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(Dis)comfort Zone by Jenny Hansen

Jenny Hansen shares her experience of Teacher Training in the Spring/Summer of 2013 in a series entitled The Mirrored Mat: Reflections on Life and Yoga.

It’s mid-morning on a Friday in May, and I’m sitting at my desk at the office, slowly gearing myself up for a yoga-centric weekend: 22 hours of it, to be precise. Another Teacher Training weekend at YogaSport is on the schedule, beginning with this afternoon’s 5:30pm Hour of Power, and concluding at 6pm on Sunday. Hours and hours of sweat, strength, thought and emotion lie before me, and it will be a tough run – one that will leave me feeling like I didn’t get a weekend come Monday morning. One that will result in a large pile of sweat-soaked laundry and dirty Tupperware. One that I will complain about to my boyfriend, likely more than once. And one that will leave me incredibly fulfilled, stronger, and profoundly grateful.

Yep, despite all the so-called “drawbacks” of sacrificing my precious weekend to the rigors of Teacher Training, I am downright glad to be doing it, and in all honesty, kicking it at the yoga studio will do more for me than my typical weekend routine, which involves lots of sleep, junk food and TV…and quite often, very little yoga.

But truth be told, there is part of me that would rather spend my weekend, sloth-like, holed up in my apartment with back-episodes of Breaking Bad and binge-worthy amounts of sugary-salty vittles vs. growing spiritually, physically, emotionally with a powerful group of like-minded people. I would rather lay low than reach high: This is what I know, this is what I’ve done – for years – and it has become my default setting. This is my comfort zone.

Comfort zone: I have a love-hate relationship with the phrase. It denotes a preference for stagnation, a refusal to experience life in favor of the familiar, and for me, the familiar is frequently unkind. Sure, comfort zones can keep us safe and secure until we’re ready to grow, ready to take that next step forward, but in my case, my comfort zones (yes, zones) are a big road block to freedom, life, and happiness. And slowly but surely, they’re holding me back, and in some cases, hurting me. Comfort zones are easy, never say no, always put out, and are almost always accessible. But at what price?

Teacher Training has always been “something I was going to do one day,” but year after year, that something stayed on the back burner. I would tell Angela and others in the studio that I was going to do it “this year,” that the time had finally come….and then the time would go. Something would come up, it wouldn’t be the right time, the money wasn’t there, etc., etc. But the crux of the matter was that I was afraid to step out of my comfort zone and try something new – something that I knew I would enjoy and where I would flourish. It was simply easier to push it off, yet again, and go back to life on my couch. Teacher Training will always come around again, right? No need to rush these things. Now where’s my remote?

A creature of habit, I am. And change does not come easily for me. Yet, when I stop to consider all the times in my life when I have summoned the courage to take that first step, to try, when I was willing to be willing…the results were truly amazing, and frequently pivotal moments in my life. Taking my first step with a running group. Turning in my resignation at an unfulfilling job. Walking in to my first 12-step meeting. Online dating. Showing up for a free beginners’ class at YogaSport. All of these events, and many more, have done more for me as a person than ANY amount of TV, sleep, and junk food ever will. Had I not been willing to step out of my comfort zone, I would never have experienced a spectacular starlit-tapestry of a sky while doing a nighttime trail run in the Texas Hill Country. I would not be employed at an amazing company surrounded by wonderful people. I would not be living a sober life in recovery. I would not have met my best friend and boyfriend who I love dearly. I would never have discovered a truly special yoga practice, nurtured and loved by a precious community in a growing studio. And I would never be in the position I’m in right now: on the cusp of a Teacher Training weekend, with much sweat, fatigue and joy ahead of me.

These things have not been easy for me: what if I look stupid when I run? (I really thought this). What if I can’t find another job? What if yogis are weird? What if it’s hard? I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time asking myself the “what ifs” and deciding that the unknowns were a good enough reason to stay within my comfort zone. But that only works for so long, and ultimately, I bottom out. I become miserable, withdrawn, depressed, and fall further into myself. Experience has taught me that I can either continue to sink, or learn to swim, and these life events have increased my buoyancy tenfold.

