When I was younger, about ten years old, I got some new bedroom furniture. What I distinctly remember about the experience is not what the furniture looked like or my excitement about getting new things, but the anxiety I felt because things were not the same. In fact, I remember crying the first night I fell asleep in my new bed, because it was just that: new.
I’ve gotten older, wiser, and now don’t cry about things as trivial as bed sets. However, I still haven’t quite been able to shake my aversion to change. Changes of all kinds can be frightening: a change in job, a change of city, even a change in how I think about myself can be hard.
I think that’s why I appreciate yoga so much. The practice itself, through changing me in subtle ways, has enabled me to meet life’s other changes with a greater sense of calm. The first time you think about any new pose, it seems almost magical. Yoga can change the way you think, by forcing you to commit to thinking about things that you haven’t previously thought about. Before yoga, I don’t think I ever noticed how my feet felt standing on the floor, or how I carry tension in my body, or any of the regular physical sensations that the experience of living opens us to on a daily basis. Yoga has changed that about me.
I am thinking about change a lot lately as I prepare for my upcoming YogaWorks destination teacher training in Hawaii this July and the professional changes it might bring me. I am also thinking about the personal changes that might occur. All seem a bit overwhelming, yet I can’t help but feel excited.
The most important gift yoga has given me has been acceptance. Yoga teaches acceptance, at least to me, in a way that other physical exercise cannot. For some reason, there is something different about my muscles screaming during a 50-yard freestyle sprint and the feeling of exhaustion that comes from completing many sun salutations. In other forms of physical activity, I exert with something to prove or to get away from something. Yoga calls me to accept what I am feeling, to accept the pain or sensations in my body for what they are, and not to run from them or criticize them. Learning to practice ahimsa, or nonviolence, with my circumstances and myself has enabled me to become a more accepting person in general. In turn, I better accept change.
An idea I like to call to mind frequently is the idea that the first step to fixing a problem is recognizing it. I think practicing nonviolent acceptance of one’s present circumstances might be the only way to instigate true, lasting changes in any capacity. Not only is change hard to cope with for me, but it is often hard to create if I try to push it. Any change in my life has been rooted in painful, honest acceptance of my current state; relentlessly pushing myself to become different has never worked out that well for me.
I am keeping all of this in mind as I prepare to embark on a journey that might change me in ways I am not aware of yet. Right now, I am taking a close look at my students, my colleagues, and myself, and wondering how I can best focus my efforts to assist most efficiently. I am also focusing on feeling gratitude for my wonderful community and people around me that I have the pleasure to interact with on a daily basis. This is the first step, I think. Then, I can envision and meet without anxiety what will come in the future.
Isabelle Pennings is a high school teacher in urban Washington, D.C. She won a free YogaWorks destination teacher training in one of 8 incredible destinations, and is headed to Hawaii in July! She wants to become certified so she can share her practice with her students who so desperately need instruction on how to feel good in their own skin.