Yoga and mindfulness can help us recognize that our discomfort has a flow.
Yoga can help with all kinds of things—easing back pain, neck pain, and shoulder tightness. I think of it like oiling my joints—you can feel so much better, so immediately. There are plenty of things, though, that yoga can’t fix (despite some of the claims). Chronic pain, a broken leg, or heartache probably won’t be cured after an hourlong vinyasa class.
What yoga can do, however, is help us be present with what’s happening in our bodies, minds, and hearts. The sensitivity it cultivates might help us figure out what we need to feel better, but not always. They key for me hasn’t been about fixing everything that goes wrong, it’s about staying in the room when that discomfort arises.
This isn’t an easy proposition. Most of us are so wigged out by painful emotions we will do just about anything to get away from them. We’ll take drugs, drink, eat, or jump out of a plane to avoid feeling the powerlessness and pain of the human condition. But no matter how many planes we jump out of, heartache, injury, illness, age, and loss are realities of life. Wherever we go, there we are.
Yoga and mindfulness can help us recognize that our discomfort has a flow. It doesn’t stay still. If you’ve ever tried to genuinely sit with an emotion and simply let it wash over you (try my guided meditation on anger), it’s amazing—so much of the time it disappears. As soon as we try to hold onto an emotion it slips through our fingers.
Physical pain is a little different. Sometimes there’s an injury or illness and the pain signal sticks around even after the injury has healed. Chronic pain can be like a ghost, haunting our bodies after the danger is long gone. We can distract ourselves from this pain for a while, but eventually that distraction gets exhausting. Getting through the day is okay, but then when we lay down to sleep at night in the quiet and the pain gets unbearably loud.
I have always battled with anxiety, and I remember the painful labour of trying to sleep through a particularly stressful period of my life. My mind and I would wrestle all night without a bare hope of sleep. Then one night I stopped fighting. I stopped trying to figure my problem out, I stopped trying to make it go away or change it or convince myself I didn’t feel it. I lay in my bed and felt my body, noticing sensations of fear, sadness, confusion, and whatever else was going on. I sat with those emotions and let them move through me, let them stay if they needed to stay. My heart hurt. It wasn’t life threatening. It was just how I felt. Then I slept. My insomnia has never been quite as bad since that night.
Pain and anxiety can be incredibly difficult to sit with, and I’m a big believer in tools and strategies that work—including medication, where appropriate. But we might be able to alleviate some of the suffering of our pain by stepping back from the judgment and shame we feel and accepting our experience as it is for as long as it lasts. When we can relax and allow ourselves to be in the flow of our discomfort, we may find that it’s not nearly as bad as we feared. And then we might be able to get some sleep.
Try my guided meditation for the flow of discomfort here.