Ep #6: Yoga and embracing the darkness with Joe Taft

In episode of The Discomfort Zone podcast, Joe Taft, a celebrated yoga teacher and yoga therapist, invites us to embrace every facet of the life cycle, even the challenging aspects found within the discomfort zone.

He delves into the significance of self-awareness in confronting fear, offering tangible techniques for embracing these darker moments when they arise.

Throughout our discussion, we explore the vital roles of ongoing learning and integration, debunk common misconceptions surrounding yoga, delve into the essence of reality, and underscore the importance of alignment in outdoor pursuits like paddling.

In this conversation you’ll learn:

  • Practical strategies, based in yoga and breathwork, for facing your fear and navigating your discomfort zone.
  • The cycles of life and seasons based in the Shakti yoga tradition, and where your discomfort zone resides within these cycles.
  • How embracing the darkness can make you a master of life.
  • Yoga alignment principles for kayaking.
About Joe

Joe was born a mover and has always found refuge in the pursuit of excellence in a variety of sports and outdoor activities.

He has been studying human movement patterns as either an athlete, coach or the teacher in a variety of sports, such as skiing, kayaking and yoga. In 1990, after a decade-long career in whitewater kayaking, Joe discovered yoga and has never looked back.

Joe dove into his practice and studies with complete dedication. The practice of yoga has given Joe the insights into how the body desires balance in order to be pain-free and how to apply subtle alignment actions at the right time to achieve this.

Joe is an avid student of yoga and has studied with many of the great teachers who have founded the yoga movement in the States. He has spent literally thousands of hours completing yoga trainings on such topics as human anatomy and function, meditation, pranayama (breath work), and the study of sacred texts from India, both ancient mythologies and philosophies. He has co-taught workshops with such renowned scholars as William Mahony and Douglas Brooks.

How to connect with Joe: 

Webiste: https://joetaftyoga.com/

Instagram: @joe_taft_yoga 

Facebook: Joe Taft Yoga

 

Anna
My guest today, Joe Taft, was born a mover and has always found refuge in the pursuit of excellence in a variety of sports and outdoor activities. He has been studying human movement patterns as either an athlete, coach, or teacher in a variety of sports, such as skiing, kayaking, and yoga. In 1990, after a decade-long career in whitewater kayaking, Joe discovered yoga and has never looked back. Joe dove into his practice and studies with complete dedication.

The practice of yoga has given Joe the insights into how the body desires balance in order to be pain-free and how to apply subtle alignment actions at the right time to achieve this. Joe is an avid student of yoga and has studied with many of the great teachers who have founded the yoga movement in the States.

He has spent literally thousands of hours completing yoga trainings on such topics as human anatomy and function, meditation, pranayama, and the study of sacred texts from India, both ancient mythologies and philosophies. He has co-taught workshops with such renowned scholars as William Mahoney and Douglas Brooks. And I will add that he has been a mentor for me in my yoga journey and a collaborator on my yoga for kayaking video that we did together back in 2011. So really excited to have you here, Joe. Thank you for being here.

Joe Taft
Wow.

Joe Taft
Thanks for having me, Anna. I’m psyched.

Anna
Yeah, so I’d like to dive right in and ask you, what does your discomfort zone feel like, look like? Tell us about your discomfort zone.

Joe Taft
Wow, well first of all, I’d like to kind of back up a little bit and say that I think this is great subject matter, the discomfort zone. I think it’s like something you decided to obviously go into with a bunch of different people and learn about it. And basically I’m pro discomfort zone. I’m a believer in being in the discomfort zone in a way that you might say mindfully.

So, and I like to say, like, can you stay in wonderment, even when you’re in uncomfortable positions? So, yeah, thanks for having me in such a cool discussion. And you asked, what does my discomfort zone look like?

Anna
Yeah, what does it feel like, look like? And before you answer that, I just wanna say that I love what you just said, and I think it’s an amazing practice to stay in wonderment in your discomfort zone. And I might go off on a small tangent already, but the practice of yoga, right? The poses are simply one aspect, as we know, one branch of yoga, of the eight branches of yoga. And…

It’s not about the end pose or what you look like. For me, anyway, it’s really about what you just said. Can you put your body in a shape that is uncomfortable, find that steadiness and sweetness and breathe and stay in wonderment? I mean, what a practice.

Joe Taft
Yeah, totally, totally. Can we digress even a little bit more? Like we haven’t even started, like we’re doing total digression already, you know? But I like to think of it as like a cycle. I like to think of the discomfort zone as a cycle. And so, you know, just to set context for our conversation, if you think about the cycle as like a plant that grows up.

Anna
Yeah, let’s do it.

