In the practice of yoga, we focus on building strength, increasing flexibility and meditation - mindfully through movement. If we are working through a strong vinyasa flow in our practice, it is anything but easy and it’s not supposed to be easy. It is supposed to build resistance, challenge you and to make you stronger. Nothing that ever improves general fitness and strength comes for free. Like with any physical discipline, you have to work for it and show dedication. This cultivation of strength in the physical body is such an incredible way to strengthen the mind. A strong mind is the mind which is not deterred by temporary discomfort, but instead realises the transience of whatever the discomfort may be and instead persists through it. This can be so comparable with our yoga practice.
How often have you been in a yoga class and asked to assume a demanding posture, for example, warrior 2 (which when done properly can be very demanding on the legs in particular) and the breath count seems never ending, you’re basically screaming in your head about how much this hurts and how much you hate it. We’ve all been there, many, many times. Holding plank just wanting to drop down to your belly because the hold is just too much. That point of defeat is 99% in your head. Your body could probably power through another couple of seconds, maybe even longer. The absolute key here is to be running the show of your mind and not allowing it to run you. We all have a voice in our head which likes to take the path of least resistance (God knows I do anyway) and although in a lot of cases, the path least resistance is necessary, gaining physical strength is not one of them. Learning to decipher that voice in your head which is holding you back from going beyond your limits and literally training your brain to dance to your tune is where you will break through all of your barriers. Your place of growth is just beyond what you believe yourself to be capable of. So smashing those limiting beliefs and ascribing yourself new ones is so necessary - on the regular too. lways up your game and challenge yourself.
Before I found yoga I was not strong. Not in any way. I never did sports at school, I never exercised at all, in fact I hated exercise. I probably couldn't have held plank for more than 5 seconds and when I started practising daily, even holding down dog for a couple of breaths would have my whole body shaking. In the beginning, I often gave up. My ‘this is too hard’ mindset would kick in and I always did less than I was capable of. For this reason, my practice grew very slowly. Once I learned how to breathe through the discomfort, my practice grew - and continues to grow. I still struggle at times, like any normal human I get tired, I have days where I can’t find the strength, but it is in there somewhere and it always returns.
The effort involved with building strength doesn’t come easy but all of the qualities I have gained from the process have proved invaluable. These qualities, for me are not physical (of course it’s great to have a strong practice and find ease in poses I used to dread), but for me the main benefits I cherish are the mental ones. This strength is not limited to your body. The mind becomes more robust-you are getting to know yourself on such a deep level and that knowing, that self actualisation is the best gift you can ever give yourself.
In yoga, using a breath focused practice is so essential to getting past these blockages, by focusing on the breath, we are not focusing on the part of our mind telling us to go with the path of least resistance. When we breathe through the pain or discomfort we reach a new level in the pose, our fascia is responding to the muscular movement which in turn will become muscle memory which will literally build your practice to the next level, making you stronger next time you return to the mat.
By training our brains in this way during our practice, we are completely focusing on the present moment. By acknowledging the pain or discomfort we are feeling and breathing into it we are practicing mindfulness. This is so beneficial to us off the mat in our everyday lives-by learning to sit with discomfort, breathe through it and just let it go, we can apply this method to any area of life. Even sitting in traffic can become bearable! Just reminding yourself that this is temporary and this will pass, staying present with it and not giving into the agitation of the mind.
We can also apply this to the practice of quiet seated meditation. We have learned to sit through our pain and to accept it. Any past pains which crop up during meditation can be dealt with in this same way. Giving into pain and admitting defeat will never propel growth, if we want to move forward we must accept that the process of accepting and going forth through that pain is necessary to let it go.
So next time you’re in a yoga class and you feel the shake, the pain, the burn and the first instinct is to give up, remind yourself: a strong mind isn't deterred by temporary discomfort, a strong mind will persevere. Trust me, your limitations are all in your mind. Challenge yourself, strengthen yourself.