What the F*ck is My Job?

I talk a lot in my classes about habits and patterns that we create in our lives. And while some of these habits are worthwhile and healthy, like brushing your teeth, many, many, many of them are just filler. And this is where the magic begins.

I think about some of the lecturers I had in college, and how the monotony of their voices would make me drift off. Sometimes it was straight up sleep, sometimes a daydream, sometimes just the scary bowels of my overly anxious brain.  But in any of these cases I was never really present.

And this is how many of us are living our lives, lulled into a half sleep by the persistent monotony of our own patterns.

I was talking with a friend recently who told me a story about driving a car that was not her own. “My car has a back up sensor, so when I was pulling out of my garage I had no idea I was going to scratch the side until it was too late.”

My eyes got real big, not out of judgment or surprise, but more like: “oh girl, you know that’s what this practice is here for.”

But all of that is your work as a student. It's your job to wake up. It’s your job to identify all of the knots you’ve created and begin the slow steady work of untying them. But then I come back to the question at hand WHAT THE FUCK IS MY JOB!?

We so often talk about the experience of yoga practice as a path or a journey. And for a long time I thought my job was to guide people down that path. But: A. People are theoretically at different points of the "path" and it would be impossible for me to meet them all in a 60 minute class. And more importantly: B. I’m not even sure this “path” even exists.

I was listening to an interview with Richard Rosen and he dropped this little piece of knowledge: “There is no path or journey. We are already enlightened, we just need to realize it.”

I wish I could illustrate the reaction that my brain had, I would compare it to a burst of confetti and fireworks at the same time. Because this is what I’m talking about. We don’t need more. We don’t need to be led some place. We don’t need to change. We just need to wake up. We need to rediscover our instincts. We need to tap back into the shit we already know, but we’ve just forgotten.

It’s like this: imagine you live in one single dark room. You can’t see your surroundings very well, but overtime through trial and error & probably a lot of bruises and cursing, you develop safe ways to travel in the space. But that’s it. You only know those few ways to navigate your surroundings.

When you arrive at yoga, you’re encouraged to start exploring the space again. And maybe you get frustrated, because all you feel like you’re doing is banging your shins against shit that you know is in your way, but you can’t quite figure out why or how to get around/through/over it.

This is what our practice feels like in the beginning: stumbling around in the dark.

But in all of this stumbling, you might start to realize: “Oh sweet! There’s a light switch over here.” And as you turn on the light you can see the things around you, which aren’t always pretty, and it can be tempting to turn the light back off. But you’ll also realize there are doors to other rooms to explore. You don’t have to stay stuck in this one shitty dark room for the rest of your life.

And now, my job is definitely NOT to tell you where the light switch is located, because that is going to be different for everyone. My job is to encourage you to keep stumbling because eventually you’ll find it yourself.

So like, how does this translate to real life?

My job is to teach you yoga, to encourage you to move in new and different ways, and to let you do it for yourself. My job isn't to hold your hand, or control you, or give you all the answers.

Nothing makes me feel more accomplished as a teacher than seeing my students experimenting on their mats, following their internal compass...even if it takes them in a slightly different direction than the rest of the class. 

Because this practice that I teach is not about me, it is way bigger than that. It is way bigger than a single posture, or sequence, or class. This is about your life. Honestly, this is about all of our lives.

The fewer people we have stumbling around half asleep in the dark the better we will all be.   

When a Handstand isn't a Handstand

photo credit: Josie Schweitzer

photo credit: Josie Schweitzer

I was listening to a podcast recently and the host and her guest are talking about the importance of a regular yoga practice. And I'm listening, nodding along like, "YAS! YAS! YAS!" And then the arrived at their point: We don't practice yoga to get stronger/better/more flexible, we practice yoga to rewire our brains

This notion isn't foreign to me. In fact, it's something that I talk about quite frequently. But the way that it hit me in that particular moment nearly knocked me on my ass.