Joe Taft
You know, a planet grows up out of the ground and then it flowers and has like this beautiful flower and then dissolves back down into the earth. In yoga, the tradition I’m raised in, it’s a tantric based yoga, which in the context, when I use that word, it doesn’t, that doesn’t have anything to do with sex. That’s like, because that does come up in that term. And I think that’s actually great practices. I just don’t know anything about that. It’s a different type of branch that I’ve studied. And, but I have studied what we call in the Shakti tradition. which is what you would call the feminine tradition, and we see everything as a goddess. We personify things, not because it needs to happen, but because it brings heightened awareness. If you give it a name or whatever. And so if you think of that cycle, like the plant growing up, that plant growing up is what we call Saraswati, that process where the stem is rising up and the leaves are starting to grow off. And Saraswati is the goddess of like, creativity, dance, art, music, language. And she’s a master at refining. And then, so you have the stem growing up and then at the top of the stem, you have like a flower that opens. And that part of the process is what we call Lakshmi. And Lakshmi is that full manifestation of like beauty, for example, like, and she stands for wealth, beauty, refinement in its completeness Light you know and then and then what happens at the end of it like what happens in nature like when a flower blooms Well, we all know nature doesn’t hold back, you know so it falls apart and it goes back down to the ground and that That part where the flowers going back into the ground and like falling into the ground and even decaying everything we call that part Kali and Kali is the goddess of darkness.

She is, she’s the compost rotting in your backyard. She is the fear that comes to you or anxiety or anger, whatever it is for you that you deal with. You know, when you’re lying in bed at night and you can’t sleep and like maybe your body is not very comfortable and that would be like Kali, you know?

And so. for me, the discomfort zone is what we call Kali. It’s a place where there’s not, like you don’t know. It’s that dissolving back into the earth. It’s the place where you don’t know. And the idea in the yoga practice is, if you embrace those shortcomings and that sense of not knowing, or whatever it is for you, the darkness, the anger, whatever the discomfort zone is for you, you…

You can like your whole cycle can be more beautiful and radiant and magnificent So and what I like to say that spin I like to put in it Like i’ve already said is can you be in wonderment of the whole? cycle the rising The flowering and the dissolving which is the discomfort zone and that to me is um And and i’m not the master at that by any means i’m just a person that can put it in context because that’s what I do for a living and um

Anna
Right.

Joe Taft
But the person that can go into the discomfort zone with a sense of wonderment man, they can be a real master of life so that’s That’s kind of the way I think of the discomfort zone It’s it does come in cycles and nobody escapes it and if you and if you think you are escaping it well The news is it’s tagging right behind you and it’s just waiting You know what I mean? So anyway, thanks for letting me set a little bit of context for how I think of the Discovery Zone.

Anna
Yeah, no, it’s beautiful. And I think in our culture, traditionally, everyone loves the Lakshmi phase. The full beauty, abundance, wealth, it’s that youth, so to speak, and our culture, especially in the media, especially social media, very attached to that phase, or at least that’s my experience.

Joe Taft
That’s right, yes.

Anna
And then the, so it is going against the grain, so to speak of our pop culture at least to embrace the fullness of it. What I love about that as well is of course as an Ayurvedic practitioner, I’m always thinking in context of the seasons and you have that Saraswati that is the spring, Lakshmi summer, and then Kali fall, kind of groups fall, winter, you know.

Joe Taft
Mmm, yes.

Joe Taft
Totally.

Anna
And that we see these cycles everywhere in nature. And that’s one of the reasons I’m so drawn to Ayurveda is because we are nature. And like you said, we can’t escape the discomforts and we can’t escape the cycle because we are nature. And when you look in nature, the cycle is present. As you mentioned, as a flower or a tree growing up in the seasons, in the daily cycle of the sun, right? The 24 hour light dark cycle, it’s everywhere.

Joe Taft
Mmm.

Joe Taft
Mm-hmm.

Joe Taft
Totally. It’s everywhere, every breath, every cell, living and dying, everywhere.

Anna
And that’s right. Yes, exactly. And so I love what you say that if you can stay in wonderment through the whole cycle, you can be a master at life because you’re not having an aversion or trying to run away. Yeah.

Joe Taft
Exactly. Right. Well said. Yeah.

Anna
Yeah, beautiful. So when you are in that Kali phase and that discomfort zone, what is that like for you? How do you experience it?

Joe Taft
Well, I, you know, not to get off into Ayurvedic terms, but my tendency is anxiety, you know, uncertainty, anxiety, fear, things like that. That’s really that’s, and that’s the first, that’s the first look. The second look is, is that I’m not very conscious of it. Because again, we grew up in a culture that doesn’t, even though that’s my life work on some level, like I love college, you know? Like I love the discomfort zone. But even though I am dedicated to being mindful, even through that part of the process, I still, again, because of our culture, and have a hard time staying aware during that, I tend to push things aside and say, I’m ready to get out of this, which sometimes keeps me stuck there, but also I just can’t see. I mean, it’s hard to see in the dark in our culture. I don’t think it’s necessarily hard to see in the dark, but in this way, but you know, so, you know, and if you don’t see very clearly then, then you have problems in other parts of the cycle. For example, like when the flower comes into full bloom, like a lot of people like love the flowering, but they feel like, oh, that’s not for me. Only other people can flower that way. So I’ll delight in their flowering, which is totally fine.

Anna
Hmm. Mm-hmm.

