I Hate Yoga: Thoughts On Learning

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I hate yoga. At least, that is what large swathes of my personality will tell you. It feels hard to hold poses my body is unaccustomed to. I would rather be swinging kettle bells, doing pushups, or riding my bike. I do all of those things, but spring is here and my body is craving more movement, so yesterday, I felt compelled to take a class. I was working in my office and remembered there was a 4:30 class within short biking distance. I kept working. At 4:15 something told me, “Go.” So I did. Why would I do that?

It is important sometimes to take on the challenges I say I hate. These sorts of challenges teach me things I just won’t learn otherwise. I avoided sitting practice for years, telling people it just wasn’t for me. Reality was, I hadn’t much tried. When I finally sat myself down on a cushion, I hated it. I squirmed, ached, shouted, and struggled for years. As a consequence, sitting, breathing and observing became one of my greatest teachers. Yoga is likely the same. I’ve taken classes infrequently over the years and have a brief home practice I do almost daily. I don’t push myself with that, doing instead what feels satisfying. That is often a good way to practice – doing what feels satisfying. Yet it also doesn’t take me past my comfort zone.

To go beyond my comfort zone, I sometimes need the challenge of a teacher.

Now, I want to say that while I find it important to do things my personality will tell you I hate, I’m not doing them to punish myself. I do them out of curiosity, and because I recognize that something in me does like the activity, or is at least stretched by it. My body welcomed much of yesterday’s class, even as it rebelled against some poses. Mostly, it was my mind that didn’t like it. That alone teaches me something. I felt better after the class, too, in a way I don’t get to at home. The push of the class, and the instruction by the teacher, helped.

I do things I say I hate because I learn that way. I don’t really hate these things, that is just emotional hyperbole. I would actually say I don’t hate anything. What my mind means when it throws that word out is a this: “I’m really not good at this activity. I feel ungraceful. I just can’t do it properly. It burns and feels uncomfortable. These sensations are not things that I like. I would rather stop now.” That litany is subtext to the constriction I feel before I find center once again, breathe, and try to soften. Breathe, and try to make the small adjustment. Breathe, and simply try to remain present to the moment. Yoga brings me to prayer and connection in a different way than usual. This helps me.

Curiosity, breath, and presence can take me through almost any challenge. Those three things ensure that I will learn something, often something very subtle and important. I follow the lead of my instincts that tell me “Go to class. Now” even when I would rather stay home and read a book. That inner voice is the voice of my teacher. It leads me to the teaching all around me. My life is better for it. My life is better, even when part of me complains again, “I hate this.” My clients and students often tell me the same thing. 

How about you?

 

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Speaking of clients and students, though I currently have a waiting list for my one-on-one work, there are many new course offerings on my calendar. Please check them out! 

24 Responses to “I Hate Yoga: Thoughts On Learning”

  1. Nathania

    Sometimes acknowledging that I hate a pose is what helps me get through it. It is easy to bow to resistance. This is where I find the simple word “and” to be of great value. I hate this pose and I’m going to continue to hold it. I don’t want to go to class and I’m going to go anyway. By giving voice to my resistance and recognizing it as an ally to discovery and inquiry (why is my resistance to this thing so strong?), I move forward instead of staying stuck in the inaction the resistance would prefer.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Nathania, that is so perfect. The this/and is something I try to cultivate. It is what helped my sitting practice to deepen. I find that the ability to hold opposition is what really opens up the teaching/learning process. Something new can arise in that space.

      Reply
  2. Kim

    Yup, I “hate” yoga too. Until I’m finished, then I “LOVE” yoga because of the peace & release my body & mind have received as a result of challenging myself.

    Reply
  3. Kim

    Challenging my mind to hold the pose when my body is screaming, “why? this is not peaceful or comfortable. just go into child’s pose” is what gave me the internal strength to handle the great physical challenges of spirit medicine. I hate yoga too, but love it as well.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Kim, yes! Building *internal* strength is such a big part of why I go to things I “hate” in order to better learn. When external strength is building simultaneously, all the better.

      Reply
  4. Áine Keefer

    Thank you for this post! I have exactly the difficulty you describe with sitting practise — with any stillness, really. I do movement meditation (yoga and qi gong, primarily), but not stillness. And you’re right, there lurks a lesson in this, which I should explore. I have the luxury of a month of transition time between the job I’m leaving tomorrow and my new work starting, during which I’ve been planning to focus on getting more serious about my yoga practise and getting other parts of my proverbial “house” in order… I will work on that. Thank you for the inspiration!

    Reply
    • Thorn

      I’m glad to read this. Deepening requires the power To Keep Silence. I wish you well in this transition!

      Reply
  5. Saga

    I need to find a yoga class that works around physical limitations. I can’t do any positions that requires kneeling because that causes searing pain. I’m also limited in neck movements. When my kids were young I could do it but not now, although I would like to.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      There are “restorative yoga” classes. You may also just call and tell the studio your limitations and ask what sorts of classes are best.

      Reply
    • Áine Keefer

      @Saga: Check out Abby Lentz’s “Heartfelt Yoga”. She teaches Kripalu and tailors it working with your body’s special needs. She works with a number of students who have various physical limitations and teaches how to modify poses to provide yoga’s benefits within your limitations.

      http://www.heartfeltyoga.com/

      She has a couple of DVDs, if you want to check her stuff out at home.

      I was ready to give up on yoga until I found her. Now, both my partner and I do yoga together, and my partner has a spinal disorder that presents range of motion and flexibility challenges that we were having a terrible time finding a teacher that would accomodate.

