When we are faced with situations outside our normal comfort zone, we tend to react in one of three ways:

  1. we run away from the situation as fast and as far away as we can or,
  2. we try to change the situation as quickly as possible or,
  3. we just give up and, usually in a sullen self-pitying way, surrender.

The first two ways are very yang ways of dealing with life. Many people will hide or run away from uncomfortable situations. Of course, this never changes the situations or ourselves, so when we are faced with another challenging situation, we do the same thing again. The second strategy is to change the situation. We are taught early and often in our culture to change the world, to make something of ourselves, to make a difference – to become yangsters. And certainly there are times that these are totally appropriate things to do. If we see a child being beaten, we take action; we try to stop the beating. At times, a yang response to the world is the proper reaction. But not always, and not all the time. Harmony is the balance between yin and yang. If we are always trying to change the world (including changing our friends, our spouse, our boss, our coworkers), we are going to burn out.

There is a difference between acting to right a wrong, and acting to end sensations that we don’t like. The difference is found in our motivation. If we are trying to avert harm to another being, that can be considered Right Mindfulness or Right Intention or Right Action. This action is skillful and helpful. If we are simply trying to end any uncomfortable sensations we are experiencing that are not harming us, [1] that is aversion.

The third way we avoid challenging situations is very yin-like – we give up. This type of surrender is also not skillful, if it involves thoughts that include the word “should.” For example, we give up trying to change the situation but think that life really should be something other than it is right now. We surrender to what is happening, but we dearly want something else to be happening.

There is a fourth way to react to situations that take us outside our comfort zone. Accept what is happening, and simply watch, with great curiosity, what is going on. This is not giving up and wallowing in self-pity. This is not crying to the world, “Oh, why did this happen to me!” This is calmly observing what is really going on. This is looking for what is creating the sensation of discomfort.

The Yin Yoga practice is excellent for providing opportunities to watch the arising of aversion. As we hold the postures, and as the sensations increase in intensity, aversion arises; we want to move. As long as we are not in pain, and not harming ourselves by remaining still, we don’t move. We remain in the pose and simply watch the arising of sensations. We watch how these sensations morph and change. We ask ourselves, “What is there about this feeling that makes me want to move?”

Learning to be non-reactive in the midst of challenging situations while on our yoga mat helps to build strength, resilience, and flexibility. Later, when challenges arise at other times in our lives, we can draw on these skills. Instead of reacting as we would normally, instead of running away, or trying to change the world, or instead of even just giving up, we find we have another powerful option: we can simply watch and observe what is really going on. Once we can really see what is happening, then a better way to respond may be revealed to us.

  1. — Such sensations could include boredom, anxiety, or the dull achy feelings that arise in our Yin Yoga practice.

(Next: Sloth )