During the yoga asana classes, most of the teachers or instructors might tell us to “Be comfortable or be at ease while holding the yoga asana poses.” or “Perform the movements coordinating with the breathing.” or “Breathe in coordination with the physical movements.” or “Inhale…. Exhale….” or “Stay in the position for X minutes….” and etc.
Actually, it’s because of these common instructions or cueing in the yoga asana class, that there are some people “struggle” to “be comfortable” in doing the exercises and have difficulty with breathing, such like feeling out of breath, or couldn’t breathe comfortably while performing the exercises, or find it very discomfortable or difficult to coordinate the breathing and the movements, or feel very uncomfortable or difficult to perform yoga asana practice or holding a position for some time.
There might be different reasons why we feel uncomfortable while performing the yoga exercises or being in certain yoga poses, as well as why we feel uncomfortable or difficult to coordinate the breathing with the movements. Here are a few of them.
Without any particular order, all these points are equally important to understand a bit about what is going on in the body and mind while performing the yoga asana exercises or poses.
- Whether we will feel comfortable or be at ease while doing the yoga exercises or holding the yoga asana poses, or how long we can maintain comfortable being in a certain position, or when will the discomfortable sensations change or go away, it’s not in our wish or control at all about how we like it to be, or expect it to be. All the pleasant and unpleasant physical sensations come and go, arising and passing away at their own cause and pace. We can try to put ourselves in a position that will make us feel comfortable, but after being in that “comfortable” position for some time, this comfortable sensation will change and disappear, and uncomfortable sensation will arise. This is the truth about everything is impermanent. And so, we can’t really expect to be at ease completely through out the entire yoga asana practice.
- Yoga asana practice is supposed to be a self-practice practice, it is not so much about practicing in a group class or private class following some cueing or instructions from somebody else to be doing the yoga asana practice, and everyone is doing the same movements at a particular pace and breathing rhythm following the cueing of the teacher. Before we know how to perform the yoga asana exercises, we have no idea what we are supposed to be doing, then we need to approach some teachers to learn about the yoga asana practice. In the group or private yoga classes, we learn from the teacher how to perform the yoga asana practice, but afterwards we will be doing the yoga asana practice on our own, at our own pace.
- Everyone has a different physical body with different types of limitations, stamina, strength and flexibility, and different breathing patterns and rhythm, as well as different states of the mind. When we try to follow the instructions or cueing from the teacher or instructor in the yoga class (may it be in a private or group session), the pace or the cueing of the teacher might not be able to suit every individual natural physical mobility and breathing rhythm. We are moving our body and breathing in an unnatural rhythm when we try to follow the instruction or cueing from the teacher to be doing the exercises or holding the yoga poses. Not everyone can hold the position for the same length of time comfortably, and it will be different experience in different practice. Sometimes we can hold comfortably for certain length of time, but during some other time, we can’t. Those who cannot perform the movements at the same pace as the teacher, or cannot breathe at the rhythm in accordance to the cueing of the teacher, of course they will feel very uncomfortable and struggle, trying to either slow down their pace or fasten their pace of the physical movements, and try to prolong or cut short their inhalation or exhalation, which is not in accordance to their own pace and natural rhythm at all. How can they be at ease or breathe comfortably under such unnatural circumstances? Their natural breathing pattern is obviously disrupted.
- In terms of breathing exercises, it takes time for the unhealthy breathing pattern to be adjusted and to adapt a new breathing pattern, to enhance the breathing pattern to be more healthy. But during the process of changing or regulating the breathing pattern, we will feel uncomfortable. It doesn’t mean that we have done something wrong, or didn’t do it correctly.
- It’s not so much about whether the physical movement is following the breath, or the breath is following the physical movement. The two of them will come together naturally (without which one should come first) when we are able to perform the exercises without “thinking” or “worry” about how we should breathe (when to inhale or exhale), and how long is the inhalation or the exhalation, or try to control the breathing while performing the exercises according to the way/rhythm/pace that the teacher cues us. The best way is to allow the breathing to be natural.
- When we feel “struggle” while performing the yoga asana exercises or holding the yoga asana poses, is mainly because the physical body has not yet developed the basic skill, stamina, strength and flexibility to come into the pose, and to hold the pose at ease for a period of time. The mind is also responsible for whether we are able to be relaxed and at ease in holding the yoga asana poses, especially if the mind is untrained yet. There are lots of mental activities in the untrained mind consisting of attachment, judgment, comparison, expectation, anticipation, doubts, insecurity, anxieties, protectiveness, fear, worry, dissatisfaction, disappointment, frustration, craving, aversion, distraction, and etc, while performing the yoga asana exercises or poses. And all these mental activities are influencing the physical body to be holding certain tension in the physical body, causing the body being unable to be relaxed and comfortable while performing the yoga exercises or poses.