      Reply
  6. Stacey Lawless

    Thank you for this post. As I grapple with the paper I’m currently writing and the graduate program I don’t like . . . I can see how your thoughts apply to things outside the yoga studio, too. I’m not sure how to deepen around a paper, but I’m going to give it a shot.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Softening and deepening and curiosity can be applied to most anything. For me, it starts inside…

      Reply
  7. Tara Brihde

    As a Yoga Teacher halfway through my training, I’m curious to know if there is anything a teacher can do to meet you where you are and create spaciousness for your own context of the class. Or more specifically, what would you ask for if you had a moment to do so before class began?

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Tara, this is a kind question. All any teacher can do is offer spaciousness for students to find their place, and a firm boundary for them to push off from. If you go into class with that in mind, I think it will be helpful.

      My teacher this week was great. Really, this post is just about my/our internal learning processes.

      Reply
  8. Chelsea Anna

    I love this! I’ve found that I’ve fallen in love with yoga because I “hated” it. As a person who always has to be doing something, yoga makes me slow down, and focus – physically, mentally, and spiritually. Even though it’s challenging, and not always comfortable, it gives me just what I need. It gives me my balance (pun intended haha). That’s what makes me have to come back again and again.

    Reply
  9. Rosalind Lord

    Thorn, I study and practice Kundalini Yoga and love it, but I definitely understand where you’re coming from. Even though I feel Kundalini yoga suits me, it also has certain poses I don’t like. Most of these poses I don’t like are the ones I can’t do very well. Some of them I’m so bad at it’s embarrassing. It’s especially difficult when everyone else in the class is doing them much better than me.

    Recently, I was in a yoga class and doing a pose I was really lousy at, and I found myself crying silently and feeling like I couldn’t do anything right, and feeling really embarrassed I was crying. It was all I could do to keep quiet, because I didn’t want anyone in the class to notice my tears, or know I was crying. But I think I learned a lesson: to sit with my resistance. I also realized that sitting with my resistance – even when it’s throwing a tantrum, which often happens – might eventually help me do the poses better.

    Anxiety has also been a big problem for me for a long time, and I think that’s been a big part of my resistance. Tantrums thrown by a screaming kid disguised as panic attacks…I’m not really sure how to deepen and soften around this yet, but I’m working on it.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Rosalind, it sounds like you are really staying with your process, which is the best thing!

      Reply
  10. Randy

    I 1st began practicing Yoga in 1998, in NYC. I was 44 years old, surrounded by uber-flexible 20 & 30-somethings. Although I had practiced Martial Arts for years, asana practice was very humbling because I very quickly discovered I wasn’t as flexible or strong as I thought I was. I will always be forever grateful for the words of David Life: “It’s not about how far you can go in these poses, it’s your intention for being here, for doing this practice.” He then went on to talk about ahimsa, non-harming, especially in relation to ourselves. As I heard this, & took it in, it changed my attitude towards the poses that evoked a loud, “Oh no!” in my head. It taught me to breathe into the discomfort & quiet the voice that told me, “I’m not good at this, it sucks.” Suddenly, not being able to comfortably hold my feet in Paschimottanasana was no longer a source of frustration & a reason to chastise myself. My intention for practicing Yoga continues to be to compassionately challenge myself. As I age, I feel it’s even more imperative to remain physically, mentally, & spiritually flexible, & to love my body for what it can do. Yoga is called a practice, & I continually learn something new when I show up for class, especially when I am the most resistant to attending, & go anyway.

    Reply
  11. Heather

    Thank you for this post, Thorn. I have found that often, when I sense myself “hating” a practice or simply feeling very reluctant to do it, it is because of fear. I find myself afraid to explore this new practice because I know that it will change my life, and I don’t know exactly how it will do so or where it will lead, and so I’m afraid. I tell myself that I hate it, that I don’t want to do it, so that then I can stay where I am comfortable. So the challenge, for me at least, is recognizing that fear and then choosing to take that step and start that practice and continue on with it even though I am afraid. And the more I do it, the less I fear it, and the less I hate it.

    Reply
  12. Christine Berger

    Great post Thorn! My challenge is that the period of time I was in treatment and could not do yoga put me back a couple of years in strength and flexibility. This challenges my idea of where I am with yoga and makes it more of a challenge. I am constantly having to treat myself as the beginner I am again when I want the joy I used to experience as an intermediate. But really, my body does not care as long as I do the yoga. My mind is the only thing that gets in the way

    Reply
  13. Leni

    Thanks for this post! Yoga has been part of my life for 40 years and there have been entire YEARS where i would look upon my unused mat with dread. When I had surgery last summer and COULDN’T practice for weeks, I became really present with my practice. Yoga means “yoke” or “union” and I saw that when I slow down enough to listen, bringing the body and brain’s awareness into focus, that it can be challenging to be so present. It can be painful to be that intimate with myself. It can be uncomfortable to see my addictions, evasions and limitations so clearly–it pushes me too far. And then I am grateful to have extended myself, and vow to remember how good I feel. Which I usually forget and then evade the mat again. My teacher once told me, “Sometimes just getting on the mat IS the practice.” I try to remember that I’m hiding out from myself, because that’s always when Yoga is least appealing.

    Reply
  14. Ken

    Good morning, Thorn.

    You and my friend Sara appeared almost right next to each other in my LJ feed, both talking about your relationships with yoga and discomfort. I thought you might be interested in each other’s perspectives. Here is what she wrote:

    http://sararyan.livejournal.com/253952.html

    Reply
  15. Michael Brazell

    Great article. As a yoga teacher, I also take classes and find that it becomes a lesson in surrender. I typically don’t like the sequencing, the music, the cues the instructor is/isn’t using, but it becomes a lesson in letting go. Yoga class in itself is an action of surrender. Many of my students ask me if the class is open to beginners, I always tell them that we are all beginners. Yoga is a sometimes brutally beautiful journey aligning breath, movement, body and surrender.

    Reply

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