Skate Fast and Jump High

rollerderby-112223_640Photo by Greyerbaby

Last night at practice we practiced jumping the apex, which looks like this:

For every cut track, we had to do 5 pushups. I did a lot of pushups.

This is the first time in my life I’ve been so very bad at something yet loved it so much. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been terrible at a lot of things including but not limited to baking, housekeeping, dating, trigonometry, paying bills on time, scheduling, hyphenating, activism, and pretending to like people. But for most of my life, the things I’ve been bad at are the things I’ve avoided. Why is derby different?

Last night, as I watched the other skaters jump the apex (some successfully, some not), I pondered how we all ended up here, and how this sport is not at all what I expected. I knew the league would be a bunch of incredible, strong, driven women. I also thought there would be more fishnets, but what we lack in fishnets and tutus we make up for in dedication and tattoos. But what I really wasn’t prepared for is how the challenge of derby makes me want to be stronger. The funny names and crazy outfits are fun, but the real reason we stick around is that the challenge is intoxicating. I have never pushed myself this way before, and I love it.

You know why I can’t jump the apex yet? Because I’m scared of jumping with wheels on my feet. This seems like a reasonable thing to be afraid of, yet I want to not be afraid of it. I have hope because I saw people do it last night, people who couldn’t always do it, people who were afraid before and overcame their fear.

When I set this “letting go of fear” goal for myself this year, I had no idea what I was getting into. But for some reason, the gods of roller derby smiled on me and gave me the chance of a lifetime. Just go fast and jump, right?

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How Derby is Teaching Me to Let Go of Fear

800px-Jeanne_d'Arc_Joan_of_Arc_at_San_Francisco's_Palace_of_the_Legion_of_Honor_and_crepuscular_rays

This is the year I let go of fear. This is the year I push myself. That’s what I determined at the start of 2014. There is no path laid out ahead of me: no promotion to work for, no boss to please, no raise to negotiate. It’s up to me to determine where I go this year and beyond. Total freedom is very similar to total lack of direction, and the main difference between the two is having the ovaries to take action. And that means I cannot be frozen by fear.

Trying out for derby was a pretty big challenge and a good way to practice facing my fears, but it was only the beginning. Getting into the league is one thing, but sticking with it, practicing even when you’re tired and sore, reaching out to new people, and challenging yourself physically and mentally with every practice … well, it’s hard work. It’s especially hard if you’re naturally an introvert who’d rather stay home and think deep thoughts than sweat or meet new people.

Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing this, and the answer seems to be: Because I want to see if I can. The challenge is satisfying in a way I’ve never experienced before. What I get from derby that I haven’t had in the past is a particular sense of accomplishment. Unlike my professional accomplishments, what I achieve in derby directly benefits me first and foremost (later I hope it will also benefit my team). Unlike writing or artistic accomplishments, there’s no questioning whether other people will like or appreciate it — I’m not doing it for an audience. And whereas my yoga practice is very personal and private to me, derby is something I can share with a vibrant community of people who want to help and cheer each other on. It turns out, derby fills a hole in my life I didn’t know was there.

As for the fear? Yeah, it’s still there, but I’m working on it. During practice this weekend, Mr. Pistol (one of the coaches) kept talking about committing to your movements. If you don’t commit, you’ll always do it half way, and you’ll never really get there. And what stops me from committing? Fear, of course. So I started telling myself to let go of fear and commit to doing the falls, stops and various techniques we worked on. I did not instantaneously became awesome at them, but it felt good to make a sincere effort, focus on my work, and see improvement.

I’ve also noticed that what I learn from derby often relates back to my other love: yoga. Just the other day, I complained about being afraid that I’m not a good enough yoga teacher. Yep, there’s that fear again. I have to let go of the fear of failure and commit to teaching with my true voice. If I try to please everyone, I will end up pleasing either no one or everyone but myself. Neither option is acceptable to me. If I teach the yoga I love, there’s a chance that the folks at the gym will decide I’m not their right teacher, but there’s also a chance of real success.

And what does real success mean to me? It’s pretty simple: Doing what I love in a sustainable way that adds to the overall good in the world. I’m pretty sure that’s not asking too much, and all I have to do is get the fear out of the way.

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This Above All: Don’t Be a Fraud

Photo by Thea Bee Photography
Sometimes I lie in bed and think about my many shortcomings — as a writer and a yoga teacher especially. Lately, I’ve come to understand why so many successful people say they’re afraid of being revealed as a fraud. Even Maya Angelou has said she’s sometimes afraid people will discover she can’t really write. And occasionally, we are confronted with the fact that our beloved yoga teachers and spiritual leaders are deeply flawed people.

I realize that because I’m a yoga teacher and I like to talk about spiritual things, people might think I see myself as some kind of authority on these things. Not by a long shot! I’ve had some training and practice, but I can’t do every yoga pose, and I get jealous of people who can. Nor am I always peaceful or nice — just as I was writing this, a lady walked into the coffee shop where I’m working, and her son was being such a demanding little brat that I accidentally laughed out loud at him. Sorry, lady.

Luckily, you don’t have to be perfect in order to be a teacher. You just have to be actively engaged in the process of learning and willing to share what you learn along the way. I think I have some things I can share with people, and I aspire to be a really good teacher, but I don’t believe in faking it till you make it. You have to be honest about who you are and not lead people to believe you’re a saint when you struggle just as much as they do.

Then again, there are people out there like Amma. I’m sure she’s had heartbreak and anger in her life, but when she’s doing her service to the world, she seems to just let love fill her so she can give and give and give. We don’t see if she wrestles with guilt from the past or fear about the future. Maybe she’s grown beyond that, or maybe she just doesn’t share it.

