Embracing discomfort

I’m not usually one to lean into discomfort. I have my comfort zone and I like it very much, thank you.

The problem is, growth doesn’t come without some discomfort. I know, I know — we’ve all heard this cliché and seen its many variations on inspirational classroom posters. Yet, we seem to fall into the same predictable habits. Or at least I do: I’m consistently lured into complacency by the cozily familiar.

Enter yoga. Practice long enough and you’ll be faced with a pose (or many poses) that challenge your keep-it-safe sensibilities. As such, I’ve found that asanas, or the physical postures, are a great way to lean into discomfort and to discern the difference between discomfort and pain — and between wise caution and fearful avoidance. Discomfort, I discovered in my practice, doesn’t feel good during the pose. In contrast, pain is sharper, more sudden, and more debilitating. Discomfort is temporary and can lead to strength or flexibility, while pain lingers and can lead to injury.

Nowhere was this more apparent in my practice than in double pigeon. I avoided the pose like the plague — even when the teacher called the pose, I’d do something else, or put forth minimal effort so I didn’t look totally checked out. The pose just felt too uncomfortable because of my tight hips and my limbs jutting out, awkwardly akimbo. Every once in while, though, I’d painfully jam myself into the pose, only to suffer pained knees the next day. That would only fuel my frustration with the pose, and I’d swear it off again.

It actually took me several years of off-and-on practice to find some peace with double pigeon. Slowly, it dawned on me that my unwillingness to really try the pose was limiting my overall practice, both physically and emotionally. And if I capitulated when things got hard in something as low-stakes as yoga, what was I doing when things got difficult at work or at home?

And so, I began to incorporate double pigeon into my practice with more intentionality. It wasn’t always pretty. I remember my husband watching me fold myself into the pose, and then eyeing my grimace. “Why are you doing that to yourself?” he wondered aloud.

The truth was, I wasn’t doing anything to myself. I was doing this for myself — to help myself understand that discomfort and pain are not the same thing, and that I had long been avoiding discomfort to avoid even the possibility of pain. In so doing, I robbed myself of forward movement.

This morning, I voluntarily folded my legs into double pigeon at the end of my practice. I was surprised when the pose actually felt good. I may have even smiled as my hips opened and my gluteal muscles stretched and released. Even three years ago, feeling good in double pigeon felt pretty impossible. But today gave me a glimpse of what could be when we lean into discomfort rather than running away.


  1. hmmm, this is familiar! but you have to *wholeheartedly* lean into the discomfort right? you have to also let go of some of whatever’s holding you back. I’m slowly slowly learning this too.

    1. For me, I couldn’t half-heartedly lean in, because it didn’t mean embracing the discomfort. Growth for me has always meant moving through that which is difficult!

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