I will never be enough.
Maybe I’m just hormonal or maybe it is the recent string of crummy days, but here I am again, in this all too familiar place, questioning and doubting my own self worth.
Maybe I shouldn’t be a yoga teacher.
Up until this past week, I thought this feeling of unworthiness that has held me captive since the womb, was buried deep in the darker crevices of my short history. I thought I worked through this in therapy, in yoga, in time. I thought for sure my days of self-doubt and self-injury were long behind me and my tireless pursuit of perfection was put to rest.
I was wrong.
Apparently self-compassion can be fleeting. One minute you have it. The next you don’t.
In your average power vinyasa class you aren’t doing headstands, handstands or scorpion. And crow is always an option that some people take and some people don’t.
Teacher training isn’t your average class.
It is hours upon hours, days upon days, of being confronted with what I perceive as my own weakness and lack. Its failure to get into a handstand without a supported assist, it’s not even being able to kick up into head stand when I have an entire, sturdy wall as a safety net.
On my off days—days when my heart is heavy and my mind is muddy and my body just isn’t all there—it all makes me feel small and sunken and less than.
I feel the resistance rising heavy in my heart, engulfing my chest and rising up into my throat, as I choke back tears of anger and resentment towards my body when I hear, “take crow.”
I can’t even do crow for more than a millasecond.
What yoga teacher do you know of that can’t do crow?
I know yoga isn’t a competition. It’s not even that I’m competing with my fellow trainees on the mats beside mine. I’m competing with me. Only it is a 20 pounds skinnier, a million times stronger, more accomplished me, who makes more money and doesn’t, at 24, still depend on her parents to pay for her groceries at Whole Foods.
A me who has a guy in her life that wants her for more than her than assets at 2 a.m. on a drunk, hazy summer Saturday night. A me who can buy a pint of french vanilla ice cream and not eat the entire thing so that tomorrow there won’t be any to eat and I can start over maybe with a juice cleanse. A me who can float beautifully into crow and jump back into low-push up completely empty, silent and full of grace.
There but by the grace of God, go I.
Some people say the sign of an advanced practice is being in tune with your body. That means if you notice something come up in your body and you need to skip the vinyasa and spend half the class with your head and heart melted into your mat in a child’s pose, you take child’s pose. No guilt, no disappointment. Just gentle awareness.
In my mind I think, “Why would I pay $14 for a class and take child’s pose for half of it? Why would I take an hour and a half out of day to show up for a power vinyasa class and stay in a resting pose?”
Clearly, I am far from advanced.
Either I am going to show up and I am going to shake and bake and glisten and glow with sweat or I am going to skip it all together.
That’s not very yogic of me.
Why is it that I can extend armfuls and armfuls compassion to other people—be overly willing to accept and forgive—but I can not do the same for myself?
Last night I was assisting my second class ever. There was a girl at the end of a row of all the teacher trainees. Her face was on fire, a ripe tomato red and her arms were shaking as she gasped for air during one of the many particularly long downward dogs. I squatted down in front of her and put my warm palms on top of her struggling hands. “Your doing so great,” I whispered to her.
And she was. I can see the immense beauty in her struggle, in her shaking, in her resilience. She showed up. That’s huge.
I edited a piece last week for Anna Falkowkski, a beautifully inspiring piece, My Body is My Battle and Yoga Is My Weapon. I’m not sure if it was mother universe (or the elephant journal writing team) who sent it to me on purpose, but when I read it, it felt like a giant hug. I felt her words wrapping around me like big, strong arms, pulling me into the chest, squeezing me tight, holding me against the heart so that I could feel another’s lively heart, beating on after the hurt and suffering. Reminding me with its rhythm that mine will too.
In it she had this quote from Swami Kripalu,
“Every time you judge yourself, you break your own heart.”
I either have a very resilient little ticker or we have multiple backup hearts on reserve, because tonight, alone, I judged myself so swiftly and so harshly that I would imagine my heart would be shattered into a billion unrecognizable pieces, fractured and fragmented beyond repair.
How does it continue to pump my blood beneath the unbearably suffocating weight and pressure of my heavy expectations?
With my flushed, freckled cheek lying heavy on my favorite pillow in a warm puddle of my own tears, I am wishing there was a way I could have bottled that self-compassion and confidence while I had it and turn it into a sun shiny, smile inducing miracle metta balm that smells like the first day of summer. Then, I could generously apply it right on top of my heart, whenever I feel that self-compassion I worked so hard to cultivate seeping slyly out of my cells.
Then maybe I wouldn’t be drowning in a sea of questions, doubt and cursed, failed expectation.
I guess this is where I am suppose to learn how to swim—again—so that I can paddle and propel myself through the doubt, the guilt and the expectations.
But if my journey has taught me anything, it is just as the swells start to calm and the safety of the white, sandy shore comes into view, the feminine energy of the ocean will start misbehaving and those swells will start to rise again, knocking me down and pulling me under.
Carolyn Gilligan is a daughter, sister, best friend, listener, lover, ice cream eater, sometimes writer, easily excitable, embarrassingly gullible yoga teacher in training who drinks too much coffee, makes a lot of mistakes and has too much fun for her own good.
Editor: Brianna Bemel