My yoga teacher often says that. Usually when I’m twisted in an unearthly position, desperately trying to keep my weight off the ground, my muscles suddenly starts shaking, and it’s so uncomfortable that I’m about to give up.

Relax.

How can you relax when your body is in pain?

Years ago I’d probably try pushing harder, tighten up my muscles, and fight with all my will for one more breath in this position. I would do plank challenges at the gym with my friends, and often win through the sheer force of willpower. If I can conquer my body for just a few more seconds…

Relax also doesn’t mean doing what feels good. It’s tempting, but if that was the goal, I would just lay down on the floor for the entire hour. Surely this is more relaxing than twisting my body parts in some awkward ways?

Thinking of something nice is also not an option. In most yoga poses losing your focus means losing your balance and falling down almost instantly.

No, relax in discomfort means that you feel into the part of your body that feels most stiff and tired, really feel into it, acknowledge all the pain, then take a deep breath, and let yourself find as much comfort as you can, right in the middle of it all. It means not letting the pain consume you. It means that instead of a knee-jerk reaction you can pause, take a breath, smile, and then decide what to do next.

And as you stretch your comfort zone with gentleness, you’ll find the same space to pause, smile, and reflect in the middle of discomfort outside of the yoga studio. Like when you just had a fight with your spouse, there’s a big deadline coming tomorrow, or you just don’t feel like getting out of bed.

No matter what happens, you’re able to just stay with all these things, take a deep breath, and find enough comfort inside to stay on top of it all.

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