When Discipline Becomes Overuse

Athletes, and often yogis, believe that the harder they push, the bigger the benefit. Sage Rountree cautions against too much of a good thing, and urges all of us to take "comfort in comfort."
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Athletes, and often yogis, believe that the harder they push, the bigger the benefit. Sage Rountree cautions against too much of a good thing, and urges all of us to take "comfort in comfort."

As athletes and as yogis, we spend a lot of time building comfort with discomfort. This is the purpose of training: We stress the body so that it can grow stronger. Without the stress of this discomfort, we miss out on adaptation, and thus the opportunity for growth. Similarly, yoga asana teaches us to grow comfortable with discomfort, whether it’s burning quads in Chair Pose or the challenge of trying our first Handstand. Our adaptation to these stimuli makes us stronger and more flexible, and the tools for staying present we develop in uncomfortable situations help prepare us for all life’s challenges.

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But too much of a good thing can be too much. In endurance sports, there’s a culture of exhaustion. Put a group of triathletes together, for example, and you’ll hear boasting about how tired everyone is, how intense their workouts were, how many miles they logged this week. The presumption is that tired is better, that it demonstrates your commitment. This extends to the studio, where a more-is-more ethic can push disciplined practice—and discipline is important—over the line into overuse.

Ironically, it’s exactly the people who need to be comfortable letting go that find it the hardest to do. When I see these Type As in Savasana (Corpse Pose), their fingers are rapping against the floor impatiently. And it’s exactly when we feel too busy to take the time for self-care that we need it the most. If this sounds like you, make a point to build comfort with comfort. (Thanks to Jeff Brown, a restorative yoga teacher at my studio, for this fantastic term.)

We build comfort with comfort when we don’t take every single variation offered to each pose in class. We build comfort with comfort when we luxuriate in Child’s Pose while the rest of the class goes through yet another Sun Salutation. We build comfort with comfort when we skip class altogether in favor of a walk with the dog, or lunch with a loved one. And when we build comfort with comfort, we refill the well, physiologically and psychologically, that lets us stay present the next time we are in an uncomfortable situation, or need to push.

As summer heats up and your training progresses, don’t forget there is great joy in comfort.