I'm a very risk averse person. I always wear my seatbelt. I don't like jay-walking. I do a lot of research before I go on vacation. I like predictability and control. But these past few months have thrown me into the deep end, and I find myself feeling lost and overwhelmed too much for comfort.

So I've had to ask myself: why do I feel so unprepared for unpredictability? And this truth has been a hard pill to swallow. I've spent so long playing it safe that I find it hard to function in a reality where my feet don't touch the bottom of the pool.

And where this shows up for me in my practice is inverting. And before you get all "well, technically downward facing dog is an inversion..." I'll clarify: I hate any pose where you are upside down relying only on your hands/head/forearms to keep you from breaking every bone in your body.

In the rational part of my brain I know the likelihood of that happening is pretty slim given the knowledge that I have of my body, the years that I've given to my practice, the countless inversion escape routes and the strength that I possess. But none of that matters, my brain is convinced that inversions are just not going to happen for me. And like...I'm really ok with that.

The "accepting that some things aren't meant for you" part of my practice has always come really easy to me. I mean, who wants to be constantly faced with things that they aren't good at? I prefer to live in the parts of my practice that make me feel empowered and strong and capable and happy and free. But this is the yoga equivalent of living in a "good vibes only" universe: unrealistic, unsustainable, and inevitably limiting

And this is where the on the mat//off the mat worlds collide. Shit isn't always easy. We aren't always capable. Life isn't always happy.

We see these parts of ourselves reflected in our practice over and over and over again. Whether you're like me and inversions make you nervy. Or you're the person who can't skip a chaturanga because you're "not a quitter." Or you hide in the back corner of the room hoping that no one notices you. Or you can't stand savasana because you feel like its a waste of time. Or you find it hard to make it to class because you think that you're not good enough.

So my revelation is this: When you skip those postures scare/frustrate/annoy you, you're also skipping that bit of rewiring and you're missing out on what those poses have to teach you. You have to let things challenge you, push your buttons, rub you the wrong way.

Start by Starting.

It took me a long time to get to the place where I can admit this without shame: I am a lazy person. Getting motivated and staying motivated is easily my biggest challenge (anybody there with me?). I have tried so (so so so so) many of the "motivational strategies," but none of them ever seem to stick long term for me. The sirens call of my couch is like really strong.

I know what you're thinking, "yea, Melissa...couches are wonderful, but can you get to the point?" (I'm getting there I promise).

My point is this: any strategy that you use to motivate yourself has to be tailor fit to you as a person, because all of our brains work a little different. It has seriously taken me all 30 years of my life to figure that out. 

When it comes into creating new habits for myself there are a few things that are crucial in making them stick: consistency, accountability, and starting right now.

If you want a habit to truly become a habit it has to feel like second nature, that's where consistency comes in. In the first few weeks of a new endeavor I have to give myself a no-way-out-clause. There is no such thing as "I don't feel like it." I know thats strange coming from me, because I'm typically pretty outspoken about doing what feels right.

But here's the catch: it's not about what feels right or wrong; it's about comfort versus discomfort. New habits are ALWAYS going to feel uncomfortable. While you're creating a new habit you're usually getting rid of an old one, and I don't care who you are that shit is hard. 

I feel like this segues nicely into my next point: accountability. I always (always always) work better with a buddy. If I'm going it alone the probability that my motivation will crack is exponentially increased.

I've tried charts & goal setting & reward systems, but nothing (and I mean nothing) works better than a real live person to pump you up, pester you, and call you out on your shit. Unlike a reminder on google calendar, you can't just dismiss your friend or tell them to "remind you later." Well, I mean, you can...but I can't guarantee a positive outcome. 

Last, but really definitely not least, is starting right now. I'm pretty much the grand poobah of "I'll get to that tomorrow" but the dirty secret is that I very rarely "get to it." Usually Tomorrow Melissa is too annoyed at Yesterday Melissa for procrastinating to get anything done.

There is literally no better day than today and no better time than right now. So let's quit it with the "I'll start next month/week/tomorrow" or "I'm going to wait until after XYZ is accomplished/over" (I'm talking to myself here too).

Let's all start right now.