DISCOMFORT vs. DANGER
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from yoga is the inherent difference between Discomfort and Danger. To the untrained eye, the stress response in our nervous system may seem the same; the difference being that one is life-threatening and the other is generally a false alarm. When we receive a stress response in our body, it can trigger the Sympathetic Nervous system (aka the Fight, Flight, or Freeze response). This nervous system reflex is most healthy when you’re in immediate danger and need to survive the circumstance (i.e. – being chased by a Sabretooth Tiger). The problem is that we often receive this reflex when ANY stress is present, taxing our bodies and minds. In the latter circumstance we aren’t in danger, we’re just uncomfortable. Yoga can teach us to change our autonomic response to stress and to discern when which is appropriate.
We are generally faced with this paradox when we find ourselves in a yoga posture that is uncomfortable. Let’s take Frog Pose, for example. Despite all of the yoga I’ve done over the past decade, my hips are a place of tightness and, well, discomfort, so when I’m practicing this deep hip opener, the work is more in keeping my mental state in check than anything else. When I first started practicing this posture regularly, my first nervous system impulse upon entering it would be to run. It was as if my nervous system was telling my mind “oh no, don’t do that! It’s dangerous!” The reality is that it was just uncomfortable.
I had the good grace of having fabulous teachers who knew exactly what I was going through. When I found myself in that mindset, I would be instructed to “breathe through it” or “allow the tension to melt away.” You know what? “Breathing through it” and “allowing the tension to melt away” worked! With enough practice and patience, I was able to change my relationship to the pose and the discomfort it presented. Essentially I learned to cultivate comfort in discomfort; to discern the difference between discomfort and danger.
The greatest part of this understanding is that I was able to take it out into my life (#yogaoffthemat). When I am working and feeling stressed, I ask myself “is this a threat to my life?” 99.9% of the time, it’s not. It is, again, just discomfort. So I take a deep breath and allow the intensity to melt away and I’m left with a calmer mind and body. I’m still uncomfortable, but my relationship to discomfort is now different, and it is no longer taxing my nervous system. In these situations, I also have a clearer mind and am able to resolve the discomfort more quickly.
What I essentially learned is that discomfort is not something we need to turn away from. It is in facing discomfort that we can learn and grow. It can rub us the wrong way for all the right reasons, leaving us stronger, healthier, and ultimately happier. There is definitely more I could say on this topic, but for now I encourage you to practice changing your relationship to discomfort. Don’t run, but remain curious and present with your experience.
*post taken from my facebook*