December is a big regrouping month for me. It’s a time when I pick a new word for the year ahead and it’s also during the last week in December that I do a lot of reflection. Over the years, I have found that reflecting on the previous year serves to deepen the learning I’ve made as well as make me more appreciative of the power a year can hold – or in this year’s case, how powerful just one moment in a year can be.
During our life, we all experience defining moments – moments that by the very nature of the way in which they challenge us, shape us and change us. When we’re living that moment it hardly seems extraordinary; often times it feels like another blur in a series of blurs that fly by unmarked and uncategorized. But, when, at the end of the year, we pause to reflect and remember to record, through the lens of hindsight we’re able to see how these moments were more than the moment itself – how these moments represented so much more than that snapshot in time.
Two weeks ago, during the last week of Yoga Teacher Training, I had a major defining moment – so major in fact that it wasn’t until I was reflecting on 2016 that I saw how important this one moment was. As I sat with my usual year-in-review questions – the What were my wins? What were my challenges? Where did I fail? How did I grow from failing? – one particular moment stood out to me: the moment I was able to get myself up into supported headstand.
But…let me back up a second because I think it’s far too easy to gloss over our defining moments and celebrate the end result of the moment without actually capturing the small micro-fraction of moments that allowed it to become a major milestone in the first place. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the struggle.
In yoga, inversions are any pose where your heart is higher than your head and generally speaking, there’s two types of yogi’s when it comes to inversions: there’s camp excitement and then there’s camp fear – you know, the people that when inversions are announced have to check their phone, fix their hair, grab a drink or who suddenly have to use the restroom. I tend to find myself in the latter of the two. Since breaking the C2 vertebrae in my neck playing soccer in college, I’ve been terrified to even attempt an inversion. The first time it was announced that we were going to have some “fun” with inversions during YTT, it took everything I had not to have a breakdown on my mat. As feelings of inadequacy and limitation rose to the surface, as tears welled up in my eyes and my throat closed watching my peers fearlessly fling their legs into the air – as I was literally seconds from “having to use the bathroom” – another girl in my training came over and sat with me. I was comforted by her presence and that I wasn’t the only one in the “Not Yet or Maybe Never” camp; but, more than anything, inwardly I was ashamed and frustrated that my fear wouldn’t even let me try an inversion.
I thought back to the countless other times I held myself back because the little voice in my head said I wasn’t ready or good enough. This voice of so-called “reason.” It was the same voice that reassured me I’d fall, rebreak my neck and die during our first inversions practice. The same voice that had me sit on the sidelines watching the others around me soar. When it was announced during our last week in YTT that we’d be practicing inversions again, my voice of reason was louder and much more forceful: “This is it. You’ll never do an inversion. Don’t even try it. You’ll break your neck for certain.” Fuck! I thought. I’m gonna be the yoga teacher who can’t do won’t even try an inversion. Hell, I won’t even be a yoga teacher. Who’s even heard of a yoga teacher who won’t try an inversion?
Who’s even heard of a yoga teacher who won’t try an inversion? That last question really struck a chord for me because after almost 9 weeks of YTT, I knew yoga wasn’t about the postures themselves – it had nothing to do with the inversion. It was about the balance of effort and ease – sthira and sukha – and I realized what bothered me the most was there was no effort or ease, no willingness, on my part.
One of my teachers, sensing my extreme unease, offered to help me into the posture. As I inwardly struggled with fear and doubt and frustration, something within me stirred, something much more subtle and softer than the voice of reason said, Give it a try.
I managed to choke out the words, “Maybe” to my teacher.
“It’s up to you…” she replied encouragingly.
Again that voice urged, Trust. Trust your teacher. Trust the process. Trust yourself.
And, maybe because it was the last week of YTT, maybe it was because this teacher genuinely had my back and my best interests from day one, maybe it was because it was the last hour of that day’s training – but whatever it was, I decided to wholeheartedly take her up on her offer to help.
I wish I could say it was as easy as making the decision to give it a go. It wasn’t. There was a lot more tiny decisions from cradling my head, to supporting my shoulders, to engaging my core, to actually lifting my legs off the ground – none of which were easy decisions. For someone who has a long record of trust issues, and namely not trusting myself, this idea of going against the natural law of gravity took every ounce of bravery, determination and faith.
Looking back on 2016, finding myself in this inverted shape was my defining moment of the year – not because of the pose itself, but for what it took to get me there: the bravery it took to not shrink from the challenge or my (perceived) limitations; the determination it took to steady my mind and harness my breath as I teetered in the air; the faith it took to trust my teacher, the process and myself with nothing but the pressure of her hand against the heel of my foot. This was my defining moment for 2016 not because of where I landed, but for where it took me: beyond the physical.
Defining moments can really be viewed as any moment that defines us. But, the truly remarkable and defining moments of our year are the ones we define and design by choice. They’re the ones that shape who we are and serve to teach us something about ourselves.
What moment defined you this year? What character strengths did you use or what character strengths did the situation call up?
When you step back to reflect and remember to record how a single moment in time has shaped you, you mobilize your strengths and reaffirm that what defines anything, at any given point in time, is YOU.
This week, pause and reflect. Remember and record. And remember, 2017 is all about what you make it!