It always perplexes me when I leave a yoga class feeling worse than I entered it.
Especially because I was in particularly high spirits today. I even had an impassioned afternoon conversation with a coworker who’s considering starting a yoga practice. I (think I) helped her absorb a valuable concept, which is that loud noises, crowded classes, and other distractions can actually aid our focus instead of derail it: By accepting what is, we make it part of our experience, something to work with rather than resist.
My cheerfulness persisted throughout my commute to the yoga studio and after identifying myself as a trainee to the instructor, I happily assisted her by coaxing students to line up their mats. (Straight rows make for a calmer space.) I was practically bouncing around the room, I was so content with life, and then when I settled back onto my own mat the girl next to me asked if I was going to be a teacher, which sparked a delightful chat about our individual experiences and preferences. (She’s new to hot yoga and me to vinyasa. I’ve been meeting a lot of people who do both lately!)
So by the time the teacher called for us to get into child’s pose, I was poised for the best class of my yoga career. Little did I know, minutes later I’d be overwhelmed by a negative cyclone of self doubt, judgment, and despair.
For one thing, I couldn’t shake the desire to impress the teacher. She happened to also be one of the leaders of my teacher training–one of the ones who somehow intimidates me by her very friendliness and obvious comfort with herself and her surroundings. I know it doesn’t matter if she likes me, but there is definitely a part of me that wants to be her peer.
At any rate, during my energy high before class I’d felt confident when I approached her and offered to help, but as soon class started and I was following her dialogue, I was swamped by insecurity with a splash of self loathing.
I am not yet skilled at vinyasa. Most of my experience has been in the hot room, and I am still in the early stages of understanding the nuances–and sometimes the basics–of vinyasa poses. Usually I am pretty good about forgiving my ignorance and allowing my body to feel its way around the mat, but usually I’m not taking class from someone who will presumably evaluate me at some point. Suddenly I was extremely aware of the instructor’s presence and attention; of my aspirations to someday be like her and my body’s inability to do as she asked.
It didn’t help that the class was more psychically challenging than my yoga-sore body wanted it to be. It seemed like I couldn’t do anything right; every time I tried to move from downward dog to warrior one and failed to land my foot between my hands I felt like more and more of a hypocrite. I’d told my coworker to embrace the things that bothered her, and here I was resenting my experience. I’d told my mat neighbor I planned to teach, and yet I couldn’t even get into warrior one without physically picking up my foot and placing it between my hands!
I tried to follow my advice of just hours earlier and let my awareness of the teacher’s (imagined) judgment aid my practice instead of derail it; to be who I am in spite of (projected) disappointment or disapproval. I understood that in all likelihood she wasn’t even noticing me, and that if she was, she was of a mind to help. But the knowledge that I have so much to improve upon felt like evidence of present failure. I was a failure!
Then I tried telling myself it wasn’t true, that I wasn’t a failure, that I shouldn’t think that way. But since what you resist persists, the more I chided myself for thinking negatively, the more negative I became.
I managed to find a sense of surrender–or at least of exhaustion–by the time class wound down, but I definitely walked out feeling confused and a little grumpy. I’m so used to class lifting me up; why had this one been a buzz kill?
I still don’t have the answer, but a few hours later I’m feeling much better about my experience. For one thing, I came home and worked on my dialogue, with the aid of my teacher’s recent instructions echoing in my head. I’m pleased with the progress I made.
And another thing is that I remembered failure is part of the process. A different teacher told us last weekend that our brains love to learn from uncertainty, nervousness, fear, and failure. He encouraged us to get invested in our places of stumbling and faltering, for it will be from moving through them that we can truly grow.
I’m choosing to believe he’s right.