Positive Pain

Pain makes me brave. Pain makes me honest. Pain makes me face the world with everything that I have. Sometimes it takes pain to show me what really matters, what I’ve been missing, what I’ve been taking for granted. When I’m comfortable I get bored. I become afraid to make any change at all. Even when it’s a change that needs to be made. I’m so afraid of shaking up the status quo that I’ve become accustomed to that sometimes “comfort” can be transformed into something worse than pain. Like a frog slowly being cooked alive in a tepid water that gradually begins to boil. I don’t realize how bad I’ve allowed things to get until it’s too late.

When something abruptly smashes into my comfortable complacency, there is fear, there is agony, but there is also opportunity. I am forced to change direction. I am forced to gather up the pieces of my life and create something entirely new. I am forced to be my own ally again. There is a haunting, fierce, indescribable beauty in pain. There is strength and resiliency and the birth of new hope after the fall. There is even a sense of surprise and pride in finding out just how much we are actually able to take without being broken. There is something awe inspiring when we lift our head from our tear-stained hands and realize, “I’m still here. I’m alive. This isn’t the end.”

There is great freedom in the feeling of having nothing to lose. There is a boldness that emerges, a confidence, even an urgency to go after what we truly want. Pain brings clarity and curiosity. Everything feels a little more real, a little more defined. Pain is the springboard for passion and creativity. It is a necessary evil. These are the reasons I find myself having a very complex relationship with pain, grief, and loss. Part of me finds a strange comfort in pain, an odd feeling of safety after losing it all. The burden of trying to hold it all together, the burden of grasping and clinging on to life is lifted for a moment. This brings a twinge of pleasure that blends into the pain. For me, pain is always bittersweet.

I’ve come to realize that the reason communication and confrontation are so hard, is not because I don’t know how to articulate my thoughts and feelings. It’s not that I don’t know what to say or how I feel. I’ve never had any issue explaining myself to a third party. But when I find myself facing the person I really want to talk to, I become so consumed with fear that I can’t focus. My mind becomes clouded with thoughts of what they will think or how they will respond to what I’m saying. Are they going to look at me differently? Are they going to be upset? Will they leave? Will our relationship change? Will they misunderstand me? Will I be able to respond adequately to whatever they say back to me? These concerns are so overwhelming that I tend to stay silent instead of having some of the most important, necessary, and intimate conversations. It is only once I feel as though I’ve already lost someone, that I find the courage to be open and honest with them.

In an instant our most painful experiences can become our greatest sources of strength. I look back on some of the darkest moments in my life with a sense of compassion and a knowing tenderness. It’s only much later that we gain the perspective to see the ways in which the harrowing experiences we go through are the very things that strengthen us, give us courage, and provide the pivot we didn’t even know we needed in life. Yes, pain is hard. Loss is hard. But it’s been said that anything worth doing is hard, and pain is always worth it in the end. Something even more complex and beautiful and real rises from the ashes every time. Be patient.

Pushing Past Your Comfort Zone

This weekend is for teacher training at my studio. I am always excited to get to help new teachers learn more about yoga. It’s also nice to get to stay after my class for a bit and hear feedback on my own teaching. I’ve been looking forward to it all week.

The teacher trainees had only positive things to say about my class. However, my mentor from when I was a trainee myself had some constructive criticism. It was nothing I haven’t heard from her and others many times before. Because of my anxiety, I am pretty disconnected from my students when I’m teaching. I am immersed in my own practice, modeling every pose and going through the flow with everyone. This is what I always envisioned for myself when I decided I wanted to teach. This is also what I’ve learned from online yoga teachers who constitute the vast majority of my history with yoga.

But online yoga teachers do not have a classroom full of students in front of them. Students who have come to a studio to be in the presence of their teacher. I am doing my students a disservice by not engaging with them more during class. My cues are flawless, my practice is beautiful, my flows are creative, fun, and different every week. However, I do not watch my students nearly enough. I do not give adjustments. I do not compliment or comment on their expressions of the poses.

I know I could be a much better teacher and greatly benefit my students by doing these things. The only reason I don’t is because I am afraid. Even though my social anxiety has practically disappeared thanks to Paxil, it is still quite intimidating to stand in front of a group of people and meet their eyes. I’ve only learned to make eye contact in general a few years ago. To closely observe and engage with my students in that way has always been something I felt I simply cannot do.

I’ve comforted myself with the excuse: “Well this is just my unique teaching style. If the students don’t like it they can go to another class instead.” But that is absurd. I don’t want to make excuses for myself anymore. I want to be brave. I want to push myself to try new things, to face my fears. I’ve done it before. And even though it is scary, it is also so rewarding.

We can never know what we are capable of if we don’t test our limits. Yoga is about personal growth. Not just in the body but in everything. It may be safe to stick with what you know, with what you’re good at, but it is also boring. It isn’t truly living.

There are a lot of changes I have been planning on making. And they scare the hell out of me. Yet once again yoga has given me the opportunity to challenge myself within an environment, a community of curiosity and love. Maybe if I show myself that I can do something scary, try something new and still be okay, it will give me the courage I need. Maybe it will remind me how good it feels to face my fears and overcome them. It is one of the most exciting, empowering things we can do.

Even if we “fail” it will still be a success. Because we tried. And now we’ll know we can always try again. So allow your curiosity to inspire courage. Surprise yourself every day. And no matter what, love yourself. Trust in yourself. You are capable of more than you know.

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