One of the wonderful things about being a yoga teacher, and there are many on this long and rewarding list, is that you are often given the chance to revisit the many lessons of your life and your own practice. Some of them I’ve held onto, some of them I’ve long forgotten, and some of them come to me anew, a lesson I’d missed or hadn’t quite been ready for at the time.
Often, while my students are laying in Savasana, I look back on the class and I ask myself what I learned from that hour in the space with them, being a guide and witness to movement of body and breath, and as long as I was paying attention and I was present, something always comes up.
Sometimes it’s the same thing I learned that morning with a different group, or a week ago, or a month or more, but that doesn’t really matter because when we learn things that require transformation of self, they rarely move through us just the once. And so, I sit, and I breathe with them, and I let their stillness move me, and I listen to that past hour we spent together like an old song crackling over the radio. And my dance, while that soundtrack plays in the background, is one of learning and remembering.
You know, for most of my life I was an awkward, overly sensitive introvert. I managed this in a number of ways, some healthy, most not. Sometimes I would celebrate my strangeness almost as much as I tried to hide it away. Sometimes I would throw myself into the uncomfortable but necessary role of being an outgoing and socially confident person. And sometimes, too often, I would turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol to numb all that I was feeling and could not understand.
What I’m getting at is that I’m no stranger to uncomfortable space. Most social situations and often many of the relationships in my life thrust me into it over and over again. How and why I managed that poorly is another story, but for now know this, that for most of my life I ran from that discomfort, missing opportunities over and over again to learn and experience, to live and sometimes to love. Until I began a vigorous and daily yoga asana practice, I hadn’t quite experienced what happens when you decide not just to stay in uncomfortable space, but settle into it, breathe into it, move into with gentleness; there not to fight but to surrender, learn, and grow.
I still remember my first yoga class, and those first few months of yoga where I approached every pose and movement as a feat to be conquered and accomplished. My body held, twisted and folded into difficult, uncomfortable, and foreign poses while I struggled and fought to breathe and stay, while the voice in my head assured me that there would be a time when I would be comfortable and it would all come with ease. I didn’t know then that ease is often the moment that arrives before you make your way forward into more uncomfortable space again. That uncomfortable space where you are deepening a pose, learning to build your breath, watching to see how you react, and pausing to see what you can learn about yourself and the world, if you just let it all unfold and trust that there is something to be gained from moving through the discomfort, not around it.
This lesson of course isn’t just about yoga. Like all lessons, I find in this practice, it’s about life. For most of my life, because I avoided being uncomfortable. I avoided living. I avoided new experiences and adventures. I avoided love affairs and intense friendships. I avoided trying, leaping and believing, because it all took me out of my comfort zone. And so, I avoided growing as a person because I tried to thrive in the grey world of sameness; and I avoided being truly happy because of it all.
Growth, you see, isn’t a comfortable thing. Growth is in fact the destruction of what you are for the creation of what you become. A seed would stay a seed if it wanted to be comfortable, but it wants to reach the sun so it destroys itself to become first a tiny sapling, and then a towering tree, reaching, reaching.
This is what it was for me. The day came when I started to long to reach the sun. As my yoga practice deepened and I began to dive into the waves of uncomfortable space that came at me like a tide washing back into shore. The comfortable space I’d been living in out in the world became too small, too dark, and too stifling for me to live in anymore. Suddenly I no longer wanted to settle and get by, I wanted to thrive.
I began to venture outside of all that comfortable space I’d built for myself like a fortress, keeping me in, keeping life out. It started little by little at first, but that really is all it takes, that small taste of how deeply we can be nourished when stepping outside of our comfort zones. And then the most uncomfortable thing of all came at me, I realized what I was meant to do with my life, and without hesitation I threw myself into it, terrified but ready, and I didn’t look back.
Its been just over 2 years since I began teaching yoga. It is not the whole of what I’m meant to do or be, but it is a big part of it. Since then so many uncomfortable and unsettling situations have come at me, opportunities to be better, to be more, to face fears and live dreams. Opportunities to succeed, or to fail, to soar, or to sink, but to know myself a little better than I did before deciding to leap ahead instead of backing away, again, from the edge I’m meant to throw myself off, so I could fly free.
These past 2 years have been unbelievably amazing, I have tried new things, taken risks, traveled, grown, stumbled, and picked myself up to try again. I’ve allowed myself space to be, and find myself as a result. And what I have learned is the same thing that often comes to me over and over again at the end of a yoga class. My students lying in Savasana, resting, breathing deep and slow, finding their way back to themselves, and me dancing to that song of their Savasana and the hour we spent together. Waltzing with what they’ve taught me, me guiding, them allowing me the honour of doing so. Learning that the beauty and fullness of experience, both in yoga and in life, often come when we are willing to move into uncomfortable space. Allowing ourselves to live and thrive there for a little while, before we continue on and make our way through it, often into more.
It is of course not the only way we find, live, or create beauty and find our way, god no, this world is too wonderfully complex for that, but it is one of the ways. And for someone like me, who once spent years not really living because I wasn’t willing to dive into that discomfort, it is one of the most amazing ways to be set free, to let go of the edge and just soar.