Great Things Never Came From Comfort Zones...By Chris James
Chris James of Chris James Yoga has been through a lot and has seen his life balance on the very edge. He now tells us that through some vast discomfort, he was able to find enormous comfort in his life.
Are you sitting comfortably? I was told not to move. My neck was broken at C2 & C3, dislocated at C3 & C4. My head had been mask taped to the hospital bed. I was told that if I moved I would spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. My spinal column was resting on an open fracture, the equivalent of a piece of string on a razor blade – one false move and that would be it.
Men in white coats, encircled me; they look concerned, and my sister cried. In the years leading up to this incident, I had been living and practicing Yoga and Meditation in India. I had been living a monastic life. Through the practice of Yoga and Meditation I had become extremely strong and powerful.
The senior orthopaedic surgeon, one of the men in white coats who stood beside me later said that he could not understand how my spinal column had not been severed; I had sustained similar injuries to the late Christopher Reeve. He said that my spinal column must be made of concrete? In that very moment when I was told not to move, instead of giving up in the face of impossible circumstances, something very special happened to me: I allowed myself to feel my own pain, my own discomfort. I was powerless, and I handed myself over. In that moment I never doubted that I was supposed to be there on the hospital bed. I was completely present in a way that I had never been present in life before.
In the weeks after my 16 hour operation to rebuild my neck from my hip bone, screws and Titanium plates, I used all of the breathing techniques, the visualisation and meditation techniques that I had learned in India to draw the physical intelligence back into my physical body; to re-inhabit it. It was a marathon of sorts, and the medical staff could not believe how quickly I was able to recover.
know that on this day of the incident I was given an incredible gift. Not just the gift of gratitude, (it still makes makes me cry when I remember it, as quadriplegia was a real possibility), but the understanding that opening up to one’s discomfort, to one’s pain is paramount. When people are uncomfortable, when they are in pain, when they are stressed, they often turn to self-medication: cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, food, really anything to get rid of their discomfort; of the thing that’s stressing them out. And yet, if you take a deeper look at the stress, it’s really often an unfounded fear that’s causing it. For example, the fear that we’re not good enough, that we are incomplete. If we examined it and gave it the light of day, it would start to go away; to melt away, to recede.
By the time stress has manifested in the body it is too late. This is usually when people come to one of my Yoga classes or workshops expecting that the postures and the breathing practices that I teach them will deal with their stresses – not a bad guess. However, the truth is that we can do all of the neck rolls, downward facing dogs, shoulder balances to help to relieve tension in the musculature of the upper body, where stress collects. But it is far better to deal with the root cause of stress rather than waiting for it to manifest in the first place. Since I first started on my spiritual journey in India many years ago, of all the skills I have learned one particular skill stands out: Learning to be comfortable with discomfort.
"You can never be happy if you're always afraid to let go of what's comfortable, familiar. Sometimes those are the things that hurt us"
If you learn this skill, you can master most things. It may even sound counter intuitive, but discomfort can be the joyful key that opens up everything for you. From small stresses to major life challenges and everything inbetween: You can climb a mountain, make your diet healthier, explore new things, speak on a stage, write a book, start Pilates, learn a new language, tidy the clutter where you live, make it through tough times; all of these things are sources of stress. And this is just the start. Unfortunately, most people avoid discomfort. I will not use the word pain anymore, because I do not want to encourage those of you who are reading this to try to escape from your pain. It is much easier to open to your discomfort, don’t you think? Most people at the first sign of discomfort, run as fast as possible in the opposite direction; they try to escape through spending money, taking pills, eating unhealthy foods, using sex, or some other form of toxic therapy. These people mistakenly believe that their discomfort will go away as a result; I call these people comfort addicts. Comfort addicts are the types of people who don’t eat vegetables because they don’t like the taste. And so they eat what they already like, which is lots of sugary sweets and fried stuff and meats, salt and lots of refined flour. These people don’t like things that are uncomfortable, and in the long run will create a life that is deeply uncomfortable as a result. The beautiful thing is: I learned in my own spiritual practice that a little discomfort isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact, with a little training discomfort can be something you enjoy. It may sound insane to you, but when I finally learned this on my bed in hospital , I was able to change everything.
