I first learned about this concept from Baron Baptiste. Inspired by the notion that yoga invites us to straddle the line between effort and ease, comfortable discomfort is one the most powerful tools yoga offers to its practitioners, both on and off the mat. Its application on the yoga mat is an invitation: are you willing to meet yourself where you are presently with honesty and compassion?
Comfortable discomfort is a challenge for ourselves to remain a witness to the emotions that arise when we attempt a new posture. For me, what often bubbles up is doubt juxtaposed with shame, then layered with fear and comparative narratives. Comfortable discomfort allows me to observe the mental games, while also remaining present to the greater Self that is.
Comfortable discomfort is one of the most valuable tools we have when we engage in social and racial justice work. When it comes to anti-racism and conversation, comfortable discomfort is exactly what is asked of us. It is again the invitation to bear witness to what arises internally. What are the narratives that we believe and how do we react when those storylines are challenged?
Engaging in anti-racist work is an act of yoga. We must get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. We have to allow ourselves to be present during these conversations of racism. Reactionary words and actions will only keep us right where we are. It is no different than giving up on a posture when you think it’s too hard. You will get there; it will take time, patience, and practice.
Anti-racism work is just the same as nailing that inversion or arm-balance. It takes dedicated practice and a willingness to fall down, just to get right back up again. Anti-racism work is a practice. We will fuck up and say the wrong thing. But it is okay. So long as we are open to correction and do not buy into the shame that immediately follows.
Much like yoga, anti-racism work requires full presence, humility, and a minimal amount of ego. It requires comfortable discomfort; recognizing the discomfort, but remaining with it anyway. There is much growth that comes when we straddle the line between effort and ease.
So how does one apply comfortable discomfort when in conversation about racism? Here are some tools that I use myself:
- Get present and honest with yourself
- Observe what emotions are immediately triggered during conversation
- Recognize that this is hard and that’s okay: dismantling narratives that have been deeply instilled in us is incredibly hard work
- Breathe slowly and deeply
- Take pauses
- Be in your body (i.e., notice what your hands feel like, where your feet are, the texture of your clothing on your body, the rhythm of your breath)
- Notice your jaw: is it clenched? Soften it by creating a bit of space in between your bottom and top teeth
- Remember that you (and whomever you are engaging in conversation with) are doing the best that you can
Anti-racism discussion is a new posture that is required of us in order to see genuine equality delivered to our black community. Treat this as you would approach any new challenging asana on your yoga mat: with gentleness, compassion, and trust. Practice is what gets us there. And conversation about the value of black lives matters.