What To Do When Yoga Is Hard



The earth moves in an orbit around the sun. That means that it gets all the way dark before it gets even a little bit light. We know this. We respect the natural rhythm of the movement of the earth. But most of us find it really hard to respect the natural rhythm of change in our own lives.

When things get hard in our lives (or in yoga, or in any process of change), we want to give up. We think that because there are obstacles and challenges that things aren’t “working.” But what if the presence of challenge means the exact opposite? What if it means that things are working?

There is a natural (and predictable) pattern of transformation. So, what if we can learn to appreciate that pattern and maintain an awareness of it that allows us to stay committed when we are challenged? Then we can use this information to propel ourselves through difficulty towards deeper levels of transformation.

This is how transformation works:

cycle of change
Memorize this. Get a tattoo.

We always want to believe that change has a totally upward trajectory, that things start out one way and then they just get better and better and better until they’re awesome! And it never works like that, and we never seem to learn.

We start out excited about something and we get a few gold stars. Then things get harder. But, if we stick out the hard part and work through it, the success we gain at the end of the cycle is much more profound than the success we find at the beginning.

As a yoga teacher, I have seen a lot of students come and go because they didn’t understand this cycle of change.

Let’s consolidate all these people into one student. Let’s call her Jane.

This is Jane.
This is Jane.

Jane goes to a class and she is totally stoked about it, so she runs out to Yoga Ripoff Warehouse and drops a bunch of dough and joins a fancy studio and starts going to class all the time. Things are great! Jane gets like one second of peace in savasana and she sleeps a little better at night. Jane is hooked.

And then…

Then the practice gets harder. And obstacles start appearing in Jane’s life. Jane’s car breaks down. Jane dumps her boyfriend. And even though he was kind of a dirtbag, it takes her a while to get his stuff out of her house and Jane thinks that what she really needs after a long day of dirtbag removal is not yoga, but wine. Wine is much easier. Yoga’s too hard, and it wasn’t really working for her anyways (she thinks).

And then I see Jane at the grocery store and she’s all decked out in Jazzercize gear and she tells me that yoga didn’t work for her and she’s doing Jazzercize now.

And then I run into her a month later and it’s Zumba.

And then it’s Crossfit.

And Jane jumps from practice to practice and she goes through the cycle over and over and over. And Jane never gets to experience more than the tiny successes that she has at the beginning of any practice because she keeps giving up and moving on when things get harder.

And it’s not because Jane is stupid. Jane is smart. It’s just that Jane believes that change happens in steadily climbing path of progress and she doesn’t understand that change happens cyclically. She gives up using perfectly reasonable logic that is, nonetheless, based on false information.

Most of us are like Jane. Most of us don’t see the cycle.

We get addicted to the teeny tiny gains we get when we start something new and we never get the giant gains that come through overcoming obstacles through committed practice.

Make no mistake. There are going to be obstacles. Because things that are hard never get easy. And life never becomes a flat surface that we just skate along from one happy moment to the next. Crashing into walls is inevitable.

Crashing into walls happens.

Here’s the thing we need to learn: YOGA WORKS.

But it only works if you don’t give up when it gets hard. It only works if you keep working it even in the moments that everything sucks and you’re pretty sure yoga does, too.

Read my piece about life sucking if that resonates with you.

It would be so amazing if my practice always felt like this:

That’s me!

But it doesn’t. Honestly, I spend a lot of time like this:

That’s me, too!

But now that I understand is that faceplanting is just part of the process, I just keep faceplanting until something new happens. If you’re anything like me, it’s going to take a lot of faceplants before you get to crow pose. The good news is that the major benefits that come as a result of keeping up with the practice even when it’s hard and you don’t feel like it are WAY better than the tiny benefits that come when the practice is easy.

I’m going to say that again, just for good measure. The major benefits that come as a result of keeping up with the practice even when it’s hard are WAY better than the tiny benefits that come when the practice is easy. 

Jane doesn’t get to find that out. Not about yoga or Crossfit or Pilates. Because she is not going to stick it out.

Don’t be like Jane.

You can call it the hero’s journey or the cycle of change or the transformation cycle or whatever you want to call it as long as you start to really know that the cycle is True. There is ebb and there is flow and where there is ebb, flow is coming.

As Joseph Campbell says, “The black moment is the real moment when transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.”

Here are some things you can do when you feel like you are in a place in your practice (or in your life) that is chock full of obstacles and challenges and you feel like quitting:

1. Get some perspective. Look at the Cycle of Change chart and figure out where you are.

2. Think about the gains you had at the beginning of your practice. You kept with it because you knew there could be more. What is the more you were looking for? Figure it out. (Do you want more limber hips, better posture, increased clarity?)

3. Look at the obstacles. Is there a way you can see these obstacles as leverage points to move towards the change you want? 

4. Shift your perspective. Stop letting yourself think, “This isn’t working.” Instead think, “I am committed to seeing this through. I am going to get those gains.”

5. Don’t give up. Get what you want out of your practice. No, scratch that. Get what you want out of your whole life. 

Here’s good news: If you stay committed through a process of change, you will see results. It’s cause and effect. Karma. It’s real.

If you want to learn about a transformational immersion that I’m leading, check this out. Or this. Register NOW for February.

If you want to make sure that you know about all my offerings, get on my mailing list. (Just scroll up and look on the right.)

If you know someone else that needs to know about the cycle of change, please share this.


2 thoughts on “What To Do When Yoga Is Hard

  1. Hi Tracey,
    Thanks for another lucid article, especially the chart and the humble faceplant picture. I wonder if the Cycle of Change is an upward spiral.
    I wanted to gently point out that the Sun doesn’t quite move in an orbit, except possibly around the Galactic Center, I’d have to check. The natural rhythm you refer to is of course the revolving of the Earth around its axis as it orbits the Sun. I know, it appears as though the Sun is moving. It’s not intuitive to think that it’s not!
    Thanks again for the piece.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *