If you've ever been in a relationship, you know how things can start feeling stale after a while. Sometimes it's that you take the other person for granted or that you've forgotten what you loved about the person when you first got together, or maybe you simply stopped putting effort into the relationship. Whatever the reason, you find yourself feeling a sense of dissatisfaction, disconnection, and discontent. Same goes for your yoga practice. Yes, without proper care and feeling, your yoga practice can start to wilt like week-old kale.
Does Your Yoga Practice Pacify or Purify?
My over-a-decade-long yoga practice has sure had its ups and downs. Just last week I was having lunch with a dear friend, and she shared with me something her teacher said to her. Brace yourself for this little gem of wisdom -- yoga practices either pacify or purify. This makes perfect sense to me. After all, don't we gravitate towards the type of yoga practice that suits our personality, that feels comfortable. For example, a Type A personality who is always pushing herself gravitates towards a strong yoga practice that physically challenges her.
This is totally natural, of course, to be drawn to a style of yoga that complements your personality and makes you comfortable. The question is -- does this comfort cost us? Would it serve us better to practice a style of yoga that makes us uncomfortable?
Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
If we want to change, we must accept that there's a price to be paid. That price is this -- we have to accept the fact that we're going to be uncomfortable. Any time we do something outside of our comfort zone, we're going to feel it, resist it, get antsy about it. Speaking from experience, the times in my life that I've grown from the most are the ones in which I felt the most uncomfortable (and I had to fight through some serious resistance to get to the other side, let me tell you).
Now apply this to your yoga practice -- if you're wanting to change yourself from the inside out (to use my friend's teacher's words -- purify), then you need to practice not only yoga that you like, but also a style that makes you uncomfortable. If you're someone who likes to be physically challenged, perhaps try Yin or Restorative Yoga. If you've been practicing gentle yoga, perhaps it's time to challenge yourself with something more difficult.
Balance it Out
Does this mean that you should force yourself to practice yoga that you don't enjoy? No. Rather, I think it's more of a balance issue -- try something new on a regular basis to keep things interesting, to learn something about yourself, and to, perhaps, transform. Not only does this keep your yoga practice fresh, but it gives you some insight into yourself. I, for example, enjoy a fairly vigorous, flowing yoga practice. I practiced nothing but this style of yoga for years. What I realized was that my yoga practice was only pacifying -- and perhaps contributing to -- my monkey mind. I then started to mix in slower, more mindful types of yoga into my daily practice. Sure, I resisted at first, but as time went on, I noticed subtle changes in my life regarding my peace of mind (I also noticed that my meditation practice improved).
Do a Little Self-Inquiry
I'm not suggesting that you turn your yoga mat into a hotbed of resistance. I am suggesting, however, that you use it as your own personal lab in which you can experiment. Start with a little self-inquiry:
- Does your current yoga practice purify or pacify?
- Do you think that your current yoga practice is serving you in a positive way? How does your practice make you feel?
- What could you do to balance your yoga practice out -- what could you add and what could you take away?
One of my favorite poets, David Whyte, offered up a bit of wisdom that I still remember years after listening to his Clear Mind Wild Heart CD. I'm paraphrasing here, but he said something akin to this: That which doesn't bring you alive is too small for you. He then poses this simple question -- how have you made your life to small for you? Again, apply this to your yoga practice -- how have you made your yoga practice too small for you?
Neither Good Nor Bad
Just to be clear -- I'm not saying that you only grow when you force yourself to do a yoga practice that you don't particularly like. I'm just saying that it's a good idea to take a long hard look at your yoga practice on a regular basis to determine whether you can make changes to keep it fresh. It could be as simple as working your way up to a particularly challenging posture. You don't always need to push your edges by doing a practice that makes you uncomfortable and it's certainly not bad to do a practice that you enjoy. Simply stay open to making some tweaks now and again to keep things fresh and to keep you on your toes.
Just recently I made a change to my own practice. I realized that I was getting too hooked on a particular yoga practice that was playing into a habit of mine that I want to change. While I continue with that particular practice, I've cut back on the amount of time I do it and I've added in a practice that makes me a bit uncomfortable. Suffice to say -- I'm not bored. I've also noticed that I have an even deeper appreciation for my daily practice. It's like I said about relationships earlier -- taking something for granted can lead to a feeling of disconnection, dissatisfaction, and discontentment.
Treating your yoga practice like you would any relationship -- a little bit of work, a little bit of love, and a little bit of reigniting the spark -- could just lead to personal transformation that you wouldn't have expected. It also keeps your practice fresh and out of danger of getting into a rut. Sometimes being uncomfortable isn't a bad thing.
I am proud to announce that I write a monthly yoga column for GreenMonkey. You can read my latest GreenMonkey article here. If you'd like to get my monthly column delivered to your inbox each month, click on the monkey below.