Relaxing In, Not Pulling Away

cold outside

Photo by J. Haynes

The last few weeks have given me several reasons to think about how much more difficult most challenges in life become when we struggle with them in an attempt to get away, rather than relaxing into them and figuring out how to live with the situation.

For example, it’s been cold in NJ. It’s been quite cold for NJ. I know that, when I go out in the cold, my first impulse is to clinch all of my muscles, especially the muscles in my face and shoulders. But, if I can get myself to stop that, to relax my muscles and notice the sensation of cold rather than just reacting to it, it seems less awful.

In another example, I spent a few days in the hospital in January, while my family was on vacation in Orlando. The first night/morning, I was in enough pain that I didn’t really have room to ponder or fret. Then, as the docs started to get that under control, I found myself getting increasingly more sad and anxious at being away from my family, without my own doctors, in a place I wasn’t familiar with. I think that stress actually began making the pain worse. Once I talked myself down from there and worked on (not 100% successfully) accepting the situation, my body was able to calm and that definitely helped.

I could give you more examples from my life, but the point I want to make here is how much yoga helps to build this ability. In a yoga asana, meditation, or pranayama practice, a very important aspect is to find the ease in the midst of the effort. It’s not the same thing to clench a muscle as it is to use a muscle. Breath retention isn’t as distressing if you can calm the mind and ease into it. Holding a pose for several minutes in a yin class becomes much more pleasing when you can stop fighting against the stretch. In this way, among others, a yoga practice is an excellent practice for the rest of life.

In struggling against anguish one never produces serenity; the struggle against anguish only produces new forms of anguish.
~ Simone Weil

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