Let it hurt so good

Published on August 20, 2013 by      Print
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By Lisa Morford

“Suddenly you’re ripped into being alive. And life is pain, and life is suffering, and life is horror, but my god you’re alive and it’s spectacular.”
—Joseph Campbell

As a yoga teacher, I say a lot of shit and I think I know what it means. I’ve often told my students that we practice breathing through tough situations on our mats so that we can learn to breathe through challenges in our daily lives. I know: barf, right? I mean, it sounds good, though, and when you say it, you’re like, Yeah! They are so gonna think of this next time they’re in shitty traffic! I am so inspiring!

And then sometimes you are forced to eat your words, and you realize, oh fuck, it’s time to walk the talk.

Early this summer, my boyfriend of five years and I broke up. In some ways, it had been a long time coming. In others, it was like being hit in the stomach with a bowling ball. Or like. You know. Ten bowling balls.

As it was happening, I was a total wreck. I didn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t eat. I had all of my yoga classes subbed and quit my serving job. All of my time spent not hashing things out with him was spent on the phone in a soggy fog of tears with my mom and my closest girlfriends. I had the intensely surreal feeling that I was dreaming—or rather, trapped in my worst nightmare. A broken heart, they call it? I felt broken in my whole body. I kept looking for a way out—any way but this, get me out of this, let me wake up! I resisted the pain, and with that resistance came even greater agony.

Eventually, though, the pain became so intense that fighting it was no longer an option. In that moment, I finally had to face my own darkness. And from deep within my own abyss, every cheesy thing I’ve ever heard on my yoga mat began to echo through my brain, unbidden. Don’t resist it, I told myself. Feel it. Sit with it. Don’t label it. Dive into it! So I decided to try something terrifying. I let go. Instead of resisting the pain, I invited it in. I started to breathe—not to escape, not to make it go away, not to make it better—no. To let it in completely. To let it be there. I started breathing and I said yes. This fucking hurts. This fucking hurts so much. This hurts more than any fucking thing I’ve ever felt in my life. Goddamn it this is worse than hell.

I thought admitting this to myself would kill me.

Sitting with my heartache had seemed unthinkable, impossible. Yet there I was. I took one breath, then another. I acknowledged the depths of my sorrow, I let it wash over me, and, bizarrely, I didn’t die. And that’s when it hit me full force: yeah, this hurts, but holy shit, I’m alive!

When I stopped resisting the pain, when I stopped denying it and stopped trying to escape it, I realized something so ridiculously simple, yet profound: life goes on. I got out of bed. I went to a yoga class. I started eating. I showed up for my students from a place of raw compassion that allowed me to teach with a sincerity like never before. I went for a run, and while running I had a revelation: I came here to feel this. This is what it means to be human.

And I realized that we don’t breathe to escape tough situations. We don’t breathe to make our thighs burn less in warrior two or to make our hearts stop aching. We breathe deeply so that we can move through the whole spectrum of human existence. “Stay with it” isn’t just a silly phrase—it means sometimes letting yourself feel things you think you can’t bear to feel. When we do this, it doesn’t by any means imply that anything will become easier. It might mean just the opposite. What it does mean is that we’ll be able to ride the waves as they come—we’ll become more flexible, more fluid, more graceful, more compassionate. We’ll be able to transmute the experience into an opportunity for growth and evolution.

And then we’ll forget again. We’ll resist and we’ll suffer. We’ll dig in our heels and fight, starting the process all over again. Because we’re human. And that’s just what we do.

About Lisa Morford

Lisa MorfordLisa Morford is a writer, yoga teacher, and spiritual nomad living in San Diego, California. She is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside’s low residency program in Palm Desert. Living boldly, taking chances, and laughing loudly top her list of aspirations. She’s a fan of running, yoga, green juice, craft cocktails, chocolate, coffee, and red lipstick. Her list of books to read grows at a much faster rate than she could ever hope to consume in this lifetime, but she keeps adding to it anyway.



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  1. cathy says:

    this is really good. You covered a very important point: “it doesn’t by any means imply that anything will become easier. It might mean just the opposite. What it does mean is that we’ll be able to ride the waves as they come—” very important.. thing s do NOT magicly get easier… just because we have a yog amat, studied yoga or feel our feelings. Time must pass and eachsituation an dperson is unique and different.

