind relaxes. My body accepts the fact that I don’t know when I am getting out. I repeat the mantra again and again: This too, I can include. This too, I can include. I hear deep sighs all around me—of pleasure or pain, it’s hard to know. I also notice a few people shuffling—their minds also struggling against the fact that, technically speaking, it’s probably been 40 seconds since the timer went off. Sarah really should let us out. Right flippin’ now.
This too, I can include.
I soften more. This pose will end at some point. All things in life, and certainly in yoga class, come to an end.
But, but…it’s just that I heard the timer go off, and my mind keeps returning to that fact. The timer was when we should have gotten out. And it’s frustrating to not get out when we should.
Like this pose, the timer has gone off in my life too, and it brings the same kind of frustration. By timer, I mean my own internal timer that thinks it knows how long any given situation in our life is supposed to last. My existing situation has lasted longer than a year. It should’ve been over by now, my mind argues.
And yet, despite my shoulds, my pain lingers on. No, not pain. Discomfort. If I pan widely on my life, I still have the support of my family, and my children are thriving. My bills are paid; and my home, when I get back, will be warm, despite the snow. So, while my partner situation may be uncomfortable, it’s survivable. The real pain arises from my mind. It arises from my failure to reconcile what I think should be happening from what is actually happening.
The more I think it should be over, and the longer it’s not, the more pain I cause myself.
My real pain is not that my partnership hasn’t officially ended yet. My real pain is the distance between what I believe to be true and what is true.
Sh*t. She’s really keeping us in this pose 50 seconds after the timer went off? How crazy is that? She should really—
This too, I can include.
I breathe in and out. Tears roll slowly down my face. Not from pain. Not even from discomfort, either. From gratitude.
I am actively learning what I came here hoping to learn. I found the wisdom I came here to find. I’m learning that I can sit a little longer—no, as long as it takes—in an uncomfortable position. If I can do it in Wide-Knee Child’s Pose, I can do it again when I get back home.
It’s not that I won’t be working every day to get myself free—of course I will! This too, I can include is not about passive acceptance. It’s not about giving up. It helps us find a way back to our true selves. It creates a buffer of clear space around us. It gives us our power and centeredness back. I don’t get to know when it—this pose, or my partnership—will be over. But one day, it will be over. I can release the painful thought that it should be over right now. It will be over when it is over, and not a second sooner.
Sarah finally says, “Inhale, and slowly come up.” A full 60 seconds longer than it “should” have been.
I lift my head up slowly. One at a time, I bring my knees together and then rest my chest upon them. My head rests on the floor, my arms rest peacefully alongside my body.
This too, I can include.
Author: Keri Mangis
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis