Discomfort Along The Journey To Personal & Spiritual Growth

You’re three breaths into a deep chair pose, wondering how much longer, when your yoga instructor asks you to “embrace the discomfort.” No thank you, your mind says. But then you wonder, is there a benefit to staying?
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog
discomfort in yoga
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog

No pain, no gain takes on a different meaning when it comes to the spiritual journey. Learning how to be with discomfort is the first step in transforming it to go beyond. Discomfort has an important role in personal growth.

Life Is Suffering

There are lots of ways to escape the pain and discomfort that arises in our lives, and we’re very good at many of them. We come to yoga and meditation, however, not as an escape, but to heal from the need to escape. We face our pain head on to work with it, transform it, and move past it.

Pain, hardship, discomfort — any way we label it, suffering is part of our human experience and it’s always present. From the smallest hang-nail to the greatest grief, in any moment we can find at least one thing that’s not quite right.

You might also want to listen to this inspiring lecture by Sarah Blondin about diving deeper into the uncomfortable edges in our life. A lesson on turning toward, instead of away:

  1. Exploring The Wilderness of Discomfort Sarah Blondin 10:58

To recognize that our lives are imbued with discomfort is not an invitation to despair, but a starting point from where we can do real work.

By accepting our human-ness, we must accept all of it.

We embrace the ups and downs, the moments of triumph, and the moments of defeat. Without one, we cannot appreciate the other.

Both success and failure, pain and joy, can be equally helpful along the spiritual path. Discomfort in any situation, no matter how great or small can be a signal that there’s more to life, that we have more work to do, and can show us where we’re getting stuck.

Rather than ignoring, suppressing, using distraction, substances or busyness to escape, the spiritual path asks us to notice and recognize our discomfort as a foundational step towards growth.

Read more: Surrender. It is one the phrases yoga and meditation teachers use frequently. What exactly does it mean and feel like to surrender in yoga or meditation practice?

Suffering Is Caused: Discomfort & Habits

The discomfort that arises in a yoga pose or during meditation exists in relationship with our mind and perception. While chair pose may be your arch-enemy, somebody else loves chair pose. It makes them feel strong, alive and capable.

Thus, chair pose itself is not the source of your discomfort in chair pose. If chair pose was, in essence, uncomfortable, everyone would experience it in the same way.

Discomfort arises instead from the cumulation of our infinite past actions, experiences and habits which potentially make us recognize this one chair pose, today, as fatiguing and tiresome.

While recognizing that you have a lifetime of experiences which have led to this disdain for chair pose can also be discomforting, this recognition is a healthy step along the path. For it’s not chair pose that we’re trying to move past, it’s our reaction to chair pose. Growth comes from recognizing our habitual reaction to the pose and choosing a new one. Not a new pose, a new reaction.

Read more: By intentionally combining inner practices of awareness with our asana practice, we accelerate the awakening of prana for higher levels of consciousness.

Suffering Is Temporary: Embracing The Discomfort

Through a willingness to “embrace discomfort” we decide to stay in the chair pose. We question the sensation we’re experiencing, we get curious about the labels we apply to that sensation. We become willing to go deeper, both by sitting a little lower, or by noticing more.

The more we learn about this pose and the discomfort we feel, the more we see its complexity.

We begin to see that it’s changing. Our discomfort is not any one thing, not any one way, nor does it show up the same way every day.

I Am Strong Enough

It’s only by staying with the discomfort that we allow ourselves to succeed. If we stay and go deeper, when the temporary chair pose is over, we realize we’re still here, living, breathing, and ok. Yet we now have the knowledge that yes, we are strong enough for chair pose. By continuing to sit with the discomfort of chair pose, eventually, chair pose is no longer uncomfortable. Chair pose changes.

Change happens slowly and incrementally. But once we notice the chair pose changes, we begin to see the cracks in the facade of our suffering. Our path is designed to further wrench open these cracks, to keep prying them open until there’s more light than darkness.

Pain cannot be buried or hidden or pushed to the side, it must be broken apart from the inside. We must go in. We must embrace the discomfort.

Suffering Can Be Transcended

As long as we are human, discomfort will be part of the path. The goal of our spiritual path is not a life that’s free from discomfort (that’s impossible), but a life free from the pain that discomfort causes. Someday, we may even befriend discomfort as the beacon that shines light on areas where we still have work to do.

Discomfort becomes a tool for transformation. We notice it, we work with it, we change it.

Through it all, we balance our efforts with joy and with patience. Today might not be the day to stick it out in chair pose. That’s ok. But if we stay on the path, we’ll see that chair pose again, and each time we do, we can lovingly embrace the hardship it presents for perhaps a little longer. Just one more breath, a full cycle of breath, or three cycles of breath.

“Whenever we sit (in meditation) we are going to experience some level of discomfort, whether it’s a tingling in our legs when they fall asleep or perhaps it’s an old aching pain. It could be an itch you’d like to scratch.” Following meditation instructor Mel A. James’ words, you might want to work with your feelings of discomfort with the help of these guided meditations:

  1. Gratitude Practice For Discomfort And Difficulty Dr. Candice Creasman 10:02
  2. Accepting Emotional Discomfort Dr. Julien Lacaille (MindSpace) 16:13
  3. Sitting Through Discomfort Mel A. James 11:25
  4. Breathing Through Pain And Discomfort Jamie Krasman 9:34

Don’t Forget, Discomfort Is Subjective

We explore the pain, we question it, we watch it change, and we move beyond it. After all, we know that discomfort is subjective, it’s not caused by any one thing outside of us. It’s coming from us, and it’s therefore within us to change it. Someday, we’ll notice we hung out in chair pose and the discomfort wasn’t there at all.

How then to further measure our progress? No worries, discomfort will soon show up again somewhere else. We’ll stay on our path, and work with it again until at last we’re able to greet discomfort as an old friend.

Meditation. Free.
Always.