Fearless Yoga: How I Overcame Resistance on the Mat

by Cheryl Kain

For 25 years, I practiced yoga consistently and freely, after being introduced to it by my best friend in California and my yoga teacher father. Only in the past few years has my yoga joy morphed into something to fear, angst about, and even dread. I found myself saying, “I can’t do this anymore. It’s too hard.”

It’s not that I disliked yoga. I just woke up one day in midlife and noticed some body changes. It took me a little longer to stretch, my edge was a little closer than it used to be, and fear crept in, as it can when I am going through change and transition.

Normally, fear is a passing traveler in my psyche and I don’t pay it much attention. This time, my new midlife needs and body “limitations” messed with my center. It felt daunting, and I knew that more research, acceptance, and gentle action were called for. I wanted my practice back!

Here are the tools I’ve used to reclaim my practice.

Beginner’s Mind

I have learned that “compare and despair” is not the most loving way to practice anything, let alone yoga. Rather, each moment on the mat can feel like a fresh adventure. I can allow myself to be a student, seeing through the eyes of a child. Setting aside any “should’s” and inviting the “I Don’t Know” into your perspective clears a path for creative exploration. I have cultivated my current practice from the roots; there is a beauty about it because it evolved from the ashes.

Relating to Discomfort

Whenever my desire for something is organically strong, especially if it’s a healthy choice, my very first reaction is a big “No way!!” My inner teenaged rebel likes to run the show when anything good for me comes along. And my ego’s inner critic starts humming its familiar song of all-or-nothing, just to keep me safe from risking shining my light too brightly.

If I let go of black-or-white thinking, perhaps there is a better way for me to hold my yoga resistance in the meditative, contemplative mind. Sitting for 10 minutes in meditation when the fear comes up makes room for other ideas. Practicing simple inversions (like Supported Bridge or Legs up the Wall) or having a go at Yin Yoga, holding poses for longer, helps me tolerate and move through fear and discomfort.

Breathing Through Perfectionism

When I’m in a place of self-judgment and criticism, my body can feel stuck. Slow, deep breathing eases up space for the way things are right now. Focusing on the physical sensation of the relaxed breath flowing in, flowing out, keeps me heart-centered and releases me from counterproductive thoughts.

With yoga, my philosophy borrows from a Buddhist phrase, “This is how it is right now.” However my practice shows up, is how it shows up—whether that’s an inspiring, energizing experience, or a calm respite from daily routine, or just a few minutes of centering on the mat.

Dialogue and Humor

Our natural tendency can be to push fear out of the way. It has been far more effective for me to lean in and get to know it, to ask the fear to let me know how we can work together. Sometimes, fear is merely there to catch my attention and bring me back into my physical body instead of chasing distractions. Distilled to its essence, it’s usually a case of “I’m not enough.” I like to put my hand on my chest or belly and remind myself that “I am loved and I am enough.” Always, fear is a call for more listening and more love, which neutralizes it and lessen its hold.

Using playful humor alleviates the seriousness of my practice and my thoughts. I ask myself, how important is it, really, to have a camera-ready yoga outfit? I remind myself that my body is perfect as it is.

Like the weather, a yoga practice grows and changes. Now, every time I try a pose and wobble, or don’t think I look great doing it, I try again, and with humor, my resistance releases and I’m free.

Freedom from resistance is true freedom. Everything becomes a yes, or a maybe—an open door, an invitation rather than a directive or an order. Overcoming resistance in yoga practice has allowed me to break down resistance in all areas of my life.

Cheryl Kain is a writer, teacher, and spiritual practitioner. She loves to share new ways of stress management and to help people find soul-filling work.

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