You see, a little discomfort has now become part of my master plan:
Being the Master of Your own Discomfort This may sound counter intuitive but the way to master your own discomfort is to do it comfortably. And do it in small doses at first. You don’t have to set yourself up for an hour practice, of something you’re not used to doing. Just do a few minutes. Just start.
Decide on an activity that’s not too challenging to begin with, like meditation. Actually it’s not that difficult — just find a space & sit down. Pay attention to your body and breath. Don’t think that you have to empty your mind, just notice your thoughts. Pay attention to the shape of your breath. You can try feeling and observing the sensation of your tummy button pushing outwards as it gently inflates on the inhalation, and then deflates on the exhalation. You don’t have to chant anything strange, you just sit and pay attention. Try this for a couple of minutes…
Observe your discomfort. Watch yourself as you first start to get a bit uncomfortable . Are you starting to complain to yourself? Are you dreaming up more avoidance strategies? Where are you going to turn to next? However, what happens if you stay with it, and don’t do anything just for now? When you feel the compulsion to get up for the second time, don’t. When you feel you want to get up for a third time, then get up. So you sit through the desire and the compulsion, the discomfort, twice before finally giving in the third time. Do you notice what happens to you the third time, when you allow yourself to get up? Do you notice what happens the next time you do this exercise? What is happening is you are pushing your comfort zone a little. You can do this in exercise and many other activities if you don’t like meditation — Remember to push out of your comfort zone, but just a little at first. If you practice this technique enough, with different activities, your comfort zone will expand to include discomfort. And this practice then prepares you for life. If you master discomfort, what can you now master as a result? Just about anything!
Procrastination. We procrastinate to avoid something that’s not comfortable, something that we ache to put off. But if you can learn to stay with your task, make a start, even if it’s not comfortable. The discomfort isn’t that bad, is it?
Clutter. Clutter is just another form of procrastination. You don’t put things away, you let a pile of things you don’t need build up, because it’s not comfortable dealing with it right now – we all have friends like this, don’t we?
Eating honestly and healthily. If you are a comfort addict and are gradually getting used to healthier foods – may I be the first to congratulate you! You know it’s amazing how beautifully our taste buds can change over time. This may mean going through a periods of minor discomfort, but try not to worry, you are setting up the right conditions for peace and health in your life and for those around you. Love is infectious.
Exercise. We avoid exercise because it’s not comfortable, it can hurt at first. (I know I hear the ‘discomfort’ of my Yoga students!). But if we expand the comfort zone a little at a time, we can make exercise something we ultimately enjoy.
Writing. Writing is often difficult, certainly less comfortable than checking on our social media networks. Stay with the discomfort, and you’ll write more beautifully than ever.
Challenge yourself and Learn something new. Learn something that you’re not used to, like the Guitar, or Tango Dancing. Stay with the discomfort, and before long you’ll enjoy learning this new skill, whatever you have chosen.
New adventures and Self Discovery. Part of my spiritual practice as a Kriya Yogi is Svadhyaya or self study. Many people stay within their comfort Zone. In jobs they care less about. They go to places that they’re comfortable with, when they holiday they go to the same place year on year. They eat the same food, rather than looking for a more authentic experiences in a new land. To make sure that I have not become too comfortable in life, (and this is really important to me), every year I make a pilgrimage to a new part of the world that I have never been to before. By the time you read this post, I will be in Ladakh, East Kashmir, on the edge of the roof of the world. A part of India that I have always wanted to visit, to spend time in, and experience. India is a country that I feel indebted too, it was in India where I first learned that: “Discomfort is one of life’s great gifts. It requires me to be here.”