Melissa Bertenthal: The power of discomfort

HURT SO GOOD: Yoga instructor Melissa Bertenthal says that true self-care involves more than just rest and relaxation. Photo by Jaime Weidenmiller

Glossy magazine covers, social media posts and health gurus often encourage us to soothe our mental, physical and even spiritual aches and pains with month-long retreats, exotic therapies or day trips to luxurious resorts.

But what if self-care is more than treating ourselves to a day of pampering and unwinding? What if it means embracing our sometimes messy or unpleasant parts of ourselves? What if self-care challenges us to confront what’s most difficult in our lives? 

Melissa Bertenthal, owner of Everybody Yoga in East Asheville, rejects stereotypical self-care wisdom. If fact, she says, many conventional self-care techniques might actually serve as a Band-Aid for discomfort, or a way to avoid deep-seated issues and change harmful behaviors.

“Self-care is not the easy, or the pretty, or the quick trip to the spa: It is about creating a life that you don’t regularly need to escape from and that takes some time and work and willingness to go in deep,” she says. “At the end of the day, if you choose a distraction over the discomfort, the discomfort is still gonna remain. A distraction just becomes a temporary fix.” 

As a yoga instructor, Bertenthal also sees her industry as brimming with misconceptions and false assumptions. When some folks think of yoga, they may envision a dimly lit studio full of toned bodies attaining peace and enlightenment by holding gravity-defying poses with seemingly effortless grace. The reality, she says, is much more inclusive.

“Yoga comes up all the time when people talk about self-care. It’s kind of the go-to, and it should be, because yoga is an ancient science, and there’s proven results that it reduces stress, chronic pain and can create more ease and connection with ourselves and those around us,” Bertenthal observes. “But that being said, I think the wellness industry’s misrepresentation of yoga with the emphasis on ‘fit and fabulous’ and ‘love and light’ and ‘good vibes only’ makes the very people who would benefit from yoga think that it’s not for them.” 

Yoga and other forms of self-care can — and should — push participants to face stress, discomfort and hardship head-on, she explains. This challenging and sometimes thorny approach, says Bertenthal, has the power to facilitate personal growth and lasting serenity.

“Yoga is messy and yoga is hard, but not because it’s physically hard,” she explains. “I think that it’s really important that we understand that yoga is not about what you wear or the size of your pants or the bendy shapes that you can make. It’s actually about learning how to sit in our discomfort and learning how to harness this heat that’s generated from tension and friction so that it can sustain rather than destroy us.”


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