Within the last year, my yoga mat has been pretty much the only constant thing in my life. It has been there through the beginning of my yoga journey in Europe, through me quitting my corporate job, through a Yoga Teacher Training in Bali, and currently it accompanies me in the Philippines.
In addition to my normal practice, whenever I feel anxious, lost or sad, I roll it out. In those moments, I just lay on my mat and find safety when everything around me is changing.
Change Can Be Uncomfortable
I'm one of those people who are constantly on the outskirts of their comfort zone. If my comfort zone had visible boundaries, it would be a thin, rubbery, see-through material and I would have my nose pressed against it pretty much all the time.
This can make one feel insecure, as it seems like you are always learning something new and never excelling in anything. You are always the humble beginner. This also means that I'm often uncomfortable. And you probably know that it's very unnerving to be uncomfortable.
Yoga for me was something like this, too.
I have never been flexible and as a child, I always felt big and clumsy compared to my classmates (most of whom did gymnastics). That's why, when I started yoga well in my 30's, and attended a Yoga Teacher Training with people much younger and much more flexible, I felt like that kid in school. But I was determined to stretch myself.
Our Thoughts Are Like A Wild Meadow
The brain likes familiar routines -- we feel safe doing what we know, and unsafe when facing something different. When we are deliberately trying to change our ways, there can be a surprising amount of resistance from within.
Our thoughts are like a wild meadow. If you have walked a certain path several times a day for years, it has gotten pretty easy. You have cleared a path for yourself, and there is not much resistance from the nature anymore. However, if all of a sudden you decide to walk into another direction on this wild meadow, you are going to endure some serious resistance.
It will take you longer, and there will be weeds and bushes slowing you down. The beaten path, the one you know so well, seems easy and inviting compared to the new one.
This is what happens within us when facing something new. Our thoughts would rather slip through the known path than venture out into the wild. To make serious change happen, to stretch ourselves, we have to give it time. We have to be uncomfortable and trust that the new path, no matter how bushy at first, is going to eventually lead us to better places.
Yoga As An Example Of The Stretching Process
In yoga, we stretch not only our bodies, but also our minds. When stepping on our mats on a regular basis, we are presenting ourselves just as we are, which can be very confronting, even uncomfortable.
Luckily, there are moments when you realize you have made progress. For me, one of these moments was when during one self-practice, I realized my palms were on the ground, next to my feet. This may not be an earth-shattering thing to you “flexibles,” but for me the process of stretching and adding flexibility has been a long one.
Progress Is A State Of Mind
There, bent over and in a state of confusion, I realized that while yoga makes our bodies more flexible, that is only half of the story. The mind had to be flexed as well. In disbelief I rose back up, and bent down again. But yes, it was true! Those were really my hands, and they really were next to my feet.
The biggest stretching process for me was not in my body after all, but in my mind -- to make it believe I was flexible, and not to revert back to the old patterns of thought, those which I always had and those which were not true anymore.
Learning To Grow
It has been an uncomfortable journey. Incredibly rewarding, but uncomfortable. And it continues to be just that.
But I know that when it gets to be too much, I will just roll out my yoga mat and let it support me. It will remind me how far I have come and how much I have already bent without breaking.
And maybe not tomorrow, but certainly one day in the future this place where I am now will feel easy, natural, and effortless. By then my comfort zone has again shaped itself into something bigger and better, and some new adventures are about to unfold…because adventures always seem to reside on the outskirts of our comfort zones.