For the last year or so I’ve joked about running away to a place by the sea and starting a yoga studio, effectively leaving the corporate rat race behind and doing nothing with my days but practicing yoga, running, hanging out with my son and writing the novel that’s going to make me famous. My family indulges me in this fantasy, but for my parents – who invested a lot of time and effort into my very expensive and prestigious education – this plan is probably tantamount to my running away and joining the circus.
I was re-counting the fantasy to my husband the other day, filling him in on my very thoroughly designed plans for opening a studio that focuses on yoga sequences to help people overcome emotional / psychological obstacles. Instead of opening the class by asking whether people want to work on “hips” or “shoulder opening,” I’d open the class by asking whether anyone wants to work on “courage” or “peace”. My husband – who tried to do yoga once with me but claims to have permanently damaged his shoulder by doing Downward Dog – suggested I call my Yoga studio “Average Joe’s”. You know, after the little gym that could in the movie Dodgeball.
Although he was joking, the spirit of what he was saying resonated with me. I love bringing people to yoga with me or teaching them a pose or two, but I’ve found that a lot of folks are intimidated by their own preconceived notions of what yoga is, what it represents, their own abilities and what they think they’re capable of. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say they don’t do yoga because they’re not flexible – which misses the point entirely, of course.
Looking around at the blogs and images you see on the internet about yoga, some of those preconceived notions are reinforced. There are lots of pictures of very graceful and accomplished yogis (and yoginis) beautifully pulling off pretty difficult poses. It looks AMAZING, and while for some it can inspire, for others it can intimidate. No one wants to go to their first yoga class and be the most awkward person in the room, and it doesn’t matter that yoga isn’t a competitive sport – most people go through their lives trying to save face and avoid unpleasant situations, so they put off trying new things that they believe to be above their skill level.
So I took his suggestion and took the name “Average Yogini,” because that’s what I am. An average person who’s found great benefit in practicing yoga, even when I don’t always get it right, and even when it puts me in situations where I can’t improve or advance if all I’m thinking about is saving face. I can gracefully pull off some complicated poses, but most of the time I’m just focusing on the learning process without really caring whether I’m getting it right or wrong.
Interestingly enough, a similar principle was the foundation of my therapy so many years ago when I was still living in Barcelona. My therapy was based on the theory of non-avoidance – learning not to ELIMINATE anxiety, but rather to not fear or avoid anxiety because at the end of the day all anxiety is is an unpleasant experience. Nothing more, nothing less. The more you learn to embrace unpleasant experiences that carry a potential payoff (in my case, for instance, getting in an elevator to go up 14 stories despite my claustrophobia), the weaker the hold the unpleasant experiences have on you.
It was the principle of non-avoidance that allowed me to go to my first yoga class two years ago, and it was practicing yoga despite being one of the clumsiest people I know that kept the crazies at bay during some of the most stressful periods of my life – long after the effects of my initial therapy in Barcelona had worn off.
Talk about coming full circle!