When you’re sitting in a hot room, half naked, staring in the mirror, for ninety minutes straight, there’s nowhere to hide. It’s pure confrontation with self.
And so, in the middle cobra pose when you suddenly get one of those painful, intense, involuntary spasms of the second toe, your instinctive reaction is to jolt out of the posture and rub the cramp out.
Because that’s what we’ve been trained to do. The moment our body experiences discomfort and contraction, whether it’s physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, we immediately try to eradicate it. We rub it out or run away or take a pill or have a drink or eat four slices of pizza.
Yoga, on the other hand, forces us to face our feelings. Even if it’s only for five seconds at a time, it’s a beautiful training ground for our lives off the mat.
When I first started practicing, would get these searing cramps the arches of my feet. And I’d roll over on my mat trying to massage them out. But during one particular class, my instructor said something I’ll never forget.
All of your feelings have a beginning, middle and end.
Her suggestion was, next time the discomfort comes crashing in, substitute massaging with breathing. Instead of interrupting your practice to rub out the affected region and relax the muscles in your toe, try sitting with your feelings for five seconds. Five seconds. That’s it.
And so, I gave it a shot. When I felt a cramp coming, I just sat with it. Literally and figuratively. Instead of freaking out, I simply noticed it, accepted it, loved it, took a nice long inhale, and by the time I started exhaling, the cramp had completely dissipated.
That’s how feelings works. Whether they exist in the body, the mind, the heart or the spirit, each of them has a beginning, middle and end. And when we’re brave and vulnerable enough to sit with them, we discover they’re not as scary as we once thought.
How has yoga taught you confront yourself?
Scott Ginsberg is a writer, daily practitioner and work study volunteer at Bikram Yoga Park Slope.