Joe Taft
But I’m the kind of person that wants to be in wonderment and be fully engaged in the whole process. So I dedicated myself to be really mindful in that dark phase, or all the phases, but my tendency is to not be engaged in the discomfort zone, the darker phase. So to answer your question, there’s two answers. It looks like anxiety for me, typically, or somebody else that could be anger or controlling.

Anna
Mm-hmm.

Joe Taft (12:16.146)
And then the other part is I still recognize that I don’t see very clearly.

Anna (12:20.355)
Hmm. When you’re talking about anxiety, do you feel it in your body? You know, anywhere does it, when it comes up for you? And then what’s your strategy when you do feel that? Like, and where I think sometimes it’s helpful for, for folks when we share this, because people don’t feel so alone, you might share something where, oh yeah, I feel it here and someone else, oh, so do I or not. And then strategies on how you approach that.

Joe Taft
Yeah, so I have a few methods. I’m a 12-stepper, so I’m involved in 12 steps from addiction and things like that. And what I’ve learned from that, going through that, is that community’s really important. So I make phone calls. I call friends and I say, hey, I’m really uncomfortable. I have a lot of anxiety today. Or I actually call some of my friends regularly when I’m not, when I am in the Laxmi phase, when I am in…

So I try to call them regularly, but so then they’re a resource when I also am feeling the discomfort. And, and I call them and I tell them how I’m doing. Say, Hey, I’m feeling, I’m feeling anxious. And I think it’s because of this, you know, I’m not, I’m not making enough money or, you know, my plans aren’t going as I thought, you know, I had this big, I had a vision for how my business was going to grow or, or this relationship that I’m in is challenging or whatever and I can talk with them. So that’s one method that I use, which I think is really powerful. Community is, oh gosh, woohoo. I get shivers thinking about the power of being able to talk to good friends and people you care about openly. I mean, small talk’s great too. But I think that’s really important actually to have your friends that you can have just small talk. But to have those friends that you can have the deeper conversation and talk about discomfort.

Anna
Yeah. And friends who are not trying to fix you. Like, so when, you know, I reach out, they’re there to listen and they’re not freaking out about what I might be going through and they’re also not trying to fix me because there’s nothing to fix. You know, it’s holding that space and I think both as a facilitator, so it’s great to have friends who for you, especially when you’re a facilitator. I’m also a facilitator. And so I, you know, part of my job, I see my job as holding, being able to hold space for others to show up as they are and be present with whatever’s happening without trying to fix anyone or actually without trying to fix the situation. And I think that’s super powerful.

Joe Taft
That’s to me a really big piece.

Joe Taft
Yes.

Joe Taft
Yeah, no, I agree and not like when somebody’s in the discomfort zone when you’re not trying to fix them And you’re like there for them that That is a fix like you don’t I mean don’t tell your brain that you know like or anything Like don’t tell the cycle that because it’s not about getting out of it, but it actually is It’s like the most thing it lets somebody be in the discomfort zone really comfortably. I have a friend that um

Anna
Right.

Joe Taft
I have a friend, a really close friend, and she has the ability to just hold that space where you can be any way you need to be when you’re with her. And it wasn’t long ago, like I saw her, and I was like running around town and doing things, but I had been going through a hard time, and I saw her, and I went to actually just give her like a Christmas thing, like a thing for Christmas, you know? Just like that I did with some of my friends, you know, that I thought about. And I go, and it just so happened that she was home, and she walked outside, and I gave her the thing, and I looked at her, and I started crying. You know, because she’s like the master at holding space. You know, it’s like what she does for, and she looks at me and she goes, how are you? And I’m like, wow, I’m really uncomfortable. Thank you for asking. You know, and that, so to me, and that was like, oh my God, I felt so much better the rest of the day. I didn’t have time to like spend time on it because I was like doing my day, you know? But I saw her and I was like, man, I felt so much better.

Anna
Right.

Joe Taft
So number one is number one. Yeah, maybe you can add to that.

Anna
I wanted to add one thing because I just went through a really challenging, probably, you know, one of the top two most challenging experiences of my life last week and the out, the outpouring of support and love that I received and people reaching out when they heard what, you know, what I was going through because I did post on social media about it, um, made such a huge difference. And I can go into a place, I have periods in my life where I’m like, I have no friends. Like, it’s a really strange thing. Like, oh, I have no friends. Or I feel alone or whatever it is I get. And I think sometimes it’s because I do, do a lot of facilitating. And sometimes it is difficult for me to allow people to contribute to me. And I’m sharing this because maybe some of…

Joe Taft
Hmm, interesting.

Anna
some listeners can relate to this. And it is, you don’t have to be, it doesn’t have to be, your friends don’t have to be like the friends TV show where you’re spending time together every day and living together and you can’t imagine, like you’re attached at the hip. You can have strong committed relationships with people and not see them for a while and people still have your back.

