Well …Week 7 of my Yoga Teacher Training has arrived.
And the truth is, I probably shouldn’t be taking the time to blog this.
I should be working on a short essay on the erector spinae muscles that’s due. Or studying for a quiz coming up on the Koshas, Doshas, Gunas, Chakras, Nadis, Prana and OM.
Or I could be rushing off to fit in one of my 4-5 required classes this week, or tackling my last class observation of another teacher and oh yeah, I really need to be memorizing and practicing my hour long teaching script consisting of Surya Namaskara A & B with a peak pose of Camel that needs to be taught in front of a real class.
But honestly, I need to write this.
I really need to tell the truth for no other reason than it’s real and it’s happening. And maybe ---just maybe---you might be able to relate.
Can you remember a time when you felt like you were barely holding on, when life felt like you were clutching to a jagged cliff with your raw fingertips?
A time when you felt tired. So tired of always feeling like no matter how hard you tried, you just couldn’t quite catch up. When normal activities like cooking and house cleaning fell to the wayside because you were trying to get through a challenging time?
The other night I stood up in front of our class and taught a sequence of balancing yoga poses.
Everyone had been assigned a segment from the hour-long teaching script we will all eventually perform for our final exam. But when I’d glimpsed the part my teacher had assigned me my heart sank. I literally felt sick. I had been memorizing like crazy—but never made it to this section of the script yet. Not only did I not have the body cues memorized for each of these poses, I couldn’t really do them particularly well. And I’d have to teach it in the following class.
Sigh. Once again I was feeling like I had play ‘catch-up.’
I took a deep breath. And kind, patient Elizabeth came over to show me the poses.
And then for the next 24 hours, my life was a blur of memorizing and rehearsing out loud and pasting pictures of the poses onto my script to jolt my memory.
Because the truth is, being the oldest one in my Yoga Training course ---and the least experienced with Yoga-- has been more difficult than I anticipated.
I don’t think it’s age-ism to acknowledge the differences I feel between myself and some of my twenty-something year old fellow students. Because no matter how young I might look or seem, my physical body is still fifty six years old—that’s reality. And yes, my back has been neglected for years. And yes, it gets stiff and sore; I can’t do more than four, maybe five (flow) classes a week without some real achiness.
So there are times inside the class when I feel self conscious. When I notice how much longer it takes to memorize and learn an entire new world, filled with Sankrit and poses and tons of body cues and teaching scripts and ancient yoga concepts and philosophy. There are times when teaching in front of my class feels overwhelming and stressful, a stark reminder of the fact I had less than six months of yoga under my belt when I came into Teacher Training.
Thank goodness for two fellow students—the owner of the studio and dear, sweet Alice---both in their early forties and sharing my similar struggle to memorize big chunks of material being hurled at us weekly.
Otherwise I would feel totally alone.
A feeling that is starting to take a toll on me.
So here’s the truth in a nutshell. Most of my fellow students have been practicing yoga for years. And when I look around my class it’s a fact that I am technically the most inexperienced.
So any reasonable observer might say, “Hey---no wonder you’re struggling to keep up.” Right?
Except that’s logic.
And feelings emerge from a deeper place; in fact, feelings can seem downright confusing and mysterious until we examine them more closely.
In Yoga this kind of turning inward and peeling away the layers is called Svadhyaya, which means self study.
And in my language of psychology, it’s about recognizing that when we’re experiencing unusually intense reactions to a situation or person--- it’s most likely because something from our past is being triggered.
In these last weeks I’ve found myself asking, “Why is this Yoga Teacher Certification Course feeling so damn stressful to me?
I mean, even I see the irony.
And I’ve realized the answer. It’s not just the accelerated pace of the class. It’s the particular dynamics I feel when I’m inside this class that have been bringing up raw feelings from long ago.
Or in my case, feelings that surface in the form of an old memory tinted in soft gray like a Charlie Chaplin film, with slow jerky images moving without sound.
I close my eyes and I see it.
A little girl. The smallest in the class standing at a miniature table wearing a starchy blue apron that covers her dress. All around the table are classmates bent over pieces of shiny white paper covering the table. The children are spreading thick, globs of rainbow colored paint over their paper and the little girl is painting too. But suddenly she stops and she looks up. She is watching the other children, the way their brushes swirl across the paper in bold sweeps, she sees how the bright colors turn muddy brown when you swirl them together and she sees how no one seems to care about this. She notices how lots of kids move their tongues over their lips when they spread their paint. And then suddenly, she feels it. The stinging hot water in her eyes and a hurt feeling in her chest. When she cries the pretty Kindergarten teacher with the stiff, yellow hair hugs her and asks her what’s wrong. But the little girl only sputters out a few words into her teacher’s soft, damp neck.
