'Get out of your Comfort Zone to grow.' Rubbish!
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard yoga teachers say that you have to move past your comfort zone to grow. I do believe this to be mostly true, transformation does require us to challenge our preconceived limitations, physical or otherwise. Not to mention challenging our preconceived notions of where we are, who we are, and what we can do. Challenging those limitations will allow us to grow stronger and more flexible minds.
But for some people, the choice to not step out of their comfort zone is where the grow lies. For our A-type personalities in the room they might have more growth staying where they can relax and finally feel comfort and acceptance.
Telling a whole room full of people, that you do not know, that they need to push past their comfort zone may not be the most responsible thing to do. I have said this myself sometimes, but I always clarify what I mean by ‘push past your comfort zone.’ More on that later.
First, there are two ways to move past your comfort zone.
You can choose to breathe into the discomfort and possibly step outside of the comfort zone with intention and awareness. With this option you exercise free agency and your own power. This might cause some healthy stress but as long as you can remain relatively calm throughout the process, I believe this can be healthy. Like when you chose to walk into a yoga class (insert your own scary fear here) for the first time even though you’re nervous and you don’t think you can ‘do’ yoga.
Or, you can get shoved or forced outside of you comfort zone. Often, I would say this version is not helpful. For example, if in that first yoga class a teacher shames you into trying headstand when you are not ready by saying ‘you have to move past your comfort zone….” :)
One of my teachers recently started a conversation on IG stating that moving outside of your comfort zone causes trauma (thanks to the amazing Alexandria Crow). I thought that was a wonderful way to define it. She said that yoga does give us the ability to expand our comfort zone but as teachers we need to be mindful of not traumatizing students by forcing them outside of their comfort zone. I am paraphrasing, you can read her complete post here.
This post got me thinking more about the comfort zone, past my long-held belief about choosing to step out of it and being forced out of it.
There are times that life forces you out of your comfort zone and you just have to deal with it. Like when I was diagnosed with Brain Cancer. To be sure, this experience was traumatic and I still deal with some sadness, loss, and anger around it. But we can also choose to learn from trauma, trauma can be our teacher if we allow it to be. Being diagnosed tested my limits and grew my ability to be comfortable with the unknown. It also deepened my yoga practice. I learned from my brain cancer and to this day I consider it a gift because of the lessons I learned. It was trauma at the time but then it expanded my comfort zone.
How does this all tie back into our teaching? Our first Yama is Ahimsa, non-violence. We shall not harm, knowingly harm, or consent to harming another being. Using certain words or phrases in class can shame or blame someone into moving out of their comfort zone before they are ready. Remember that as the teacher you automatically are in a seat of power. People will listen and follow you. You are also in a group setting and a lot of group dynamics are in play. Yes, life might cause trauma. But I, as a yoga teacher, do not want to shove you out of your comfort zone and contribute to causing you trauma.
As a yoga teacher, I DO NOT KNOW where your comfort zone is. I DO NOT KNOW what trauma you have experienced in your life so far. I DO NOT KNOW when, or if ever, you will be able to push yourself further in a healthy way. I simply do not know. Only YOU KNOW. Believing that I know better than you, better than your body and your intuition is violet. Or believing that it is my job to force you out of your comfort zone is violent and harmful (Himsa).
Instead, I think it is helpful to create an inclusive and supportive environment that reinforces their own choice. A safe environment where they can self-analyze and figure this all out on their own. And whatever they decide, there is no judgment on this choice because it is their own spiritual journey and they have the power.
Transformation does require one to move past what is comfortable. However, how much we do that or when we do that is an individual choice.
So when I do use the phrase ‘push past your comfort zone,’ I do it as an entire theme to the class. Throughout the class I clarify ALL of the thoughts above, albeit in a more succinct way.
There is a lot more to this conversation. What about addiction to comfort? The inability or unwillingness to choose the uncomfortable?
Next week’s blog; Addiction to Comfort and how it affects our Spiritual Growth. It’s a good one :)
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