I spent most of my life - up until more recently than I’d like to admit - trying to be like other people. Maybe it’s human nature, maybe it stems from my years as a competitive dancer or maybe it boils down to growing up so close in age to my two beautiful, fun and smart older sisters (that I constantly wanted to be like). I was so caught up in striving to be more like what I loved and admired about other people that for a really long time I couldn’t see that there might be things I could like and admire about myself.
This (obviously) followed me onto my yoga mat. I did the exact opposite of what teachers encourage you to do. I stared at everyone (kind of creepy when I put it like that). The first - okay fine maybe two…three… - year(s) of my practice were very much a game of looking around the room at someone else, wishing I was more like them or even worse, yanking and pulling myself into poses that I thought made my practice look more like theirs (not a recipe for a healthy body or mind, I don’t recommend it).
I wish I could tell you that by the time I found myself in teacher training I’d mastered my inner critic and constant need to compare but that would be a lie and I’m not very good at that. When I started teaching, I’d go to classes I loved and I’d be taking notes on what I should take from them to make myself better. Oh she’s really funny, I like that.
Anyone else out there grow up with an idea of what Your life would look like by the time you reached this age?
I know I did and as I sit here typing away in my 450-square-foot flat (that we rent), with no dog at my feet (yet), no kids crying (yet) and a (soon to be) hubby (yay) out at the office, I can confirm that life hasn’t unfolded the way 12-year-old Jenn assumed it would by the time she reached the ancient age of 30 (ha!). Surely I’d have it all figured out by then - the house, the family, the job. Adults know everything, don’t they?
A decade later, 22-year-old me started realizing that 30 isn’t really as old as I once thought it was. I dreamt of teaching yoga for a living (check), having a studio on the lake (check), being a freelance writer (every word so far has been free), having a published book (word count is still 0) and maybe even owning a house with my unknown future hubby (second half of that is happening in 2019).
The ‘yoga’ side of me that knows life happens exactly as it’s supposed to. That even if we don’t understand it, we’re exactly where we need to be and it’s always, always better to trust than to force.
My nose started to itch while I was meditating this morning. I waited a moment to see if it would pass and when it didn’t guess what I did?
I scratched my nose!
Yup, I moved an entire limb when I was ‘supposed to be’ still and the world didn’t end. No meditation god came down from the heavens to smack me with a stick. The teacher (I was in a class) didn’t tell me to get out. I put my hand back where it was and continued business as usual.
In the past this little movement would’ve sent my brain spiralling. Meditation’s too hard. I’m doing this all wrong. Wow I suck at this. If I can’t do it right, why do it?
I could never live up to the idea I had in my head of what meditation should look and feel like. Sound familiar? It took me a long time to realize that there is no right or wrong in this practice. You can’t fail - as long as you do it.
What was the first thing you heard this morning?
Since most of you probably answered your alarm maybe I should rephrase that. What was the second thing you heard this morning? I’m not talking about the noise from outside your bedroom or your roommate/significant other getting ready for work. I’m talking about you - but there’s a good chance you missed it. The moment your alarm goes off, before you even open your eyes, the voice in your head starts talking. It’s constant chatter is such a normal part of our existence that we often don’t notice what it’s actually saying.
Mine was cranky as hell this morning. I woke up before my alarm and with my eyes still closed sensed that it was morning. Ugh, really? Come on, I’m so tired still. Do I have to get up? Sound familiar? I’m sure many of you are used to hearing something similar in the morning.
One feels good. One doesn’t.
Pretty sure you can figure that one out on your own.
I know, I know. It’s been a while.
I could sit here and tell you that I’ve been busy and yes, that was the case this summer but I have to admit for the past month time is a pretty poor excuse. The truth is, I’ve been feeling a little - okay fine, a lot - lost since I closed the studio doors on Thanksgiving. If you’re feeling bad for me, don’t. This is a normal and expected part of my year. It happens every fall, like clockwork, when the community that I put so much of my time and energy into suddenly disappears.
I’ll admit that there’s an initial sense of relief at having some time to myself and finally a weekend off but that quickly gives way to an eerie silence and a loud, anxious voice in my head asking over and over again: “What Now?”.
I spent the start of my twenties in bed. Hiding behind closed doors. Flipping between moments of pulling myself together to prove that I didn’t need help to dark moments that pretty much screamed that I did.
I spent the start of my thirties feeling really happy and reflecting on how lucky I am to be healthy, to be loved and to have so much to look forward to in this next decade.
Clearly, ten years can make a dramatic difference. I’m sharing this not to drudge up old sad stories or brag about how rosy life seems to me at the moment. I’m sharing because when I look back at how much has changed there are two pieces of advice that keep circling around in my head that helped me in a big way.
"People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don't find myself saying, "Soften the orange a bit in the right hand corner"
I don't try to control a sunset.
I watch with awe as it unfolds."
