I'm sure some of my students think I'm a sadist (they might not be entirely wrong - shhh!). Once I figure out what they don't like doing, I make them do it often. Why? Because I want to see how they react to challenges.
Take one of my nieces for example. She's 11 and loves gymnastics. She asked me to show her some yoga poses. She's young and malleable so I knew some poses wouldn't challenge her. "Balance for me," I said. I showed her how to do tree pose. She fell out of it quickly. "I don't like this," she replied with an annoyed tone as she did another backbend. "I already know you can backbend, you've shown me many times. Just balance. That's all I want you to do." Her annoyance started to increase as her tree pose repeatedly collapsed. "Look at my shoes," I told her. "Focus there and now, balance." Suddenly, she was less distracted with her surroundings and own frustration. Boom! Her tree stayed upright. "That's all I want you to work on. You're flexible, I know, so your goal is to balance. It'll help you to be patient and it'll help with your gymnastics. You just have to focus." I saw her at dinner a couple of weeks later. "Aunty Holly, I can balance!" she enthusiastically reported. My other niece chimed in, "Yeah, she was even doing it at the grocery store!"
I've been working with a student recently who finds poses which restrict full breaths to be challenging as he then can't quite relax. So, what did I do? I loaded up the next session with side bends and twists, of course! "I bet this would be easier and I could get a fuller breath if I lost some weight," he said while looking down at the floor. I was surprised to hear this. "There is nothing wrong with you," I assured him. "We see ourselves a lot differently than the rest of the world sees us. People bigger than you do this pose; I do this pose and my breathing isn't quite as full when I'm doing it. That's just the pose and accommodations have to be made like slower, deeper breathing. When we're in poses that challenge us, what can we learn? How can we apply that to other situations in life when things are hindered?" He finally looked me in the eyes, nodded, and we carried on. The energy of the next session was different. Challenges were embraced and faced head on without any self-deprecation.
Even as a long time yogi, I'm not immune to facing challenges in a less than positive way. When it comes to yoga, I've experienced both ends of the spectrum: sometimes I was like my niece and would fall back to what I do really well; sometimes I saw myself as a failure and would become frustrated. I'm much more forgiving and patient with myself now in my yoga practice because ultimately challenges grew (and continue to grow) my practice. Challenges are lessons in vulnerability and how we deal with those feelings. Do we retreat from the discomfort? Do we chastise ourselves? Or do we approach with curiosity? The next challenge is the advice I shared with that student: how can that be applied to other situations in life?
"If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you." ~Fred DeVito
*Ace of Swords card from Tarot of the Magical Forest. "This card is a reminder to you to face your challenge, whatever it is, with courage, honesty, and a firm resolve. In every challenge, there is opportunity."