Gentle Discomfort

I was in my second yoga class after seven years of no classes. My body was stiff, resistant and reluctant to the poses. Years of working a desk job and years of shouldering the stresses of marriage, family and life in general had set in as rigor mortis in my body.

The calm voice of the yoga teacher came floating to the back of the room, where I was hiding, and reminded the class that the sensation of the poses should be one of pleasant discomfort; not pain, but pleasant discomfort. It should be a feeling just uncomfortable enough that you both enjoy it and will be glad when it is over.

With every new pose, those words kept repeating in my head, and I would adjust myself accordingly. I realized that my prior frame of reference had always been "no pain, no gain;” having had come of age in the time of Jane Fonda’s work outs and the female power suit of the eighties, this wasn’t such a big surprise.

Then, by bringing my attention more clearly to the poses, I realized that my goal had been, within the span of two classes, to be the best of all the students: the prettiest, the skinniest and the most flexible. The static of my mind was focused on the end result, not the presence of the stretch. My mind believed that once I attained yoga perfection, then I would be happy.

After I left the yoga class that day, the words were still in my mind, almost mantra-like. It was as if those words wanted me to understand something even further. They followed me throughout the rest of the day. When I reached my final destination, home, I heard them one last time and at once I understood.

Behind the front door to my house lay a husband undergoing a medical treatment for his liver that was so arduous it left him barely able to speak at times, it brought out the worst in him and it stripped him of every coping method he had ever learned. Also behind that door, were two beautiful children who were constantly being reminded to "be quiet,” but who also desperately needed to be children. There was a thick oppression behind that door, a sickness; yet there was also a solid commitment that I had made: a marriage, a family, responsibility, friendship, love; the whole of it had been making me sick. However, no pain, no gain, right?

Standing outside my house, looking at the front door, knowing what lay behind it, I understood beyond a shadow of a doubt that pleasant discomfort wasn’t just for yoga class. If I was to attain happiness in my life – peacefulness – it wouldn’t be from pushing myself to make everything perfect (including my spirituality). Also, I wasn’t going to find happiness or contentment simply because I suffered or endured pain. It, life, wasn’t and isn’t supposed to be painful; there should be a pleasant discomfort at times…, but not pain. An acknowledgment that this moment is hard and I will be glad when it is over.

Up to this point, I had been focusing on pushing past the pain, pushing through it with the hope of finding happiness at the end of this vigorous exercise. Suddenly, however, I realized that it didn’t have to be painful; that my life, while uncomfortable at this time, was still pleasant. After all, I did have a front door with a family behind it. This too, shall pass; and so, I adjusted myself accordingly and smiled.

Ravenna is a writer, sculptor, and mother of two living in the Nanaimo area.