- Yoga asana practice is not about challenging the physical body to go beyond its limitations, or pushing the physical body to go beyond its limitations to make it more strong and flexible than what it is now. It is to do our best in accordance to the needs of the body and the mind based on the condition and abilities of the physical body and the state of the mind in the present moment now. It is when we push the body to go beyond its limitation, we will start to feel uncomfortable. But this is not the practice of yoga, as peace and compassion has nothing to do with the physical conditions and abilities. It is not that if our body is strong and flexible, we will be peaceful and compassionate. Neither if our body is not strong or flexible, we will not be peaceful and compassionate. The ability to forgive and let go something that we think as ‘hurtful’, ‘bad’, or ‘wrong’, is nothing to do with the physical condition, ability and limitation.
- It is very normal that (especially) in the beginning of our yoga asana practice that we will experience certain degrees of discomforts physically, mentally and emotionally. It is part of the purification process that will trigger certain physical, mental and emotional discomforts. It’s also part of the learning process especially when the body and mind is still unfamiliar with the yoga asana practice yet. It takes some time of regular and persistent practice to allow the physical body to develop the basic skill, stamina, strength and flexibility, to be performing the yoga asana comfortably. It also takes time for the mind to be familiar with the yoga asana practice.
- It takes time for the mind to be able to be free from anxiety, tension or fear while performing the yoga asana poses. As these anxiety, tension or fear are part of the reasons why we couldn’t be relaxed in the yoga asana poses, or we couldn’t be at ease while performing the yoga asana exercises, or we will encounter difficulty with the breathing, as breathing is inter-related with the state of the mind. It is also normal that our breathing will be different while being in different positions, such like the breathing is shallow and short while holding a twist, as the position restricts the movements of the ribcage and the abdomen. It doesn’t mean that we are doing the exercises wrongly, or breathing incorrectly.
- When the yoga teacher or instructor tries to insist that everyone should perform the exercises or yoga poses in accordance to the guideline of “proper physical alignment”, this makes many people who have different types of physical flexibility and limitations being very uncomfortable and stressed, when they try to perform the exercises to meet the guideline of “proper physical alignment” that their body is unable or limited to do so. And when the yoga teachers emphasize about “improper physical alignment” will result in injuries, the yoga students accumulate so much tension of “fear and worry” that if their physical alignment is “incorrect”, it will bring “damages” or “harmful effects” onto the body. Whether before or during the yoga exercises or yoga poses, they are full of tension coming from “fear of injuries”.
- If we are able to perform all the yoga asana poses in a relaxed manner without forcing the body to go beyond its limitations, do what the body can do, and not forcing the body to be doing something that it cannot do yet, follow our own pace and rhythm, and perform the exercises according to the needs, the condition and ability of the physical body in the present moment now, without tension of “fear of injury”, without the influence of egoism, without attachment and identification with the body and mind, without judgment, comparison, competition or expectation, without craving or aversion, then there is no need to be worry about “injury” at all while performing the yoga asana poses. And hence, we are able to be relaxed while performing the yoga asana practice. And we will be able to be at ease while performing the yoga asana exercises or being in the yoga poses.
- In fact, there are countless micro “injuries” throughout the physical body that we are not aware of and it’s not in our control at all. Every single movement that we make, will generate some sort of tiny damages in the body, and the body is constantly repairing itself every moment, even when we are asleep, without our intention to heal anything. The word “injury” and “healing” is being over-rated in yoga or fitness classes. And by having fear towards injury will not stop injury from happening if it is meant to happen even when we take full precautions to avoid injuries, but instead it will generate the unnecessary tension that will increase the risk of injuries.
- Ease comes naturally as it is at it’s own cause. It’s not something that we can make it happen, or expect our body and mind to be at ease at anytime. We cannot make our body and mind to “be at ease” or “feel comfortable” while performing the yoga exercises or poses, when the teacher tells us “Be comfortable and be at ease while performing the exercises or while holding the position.” We can try to relax the body and the mind as much as we can while performing the yoga exercises or poses, but it is not in our control at all whether the body will be at ease or not. It occurs in the body and the mind naturally as it is when the tension in the body and the mind is absent.
- Whether we feel comfortable being in certain positions or poses, or we don’t feel any discomforts in the beginning of the yoga exercises or holding the poses, know that this is impermanent. No matter how comfortable we feel being in certain positions/poses or doing some movements, it is very normal to feel uncomfortable after holding the same position/pose for some time, or after continuously doing the same movements.