“My painting,” she cries. “Is not as good. It’s not as good as theirs.” .
changing your life narrative
We are all made of stories. Rich, deep, complicated, dark, and shiny threads of life all woven together to move us forward on our journey toward wholeness.
Our growth happens when we can own all of our experiences—the good and the painful-- and acknowledge when it’s time to let go.
This is the key. We must know our past without being bound by it.
Those feelings I had at the Kindergarten paint table were a source of mystery and confusion for me for many years, a powerful memory that stayed with me because it became the lens that I saw the world from.
There was everyone else. And then there was Me. And without understanding why, I came to believe that there was something different about me. Something intangible about me that was inadequate.
Something I must hide. And so I came to believe that I had to work harder than the next person just to keep up. Just to make my ‘painting’ as good as the next person’s.
It made me sad to think that I could be so filled with self doubt and shame at such a tender age, although at the time I had no words for those feelings. In fact, I didn’t learn until I was a graduate student in a Counseling Department what these feelings were about; I didn’t realize how unresolved feelings can get passed down through generations.
Because I learned that the sensation of shame so long ago was not mine, but rather it belonged to my mother’s story. I didn’t know for a long time that my beautiful, young mother endured a shame-filled nine months when she became pregnant with me as a teenager. That she was ignored and shamed by her own father, shunned by my father’s family and forbidden to see my father until he was old enough to marry her. I heard much later about her feeling of aloneness and heartbreak during her pregnancy with me.
But this was a secret for a long time.
I couldn’t understand –until years later—that her overprotection and clinging to me had nothing to do with any deficiencies in me. This was simply my mother’s version of love, the best love a young, undeveloped girl/woman could offer her first born.
But children can’t know the back story being lived by adults, they only sense the emotions. They sense the secrets. And they assume it must be something about them.
As a therapist I eventually came to love discovering the important clues contained in family stories and in our innermost feelings because these are puzzle pieces for understanding our later struggles..within ourselves and with others. We all have layers that can be peeled away to expose our tender, authentic selves.
The question becomes about our willingness to risk discomfort to move past old, outdated ways of seeing ourselves.
For a long time I felt painfully “different.”
But these same feelings also fueled my independence and rebellion from a family that was deeply loving, but culturally sexist in their views. These feelings of differentness were the same ones that propelled me forward through college, and grad school and into the field of therapy. From an extended family that had never gone to college yet.
But not without a whole lot of tears and therapy and risk-taking along the way.
So how do you shed your old-outdated-identity? How do you begin to change your life story in a direction that better reflects who you are today?
Here’s the answer.
- You do it with action. You do it with your behaviors.
- You acknowledge your fears, yes.…but then you keep going. You act “as-if” you are that person you want to be…and you keep moving.
- You face the discomfort and you step into it.
I wish I could tell you an easier way.
And I wish I could tell you that those original achy feelings go away forever, but the truth is that in times of stress, or when we find ourselves in those old dynamics again, remnants of those tender feelings may pop up again.
Like me and this damn class right now. When I look around the class and notice that everyone is younger, and seems to be ‘getting it’ so much easier than me. At least that’s the little girl kindergarten feeling.
Ok. So here’s what happened the other evening when I had to teach my portion of the class.
I was supposed to add a few words about the Fourth Chakra, otherwise known as the Heart Center, our source of love and compassion.
So during the portion of my script when everyone was resting in their Half Pigeon Pose, I stood in front of the room and composed these words:
Which happened to be words I needed to hear myself.
(I hope you do too)
Everything you’ve experienced in your Life so far
has brought you to this place.
You are here
because you followed your Heart Center.
Without even knowing what lies ahead.
But you know that when you peel away the layers
you GLIMPSE the essence of Who You Are.
And you are Not your Past.
You are Not your Fears
You are Not your Flaws
You are Not your Worries.
You are Courageous.
This post is dedicated to anyone who has ever looked across a crowded room and
wondered, “Am I the only one who feels this way?”
Please know…. that you are not.
from your humble friend,
my other yoga posts: