Finding Comfort with Comfort

It was lovely to find specific praise of Durham Yoga‘s restorative class on our Facebook page. (I’m a big fan of praise; here’s a post at the prAna blog on ways to deliver it liberally.) A great phrase emerged: Jeff, the teacher, wants his students to develop comfort with being comfortable.

This really struck me as a coach and teacher. Training, and much of yoga asana practice, is about developing comfort with discomfort. In practice, we put ourselves into stressful situations so we can develop the skill of maintaining focus and intensity even as discomfort grows. This prepares us for the inevitable stresses of life.

But when we get too good at maintaining comfort with discomfort, we can feel guilty or unsettled when we’re presented with a comfortable situation: an easy run, a relaxing pose. Countless times, I’ve looked out over a room of athletic students to see one tapping her fingers in savasana, unable to let go. The work there is to develop comfort with comfort: an ease with being at ease. We have to be OK not doing a hard workout, not doing one more chaturanganot answering that e-mail the instant it arrives.

This is, of course, the critical part of the stress/rest balance by which we grow as humans, both physiologically and psychologically. We must take the time to rest and recover so that we can supercompensate in adaptation to the stresses we put on ourselves. It’s the subject of The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery. And the better we are at finding comfort with discomfort, the harder it can be to rest, to be still, to feel OK not doing things.

If this sounds familiar, get thee to a restorative yoga class. Try some poses at home—here’s a slideshow I made for LiveStrong. Close the laptop. Go sit on the porch and watch the leaves fall. Develop comfort with comfort.