A few months ago I attended an arm balance-themed yoga workshop, and before the class had even begun, we were told to place a blanket at the end of our yoga mat and practice falling onto it a few times so we could get used to falling over. Suddenly a small chill went up my spine. What? We’re going to fall? Oh boy, that’s not what I signed up for. Even though we were only like 6 inches from the ground, it could still be painful, especially on my face; and worse, it’s embarrassing! Plus, I thought, falling must mean somewhere I’ve made a mistake, and I hate making mistakes.
Then I remembered.
Back when I was about 8, I was out skiing with my dad. On this day, I was petrified because I wasn’t the best skier in the world and the slopes were pretty icy. As I stood there looking down the steep, slippery mountain, my dad yelled over at me and said, “The worst that will happen is that you’ll fall, and that’s OK!” I took his advice and started skiing down the mountain with a freedom I cannot describe. If I fell, I would still be OK, and that comforted me. Now, whenever I’m in a situation where I’m afraid of making a mistake, I recall that day; that fleeting moment where I realize, “Who really cares what happens? If I fall, I’ll deal with it.”
The truth is, the things that happen to us in reality are often so much less dramatic than the thoughts we put around them. We often prepare for catastrophic outcomes that never even happen, and the anxiety we generate, building a kind of buffer from the anticipated disaster, is actually doing more damage than the pain it's intended to protect us from. It doesn’t really matter if I fall out of an arm balance, but it does matter if I walk out of a yoga class in a state of stress.
Off the mat is no different, especially when the stakes get higher and we find ourselves reluctant to make important life decisions because we’re afraid to make a mistake. The question is, why are we so afraid? Is it because we’re afraid of letting other people down? Will there be serious consequences at the end of whatever road we choose? When we question these thoughts and scrape them like a rubber spatula all the way down to the core, what are we left with? Usually an earthquake of much less magnitude than we think, and to our surprise, one that’s filled with a support system of family, friends, co-workers, even our enemies to help us along the way.
We will deal with setbacks, because whether we know it or not, it’s what we do best, we’re just not tuned into that part of ourselves because we’re too busy prepping for the storm. Do we ever stop and think that maybe the storm will be beautiful, and that little rainbow that comes afterward is that moment where we look at ourselves and see a stronger person? With that in mind, are mistakes really wrong?
Recently during a different workshop, one on inversions workshop, I clumsily fell out of a Headstand and, what do you know, ended up in a beautiful arm balance! Wrong workshop, but it was a damn good arm balance that I’ve yet to give a name to.
Karen Sherwood is a registered yoga teacher, holistic health expert, and creator of Nutritiousyogi.com. She combines yoga, fitness, nutrition, supplementation, and lifestyle counseling to provide sustainable health and weight-loss programs in the Boston area, and long distance. She is a contributor to several online health and fitness publications and is the resident nutritionist at the Sports Club LA in Boston. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.