I’ve tripped over my own two feet and looked stupid when I’ve run, I’ve romanticized addictive behavior, I’ve been to plenty of interviews where I did not get the job, I went on some doozy first dates, and lord knows I’ve run into plenty of weird yogis. And YES, it’s ALL been hard. But I’ve also stayed the course, and increased my happiness and understanding of the world more than I could’ve dreamed. It is scary, it is the great unknown, it is not a sure thing…but stepping out of my comfort zone is a raw, vulnerable act that shows me who I am and what I am capable of, and I cannot think of a more pure, personal experience. It has enhanced my existence, my relationships, my spirituality more than anything else I’ve done, and I cannot imagine my life without this path.

It’s progress, not perfection, and believe you me, I have comfort zones that are alive and well. But I also have awareness, and willingness to entertain the idea that the unknown doesn’t have to be a bad thing. That it might, in fact, be a good thing.

As for today, when quitting time rolls around, I will not begin preparations for a night in, complete with junk TV and junk food. Instead, I will be on my mat, likely silently cursing the instructor as s/he orders an extra set of abs, sweating my ass off, hair disheveled, my face beet red with exertion and heat, perhaps looking stupid, but loving every damn minute of it. I will share openly with my fellow teachers-in-training, I will listen to their wisdom and their strength, and I will relish the experience. We will spend the weekend together, growing edges, growing ourselves, laughing, crying, living. My couch will be empty, but I – my heart, my soul, my life – will be full.

I Am Them by Evelyn

Our Teachers in Training share their insights with the YogaSport community.

by Evelyn Roland

I don’t think it’s any secret that I love yoga. Why wouldn’t I?  Yoga has so many great things to offer. I have been practicing for 3 years and have learned a lot about myself along the way.  There are things that I have heard teachers say that have really hit home for me and helped me to make changes on my mat and in my life, such as, learning to breathe through the challenging moments and how beneficial it is to just sit still. But there are also things that I have heard said many times by many instructors that very clearly did not apply to me, such as, how certain yoga poses can bring up emotions
and how what we do on our mats, we also do in our lives.  And while these messages did not apply to me, I thought they were great and I was glad that they were being delivered to ‘those people’ who needed them.  I hoped that ‘they’ were listening so that ‘they’ could grow and get as much out of yoga as I was getting.  And then this summer, it suddenly became clear… Holy Crow, those messages are for me!

As much as I love yoga, I have always struggled some with my practice.  There have been poses that I have resisted strongly, mostly poses that involve going upside down.  I knew that there was some self-doubt that I needed to deal with, but I also knew the largest part of my resistance was based on fear of losing control.  And in the end, I was partially right.  It was fear of losing control … but not physically like I had always assumed.  It was emotionally!  Lo and behold, there really are some poses that bring up emotions, but the reason that hadn’t been true for me up until now was because I was actively avoiding most of them.

That realization shook me up a little bit.  But it also forced me to look at some things differently and to think about what else I might be avoiding for all the wrong reasons.  I am now actively trying to lose a little control and I have cried through several of my practices recently.  Amazingly enough, I feel so much better!  My practices (and my soul) are so much lighter and less strained.  I have become incredibly aware of the amount of energy I was spending trying to maintain strict control over things that are not always supposed to be in my control.  I was literally exhausting myself.  And letting go of some of my control has been surprisingly freeing.  But, as happy as I am to have learned all of that, what I really learned was that there is no ‘them’.  There is only ‘us’, and we should all try to be as open as possible to any message offered to us in the course of our practice.    Who knows what might happen.

Planting Seeds in Cellulite by Shannah

Our Teachers in Training share their insights with the YogaSport community.

by Shoshannah Frank

By the time we started our 8 mile hike down to the Havasupai reservation in the middle of the desert in May, we had already hiked about 20 miles in the days prior and ridden our bikes around the Canyon Village. Needless to say, I was feeling the aches, pains and strains of roughing it. My hike became a walking meditation of sorts. I would count my steps to a rhythm and concentrate on my breath as I inhaled and exhaled. Finally, I began to feel something I never really felt before. I was grateful for all that my body was doing and allowing me to experience. I was tired and hot, but I kept moving. The day before we had met a young guy on the trail in the Grand Canyon. He was a medical student who was taking his last “real” summer break. He told us all the wonderful trips he had planned: rock climbing in Yosemite and Peru. All Dylan and I could say is do it! Do it while you have the time. Do it while you have the freedom. Do it while your body is capable. This conversation made me reflect back to what I was doing when I was around his age, late teens early twenties, and my gratitude grew even more. Back then I was fat, not fat like I tell myself now, but overweight by at least 50 pounds, lazy, asthmatic and a smoker. I would wait 15 minutes to take the bus 3 blocks. Sad. Here I was, 34, hiking, climbing rocks, camping and doing handstands in front of 80 ft waterfalls. It took a trip to paradise to realize how lucky I am. At this moment in my life, I have a strong healthy body. It is an inspiring feeling when you realize you are capable of more than you thought.

