Our popular contributor Kara-Leah has an intimate understanding of why we don’t do our home yoga practice even though we know it’s good for us, and we love it. Here she shares her personal insight into this quirk of the psyche.
by Kara-Leah Grant
It’s a common question I hear from readers and yoga students alike – why is it so hard to get on the mat when I know it’s good for me and I feel so good afterwards?
Oh boy, have I been there! Here’s my experience, what helped me bust through that mat resistance once and for all, and what I learned in the process.
My first yoga experience was a ten-week Iyengar course in 1995. I knew, without a doubt, that yoga was going to be an integral part of my life. That it was Super Duper Important and would forever Change Me.
My next yoga experience? 2000. I think. Maybe late 1999. A four year gap at least.
Serious Mat Resistance folks. Serious.
Why wait four or five years in between yoga experiences when I knew it was the thing for me?
Fear. Unconscious fear mind you.
I was seriously disembodied when I started yoga. I lived entirely in my head. Going to class and paying attention to my breathing brought me headfirst into contact with feelings and emotions I’d been denying and resisting for a decade or more. Total Unconscious Overwhelm. Get me the f%#k out of here.
You, dear reader, are unlikely to experience anything quite so dramatic. I hope. Your mat resistance is likely to be of a more subtle kind.
Like what I experienced eight or so years ago.
I was living in Queenstown. I’d been practicing on and off for five years. I was building up a regular home practice. And now that I’d been asked to teach, totally out of the blue, I had committed to a daily practice.
Every day, I would be On My Mat no Matter What.
Some days I’d be squirming at the thought of practicing. I could feel this wall of protesting feeling loom up inside that begged me to steer clear of yoga.
But I couldn’t.
I was teaching.
Teachers practice daily.
So despite this overwhelming feeling of Not Wanting to Practice, I got on my mat.
And invariably, would cry.
Yup. Every time. Tears and tears and more tears. Sometimes in child. Often in Warrior variations. Occasionally in upward dog or cobra.
That was why I felt serious resistance to practicing yoga – because I’d spent a lifetime resisting feelings and some part of me just knew there were feelings waiting to be expressed and getting on the mat would give those feelings the green light.
Invariably, I also felt so much better after getting on my yoga mat having a good cry. It was such a relief.
Eventually, when I felt the resistance to practicing, instead of putting off my yoga practice and experiencing hours of that awful limbo hanging state, I would throw myself on my mat and declare,
Right! Lets bring those tears on!
It worked. Getting through the tears got easier and easier, and the number of practices where I didn’t feel resistance and there were no tears became more and more frequent.
This is my experience of Mat Resistance.
Yours, my friend, will be different, but the same. A part of you knows that when you get on the mat, you will experience some type of change. You may experience some emotions. A different part of you is afraid of the change, and afraid of the emotion.
The knowing and the fear create the resistance.
Although, you could see it in another way.
When you feel the resistance to practicing, you know there is something glorious waiting for you on the mat – some kind of break-through, some kind of letting go, some kind of transformation.
So you can re-frame the feeling of resistance.
Instead of feeling resistance and buying into it… and resisting getting on the mat. Feel the resistance and rejoice in it.
Woo hoo! I feel resistance, it’s gonna be a doozie of a practice!
And then get on your mat as fast as you can and face whatever dragon needs to be faced.
Make sure though that you take time to breathe into your body and enquire into the nature of the resistance so you know what you need to do. Not all resistance is the same, and not all resistance requires the same response.
Some resistance is fear of change.
Some resistance is fear of feeling.
Some resistance is because your body is tired and wants a good rest – do yoga nidra instead!
Working with your resistance in this way, with total awareness, will re-wire your brain.
Eventually, whenever you feel resistance in your life, instead of buying into it and avoiding something, you’ll know to turn toward it and enquire into it’s nature so you know the best response.
You’ll be amazed at where this practice will take you, both on the mat, and off the mat.
Kara-Leah is a writer and yoga teacher who has always been infinitely curious about the make-up of the human psyche and body. Regular yoga helped her heal and recover from chronic back issues, including a spinal fusion at age 16, and two episodes of psychosis at age 29.
Her daily home yoga practice began in earnest when people kept asking her to teach them yoga. She’s since trained as a teacher with Shiva Rea, and immersed herself in practicing, teaching yoga and writing about yoga. Kara-Leah lives just outside of Queenstown, New Zealand with her son Samuel.
She’s the publisher of The Yoga Lunchbox and has just published her first book, Forty Days of Yoga – Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice. She’s also a regular contributor to the Elephant Journal.