Should yoga be “comfortable”?

“Comfort” is getting an increasingly bad reputation these days, and yet is is an essential human need. So what is the deal with the “comfort zone” and yoga? 

Should yoga be “comfortable”?

The word “comfort” is a loaded one. We all need and deeply crave comfort from the moment we are born. We may associate comfort with the nurturance of a parent, the supportive words of a friend, or the relaxing sensation of sinking into a warm bath to soothe our aching muscles. We may also associate the word “comfort” with indulging in an excess of cookies, binge watching Netflix when we have a pressing deadline, or avoiding looking for a new job because we fear rejection. So, is the “comfort zone” really what holds us back from love, money, success, self-actualization and creative accomplishments? Or is it just the ideal setting on a thermostat?

The other day I saw a comment thread on a yoga studio owners group in which one person said that they wanted their students to feel comfortable in their yoga studio, and another person said that “yoga can never be completely comfortable”. Images like the one above (depicting “The Comfort Zone” as a place where no magic can happen”) seem to be popping up more and more on social media, indicating that comfort has a complicated reputation, at best. I find this debate worth unpacking.

When I first started studying yoga, it was definitely not what I would describe as “comfortable”. Physically, it was one of the more awkward and often downright uncomfortable experiences I had ever had, though at the end of the practice while lying in savasana (the final rest pose  in all yoga classes, or “yoga nap time” for those of you who are new to yoga) I did feel more comfortable in my body than ever before. Mentally and emotionally it was not comfortable to walk into a strange new room with people I didn’t know and try to follow along with a practice that was outside of my range of cultural experiences, but after the practice none of that seemed to matter at all, and my comfort with the studio quickly solidified after the initial discomfort. This is a classic example of the journey of comfort. It is both the initial obstacle and the end goal. We do need to challenge and overcome our need for comfort at times, but ultimately we need to return to comfort. We are not necessarily trying to reject our “comfort zone” with this process, but rather expand it.

So, should yoga be “comfortable”? Here is what I believe: The yoga studio should be a safe space for as many people as possible, and it should be as comfortable as possible, and at the same time, just entering the yoga studio will be uncomfortable for many people until they become more familiar with it. Yoga will always involve deep inquiry, which is an investigation into the unknown spaces within, and unknown spaces are often outside of the comfort zone. However, if we take a line from the great Pema Chodron and practice being “comfortable with uncertainty”, we can greatly expand our comfort zone, even to include the unknown spaces.

What is your relationship to comfort? Is it compulsive and self-admonishing? Do you treat yourself to comfort in a self-nurturing way? How do you know when you need to rest in easy comforts, and how do you know when you need to grow beyond your comfort zone?

Journal prompt for examining your comfort zone:

What do I know I’ve always wanted to do or try that I have held back on because of my discomfort? What am I afraid of? What is one small step I could take outside my comfort zone today that would prepare me for expanding into the life experiences I truly long for? 

Action Step (and shameless plug for my upcoming series):

One of my superpowers as a yoga teacher is bridging the gap between the comfort zone and the journey into a yoga practice, which is why, even after I took a hiatus from teaching group yoga classes last year, I still offer a seasonal “Yoga 101 for Absolute Beginners” Series. I have met too many people who had an initial encounter with yoga that left them feeling embarrassed, out of the know, ashamed or incapable, which is never how a yoga practice should leave you feeling. If you or somebody you know is thinking about trying yoga but is holding back for comfort zone reasons, please come to my spring series! I promise it will be welcoming, accessible, and we will move back into comfort quickly.

Kate Holly is a yoga therapist, life coach, theater artist and the founder of Yoga Refuge.

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