This euphoria lasted for about a week after we got home. I found myself reverting back to my old thinking patterns. I started to hear the voices of self doubt and self judgement creep back in, attributes that I struggle with on a daily basis which lead to my lack of confidence. So my challenge to myself is to figure out how to keep that feeling of gratitude and self confidence everyday, not just in paradise. When I find these thoughts arising I try to visualize myself on my perch in front of the waterfall, full of gratitude, love and accomplishment. Recently while reading The Four Agreements one specific passage spoke to me: “When you practice giving love to every part of your body, you plant seeds of love in your mind, and when they grow, you will love, honor, and respect your body immensely.” I am beginning to understand the importance of compassion for myself, compassion for where I am right now and accepting my mistakes without judgement while I work on my growth.

While the trip was awesome and we saw and did amazing things, what I got out the trip was so much more then canyons, waterfalls and crystal clear starry skies. For that one week I was able to believe in myself. Dare I say that I felt good about myself and my body? I now commit to giving love to my body not just when it is amazing me but when I am hurting as well. I will plant the seed of love not only in my mind, but in all those places in my body that plague me like my cellulite thighs, stretch marked hips and my flabby arms. These seeds will grow and I will learn to love, honor and respect my body for all that it is. This trip may have been one week of planting, but one week could turn into months, years and hopefully the rest of my lifetime. If not, then who am I to judge?

Lost Souls Living in a Fish Bowl by Sarah

Our Teachers in Training share their insights with the YogaSport community.

by Sarah Oates

It was a weekday like any other, and I was heading home from yoga class, sweaty yet refreshed. I pulled into my parking garage, hopped on the elevator, and instinctively reached out to catch the door for a fellow neighbor. I couldn’t remember his name, but I recognized him right away – though our paths hadn’t crossed in months. He was one of the first people I met upon moving into my loft. Over the course of my 5-year stint as a homeowner, I’ve found it difficult to become well acquainted with any of my seemingly transient neighbors, beyond a nod of recognition in the hallways or sharing smiles and a bout of awkward silence in the elevator. I’ll confess I consider myself a relatively quiet and introverted person, and that may have something to do with my lacking a sense of community. I’ve never been averse to meeting new people, but I’m always afraid that my reservations in social settings project an image of someone who is uninterested or indifferent to knowing others.

I’m not sure if the various challenges presented by teacher training (along with the self-introspection I’ve been tackling this summer) have anything to do with it, but… Lately I’ve noticed more people spontaneously approaching me and striking up conversation in the public arena. This evening turned out to be no exception. My neighbor, who is almost always in a hurry, suddenly started asking me questions about yoga. We stepped off the elevator and soon found ourselves caught up in a 20-minute conversation about exercise, physical therapy, jobs, various aspects of our daily routine, and the nuances of living in a fish bowl. I say this because we just happened to have picked units that directly face each other on the 5th floor, across the courtyard of our u-shaped brick building. You would think this would make for a potentially uncomfortable exchange, as it’s difficult to avoid spying on your neighbor when your only view consists of a wall of 20-foot windows. But we were able to laugh about the fact that I could tell exactly which P90X video he was working out to, and that he was well aware that I spend excessive amounts of hours pacing around my kitchen. Despite the fact that we were virtually strangers sharing that confined space for a matter of minutes, on that particular day we were able to skip the social niceties, drop our guard, and connect as human beings.

There are so many instances in day-to-day life when I notice myself and those around me simply going through the motions prescribed to us. Human beings weren’t necessarily designed to sit at a desk or stand at a cash register for 8 hours every day, yet each of us has our daily routine to which we commit and become accustomed. In the same sense, we have our set group of family and friends. We are typically happy to be confined to specific communities and subscribe to a limited range of activities in which we feel most comfortable and safe. It can be surprisingly easy to reconcile ourselves to this repetition and sameness over the course of many months, sometimes years… to the point where we can become numb to each other, as we are practically living on auto-pilot. We swim circles around the fish bowl of life, seeing each other without really seeing each other and actively acknowledging that connection we all have.

