Dealing with resistance can be a big challenge during a Bikram yoga or hot pilates class. It’s main job is to lure you away from the present moment and avoid what’s happening right now at all costs. Resistance can be very sneaky and take many forms. Sometimes resistance takes a softer approach and while you’re relaxing in Savasana your to-do list becomes a huge priority to consider. Or resistance could increase your alertness so that, during class, you intensely focus on the teacher’s every move, praying they will turn on the fan or open the door. Another tactic resistance can take is a very blunt and loud approach. Resistance can scream at you, “This is all too much. Get out of here. Run out the door!” However resistance shows up in your practice, this article looks to help you gain more clarity on what’s happening and how to work with it.
This week, I interviewed Greg Matigian on this topic. Greg is an intuitive life coach and meditation teacher. He lives up in Bend, Oregon.
ML: Greg, it is always good to talk with you. Could you share a little about your yoga journey?
GM: I started practicing in the 90s with the single goal of being enlightened or free of suffering. Admittedly, I was young and looking for a way to escape the pitfalls of society and reach a higher state of consciousness. I read every book I could get my hands on, from Taoist practices to Emerson’s essays on Transcendentalism. It wasn’t until my teacher told me to stop searching and start practicing that I was able to sift through some of those crazy ideas of why I was even practicing. Fast forward to my yoga practice today and my intention is no longer aimed at taking me out of the reality I currently live in. Instead, it is to gracefully accept who I am and have compassion for how I show up in my daily practice.
ML: There are a couple ideas that caught my attention as you were speaking. Can you say something more about compassion?
GM: How I found compassion, I think, is a great place to start. In the early stages of my practice I was only trying to escape the frustrations and pain I had with growing up in challenging times. Rather than have empathy for the people I considered my source of suffering, I pushed them away and became an isolated island of resistance to everything I didn’t like. This only made my yoga practice more challenging. When I found myself in a posture that was difficult, I would get angry at the teacher, become frustrated at my lack of ability, and almost always fall out of the pose. But I was dedicated to keep going. Just like a rock with a hard surface and sharp points can be thrown into a river and, eventually, smoothed by the constant stream of water running over it, my practice, over time, had the same effect on me. Practicing yoga soothed my frustrations and opened a space for me to accept who I was and the reality I lived in. This space of acceptance led me to compassion. I realized the suffering I had been holding onto wasn’t supporting my life and, in fact, it acted like a weight tugging at my human potential from ever expressing itself.
ML: That is a brilliant and beautiful metaphor. I think all of us have some sharp and pointy edges to work with. Can you explain what acceptance looks like in your practice today?
GM: Funny enough, I regularly experience resistance poking at me, begging for me to give in and lose my focus. Some days the force of negative thoughts seem to never leave my mind. Now, I recognize the sensation of a negative thought and my immediate response is not to fight with it. I use my breath as a neutralizing effect. Quietly, I repeat, “I offer everything that I am and will be to the light of my soul.” The power of this affirmation reminds me to focus and work on what is in front of me. Which brings me to a powerful point, my aim isn’t to transport myself to a place of liberation where I am no longer barraged with human suffering. Yoga is a daily practice of methodically moving through the duality of the mind so the practitioner can be more present with what is.
ML: I really like your affirmation and if you don’t mind I am going to borrow it and use it during my next class. Can you give me an example of how duality affects us?
GM: The average person thinks 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day. If you break that down, your mind will have around 3,000 thoughts in a 90-minute yoga class. The sheer speed of thought is enough to drive a person crazy, but it doesn’t. What does drive the mind crazy is the vacillation of desire. The mind is screaming, “This, I want this! No, over here. Let’s go over here. I can’t. I won’t. Why doesn’t . . . .,” and on and on. There is no end to the creativity of the mind. Yet, there is a way to slow the body’s desires, calm the nervous system’s energetic response to the outside environment, and still the passion of the heart. When you practice yoga you become still. The unbridled energy coursing through your veins becomes directed by focused thought and action. It’s in these brief moments I’ve found my voice of reason.
ML: That is just fascinating. I love that we all have so much energy that’s just waiting to be used in a positive way. It reminds me of Star Wars and how the Jedi would train to harness “the Force.” One last question, could you give some advice for a student who just can’t quiet their mind?
GM: Don’t give up. At some point the chaotic energy of the mind can no longer exist in the stillness of a healthy yoga practice. My teacher in the early days would answer all of my questions with the same three words, “practice, practice, practice.” If you have faith in your practice and an earnest desire to keep going, I am sure that somewhere along the journey, the mind will still and a quiet place of compassion and humility will flood your consciousness.
ML: Thank you so much, Greg. I really appreciate your words. The transformation that comes with a yoga practice is amazing! I look forward to practicing more compassion and acceptance with myself, and smooth out some of those rough edges.
GM: Thank you, Melissa, for being able to talk about something I am so deeply passionate about.