How Derby is Teaching Me to Let Go of Fear


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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Yoga Sutras 1.25 & 1.26: God and the Guru

Vyasa grants Sanjaya divine vision

The next two sutras continue discussing Isvara pranidhana and the nature of Isvara or God. Before we go on, I want to point out that the translation I’m using (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Commentary on the Raja Yoga Sutras by Sri Swami Satchidananda) uses the masculine pronoun for Isvara. On one hand, what we’re talking about is far too big to be limited by our ideas of gender: God is neither male nor female yet encompasses all the attributes of both. On the other hand, we reserve words like “it” for inanimate objects and things that lack intelligence. If you don’t believe that God or the universe is intelligent, bear with me for a minute and you might change your mind.

In Him is the complete manifestation of the seed of omniscience.

In other words, Isvara or God truly is the alpha and the omega and contains everything in between as well. God is the big bang. God is time and space. All knowledge, all events, all beings are contained within this one ultimate reality.

Perhaps you’ve played that mind game where you try to imagine what exists outside of the known universe, beyond the edges of space, before the big bang, etc. When you do that, you’re basically exploring the possibilities of the ultimate reality. Patanjali says that ultimate reality is Isvara.

Unconditioned by time, He is the teacher of even the most ancient teachers.

I admit, this one makes me scratch my head — hey I never claimed to know it all!

Notice the word “guru” tucked into the Sanskrit above? Let me refer you to Pandit Rajmani Tigunait for an excellent discussion of what guru really means. If you don’t have time to watch it right now, bookmark it and come back to it later because this is powerful and essential information!

The short version is that guru means “one who dispels the darkness of ignorance.” That teacher or guru can come in infinite forms, and the ultimate guru and source of wisdom is what we call God. This is why when we devote ourselves to that ultimate truth and try to live our lives in alignment with it, we make great progress.

Seriously, though, watch the video because Panditji does a perfectly beautiful job of describing the common misconceptions about gurus and how to correct them.

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of cages and keys

Hafiz Poem


This poem is on the wall calendar at the yoga studio where I teach, and it’s given me much to think about.

The small man builds cages … How have we been building cages in our lives? How do we imprison ourselves and others? What are these cages made of? Our own expectations, fears, judgements, and attachments.

The sage seems endless in his confidence and radiance. I imagine him walking under the moon smiling kindly as he leaves keys just within reach of the imprisoned. The keys are simple things: light, breath, awareness, kindness. The sage knows that you are not your cage but the person you become when you are free from it.

Today, see if you can drop a key for someone, maybe even yourself. When you encounter a cage, look between the bars at the human being inside, and see that they are bigger than that. Give people permission to grow and become their most radiant selves by acknowledging the goodness in them right now.

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Endings and Beginnings

Keep Moving On by Tim Snell on Flickr

I’ve decided to end the online yoga class. This week will be the last one.

I’m a little disappointed at having to end the class because I still feel that sharing yoga in real-time over the internet is a pretty awesome and fun thing to do. It was exciting to practice with people around the United States (and more than once a dear friend from the Netherlands). And I still wonder if maybe I’ll try that again someday.

The decision was complicated, but the short version is this: I’m busy and getting busier. I have some great opportunities coming up in my studio classes, and I’ve been asked to give presentations to some special groups. I could have doubled the time, energy and resources I’m putting into the online class in order to really make it fly, or I could let it go and make room for growth everywhere else in my life.

I know I made the right decision because the moment I mentally let go of the class, things started falling in place. I e-mailed  some folks about my soon-to-be opened up schedule, and immediately gained two new classes. I’m now teaching the beginner/gentle vinyasa class at 6:15 on Monday nights and got a second class added to a corporate contract I already had. I’m also considering adding a new studio class later in the week.

So, to everyone who helped me set up my online class, everyone who tried the class and gave me feedback, and everyone who donated even though you didn’t have to, thank you. And especially to those who came to class week after week, it has been an honor to practice with you. My hope is that you’ll continue to practice your yoga — find a local studio, get involved in the community, or just practice what you can at home if you can’t get to a studio right now. If any of you want help finding a local teacher or want to talk with someone about your yoga and meditation practice, you are always welcome to contact me.

And of course, I’ll still be here blogging about yoga, derby, writing, and life in general, so I hope you’ll be with me as this journey continues and we find out what’s next together. 🙂


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A Lesson in Ahimsa


Sometimes, I need to be reminded about pain. Maybe I got cocky last week and tried to do too much, or maybe it was just dumb luck that I tweaked my back. The injury seemed minor at first, but it managed to debilitate me for the better part of a week. To make the whole thing bearable, I’m attempting to treat it as a learning experience, but it’s not going so well.

I often have students come to yoga classes when they are injured, sick, sore or tired. Some have long-term injuries or illnesses that make even simple movements complicated and painful. Planning practices and modifying poses for them is challenging because I don’t always know what’s going to cause them pain, kinda like I don’t know what’s going to cause my back to go into spasms. I guide them through gentle and restorative practices and try to offer alternatives when a pose is beyond reach, but I mostly have to rely on them to respect their bodies’ boundaries. Pain, I remind them, is your body’s way of telling you you’ve reached a boundary and it’s time to back off. I trust my students to listen to their bodies. So why couldn’t I practice what I preach?

Now that I have pushed myself well beyond my limits and am paying the price of being incapacitated for a week, my next course of action has been to mentally and verbally berate myself for getting into this situation. I’m not used to relying on others, and I don’t like it one bit. I spent yesterday with friends who basically waited on me hand and foot, and I felt guilty every time I had to ask for something to be brought to me, even though I’m sure I would’ve done the same for them or any of my students. I just kept thinking about how mad I was at myself for hurting myself, for not heeding the warning signs, and for thoughtlessly going through round after round of Sun Salutations when I really should have been resting.

But maybe this is another chance to practice what I preach: ahimsa. Ahimsa means nonviolence toward all living things, including myself. Physical nonviolence means not forcing through my boundaries and not abusing my body. Sure, I may have failed on this front last week, but I can do better this week by taking the time to heal . But there’s also mental and emotional nonviolence. It means not mentally berating myself anymore, not saying out loud, “God, I’m so stupid, why did I let this happen?” It means treating myself the way I would treat a student who shows up to my class with an injury: with kindness, patience, and a little bit of indulgence. I’ve been told before, but now I know for sure that ahimsa is the hardest to apply to oneself. So, that’s my lesson for this week I guess.

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