Practice Through Hardship

TEXT by Katherine Oakes | PHOTOGRAPHS by Katherine Oakes


Resistance makes us who we are. The things that shape and mold our identities are often times the most challenging. Like gemstones, pearls, or a smooth river rock, whose beauty we admire, is only a result of being roughed and then smoothed by an abrasive grit which finally reveals an underlying vibrant color and shine. Whenever I find myself and my students struggling, I wonder—why is it so hard to remember that about ourselves? 

The gift of our practice is that it is a gritty process, and if we let it, yields transformation. However tempting it may be to set our sights on a shining, vibrant end result, I encourage you to see the value of simply showing up and holding the space for yourself to have this process over and over again. Because, in recognizing this, is to recognize that this is the place where resiliency is found. 

In sanskrit, there is a word, “diksa”, which can be understood as something that has been heated, churned, and transformed, until it is broken open to reveal a shiny, beautiful thing inside.

The concept of diksa is a powerful symbol for practicing through hardship and struggle. To hold this perspective in your mind’s eye, even when all you can do is remind yourself to breathe, is enough. If it is what you have to offer—it is enough. The understanding that resistance in life, both on and off our mats, is a necessary part of shaping who we are and forming our identities is why I love this practice so very much, and I feel honored to share that with you here.


In the spirit of practicing through hardship, here are a few insights for how to manage when you find yourself struggling:

1) Find the right balance of softness and firmness: Holding tension in our bodies is not the same as firmness. Allow yourself to feel a strong and powerful by doing a pose well, but don’t think that you need to hold everything in. Try softening the muscles of your face in a trying pose, or releasing the tension you might be holding in your jaw, then go from there.

2) Rest: If you are struggling, chances are you are TIRED. Know that rest is just as important in your practice, and holding the space for yourself to take a child’s pose, or simply not practicing as long, may be the respite you need to move forward from a more settled place.

3) Truly focus on your breath: I can’t count the number of times I realized I was holding my breath in a pose until a teacher instructed me to “breathe more fully”. Notice if you’re actually breathing as deeply as possible and then, breathe like you mean it! Connecting to the breath is a gesture of recognizing how powerful we are even when we don’t feel like it. Your breath breathes you. It fills you up and propels you forward with each inhale and exhale. If this is all you can do, remind yourself of the great undercurrent your breath is and that honoring that in your practice is a great accomplishment in and of itself.