My jivamukti yoga teacher, Giselle, really knows how to push my buttons.
Giselle always structures her class around a theme of the month, and this month’s theme is Fear. Perfect timing!
As I move through what Pam Slim calls the Change Cycle for New Entrepreneurs (otherwise known as “Why do I feel so flipping crazy?”), facing my fears in yoga is exactly what I need to help me face my fears in my business life.
Right now I’m in Square Two of the Change Cycle, which Pam calls “Dreaming and Scheming.” Whereas in Square One (“Death and Rebirth”), it’s typical to feel spaced out, disoriented, uncomfortable and “not like myself,” typical Square Two feelings are excitement, a flood of creativity, openness and sometimes overwhelm from the range of possibilities.
Um, yeah. That would be me.
In other words, all hopped up and rarin’ for a yoga class to bring 90-minutes of single-minded focus to my otherwise scattered-feeling day.
So I got myself to Giselle’s class, ready to work on inversions — head stand, forearm balance, hand stand — all the asanas that bring up fear, that make me face the places where I don’t trust myself.
Bring it on, Giselle, I thought as I rolled out my mat. I may not lose my fear of inversions overnight, but I’m committed to showing up and making the effort.
(Baby steps, right? They’ll get me there as sure as huge leaps [if a little slower], so bring it on!)
But then Giselle had to throw something new into the mix:
What the – ?
That’s right, she brought a pile of bandannas, and instructed us to tie one over our eyes for the duration of the class.
Now, if you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you know there are a lot of tricky postures that can be hard to put your body into and hold. There’s a lot of balancing involved, a lot of precarious poses where just a funny look from somebody might be enough to topple you over.
And in a jivamukti (or vinyasa or Power) yoga class, there’s a lot of moving in between postures. It can be really challenging, even for someone like me, who’s done a lot of yoga and gone through intensive yoga teacher training.
If Giselle wanted to light up some fears, she chose a very effective way to go about it.
But she was so blithe and matter-of-fact about this blindfold exercise that I shrugged my shoulders and dutifully tied on my bandanna. And kept it on for the whole class, I might note.
I learned a few things from this crazy experiment, many of which apply to what’s going on in the rest of my life (isn’t life always like that?) Here’s what I came away with:
1) You can do more than you probably think you can
Ya think this might be true of other things in life that I’m feeling a bit scared of trying?
(Um, rhetorical question.)
2) It’s okay to back off a bit when you add something new to the mix
Though I wasn’t able to achieve my fullest expression of many postures, I allowed myself to be a beginner and be okay with not reaching that fullest expression. For right now, my fullest expression of crescent pose, for example, is a lot less full when blindfolded than when my eyes are open. (Hey, I don’t want to bust a kneecap!) And I let myself be okay with that.
I was having a brand new experience, being challenged in a way I never had before. It’s good to take risks, but it’s also okay to be gentle with yourself.
A vocal teacher once told me that getting better at a new thing is like juggling. Maybe you learn to juggle three balls, and then someone throws another ball at you, and suddenly you’ve got to juggle four. For awhile, you’re going to drop one of the other balls until you get up to speed. Then when you get comfy juggling four balls and want to move to five, for awhile you’re going to drop one or two of the others until you get up to speed with five.
All part of the process.
Similarly, as I figure out my new business directions, I’m trying all sorts of new things. This is scary shit, people!
Blindfolded yoga reminded me that I can put myself out there and try things, but I can do it at my own pace. And it’s okay if I drop a few balls in the process. Yes, I want to push myself, and I don’t want fear to stop me, but I can proceed at a pace that feels safe. And I can forgive myself for other parts of my life that may be temporarily neglected.
3) It’s good to go “inside” sometimes
Now yoga is, theoretically, a lot about what’s going on inside. The best teachers (or at least the ones I like the best) will tell you that it doesn’t matter what a posture looks like from the outside, it’s what if feels like on the inside that counts.
The problem is that our egos have a tendency to get involved, and sometimes it’s hard to stay focused on the internal. Egos want to know “How high is my leg going today??” and don’t care so much about how a posture feels.
One of the reasons I love yoga studios without mirrors is that no mirror to look at keeps my ego quieter.
But if you really want to remove your ego one more level, try wearing a blindfold!
(Of course, the ego pops up in other ways, such as, “Oh my god, I’m falling over; I must look like a moron!” But because you can’t see anyone watching you, it’s easier to stop worrying about whether they are.)
What happens is, you really have to focus on what your body is doing, on what’s happening inside. No using the mirror as a crutch for your balance or placement! It all comes down to feeling.
And wow, how cool is that? (Giselle is f-ing brilliant.)
In my business life I’m looking at so many creative ideas, I tend to get stuck in a feedback loop of “I should do this… but maybe I should do this… or maybe this…” This is not useful.
What is useful at this stage is going inside, asking myself how each of these various possibilities make me feel. Put on the proverbial blindfold and listen to what my body and soul are telling me.
4) The more you do something, the more familiar — and less scary — it feels
A friend of mine used to say, “If you do something enough, it becomes normal.” Case in point: when I first started singing in public, I was terrified! Holding a microphone felt awkward, I didn’t know what to do with my other hand, my mouth felt like sandpaper, my breath support totally went away and so did my ability to think.
It was awful!
But the awfulness didn’t last forever. Little by little singing with a band, performing for an audience, became just something I did. So much so that now getting up in front of even thousands of people doesn’t phase me at all!
At the beginning of blindfolded yoga class today, not being able to see felt pretty damn scary. Would I fall over onto my neighbor? Would I even be able to stand up out of forward fold without falling over, let alone get myself into challenging asanas?
Although I wouldn’t say I was comfortable with blindfolded yoga by the end of class, I can say I was a helluva lot more comfortable with it. With each new posture I managed to do, I realized what I could do, and I got a little less scared.
Each and every one of my new business ideas are new to me, so they feel scary. But just like blindfolded yoga, I know with each little step I take it will feel just a bit less scary. And eventually I’ll be totally rockin’ it and it won’t be scary at all!
And then, of course, it will probably be time for a new challenge!
5) Sometimes all you need is someone else who believes in you
Would I ever have tried blindfolded yoga if Giselle hadn’t made me? No freakin’ way!
Honestly, it wouldn’t even have occurred to me. But if it had, I probably would have thought “Oh, that’s too hard; I couldn’t do that.” Period. End of story.
But Giselle brought in the bandannas and clearly had faith that everyone in class could do this challenging thing. She believed in me, so I believed in myself.
Everybody has people in their life who believe in them, and god knows there are always plenty of naysayers who don’t. When you’re doing blindfolded yoga, or when you’re launching some new business ideas, it’s pretty damn important to surround yourself with people who believe in you.
So there you go: one yoga class + blindfold = five cool life lessons. Not bad, huh? (Can you see why Giselle is one of my favorite teachers?)
I wonder what she’ll throw at us next week.
Comment love: if you’ve gotten some great lessons from something scary you tried (sky diving? flying trapeze? swimming with sharks?), I’m dying to hear them!
Now I’m off to find a bandanna and try blindfolded ardha chandrasana again.