“You are the most important person in your life,” the instructor said as we lay in savasana at the end of today’s 9am class. She meant it, unequivocally.
Between August 2009 and August 2010, I attended 300 yoga classes, most of them Bikram, a style of yoga created by the infamous Bikram Choudhury, whose mantra is “If you can, then you must.”
Bikram style yoga consists of 26 postures, each done twice and held for a prescribed period, in 105 degree heat. It is very yang. Yoga for Westerners, if you will. It is a brilliantly rigorous entree for the Type A mind into the meditative gifts of yoga.
The studio was my second home during a time of great transition. I began my journey there during a period of stress and struggle, and that beautiful heat and intensity came right up to meet my anxiety where it lived. By the time the class was over, lo and behold I was feeling pretty darned good. It was an answered prayer.
I felt so humble when I began, like a child. I had left my 19-year career as a court reporter and I wasn’t exactly sure who I was in the world anymore. I’d been carrying so much fear around inside me that I felt I had lost some of my ability to interact with people. I wasn’t sure what I had to offer anymore. So I listened a lot in the locker room to the ladies talking, and I didn’t join in very much at the beginning. When I did, I often felt awkward and silly. I was 43 years old, by the way. I had been around the block a few times and had been generally quite confident in my interactions. This was a delicate time of complete newness for me.
I had a couple of yoga idols that I admired in class - their elegant practices, their confidence, even the way they dressed.
Did you know that when you like the way someone dresses and wish you could look as amazing as they do, it simply means that you are seeing a part of yourself in them? It’s not a copycat thing or something “followers” do. You’re seeing yourself. My yoga idols helped me to see my future self… which of course would not be exactly like them. Not at all. I wouldn’t want it that way. But it’s great to “borrow” from people we admire. It’s the design of things.
Bikram yoga was a natural fit for me in certain ways. The ever-present mirror and the relative rigidity of the practice were very akin to the numerous ballet classes I attended growing up. It played into my inclination to be rather hard on myself and expect my body to go along with my wishes. All of this, right alongside the many wonderful gifts that yoga brings of insight and openness. Paradoxical and true.
My body loves yoga. My hips are naturally open and I’m very flexible… in some directions. Which is kind of funny because I can go so deeply into some postures that one might think I could do all of them with ease. Not so.
Anyhow, I was engaged every day and I began to push my body to do better and better.
Note the word “push.” This has become a red-flag word for me because it doesn’t lead to good things. The heat has a sneaky way of allowing you to go more deeply into a posture than your body might really want to go. Ultimately I’m glad I pushed at that time because it resulted in injuries and I learned well from the experience.
Gradually I became one of the students who had an "admirable" practice. I was quite good at many of those coveted Bikram poses that hold a lot of clout. Plus, I have natural focus and presence, which can be quite lovely to witness. I know this. And, I was told this frequently, which was nice for my ego.
But over time my consistent practice waned as I began to focus more on the people around me and my deep desire to be of service in the world. I opened a small wellness practice and began offering massage therapy for women. I rocked at it and got great results, because I wouldn’t have it any other way. And… I hurt my body along the way. Lesson learned once again.
Incidentally, over the past seven years - scratch that. Throughout my entire lifetime, I’ve learned over and over this particular lesson of the injury that comes to Me when I focus too much on You… whether You are my kid, my husband, my client, my friend, whoever.
Fast forward to my recent return to Bikram style yoga after a 2+ year hiatus from really any committed yoga practice. Today, by the way, I do believe I have found my new yoga “home” here in the area we’ve recently moved to. I’m really excited about this.
Class today was taught by a sorta famous instructor from a sorta famous yoga studio in San Francisco. She’s the owner, actually. She transplanted up here like me.
These days I have more clarity around Who I Am in the world and just in general how to live in a healthy way. A big part of that has been the understanding that I don’t ever have to be the best at what I do.
It felt great to be new at the studio today and have all these wonderfully friendly people telling me about the amazing teachers I need to experience at this groovy studio, and how Bikram yoga has a way of inviting you in, and in general treating me as though perhaps I had never practiced Bikram, or at least not very much.
I can’t tell you how utterly fabulous it felt to simply look at them and exclaim, “Really? How cool! I can’t wait!”
I didn’t need to tell them I had taken 300 classes in one year and had built an entire wellness practice with clients from my former Bikram yoga community.
I didn’t have to show up as a “yogi” or prove anything to them at all. All I have to do is show up for me! It feels so brand-new and so familiar all at once.
So, how does all of this tie into my being a leader?
Simple. Being a leader is about showing up for myself and modeling that for others.
It’s not about how good I am at what it is I profess to know how to do. It’s the courage it takes to step out and see myself in the world. If I only know 10% of something and I want to share it with others, then perhaps the folks who know 5% will be interested in what I have to offer.
I think you know what I mean. We’re all leaders, and we can own our leadership entirely, with elegance and great pride.