And if you’re cultivating, I love what you said, how you call them when you’re feeling good, you call people when you’re not in your discomfort zone. It does take, the other thing I will say, and I coach people on this is that community isn’t something that happens to us, it’s something that’s active. It’s important to be an active participant. And when you are, it really pays off that community. So that’s what I wanna add.

Joe Taft
That’s right.

Joe Taft
Yeah, well, just to put it in context, like the way I grew up is you didn’t really share your challenging things, you only shared the good things. And that put me in a trap. And I thought I was only supposed to share the good things. That’s not fair to the friend either. They want to know like the whole thing.

Anna
Right, yep.

Joe Taft
That’s like and here’s why and to be able to like to become like to be able to articulate that to them It’s one thing to go. I’m uncomfortable and blah blah, but to be able to articulate it That’s actually a gift to them too. And it took me years to figure that out I had no idea that was a gift to somebody else. I thought I was burdening them, but that’s the huge gift, you know

Anna
Right. Yeah. Love that.

Joe Taft
Kali, that dark place, it wants to be seen. People go shine the light in it. Well, if you shine the light in it too much, it’s not Kali anymore. So the darkness wants to be recognized. It will come back out if it’s not recognized in a balanced way.

Anna
Yeah.

What does yoga say about strategies for looking in the dark?

Joe Taft
Um…

Uh, uh, um, that’s a pretty big question, but I would have to say that in general meditation is that, you know, meditation, like getting, trying to get your mind quiet. I mean, is, uh, it’s so peaceful. First of all, meditation is so peaceful, but I like to say that, um, if you think about meditation or even being really present, but for now, let’s keep it simple, like being really focused in meditation.

Anna
Yeah.

Joe Taft
I like to say that there’s a shield around it. And that shield is called the discomfort zone in this context. So if you go and you sit still and you go, oh, I wanna be peaceful. And then you do it like, let’s say you do like a little yoga class or something and you sit and you’re like, oh my God, that was awesome. You know, and then you come back like a few days later, you’re like, oh, that was awesome again. And next thing you know, you come back and this time you’re like, oh my God, that sucked. I was completely uncomfortable. I was fidgeting the whole time. I had basically, I was awake, but I had nightmares.

You know, like that’s the discomfort zone which tends to like guard the place of peace inside of us so it took me years to be able to articulate that but um, that’s um, That’s uh Uh a brief interpretation of what in yoga we call the koshas, you know these layers of our these layers of our being

Anna
Right. Yeah. And yeah, when you first or when I first started sitting in meditation, well, actually, I have a lot of Kapha energy, earth, water energy. So sitting in meditation is maybe a little easier for me than some other folks. But you know, it’s not, it’s not going to be blissful. Like this idea that yoga and meditation is just blissful all the time, like what you’re describing.

Joe Taft
Yes.

Anna
You got to get through that discomfort zone, through the layers to find that spot. And like you said, sometimes it’s just like kayaking also, or any outdoor sport, you have great days and you have not so great days and you can’t expect to be calm or develop mental agility on the river. If you don’t practice mental agility at home, it’s like practicing those small, those hard moves in easy water. Right.

Joe Taft
Mm-hmm. Mm.

Anna
Um, you don’t, you can’t expect to run a class for rapid without ever working up to that. And I think folks, especially in whitewater kayaking, we are used to talking about let’s practice hard moves and easy water for skills, like for the paddling skills. But for a long time, it’s starting to change, but for a long time, the mindset was kind of like not even talked about really, because like you were saying, you don’t want to burden people. People didn’t. especially when I started in the 90s, people didn’t wanna hear about how scared you were or that you were nervous. Like that was bad. That was bad. You shouldn’t be out there. What are you doing here? So yeah, it takes time.

Joe Taft
Oh, totally. Totally.

Joe Taft
No, no, I agree. Yeah, I remember thinking, like I remember running a hard rapid, like locally, like gorilla, you know, like on the green. Like I remember running gorilla like regularly and, and then, um, and really actually not thinking about it much, like being scared, you know, that at the beginning, the first, oh, I was always scared actually, but, um, like being scared and then, and then my back hurt really bad.

Joe Taft
I started hurting, it was kind of hurting over a while, but my back hurt really bad. And then I remember a couple of times going to the top of the river, I mean, top of that rapid, and then going, oh my gosh, I can feel my back like tightening and starting to hurt. And I hadn’t even decided if I was gonna run it yet. So whether you recognize that it’s mental, emotional, and in your tissues or not,

It is. Like it is. There’s nobody that like bypasses that concept that like your discomfort zone is in your tissues. It is in your tissues. Whether you are cognitive, whether you know it or not, whether you have the awareness to like shine the light of your awareness in and see that or not is, I think that might be a little off subject, but you get the point I think.

Anna
No, I think it’s right on subject. I love that. I think growing self-awareness is the key for becoming a master of living, for cultivating mental agility, for yoga practice, for kayaking, for whatever it is in life you want to do. Can you say more about that discomfort zone being in your tissues? I’m just curious if you have anything more to say about that.

