I don’t mean go sit on a bed of nails. I mean put yourself in a situation that is challenging for you, that makes you feel uneasy. Maybe even anxious. Do something that for you is a stretch.
Before every yoga class that I teach – I’ve been teaching for about six months – I feel like I’m going to throw up. Why? I’m prepared; I know what I’ll be teaching that class. And I love helping my students sweat through the intensity of a physical practice, encouraging them to make that connection with their breath and with themselves. Once I’m seated before the class during centering, talking quietly, all that agitation churning inside my intestines seeps right into the ground. So where does the puking come in?
Let’s be fair: Teaching yoga is not like performing open-heart surgery. But I do care, I recognize that a student must carve out time from her busy day – maybe this is her one free hour after work, or maybe she had to pay a babysitter to get to class – and it’s up to me to offer her the opportunity to make it worth her while. I feel responsible.
I don’t want to screw it up.
What am I so afraid of? That I’ll forget where I am in the middle of a sequence? That I’ll tell the students to step into Warrior 2 with their left foot instead of their right? That I’ll instruct them to inhale instead of exhale? It’s happened. All of it and then some. And I’ve lived through it. What a surprise! And the students didn’t walk out in protest, rolling their eyes in disgust. I kept going. I laughed. Sometimes I didn’t laugh until later, but I still laughed.
My husband asks me, Why keep doing it if it makes you so nuts? Why put yourself through it?
He would ask me the same question when years ago I traveled alone with my three young children during the summers to Japan, Alaska, South America. The answer? The joy of the experience outweighed the anxiety preceding it. I used to make myself ill thinking of everything that might go wrong during a trip: one of the kids could get sick (check) or pick up a potentially deadly disease (check); there could be a natural disaster, like an earthquake (check); we could get lost (double check); the kids could spend their time fighting (triple check). I took my two girls hiking along the Appalachian Trail and slept, fitfully, with a Leatherman knife under my sleeping bag in case a bear attacked us. As if a knife wielded by a frenzied mother foaming at the mouth in fear would be a threat to a bear. But we all survived. And although those trips were not seamless -- we suffered plenty of bumps and bruises along the way -- we also shared some incredible adventures ziplining through rainforests, climbing snow-covered mountains, paddling in between chunks of frozen glaciers, walking together along unknown streets in foreign countries. And laughing.
Suffering through a bit of pre-trip trepidation seems a small price to pay for all those memories. For giving me the immeasurable opportunity to grow with my children.
I love teaching yoga. It gives me the chance to inspire others the way my teachers have inspired me; to inform bodies and minds with strength and confidence and love; to help my students stretch beyond what they thought was possible -- maybe move through their discomfort or fear – and to laugh at themselves even as they stumble. It’s an opportunity for us to learn and grow together, breath by breath.
Will I feel nervous before every class I teach? I hope not. But even if those pre-class jitters abandon me one day, I know I will never stop caring about my students, wanting them to walk out of class exhausted and energized and inspired.
So go ahead: Get uncomfortable. See where it takes you.
Meg Serino, a former antitrust lawyerin New York City, writes and practices yoga in Weston, Connecticut where she lives with her husband, three children and two dogs. She is a writer in the Stanford University Creative Writing programand is completing her first novel.