Resisting Resistance

Kelly Bonner has unlocked the key to growth in her yoga practice and in her life: To push back against fear.

by Kelly Bonner

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Early this semester I found myself forced to confront the inevitable, an omen on my registration boldly proclaiming: YOU ARE ON THE GRADUATION LIST FOR SPRING 2013.

The feelings I experienced reading that line are similar to, I'd imagine, those you'd experience right before jumping out of a plane. As I grasped that single sentence, I realized, as many soon-to-be-grads do, that the jig is up. No more play time. With my term in college finishing up, what I perceive now is not just senioritis, but a feeling that I have outgrown school mixed with something else, something that makes me want graduation both to happen right now, yet not to happen for just a little bit longer. It is feeling of malaise, a secret resistance toward making the decisions awaiting on the horizon.

I'm filled with questions: What am I going to contribute to the world? How will I support myself? Will I find an occupation that makes me feel fulfilled and happy?

A short digression: I'm not flexible, and never have been. For the years I've done yoga (and, prior to that, gymnastics) my flexibility has improved and waned depending on how consistent I am with working on it, but overall it has been, and, I imagine, will always be a struggle for me. Those who, like me, possess hamstrings like a taut rubber band will relate—the intense discomfort as your muscles pull in High Lunge or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, the punishing stretch that screams for you to get out of this position as quickly as possible. The feeling of (I'll admit it), on more stubborn days, holding back just above your threshold so you don't have to "go there."

But, as everyone knows, by focusing only on the satisfying and enjoyable aspects of practice, and resisting the difficult and painful ones, you don't really improve. In my practice I have learned that yoga is not just about stretching and feeling good—it is about learning what my body can and cannot do well, and creating a mindset that allows me to explore both. And while of course one should always start with self-acceptance, I found that I actually had to start my path toward accepting myself by first resisting resistance—by pushing through my inner desire to hold back and reminding myself that in the end it will be good for me. While on some days I'm better at this than others, the idea I've developed for myself of resisting resistance benefits my practice not only physically, but mentally, as it allows me to confront and overcome the feelings that would otherwise obscure what my body is telling me.

I've discovered that in yoga, as in life, acknowledging discomfort and moving on from there is the true key to acceptance—and to discovering that the same ambiguities that make the path ahead nerve-wracking also make it exciting. Breathe in, breathe out, give yourself over to what might seem overwhelming at first, but at a rate that you control. Just like making yourself go deeper into a stretch, pushing yourself to come face to face with what lies ahead makes you stronger and more aware of yourself. It turns that feeling of malaise into one of quiet strength, one that will allow you to look down and take that leap out of the plane, when you’re ready.