Risk-taking and Growth {Lessons from my yoga mat}

Risk to blossom

This quote has always been one that speaks to my soul. I remember the first time I saw it – my dad went through a short-lived phase in which he would buy for me those little books of quotes that they keep near the cash register at Barnes and Noble. He is always sending me things in the mail – usually articles that remind him of me in some way – but for a few months, it was always a new book of quotes. They’re full of lines you’ve heard before, with sappy titles like Dare to Believe or You Rule! 

At some point towards the second half of my time in college, a new book came in the mail. Casually perusing it, I came across these words from Anais Nin, words that immediately resonated; words that have come back to me again and again through the years; words that seem to take on new relevance and significance at many of my “significant learning moments.”

So the fact that this quote has been on my mind for the past two week in relation to my yoga practice comes as no surprise.

My teacher is currently in India, studying with her teacher, so we have a long-term sub filling in at our shala. New teachers always bring up a lot for me – my people-pleasing, rule-following nature can lead me to want to “do my best” and “impress” them, to stand out as a “good student” (all of which is clearly counterproductive to the work of the practice, through which we learn to let go of ego and expectations); and of course it takes time to establish a certain level of trust. Over the past few weeks of practice, this new teacher has slowly helped me to confront the places within my practice where I have been holding myself back, letting myself off the hook with excuses for why I “can’t” do certain things. He said something to me the other day along the lines of:

“I think you are ready. You are stronger than you think you are.”


And since then, he has echoed that message:

“You have the strength, you just have to figure out how to use it.”

“You’re strong enough to do it.”

And so on.

The first time he said it, I thought, “Really? Me?” And the excuses come rolling off of my tongue without any resistance, and hesitation:

“But I have this pain that I’m working through, and when I tried this before it was just too much, and I really have a lot going on right now, so maybe I shouldn’t, maybe I need to wait, wouldn’t it be best if I just stay here, where I feel safe, for just a little while longer? Please?”

To which he responded: “why not try just one new posture?”

So I did. And I was okay.

In that moment, clarity came. I saw, plain as day, that I had found myself in that familiar place, holding myself in, keeping myself small like a tight bud, afraid to blossom, afraid to take a risk, afraid to grow.

While blossoming means excitement and new adventures, it also means risk, which inevitably brings fear to the surface.

What if I can’t do it? 
What if I’m not strong enough?
What if this doesn’t go as planned? 
What if I fail?

These questions, brought to light on my yoga mat, are by no means just about yoga.

These are the same fears that hold us back from the things we want most in our lives – the ones that tell us we don’t deserve that job; aren’t good enough for that relationship; aren’t ready to take that risk.

Over the past two weeks, I have been working to confront my fears on my mat. Each day, I have asked myself to dig a little bit deeper; to access a little bit more of that strength my teacher keeps telling me is there; to release my attachment to the fear that holds me back.

My yoga practice has taught me how to confront these fears on the mat. And it does take practice. It takes showing up day after day and confronting my taken-for-granted assumptions about the way the world works, about who I am, and what I am capable of. It takes trying something outside of my comfort zone and “failing”, working through discomfort, or falling out of a pose. It takes time – moving forward, stopping, stepping sideways, going backwards before cautiously stepping forwards once more. But slowly, slowly, through the practice, the lessons make their way off of the mat, into my heart, and into my life.

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