I’m a yoga student. I’m a yoga teacher. And, I’m a hypocrite.

As any semi-regular yoga practitioner knows, yoga teachers are often encouraging us to find our edge. They encourage us to sink deeper in our crescent lunge. They ask us to sit lower in our chair. They beam at us as they tell us to raise our floating leg one inch higher in one leg mountain pose. And, every now and then, they encourage us to try on some, frankly, flat-out crazy shit that sounds, and looks, virtually impossible.

As a yoga teacher, I am no different. When I teach, I encourage students to stay longer than they think they can in high plank. I ask them reach their floating fingers up a little bit higher in half moon. I beam at them as I tell them to hold boat pose through every single shake in the core. And, occasionally, I encourage them to move in such a way that seems, at least before initial attempt, pretty damn hard.

As a yoga student, I am typically pretty game to oblige the sometimes seemingly surly requests of my teachers. I’m game to try on straighter arms in crow pose. I’ll try closing my eyes in any balancing asana. I’ll do more chaturanga push ups than seems fair. I will do all of this in shapes I am comfortable in, shapes I am familiar with. Where I struggle, and when I don’t oblige yoga teachers’ challenges to try something on, is when it’s something unfamiliar; something new; something strange; something I perceive as scary.

I found my yogic comfort zone. And in it was a whole lot of hypocrisy.

I lived, and witnessed, my conflicting sentiments recently while teaching, and subsequently practicing, at Better Buzz Yoga.

As I was teaching my Tuesday afternoon Flow 1 – 2 class, I was, per usual, encouraging my students to stick with some pretty challenging stuff. “Just one more one-leg chaturanga pushup...on the right side. Then we switch to the left!” And, per usual, every single student stuck with it and absolutely slayed. Through the sweat dripping on the mat, generated by a whole lot of power vinyasa flows and the FAR infrared heating panels utilized at Better Buzz Yoga, through the shaky arms, and through the shakes in the core, every single student stuck out every single one-leg chaturanga pushup. And believe me when I say, there were many.

Buzzing from the energy of teaching, I was feeling more ready than ever to stick around for the class right after mine, a Flow 2 – 3 class at Better Buzz Yoga. I laid down my mat, found a nice, easy supta baddha konasana, closed my eyes, and waited for class to start.

As class began, all was going well until we were encouraged to try moving from chaturanga, to dolphin, to down dog.

“Wait, what?” I asked myself. Not because the sequence isn’t bodily intuitive; it is. Not because it wasn’t cued clearly and concisely; it was. Not because it I am new to any of those particular shapes; I’m not.

I asked myself, “Wait, what?” because that sequence is unfamiliar to me. And, because it was unfamiliar to me, I panicked. And instead of practicing what I preach and stretching beyond to try something new to me, I just stuck with what I know and took a regular ol’ vinyasa. And I kicked myself for it the rest of my practice.

By abstaining from trying on something new and, in doing so, abstaining from challenging myself to take on old shapes in a new way, I denied myself what is, to me, one of the most fulfilling  and important elements of yoga: exploration.

I come to my mat to explore my breath and its patterns. I come to my mat to explore the different sensations different shapes bring to my body. I come to my mat to explore different ways to mellow the seemingly constant stream of consciousness that ebbs and flows in my mind space. I come to my mat to explore ways to combat the ego, and keep it at bay. And I have come to realize that the moments that I fail to keep the ego at bay are the moments I abstain from trying on something new, whether due to fear of failure, or fear of falling, or fear of looking silly. And I have further come to realize what a huge disservice I am doing myself by not trying on those new, and seemingly scary, shapes or sequences. Not only is there hypocrisy in my comfort zone, but there is a whole world of shapes, movements, and experiences that are left unexplored, all of my own volition.

While the battle with my ego, and fears, is a battle that I know will rage on as I continue down the path of being a perpetual work in progress, I was not about to let the battle go unfought. The day after the “I’ll stick to a traditional vinyasa because I’m scared” incident, I returned to the scene of the yogic crime at Better Buzz Yoga to take a Flow 1 – 2 class. As much as my monkey mind wanted to make this yoga class a quest for redemption, I was able to settle into my space and silence the chatter. I turned on my ujjayi breath and began to move. All was going well, this time, until I found myself settled in half moon, (happily, mind you), and I was encouraged to reach back with my floating arm to grab my floating foot.

What? No. Hell no. Why would I ruin my perfectly comfortable half moon? I like it here, and I don’t know what will happen if I go there. I will probably fall. I will probably fall flat on my face... 

This stream of thoughts, this completely fictional story that I made up on the mat, meandered for about ten seconds before I brought it to a screeching halt.

I paused. I breathed deep. I rooted into my standing leg. I reached back with my floating arm. I captured my floating foot. And I smiled.

I smiled as I reflected on how much “stuff” is possible, both on and off the mat, that I will never fully realize without simply trying. I smiled as I kicked into my hand and discovered new sensation in this new shape. I smiled because I found my yogic comfort zone, and took one small step towards breaking out of it.

This isn’t to say that, from here on out, I will never be hesitant or scared to try on something new; surely I will be. This isn’t to say that, going forward, when I try on something new, it will happen easily, gracefully, effortlessly, and with ease; surely, it won’t. This is to say that as much as we avoid confronting the self-built barriers of our comfort zones, it is absolutely necessary to do so in order to allow us to stretch beyond.

So, next time a yoga teacher encourages you to try on some, at first impression, flat-out crazy shit: try it on. Explore what is keeping you in your yogic comfort zone and take that one small step, that one small leap, or that one small kick towards breaking out of it. You will likely be surprised at what you find in your comfort zone, and how easily you can break out of it.

Jamie MagyarComment