Carl R Rogers
I've always loved this quote. Probably because I've always had a tendency to pick myself apart. Thinking that if I could just fix this, change that, tone this, then I'd finally feel comfortable and happy in my own skin. But a funny thing would happen when I'd actually make these changes. Whether it was trimming down, toning up or changing something about my appearance - I never felt any better about myself when the changes were made. That critical voice in my head would just focus itself on something different. A new problem I had to fix. It was this never ending cycle of not being happy with who I was.
Quick question: does rushing ever actually help your cause? Let’s set aside those rare moments where hurrying is essential - like when you’re running through the airport to catch a flight. I’m talking about speeding through your to do list and just trying to get everything done as quickly as possible.
I’ll answer for you.
It definitely doesn’t.
As a yoga teacher, it’s a little funny to admit that I spend a lot of my time racing around. From place to place, class to class. One of my students joked that I should buy a company speed boat to get around faster. ‘Namaste’ then pedal to the metal. Some days that’s what life feels like up here.
Last week I had a few minutes to spare between classes. Instead of taking a break I decided to quickly tackle the chalkboard bubble letters for our posters - if you’ve ever had to write these you know it’s not an easy task. I scribbled away, eyeing the clock and then stepped back to admire my masterpiece. It said:
EVENTS AND WORKSOPS.
This is one of the 'ground rules' I set on the Friday night with participants of the PYC Muskoka Yoga Retreat. If you're smart, you'll realize that this is just my genius way of ensuring that I don't have to deal with any complaints as the person running the retreat. Ha - that was a joke. If something important is not the way it should be, participants have my full permission to break Rule #5. It's simply in place to make participants aware of just how easily they default to what's wrong. I was inspired to add it to the weekend after I saw this picture posted by my friend Natalie, the founder of Well&Tight, back in the winter.
I'll start by saying that I consider myself to be a pretty positive person. That wasn't always the case - those of you that were spared the emotional rollercoaster ride that was pre-yoga Jenn can consider yourselves lucky. Through practice, meditation and I'm not afraid to admit it: talking to a therapist (yoga isn't one stop shop for mental health, it's an important piece of the puzzle though), I've trained my brain to to focus on the good and opened my eyes to all the countless things I have to be grateful for. My life is pretty awesome, so when I saw Natalie's post I figured it would be a breeze. I already do that anyway, don't I?
I lost my contact lens at the yoga studio the other night.
This might not seem like the end of the world but for me, it's a bit of an issue. Without special hard contacts I can barely see - so if you've ever seen me in a yoga class that I'm not teaching and I don't smile or wave at you, I'm not avoiding you, promise! It fell somewhere as I was taking it out of it's case, which is pretty inconvenient in a busy yoga studio on a Monday night in-between classes. People everywhere. Imagine looking for a needle in a haystack. Only it's a really expensive custom made needle that you're supposed to use everyday for a year or two. Oops.
Two of the sweet girls working the desk that night were on their hands and knees scouring the floor with me. When I explained that it wasn't a daily but a pretty special custom made lens, one of them looked at me and asked how I was being so chill about it.
I explained that the contact was already missing so there's really no use in me getting upset about it. I obviously wasn't bouncing off the walls and cheering, but it really wouldn't help my cause of trying to find the missing contact if I let myself get worked up about it. Remember - this was right after I practiced - 'Zen Jenn' was out in full force.
I spent last weekend with 51 amazing students who attended the first PYC Muskoka Yoga Retreat of the season. A lot of our time in meditation and practice was spent bringing more awareness to what our mind is naturally drawn to and with that, deciding if we need to set the intention to focus on something else.
In theory, a boathouse yoga studio is filled with the perfect sounds to fuel your practice. Birds chirping. Water lapping. Wind rustling. It sounds pretty dreamy doesn't it?
In reality, there's lots of other sounds. Machinery helping the boys work hard at the marina. Boats pulling up for gas with music blasting through their speakers - sometimes it's Van other times it's Gangsta Rap. Kids shouting that they've finally found a frog. The pounding of a hammer fixing something at a cottage across the way.
You never really know what you're going to get on any given day.
It's a completely uncontrollable environment.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Do you ever wonder if you're making a difference?
I know I do. Maybe it's because I've been positively impacted by so many powerful people in my life so far. Maybe it's because I'm in a line of work where - if I do my job well - people can leave their time with me feeling better in some way than they did when they walked in. Maybe it's because I've always had a tendency to overanalyze life and why I'm here - anyone else with me?
Whatever it is, every so often I find myself questioning whether my words and my classes are having a positive influence on the people reading - that's you - and the students in my class. I think it's human nature to fall into the trap of thinking that our day-to-day actions don't matter all that much. After all, we're just one tiny person in this massive world full of people. Do we even have enough reach to make much of a difference?
I've done my best to keep the writing weekly in hopes that I can still 'teach' someone something while living abroad. It's a lot of me staring at a computer screen typing away instead of having students around to interact with. In a way, I lost touch with that teacher-student relationship and the impact that I can have on people through sharing the powerful practice of yoga.