Yoga of the Mind

messages Jan 18, 2009

Even though I teach yoga, it's nice to take class as a student to focus on my own practice.  And this time of year in Minneapolis, a hot yoga class is almost like an hour-long tropical vacation.

I was traveling last week, which means making the best of what's available when it comes to eating well and working out.  I was really looking forward to an intense workout this morning from my yoga practice - let's get moving, flowing, sweating, and breathing heavy.  I wanted my butt kicked!

The instructor had us start in child's pose.  "Okay, we'll start here for a few quick breaths and then get moving..." I thought .  Nope.  Lot's of breaths here, with instructions to clear the mind.  Difficult, as I'm thinking "Come on!  Let's get going!  We've only got 60 minutes." and "Holy crap this towel smells like @$$!  A few classes of just letting it dry out was not a good idea.  How am I going to ignore it when it's literally 2 cm from my face and I'm focusing on deep breathing?!"

Yoga is truly more of a workout for the mind than it is for the body.  And let me tell you, it can be very physically demanding.  Which it ended up being:  she unleashed it on us.  There was a lot of the slow, diabolical holding of intense positions, with instructions to focus on the discomfort and to breathe through it.

As an exercise physiologist and practicing yogini, there's always a mental debate going on in my head when it comes to pushing myself in yoga.  Many instructors will encourage you to stay in a painful position, and may even challenge you to take it a step further and move deeper in.  The exercise physiologist in me is always analyzing contraindications and possible joint or tissue damage that could result in being in painful positions.  "This could hurt my knees."  Or "This is really going to make my hip flare up."  Then the yogi in me tells me that anything is possible if I just focus on my breath - focus on the place of pain, be with it, breathe through it and realize it is not going to kill you.  Yes, it hurts - and?

What a metaphor for life.

I am obsessed with the psychology of discomfort.  My feeling (and I'm quite passionate about this) is that we live in a society where a lot of things come pretty easy.  However, if something that we want is more difficult or challenging to achieve and will take lots of hard work and patience, we'll convince ourselves that we don't really want it.  We're off the hook...

Discomfort is one of the best teachers I've ever had.  There have been many times in my life that were very uncomfortable, and several I would classify as very painful.  My first instinct had always been to go around the problem and avoid discomfort at all cost.  But what does that get me?  I've learned that walking boldly in to a challenge results in incredible growth, as well as happiness.  The yoga instructor today stated this while I was shooting not-so-yoga-like thoughts her direction at an intense point in class:  "Just when the caterpillar thought it was going to die, it turned in to a butterfly."

After going through a very painful divorce several years ago, I have turned in to a very different person.  I learned a lot about myself:  my values, my inner strength, what brings me happiness and peace.  I also learned a lot about other people.   I am grateful for the pain, because it has made me who I am.  I embrace discomfort because I know it will lead to growth.  I have worked really, really hard for what I have:  my body, my career, my family.  I am a product of my discomfort.  Do I always want to do it?  No.  But here's how I think about it...  You've only got two options:  You're growing or you're dying.  It's your choice.  So choose.

Be with the discomfort.

Be with the pain.

It is not bad and it is not going to kill you.

In fact, it will make you stronger.

You will learn about yourself.

You will learn about your capabilities.

If you keep breathing, you will move through it.

As in yoga...As in life...

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