Joe Taft
Yeah, yeah, like I have a little bit of a…

Like I have a little bit of a, like, for example, like a feeling that I want to bypass is shame. You know, I mean, we could use different words, embarrassment, but shame people understand. I’m not gonna get too much into that word because it can mean so many different things and then we might have to redefine the word, but so we’ll just keep it simple and say shame. So like at certain times in my life, I’ve had, I’ve felt a lot of shame, and that shame is like commonly in the neck and shoulder and upper chest. Like this is a common place to feel shame even up into the lower part of the face. Like that’s that area is associated with shame. Now there’s other emotions, there’s other feelings and sensations. Emotion is just energy moving, you know energy in motion, emotion. So there’s other energies that move in the same way like excitement can be through this area as well. But for me, when I feel like a real sense of heat, pitta, we call it, we feel like a real sense of heat in this area, that for me is often shame. And so the practice would be, again, we could spend a lot of time on this, but the brief version is that what you do is you feel the discomfort and you stay present with the discomfort. And usually there’s a story, there’s a mental thing that came up while you were, you know, that you got you there. I can’t believe I couldn’t accomplish that or whatever it is. And you feel that, but then you remove the story, you consciously remove the story, and then you just feel what’s in the body. And as you feel what’s in the body, it might leave and it might not, but that’s okay. That’s not your job to get rid of it. That it’s your job to just,

Joe Taft
Like completely be conscious of it and then what I call what tends to happen over time sometimes right away It depends on if it’s a long-term thing or not. You it you digest it and Then you digest it in the same way that maybe you ate something out of the refrigerator that wasn’t quite Like what you wanted to eat, but you go, you know what? That’s all I have and that’s what I’m gonna eat And it actually makes you stronger so you can digest challenging emotions if you have the awareness. And you can use that as fuel. Like, I mean, how do people, like how do some people eat hardly any food and do like crazy stuff? They can digest anything. They can digest breath, they can digest air, they can address their emotions and they’re not wasting any time thinking about unnecessary things or things in their tissues they don’t need because they’re so efficient in.

 

Joe Taft
Digesting whatever comes into their field so So that’s what you do. It’s just a recap you sit with what’s uncomfortable

You stay with it, you remove the story, and you stay with it even when the story’s gone. So you just feel it as a biomechanical emotion in the body, in the tissue.

Anna
Hmm. I love that. And those folks who are listening and who have followed me for a while or worked with me, you know that I talk about this a lot, that we have to digest everything that we take in through any of our five senses. So I love what you just talked about, Jo. It just summed it up, explained it beautifully. So thank you.

So what have you learned about yourself? What have you learned about yourself by spending time in your discomfort zone?

Joe Taft
Well, the first thing I’ve learned is I, that I’ve already mentioned, is I’m still good at avoiding things, first of all. I’m excellent at that. Again, because our culture, the way I grew up taught me to do that. And I think also our culture teaches us to do that. And I’m really drawn to the light. I’m really drawn to the flowering. That’s like a, it’s actually a gift of mine that I don’t ignore.

I like embrace that because that’s not it’s not like I have to get rid of that to be in the discomfort zone more I just have to you know, I have to just be very aware when I am in the discomfort zone So so that I ignore What’s happening there and then what was the question again?

Anna
Yeah, what have you learned about yourself through spending time in your discomfort zone?

Joe Taft (29:39.258)
Oh yeah, I’ve learned that…

man, I’ve learned that there’s certain things I don’t like to do. Learned that my nervous system doesn’t really want to do certain things. Right now, I wouldn’t wanna get off the couch and go run a hard rapid. Where 20 years ago, I would’ve. Or I probably wouldn’t’ve, but I would’ve done it and thought I enjoyed it. But I would’ve probably been.

Anna
Right.

Joe Taft
I would have enjoyed it more if I would have gone out and done a couple of practice days and walked that rapid, and then I would have really enjoyed it. So I’ve learned there’s things I don’t enjoy. I’ve learned that there’s people that are hard for me to be around. Doesn’t mean that I’m always not around them, but I have awareness that we’re challenged around them.

Anna
Right.

Joe Taft
Yeah, and I’ve also learned that it’s important for me to be in the discomfort zone. So to be, um, and to, to take that another step, I’ve been in it enough that I enjoy holding space for people who are ready to be in the discomfort zone, you know, and to give them, to teach them skill sets to be in the, in the discomfort zone. Um, which is just a repeat for me is, is community practices like.

Anna
Yeah.

Joe Taft
um meditation mindfulness practices like meditation and um and uh being with challenging emotions in the body those are like three of the ones you know

Anna
Yeah, and what I heard you say earlier in the conversation is that it’s important to be in the discomfort zone so that you embrace the entire cycle and stay in that wonderment. Yeah. Beautiful.

