A girlfriend invited a few of us to a yoga class last Thursday. Intrigued and moved by that practice of yin yoga, I signed my husband and myself up for a 3-hour workshop yesterday (ah, he's such a good sport!) Two classes in four days, an expert I am not. An impressed student, I am. For those of my readers who are stepping into new friendships, the applications are profound. What can We Learn about Friend-Making from Yin Yoga?
1) Discomfort is Expected. In the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, we are reminded that things that seem contrary, are interconnected. That which seems dark, has light in it; and exists only in relation to its opposite. What moved me in yin yoga was the invitation to step into discomfort, showing trust in the human experience that we are capable of embracing and growing from all experiences.
Much like leaning down to touch your toes and finding that place where there is slight pain, our goal wasn't to simply be okay if we felt it; it was the expectation that we would go there. And stay there. In that place where we were stretched, expanded and slightly uncomfortable.
What struck me is our tendency as humans to link all pain in one category to be avoided. To know the difference between sharp, shooting pain that injures, and the sensations of discomfort that brings benefits in the process is critical.
As women who value new friends, what would it look like to allow for discomfort in the process? If we expected the fact that getting together the first time was going to be awkward? If we simply accepted that the process was going to be slightly uncomfortable and unnatural feeling? And most important, that we chose to embrace that part of the experience, refusing to avoid it or walk away? Courageously admitting that feeling the stretch is worth it even if we feel slight fear or embarrassment? Choosing to initiate a get-together, RSVP'ing for a ConnectingCircle, walking through the door to meet strangers, being willing to share a little about yourself, insisting upon following up and doing it again.
Not all discomfort needs to be avoided.
2. The Value is in the Long Hold. Yin Yoga participants hold a passive pose (designed to lubricate the joints and connective tissues of your body, stimulate the flow of energy, and bring the body-mind into a state of deep relaxation) for several minutes. That means we aren't just instructed to reach that discomfort and then retreat. We are called to stay there. And what we do there is transformative.
In the midst of slight pain, feeling the stretch, we are invited to do three things: breath, be aware of all things we're feeling and experiencing, and respond quietly with loving kindness.
Our knee jerk reactions to things that frustrate us or feel yucky is to retreat, to pull away, to react harshly, to judge it as bad. In this practice, we are called to stay in that space, embracing it as part of the full human experience. Teaching ourselves to breathe through the moment, holding non-judgmental attentiveness for how we feel, invokes in us a courage that we can do the same in real-world situations.
When we are looking for friendships, we are often disappointed when it's not instant or automatic. Much like Yin Yoga, to build friendships that matter, we are asked to stay, to push further, to lean in and to stay there. To ask a follow-up question, to share a little more, to invite her to another time together, to follow through on our agreement to be present.
Refusing to retreat from awkwardness is when we experience the value.
3. The Benefit is Felt in the Aftermath. As kids, we would sometimes cut off the blood supply to our tightly clenched fists because we loved that feeling of letting go of our wrists, feeling the tingle as our white knuckles turned red again in the release. In this form of yoga, after holding a specific stretch for a while, I had a similar feeling when finally we could lay down flat.
Laying on my back, my body felt congruent, released, relaxed, strong, calm, grounded and centered. I don't know the science behind the poses but apparently energy channels were opened and my body was responding. I couldn't have arrived here without first agreeing to the challenging pose.
Unfortunately, we aren't known to be good judges when we only base our judgments on the immediate pay-off. The friend-making process is comparative. At first, the actual time together isn't always the easy part. It's only after numerous times together that we usually begin to feel the benefits. It's worth noting though that even in meaningful conversations with strangers we are still lowering our stress, strengthening our immune system, and increasing our endorphins. We are benefiting even when it feels awkward; and even if we don't feel it until later.
We'd miss out on much if we though it had to feel good now to be good.
I left the class feeling brave, open and strong. Reminding myself that I can breathe through moments that are uncomfortable. Holding confidence that since I know the difference between harmful pain and valuable pain, I don't need to lump the two together. Trusting in life as a process where there is both light and dark, good and bad, hot and cold--and that I can show loving kindness in all. Using all these experiences to learn about myself, express gratitude and show up more fully.
We don't have to retreat. We can engage. Even when it's uncomfortable. Especially then.
Does this resonate? I'd love to hear when you're most tempted to retreat, or the value you've found in pushing through the awkward!