I drove past the Bikram Yoga studio in El Cerrito, California I don’t even know how many times before I finally decided to overcome fear and give it a try. Even then I couldn’t bring myself to do it alone. I had to convince a friend of mine to go with me. And when she stopped going I recruited someone else.
Over time I became more confident in my practice. I took comfort in the routine. Laying out my mat, a beach towel over top of it and a hand towel along its head, my water bottle just outside the top right corner. Rolling up the package into one, big bundle after class. Letting the cool air of the locker room dry the sweat on my skin. Chatting with my yoga partner before finally mustering up the energy to change into dry clothes.
I can’t remember when I first thought of becoming a yoga teacher. Just like I can’t remember the first time I noticed the studio. A seed was planted and over time the idea grew into my conscious awareness, showing up with roots so thick it felt like they had always been there. I knew with a certainty that I wanted to teach.
Yet I still came up with a lot of reasons why I couldn’t or shouldn’t. Teacher training was way too expensive. Not at all a wise investment given how much yoga teachers make. I couldn’t take the time off work. I couldn’t leave my babies.
But if I’m honest with myself, the real reason I decided not to apply for teacher training was fear. And not even fear of something reasonable, like the ability to practice for 3 hours a day in 105 degrees without becoming dehydrated. No, I was afraid of asking the studio owner for the required recommendation letter. Afraid he would think I was not even remotely close to ready, not at all teacher material. I was afraid he would think I was a joke. So I kept my little dream a secret. Not just from the studio owner, but from everyone, afraid that if I gave it voice someone else might judge me as harshly as I judged myself.
At one point I went so far as to develop a 6 month plan. I don’t remember all the details, but the basic premise was to practice a lot more and get a lot better at asana. I would practice and practice until I felt like I was good enough to ask for the letter without embarrassing myself. I would overcome fear by over preparing.
One day after class one of the teachers handed me a sticky note that read, “Bikram – This certifies that Laura is ready for teacher training.” It meant the world to me. Such a simple little thing, but I will never forget it. I taped the sticky note in my journal and it’s there still. You might think this was the turning point, the validation I needed to overcome fear. Or that I at least used it as an opening to a conversation about my future in yoga. But no, instead I very emphatically assured him that I couldn’t possibly ever become a teacher.
When I look back over my life and my career, especially, I see the same pattern repeating itself over and over.
- Realizing something about myself, something I want to do, getting an idea.
- Coming up with a million practical reasons why it won’t work.
- Developing a plan to better educate or prepare myself for whatever the thing is.
- Doing nothing.
Because here’s the thing about fear. Here’s what I’ve learned. The only way to really get past it, to overcome fear, is to confront it. Sure, practice and preparation helps build confidence. But in the end we just have to do the scary thing.
When we moved to Colorado a year ago I decided it was time. I picked a Yoga Teacher Training program. I met with the studio owner. I submitted an application. I began practicing at the studio, trying out different styles of yoga for the first time. A lot of the poses I hadn’t seen before, and I didn’t know what to do with all the props. I felt uneasy closing my eyes and the music was distracting.
But just as before, it gradually became familiar. One blanket folded in half twice and then in thirds to sit on. Two blocks at the top of my mat. A sweater and even socks to keep warm during centering at the beginning of class and savasana at the end. Head always facing the front of the room while prone or supine. Peppermint soap in the bathroom. Rooms full of teachers and students I now call friends.
This past weekend I took a class at the Iyengar Yoga Center of Denver. I talked a friend of mine into going with me, just like that very first day. Because new things never stop being a little scary.
After class the teacher checked in with us to see how it went. A lovely welcoming gesture. She asked me if I was a yoga teacher, and it meant just as much to me as that sticky note once upon a time. The only difference was this time I got to say, “Almost.”