Meeting Discomfort with Grace
I know I am not alone in this when I say that I have spent most of my life trying to avoid discomfort. Avoiding discomfort (read: big feelings and thoughts that often materialized in visceral ways) led me to really horrible patterns of substance abuse, high risk behavior that I knew triggered a dissociative response in me, and a long battle with an eating disorder. It also led me to the yoga practice. Look at any yogi who has been practicing consistently for a while and you'll see someone who moves with grace and ease. They make even the most challenging postures look effortless. So, to the casual observer, the yogi oftens looks even, undisturbed. On the outside it looks easy. That yogi probably feels a tremendous amount of sensation in their body and is acutely aware of it. With the mindfulness practice comes an expansion of awareness. We feel more deeply, but we also understand the ephemerality of feeling. It will pass just as it came. Life is beautiful in that way. Even the uncomfortable moments are a thing of unique beauty.
I've been sharing in class this week my toolkit for meeting discomfort with grace. This toolkit is valuable because it doesn't offer a quick fix or another way to run from the uncomfortable. This toolkit asks you to engage with the feelings of discomfort and dismantle the idea that you are not enough to move through and with it. When you want to run away from discomfort, try to walk yourself through these four steps. Meet your discomfort. It is an opportunity to expand.
ARRIVE - It's always a good idea to be wherever you are. Bring yourself into the space. For much of my life, I feel like my brain is five hundred steps ahead of where my body is. My brain is always thinking about the myriad possibilities and outcomes of choices big and small. Asking my mind to come back is an important first step. Asking the whole self to be in one place is a little moment of saying "hey. I see that you are trying to avoid or run. I get it, but can you be here with me for just a few breaths". Sometimes it can be very challenging to arrive in the present circumstances with mind, body, and heart. If that feels like you, place your hands somewhere on your body. That feedback, of hands touching self, is soft reminder that you are here. This body is yours. This life is yours. You can be here with it. If that feels a little overwhelming to being with (trust me, it was at first for me. The idea of being touched by anyone, even myself, made me feel incredibly uncomfortable in the past) think your way through each part of your from your toe tips to the crown of your head. This thought exercise coaxes the mind to join with the other parts of you in this experience.
FEEL - At the beginning of every practice, both personal and ones I am guiding, I ask "how do you feel? How are you doing". This information is critical as both a practitioner and a teacher. If I don't know where I am starting from, how can the journey towards a new way of being begin? In short, it can't. Those questions are not the easiest to answer, especially out loud. Start with the most obvious thing. Sometimes, your body will speak the loudest. It will tell you all the places that are sore or hurting. It will tell you all the places that feel free. Then, ask yourself how your heart feels. I think back to the version of me that wanted to avoid feeling at all costs and I know how challenging it is to answer. Most of the time, there can be shame and guilt surrounding particular feelings and so we try not to acknowledge them. You don't have to say it out loud. In the silence and the safety of your own heart, acknowledge how you feel.
QUESTION - Now it's time to address the things that keep us bound. What are the scripts that are playing themselves over and over again in you mind? Often times, it will relate to how you feel. Sometimes, these scripts are so deeply embedded into our thought processes that they become an undistinguishable hum of white noise that influence every action we take. For me, those scripts sound something like, "you are not enough. You are not strong enough. You are not brave enough. You are not pretty enough. You are not talented enough. You are not worth it. You will never achieve that. You can't do this. You don't deserve that." Writing it out, my heart hurts for the version of who used to walk around with all of that noise. No wonder I used every method possible to avoid being with myself. Those thoughts tore me down for so long. But I started to question them. I recognized that they were constantly swirling through my head. They were bobbing in and out of other thoughts, other joys, other moments. And I asked myself, "do I really believe that this is true?"
BREATHE - Use the breath to dismantle these thoughts. They are not supporting your journey. They are not allowing you to move with and through discomfort. In fact, they are making it harder to do so. Use the breath to take away their power. Use the breath to disrupt their pattern. You are inside a circumstance of discomfort. You acknowledge it. You feel it. You notice the thoughts that are running on repeat. Perhaps you recognize the impulse to shimmy out of uncomfortable, to bail. Instead, breath in and collect all of the doubts, all of the weight of the mind chatter. Exhale and expel it from your body. The longer you choose to stay inside of the scary place of discomfort, the more you disrupt the patterns. You prove through your breath, through staying, that you are enough. You are worth it. Breath by breath you will dismantle the thoughts that say you are not enough. Breath by breath, you can explore who you are, who you want to be, when you are not boxed into the limitations of old toxic beliefs.
Discomfort is inevitable. It will happen. For the most part, we want to live discomfort-free lives because it doesn't feel great to be uncomfortable. I don't know if I believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that every situation has something valuable to teach us. The yoga practice taught me how to meet discomfort with ease and grace. I know that when I encounter advanced postures, they will not be easy. They will require the utmost focus and usually all of my strength. Instead of letting the uncomfortable overwhelm me to the point of running, I have learned to engage with it from a place of curiosity and honesty. I am on a search for the truth. Discomfort highlights the thought patterns on repeat in my head. Often, it's the toxic old belief systems that encourage me to run away. I have to stay long enough inside of the space of discomfort to show my mind and my heart that those toxic old beliefs don't have to be true. Disrupt. Dismantle. Become the unfettered version of you.