If I do not make a conscious effort to be present in my moving meditation, I find I can experience the same sort of autopilot on my yoga mat. It’s a delicate balance to learn to switch off your brain and trust your body’s intuition yet not allow your physical or mental conditioning to take over. In other words, just because you can flow with your eyes closed doesn’t mean you should (at least not figuratively). In truth, I continue to explore many of the same Asanas on a daily basis. Yet when I am truly present in my body, my practice is anything but routine. When I make a point to genuinely push my growing edge, I am building strength in balance, discovering greater length twists, and creating new space in both body and mind. For me, yoga has been an amazing catalyst for change and growth. It inspires me to seek similar evolution off the mat through embracing new experiences and striving to connect with others on a daily basis.

Just Different by Jenny

Our Teachers in Training share their insights with the YogaSport community.

by Jenny Mizutowicz

I am currently in the stage of life that “chick lit” authors have written best-selling novels about. In this stage, it seems that everyone and everything I knew in my youth has changed – including myself – and these changes are difficult to come to terms with. I find myself no longer having much in common with friends who I at one point in my life shared everything with. I find my peers eagerly settling down to get married and start families, while I stay back and latch onto my young adulthood for dear life. I am coming of age.

Lately, I have found myself in situations where I am quick to judge people whose beliefs and choices are at odds with mine. Recently, I verbally attacked someone who did not share my views on women’s roles and abruptly ended an argument. I snapped at my friends for pulling me into a conversation that I regarded as silly and unconstructive. As a yogi who aspires to live a peaceful, compassionate life, these instances have put me in deep states of regret and shame. This behavior is not in line with the yoga lifestyle.

On the first day of teacher training at YogaSport, I made a commitment to myself to refrain from judging people and become an accepting, open-minded person through the program. I recently had dinner with a friend who is also a yogi and described the challenges that I had been facing lately. She identified with my struggles as an evolving adult, and encouraged me to view the choices that others make as different. Not better, not worse, just different.

Simple as it sounds, this advice has resonated with me deeply the past couple of months. While we all may have vastly different values and beliefs systems, we as people are not that different. We all have one thing in common: we all want to be happy. Each opinion we have and every decision we make is based on the principles that make us who we are. Who am I to evaluate someone’s quest for happiness against my own? Their choices are irrelevant to mine. They are different.

Yoga teaches us compassion and the ability to accept others for what they are. As I grow throughout this journey, I commit to not only accepting the changes in my life, but the differences between my life and others’. One day I might even grow to accept that my boyfriend is a San Antonio Spurs fan (Go Mavs).

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Wearing the White Belt by Shannon G

In my 28 years, I have never made a B. I have never failed a test. In many ways, the experience of failure is uncharted territory for me. And yet, for that very reason, many other frontiers remain uncharted territory for me as well. Because I have never felt myself to be strong or athletic, I have always avoided sports and competitive physical activities. The answer? Don’t play. Opt out. My desire to be good, to be perfect, to meet the expectations of others reflects an underlying fear of failure. A fear which evidences itself when I refuse tasks that I don’t feel confident I can excel at. When I struggle to find the fun in an experience I cannot dominate.

The bad news is that I can’t avoid everything in life that I’m not good at. (Did I say good at? Who am I kidding? I mean BEST at.) And that even if I succeed in avoiding these insufferable failures, I am cheating myself of beautiful opportunities for growth. Rather than continuing to flex the muscle that is already strong, when will I begin to tone those muscles which have atrophied from disuse?

In his book, Mastery, George Leonard says that life “makes beginners of us” over and over. How perceptive! As we travel along our life’s journey, new adventures appear at every turn. These adventures challenge us, stretch our capabilities, and encourage us to grow. Much to my annoyance, they also require us to take the role of “beginner” over and over again. Leonard says, “In the master’s secret mirror, even at the moment of highest renown and accomplishment, there is an image of the newest student in class, eager for knowledge, willing to play the fool.” Aha! So not only must we be the beginner, it is our willingness to do so that forms us into the master at all.

My commitment to teacher training has been a deliberate act of putting on the white belt – the belt of the beginner – and being “willing to play the fool.” I did not enroll in teacher training because I knew I could be good at it, much less the best. I signed up because I wanted to build a new muscle and perhaps find a part of myself that I don’t already know is within me. To say the least, the experience has been challenging, uncomfortable, and sometimes terrifying. But along with the struggle of the beginner comes the thrill of those first inklings of a growing competency… those that say, “Though I thought I could never do this, perhaps I can after all! What else can I do that I didn’t know? Where is my next adventure?”