The other day my friend was visiting me for her birthday, and we decided to partake in a lovely afternoon yoga practice to celebrate her vaginal emergence into the universe.
Although this delightful goddess of a friend has taken many yoga classes over the years, she isn’t exactly a habitual practitioner. She knows the difference between Warrior 1 and 2, but she’s not the type of yogi who’s waking up at 4 am to chant before her 108 sun salutations.
When this pretty priestess and I practice, I usually lead our flow. I suggested we start by sitting in Virasana for a short meditation. I closed my eyes, breathed into my sacrum, and settled into the posture when I heard:
My Friend: Ummmm, Toni…
I opened one eye and looked over.
Toni: Yes? We are meditating you know?
My Friend: Yeah, but I’m just, like, feeling this stretch right here on the top of my feet.
Toni: Does it hurt? Is there a sharp pain?
My Friend: No. It’s just uncomfortable.
Toni: Well, it is a stretch for your feet–so that’s what it’s supposed to being doing. Stretching your feet.
My Friend: I’m just wondering, like, if it’s more uncomfortable for me than it is for you. Because sitting like this isn’t, you know, comfortable.
Toni: Dude–that’s what we are doing. We are going to be spending the next hour and a half putting our bodies in a series of uncomfortable positions, and when we are done we will feel better.
Then we both started laughing uncontrollably.
Pushing through the perceived limitations of pain actually does feel euphoric once you get to the other side. ~Toni Nagy
It was as if my friend thought she was the only one who experienced discomfort in her yoga. Or maybe more specifically, she forgot what the practice was all about–overcoming discomfort, and letting the pain actually feel good. Not because yogis are sadomasochists–leather really doesn’t breathe well, nor is it vegan.
As yogis, we purposefully put ourselves in physically difficult shapes, but rather than backing off or running away, we breathe into them. We stay, settle, and explore the hurt. We do this because the more we can relax into the tangible body pain, the more equipped we are to deal with the intangible emotional pain of existence.
When a pose gets easier, we don’t just say, “Cool, now that I can do Lotus, I win yoga!” No. We modify and make it harder. We do it sideways, upside-down, or with one arm. We continue to investigate the pain, because facing it fully is the only way you will ever let go of it.
For the rest of my yoga practice with my friend, I kept noticing all these moments where I wanted to give up. No one is going to KNOW if I don’t hold this Bound Half Moon for 5 breaths right?
But I didn’t. I went farther, I dove deeper, and I exhaled for one more breath. I realized that every time I blasted through a door of self-doubt or wanting to quit, I felt stronger, more alive, and more fully myself.
Wait, I forgot to mention something.
We had also smoked a birthday joint before we practiced, so maybe that was why my friend was having such a hard time. And also probably why when I looked over at her from my Bird of Paradise, she was lying down eating chocolate covered blueberries and giggling. But don’t worry, they were organic.