- Yoga, selflessness/egolessness, or unconditional peace and compassion, has nothing to do with what yoga asana poses or how many yoga asana poses we can perform, nor whether we can perform the yoga asana poses nicely or not, in a perfect correct physical alignment or not, nor how long we have been practicing yoga asana exercises, nor what type or style of yoga asana we are practicing, nor which school and teacher that we learn from, nor how much knowledge we know about the anatomy and physiology of the physical body, nor whether we know about the names of the yoga asana poses in Sanskrit or in any form of languages, nor about how we feel and how we look during and after performing the yoga asana exercises or poses, nor what type of benefits we are going to get from performing the yoga asana poses.
- Sometimes we feel uncomfortable to do any physical activities simply because our body needs to take a break from any physical activities. Sometimes it’s because we didn’t have a good night sleep. Sometimes it’s because anxiety attack. Sometimes it’s because we have some breathing problems that we are not aware of. Sometimes it’s because we have indigestion. Sometimes it’s because our mind is disturbed or distracted by something. Sometimes it’s because of low energy level. Sometimes it’s because of intense rejection from the ego does not want to go through the purification process (physical, emotional and mental discomforts), or the ego is reluctant to perform certain movements or positions that the ego doesn’t like or doesn’t want to do (aversion).
Teaching yoga is about allowing the yoga students to experience personally what they are experiencing in the present moment now, be aware of the reality in the present moment now, and not expecting the reality to be something that they think it should be, or the way that they like it to be. And how they feel or react in the present moment now, is impermanent. They might feel differently performing the same exercises or poses in the next practice. It is not about telling them how they should feel being in certain postures or poses, or how will the positions make us feel, nor telling everyone to anticipate or expect the same type of reactions in the body and mind towards particular exercises or yoga poses. Some people might feel very uncomfortable, while some other might feel very comfortable being in the same position. And this is due to different states of the mind and different reactions coming from different types of physical body with different limitations towards the same position, and the limitation of the physical body will change.
While teaching yoga asana exercises, we can say, “Try to relax in this position… If you can’t relaxed, it’s okay. The reality is not necessary the way that we like it to be. Be aware of the reality in the present moment now, and allow the reality to be what it is… And be aware of the impermanent changes…” but we can’t really say, “You should relaxed in this position…” or “You should feel this or that in this position…” or “This position will make you feel like this or like that…” As how the people feel or what they experience being in the particular position, is not in our or their control at all. The exercises, the movements or the poses have no intention nor quality to be something comfortable or not. It cannot make us feel comfortable or uncomfortable. It is our each individual physical and mental reactions towards the exercises, the movements or the poses, that makes us feel comfortable or not. Some people might experience calmness or stimulation being in certain positions, but for some other people might be experiencing something different being in the same positions.
We can’t expect everyone to be comfortable in all the exercises or poses, at all time. We can’t expect ourselves to be comfortable in all the exercises or poses, at all time. There’s nothing wrong and it’s normal to experience discomforts from time to time physically, mentally and emotionally. This body and mind, this life existence is subject to impermanence.
When we feel uncomfortable is due to the unpleasant sensations that arise in the physical body. Yoga practice is not about only want to experience pleasant sensations and do not want to experience unpleasant sensations, or only want to be comfortable and don’t want to be uncomfortable. Yoga practice is about being aware of all these impermanent pleasant and unpleasant sensations that arise in the body from moment to moment, and not generate attachment, identification, craving or aversion towards all these impermanent sensations, and allow the reality in the present moment now as it is, not necessary it’s comfortable, or it’s the way that we like it to be.
In our own self-practice, we perform the yoga asana practice at our own pace, at our own natural breathing rhythm, within the physical limitation, and perform the yoga asana exercises and poses in accordance to the needs, the condition and abilities of the physical body and the state of the mind in the present moment now. It is not so much about following some instructions or cueing of a teacher or instructor in a class to be doing some yoga exercises in a particular style or pace.
It doesn’t matter the body will be at ease or not, being in any positions or poses, or during any physical movements. We take responsibility towards the well-being of ourselves, know when we should continue the exercises or when we should take a break, not straining the physical body to go beyond its limitation and cause unnecessary injury to the body. Allowing the physical condition, ability and limitation to be what it is and allowing the impermanent changes to be there as they are. Allowing the physical body to develop the skill, stamina, strength and flexibility gradually and naturally. Most important is the mind is at ease, remain equanimous, being free from ceaseless egoistic mental activities, undisturbed and undetermined by the impermanent condition, limitations and abilities of the physical body.