The Yoga of Showing Up.
At the end of my yoga classes, I’ll often tell my students to bow to themselves in gratitude for accomplishing the most challenging aspect of yoga: showing up.
I’ll usually get a few chuckles; getting your ass off the couch can be a challenge some days, but it’s more than that. Showing up is a practice, and it’s not always an easy one.
It’s not just that sitting around is easier than making the commute to yoga on rainy days. It requires that you bring your human body into a room with other human bodies. Truly showing up involves being honest in a way that makes many of us feel uncomfortable.
In a yoga class, we are asked, often, to close our eyes and feel. That is no short order if you have been through trauma, if your body hurts, or even if you just feel like you don’t belong in that room because you think you are too fat/skinny/old/young/male/black/white, etc.
Really, no one feels like they belong in any room. The big secret is that no one actually looks like the perfect happy people in the advertisements we are bombarded with every day. Those advertisements are designed to make us feel like we are not enough as we are, so we have to buy things to get closer to this impossible ideal.
The other, bigger secret is this: showing up, as you are, even when you feel like you don’t belong, can actually change things. Look: you just created a room with more you in it.
This is an important practice at the yoga studio, but it comes up in many different contexts. In my town, there is a weekly competitive poetry event called the “Poetry Slam.” I have been writing in a style (quiet, feminine) that I feel doesn’t score very well at these types of competitions, and I hadn’t been showing up. I had lots of good excuses, like that I was tired or busy, but the real reason was that I was scared to show up on the stage because I didn’t think I’d be heard or accepted.
Ironically, the Poetry Slam is a place where misfits go to celebrate. All anyone wants to see at these events is a good variety of poetry, and the scores are nothing more than a gimmick to get the audience involved and to encourage the poets to try new things. I—no one else but me—was allowing myself to be silenced because of my own insecurities. If I did choose to read my quiet, feminine poetry on stage, I could invite other people who also don’t feel like they belong to show up, too. After several ego-busting weeks of showing up and scoring miserably, I finally ended up on the final stage with two other unique excellent writers and won second place. So. Win!
I’ve also been recently co-facilitating a women’s group, and for our last session, we invited other genders to join us. This was in part a way of making inclusive a group that is exclusive by definition. We wanted to broaden the conversation and make sure we were creating opportunities for other genders to show up. And show up they did! Well, at least, the men did.
In total, we had eight women and 10 men in the room. Before anyone said anything, we saw an outpouring of support from men who were willing to bring their human bodies into a room that had been previously coded for women. As the conversation unrolled, we saw that these men were not only willing to be present, but also to be honest and uncomfortable and willing to communicate and disagree. In our closing circle, one woman thanked the men for coming, adding that she hears so many stories of women being hurt and oppressed by men that this experience of good men standing up with good women touched her to tears (and me with her).
The thing is, when you do this, whether it’s bringing your body onto a yoga mat, reading a quiet poem on a loud stage, coming out to your family, or explaining to your fellow comedians why rape jokes aren’t funny, it can be hard. You don’t always get a warm and fuzzy welcome. Judgement and cruelty often comes from people who are threatened by you because you are inviting the culture to change. You are inviting everyone to look at their own bullshit and consider destroying it. That can be a scary thing, and you won’t always feel like anyone heard you.
Your voice can be incredibly powerful, but it’s important to remember that your body is powerful too. Your presence invites other people who feel the way you do to bring their human bodies into a room and celebrate their misfit selves. After all, everybody has a misfit self. They want to have a space to be misfits, too, and you hold the power to invite them to do that. All you have to do is show up.
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Ed: B. Bemel