Today I Feel Unworthy. ~ Carolyn Gilligan

Via elephant journal
on Jun 20, 2012
get elephant's newsletter

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.

I blame yoga teacher training.

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.

As soon as I come up, I fall down.

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.

Why can’t I extend this same gratitude to myself?

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

Like elephant Yoga on Facebook.


About elephant journal

elephant journal is dedicated to "bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society." We're about anything that helps us to live a good life that's also good for others, and our planet. >>> Founded as a print magazine in 2002, we went national in 2005 and then (because mainstream magazine distribution is wildly inefficient from an eco-responsible point of view) transitioned online in 2009. >>> elephant's been named to 30 top new media lists, and was voted #1 in the US on twitter's Shorty Awards for #green content...two years running. >>> Get involved: > Subscribe to our free Best of the Week e-newsletter. > Follow us on Twitter. Fan us on Facebook. > Write: send article or query. > Advertise. > Pay for what you read, help indie journalism survive and thrive—and get your name/business/fave non-profit on every page of Questions? Send to [email protected]


17 Responses to “Today I Feel Unworthy. ~ Carolyn Gilligan”

  1. THIS piece will serve as a giant hug for many people. Keep finding your mat. Just by showing up you are showing yourself compassion. xxxx

    "Every path hath a puddle."

  2. Suzanne Check says:

    Life will throw lots of curve balls – we learn how to swerve and swing – and we learn at our own pace. You are more than enough as a daughter, sister, niece, friend,student and the world is a better place because of you! Your voice and zest for life is real and it is beautiful!

  3. CarolynGilligan says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Lauren! Looking forward to all the quality time my mat and I will get to spend together this weekend! xoxo

  4. CarolynGilligan says:

    Thanks, Suz! Love you! xoxo

  5. Lisa says:

    This was beautiful to read, raw and powerful. As someone who has felt many of the same things on many more than one occasion, I lovingly share that in my own experience, the most ground-breaking personal growth comes from those seemingly core-shattering moments. Just remember that struggle and grace are not mutually exclusive. But that there cannot be grace without self-love. And the love is there. Just keep coming back to it – Every day, every hour, every minute, every breath. The heart is stronger than the mind.

    Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

  6. CarolynGilligan says:

    Thank you Lisa for reading and sharing with me! It means so much to me. Truly. xoxo

  7. Suzanne says:

    I am nearly crying with relief to read this article. It’s not just me! I relate so well to what you said, and feel relieved that we share feelings and experiences, and also relieved for the reassurance that there might be a way through. Thank you for taking the risk of putting this out in the world.

    Yours in falling out of crow 😉

  8. CarolynGilligan says:

    Wow, Suzanne I am so glad you shared that! You are so very welcome. Thanks for reading!

  9. angeline says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. It's what I am going through too. I have to be honest, I felt like I was reading something that I wrote in my journal recently. Wow. Love, love, love….. that's all I have. Love.

  10. CarolynGilligan says:

    Thank you for sharing and for reading! While it is saddening to hear that someone else is feeling the same way, it is also comforting and offers a whole lot of hope. Keep swimming!

  11. Natalie says:

    story of my life carolyn. at the end of the day you have to remember not to beat yourself up too bad because you are worthy and you will get there. these are the moments that are necessary because when you get through them they make you that much more proud of who you are and what you've accomplished. we may not fit the mold perfectly for what we aspire to be, but that doesn't mean we'll never get there. go through these moments, but remember the fire you felt when you decided to pursue this path and use that to push through. And when all else fails get a drink (or many) with your friends and laugh at all the silliness in your life because life is too short.

  12. CarolynGilligan says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting Natalie! It means so much. I have two weekends off from teacher training after this one so I plan on doing much of this —> "And when all else fails get a drink (or many) with your friends and laugh at all the silliness in your life because life is too short." xoxo

  13. […] learn how to discern between the doubt of the mind and the surety of the […]

  14. Anne says:

    So brave and so honest. Thank you for writing this. It reached me, and I am sure it reached so many others. The struggle for self compassion, I believe, is universal. You are not alone in it.

  15. […] drive home from the early morning class. Doubts of myself, the healing process I’m going through, am I worthy? All that went through my […]