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Sitting with Discomfort - Gomukhasana



We all have them. Those poses that challenge our body, our breath, our emotions. For me, it is seated Gomukhasana (aka Cow Face pose). Depending on the day, I feel my outer hips burning, my emotions bubbling up and it takes all my will to relax and breathe into the pose without shouting, ‘somebody help me!’ But after years of practice, I have learned to use these moments as opportunities to sit with my own discomfort and not to run from it. Why? So that when difficult moments come up in life, I may have the strength and awareness to do the same. And like in life, there is a moment every time I enter an uncomfortable yoga pose where my inner critic says, you’re bad at this one! Or this is too hard, let’s do something more pleasurable! Or, what’s wrong with your body? And I have to gently say, hey, go easy… judgement will get us nowhere. And as I stay and breathe a little deeper, I can feel my body giving in. It may not get easy, but I’m able to find a quiet place from which I can sit and witness the stuff that comes up.


It is common for many of us to avoid dealing with difficult feelings such as anger, fear, shame and grief. We are living in a world of constant distractions and continual doing, so there is always something to draw our attention elsewhere. Feeling sad? Watch a funny movie. Feeling stressed? Have a drink. Feeling ashamed? Laugh it off. Feeling angry? Go to a kickboxing class. We all have tactics to avoid or avert our inner experience of emotions, but usually by doing so, we allow them to settle into our bodies, like tiny cuts that will not heal.


I remember when my mother was dying a few years ago, my sisters and I could not stop doing … We had not been in a house all together in years, and suddenly we were in my mother’s house, dealing with the fear and the grief of losing her. Each one of us had her own coping mechanism: cleaning, running, watching the news, endless lists and phone calls. But from time to time, the heaviness of the situation would catch up to one of us…the fatigue of carrying an unpacked bag of a lifetime of feelings would overwhelm us … and our grief would crack wide open. Once she was gone, and the house was sorted and cleaned out, and the memorial was over, there we were. And she was not. And the doing it stopped. And the being with it set in. And there was the grief we had all been trying so diligently to avoid, and it enveloped each one of us in a different way. The process of unravelling and unpacking all the complicated emotions that come with losing a parent was heart-wrenching and messy at times, and we are still not fully healed, but because of our journeys inward, we were able to compassionately hold each other in that space.


Right now, the whole world is in a state of discomfort. The grief, the frustration, the sadness, the anger, the fear… it is palpable. On any given day, we can feel so many things, not just for ourselves, but for our family and for humanity as a whole. One of my favorite author’s Mark Nepo invites us to think of humanity as a global body and each one of us is a cell in that body. So with that image in mind, by sitting in stillness and holding our own discomfort, we are doing the same for the world. So next time a difficult feeling comes up for you, hunker down in the middle of your inner mess and be with it. Breathe. And allow what comes up to move through you, like blood through your body, bathing your cells with life and your heart with grace.

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Alicia Anka

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