Learning to Listen To Resistance

    Learning to Listen To Resistance

Hello Hello 2020!

A brand new year and ten new years to learn how to live in the skin we are in. Some of us will go running off into January with firm personal resolutions to eat less, drink less, stop smoking, love more, run more and maybe do some more yoga. As admirable and healthy as it is to want to improve ourselves, studies out there show that only 20% percent of us will make it out of the winter gate committed to these declarations and an even smaller sprinkling after spring’s first bloom.

There are also those of us who would rather remain in complete denial about things. Er, like perhaps living on our smart-phones for hours a day is not hurting our relationships or our ability to communicate with each other. Or that sometimes Instagram doesn’t make us feel like a loser and leaves us often wondering what happened to our lives? And then there are those of us who think we can control everything. Or at least want to. You know who you are my fellow type A friends. As much as I hate to admit this, we will never be able to control what is happening or what has occurred in the past.

When we will finally realize that when we are unwilling let go of what we think we know and that “fixing” ourselves, or choosing to remain oblivious, or believing things will get better when we get “there” will only get us so far? Or keep us in reverse.

Without mindfulness, the only place we move on to when we force or avoid our perceived obstacles, is usually to the same place. And I say, perceived, because it’s the way we see things that makes them an opportunity or a no way in hell chance. Welcome to Stuck-city. We have all been there.

Have you ever noticed that if you leave one unhappy relationship, job or try this diet or that workout, we usually meet ourselves exactly in the same place? My good friend Jen always says: “Wherever you are, there you are.” Unresolved relationship issues, un-lived dreams and habitual thought patterns all keep us cemented in place searching for someplace, something, someone to fill the holes.

I recognized these kind of self-sabotaging patterns when I left my career of being a stylist & costume designer in the film business for over 25 years. What people believed to be an exciting and glamorous way of making a living was often torturous. The insanity and instabilty of the freelance TV/movie world left me wishing for a more peaceful way to make a living.

Hello dear yoga. The more I practiced, the more I thought this was the answer. In many ways it was, and after completing two different teacher trainings, I left the styling biz, moved from New York City to a small town and opened a yoga center. Although it was a successful studio, what I discovered was that I was that I wasn’t terribly happy with this life either.

How could this be? Completely different location. Radically different business’s. A whole new world of people. Hmmm. The only common denominator was me.

Also Read: How Yoga Taught Me To Love Myself Again

The Four Noble Truths in Buddhism say:

  • Suffering is unavoidable and that all existence is dukkha. I don’t think there could be a word more suited for painful experiences than dukkha which is translated as ‘suffering’, ‘anguish’, ‘pain’, or ‘unsatisfactoriness’.
  • We are the root cause of this suffering. This is a tough pill to swallow for us humans. But yup, those cravings that we have and act upon keep us in the duk.
  • There is a way out.Thank heavens! The Buddhist philosophy says the cessation of dukkha comes with the cessation of craving. Uh-oh.
  • There is a path that leads from dukkha. It’s called the Eight-limbs of yoga and gives us the map to our inner freedom. Expect many valleys and steep cliffs on this path.

So, I was in the dukkha. I thank my lucky stars that yoga had discovered me and I will remain forever a student first and teacher second, but I had run from one lifestyle to another thinking this was the answer. What I missed along the way were the lessons in resistance.

I started to realize similarities in the ways I didn’t trust my own voice in either profession and how I needed outside approval to feel successful. These were some pretty large revelations and it has taken a lot of time to learn to listen to these challenges and what they were trying to teach me. I found the keys to inner freedom have come easier when I lean into resistance instead of trying to fix or change it.

For instance, I have always been known as certain kind of teacher- while I am compassionate and always holds space for all levels of practitioners, I am the teacher who is interested in looking at the poses we avoid, of what injuries are trying to tell us. Why do we prefer to practice what we are good at? Hint: Ego.

I find that there is treasure in diving into what we don’t want to face. And treasure dear friends, is not at the surface. Notice we have not discovered a diamond sitting out on our driveway lately. Because of this, many students tend to think I am a hard instructor and my sensitive soul struggled with this for a long time. It was important for me to feel liked and took me a long while to stand in my own two feet and teach from my heart. Which meant, most likely, portions of class might be considered challenging. He-he.

No matter how many times I repeat that it’s not about what we can do, it’s more about how we handle what we can’t do, I witness the force of resistance with yoga students daily. This is where the practice truly starts!

How we deal with one thing is pretty much how we will deal with another and this is valuable information that translates from the yoga mat to how we live our lives.

