I recently had a conversation with a friend about our careers and specifically how we got where we are and what our next moves might be. While we are in very different positions, we’re both in the middle of a similar process with similar questions. One of the common themes I saw is the challenge of identifying what’s a good struggle and what’s a struggle indicating that it’s time to make some changes.
How do we know when we should push through or pull back?
Our conversation made me think of something that I heard Judith Hanson Lasater say. I’ve listened to several interviews with the yoga teacher that are published on yogauonline.com (check out the free ones here). Her conversations about teaching yoga are always ripe with ideas that I find myself thinking back to months later.
In one interview, she talks about a conversation she had many years ago with her teacher B.K.S. Iyengar (1918–2014). I’ll paraphrase what I took away from her anecdote.
Anyone who has done yoga has experienced that moment where the voice in our head says, “It’s time to come out of this pose — it’s too deep of a stretch or too much of a challenge.” And we’ve all probably experienced the follow up thought: “So should I back off or should I push through?”
[ Side note: Sometimes our answer ends up sounding like, “My neighbor is still doing it; I’m not giving up before they do!” or “I should give up. I’ll never be strong enough to do that.” For the record, I do not endorse either of these responses. In fact, you should firmly tell them to talk to the hand and that you don’t want to be their friend anymore. ]
Lasater asked Iyengar about this pull back vs. push through conundrum, saying, “How do you know if this is resistance toward something challenging or new, or if it is the wisdom of the body telling you that you’re going too far?”
He responded by saying, “That is the question.”
[ Another side note: Don’t you just love/hate open ended answers like that? Fortunately/unfortunately, I think yoga might simply be a series of giant open ended questions and answers... ]
His point, I believe, is that it’s one of the things we’re investigating through our practice.
The answer of knowing what resistance to give into and what resistance to wait out comes from experience. The more you get to know your body and your thought patterns, the easier it becomes to decipher where your impulses are coming from. You will start to be able to answer the question “Is it fear or wisdom that’s guiding me?” during your yoga practice but also throughout the rest of your life.
This is one of those sneaky side effects of our yoga practice: becoming tuned into our inner wisdom. It’s something that we (I would assume 99.9% of us, anyway) don’t expect when we start doing yoga but it’s certainly a happy accident to stumble upon.