Joe Taft
Yeah, and you will. In the, in the, I mean, for me, in that dark cycle that we’re calling Kali, um…

you will lose the wonderment at times. And that’s also okay. But as you do it more and more, you’ll start to recognize, oh my God, this is so cool. I am getting beat up. You know, like I’m totally getting beat up. I mean, the symbology of Kali is that she’s, there’s so many things, but one thing is she has a sword in her upper right hand and it’s like a blade, a sword, and it has blood dripping on it. And in the other hand, cause she’s just cut off the head. And so, as she’s holding just the head without the body and it’s bleeding and everything. So, and that head that she’s holding stands for like false ego. And that’s what happens when we spend time consciously. We stay in wonderment or we consciously choose to stay in the discomfort zone is we start to lose our sense of unhealthy ego which is, I mean, I don’t think I need to tell you that. I don’t think I need to tell anybody that. That’s super powerful.

Anna
Mm-hmm. Yeah, it allows us to connect with our true nature more deeply.

Joe Taft
Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Anna
But like you said, it’s all those layers. What I’m really hearing throughout this conversation is that there’s growth in the discomfort zone. It takes.

It takes courage to be there and to sit with it. It’s like it is going through the fire, so to speak, to be able to get to the other side.

Joe Taft
Yeah, it is going to the fire.

Joe Taft
Yeah, and just to add to that, the…

the fire that you use to kind of get through it. Hmm, I don’t know how to say this.

You know, the fire that you use to get through it, or the… Let’s say, let’s not say fire, let’s say the anger, if anger is like a dark thing for you, like that anger that comes up for you in the discomfort zone is the same anger that it takes to get out, possibly. You know, like it’s, so Kali is two-headed in a sense. She’s like these attributes, like it’s a paradox. Like the discomfort that you don’t like is also the power to get you out of it. Like they’re the same thing. That didn’t come out quite right. That didn’t come out quite right, but I think you could maybe even say it better now that you’ve heard it or something. But I think you could.

Anna
Hmm. Right. It’s powerful.

Anna
Yeah, I think, I think I understand what you’re saying. I also see it as a fire of transformation. So fire is, fire does transform. That’s that digestion piece again.

Joe Taft
Absolutely. Yeah, I think you should talk a little bit more about that from kind of the Ayurvedic perspective, because I definitely believe that like the discomfort zone is the place that you burn off all the stuff that you don’t want. It’s not only that you’re, I don’t want it and I want to get away from it, which is totally true. But there’s also this piece of like, I don’t want it and I’m going to get rid of it. I’m going to, I’m going to leave it in the dark or I’m going to burn it away. Like, why don’t you talk about that from an Ayurvedic perspective for a moment?

Anna
Well, what I can say if we’re talking about digestion, which Ayurveda, one of the principles of Ayurveda is that our digestion is the basis of health and wellness and wellbeing. And that the fire, our digestive fire is responsible for transforming the food that we nourish ourselves with into our tissues, literally.

Like what we eat becomes processed into our tissues. And so we don’t eat food, like we do eat food and then get rid of it, so to speak through the cycle, like waste cycle. But there’s only a part of it that we get rid of, quote unquote, get rid of a lot of it we actually transform and it becomes us, like our bodies. And so it’s what you said earlier about, let me see if I can remember what you said. It was really cool. now it’s getting away from me, but that we’re not trying to get rid of the food. We’re trying to, we want to transform the food into something powerful and energy. So like what you’re saying is you don’t wanna get rid of the bad emotions, the bad situations. You want to, and you said it earlier, I can’t remember exactly how you said it, but to transform that into energy, right? To integrate it into, you know, this life in who you are and who you want to be in this life with this body, you know, walking on this earth through these cycles.

Joe Taft
Mm-hmm. Yeah, it’s the it’s the it’s the life-death life cycle You know the life-death life cycle is happening on every level like we mentioned already and even in your relationship like your relationship with a significant other like you We tend to like at least for me my problem in relationships is I would I would just not want to deal with my partner at certain times and that’s that is not that’s not, or I wanted them to be a certain way at certain times, and the relationship breaks down. I mean, that’s just what happens. And to run away from that means that you can’t have the high times either. Like you can’t, you know, it’s hard to have like erotic sex with someone if you’re not like doing the work in that dark cycle. So, yeah, if it sounds like we’re saying the same thing over and over. Yes, that’s my belief at the same, that means it’s really universal. And we’re coming back to the same thing.

Anna
Right?

Anna
Yeah, and you can say it in different ways and different folks will hear different things. And if we want to learn something and really integrate it, it’s not a one and done. So.

Joe Taft (
Yeah, yeah. I’m really into stories. So I could tell like a story about the transformational fire, if you’re interested. So I’ll do like the shorter version. So in the Indian tradition, in the Tantric goddess tradition, which again, I’m relatively steeped in, is, you know, Durga is like

Anna
Sure. I love that.

Joe Taft
Energy you can think of it as a person like where I’m gonna use it as like this person or goddess But but this energy as it is like the mother her name’s Durga She’s like she takes care of everything and like when stuff goes really poorly Like that’s who they call in mythology. They call like this really powerful woman. Her name’s Durga, right and Durga goes to this into this battle and she goes into these battles to these two evil demons named Chanda and Munda and they’re really powerful because they’ve done all this work. They’ve done all this, you know, I don’t know if you know but if you do the work you get the power, you know. You know and they, yeah, yeah. So they’ve done the work so they have all this power, right?