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Cathy! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I agree, healing can take place when we give things time and acceptance! I don’t think there is a magic pill or cure all that we could—or should!—take. Sometimes we have to walk through the darkness to find the light. Much love to you! <3

  2. Robert Wolf Petersen says:

    I love this piece. I’ve been through something similar myself recently, an experience of separation so enormous I thought it would consume me. I could hardly believe, as a fairly experienced yoga practitioner, I was in such overwhelming agony. Wasn’t yoga supposed to make me feel *better*?!*

    Then I realised: nah, yoga’s not meant to spare me this. Yoga’s been *preparing* me for this.

    Thanks Lisa. I’ve tweeted your piece and posted it on my Facebook page. I look forward to reading more of your work.

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Robert! Wow! How beautifully you put this! “Yoga has been *preparing* me for this”—That is exactly how I felt. Like am I supposed to be perfect? Never feel pain? Walk on water? Be a superhuman? Nope. If I’m lucky, I’ll simply have the grace to walk through whatever life throws at me, one breath at a time. Thanks for commenting and for taking the time to share/tweet this piece! <3

  3. John Norby says:

    Lisa, I too have felt, even now, like you have felt, lonely, mostly just depressed. Just today, I spoke with a woman that I have known for sometime. She is a Christian, recovering from breast cancer and believes in meditation via yoga. We talked about the stress I feel, the energy drain, etc. She told me I should try yoga and exercise. Depression is a killer, don’t want to go the way of drugs. Any advise would be appreciated.

    • Lisa says:

      Hi John! First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to read & comment on this post. I am so glad that our families have been reconnected. Personally, practicing yoga has really changed my life in many ways. It’s not a magic cure all by any means, but it has allowed me to connect with myself in a very deep and real way. I’ve noticed, after three years of practice, that I’m able to slow down and really pay attention to what is happening in the moment, even if what is happening is unpleasant. Of course by no means am I perfect! But I have begun to find a certain level of self-love and self-acceptance through practice.

      Of course I am no doctor, so I’d certainly seek medical guidance when it comes to depression. But if you are looking to start a yoga class, I’d maybe start with some gentle and therapeutic options. There is also a great book out there called “Yoga for Emotional Balance” by Bo Forbes that you might like to check out. Best of luck to you! <3

  4. Violeta says:

    wonderfully written. I felt free to share on my page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Yoga-Lovers/205631842803298
    as it gives great insights to many yogis… ya… how yoga prepares us for this… is well said my dear Wolf!

  5. Rob says:

    I had my heart completely broken a few months ago. The agony was so intense I could barely breathe at times and sleep was all but impossible. Its the claustrophobic feeling that there is literally nowhere to hide in your consciousness that doesn’t hurt. I kept looking around, dodging and weaving, trying to find a glimpse of a place that didn’t hurt.
    I spent many years of my life masking my feelings with drugs and this was the first time I’ve endured pain like this completely straight. And in the end it was acceptance, just as you describe. This too will pass.
    Grief comes in waves, back and forth. Sometimes the waves are stronger and at other times they just gently lap. Eventually they become like echoes of waves in the distance.
    I feel very free now, and grateful for the heart opening the grief allowed me.
    Its a beautiful world. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Collette says:

    Beautifully and poignantly written, Lisa. I know this sounds totally cliche, but your piece shows your yoga is working, with honesty. I have on and off experienced depression and anxiety and I am often mired in frustration why yoga isn’t making me feel better faster. Your piece is a reminder about the process, and that breath does not make the pain go away but allowing us to survive the process.

  7. nadia says:

    I love this piece, and glad I stumbled upon it.

    I went through one of the worst tragedy in my life last year.
    Steady practice of yoga has anchored my grief and conditioned my self to accept the situation better. I have been aware of the concept that exercise makes you feel better, coming from a triathlon background, but yoga felt different.

    There would be a practice day where I would break down right in the middle of Mary D for a few minutes, or the grief would hit me in the middle of a half moon pose, and I stumble. Sometimes I would stare into space for a while digesting the pain.

    But I always continue. Yoga, the physical, and spiritual aspect of it, really helps.

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