As I mentioned last week, I recently discovered a great Yin Yoga class. I've attended this class twice in the past two weeks. Both times, I've left class feeling not only incredibly relaxed but also profoundly aware of my relationship to discomfort. Specifically: all the ways I resist it, and the strange and wonderful things that happen when I stop doing so.
But let me back up a couple of steps.
Yin Yoga, as you may know, is a style of yoga in which you hold each asana for prolonged periods of time, usually 3-5 minutes. As you first enter a given pose, there can be pretty significant discomfort, especially in the hips and lower back area, parts of the body where we - women, especially - carry emotional tension. During the first minute of the pose, the discomfort intensifies, as the muscle resists pushing past what the mind perceives to be its limit.
However, if you can breathe through that discomfort, something unexpected happens around the 1-minute mark. The muscle actually relaxes, releasing its tension, which allows you to access the deep connective tissues and to stretch beyond what first seemed possible. Practiced regularly, Yin can increase your range of motion, protect against injury, and help keep the body healthy and young.
What I find so moving about Yin is that it echoes so perfectly the way we deal with discomfort off the mat. When faced with challenging emotions, our impulse is to resist. We tense up at the first sign of potential pain, attempting to protect ourselves against feelings we don't believe we are strong enough to survive. Our mind has us utterly convinced that we simply cannot bear to actually experience the pain, to the extent that this belief seems like reality.
It is at this point that many of us "numb out" in a desperate bid to distract ourselves from having to feel at all. (We turn to food, shopping, TV, partying, etc. And to clarify, I don't believe these things are inherently bad; it's when we use them as an that we get into trouble.) But as with Yin, the great paradox is that it's only when we are able to embrace the discomfort - to be with it - that the tension releases, and we are able to relax into ourselves, and - engage more fully with our lives.
As I mentioned, I've been meditating on this point during these past couple of weeks. It is, of course, an ongoing practice (as with yoga, and as with all things). We will always feel discomfort, and we will always resist it. It's not realistic to expect ourselves to suddenly embrace our discomforts, left and right. But maybe if we can at least be aware - at least nod in recognition, call it by its name - we wouldn't resist it quite so much.
We might even get a little bit, well...comfortable.