It’s just that for a long time, I would say yes to fear

On Wednesday morning, I taught my first gentle yoga class at Anatomy in Highland Park. The studio was cold when I arrived at 8:45 a.m. and  since I don’t teach a class that builds up much heat in the body, I asked the owner if I could open the studio. She said yes. She gave me extra keys and I arrived around 7 a.m. to open the studio and turn on the heat. I wanted the studio to be warm so my students could feel comfortable. The owner wanted the studio to be warm, too, so she bought extra heating fans and I put those on as well.

I put Kundalini music on and listened to the sound on the speakers, listened to how it filled the room. My friend made me a mixed CD which is several tracks of a woman with a beautiful and soothing voice singing Kundalini mantras. Some mantras she sings, I know. Others I don’t know. When I don’t know the mantras, her voice and the instruments are just sounds that wash over me and wash over the space surrounding me and I feel a sense of calm. I spent two hours in the studio, meditating and going over the sequence for the class.

I teach a gentle yoga class but I’ve noticed there are moments when the class can feel hard for students. Sometimes it’s hard to slow down and stay present. Staying present with something as subtle as the inhale and the exhale can be hard. Slowly moving through abdominal exercises can be hard.

A gentle yoga class is not always an easy class. I think what makes the class always gentle but not always easy is that we do the work slowly, one step at a time. We do the work softly (the breath, continuing to be long and smooth), with effort but without strain. We accept the work is hard, we accept where we are, we rest if we need.

After my class, I drove over to Los Feliz to practice yoga with my teacher Patty Pierce. She studied Iyengar and teaches a Hatha Flow – Level 2 class. Her class is hard for me. Mostly, everything about the class is hard but that’s why I do it. It’s humbling, it reminds me of the work I need to do.

Patty knows me. I observe and assist her Tuesday classes. I watch her teach, I watch the students, and sometimes, I adjust the students with verbal cues. In her Friday classes, she says, Now Zoë will demonstrate the next pose.

Every time she says I’m going to demonstrate the next pose I am filled with a sense of dread. For most of my life I’ve been afraid. I’m still afraid a lot of the times. It’s just that for a long time, I would say yes to the fear, let fear dictate my decisions. I would avoid adversity and my avoidance harmed me.

As soon as I start demonstrating the pose, the fear leaves me.  As soon as I start, the fear is just gone. I stay present, listen to her verbal cues to move my shoulder this way, to move my toes that way, people watch me find my way into the pose. I’m confident I’ll get there and I always do. Each time, I find the pose and they find my demonstration helpful. I feel good, sometimes great, always grateful. Always grateful that I found a teacher who helps me say no to fear, grateful that I showed up and did the work.

Last night I set my intentions for the year ahead. I had been thinking about the next year but last night, I really set them. This is what I know: I have a hard road ahead of me. The work is going to be hard and it’s going to require all my effort and it’s going to be worth it. If I succeed–and I have to believe I will–then I will feel pretty great and grateful.

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