5: Pain is Inevitable

pain suffering buddhaIn mid-winter I started going to one of the local yoga studios as part of our winter trainer nights that were followed by warm, slow flow yoga. I’ve been doing yoga at home on and off for the last couple of years but this was my first foray into yoga beyond YouTube. It was a great introduction to yoga in a dedicated setting, with hands on instructors, and slowly getting used to warm and hot yoga classes. After the trainer night/yoga series ended I continued to occasionally go, enjoying how my practice was becoming smoother, my focus a little better, and the relaxation following savasana. But once daylight savings time hit and evening rides were back in rotation I missed the evening sweat sessions at Yoga and Massage (YAM). The only way I could see fitting in a class was to *gasp* get up and make it to 6am yoga. There are two things that get me up early: making money or racing. But I tried anyway, I wanted to be a person who got up and went to stupid early yoga classes, setting an early alarm here or there, but bed would hold on too tightly each time. Finally in May I was encouraged just enough to commit to 6am yoga twice a week on Mondays for Power Flow and on Thursdays for Yoga Tone. My goal was to make it through May, that was it.

The first Monday in May rolled around and I rolled out of bed, slapped my contacts in, grabbed my mat and water bottle and made it to 6am yoga for the first time in my life! Tired but excited I enjoyed the practice and went home energized and excited to be up…now I had extra time in my day! How cool!

Thursday I repeated the process, clothes laid out the night before, everything ready for me to get up, brush my teeth and head out the door. Now I’ve enjoyed the balance of the Yoga Tone as it challenges me in a different way. It’s more of a workout but brings the breathing, focus, and fluidity of yoga to a hard workout first thing in the morning.

This became my weekly routine. It’s not just the cleansing feeling of sweating on the mat, or the clarifying breaths, or the discovery of what my body can do that I’ve taken with me after each class. It’s also the little nuggets of wisdom and focus that the teachers bring into each practice that I’ve found sneaking into the rest of my day.

One quote that I took away from Yoga Tone was that “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” In the setting of our class it was to lighten the mood through a particularity hard series of lunges and balance moves, but as an athlete I understand this statement so deeply.

On the bike suffering is glorified. The more we suffer, the harder we rode, the more of a cyclist we are. No one wants to talk about the easy efforts, the races where everything came together perfectly. Instead we focus on the sufferfest, the agony of the bike, the rides where we wanted nothing less but to stop and give up the bike for good, or the races where the finish seemed like an insurmountable task. I’ve found myself in these places many times, focusing on the suffering mentally and physically. But in my limited experience of the cycling lifestyle I’ve rarely found that to be a good headspace to cultivate. When I think about how hard it is, how high my heart rate is, that my lap times are slowing down, or I’m being passed too frequently, or that the leaders are too far ahead, when I allow myself to suffer, my performance goes down.

But when I focus on allowing the pain to be felt (bikes are hard, ok), acknowledge that my muscles are burning, my lungs are aching for more air, taste the metallic in my mouth, and know that yes, this is painful but I can always hurt more, then I race and ride so much better. I finish stronger, I have more joy in the process of racing, and most importantly, there are no regrets after I cross the finish line.

So maybe instead of focusing on the suffering, we should change our mindset and focus on the pain. Afterall, that’s a better gauge of what we’re doing and usually lets us know that we can do so much more than we ever imagined.