When I first began to practice yoga and meditate, I assumed that I would immediately realize a stress-free blissful existence in which my problems and struggles would no longer exist. I’ll let you in on a secret, that didn’t happen.
What I learned from teacher after teacher was that yoga was about the present moment, and letting go. But even that turned into a struggle as I felt some type of resistance to being still. I felt frustrated that thoughts and feelings other than bliss snuck into my zen space. I thought that my job as a good yogi was to push those ‘bad’ thoughts and emotions out and only have happy thoughts. Wrong again. What I was doing was creating a deeper resistance and suffering.
With practice, I eventually got to a place where I wasn’t actively pushing thoughts out of my head, but I still felt as if something was missing. I’d read every book on meditating, and ‘go through the motions’ every day. And, my frustration mounted as I wasn’t transformed to some magical place I’d read about in books.
It wasn’t until yoga teacher training that something began to shift. During a day of partner poses, we had to trust our partner — someone we’d never met before. We stood face to face with our partner just far enough apart that we could clasp each other’s elbows. Then we walked our feet toward each other, and laid back into a standing gentle back bend, each of us supported by the mechanics of our partner’s weight. I definitely had anxiety. What if she can’t hold me? What if I can’t hold her? What if I fall? What if what if what if? Surprisingly, the more we each let go, and trusted each other, the more we supported one another to feel a deep expression of the pose. It was truly amazing. I felt peaceful, serene, connected.
Then, for our next pose, my partner and I were given a short towel and we were to play tug of war, vigorously trying to pull the towel away from one another. At the end of this exercise, I was winded, stressed and unbalanced. And, something clicked with me (whether or not it was the intent of the exercise.) Despite the fear I felt about letting go, and trusting my partner during the first exercise, I realized it was easier to let go than to resist.
The same thing goes for embracing the turbulence in our lives. Troubles will come and go. Yes, they will come, even for yogis. And, they will most definitely go. It’s how we face these struggles that determine our suffering. Resistance is suffering, and letting go is freedom. For many years, I thought that being numb through medication was better than feeling pain, but all that does is stuff the pain deep down inside. Eventually, it has to come out, and you still have to figure out how to face the next bump in the road.
So, I began to embrace the resistance — to snuggle the struggle — and the suffering abated. Instead of trying to escape (where was I going to go after all) I began to give into feelings of uncertainty, fear and guilt. In other words, I laid back into that back bend and trusted that everything was going to be OK. I started to see that I was able to get through the rough patches more quickly, and peace was real.
“Pain is a relatively objective, physical phenomenon; suffering is our psychological resistance to what happens. Events may create physical pain, but they do not in themselves create suffering. Resistance creates suffering. Stress happens when your mind resists what is… The only problem in your life is your mind’s resistance to life as it unfolds”
– Dan Millman
Whatever your struggle, wrap your arms around it, give it a snuggle and feel it slip through your grasp.
– Your Charmed Yogi
Photo Credit: Compassionate Coach