FEAR! When I think of the word fear, I think of the most extreme types of fear like--actually, I am not going to list them, you can probably think of your own.
Luckily, when I first started doing yoga I was in high school, so my prefrontal cortex didn't stop me from doing anything (the non-scientific definition of the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps a person make smart choices--it's not very developed in your teen years). Fast forward several years to my first real yoga class out of college (as a real adult--haha, right?). I walked into the studio and set down my mat on the floor. As more and more people started to pile in onto their mats, my shoulders started to reach for my ears, and I became more and more nervous about practicing yoga with so many more experienced yogis (and of course, I was some sort of impostor). So, I rolled up my mat and walked right back out the door. I feel good that I made it through the doors in the first place--they say getting there is the hardest part. Sometimes people can't even bring themselves to do that. This didn't just happen once. It happened several times. Every time, I would nervously head for the door. Even when my now husband (then boyfriend) went with me and supported me 100%, I still felt scared enough to walk right back out the door.
It can be intimidating and scary going in to a yoga studio. There are a lot of really bendy people in really tight spandex. After a couple of attempts, I finally made it through some classes. What I failed to remember in the beginning, and honestly sometimes fail to remember even now, is that everyone has a different journey (yes, I am saying journey). In life, and especially in yoga, everyone is different. We all have different practices. We all have strengths and we all have things we are still working on. Some poses may never be attainable, but others will be. By just participating in the class in general, you are asking yourself to do something unfamiliar, uncomfortable (in more ways than one), and frightening, but you do it anyway. Why?
Enter a different kind of fear. If you are a human being, you know what it is like to experience your edge. No one likes getting pushed to the edge--it's scary and stressful. Being in a yoga class, you are constantly being encouraged to sit on the edge of your very own personal physical and emotional precipice. Stretching so deeply, moving your whole body with strength and grace while focusing on the breath can sometimes be amazing, even enlightening, but can often just be stressful. This is where the courage comes in. Courage being the ability to face your fears; to sit with them and breath through them. Facing your fears, peering over the precipice, not eliminating the precipice entirely, is where your courage starts to build. Having the courage to walk into the room, having the courage to try something new with your body, and having the courage to start to quiet your mind and only focus on your own practice. This is where the compassion comes in. While we are building this courage, we are giving ourselves permission to be afraid, and we are not beating ourselves up over being afraid. We begin to treat ourselves with compassion and love. Maybe you are not literally thinking about compassion or courage as your are trying to breath in your pigeon pose, but you are giving yourself the space and cushion to go deeper, to experience your edge, and to feel fear. A dear friend once told me, "If only could you see yourself in the way that the universe sees you." The mat is great place to start to catch glimpses of that. Love yourself the way the universe love you, as an imperfectly perfect being, and the courage that you channeled slowly turns to compassion.
As I was talking to my little sister last night, I found myself listening to my own advice. In yoga, you can always be stronger or more flexible. You can always do a pose with slightly better alignment. Same thing applies to everything--you can always go a little further. You will never be able to do it perfectly because depending on how you look at it, either there is no perfect or you are already doing it perfectly. You can know where you want to go, but on your mat, you can love yourself every hard step of the way. There is a safe place for you to find fear, embrace it, build your courage, and find your compassion.