Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Breathing Through Discomfort

There's a point during almost every yoga class I take where I've reached my physical (or mental) limit in a pose and all I want to do is get out of it. I mentally beg the teacher to prompt us into another position. I fidget. I grimace. I sweat. Sometimes I even come out of the pose altogether, tired of struggling. Then I spend the rest of the class, or at least the next few minutes, silently berating myself for my inability to sustain the pose. It seems like a never-ending battle. I want to grow, to build mental and physical strength, and yet I don't want to feel the discomfort associated with all that change.

It's not just in my yoga practice that I experience this conflict either. I'm starting to recognize a similar resistance in my life at large. I'm especially seeing it lately where my writing is concerned. I want to write and publish my writing. I put time and effort into formulating ideas, putting them on paper, molding them into moving stories, and editing them over and over again. But then the resistance comes. The story might not be good enough yet. It might be too personal, might reveal too much of myself. It might--no, it will--be rejected. I don't want to feel the discomfort that comes along with all that. Instead, I leave the unfinished or unsubmitted pieces in a folder on my laptop. Or I pull them out and rework them, yet again. I do everything but send them out into the world. I just haven't been able to figure out how to move beyond that fear.

The answer came to me on the mat, as they so often do these days--but that's another post in itself. I was folded into Pigeon and my right hip flexor was stretch its limit. There wasn't any pain, just a nagging discomfort that my mind wanted to avoid. I started wishing we could move back into Downward Facing Dog. I rocked my hips side to side looking for a way out of the tension. I shifted a little more to the left and the discomfort disappeared, but so did the benefits, the pleasure, of the stretch. So I moved back into the pose, where the discomfort was still waiting.

At just that moment, the teacher spoke up. "Remember to breathe. If you feel tension, try sending your breath into that area of your body." I followed her lead, inhaling and exhaling slowly, deeply. The resistance waned. My mind relaxed as I focused on the air moving in and out of my lungs, and my body responded by relaxing a little, too. I even moved a teeny-tiny bit deeper into the position, as my hip flexor released ever-so-slightly.

Understanding flickered in my mind. The discomfort won't last forever. In fact, if I take the time to breath, to experience the discomfort and allow it to pass, I might just find that I'm able to move more fully into an experience--whether it's on the mat, in my writing, or in my life.

The next time fear, discomfort or tension arises in my life, I promise myself that I will breathe into the discomfort and wait for it to pass, because it always does. Then, when the discomfort subsides, I will move forward into the things that are waiting for me on the other side.

(Photo credit: lululemon athletica)

This piece was cross-posted at bookieboo.com, where I'll be journaling about my experience as I learn to teach yoga (and become a more dedicated yoga student in the process).

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

All That Is In Me

Two years ago in January, I made a trip to Arizona to visit my sister. At the time, I was feeling out of sorts, lost and confused about my life. I was in a relationship that I now know wasn't going anywhere. I was taking tiny steps toward a freelance career that I couldn't seem to get off the ground. I had lost all spiritual direction and was struggling to find peace in the midst of my chaotic life. So I hopped a plane and headed to a new land hoping for a revelation.

I can't honestly say that I found what I was looking for during that trip, but something new opened up in me. I had been practicing yoga for a while, and being around such interesting natural beauty stirred up the yogic instinct to be present and open in the face of new experiences. I enjoyed moments of laughter and long conversations with my baby sister. I stood on a rock on our way to Sedona and found myself reaching into Tree pose (Vrksasana). I sat beside Slide Rock, watching and listening to the water rush by, feeling my body relax and my breath steady and deepen. I watched the sun set over the Grand Canyon, recognizing the timelessness of both the canyon's existence and my own. And yet I still found myself wondering when the lightening bolt would strike, when the "ah-ha" moments would appear. Would I ever find the peace and strength that I was looking for?

For the two years that followed I began to hear that still small voice of my own spirit a bit more clearly, to explore the deeper places of my mind and heart, the ones that I had shut off for way too long, fearing the effort they might require and the discomfort they might evoke. Looking back I can see that trip for the awakening that it was, but while I was there, even in the midst of what I now see as revelations, I was still looking for something more.

This month, I'll be returning to Arizona for a trip of a different kind--a short visit with my sister followed by a few days at a trade show demonstrating products for the company I work for. This time, I'm not searching. I have learned a valuable lesson in my yoga training so far: All that I am looking for is already within me. My last trip to Arizona gave me a flicker of that knowledge, and now, when I find myself seeking out something deeper, more meaningful, more powerful, just plain more, I am able to recognize the longing and remember that I am full and complete just as I am. It is not the "more" that matters, in the end. It's the experience, the process, the journey, the moments that make up those things, that will determine a life.

This piece was cross-posted at bookieboo.com, where I'll be journaling about my experience as I learn to teach yoga (and become a more dedicated yoga student in the process).

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