Sunday, February 27, 2022

Stepping out of Your Comfort Zone

by Rachel Dewan

Well it's been a minute. I had so much to say about this topic that I decided it needed to exist in the blogosphere. Let's unpack what it means to step out of your comfort zone. The details are different for everyone, but I think it basically means to not always default to what’s “easy”. So what’s wrong with being comfortable? Really nothing. And let's start this whole conversation by saying that if life, as it is wont to do, is pushing you into places of great discomfort, you don’t need to do anything else, you just need to hold on tight to your faith and go along for the ride. What I'm talking about here are the ways we become stagnant. Since the universe itself is in a constant state of process, if we are not participating with it in the ways that we are able to, one day we wake up and realize we’re stuck. And to get out of that stuck place takes SO much more effort in the long run.


Consider this a hint if you're coming to my class this week...

The universe has given us endless ways to know it and experience it and explore its beauty. But it requires our participation. Stepping out of your CZ means stepping into the unknown. Whether that’s rock climbing a new route, or hiking a new mountain, or a going to a new place to vacation, or going on a silent retreat, or joining a new book club, it requires us to be vulnerable, and that is usually not a comfortable place. It takes faith. Not blind faith where we go in with eyes closed just praying for the best, but the kind where we follow our hearts and take our heads along for the ride


The Sanskrit word for faith is shraddha, and one generally accepted translation of that word is "where you place your heart". In other words, know what you want. And if something that you want is outside of your CZ, know what you are willing to risk to have it. Know your capacities and your limitations and act accordingly. But that is a razors edge, and there’s no promise that it won’t hurt. Faith is knowing that it won’t hurt so much that you can’t come back from it. It’s being able to stay connected to what keeps you steady through it all.


Recently I watched the rock climber Adam Ondra sending Silence, the “world’s hardest route”. It literally created a new grade of climb that didn't exist before. It took him hundreds of times and years to do it. Falling off again and again. If he read all those falls as “failure” there is no way he ever would have done it. Stepping out of our CZ is accepting small “failures” to figure out how to do it better next time. Failure is a word we use to give ourselves an out. "Oh, I tried that thing and because it didn’t go exactly as I wanted it to, it didn’t feel as easy as it “should have”, I can’t do that thing." And the reality is that maybe you can’t do that thing today, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to do it. So what are the steps to take so you can do it in a year? Or 2 years? Tiny victories feed shraddha. Change your expectation of what progress is. In yoga, for example, if you can’t do the pose, examine where your inconsistencies are, your tight places, your self-limiting thoughts and decide what tiny victory you can focus on to keep moving you forward. Because that’s just it. Life will move you forward whether you participate or not. So might as well decide what direction you want to go in. 



     If you need some inspiration, watch Adam climb this route the whole way through for the first time.


Stepping out of our CZ tests our faith: can I really do this?  Am I meant to do it? Really that’s up to you. Sometimes the answer is not ever, sometimes it’s just not right now. We are limited beings in some ways and we are unlimited beings in other ways. We need to be realistic about the ways we are limited, whether in body or spirit, and face them. But we get to decide if we want to be connected to the places where we are limited or the places where we aren’t. It means redefining “failure”. It means falling off a route 100 times before making the next move. Falling out of an arm balance 1000 times before being able to hold it for a second. Getting a therapist so you can work through your social anxiety so you can join the book club. It’s not easy or comfortable, and like my kids love to say, “it’s not fair!”. To which I respond, "who ever told you it was going to be fair??" It’s not. But we can either sit by and let life happen to us (ie. stay in stagnant in the CZ) or we can participate fully in every way we can (step into your light, celebrate tiny victories, hold steady through the challenges life throws at us which we have no control over).


In terms of our yoga asana practice, we know that the body will always want to go in the path of least resistance. Our bodies will always choose to do what feels good, and unless we are being very conscious in our practice we will go along with that. Again, nothing innately wrong with doing that, and sometimes that is just the thing to do - pain is a message that we need to pay attention to something. However, if we always do what we’ve always done, we always get what we’ve always gotten. Patterns of misalignment which lead to imbalance and often pain will keep repeating themselves until we create a new pattern. It's usually not easy and not comfortable.  But we are healthier, happier, stronger, and more resilient in the long run. It works the same with our thoughts, our emotions, our hearts. And that's what makes it all yoga - being conscious. 
It's fun and interesting out here outside the CZ. It's never boring, always exciting. Join me. 

Outside your CZ practices, on the mat:
This week in my classes we will work on caturanga, building strength in our upper body to lean out into arm balances with faith. Here's some other things to work on in your own practice:
Notice when you sit out a pose because it's hard. Instead of sitting it out, try a modified version.
If you've been doing a modified version of a pose for a long time for a specific reason, ask yourself if that reason is still valid.  You know what to do if it's not.
Breathe. a lot. If you're scared, breathe deeper. 
Pay attention to your habits. Do you come in to the studio and do the same warm-ups every time? Do you strategically stop for a sip of water when a hard pose is called? Are your habits keeping you stagnant?
Get really curious. If you can't do a pose, ask yourself, or your teacher, why? 
Celebrate tiny victories in whatever way they come
Outside your CZ practices, off the mat:
Take yourself on a weekly date doing something that scares you. Start small.  Bring a friend for support. But do it!
Create a mantra or affirmation that reminds you that stepping outside of your CZ will help you grow as a human. "I can do hard things" works for me.
Get clear with yourself about what risks you are willing to take, and which ones you are not, to have something you want that feels out of your reach.
Add your own in the comments!
For the Anusara junkies:

OTG: Soften what the word failure means to you. Focus on tiny victories.

What keeps you steady in times of discomfort? Keep that in the forefront of your awareness

Let each breath guide you to a place inside of inner reliance, where you feel secure and connected to a universe that wants for you what you want for yourself

Get comfortable with “I don’t know” and “All I need to do is participate”

Stop trying to control your world and participate fully in your life without knowing what the outcome will be


ME: pull to the midline and pull into what keeps you steady

Pull up and into your faith/what keeps you steady/your heart

Muscles are malleable, changeable, bones are not.  We pull SMB (skin to muscle to bone) to connect to all that is already steady inside our bodies

Activate muscles, participate in the pose fully, in your life fully

Draw SMB, connecting to a place of wisdom inside so you make smart choices about how to safely step outside your CZ


OE: expand fully into the pose and expand your CZ

Stretch yourself fully into the pose and the breath and into active participation with your life just as it is

Expand from midline outwards, expanding your faith in yourself and your practice

Shine with the quiet radiance of the faithful

Smile and enjoy the pose, even if it’s not easy or comfortable

Celebrate whatever form of the pose you can do. Celebrate tiny victories that will strengthen you and move you in the direction you want to be headed.


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