As five new students trickled into my morning yoga class, my smile widened.
A class that previously had averaged two to three people was now filled with nine. I love the energy that’s created when this group size practices together. It’s enough for students to feel like they’re part of something greater, but small enough to still be given individual attention.
I had three key sequences prepared, but after speaking with several of the students with injuries, I knew I had to modify. But the moment I sat on my mat to greet the class, something was off… with me.
As I began to teach pranayama, I felt my heart beating fast. I’m not immune to nerves before class, but this was different. This was full-on, Whoa, all you people are trusting me for the next hour to lead you? nerves. Self-doubt meter out of nowhere and Off. The. Charts.
My theme was last week’s post: letting go of labels. I gave my students permission to be with whatever arises on the mat. To let go of the labels with which they entered.
Meanwhile, I didn’t give the same permission to myself.
Twenty minutes in, I flubbed a cue which led to repeating a sequence on the same side, twice. Pretty much a yoga instructor’s nightmare. So, I had them do the other side, twice. I became so intensely worried if they were getting what they needed that my usually in-the-flow brain worked hard to remember what pose came next.
Class ended. People politely said, “Thank you.”
I wondered if they meant it. I wondered if I would ever see them again.
Six hours later, my brain was like a scratched library DVD stuck on the same scene. It was becoming clear that I couldn’t think my way out of feeling like I messed up.
We all have off days. Days where the creative flow is a struggle. Days where nerves get the best of us and we can’t shake the feeling of not being enough.
If you’ve ever taught someone else anything, you know what it feels like to mess up. To perhaps recite a wrong fact or be misunderstood or doubt your own authority.
When we feel like we’ve let ourselves down, we assume we let down others, too. But the thing is, many times students won’t notice until you point out the flaws.
None of us is perfect, but we so desperately want to create perfect experiences for others. When you’re stuck in perfection mode, it’s helpful to consider teaching like improv comedy. In order to be successful, you have to say “yes” to everything. If you say “no” the scene ends. Nobody laughs.
Here’s what I needed to tell myself this week and what I need to tell you:
You have permission to mess up. You can say “yes” and move on.
What to do on your off days
You will mess up in relationships and work. You will have off days and times when things don’t go according to plan. You also may decide how to feel about these things.
The off days are opportunities to be okay with yourself as you are. This is the practical application of yoga in your life — the ability to let go of labels such as “bad” and “good” and regard all the events of your life as teachers from which to learn and grow.
It’s easy to feel great when you’re in your flow. If you find yourself thrown horribly off balance by a setback, yoga can come to the rescue. It’s time to get out of your mind and into your body.
Dwelling on the past and reliving the messiness is helpful and necessary… to a point. The “point” is your stopwatch. The next time your mind is stuck on repeat, try this simple exercise. (Props to Judith Hanson Lasater for this tip.)
Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes. Sit or lay down and get comfortable. Instead of over-analyzing or retracing your steps mentally about the situation, feel the shame, sadness, fear, self-doubt, whatever it is that knots itself in your abdomen and tries to convince you to give up. As uncomfortable as it may be, be fully present with the suckiness.
When the timer goes off, release the feelings as if reading the last sentence in a book and closing it forever.
This technique works equally well when applied as an intention to an asana class. After spending six hours stewing about my mess up to a class of nine, I drove myself to yoga and did just that. My intention for the first time that day was to say “yes” to whatever I was feeling, knowing that when I climbed up out of savasana my time to feel bad would be up. Like a charm, I left class and the ickiness didn’t follow.
The next day, I received a nice message about the class I had taught — the very one I thought I had so horribly screwed up.
Which brings me to a final thought on all those times we feel like we mess up:
You’re too hard on yourself.
Asana Practice: Toe Pose Variation
This variation of Toe Pose, with both feet on the ground, is a deceptively easy balance. You can rest on your heels, sag your spine and call it a day. But true, physical balance isn’t the appearance of balance — it’s the conscious engagement of each part of your body as it contributes to the whole.
That means mind and body need to work together, neither one dominant to the other. Balance may look easy, but it takes effort. This pose is a safe place to start to gain confidence.
- From Mountain Pose, Tadasana, lift onto your heels and raise your arms in front of you, parallel to the ground. Keep the heels lifted and your spine long as you exhale and lower onto your heels.
- Bring the hands together to heart center in Anjali Mudra, thighs now parallel to the ground. Keep lifted onto the heels as you perch on them. Squeeze the inner thighs together, send the ribs slightly back and reach through the crown of your head.
- To challenge your balance, twist your entire torso to the right, keeping the legs where they are. Return to center and twist to the left. Come back to center and release the hands down, dropping the knees and releasing the tops of the feet to the mat.