Here are some thoughts around Practice and Discomfort. Thoughts on how to handle troublesome times on the yoga mat and ourselves through the process.
These reflections come from personal experience and from the experiences of fellow practitioners and students. Hope these help you through the natural ups and downs that come with the practice - and with life :)
In general, Discomfort can arise as Physical, Mental and Emotional. In past entries we have referred to the practice as a mirror that uncovers our patterns, our weaknesses, our delusions, so we know where to focus our efforts. It is not a pretty view, but it’s part of the deal :)
In the yoga sashtra it is said that God dwells in our heart, but our inner light is covered by six poisons: Kama, Krodha, Moha, Lobha, Matsarya, and Mada. These are Desire, Anger, Delusion, Greed, Envy and Sloth. When yoga practice is sustained with great diligence and dedication over a long period of time, these poisons are weakened and the light of our inner nature shines forth.
The yoga enhances our awareness, and that results in inner turmoil, especially in the early years of practice. Things are not worse, in fact, they are improving. We just happen to be more aware. That creates some inner friction that needs to be channeled.
Based on my personal experience, there is no way out but through. It is not about being fearful, blaming the practice or thinking that Ashtanga yoga is not for you. Rather, it is about accepting where you stand, knowing in full faith that something brought you to the yoga mat and embracing “what is” instead of beating yourself up.
Some days our bodies, our minds and our emotions are easier on us. It is on those days when we can explore beyond our limits -either real or perceived. Other days we are sore, distracted or just tired. It is on those days when it is wise to retreat back to our comfort zones and work from there.
For the practice to be sustainable, student and teacher have to work together with love, kindness and wisdom, having the inner growth as the first and foremost goal. There is no growth without a certain degree of discomfort, so if you feel shaken, take that as a good sign :)
As far as the body is concerned, I advise students to be on the lookout for pain on the joints, for example when going into half lotuses or while doing drop backs. This pain is to be avoided. The “No Pain No Gain” formula DOES NOT apply. In these cases, one should back off, learn technique and work with a trusted teacher. Sometimes and based on specific conditions, teacher and student might need to involve a third party, such as a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath, and work as a team.
Sometimes Ashtanga yoga gets the blame for injuring people. Truth is, it is us who injure ourselves. It is our attachment to “what the practice is” or to “how our practice should look” what causes most of the drama. Three Sun Salutations A, three B and the last three postures is taking practice. Raising your arms and breathing is taking practice.
Relinquish the attachment to the physical form of your practice. You don’t have to go all Cirque Du Soleil to practice Ashtanga yoga. This is not a practice for a physical elite. This practice is for anyone who wants to put in the time and the effort and who is willing to be challenged, humbled and transformed. Sun Salutations are fine. Standing sequence is fine. Being conservative when it needs be is fine. If you are being too hard on yourself, that is you, not the practice.
I have been on this path consistently for almost one decade, practicing daily for the last 8 years. It is not an extremely long time, but I have become established enough in the practice. I have dealt with injury, faced physical, mental and emotional hardship, encountered lack of motivation, self-doubt, exhaustion and handled severe personal crisis.
Even if demanding, this practice has given me the biggest gift, the Gift of Acceptance: accepting who I am and where I stand. My heart has opened up to Love, and this love permeates everything I do, from my practice to my teaching, to talking to my mom, watching Netflix or writing this article :)
Many habits and certain people have fallen through. And even if painful to some degree, in hindsight I am grateful for it, for now I travel lighter.
This practice can rock your world, change you from the inside out, and do it for good. But you have to be willing to put up with some level of discomfort. You are not your fears, your excuses or your doubts. You exist beyond all of that, and your practice will become your most precious ally on the path to Self Discovery :)
So get off your own way. Do yourself a favour. Bring your Ass to Class.