Stretching the Comfort Zone
You probably heard people saying that Yoga changed their lives, and I have to say - it's not an overstatement. It did change mine and my family's life on so many levels. Every day, I discover how this practice has transformed another aspect of my life. It's like a treasure hunt - you find precious gems in the most unlikely places. And when you think you found it all, you collected all the pieces; there is more. I decided to share some treasures that I discovered on the cushion, mat, and studying Yoga and Vedanta's philosophy.
Yoga is quite popular these days, but it's mostly just the physical practice, which alone can help in so many ways. The benefits are there for sure, and they are immediate. Breathing combined with movement will surely make you feel better. Stretching releases endorphins, the happy hormone, and slow, mindful breathing will activate the parasympathetic nervous system that allows you to relax. You leave the studio a new person. And recent studies show that the "instant yoga effect" lasts up to 48 hours.
It means that even if we practice only the asana (the postures), and do it only every other day, we can improve our mood and keep the body in good shape. Probably that's one of the reasons we have over 300 million Yoga practitioners worldwide.
But, as I said, there are many more transformative benefits of Yoga.
Today, I will share a few words about stretching our comfort zone. According to the "Yoga Sutras of Patanjali," there are five causes of suffering. Two of them are raga and dvesha. Raga is an attraction towards the things we like that are pleasurable. Dvesha is an avoidance of the objects, actions, and situations we don't like.
We live driven by our likes and dislikes. Pause for a moment and think about how you prepare certain dishes, people you hang out with, types of movies you watch, even the yoga teacher whose classes you avoid. Think about how you feel when you don't get what you are attached to and are expecting.
And of course, it's okay to enjoy some things and not others. The problem starts when we realize we suffer when we don't get what we like. We are unhappy because the hairdresser we have been using for years moved, someone took our usual spot in the yoga studio, or they run out of our favorite brand of oat milk in the coffee place. And even if we are not "It's the worst day of my life," people, the rest of the day, can be affected by little details that failed our expectations. Unchecked, these attachments can transform into unhealthy habits and addictions.
How to work on stretching the comfort zone? One of the practices described in "The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali" are called tapas, which means austerities. And we are not talking about anything extreme. Even small challenges can be useful and give us great insight into how our mind operates. These exercises are not to change our habits but to see how we respond when we don't get what we are used to. Examining what kind of excuses our mind will find to stay on its old well-walked path will help us see how attached we are to certain behaviors and work towards stretching our comfort zone.
On the mat:
I like to see the yoga mat as a lab where I can "practice life." As I mindfully move, breathe, and feel connected, I discover that my behaviors during the asana practice mirror the way I operate in my life.
How to use it?
See what postures are your favorite and see what happens if you practice them only every other session. I know you have worked so hard on that side-crow. Will you weaken or lose it?
What are the least favorite postures? Think why? Try befriending them, working on them gently, building them up.
Are you one of the hyper-extended jointed yogis that tends to overstretch and chase the sensation? Would you be willing to stretch only 75% of your usual dose, and depend more on the muscles instead of joints and ligaments?
Do you play music as you practice? See how it would be to practice in silence.
Do you have a favorite teacher or studio? Try a teacher you avoid or never tried, maybe a different style of Yoga, or some other studio. Sometimes we get overly attached to a specific spot on the floor. Give another place a chance.
Off the mat:
After examining our behaviors on the matt, we can stretch this practice to our daily life. First, start watching what you do on auto-pilot or go to great lengths to have it your way, the way to which you are attached.
Some of the practices can include:
Ditching the social media for a few weeks.
Taking a different route to work/ school or even walking instead of driving.
Trying something new on the menu or having the Sunday brunch in a completely different restaurant.
Making an effort to meet new people or try a new activity
Not having that glass of wine after dinner or ordering your cappuccino without the piece of chocolate.
Suffering comes from when things are not the way we want them to be. The broader our comfort zone becomes, the less we suffer.
When we don't worry about losing an object, ability, or a way of life, we develop equanimity. We gain that okayness with an occasional sudden change of plans. How freeing is that?