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head in the sandWhat do you avoid?

It doesn’t have to be a big thing, though it might be. Just take a look in your mental mirror and find something you avoid.

My son (as well as every single 17 year old male that I know) avoids the mountain of little tasks that must be completed in order to submit applications to college. Every time I suggest he get it done (read: NAG), he is capable of offering 1,000 reasons why he’s too busy or tired or stressed or distracted or not ready to sit down and just do it.

My husband avoids picking up clutter. He actually confessed to me that he ignores it until it absolutely cannot be ignored any longer. I imagine that this moment arrives when he can’t find a critical document on his desk, or when his pile on the radiator in our closet avalanches to the floor or when a colleague makes fun of the dorm-room-like “feel” of his office.

I avoid difficult conversations. Although I am not a natural procrastinator at all, I will stall like nobody’s business when I have to tell someone I’m angry or disappointed or hurt. I will debate endlessly whether I need to have the conversation at all. My inner avoider chants at me: “Just get over it. They’re just feelings. They will pass. There’s no need for both of us to be upset. Grow up.”

[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”16″ align=”left”]All problems become smaller if you don’t dodge them but confront them. Touch a thistle timidly and it pricks you; grasp it boldly and its spines crumble. — William S. Halsey[/mk_blockquote]

There’s no avoiding it. We all avoid something. Mostly, we avoid these things because they make us uncomfortable. My son, I suspect, feels uncomfortable imagining himself leaving home next fall. Completing those applications makes him face the reality of that departure. But procrastinating on them means that he must keep thinking about both the applications and going off to school. Getting them done would allow him to return his focus to his senior year of high school. My husband absolutely hates to straighten up. It’s dull, tedious work that sets his teeth on edge. He’d rather suffer the mess than “waste” his time cleaning it up. But the longer he puts it off, the worse the mess gets and (duh!) the more onerous the cleanup will be. I am uncomfortable expressing negative emotions. Always have been. Keeping these feelings bottled up, however, makes me even more uncomfortable – my irritation intensifies, my stomach hurts and, to add insult to injury, I begin to feel guilty for being short with the person who has annoyed me!

As you can see, avoiding actually magnifies our discomfort.

[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”16″ align=”left”]Our biggest problems arise from the avoidance of smaller ones. — Jeremy Caulfield[/mk_blockquote]

In a blog I enjoy, Alice’s Adventures in Yogaland, the author writes, “yogis avoid avoiding.” She’s right. Whether you practice Ashtanga yoga’s set series where there simply is no option to what comes next even if you really really really hate the posture, or whether you prefer to practice in group classes where you follow where your teacher leads even if you really really really would prefer not to, our practice teaches us that there’s no sense in even entertaining the notion of avoidance.

Setting the issue of choice aside, I have found that it is the postures we’d most like to avoid that have the most to offer us. If I wake up with a tight low back, I definitely wish I didn’t have to work on eka pada sirsasana (leg behind the head). Except that every time I work on that posture, my low back feels wide open. I have a student with tight hamstrings who loathes the forward folds in surya namaskar (sun salutations). But she’ll be the first to tell you that she’s glad we never skip these movements because she feels so good once they’re done. A friend is dealing with nagging shoulder pain. She describes a mental debate about whether or not to work in backbends that can go on for a full hour while she practices. Yet, every time she “wins” that debate and moves through her backbends, her shoulder feels great.

Just as in life, in all of the above instances on yoga mats avoiding would have left us continuing to feel our discomforts. In addition, these physical discomforts could eventually intensify because we’d done nothing to address them. Echoing Mr. Caulfield’s sentiment, these little nuisance aches and pains could eventually take root and grow into bigger problems that need more care than moving and breathing on a yoga mat can offer.

Our practice teaches us to avoid avoiding. Day after day as we practice, we face our challenges, we stare discomfort in the eye, and we watch it melt away. Day after day, we do the things we’d prefer not to do and we feel better for having done so – better because what we were avoiding had something to offer us and better because we just did it. Day after day, we become certain that the discomfort of facing the things we’d prefer to avoid is never as bad as the added discomfort of avoiding them.

One day at a time, with practice, we can hope to become people who avoid avoiding off our mats as well.

Be strong,