Picture it: Last Friday, May 1, my yoga mat laid out on the Matisse-reminiscent print of our bedroom rug. Unlike the previous however-many months, my mat had consistently made an appearance there each day of April thanks to a friend inviting me to join her in a 31 day yoga challenge. Nothing like the win/win of a compelling accountability buddy and co-creating something to text about that isn’t health or quarantine.
So, I’m on the mat, I turn on the video, and there she is, Adriene Mishler in head-to-toe silver yoga gear, silently going through a 30 minute routine with the grace of a dancer and blissed out expression of Theresa looking at thriving plants.
I, however, was not feeling blissed out on Friday morning. I was feeling resistant and annoyed and I just wanted Adriene to freaking tell me what to do and when so I could be mindless and compliant and move on.
I had made a commitment to myself and my friend, though. And I had been training for this day for some time, using this plan of attack:
Notice my resistance. This is pretty literal, even saying to myself, “I’m sensing some resistance in myself.” See: Literal.
Get curious about it. “Is there something this resistance is trying to communicate with me? Is there something I might shift about how I’m doing this?” Curiosity reminded me that despite my limited yoga repertoire, I’m pretty comfortable freestyling with what I know; another part of me took a guess that it was actually the trying to both freestyle and keep up with the video that was feeling unfun to me.
Negotiate and experiment. “Okay, so, I’ll try closing my eyes and just focusing on the feelings in my body and moving from pose to pose according to my own intuition,” was the thought that arose. For moments at a time, that’s exactly what I did and felt some relief of discomfort.
And then I would look at the video again, feel annoyed, and start over from step 1.
I got to the end of that video – oh yes I did – and I’ll go ahead and make a rough, unverifiable estimate that I worked through the above steps roughly once per minute of the 30 minute video.
This is not so different from my sitting meditation practice where I find myself distracted from whatever my focus du jour and redirect again and again and again.
In either case (and despite what my gremlins try to convince me), neither the resistance to the yoga nor the lack of focus in meditation are failures. Instead, they are juicy opportunities to practice the key skills of creating my biggest, baddest life – skills like: re-centering in what is (i.e. the now, each moment as it happens); trading self-judgment for curious, compassionate self-awareness; and moving through resistance thoughtfully.
It took me a few hours to notice this next part, this very important nuance in my experience of completing a yoga practice even while bristling against almost every moment of it: I didn’t get through using will power. I didn’t muscle through that half-hour.
While the debate continues in the psychological community about the value and limits of will power, I find that while it’s sometimes a handy tool for getting through something that’s tough and necessary and immediate, it ultimately feels to me like a form of self-bullying. “You WILL do this, Rawz!”
Bringing acceptance, presence, curiosity, and negotiation to our discomfort and resistance, on the other hand, provides a gateway to deeper self-awareness while, at the same time, honing the tools themselves.
And when we sharpen our habits on the whetstones of the little stuff (like yoga and meditation), they’re ready to go when the big stuff arises.
This week, I have a bonus reflection on discomfort for member of The Bigger Badder Crew, along with an invite to a crew-only beta test of a program I’m developing around this very topic: Learning how to be with discomfort such that we’re learning, refining, and – yes! – diminishing the pain! Learn more about and sign up to claim your spot in The Bigger Badder Crew.