Mindful Discipline: Honoring Discomfort

Mindful Discipline: Honoring Discomfort

May 24, 2017

If you’ve been to at least a couple of yoga classes, chances are you’ve found yourself in Utkatasana chair pose, legs shaking, arms flapping like a feverish bird, your shoulders burning so hot you suspect they may actually be smoking. That’s usually the point when a salty drop of sweat sets to find your eyeball.

It’s also the point when the little voice makes itself known, and asks: “Should I push through, or should I give up?”

With any physical practice - whether it be yoga, dance, cross training, or any activity that engages mind and body - come moments of sheer discomfort. Sometimes showing up as purely physical, such as a burning in the muscle or an intense stretch, sometimes as highly emotional - out of “nowhere”, a wave of anger, deep sorrow or self-criticism washes over us - and most often blended as one: physical and emotional unease seldom tell different stories.

When I catch a series of difficult thoughts in my practice, I can usually trace it back to a part of my body that has been asking for attention that I’ve refused to give, probably due to the illusion that paying attention would make it worse. Nonetheless, this train of thought is just another way to say:

“Hey. I’m here.
Will you listen?
Will you hold me?
Will you be with me?”

Unfortunately, most of us weren’t taught to explore discomfort. We either ignore it, or let ourselves be overwhelmed by it. That said, we have an opportunity to learn to make space for challenging sensations. Adopting a peaceful, centered and curious posture in the presence of difficulty is the gift that mind-body practices invite us to develop.
The question of “should I push through or should I give up?” often comes with it’s own binary paradigm: either we push through, the way the jockey whips the horse, hard on ourselves and ignoring what the body is signaling, or we give up, a perspective that often whispers “not good enough”.

There is, however, another option. When discomfort arises, we can learn to make space for it. We can allow it in, slow down, take a deeper breath and say:
“Hey there... I see you.
Thank you for showing up.
I’m listening to you.
What can I do for you?
What information do you have for me?"

Patient curiosity and peaceful acceptance enable pain* to become our teacher. A safe space allows pain to start revealing its secret myths and show us how we can grow, where we can ease, and how we can find more balance inside and outside our practice. It is the gate to both unsuspected strength and unconditional kindness.

Most people define discipline as the ability to push through despite the discomfort.
But when we understand discipline as the will to honor and listen to discomfort, we make space for a holistic growth that goes beyond physical skills and mental focus, and we develop the ability to learn from any feeling that emerges.

So, next time you find yourself tensing around the question of pushing through or giving up, drop the question. Slow down. There. What does this sensation need from you?

 *The type of pain we refer to is a form of aching, non-threatening discomfort. IMBŌDHI recommends you to interrupt any movement or position that hurts or feels unnatural.

Photo taken by David Tufino. Model: Lauren Taus.

 

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