I stopped to talk with a student in Mysore class today. I wanted to check in to see how she was doing, if she had any questions or needed a little support or encouragement. I thought the conversation would be a short one, but it turned into quite a discussion. Essentially, she's been practicing Ashtanga Yoga pretty regularly as of late, but she's frustrated. She doesn't feel as if she's progressing. She doesn't feel like she's either getting more flexible or stronger, and she wants to know, "why?"
Overvaluing the Intellect
I hesitated to walk into that discussion because looking for the answer to "why" she's stuck is a lot like going down a rat hole. Instead of offering her solutions, looking for the "why" really only deepens the potential that she stays in the rut she's currently in. Even if she found the reason for why she's not progressing that reason would just keep her locked in a particular way of relating to her situation. It might offer her some perspective, but it wouldn't offer her solution.
In addition, our reasons and justification are intellect-based. Her "stuck-ness" is non-intellectual. We have a culture that's overvalued the power of the intellect. It values "knowing" rather than "experiencing." We live in a culture that would rather have us relate to ourselves as some entity that exists somewhere behind the eyes rather than the whole, which includes body, emotions, heart, spirit, soul, etc. And yoga practice is all about the direct experience. It's all about noticing what's occurring in the body and mind from moment-to-moment. Looking for "why" she is experiencing a particular sensation takes her off on a wild goose hunt, far, far away from her capacity to be with the experience.
What You Resist Persists
One of my favorite quotes from the famous psychiatrist, Carl Jung, is, "What you resist persists." Looking for why is just another way to avoid the direct experience of suffering that showing up both physically and emotionally. The antidote to Jung's statement is: "what you will be with completely causes it to disappear." In other words, when you can experience whatever pain or suffering that's arising, directly, using the body and feeling sense as your lens, transformation naturally happens. Sometimes it happens quickly and instantaneously and other times it's slow-going. Either way, by staying with whatever shows up, we grow.
The "why" of situations that show up for us usually only shows up once we've passed difficult or challenging situation. The reason or reasons we are in them, however, don't, in fact, reveal themselves to us until we have long passed the situation we're struggling with. When I look today at the chronic digestive problems I experienced throughout my 20s, the "why" is obvious. Now that I am in my late 30s, I can see clearly that not only was I grieving the loss of my brother to suicide, but so was my gut...20/20 hindsight.
So, essentially, I advocated that she stay with her experience, which included not just the lack of progress, but the feeling of frustration that accompanied that lack of progress. I asked her to find it in her body, to locate it, to feel it, and to compassionately stay in connection to it. The point, as I saw it, wasn't to get rid of it or to overcome it, but to have a direct experience of it. Her search for "why' was just another opportunity to avoid the direct experience. It's really when we stop resisting what we're feeling, discomfort especially, that it no longer has a hold on us. But when we're busy trying to understand or justify it, we don't have to feel, and, as a result, it just keeps us stuck in it.