A few weeks ago I completed the final module of my yoga teacher training, 200 hour certification. I’m feeling pretty darn proud of myself for getting to this point as I came very close to not finishing it at all. I thought seriously about not returning for the final module and had come up with a gamut of excuses to justify what amounted to quitting, although I never could quite use that word. It wasn’t easy for me to face the truth as to the real reason that I debated “quitting” and that was fear. I was afraid. Plain and simple. I had a pretty good idea that during the 3rd and final module we would have to teach the other 24 students in the class, whether just a few postures or the worst case scenario, an entire class. We hadn’t been told what to expect specifically, so my mind took the worst case scenario and began to run a marathon with it. That’s when the small seed of stage fright developed into a full-sized, still growing, demon, who clearly thought I would have been better off just cutting my loses and quitting.
As the days passed, Max, our teacher, began to ask for volunteers to teach various postures to the class. Looking back, my best move would have been to be the one to go first simply to get it over with, but I couldn’t quite get that hand of mine up to volunteer, so instead, I began the process of making myself “invisible” by hunkering down over my notebook with the pretense that I was taking very important and time sensitive notes. Of course in reality I was working diligently at avoiding any kind of eye contact which could send the false signal of being volunteer ready. This is an old trick that I learned in junior high algebra, where I seldom had the right answer, or any answer at all, so would bury my head in my book with hopes of not being noticed. The system must have had some success as it traveled with me to high school (history class) then onto college (anything related to math). It’s not all that different from the child who closes his eyes to become invisible, only now I know. I still show. Seriously? I’m still doing that? What are you, nine??? Those old defense mechanisms that come into play when pushing against doing something that makes you uncomfortable, are pretty darn strong and have a good memory to boot.
Deep down, I knew full well that I could teach a posture or a series of postures after years of practicing yoga and two modules of taking that learning to a far deeper level, but there was a whisper that kept looping through my mind that said, “Yea, you can, but do you want to??” Again, my stage fright fears had taken control of the wheel and I just seemed to be along for the ride.
Walking seemed to be a great compliment to the long days on my yoga mat, with both note taking and practicing, and so I began the habit of an early morning walk at dawn, then again in the evening after class. It felt good to let go of everything, especially the yoga, and let my mind wander. I was pretty deep into that wandering one evening when I almost stepped on a small field mouse that had come onto the sidewalk and decided to stop dead center in front of me. Now for those of you who don’t know me well enough to know some of my personal “quirks,” I must confess…. I am afraid of mice. Very afraid. I’d be much happier (maybe “happy” is not the right word…) to find a snake in my basement, rather than a mouse. That kind of afraid. So, to see a mouse just inches from my feet was enough to get my heart beating faster! I started to slowly and most cautiously walk around him, but then hesitated and decided that that it was so odd that the lil’ fella had stopped right in front of me, that maybe he had something to teach me and so I stopped. Seriously? I was afraid of this tiny fella? If it came down to fist on fist, I’d win hands down…his 1 1/2 inches of height maybe to my 65 inches, for sure. IF he could have talked, I’m just sure he would have said, “You’ve got to be kidding…you’re afraid of ME??? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?” OK, I’m giving this mouse a lot of credit and probably far more brain cells than he actually had, but somehow, there was a message I was supposed to get that evening and the mouse seemed to be the delivery boy. I also recognized that this was all very timely given what I was facing during the yoga and that there was a lot more going on here than my encounter with a little mouse.
The rest of my walk home I thought about the mouse and although I didn’t magically get over my whopping fear of mice, it did make me realize that so much of what I have come to fear is nothing more than a huge creation of something that may or may not exist….all taking place in my mind. Kudos for the creativity, mind, but come on… could you slow it down just a little bit? The fear of my getting up in front of 24 people, who I now call my friends, is the equivalent of my seeing a pack of rats wielding weapons rather than the reality of the little 1 1/2 inch tall field mouse. My brain had become a fear-growing petri dish and I had given it just the right conditions to flourish – a constant flow of irrational thoughts. The mouse was simply the metaphor for me to understand that. Now, I’m still not going to say I like mice or think they’re cute or want anything to do with them, but having one stop in my path and show me his littleness to my bigness had given me a dose of reality. Maybe the fear is not of the creature itself, but rather its method of a startling introduction to me while dashing across the floor of a dimly lit kitchen. Maybe my whole mouse/rodent fear needed to be re-evaluated.
And that’s when it hit me. What was I really afraid of when it came to putting myself in front of a group of people and teaching them yoga? I had no idea except to say that I was afraid of the unknown and until I knew what it felt like while in the throes of it, I really didn’t know. Having made that declaration to myself, the next morning I proudly raised my hand when Max began to solicit volunteers, and taught not only one posture, but a short series. I needed to look that fear in the eye, embrace it, and move on. Better yet, I needed to see that it was small, maybe 1 1/2 inches tall, just like the mouse.
I’ve been honest with my reporting thus far, so need to add that what I so quickly volunteered for was a series of postures that began while on the back, meaning that my audience was on their backs and were staring up at the ceiling rather than at me. A whole lot easier, but I’ll take it as it still “counted.” And surprise, surprise, it wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was kind of fun.
If I can tell an audience of even one reader at this point that I had a pretend conversation with a mouse while walking down a busy sidewalk then really, standing in front of 24 new friends and teaching a few postures, doesn’t seem the least bit scary or even vulnerable in comparison. I’ve already covered my bases on that simply by sharing the absurdity of all of this.
Now that the 3rd and final training module is over, I’m feeling very grateful that I didn’t quit and decided to stick it out. I completed the 200 hours and in the process of learning a lot about alignment, postures, breath work and spine lengthening, I learned a heck of a lot about myself, namely that stage fright is alive and well and is more than happy to do the steering, if allowed. I jokingly told Max one day that yoga teacher training was making me taller, (after taking a long-shadowed photo of myself during one of my evening walks). I’m beginning to think that there may have been a thread of truth to my joke and that maybe, just maybe, I grew a little taller during the whole process of this training – one posture at a time.