Facing your fears is never easy. We all have that one thing that causes us to panic and kick into either our fight, flight or freeze response. It should come as no surprise that I am in the “freeze” category. I frequently joke with my husband that if I was ever in a truly dangerous situation (like a zombie apocalypse) I would be the person who would curl up in a ball in the middle of the street and wait for my demise. Or my heart would just stop from fear. It could happen.
When I began YTT, I knew the hardest element would be my teaching practical. We are required to design and teach two 30-minute classes and one 60-minute class to our fellow students and instructors. The first class is usually scheduled around our mid-point of study, with the culminating class held towards graduation. I began mentally designing my class during week one, not only because I am that OCD, but I learned long ago that the most effective self-soothing skill I have is to prepare endlessly. I over prepare because in any presentation I give I black out and my brain runs on auto-pilot. I refused to make plans with anyone or leave the house on the weekends the entire month of my first practicum. Sorry friends!
Two days before I was going to teach, I found myself in my bathroom with my knees to my chest, rocking back and forth, crying, while I tried to mentally talk myself through deep breathing. As anyone with anxiety knows, you cannot control this response. The best thing you can do is minimize it by using any and all skills available to you. As I noted in previous blogs, I started therapy at the same time I started YTT, and had two hypnosis sessions with my therapist for performance anxiety. From my very first week I put my support system on high alert that I was going to be freaking out. I had my very talented and gracious yoga teacher friend spend three hours coaching me through my class. I meditated nightly. I practiced my routine four times a day. And yet 48 hours out from teaching, I was panicking.
Miraculously enough, my therapist brain kicked in and I realized there was a reason my anxiety was so intense despite all my preparations. I had been focusing on my anxiety as a product of a fear of public speaking, but as there had yet to be relief, it must not be the real root of my powerful panic response. One of my favorite exercises (and most time my client’s least favorite) is asking “why” in an effort to find deep wounds that drive our extreme reactions. Any time you are presented with a difficult situation causing a strong emotional response (i.e. anger, anxiety, fear, etc), ask yourself why you feel that way and don’t stop until you reach your pain point. To know you have really gotten to the source of your reactivity, you must find the wound that created that protective part you are struggling with. And you’ll know you’ve hit that wound when you feel a sense of relief, compassion and sadness as all the other surface-level responses melt away.
Back to my bathroom. I gathered my wits enough to run through that exercise. Why do I get anxious despite being able to fully prepare? Why does my throat constrict? Why does my brain go blank? As I peeled back the internal layers, I began to see in my mind moments in my childhood that I attempt to compartmentalize in the present day. Each image was one in which I was made to feel small. Some more aggressively, some more subtle. There were times I was outright bullied by peers, there were times I was attacked by family members, there were times in which a “friend” betrayed me or cut me down. I was silenced, I was invalidated, I was told what I felt was wrong or stupid. I was told I was not enough, and could never be enough. Over and over I sat with the images and felt my heart and throat tighten. At first the images just came rapid-fire and all I could do was cry.
But then, I began to witness these memories from a curious space. I forcibly talked myself into taking deep, slow breaths, and I began to allow. As each image came forward, I sat with it, working to release the pain and judgment that accompanied it. Sometimes I challenged the harsh and critical words that made up the narrative of my mini-movies, other times I just sat with the acknowledgment that it was a shitty situation. Eventually, I was able to ask of myself what these scenarios did to me. I imagined myself at each age and explored the story of what that little girl might be feeling and thinking about herself, her friends/family, the world around her. I touched upon how helpless she felt, how painful and lonely she felt. I watched as her healthy young self-esteem wilted and she became more and more unsure of herself. I watched as she began to shrink and hide. I saw her stop writing, stop singing, stop creating. I saw as she lost who she was as she attempted to become anybody else.
Damn. I can say I’ve rarely felt more gut-wrenching feelings of pain and loss. I have known for years I was carefully stepping around these wounds as I outwardly developed my face and voice in the world as an adult. I found a way to intellectually understand those who abused me, and in some cases to spiritually forgive. But I had not forgotten. Emotionally I was connected more than I had ever been. I was angry, I was grieving, I was lost, I was confused. And somehow, my soul came forward. It caught me just as I thought I’d fall into the deep abyss of pain swirling around me. It was more than just my academic skill that rose up. It was my Self, that True North deep inside that I am always reminding others exists within them. She stepped forward, strong, compassionate, loving and wise. She sat with the little girl, dried the tears and honored the story that was told. I wish I could articulate how this happened, and that I understood how this magic was accessed, but I have no words. What I believe is that all the work I have been doing on myself and in my life picked up the baton when my brain could not.
As anyone who has a truly profound spiritual moment notes, time seems to expand and stand still. It was merely a matter of minutes from start to end, but I felt like I had done a lifetime of work. I left the bathroom tired and raw, but lighter. That night I did a guided meditation to support my healing, and the next day I moved through the world a little easier. Each time I felt my heart or throat clench, I turned inward to Her and received the smile, hug and nudge I needed to step back out more confident and ready.
The day I showed up on my mat to teach, I didn’t know what would happen. I fought waves of anxiety, but realized that these surges were lighter than they had been just days prior. As I began my warm up, I had a fleeting moment of feeling as if I forgot my whole routine. Thankfully, I steered out of that thought and reminded myself I had built in safety nets to get me through the next 30 minutes. I reconnected to my intention of creating healing for those in the room. I gave up the narrative that any of this was about me and breathed into my role as a channel for healing. I reminded myself I was present to serve the highest good of others. And most importantly, I believed that no one could hurt me. No negative feedback, no judgment, no criticism, nothing anyone thought or felt about what I offered, could destroy me. Because I knew Me, and the Me I found buried below the years of pain and projection of others own struggles was radiant, strong, loving and whole.
I was told after that my class was flawless. Many of my peers shared they felt I was a natural and seemed like I had been teaching for years. My fellow yogi’s felt moved by and connected to the journey I took them on. I wish I could remember how I did, but the truth is I don’t. Except now I am certain that it was not because of my “freeze” response. It was because I allowed my Soul to step forward and do the work She was meant to do. I know that I haven’t fully done all the internal work, but I know I let go of so much of the weight that had been holding me down.
It will still take many classes and lots more practice for me to feel fully comfortable in my role as a teacher. But the most valuable thing I learned on my mat is this journey was never about simple stage fright. This was a moment in time where who I was would no longer be enough for who I was about to become. I needed to release layers of wounds to step up into the healer that is so needed in the world today. One thing I know for certain is that there are those who heal others simply by radiating their light. It takes but a few to impact massive change, and all the time I spent playing small, silencing my voice and dimming my light was time wasted.
So now I urge you to step up. What do you need to face or move through so you can allow your Soul to lead? As scary as it can be, know that you will always be supported. You have everything you need within you. If you need to build yourself up on the outside first, do it. If you need to build a strong support network, do it. But know this: beneath all the crap the world has put upon you is the truest expression of your Self. You are light. You are compassion. You are love. You will always be enough. And You are waiting to be seen, heard and welcomed to the world.