Life (and Yoga) Includes Discomfort

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I bet you’ve noticed that life isn’t always comfortable. We spend a fair amount of time and life energy trying to avoid discomfort with substances, rituals, distraction, and moodiness. Yoga includes discomfort—the discomfort of holding a pose, of visiting parts of the body we haven’t touched in a long time, of feeling awkward.

Life itself is uncomfortable. The Buddha’s first precept is often translated as “life is suffering,” but there is an alternate interpretation that says “life is irritation,” which rings truer to me.  I don’t feel as though I SUFFER on a daily basis, but I sure do feel like I’m irritated on a daily basis!

How much of your life is spent trying to avoid any unease at all? Might it be more sustainable to create a self that can tolerate more of the typical unease of daily life—traffic (big one!), the failings of other people, your own negative self-talk, the limitations of your power or influence?

When we were born, we didn’t get a certificate that said there would be no pain in this life. Instead, we were given a body and a nervous system designed to be resilient in the face of challenge. Perhaps if we can practice healthy experiments in increasing the edge of our tolerance, like jumping into cold water, walking barefoot once in a while, holding a yoga pose a little longer, or meditating, which brings us to a quiet space of observing our quicksilver mind and our fussy body, we can find comfort in our ability to accept discomfort. (Up to a point, of course. Always take care of yourself when things are painful in a way that feels destructive.)

Think of yoga as a tool for creating an environment in which we can practice becoming more adaptable and flexible (in all ways) within the grand scheme of life.

Feed Your Head

“I felt in need of a great pilgrimage, so I sat still for three days.” - Hafiz 

It’s not a surprise to anyone that we’re drowning in information. And as Stephen Pinker says “The news is not a good place to get information.” For one thing, the news is primarily fear-based content. That’s what sells. And we are currently experiencing a moment where we are being force fed fearful information like veal being fattened for slaughter.  

Minds are delicate structures. Our psyches are poorly designed to be able to resist the quantity of imagery coming our way. We check the news because we seek reassurance about what’s happening in the world. But checking the news makes us more fearful.  

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The yoga tradition gives us theories of mind and consciousness. One idea is that whatever comes through your awareness leaves an imprint. There’s even a Sanskrit word for this, “samskara,” which roughly means “conditioning” in English, and refers to the processes by which the human mind is imprinted by information and experience. Assuming this, feeding your mind fearful food creates deeper and stronger impressions of fright and anxiety. 

One can potentially progress out of this samskaric state by feeding the mind creative and even transgressive content, i.e. reading the writings of the great saints and thinkers, feasting the eyes on art, engaging in more than surface level conversation.  

If samskaras are impressions created deep inside our subtle body as a result of what comes through our consciousness, this is hopeful. Because the swirling and creative energy forms that make us human are also malleable and changeable. We are still in a process of evolution. Ask yourself what you are “eating” mentally.  Are you ever giving your mind an opportunity to rest? Resist the temptation to overfeed the mind with negative content, resist the urge to rush and ignore the body. Being intentional about your information diet creates the conditions for evolution of heart and mind.