I recently watched a video of a young woman cheerleader, who was practicing doing the splits. Her instructor was aggressively forcing her to stretch, and it literally damaged her ligaments and muscle. Thankfully, she got away from that horrifying and painful experience. The correct way to stretch a muscle is to slowly and consistently apply pressure, which can result in discomfort yet yields the desired result: flexibility, strength, resilience, and stamina.
Life, like our muscles, requires that we stretch properly. Most of us desire flexibility, strength, resilience, and stamina to get through life’s greatest challenges, yet we are not willing to slowly and consistently apply the correct amount of pressure. Most of us hate to be uncomfortable, which is understandable. However, if we want to attain the goals we set for ourselves, we must find a way to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.
I have learned a lot over this past year about being comfortable with the uncomfortable by consistently practicing Ashtanga yoga, Mysore style. The definition of yoga is the “controlling of the mind.” Without going into too much detail, Ashtanga means eight-limb yoga, which consists of moral codes, self-purification and study, posture, breath control, sense control, concentration, meditation, and absorption. To perform well in this practice, the body and sensory organs must be strong and void of any obstacles in order to control the other limbs. The fundamental key is to incorporate the correct breathing and movement system that only comes from daily practice. This daily practice, known as Mysore practice, is at 5:30am. Yes, you read that right. 5:30am, six days a week, for over an hour. I know, right?
Here is the best part: because I have been slow and consistent with my practice, I am now experiencing more flexibility, strength, resiliency, and stamina than I have in my entire life. I am also witnessing evidence of how my Ashtanga yoga practice is spilling into my daily life. I show up to meet God at the top of my mat, I pray, and I figuratively sit as His feet for my daily renewal. I see how God is changing me and helping me to become more comfortable with the uncomfortable areas of my life. I am learning to become more flexible in my body and in my mind, which has made me more resilient in life. But becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable hasn’t been a short or easy road, and here are the steps I’ve taken to get there:
GET UP, SHOW UP, JOIN IN: You have to get up. Man, it is not easy getting up at 5am. There are days when I wonder, “Why and the heck am I doing this?” or I tell myself it’s okay to get “just a couple more minutes of sleep.” I have to hush that voice. I ask God to help me push back any negative chatter and lies I may tell myself. Getting up is an act of obedience. It takes discipline. Getting up is half the battle. Then, getting your butt to show up at the door of practice and joining in is the next equally difficult struggle. The same holds true with life. Stop sitting on the sidelines or behind the screen, talking about what is wrong. You must get up, show up, and join in. As the saying goes, “Put up or shut up.” This builds stamina.
BREATHE THROUGH IT: When my thinking was flawed and “shortsighted” in my early days of running track in high school and college, and folks used to say, “Breathe, you’ve got this,” or “Control your breath,” I honestly had no idea what that meant. It took me a very long time to understand how breathing helps you overcome discomfort. Most people take shallow breaths by breathing in and out of their mouth. If you quicken this type of breathing, you will feel overwhelmed, stressed, and panicked. Instead, if you belly breathe, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, you take a deep breath through your nose and expand your belly without hardly any movement in your chest. Your diaphragm will contract. Then, simply release your breath, and air goes out through your chest cavity and out through your nose. This is exactly how you should breathe through very challenging yoga poses. This is exactly the type of breathing you will need to be comfortable with any uncomfortable experience.
LEAN IN: Every yoga pose requires one to lean, to shift your body weight or to turn your body toward a position that may be uncomfortable. The same holds true in life. You need to turn your gaze, your focus, toward the area of life that seems uncomfortable. For some, it is sitting down to finish writing a blog (like the one I am writing now), to train for and complete a race, to prepare for and deliver a speech, or to complete a book. It could be taking the time to lean in and listen to a child that is struggling. It takes effort and time to reach a goal you are trying to attain. You must lean in.
PUSH AND PULL AT THE SAME TIME: A few weeks ago, I was at a Taylor Hunt yoga conference here in Toledo at Yogaja Yoga where he explained the key to attaining standing leg balance. When you grab your toe and extend your leg straight out in front of you, you have to gain a sense of appreciation for pushing and pulling at the same time in order to obtain your balance. That is certainly a learned skill. Yet, it completely applies to life. There is a certain sense of tension that we all should learn to appreciate in order to gain a certain level of comfort. We should not be so quick to fix the tension, rather we should learn how to work through it in, to lean in, to yield the right type of balance in life.
ADOPT A “DO THE PRACTICE AND ALL IS COMING” MENTALITY: Ashtanga yoga and Mysore yoga founder and teacher, Pattabhi Jois, coined this phrase. He believes that you have to put the time into doing your practice for at least six days a week, and find comfort in knowing that you are coming along, that each day brings a bit of learning, and that it is all a process. Again, the same holds true in life. Each day is a bit of learning as you get up, show up, join in, breathe through it, lean in, and push and pull at the same time, you must practice and believe that all is coming. Never give up because you will get better and better with each day. This builds resilience.
I encourage you to implement these five steps into your daily life. Pray. Ask God to help you to steady your steps, to slow down and be consistent with your life. Rid yourself of the flash, glitz, and glam that comes from quick fixes and gimmicks. In order to gain flexibility, strength, resilience, and stamina in life, you must find a way to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Blog Title Inspiration goes to Melissa Valiska Gregory, my fellow Mysore Yogi!
Diana Patton is a Speaker, Social Justice and Integrative Health Advocacy Coach, Author and Attorney. Learn more about her by visiting her website. Click here to read a free chapter of her book, Inspiration in My Shoes, or read more of her articles, here. Interested in having Diana speak to your organization? Listen to this 15 minute video and contact her.