Stretching my comfort zone with gentleness

Since I started moving my body regularly a few years ago, it was always with some goal in mind. I lifted weights first to lose weight, then to keep the weight off and eat whatever I wanted, then to beat the previous record for deadlift or squat. I started running to lose weight again, then to improve my lung capacity, then to see if I can beat my best previous time. Out of all forms of sport, rock climbing was the one thing I did mostly for its own sake, but I sucked at it, and gave up too soon.

Now for the past few months I’ve been doing aerial yoga, and compared with running and lifting it strikes me with its purposelessness. Some people do advertise yoga as a great way to lose weight, stretch your muscles, or destress, but this totally misses the point. Yes, all these three things can happen as a side effect of practice, but if this is what you seek, there are much more efficient methods to get there.

No, what’s best about yoga is that you finally get to experience how it’s like to be in a body–or actually, to be a body–and to explore what this body wants and needs. When I practiced weightlifting, I felt like I must push against my body so that it can achieve great things. When there was pain, I explained it away as a part of the process. At some point muscles in my feet started contracting painfully even outside the gym. I thought this is the price I get to pay for lifting more than my bodyweight.

Even when I stopped lifting weights, my feet wouldn’t get back to normal for more than a year. This problem is almost entirely gone since I’m doing yoga. By getting my feet stretched and twisted with attention and gentleness, I can tell for the first time the happy medium between pushing a little bit to far and staying in my comfort zone. And by applying just the right amount of pressure, I can stretch my comfort zone inch by inch, until things that seemed impossible just a few weeks ago are now part of my regular routine.

You may say that finding the right balance between too much and too little challenge is still a goal of its own. But it’s a very different kind of a goal than looking good in bikini. When I felt tired while running I often thought to myself that this soon will be over, and my new bikini body will be totally worth it. When I feel discomfort in a yoga pose… I still catch myself sometimes wishing it was soon over, but then realize it’s completely absurd.

There is no bikini body to look forward to. This weird suspension between comfort and pain is precisely what I came for, and precisely what I need.

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