Sitting with Discomfort
WRITTEN BY MAHOGANY WILSON | PUBLISHED JUNE 25, 2021
Most of the time, we avoid things that are uncomfortable, like setting boundaries, breaking up with someone, or having to make small talk with strangers (well maybe only us introverts can relate to this one). We numb ourselves with substances, we stay busy, keep the noise in the background to avoid sitting with ourselves in silence, and we constantly push our feelings away.
But one of the most beneficial things we can do for ourselves is grow to become okay with being uncomfortable. Both yin yoga and journaling present us with opportunities to sit with discomfort in order to heal.
In yin yoga, poses are held for about 3-5 minutes, which allows for a deeper tissue stretch. Sitting in one pose for that amount of time can feel physically uncomfortable. It can also be uncomfortable mentally to be still and not focus on movement through poses. Our fast-paced society values movement, so naturally it feels unsettling to slow down with intention.
Likewise, sitting down to journal can sometimes be described as very uncomfortable. Sometimes when I suggest journaling, clients respond that they don’t know what to write about or they don’t have the time. But really, underneath those excuses and procrastination is that people really don’t want to sit and write down what they are feeling because it makes them — guess what — uncomfortable. Writing those feelings down on paper brings what feels heavy and deep in our heads to the surface. And that feels completely intimidating to most.
So while you can’t (and shouldn’t) completely avoid that discomfort, here are some tips to help you tolerate it:
1. Create an environment that stimulates your physical senses. If you are going to allow yourself to practice sitting with discomfort, try creating the most physically stimulating environment as possible. Engage multiple senses (smell, sound, touch, sight, and even taste). dim the lights, light a candle (check out Sweet November Candle Co. for some amazing scents!), have a cup of tea, play some soothing music. Really creating an environment that engages those physical senses will allow your brain and body to remain engaged in the present moment. This can also help keep your nervous system calm despite the range of emotions you may feel.
2. Recognize that all feelings are temporary. The good, bad, and in between, they are temporary and WILL NOT last forever. So keep in mind that whatever you’re feeling, no matter how intense, is temporary and will go away.
3. Growth is often right on the other side of discomfort. It is in those moments that we are most challenged that we experience growth. When the yin pose you’re in is getting so uncomfortable that you want to wiggle out of it, that is often the very moment that if you sit with it, you find that you can go even deeper into the pose. But so often we move or stop when we reach that height of discomfort. So the moment you feel like stopping or giving up — that is the very moment you should keep going. You’re right at that tipping point.
4. Do not confuse discomfort with pain. It is important with both yoga and your emotions that you know your limits. There is a difference between being uncomfortable and experiencing physical pain or intensely distressing emotions. It is okay to challenge yourself to access some intense emotions, but only to the point where you can actually cope with them. If they are so intense that you struggle to recover or find yourself in a panic, then maybe those emotions might need to be accessed with the help of a mental health professional. Only go as far as you can and then utilize those physical sensations mentioned above to return to the present moment. The same goes with yoga; if you are in pain, this is not something you should sit through. Modify the pose, completely get out of the pose, or ask your instructor for assistance. But either way, remember YOU are the expert on YOU. You know your limits better than anyone else, so trust yourself.
Yin yoga and journaling can be very healing practices because both allow you to explore your mind and body on a deeper level. But in order to reap the benefits of either of these practices, we have to allow for some discomfort. So, since you have made it to the end of this post, I have a little homework for you: Create at least one moment this week to practice sitting with discomfort.
And of course, if you are looking for a supportive environment to help you on this journey, come stop by Ensō and check out our classes on Sunday. We offer both meditation and yin yoga (with some journaling sprinkled in) — both amazing opportunities to practice sitting with discomfort, together with others.
-Mahogany Wilson, LCSW, RYT
Mahogany Wilson teaches Trap and Chill each Sunday's and hosts a Self-Care Saturday workshops each month. To find out more about her and her teachings, please book one of her classes or follow her on Instagram.