Suffering in Yoga

We’ve probably all been there. Forcing ourselves into a position, pushing through pain by gritting our teeth, or throwing our legs all around to try and get into some posture.

It ends a few different ways. We grunt and fall over. We throw our hands up and walk off the mat. Or we give up on the posture and struggle through the rest of the video. The common denominator is that no matter which way we approach shoving ourselves into a posture, it’ll end with a bad attitude and a tainted practice.

You know, this happens with a lot of poses in yoga. Often times with our weakest ones. For instance, my hamstrings seem to be the bane of my existence. Hips are fine. Back is fine. Shoulders are tight but I don’t mind stretching them. My hamstrings? Instant frustration. Why? Because I used to cram myself into postures like forward fold, pyramid pose, etc to get better.

I thought it was supposed to hurt and if I was frustrated I was doing something right.



Photo by Pixabay on

I actually learned this lesson from falling out of a forearm stand.

I had been practicing for probably 15 minutes when the frustration crept in and I started throwing my legs up more erratically. I started losing that small space of peace I had created. Initially, I was in control. I was working my way up no issue, holding it longer. But by the end of my practice, I couldn’t even get up into the posture.

When I noticed this was happening all over the place, I took a minute and tried to evaluate it. We’ll get to that later. My conclusion was that this wasn’t going to magically stop.

So, the next time I felt that on my mat, I let it play out for a moment. Then stopped, took a child’s pose. I spent a few breaths centering myself again. I waited long enough to make sure I had really settled and then I got back to it.

Sometimes the break isn’t enough. But sometimes it is.

Other times, I have to remind myself as I sit in my child’s pose that it’s fine. I don’t have to nail the posture today. There is no mastery of anything. Not really.

And here’s the thing. It’s not about just practicing. It’s a perfect practice. You perform the way you do because of the way you practice. I don’t care who you are or how great you are. You perform the way you do because of how well you practice.

So if you are constantly shoving yourself around, you’ll never actually get what you’re looking for. The solidity of the form and the peace comes with gentle practice. It doesn’t come with aggressive stretching and pain.

You shouldn’t be suffering through a yoga class.

You don’t get extra points. You won’t get to the finish line any faster. I mean, is there even a finish line? You won’t be happier. You won’t look cooler or better than anyone else. And you definitely won’t be reaping the emotional and mental benefits of the practice.

Let’s talk about that. The mental aspect of it.

Why are you doing yoga? I mean, we all have physical reasons for it but what are your mental and emotional reasons. Is it the appeal of peace? Is it the idea of being calm? Is it lowered stress? Happiness?

Or how about this one:

Do you practice yoga so you can learn to love yourself?

Because if you are…boy, you’re doing yourself a disservice by approaching postures like this. They aren’t there for that.

Sure, they can be a challenge. They can loom on the horizon as another thing to conquer. But understanding that we will never really conquer them is a key piece of information that I think we’re missing.

I love looking off at postures, trying them now and coming back to them later. I know I can’t do them today, but I hope with hard work that I can come back to them later and will be more successful. Some poses are just plain hard and we’ll struggle for a very long time with them.

But that’s okay.

We seem to have this idea in our head that it’s just not okay to do these things over a long period of time. Or that it’s not okay to struggle every day with a pose. Why?

Well we live in a rough world that like everything now and that feeds into it. But I think the real issue is that we aren’t embracing the mental and emotional aspect of yoga.

We are refusing to acknowledge peace inside struggle. We are refusing to search for self-love and trust inside of failure. We turn our gaze away from an inner sense of ability and confidence. We won’t acknowledge that what we are doing is good enough for today and that all progress requires is hard work. We don’t measure ourselves against ourselves.

These are all things we are supposed to be doing in our daily practice.

But we aren’t. Maybe it’s because we want to sabotage our chance at success or maybe it’s because we really, genuinely don’t know how to do these things. Whatever the reason, we aren’t doing them and it’s leading to a lot of frustration on the mat.

Here’s the thing too. You can get hurt quite easily by approaching practice this way. When we force ourselves into positions or to try and get something today, we aren’t listening to our body.

Some days, our bodies will just refuse to do what we want and that’s fine. Our body might be tired from something else, recovering in a way we just can’t see. It’s up to us to listen to the signals our body is sending. We have to respect our flesh and blood and bones. Right?

Photo by mali maeder on

So here’s the deal. The next time you step on your mat, choose to be a little more gentle with yourself. Choose to listen to your body a little bit better. Choose to be happier. Choose to accept where you are. Choose to take a child’s pose and let the frustration pass. Let it pass.


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