This blog was inspired by a student I had in class the other day who said to me, as I was adjusting her in a pose: “I do better with Vinyasa, not these long holds.” (I took the liberty to paraphrase a bit, but you get the idea.) That’s code for: I don’t like this because I’m not comfortable here. She opened Pandora’s box. The same sentiment seemed to be present itself EVERYWHERE. In my other classes, watching people on the subway, walking down the street. It was all around. How do we avoid discomfort? How can I get away with doing this exercise/job/LIFE with as little aches and uneasiness as possible?
I bore witness to this phenomenon again in my Barre Burn class later that evening. It was clear to me these ladies (Ahem gentlemen . . . if you ever go to the gym to meet women, you’re in the wrong class!) had gotten accustomed to going through the motions. Showing up, knowing what to expect and getting by with the least amount of effort possible. Clearly, there was discomfort (as signaled by the contorted facial expressions and piercing glances in my direction). Moving through movements slowly, activating your muscles rather than relying on momentum will do that to you. (Which, I will argue, is why the women in my earlier yoga class does much better with ‘Vinyasa’). I somewhat attribute this to the role of teachers more and more often not TEACHING but directing. But that’s a whole other blog.
It’s important here to make distinguish between pain and discomfort. Was I in pain when my teacher first took me in and out of chair pose what seemed like 50 times? No. I didn’t require an ambulance or paramedic. But you can bet your ass it was uncomfortable. More than uncomfortable. I wanted to scream all sorts of expletives at him and shout “I hate you I hate you I hate you! Are you crazy!?!?” No. He wasn’t. I was simply going through something I had not experienced before. That would be fire. In my back, in my thighs, everywhere. I would later come to understand this sensation, this burning intense heat, as the fire of transformation. And it’s necessary for change. Whether you are looking to merely change your body or your looking to change your life. FIRE is necessary. It is the element of change. How do you change the inherent properties of matter? Water won’t do it. Neither will wind. Fire does. And I’m not referring to the comfy cozy heat you experience from a fireplace in the middle of winter with a cup of hot cocoa. Typically, I envision more of a devil (although I don't believe in the actual existence of one, just to be clear), too much Icy Hot down your pants, kind of heat.
Why do you think meditation is so difficult for people? Most of us are used to being pulled along by the current, from dawn til dusk and long after, kept awake by the buzz of televisions, iPhones, video games, etc. We do everything to distract ourselves from feeling any sort of discomfort whether it be physical, emotional or mental. I’ve often stepped in to teach a ‘Vinyasa’ class and directed students to stand, close their eyes and simply feel the effects of whatever pose asana, flow, etc. we just completed. You wouldn’t believe the amount of fidgeting. People are looking around the room, playing with their nails. . . . I’ve even seen people pick up their phones during this moment of rest. If you can’t sit still, close your eyes, look inside, and FEEL for 15 seconds, I’m telling you. There’s a problem.
Which is why, in my opinion many of these popular ‘Vinyasa’ are actually directing students further away from one of the main goals of yoga --- change. I don’t want to make a sweeping statement that all Vinyasa classes are this way. I’ve been to some wonderful ones that are very mindful. But many can be just as distracting as the buzz of the phone or the mind numbing frivolity of Keeping Up With the Kardashians (Although, I will admit, I’ve succumbed to more than one episode of mind numbing.)
Don’t get me wrong . . . there are definitely circumstances when what feels good and easy is SO right. A massage. A good pedicure. A restorative yoga class. Sun on your face. A margarita. (That is purely circumstantial actually, but often times, it's both so good and so right! ) But as we well know, often times, we slip into what feels good because it’s easier than facing what may be a huge challenge and bring us to a VERY UNCOMFORTABLE place.
Anything worth attaining, whether it be a tight tush or spiritual enlightenment, requires change. And change is again, typically, not comfortable. In fact, it may involve a whole lot of heat. But, as alchemy teaches, what’s on the other side of that heat could be liquid gold.