After years of subscribing to the bumper sticker wisdom of “No Pain, No Gain,” Nia suggested that I experiment with the possibility of “No Pain, All Gain.” Which was important healing for my self-punishing self, but at some point I wondered how I could reach my potential by only choosing pleasure.
First, mindful movement teaches me to distinguish between pain and discomfort. There is a world of difference between pain that leads to injury and the discomfort of stretching my edges. Mindful practice gives me the skills to tell that difference. Pain is what has me hobbling up the steps the next day. Discomfort is what gives me a pleasant soreness that tells me I’ve awakened some muscles that had been snoozing. Knowing the difference between pain and discomfort is a skill that mindfulness and practice allow.
Second is what my friend and Nia Trainer Helen Terry calls taking safe risks. This is the brilliant edge on which I love to play. Taking safe risks is an invitation to step outside my habit and to expand my comfort zone – physically, mentally, emotionally. Taking safe risks is being fearless without being reckless. Taking safe risks is, as Mr. Money Mustache says, choosing voluntary discomfort. Which leads me to the last bumper sticker…
VOLUNTARY DISCOMFORT IS POWER
Okay, to be honest, I don’t think there is such a bumper sticker, but if there was I would put it on my car AND my bike. When I look back on all the choices I’ve made, many of the best things that have happened are when I choose voluntary discomfort.
Moving to Virginia from Boston. Marrying a man with two children. Traveling with said man in third world countries where I didn’t speak the language. Taking the Nia White Belt training (and beyond). Leading international Nia adventures. Going on silent meditation retreat. Taking a sabbatical from teaching. Writing a blog and a book. Sustaining a regular hot yoga practice.
All of these things scared the bejeezus out of me, pushed my edges, and all of them expanded what I saw as possible. What’s more, all of these choices helped me be more relaxed with discomfort in general so I have more possibilities available to me. If I am afraid of or never choose discomfort, my options get narrow in a hurry.
Which brings me to the quote from my Uncle Bob that opens this post. When I told him about my yoga practice he laughed at the notion of choosing to spend time in discomfort. I get it. It’s challenging and, well, obviously it’s uncomfortable. But the more I practice being with discomfort, learning to breathe into it, to be with the fear around it, the less scary it is. The things that I once avoided become things that I do. But perhaps even more importantly, it prepares me for when life gives me Involuntary Discomfort. Which it does. All the time. If I practice choosing voluntary discomfort, I’ve had practice so I can relax, stay present, and make skillful choices. If I don’t practice, I’m likely to shut down or panic or have a tantrum when the real challenges arise.
Taking safe risks is choosing voluntary discomfort. Making those choices both expands our potential and strengthens our ability to be calm, skillful, and strong when involuntary discomfort – or pain — arrives.
What voluntary discomfort have you chosen? What safe risks have you taken? Where did those choices lead you? Are there things you now do without effort that once felt uncomfortable or scary? I’d love to know.