There are times in yoga that the challenge is not to move through a series of asanas, but to remain still.
You will have moved into a pose that takes you to the edge of your physical abilities and you will hear the instructor say, “Let’s remain here for 5 deep breaths.”
Your muscles tremble, the sweat pours. Only you can know for sure if you should stay there for all 5 breaths. You might be at a stage in your practice that you only feel one breath is beneficial, you might need to modify the pose to remain still, or you might feel so good in the pose you linger beyond the instructed time limit. Only you can determine where the line is between moving out of your comfort zone and risking injury.
The practice of breathing through a stressful physical pose conditions your mind as well as your body. Breathing and keeping your mind still through the physically stress of a challenging pose teaches you a valuable mental skill – the ability to breathe through stressful situations that life can drop at your door.
Being human is a stressful condition. Our ancestors had to endure incredible stressors to survive. Before the advent of technology humans were lower on the food chain. Food, shelter, and companionship were harder to come by and safety was a fragile fleeting thing.
As a result, our human brain developed a fight or flight strategy to stress. When faced with stress, adrenalin is pumped into our system, our heart rate increases, our breath becomes rapid and shallow, and our minds only take in minimal information.
Thousands of years later, our brains will still go through the prehistoric motions of fight or flight, even if our lives are not threatened.
Public speaking, a missed appointment, getting stuck in traffic on the way to pick up your child, waking up late, the nasty surprise of a personal betrayal or heartbreak – You will live through all of those stressors, but your brain might decide to send out all the physical symptoms of a life threatening situation. Your heart beats faster, you sweat, your mind fogs in a panic.
It is in those moments that it is most important to take your deep breaths and find mental stillness. It is then you can evaluate if you have been pushed to the edge of your emotionally abilities.
The same way you might decide whether a pose works for you on your yoga mat, you can also decide in life if a stressor is beneficial in the long run.
Is it a stressful challenge that is making you stronger? Or is this a potentially painful position in life that needs to be released?
Only you can decide.