Struggle Free In Yoga and Life

I’ve been at two yoga classes in less than a week where the theme was: “moving in a way that is struggle-free.”

Clearly the universe thinks this is something I need to work on. At one class the teacher, Marisha, asked us to connect with what struggle feels like in the body. Normally I picture struggle and I see fidgeting and fighting with a pose and getting frustrated. But what I connected to this time was a feeling of defeat. Struggle by giving up. Holding on for dear life, wondering when the pose will be over. Oh sure, I’ll still be breathing and doing the pose, but I mentally vacate or go into suffering mode of me against the world. The yoga pose becomes just another way life isn’t working.

Growing up, our family dog, Cassidy, hated taking baths. At first, Cassidy would fight us by trying to hide in a corner or wiggling under the couch at first sense of an impending bath. Once we caught her, she’d try to make herself as heavy as possible to lift into the slop sink and when that failed, try to wiggle out of it. Then Cassidy would reach a place of resignation. These owner people were bigger and any further resistance would be futile. So she succumbed to misery. Drooping her head, pained look on her face, she miserably resigned herself to the bath waiting for this injustice to finally be over. (Then she made it a point to purposefully shake herself off all over us, but that’s another different story).

When it comes to struggle, I’m not unlike Cassidy in the tub. Cowering and deciding that I have no choice but to be miserable and plod through the day.

I know, I know, just like the Buddha said, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Still sometimes I’m determined to wallow in it. I don’t want to get out of it. “Bring it on,” I think. “I’ll hang on through it.”

Luckily my pity party soon (usually) gets pretty pathetic even to me. It becomes time to “Bring it on.” Not, “Bring it on, I will suffer through it”, but rather, “Bring it on. How can I not suffer through it?” I can still hate every second of it. But I don’t have to bask in my discomfort.

What might be a new approach on the yoga mat? For me, I find it helps when I focus on paying attention to other aspects of the experience. I can be aware that my hip feels tight, but I can focus on finding my feet and drawing up energy from my foundation on the earth to support me. I direct my breath into different parts of my body where I’m experiencing the pose. I notice when I stay attentive, yet not indulgent of my discomfort, I’m also more aware of when there are subtle shifts: maybe my hip releases a little more or my mental chatter has subsided somewhat in my pose. I’m just there. It’s not good. But it’s not struggle either.

What might a new approach off the mat look like? Acceptance comes to mind. A huge trigger for me comes from sitting in massive traffic. Once I’ve exhausted the immediate problem-solving (“Is there an alternate route I could take? Is there a way I can get off the road and do something else till traffic dies down), I’m left with bearing with it. If my audio book isn’t compelling enough, I’ll put on music, the louder, the thumpier, and/or the singable the better. Occasionally it helps me to scream at the top of my lungs. Yes, I’ve done this, though I don’t recommend doing so with the windows down and/or passengers in your car (unless you all are feeling like a group scream).

My other idea is to get a good comedy CD in my car. While not a comedian, David Sedaris reading his audiobook, “Me Talk Pretty One Day” never fails to have me laughing no matter how many times I’ve heard it. Sometimes I make top 10 lists in my head (which you might tell from this blog I like to do). Do I hate every second of being stuck in traffic? Yes. Does it have to ruin my day? No, even though I’ve certainly allowed it to sometimes.

So message received, universe. I don’t have to have my head slogged down while bath water pours over me. Who knows, after the discomfort, there may be a treat waiting for me.

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