It’s been awhile, but this weekend I had an experience where I felt deep shame. It didn’t feel good and one day later, I can already laugh about it, but it was a valuable and vulnerable enough experience that I want to share this story about myself with you. The shameful event happened during my yoga teacher training. There was a guest teacher – a very good one, by the way* – and she brought with her a lesson for me.
I was running late that morning, so I ended up sitting in the back of the room, not my typical spot – but close to it. In yoga class I tend to favor the back rows unlike my usual, front-row sitting, over zealous self. The reason why I go to the back row at yoga is because as far as asana (or postures) go I am still at the “beginners” level (at least compared to my classmates). Therefore, I do not like to place myself where the more “confident” folk sit, or rather stand, on their heads.
Needless to say, when a teacher with a good eye for students who “need help” is with you all weekend, it doesn’t matter what row you sit in, you will be found.
And so it happened for me, we started the day yesterday in an assisted deep chest and lower back opener. We laid with our backs on the floor, our knees bent and touching and our feet resting at the outer edges of our mats. Underneath our nipple line there was a rolled up blanket to help us go into an assisted backbend, and our arms were in goal posts at the side of our heads.
Well, that is the picture of what the “good” students looked like anyway. I was not one of them.
Me, myself and I, we were lying on our back, yes! Any chance to lay down and take a rest. But my knees were not touching, and my rolled up blanket was up too high – a little too close to my shoulders – causing my arms to come off the floor a bit awkwardly. Now re-envisioning the scene, I start to understand how the teacher might have noticed me.
How could you miss a student who had robot arms, slightly suspended in the air, because they couldn’t quite touch the ground? And to top it off, because I was a bit up in the air, I also did myself the favor of placing a small block underneath my head so I could try to enjoy the full restorative action of the pose (well, minus the whole arms in the air thing).
Well pretty soon, I hear the teacher voice call out, “Your knees should be touching!” (This was not the first time I had heard her cue what I felt was directed especially at me).
As I heard this instruction I also heard steps moving quickly in my direction. As fast as I could, I brought my knees together, and before I knew it the teacher hovered above me.
Continuing her yell-talking, she said with a sharp tongue, “I’m not trying to scold you, but you really need to learn how to follow directions!” My eyes were closed, and I kept them closed.
She then moved my blanket lower as she was still hovering above me. SNAP, CRACKLE, POP. My back opened and released. And without notice she pulled the block from underneath my head. As my head hit the floor, defeated, she said, “Now, is it really that difficult for you to be in that pose?” (Almost insinunating I was faking it – did she consider that I maybe never knew I could bend that far?)
So I laid there in silence for I feared if I was to say anything it would make matters worse. I waited and waited and waited for her to leave. That wasn’t happening. She said to the class, “Just bare with me a moment, keep breathing. I’m dealing with this.”
I opened my eyes and quickly looked away. She was still there. I continued to not really say anything and she whispered, but loud enough so all 30 people in the room could still hear, “See, you can handle it.” And her footsteps left in stride, with less anger this time around and more satisfaction, like a mission was accomplished. And just like that, she was back in the front of the classroom continuing her lesson.
And there I was. Laying in all my vulnerability, in quite a lot of physical pain actually. She put me in a position that pushed a personal edge, but as one might imagine, due to the manner I got to that edge, a lot of emotional information was also pulsating throughout my body.
As she lead us through this opening “warm-up,” I found tears streaming slowly down the sides of my temples, and I was starting to choke on my breath, the breath that was supposed to be getting deeper and deeper by now.
But I was not a good student. I was shame. My breath was only getting more shallow.
As she had us sit-up to transition into the next pose, my inner voice or I should say ego was telling me, “Get over it. You’re fine. Don’t be a baby, don’t make this a big deal. Quit crying. STOP. I said, STOP it. You’re being dumb. Don’t be a victim. You’re always a victim. Were you listening? Do you ever listen? Get over yourself. Quit crying. They’re going to hear you! They can hear you!”
At the same time, my body’s internal dialogue told a different story, and that story was, “Don’t worry, you received your lesson for today’s practice. It’s time to leave. Don’t run away from your emotions, come closer, deal with us, let us out, we’re coming out!”
The latter voice won, mainly because the ego wasn’t in control at this point, my body was. The tears wouldn’t stop. I left the room with haste, not sure where I would go or what would happen next. Luckily someone found me crying in a corner and brought me to a room where I could be alone to let it pass.
I didn’t return to class for 45 minutes.
I learned so much and still am learning from this experience of shame. Right now some lessons I learned from the scenario include:
1) Be kind with your words. Words are powerful, use them wisely and speak mindfully. I recognize that I, like the teacher, can use my words in a way that can be hurtful to others. And remembering the times I have been on the receiving end, makes it hard for me to justify not being kind to others. I must always be gentle with my words. You never know how they may sound to another person.
2) Look beyond the surface. Dig deeper. There is a bigger story to every symptom. Don’t be afraid to investigate. My adverse and uncontrollable reaction to this event was deeply connected to many experiences and memories within myself that have not been dealt with that still need proper attention. By the time I was 30 minutes into my crying, it really had little to do with what was said or exchanged. I stayed with the feelings and took time to begin recognizing, working through and releasing what came forward.
3) Don’t embody shame. It’s bad for you. Operating from the belief that you are wrong or bad is never going to serve you. That is where I went when I started feeling ashamed of myself. No matter what someone says to you or how you may be feeling, be with the feeling but do not attach to it. Let the feeling pass through you, do NOT become it.
4) When you are ready, seek community. I have always been a woman who cared a lot about the people in my circles and outside my circles. I have also been the person who retreats into herself and does not ask for help. It’s okay to receive love and a hug from someone who cares about you. Thank you to the classmates who sat with and acknowledged the discomfort I was embodying and thank you for the hugs and healing touch, you know who you are.
5) Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. I wrote a post before about vulnerability and Brené Brown. Her message never gets old. We need more people to be vulnerable and to stop avoiding what is difficult and what is tough. Don’t run away from your emotions, explore them, let them pass and then learn from them.
If you’re looking for more, here is another video of Brené Brown on listening to shame:
*In no way do I harbor ill-will or emotions toward this teacher. I would actually recommend her. I learned a lot this weekend and would never ask for a different outcome. Had I not dealt with my emotions head on I may have projected some anger and other four-letter words in her direction, but I spent the time to debunk what was really bothering me. I received my lesson with gratitude.