Anna
I think I’ve heard that before earlier in this conversation.

Joe Taft
So it’s a big problem, so they call Durga. And Durga’s like, oh yeah, come on out, I’m gonna defeat you basically, you know? And so the battle ensues and they send, at first they don’t send themselves, they send like these army of warriors to defeat her. And of course she defends them, you know, she kills everybody, you know, the story goes on and she kills everybody. But then, but then they send out this horrific warrior named Rakta Bija. And the thing that’s really interesting about Rakta Bija is when Durga slices him, his blood falls to the ground and each drop of blood turns into another.

And so, have you ever been in a situation where things are going well and everything that happens only creates more problems? It’s kind of like that. So, the harder she fights, the worse things get. The more blood she spills, the worse things get. And so, then she feels like she’s in a corner. She’s like in a corner, she’s trapped, she doesn’t know what to do. She’s like the mom who…has lost control of her children or whatever. She just doesn’t know what to do. So she…

like makes almost like these convulsion type sounds and she vomits out Kali, which is like, Kali again stands for like the darkest part of the dark part of the cycle, right? And Kali comes out and she’s got this long tongue and these swords and anyway, she starts killing the demons but when the blood spills, before the blood hits the ground, she has this really long tongue and she drinks it up.

And so she’s not scared of the demons, she’s not scared of the blood, she’s not scared of anything. And she, as she drinks blood and kills all the demons, she becomes more and more powerful. And you know, it’s the story of like going into the dark places and kind of like almost taking it a step further and being more than wonderment of the dark place and really being empowered by it. But the problem is in the story is she gets drunk from the killing. And that’s the shadow side of our dark, of being in the dark, of being in our dark places. And she’s so empowered by being in the darkness, by drinking the blood and killing, that she starts killing things that she shouldn’t kill. She starts to destroy the forest and destroy the world. So all the gods and the goddesses, they’re like freaking out. And so they go to her cohort, which is Shiva.

And they’re like, Shiva, you gotta help us. Shiva’s basically like, dude, I’m scared shitless too. You know? So what he does is he sees her coming instead of like trying to do some big dance or show his beauty, because he’s very beautiful. What he does is he lays down in her path. And as he lays down in her path, she steps on top of him and she can feel that it’s like her beloved underneath her in a really humble way, like the all powerful, like the most powerful symbology in the yoga tradition is Lord Shiva, you know. So she stands on Shiva and she can just feel the ground. That’s what Shiva stands for, the ground which supports everything. And she calms down and she like loses her, the shadow side of the darkness. It kind of dissolves and she comes back to herself. So.

Anyway, that’s a little bit of a some people like to learn through story and I’m one of those people. So Yeah, yeah

Anna
Yeah. Thank you for sharing. I love it. Yeah.

I have some more questions. I have a question for you. Another question I’m going to go off. Okay, this one is, what’s the biggest misconception people have about yoga?

Joe Taft
One that you’ve covered already is, I think you touched on it briefly at least, is that it’s like a physical exercise practice. It’s more about in context of today like embracing the whole cycles of life, being in wonderment of life, and even going so far to say that you know, to celebrate life in its fullest is a first glance. And then to take that statement a little further is to see life in its truest reality. Because we tend to like, we don’t really see reality. We just see our mind pattern of it. And so it’s to remove the mind pattern and see life truly as it is, which, and in general, that is awesome. Like to see life in its most realistic form is hard because there’s really hard things to see, but it’s also radically beautiful. I mean, think about it. We’re like, I mean, reality, like we’re traveling around the sun. There’s a big ball of fire. The sun is so big, you could fit 1.3 million Earths inside of it. It’s gigantic. And we’re going around it. To make it around it in one year, we have to be going 66,000 miles per hour.

We’re hauling ass. And we’re like, own this ball of rock, hurling around the sun at crazy fast speeds, and we’re able to alive and talk about it. And here’s what the ancient Indians say that we’re so born about away. Not, it’s not a miracle that we’re living the life. It’s a miracle that we’re able to contextualize it. We can be conscious that we’re alive. That is the real miracle. So, yeah. So that’s… That to me is a yogic approach, to see the true nature of reality, not just movement, not just an exercise program, although I’m really into that. I’m really into like, get your femur head in your socket. You know, like, it all relates, you know?

Anna
Yes, absolutely. And I think it’s really important for kayakers or mountain bikers, all outdoor enthusiasts who are listening as well. And I preach that a lot about the alignment piece and having awareness in your body. And well, actually it fits with Ayurveda. With Ayurveda, you want to incorporate the opposite action to the imbalance, right? And so…

If someone’s sitting in a kayak or on a bike and then in the car and then at the computer texting, right, it’s important for us, we’re gonna create imbalances in our bodies, which will lead to injuries, right? Injuries typically happen over time. It’s not just about one traumatic experience for the body. It can be, but typically it’s habit patterns in the body.

Joe Taft
Agree.

