Define Comfort, Please

I'm not comfortable with "comfortable". That word is supposed to mean "causing no pain". I agree: painlessness is good! We strive for comfort; we want to sleep well and eat pleasant food, we don't want nasty surprises, and we generally want to control the roller-coaster of life as much as we can. The problem is, we very easily start to confuse "comfortable" with "familiar", and that's where things can start to get twisted. By repetitively subjecting ourself to the same, familiar circumstances over and over, we can ironically often find ourselves in a great deal of emotional and/or physical pain, the extraction from which is a challenging if not frightening prospect. Tickling is fun. Tickle too much, and you draw blood. (This is the most appropriate example I could muster without being political or offensive...feel free to quote me!)

But wait: exposing ourselves to the same thing for ten thousand hours…isn't that how someone becomes an expert, you may ask. No - experts are people who have willingly subjected themselves to a thorough, far-reaching, full spectrum of experiences on a particular topic so that when the need arises, they can draw from a vast reservoir of first-hand knowledge to solve a problem. An expert FINDS comfort in the UNfamiliar. 

When I teach a yoga class, I have a duty to make sure that students don't injure themselves. I watch their faces, I check in with them, I empower them to speak up (and no, I don't tickle them). But I also have a duty to make sure they're exposed to the unfamiliar. The breadth of yoga postures combined with a bit of creativity takes care of that, and I'll ease students into those unfamiliar postures step-by-step. But then, I present them with the abstract idea of finding comfort in a posture that to them at that point in time is incredibly uncomfortable. They're a mess, and I'm telling them that somewhere in that pool of sweat, fatigue, and disorientation is a sweet-spot of what they will come to see as effortlessness. This takes a few sessions to achieve, and some sequenced physical conditioning leading into the posture is necessary to build strength and flexibility. But this is really the warm-up for the brain. Exposure to the unfamiliar is CRUCIAL in yoga. By association, this means it's also crucial to living.

We moved from Hong Kong to Los Angeles recently, and despite having moved across the planet two years earlier from Boston, adapting to life in LA has been harder. For one, there isn't the insta-friend expat support network like in Hong Kong; despite living in DTLA, my life has been rather monastic as we've renovated our place, set up a new yoga studio and continued with consulting contracts. I realized recently that a good deal of the struggle has been because of trying replicate the great life in Hong Kong. For stupidly obvious reasons, this is wrong; Los Angeles is a different city, with different people and a different landscape. I've been looking for familiarity, when really I should have been looking for NEW things that make me happy and comfortable. The world changes around us constantly. Our bodies and minds are constantly changing. We HAVE NO CHOICE but to embrace unfamiliarity and search out the things that make us happy and comfortable within those new circumstances. The great thing is that the more we take this approach, the easier it gets.