In my yoga practice I like to flow. I like to count my breaths, pulse in and out of postures, almost create a dance on my mat. This makes sense seeing as I did spend about 16 years of my life wearing ballet shoes and fluttering around countless studios and stages. One of the things I love most about my yoga practice is that it gives the adult me the outlet to explore my body and express myself like I did as a kid.
That is one reason why I love yoga.
Other reasons I cherish my practice weren’t as obvious to me right away. Truthfully, I don’t think I really understood this powerful part of the practice until I spent several years on my mat and 200 hours in my first yoga teacher training. For a long time the part of yoga that is sweet and relaxing and calming is what I thought all practice was. What I’ve learned now is the parts of yoga that feel not-so-good is one of the best lessons we can face on our mats, not only for the body, but for the expansion of the mind.
The day that this message was really driven home for me was during a particularly sweaty yoga class during teacher training. My beloved teacher, Kathryn, was guiding us through an intense and sweaty flow. To some in my training, this class may have been normal, maybe even been easy. As a lover of the lighter, more dancey types of yoga this class was really tough for me. She was guiding us to focus on our breath, she was taking us through a well designed flow, but she was also expertly challenging us to find our edge.
Typically in a class like that one I would have dropped to child’s pose a few times, maybe not taken the full expression of a posture, maybe skipped vinyasa. To be fair, all of those options are perfect way to take a class if you feel you’ve met your edge for that day. That day though, I hadn’t met my edge yet. I don’t know if it was the excitement of teacher training, the encouragement I felt from my peers in that room, or the loving but stern guidance of Kathryn’s voice, but in this class I was ready to meet my edge. I was ready and I was going for it.
And that I did.
We were in extended side angle pose. My front leg was in a lunge and trembling from being tired but also staying strong and stable, doing its’ job to keep me from falling on the floor. Kathryn offered an addition to the pose. I took her cue and lifted my arm from resting atop my thigh and extended it toward the front of the room. Now not only was this posture a major leg burner but it also turned into a major core exercise, too.
We held it. We breathed. I felt like I wanted to get out of the posture but I waited. I stuck with it, through the fire, through the uncomfortable moments, until finally she gave the cue to relax and flow to the next posture, which I clearly remember was the comfort of child’s pose.
It was in that moment of coming out of the pose, I realized that however tired I was, however much I thought I couldn’t hold the posture for one more breath, I did. I held it. And you know what? I survived. Nothing much happened, except that I met the limits of what my mind told me I could do and I surpassed them.
Sometimes feeling good is what you need from your practice. But just as much as you need to feel good, sometimes you also have to not. Sometimes you have to stick through the hard parts, you have to confront what the mind does when it wants to quit, when it doesn’t like what you are telling it to do, when it doesn’t think it has the capacity to stick around. Sometimes challenging yourself to be uncomfortable is where the real breakthroughs happen. You give yourself a chance to find your gumption, to find your grit, to find the tools you need to access off your mat when uncomfortable situations come up.
Today I challenge you to expand your limits on your mat. Either at home or in tonight’s yoga class, find a posture that you can do safely but that you never like to hold too long. Maybe Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II), or a strong, fierce plank pose, maybe even practice sitting in silence and stillness. See if you can hold this posture for 5 or 10 breaths longer than you have before. If you are in a yoga class, obviously don’t interrupt, but maybe stick with the teacher’s cue longer, if you feel like you can, take a variation that you may have sat out before. I am not at all advocating for taking yourself deeper than is safe, but I am calling you to challenge yourself. Find the uncomfortable. Hang out there for a little bit and see what happens.
What pose will you test this out with? Tell us in the comments below!