Since today is so lovely, I took my yoga matt outside. Standing behind my house stretching, I take notice of my thoughts and feelings. I love the breeze that gently tests my stability. I love the warmth of the air. My soul celebrates with the birds singing in the trees around me. I smile when I see there’s a cat hiding out underneath my car. I love that the sky today is blue enough to rival Colorado skies, and the clouds are puffy and white.
I’m in the moment, loving the world, stretching body as well as my awareness….until I notice the cars driving by. Suddenly, I find myself worrying that they might see me as the approach the house. I wonder if they’re being diligent drivers or if their eyes shift over to notice the girl standing on one foot in the yard. Realizing that I could have spectators, I become nervous. I find myself suddenly less willing to reach as far as I can, or to close my eyes and meditate on the sensations and my breathing.
I realize that yoga, like many things in life, is risky. To really embrace the moment and experience the practice, you have to do things that might make you look a little bit silly. You might fall over. But the more you exaggerate the motions, the more you learn about yourself and grow as a person. It’s an inevitable tradeoff.
My outdoor yoga experience is an poignant example that when I worry about what observers might think, I play it safe. I don’t want anyone to think I look funny, or to see me loose balance and flail around the yard. These are perfectly valid, human sentiments. The problem though, is that when I hold back, I’m not stretching as much as I could be. I’m not learning as much as I want to be. And I have to wonder, who’s really taking the loss? The girl who someone might see failing, or the girl who’s too afraid to strive for her full potential? Because the cars may or may not see me, and if they do see me, they could think I look funny, they could have no opinion, or they could actually think it’s a great idea to do yoga outside on a beautiful day.
I think that maybe I should practice yoga on the front lawn, until I can completely tune out the passersby, and be brave enough to give my best effort regardless of who’s watching.
I’m sure the idea of ‘not caring what anyone else thinks’ isn’t news to you, but I wonder whether it’s implications are much bigger than we realize. See, holding back was an automatic response. I didn’t consciously choose it. Fears, and self-protective measures to those fears, happen on such an instinctive level that we may not even realize what’s going on–it’s outside of awareness. And if that was my reaction to a non-consequential task such as yoga, I’m sure that is also my reaction to more important things–and I don’t even know it!
The good news is that even though it’s an automatic response, we can notice it. Expanding awareness (as you practice in yoga) means that we decide to actively look closer at the inner working of our mind and body. It may sound a little hokey, I know. (Why do you think I didn’t want people to watch me doing yoga this morning!?) But trust me, it’s awesome. Because if we can learn to notice small fears and be brave in those situations, we can more easily notice big fears, and be brave in important situations. But it takes diligence and practice.
I want to encourage you to reflect on where you might be holding back in your life due to fear, and ask whether those fears are real or imagined. My fears today were imagined–probably no one was actually concerned about how I was spending my Tuesday morning. Look for big fears and small fears, and practice working through the small ones so you’re more prepared for the big stuff. Because chances are, you holding back is hindering your growth more than it is protecting you. Be brave, friend.