We usually fall into one of the following camps as yoga students:

  • Group A believes yoga is for the willy-nillies and it’s about a bunch of uncomfortable seated positions and some heavy breathing.
  • Group B believes the hype on Instagram and thinks being able to do a fancy pants pose will make them a better person.
  • Group C has decided that they are not flexible and that they never will be. Social Media has also fed into this belief will all the photos of bodies contorting themselves into a human pretzel.
  • Group D wants to run out the door before the second sun salute is finished. And hey, I hear you on this one. My first down-dog was anything but a ‘restful’ pose and chaturanga lower planks were excruciating.

What do all of the above have in common?

Where is it that we start to resist?

When do we stop breathing smoothly and begin to try and force square pegs in round holes? Or quit?

“Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” Steven Pressfield- The War of Art.

Resistance is defined in the dictionary as the refusal to accept or comply with something; the attempt to prevent something by action or argument.

Acceptance on the other hand says: the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered, and/or the willingness to tolerate a difficult or unpleasant situation.

Sounds to me like resistance is the act of pushing against something and the road to dukkha. Acceptance, on the other hand, is an open one. Open. Space

Space being defined as: a continuous area or expanse which is free, available, or unoccupied-the dimensions of height, depth, and width within which all things exist and move.

I think most of us would agree that we would prefer space in any situation and this is the practice of yoga. The eightfold path is a road map to an inner light that we already have. But to actually become it? This requires discipline and a willingness to look inside. I wish I could say this was easy. Sure, there are some moments of butterflies and flowers but both of these had to go through some rigorous stuff like busting through the dirt, braving weather and living as a caterpillar for a while before they could spread their wings and fly. This stuff ain’t for weenies and I suppose this is why the saying “ignorance is bliss” might sometimes be an easier exit for us on this journey of self-discovery.

Also Read: 6 Essential Steps To Follow Before Joining Yoga Teacher Training

So how can we listen to resistance?

  • Let go of “fixing” ourselves. And for that matter, others. There is nothing broken. What would it feel like to completely accept ourselves as we are, warts and all? Yeah, this is a tough one. Try anyway and then again tomorrow and the day after that.
  • Hit the pause button when resistance rears it’s head. Take a better, smoother breath. Slow down before flipping the internal switch to ‘off.’ Soften body parts like the jaw, the eyes, shoulders and belly. Doing these simple techniques will help to respond in the present moment instead of our habitual ways that keeps us on the merry-go-round.
  • Ask yourself how would it be possible to remain open when stepping outside the comfort zone? I have friends who bemoan their singledom yet refuse to do anything to meet someone new. They have decided that this place or doing that will not ever be a way to meet a possible mate. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable is one of the most powerful ways I know to meet someone spectacular: our true selves. The one that is not afraid to say what they really mean, do what they really want to do. As Aretha Franklin famously said: “Be unapologetically yourself.” Amen. Now if this is not attractive, then I don’t know what is.
  • Practice radical acceptance for all situations. Yes. All. I know this might sound bat-poop nuts, but but what if we lean into resistance and approach it with acceptance? Would that as the definition above statescreate space? Space to get unstuck. To shift perception. To recognize that any regret lives in the past and any worry is in the future. Neither exist in the present moment-which is the only one when impossible becomes possible. Is there any difficult time or situation in your life that you can now look back at with gratitude? Are you stronger because of it?
  • Watch out for excuses and the small voice. This is exactly what they are. A small and limited way of being to keep us roped in to what we think we know. Don’t be fooled. Next time on the mat when the tiny voice says “I’m not flexible,” try shifting it too, “I feel tight today. How can I move in a way that feels supportive, nourishing?” Or when you feel like me when starting an article and feel you have nothing to say or the whiny voice inside is starting up it’s spiel- “I’m not a real writer.” Stop the voice and start writing, dancing, singing. Whatever it is that makes your heart shine. The resistance is trying to show the way forward.

Resistance is a great teacher if we allow it to be. It shows us that where we fear, is where the light of our potential lies. And this light is already there, right inside all of us. So in lieu of a new year’s resolution, may we practice acceptance. May we embrace resistance as our teacher and understand that all experience, both good and bad, are necessary for growth. Happy new decade and please stay tuned for Part 2 and the Eight Limbed Path.


Author Details

Julie Ewald

Julie Ewald is a beach lover, a terrible long board surfer, a dreamer, an adventurous traveler, and overly emotional about any furry, four legged creature. Julie is a student of life first and yoga teacher second. Married to man with a heart the size of Texas and mother to two twin kittens, Francis and Bear, she splits her time between New York City and upstate NY teaching yoga, workshops, teacher training's, and retreats. Previously, she worked in the film world as a Costume Designer/Stylist for over 25 years, creating the clothing line Bonjour Petal, and founded NP Rock Yoga.


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