Stupidly Fearless

Warrior 3Recently every time I find an incredible opportunity in front of me, my immediate reaction is that of excitement, followed closely by trepidation. Over the course of the night the anxiety comes in swells, every possible disastrous scenario plays out in my head, and when I wake up in the morning, I am absolutely certain that there is no point of even trying since it couldn’t possibly end well.

Occasionally I look back to when I was a kid and wonder where that stupidly fearless version of me has gone. There was a time that I was convinced I could fly if only I tried hard enough. I tried flapping my arms and jumping off much-too-high tree branches. There was no way in hell I was giving up. When I learned biology and physics, I just modified the dream of flying slightly: I was willing to settle for being a pilot or an astronaut.

But the older we get the more our experience warns us of potential failures and negative outcomes. And as humans we are programmed to seek safety and stability: if we are safe where we are, why chance it and rock the boat? Yes, the potential reward may seem exciting but is it worth the risk?

Often fear sets off a flurry of negative thoughts, which get out of our control, and then in turn set off a biological fight or flight response, which makes us avoid the thoughts (let alone the actions) that led to the anxiety in the first place. We give up before we even have a chance to get started.

But what if we stop and breathe? What if we face the fear of the unknown instead of running away from it? What if we ask if there is any truth to our anxieties? What if we tell ourselves that most negative outcomes we dread will never happen? What if we remind ourselves what our original motivation was for contemplating the action? What will our lives look like if we practice welcoming the possibilities?

One of my goals for 2015 is to be childishly “stupidly” fearless and say YES to my big scary dreams.

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Movement is Life

Nari Kripalu Dancer PoseMy whole body has ached since my injury nearly 6 weeks ago. A tiny, invisible, undetectable thing, this stress fracture, has completely upended my life: it has changed my daily habits and eating preferences; it has made me anxious and irritable, unable to burn off the excess energy; and has made me question the essence of my own being (can I still qualify myself a runner and a yogi if I cannot do either of these activities?). Every day I wake up ready to lace up and got for a run. Every day my body feels like a prison. And the inactivity makes the pain all the worse.

But then 2 weeks ago I went to Kripalu on a yoga retreat for my birthday. Even though I had always been more inclined to practice more vigorous and energetic styles of yoga, I was starting to dabble in Yin and Restorative practices, since that was what my achy body had been calling for. So when we got there, and I saw plenty of Restorative classes being offered, I knew, I was in for a treat.

Here I was, after weeks of being trapped in my own body, waking up on my mat at 6:30 in the morning. And then returning to the mat after breakfast again at 9:30. Then there was dance with live drumming. As the beat flowed right through me and resonated inside me, I couldn’t help but move. More a shuffle than a dance, but my soul was jubilant: I was discovering that there still were ways in which my body could move pain-free. I dabbled in some kayaking, some hiking (my doctor would potentially disapprove), and all the yoga I could cram into 2 already full days.

However different from my usual practice, it was really my time on the mat that made me feel at home in my body again. It gave me the awareness of when to move and when to back off so as not to hinder the healing process. It allowed me to begin addressing all the imbalances that contributed to the stress fracture in the first place. It helped me find a pain-free space for my body, where both my body and mind could find peace.

Since that weekend at Kripalu my doctor has cleared me for non-impact cardio, and even though I still cannot run, I am back at it swimming, spinning, and lifting weights to strengthen my body. But most importantly, I am back on my mat: still gingerly and cautiously, but I am flowing, and it makes the energy flow. Yoga returned me to movement again, and movement is essentially life.

Do One Thing That Scares You

Sometimes we get comfortable doing certain things because guaranteed success is safe. It may be running the same 3 mile loop, cooking the same “signature dish”, practicing or even teaching the same few favorite sequences. But there is no growth in comfort. Growth comes from a unsteady voice, flushed cheeks, shaking muscles, and lots and lots of uncertainty.

For me, there have always been growing pains associated with inversions and arm balances. There is something inherently terrifying about having your face awfully close to the mat as the rest of your weight is pitched over it, being supported by trembling wrists and arms. “What if I fall?” But my answer to that is always “What if I fly?” despite having fallen my fair share. And as much as I love the freedom of flying, I love sharing it with others.

Most recently I had the privilege of teaching arm balance workshops at two wonderful studios in Yerevan, Armenia. And as excited as I was to share something that I love with new groups of students, there was also quite a bit of trepidation. What if the cues did not translate? What if the practice that I taught was not what they were were used to? What if the language barrier was too big of a hurdle to overcome? There were a lot of jitters as I watched the students unroll their mats.

Arm balance workshopWhen I asked who had never done an arm balance and was afraid, many hands went up. Realizing that everyone in the room was facing different fears made teaching easier. We were all in this together! And as we set an intention of trusting the process, I let my love of the practice guide my words. There was labored breathing, there were shaky muscles, and even a few baby crows and pigeons taking flight by the end of the two hours. We had all gone out on a limb and come out on the other side of a breakthrough.

It turned out that it was ok to be afraid.

A Little Consistency Goes a Long Way

As I crossed the finish line of my last 5K race in just over 25 minutes, I thought back to a not very remote past when I couldn’t even run a mile without stopping.  Then the miles crept up on me as I checked races of different distances off my bucket list, including a marathon.  Somewhere along the way I started getting faster.  

It wasn’t necessarily that I was trying all that hard to be a faster runner, which, I suppose, made me a junk runner in the first place.  But what I love so much more is the process rather than the outcome (even though shiny medals are kind of cool).  And it’s this love that makes me committed to and consistent with my running practice: for better or worse, in rain, humidity, or heat, till stomach cramps part us…

Yoga, in the very same way, is a practice of commitment and consistency.  Peace of mind comes from finding a few moments of quiet and meditation to start the day, rather than abandoning everything and taking to the mountains.  Muscles grow stronger and more supple from a few minutes every day rather than one vigorous workshop.  20 minutes of Sun Salutations in the morning, before you even reach for your phone and start checking emails, can make all the difference in how you live the next 12 hours.  And slowly the moments of practice will add up, and all the benefits will come with it.

Growth doesn’t come from a torrential downpour, but from watering your budding practice a little bit every day, and not letting it dry up. 

Yoga Doesn’t Take Time, It Makes Time

Nari Low Lunge Giggles

Sometime life sneaks up on me: my projects are due at work, I’m having to pick out clothes based on the sniff test, I have to piece together and run through a sequence for Saturday morning, and I have already started to preemptively dread my long run on Sunday.

But I promise that once everything is squared away, once I have solved every problem and answered every question, I will get on my mat and practice.

Days pass and to-do lists get longer. And next thing I know, instead of practicing, I have spent a lot of time practicing thinking about practicing.

Sometimes done is better than perfect. And that’s all the more true when it comes to practicing yoga during busy times. Forget about lists, about plans. Don’t question why you should it, or whether you can make time for it. Unfold your mat and take a leap of faith.

Just like that, Friday nights have become my nights to practice. No matter what else is going on, I roll out my mat at the studio. I turn the page on my workweek, but don’t start the next chapter of my weekend plans just yet. I empty my cup of and allow my practice to fill it. And I haven’t regretted showing up on my mat yet.

The clarity that follows magically sorts out the plans and the lists. Sometimes it helps me find solutions, but more often than not, it helps me feel more comfortable with having unanswered question. And more importantly, it helps me find time to show up on my mat again the next day.