Anna
And I’ve learned so much from you, like so much. I mean, folks who take my yoga for paddling classes or webinars, I mean, Joe has been a huge mentor. I mean, he is like, check him out because yeah, I’ve learned so much. And so it’s really important to open up the front of the body, strengthen the back of the body. I’m simplifying very much, but you know, that’s the idea of incorporate the opposite action. And what just came to me,

Joe Taft
Mm-hmm, totally, totally.

Anna
I’m going off on just this short tangent, but I remember distinctly one time, I think I was in one of your classes or I was talking to you in at the beginning or end of a class or maybe when we were collaborating on a video and you were like, yeah, I can’t think of a better, better position to like ruin your low back and your spine and to sit with your legs externally rotated, having to press into thigh braces with your inner thighs.

I think that just really stuck with me. It’s like, yeah, kayaking is one of the worst positions that we can sit in. And so it takes, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it because there’s the joy, so much fun. Like it’s not about not doing it. It’s about, okay, this is a challenging position for our bodies. And so we need to incorporate some opposite action.

Joe Taft
Oh my gosh.

Joe Taft
Yeah, and also recognizing that position is awkward for the body, especially the low back, is also, in my experience, holding yourself in a way that is not so bad for the body is a really empowering way to paddle because you’re kind of using more of your core and I think you can paddle really well once you understand

Like how to use your muscles in a way that it doesn’t bother your back as much. So that could be like a whole other podcast just talking about like, you know, in intense, what do you call it? The discomfort zone in the body in a position where you’re sitting in an awkward position and you know, how to hold yourself and what that looks like and what the tissues tend to do. And you know…

Anna
We could totally do that. We could do that on one of my webinars. Actually, I offer a free webinar once a month out to like the world. And that could be cool if you’re willing to come on to talk about that. We’ll see.

Okay, I’ve got some rapid fire questions for you. Okay. What’s a morning ritual that sets you up for success?

Joe Taft
breath work and meditation.

Anna
What’s your non-negotiable self-care practice?

Joe Taft
Oh, they’re supposed to be rapid fire, huh? Uh, exercise every day. Or almost every day. Not every day.

Anna
Love it.

Anna
What’s your favorite motivational book or talk?

Joe Taft )
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. And also, there’s a…

Anna
That’s a good one.

Joe Taft
Denzel Washington thing on YouTube and he I think it’s called fall forward It’s this really cool thing that Denzel somebody put together about his like a best speech that he says. It’s anyway, it’s pretty powerful. I think

Anna
Cool, I’ll have to check it out. What do people get wrong about you?

Joe Taft
Um, that I have my shit straight.

Anna
It’s awesome. Throughout the course of your life, have you considered yourself the underdog or the favored to win?

Joe Taft
Hmm, depends on the domain.

Anna
Okay. Split even.

Joe Taft
I tend to fall into lack if I’m not careful. So I have to have a lot of awareness and it’s unnecessary falling into lack because it’s usually not true. But anxiety will take me to a place of feeling a sense of lack if I’m not careful.

Anna
Got it. Okay, hard moves in easy water or flooding.

Joe Taft
Hard moves in easy water. For now.

Anna
Okay. I feel like you also, I feel like you would have some, you would enjoy some flooding too. But this isn’t my question to answer. Okay. One word that describes what your comfort zone looks like.

Joe Taft
Hehehehe

Joe Taft
Peace.

Anna
freedom through discipline or I do what I want.

Joe Taft
Freedom through discipline.

Anna
In one word, what do you hope your legacy will be?

Joe Taft
celebration of life.

Anna
Mm. Awesome. Is there anything else you’d like to tell our listeners, Joe?

Joe Taft
I would like to say that…

that I’m honored to be on this podcast and I have so much respect for Anna and Andrew. I’m honored to be on it because I’m like with you and we have this great connection and I hope to grow that connection. And also that…

I love dialogue and I’m just so happy to be in dialogue with more people now, hopefully through this. Deeper dialogue with you, but also dialogue with more people because the discomfort zone is a really, it’s a great thing to be in dialogue about, in community, inside yourself. So good work.

Anna (53:48.287)
Yes. Yeah. Thanks. Thank you, Joe. And that shifts to where can people find you? Where can they connect with you if they want to connect with you?

Joe Taft
Um, yeah, so you can reach out to me on my website through joetaphtyoga.com. You could write me an email at joet or you could see on Instagram. I post about every week or every other week. I don’t do a lot of posting, but I do post what I’m teaching. I usually teach like what my class themes are and what I do for yoga therapy. I’m also a yoga therapist, which means I use yoga to work with specific conditions.

like anxiety, autoimmune disease, addiction, things like that. Aches and pains, common aches and pains, stuff like that.

Anna
Yeah, great. And I’ll have all of your contact info in the show notes as well, so people can see where to connect with you. And I have so much gratitude for you, Joe, so grateful for you in my life. Thank you for taking the time to be here with me and chat. I love this conversation and I look forward to another, I hope.

Joe Taft
Awesome, yeah, me too. Thanks, Anna.