When you arrive to yoga class, who are you showing up for?

You know you don’t know everything, but you behave often like you do. At least, I have done so for a big part of my life. Not knowing makes me feel uneasy.. This stage of discomfort is sometimes the best way you can learn something new, and in the process expand your comfort zone.

In my first few years as a yoga student, I learnt to embrace discomfort. Because of the way I was studying yoga and the random structure it followed, I never knew what kind of class I was in for whenever I showed up. Would we be going into forward bending for the whole 90 minutes or maybe backbending? Or even worse, if you’re impatient like me, would we be spending the entire class sitting and doing Pranayama, or at least back then attempt to do it.

Some people would find this way of learning intimidating and scary, while I’m sure many others find it exciting. For me, it helped me to gain a better understanding of stepping into the unknown.

By stepping into the unknown we acknowledge that we are more than the sum of our actions and thoughts,

and we are nearing the thought that we come from somewhere and are heading to something bigger. By not knowing what style or technique we would be practicing at yoga, allowed me to let go of any expectations – of both the yoga class and of myself. At the same time, the most important thing I had to learn was to stay open to this ‘discomfort’ and how I would receive each lesson. 

In yoga classes today, I see a lot of challenges that students are faced with

– trying to fit yoga into their schedules, showing up to class tired or frustrated with trying difficult poses. And as a consequence, people often decide to not show up to class or try to switch teachers or basically just don’t practice when they don’t feel like it. 

Someone once said to me, “Growth is beyond comfort – it is felt when you are uncomfortable in a situation and you feel your resistance rising. Then you truly start to grow.”

Now, I am far from torturing myself these days just to feel discomfort. Discomfort needs to be chosen as wisely as we choose to rest. But comfort today, as we know it, is almost killing us. Our comfort from eating, exercising and entertaining is bringing stress to our bodies.

The Ancient Sanskrit texts of the Upanishads discuss the idea of preyas and shreyas. Preyas mean ‘that which is pleasant’ and shreyas mean ‘that which is helpful’. Sometimes that which is pleasant is not at all helpful to you, while sometimes that which is helpful is not at all pleasant to you – especially at first, because of your negative habit patterns. So you should try to understand what is really good for you and what is truly helpful for you.

In this manner preyas should be used wisely.

To me it was a helpful knowing that whatever yoga exercises we would be doing in class, my yoga teacher would guide me through them. I put my trust in my teacher that no matter what, I wouldn’t be completely defeated by the end of every yoga class. At first, when I felt discomfort I believed I wasn’t practicing yoga anymore, as it didn’t feel pleasant. I thought I knew what yoga was (with my three years of experience), but it took me another two decades to truly see through my shadow issues.

Yoga is not a physical discipline, as we are made to believe in the West, but at best it’s a discipline of controlling your mind and emotions, so that they don’t overcome you. As explained in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, ‘Yoga is the containment of the fluctuations in the mind and mind patterns.’

Learning how to embrace discomfort in yoga is just one example of controlling your mind, or Ego, to move forward and grow.

But what’s most important is trust. We all need a teacher that we can trust, and then when you find trust in a teacher you need to in turn be open about how you are feeling, where you are at with your practice and if you are feeling discomfort. You are not expected to always show up to class radiant, strong and healthy. But you are required to show up – if not for anyone else, for yourself!

 

In my 25 years as a yoga teacher and ayurvedic practitioner, what has struck me most is that very few of us explore beyond an initial interest in looking into our shadow issues and self sabotaging ways. This is due to, what my teacher once described as, “flitting around”. Constantly moving from one thing to another instead of seeing an opportunity to mend.

 

You are the creator and the experiencer of your own life. Like Visnu and Laxmi, abundance and dharma come hand in hand. Visnu is known as a nurturer, and his consort is Laxmi, the goddess of prosperity. When we nurture, preserve or appreciate what we have – relationships, our resources but also our unique gifts, than Laxmi will step up and shower us with abundance.

 

Showing up for yourself is all about being honest with how you’re feeling and what you need. Try to establish your state of mind and emotions before you enter a yoga class, rather than realising it mid-sun salutation. Stop and ask yourself:

 

  • What do I want out of this class? 
  • Where do I need to surrender and what door do I need to close to fully participate?
  • Can you be open about how you’re feeling and let the teacher in – if necessary?

 

Honour yourself and respect that sometimes you might not be functioning at 100%, but you can commit 100%.

It’s normal to feel tired, challenged or uncomfortable. The secret is to embrace this feeling and learn how to grow from it.

And it helps to have someone you trust with you along the way.

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