Should I Stay or Should I Go?
For me, as a type-A perfectionist and all-around achiever, people-pleaser, and do-er, one of the greatest lessons yoga has taught is how to be gentle with myself, let go, and just be. Learning to take the poses one step at a time, and break from the voice of my ego that constantly tells me to push farther and go deeper has been an incredibly challenging, but rewarding process. Since we live in such a fast-paced, goal-oriented society, many of us can benefit greatly from cultivating the ability to drop our constant need to perform and push, and just relax.
But what about the times when we actually should keep pushing? We all have poses we dread, that our mind tells us are too hard, too advanced for us right now. Do we sometimes use our new-found ability to be gentle with ourselves as an excuse to hide from difficulty?
I know I'm guilty of this. There have been several times where I think that my body just can't handle the stress of another chair pose, so I come out of it. Instead of sitting with the discomfort and finding a way to breathe, unclench my jaw, and work through the fire of the pose with as much ease as I can, I create a story about how I'm just too tired today. Maybe my legs are sore from a long run or bike ride, and today I just need to rest them. Instead of trying to find length and strength in what feels like the millionth standing splits, I take a forward fold. There's nothing
wrong with that decision, but I know in my heart of hearts that its not always a decision made from a place of integrity. Sometimes, its just that I don't want to appear as though I'm struggling. Sometimes, I just don't want to work through the discomfort. I'm not honoring myself and my needs, I'm giving up.
There are no hard and fast rules for choosing when to sit with pain and discomfort, and when to give ourselves a break, and the line is a difficult one to maneuver. There is great merit in knowing when your body really has had more than it can handle, and needs a rest. However, there might be even greater merit in learning how to cultivate trust during the times of hardship. By staying in the pose, we learn to deal with the panic that arises. We trust that the pain will pass, and that we are strong enough to go through it. We start to believe that even when we are in great pain, we can do little things to make it feel more spacious and easy. We stop gritting our teeth, muscling through, and holding our breath. Ultimately, we find that we may stop panicking when we start to feel that pain, because we now trust the Universe and ourselves to carry us through it.
My main point in writing this post, however, is not to say that you should always know which path to choose when faced with difficulty. We are never, ever going to make perfect decisions. In life, and in our yoga practice, there will be times when we push way past our limits. We will overwork ourselves, and get ourselves into stressful situations. Just as likely, we will try to hide from discomfort. We will take an easier path because we don't trust ourselves to get through a rough time. That's just life.
The idea isn't to choose perfectly every time. What we practice is being okay with whatever decision we do make, and dealing with the subsequent consequences. If we push too hard, we have to manage our way through it, and take extra rest once it is given to us. If we choose to come out, we must be grateful for the break, and use our extra stores of energy for when we are next faced with a challenge that seems too difficult to surmount. Essentially, what is most important is not the decision we end up making, but rather that we make a choice, and commit to it without regret.