There’s a deeply held, implicit belief that we must suffer to grow. It’s Judeo-Christian essentially, but has made its way into all aspects of bodymind practice and personal growth. Today, extreme hot yoga, mud runs (and similar) and ice training are some of the most popular methods of torturing oneself. Much of this practice has an almost S&M quality; numb people get addicted to extreme sensation, so they can feel again. The notion that it must be doing some good if it’s uncomfortable is hard to shake! Gentler practices remain unpopular, even when they give demonstrable results.
This is the dark side of sacrifice. While there is often worth in giving something up (I frequently see people benefit more from my courses when there is a time/energy/financial commitment), suffering doesn’t always create value! To suffer is not to benefit. I’m thinking of starting Hell Yoga™, where I pointlessly torture people to make some money and prove a point.
This is not to say, of course, that challenge is a waste of time. Intensity that’s carefully calibrated to people’s skill (almost never done) can create a “sweet spot” for learning self-regulation, discipline and the forging of one’s will. I have done this; it has value for the soft, liberal, modern world, especially. However, simply suffering is not helpful. Most people I’ve worked with use intensity to reinforce a narrative of low self-worth and punishment, to further disembody and avoid coming home. More often, what is helpful is a gentle, forgiving listening, a returning home to the abandoned lover of the body. Fuck, it took me 20+ years of martial arts, extreme sports and kinky sex to work this out. It’s deeply counter cultural.
However, alongside the challenging, there is also a place for the occasionally unreasonable. I’m glad that, as a young man, I pushed myself to insane edges. I would recommend this for the testosterone-driven and the very dedicated who wish to become professionals in their field. A few of us must descend into hell to steal fire from the Gods, but this is not sustainable or a healthy bodily norm.
So be a rebel: don’t push yourself. Delight in the pleasure of your body. Be fucking kind to yourself. Gentle is the new extreme.