As for me, that’s just not my path. No one would believe I was real if I didn’t curse, make dirty jokes, and laugh at the obnoxious kid in the coffee shop. If I play it too prim, people who know me can tell something ain’t right. So, while you might not like my sense of humor, will you ever find out that I’m a fraud? Nah. Not as long as I stay true to myself.

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Meditate Like a Boss, Part 5: The Kit

Incense

Today we have part five of my series on meditation. Last week, we talked about how to deal with the difficult emotions that sometimes come up during meditation. Now that you have all the mental tools you need, you’re ready to establish your meditation practice at home.

As you make meditation a part of your life, it can help to have a space set aside for it. This place will serve as a reminder of your practice, and it will ensure that you have a comfortable, inviting place to sit and meditate. If the space is already there, all you have to do is sit down. Doesn’t that make things easier? Here are the keys to creating a meditation space of your own at home:

  1. A little bit of space. Figures, right? You just need enough room to sit comfortably. For me, creating a meditation space is a good opportunity to remove clutter from my house. The meditation is intended to help me remove junk and gunk from my mind, so the meditation space should reflect that.
  2. Cushions! You’ll want a soft place to sit, after all. A blanket on the floor under you is nice, while a pillow or zafu will raise your hips enough that your knees more easily relax toward the floor. If you have tight hips, sitting this way may cause some tension in your knees. If so, place cushions or rolled up towels under your knees so you can relax and your legs won’t fall asleep.
  3. An altar or focal point. If you have room for a little table or shelf, place a candle, flower, or inspirational image there. This isn’t necessarily an object of worship, but it’s something you can let your eyes rest on that puts you in the right mindframe for meditation. Some people use photos of a beloved teacher, guru or saint. The altar helps establish that your meditation space is to be treated with reverence (as a symbol of your practice), and it’s also a place to center your attention when you get lost in thought.
  4. Some peace and quiet. The more you meditate, the more you learn to focus in busy, noisy and even stressful situations, but meditating in quiet is much much easier and more pleasant for most people. Choose a place that sets you at ease so you’ll have fewer distracting and anxious thoughts

There is no right or wrong here. Your meditation space should feel comfortable and inviting to you. I like to keep a blanket on hand so that when I totter over to my altar in the morning, I can wrap up and get comfortable. I hope your place will feel like a sanctuary from the chaotic world outside. To begin or end your day in this peaceful, soothing way will start to make a big difference in the quality of what happens between meditation sessions!

Have other questions? Leave me a note in the comments, and I’ll do my best to address them!

Next week, I’ll post my responses to your questions and other FAQs about how and why to meditate.

Namaste!

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Meditate Like a Boss, Part 4: Fear Not

Pressure

Welcome to part four of my meditation series! This week, I want to talk about the resistance, fear and anxiety that sometimes come up during meditation.

On the surface, meditation doesn’t look scary, but sometimes it is. When I started meditating, I was afraid that by going too deep into my own mind, I would find out I was crazy, or I’d realize some terrible thing that happened to me as a child. There was really no need to worry, although it’s a pretty legitimate fear that lots of people have. Even if you’re not sure what you’re getting hung up on, the anxiety you feel when you start meditating is rooted in our fear of facing ourselves. We’re taught by our society that self-loathing is somehow admirable — it’s not just humility we’re taught, but putting ourselves last, being self-less, and even ashamed of so many parts of our nature. But it’s crazy to me that we have such a deep rooted fear of really facing ourselves. Is this some kind of evolutionary quirk that we outgrew but never got around to shedding from our genes?

Whatever it is, the good news is that meditation gives us the tools to work through it.

The first way to deal with this fear is to recognize it for what it is. Fear is a projection of your worst-case scenario. It’s also a chemical reaction in your brain. It may feel like an inexplicable shot of adrenaline or a nagging need to fidget. First and foremost, see it for what it is, and accept it: I am experiencing fear.

Second, have compassion for yourself. Imagine how you would feel for a little kid scared of the dark. It’s really the same. You’re moving into unknown territory or perhaps dealing with some issues you’ve avoided until now. It’s perfectly understandable for your mind to dig in its heels at this point. But just like there’s no use dragging a kicking child anywhere (I promise the experience won’t be positive for anyone), there’s no use forcing yourself to confront deep dark monsters. So ease up! Be kind enough to back off if the fear feels like too much.

You may find that the feeling of acceptance of this fear is enough to melt it so you can move forward with your meditation. Focus on that feeling of compassion. If the fear is too great, back off and return to focusing only on the breath. Count your breaths and stay with that for as long as you can. Whatever you do, don’t feed into the fear. Don’t obsess about it. Don’t chase it down demanding to know where it came from and why it’s coming up now. You’ll only make yourself feel crazy with that. Simply focus on the breath or on the feeling of compassion until either the fear subsides or your meditation ends.

For many people, this compassionate approach to fear and anxiety is enough to get comfortable with meditation. However, if you have an intense or persistent feeling of fear that you can’t get past, I recommend working in person with a teacher you trust. I have often found that meditating in the presence of a teacher or close friends makes it easier for me to settle down, as though that person’s physical presence is a mental security blanket for me. Going to meditation classes at a yoga studio is a good place to start.

Finally, if you struggle with anxiety consistently, you may want to go a step further and seek support from a therapist or counselor. Yes, I certainly believe in the power of yoga and meditation, but there are folks in other lines of work who can help immensely. I say this as a person who has dealt with somewhat severe anxiety and depression in the past — accept help and support wherever you find it, whether that’s in the form of your yoga teacher, your best friend, or your doctor.

Do you have other questions about meditation? Leave me a note in the comments, and I’ll do my best to address them! Next week, we’ll talk about how to set up your personal meditation space to nurture your practice.

Namaste!

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