Fear of failure has been a constant companion for most of my life. As a little girl, I wanted to sign up for every kind of dance lesson and every kind of sports team there was, and was always initially so excited for my new adventures. But, without fail, as the first day of practice approached, my anxiety grew to unbearable levels. I distinctly recall sitting in the car with my mom before my first ballet lesson, around the age of 7, feeling literally paralyzed by fear, convinced that if I opened the car door I would shatter into a million pathetic pieces. What if I made a fool of myself? What if all the other kids laughed at me? What if I wasn’t good enough? What if I failed? Being the amazing mama that she has always been, my mom wouldn’t cave to these ramblings of insecurity and, insisting that I must follow through on my commitments, she lovingly escorted me into the dance studio. Sink or swim, little one. She told me I would be just fine and even encouraged me to enjoy myself. Of course, she was right. I was fine and I did actually have some fun, but that wasn’t proof enough that I could let go of my fear.
My companion has been loyal and persistent and even managed to keep me away from yoga for a number of years. Any time I would consider going to that first class the same fear-induced questions yackety-yacked through my mind, assuring me that I would undoubtedly do something so completely humiliating that it just wasn’t worth it.
But, yoga kept calling. No matter how many times I succumbed to my fears and insecurities, yoga continued to beckon to me.
Eventually, I said yes.
I gathered as much courage as I could and made my way to my first yoga class. I found a spot in the back of the room, and trying to be as small (i.e. as invisible) as possible, I hoped and prayed that the teacher wouldn’t call me out in front of everyone else as the impostor that I so profoundly felt that I was.
My heart raced, my palms were sweaty and I was certain that everyone was looking at me. I was waiting for that unbearable and imminent moment of failure to occur that I had feared for so long and I was convinced that everyone else in the room was just waiting for it, too. But, it never arrived. Not because my poses were perfect or pretty, because they definitely weren’t. Not because my breath was steady and deep, it wasn’t. And, definitely not because my thoughts were focused on my breath, because really I was just doing the best I could to get by. That dreaded moment of failure didn’t arrive because as I moved my body forwards and backwards and side to side on my mat, I began to feel lighter, more spacious and more connected. I felt free. I felt joyful. It became clear that executing the perfect pose or being “good” at yoga is the antithesis to what this practice is really about anyway. And, that was liberating.
I began to recognize that there was no room for competition, greed, striving, grasping or even feelings of inadequacy when I was on my mat. I understood that as long as I was offering all that I could afford to offer it didn’t matter what my poses looked like, how many times my mind wandered away from my breath, or how often I looked around the room instead of maintaining my drishti. By asking me to pay attention, to notice and to be fully present, this practice showed me that I could free myself, even if only for a moment, from those self-denigrating thought patterns. Instead of judgment and self-criticism, I actually found myself evoking more compassion, kindness, forgiveness and even love for myself. And, almost immediately this began to ripple out into my relationships and the rest of my life.
While I couldn’t identify exactly what it was, I knew that something quite precious and magical was blossoming. For the first time, I felt truly and fully alive. All of the spaces and places in my being that had been previously untouched were now singing. I felt like I was actually inhabiting my body; feeling what it was like to be in my body. It was a new sensation, a new awareness that I can only describe as an awakening. I learned that I did not need to be afraid of failure, that the fear of it was only an attachment to my ego and insecurities. Through the practice I found a feeling a freedom from judgment, criticism and self-doubt. And, it felt good. It felt beyond good.