Sometimes yoga practice doesn’t give us that awesome feeling we are accustomed to. Sometimes it’s a real struggle. Some days, just getting to the mat can seem like a marathon itself. Other days, we expect our practice to deliver the bliss, yet we muster through the practice in a barely-there, fight-til-the-end, just-wanna-go-home state. Mama said there’ll be days like this. Despite the difficulty, the mental anguish, the physical exhaustion, and the small and big annoyances, these are the most important and revealing days of the practice. After all, life is not a walk in the park. Neither is yoga, not always anyway.

You may have the expectation that the physical yoga practice itself will help iron out these kinds of days, helping to somehow neutralize them or drive away the suffering. But the reality is, our practice helps us to be present in such moments. Sometimes we come to our mat as an escape from the stressors in life, but ultimately, this practice will actually bring those stressors front and center, so that we are fully aware of them and of their effects on us. The result of this process, at times, is an uneasy practice.

You may have one of those days when you feel every pose is a great physical challenge. Or you may have one of those days when every little distraction is maddening. Or, you may end up crying in a heap for no explainable reason (or for a crystal clear reason). These are a few manifestations of a hard day on the mat. They happen. They’re tough. But these are the days that can open us up to the subtler practice of awareness.

By simply recognizing your experience of a hard day on the mat, trying to not get sucked into the long and droning dialogue in your mind that wants to explain away your experiences, you can step back and take the position of the observer. Find your breath and notice your experience. Inhale. “I feel tired.” Exhale. “This pose feels impossible and horrible today.” (You may notice that your mind wants to add all sorts of commentary, “This pose feels horrible because I am weak and will never be able to do it like Peggy Sue over there. Why bother?” Try to notice when your mind has added commentary, and come back to your breath as a way to again simply notice what is happening in the moment. Lather, rinse, repeat—the mind will be persistent with its commentary.)

It may be comforting enough to know that what happens on the yoga mat is a reflection of what happens off the mat. Some days are better than others. The same tools apply on hard days as on any other day—use your breath as a tool to help anchor your mind in the moment. Simply breathe and notice your breath. Follow your inhalation and exhalation. This will help you find the space that allows you to take a backseat, so to speak, and become the observer. It is there that insight arises. Learn how to view these days as teachers—opportunities even—and let them help you go deeper.