Rain, hail, snow or sunshine us kids used to 'play outside' we were fearless. I'm sure social services today would have a hissy fit if they saw the kind of things we got up to. And then it stopped. We hit secondary school and we no longer had the courage to explore, play, make mistakes, fail and get back up again.
The physical and cognitive changes of the teen years meant we were more concerned about how we look and how we fit into the world. The academic education reinforced this self-consciousness with it's emphasis on passing exams, getting things right and fitting in. Our worthiness came from passing exams, getting into the right school and learning to fit in with the 'right' crowd. We feel judged every step of the way. Age eleven we find ourselves at the bottom of a school hierarchy and so begins the systemic eradication of our willingness to play, fail and try again, explore, create, admit mistakes or stand out from the crowd unless it's something that the crowd values.
Most people learn to fit in. In psychometrics it's called the 'normal range.' I learnt to play the game well, wear a mask and 'be professional.' I wore the right clothes, had the big house, nice car and all the other shiny things I felt made me fit in. I used alcohol to medicate and the real me was allowed out on holiday.
Practicing yoga helped me to realise that the system I wanted to fit into is dehumanising. It's about making us more efficient, productive, stable and predictable. We sit at desks for eight hours a day, we keep our head down, we fear speaking out, hide our emotions and look forward to retirement. How many times clients have told me that they only have eight or so years to retirement and then they can be who they really want to be.
Yoga taught me that being human is about play and movement, connecting to ourselves and to others, listening to our emotions, learning through creativity and most of all having the courage to express who we are.
One of the great rewards of being a yoga teacher is witnessing this change in my yoga classes. After a few weeks people lose their self-consciousness and fear of making a mistake or not being good enough. They stop comparing themselves to the person in front of them, to their younger self and to the social media images. They begin to accept who they are at that point in life. Over time they cultivate courage and let go of who they should be. You see their joy the first time they do a yogi squat, a camel pose, a handstand or a shoulder stand. They realise that what they initially believed to be impossible is now possible. This fuels their self-belief and courage on and off the mat. They understand that courage is not always the big decision or grand act. Neither is it the absence of fear, but it's about not letting fear stop you.
Often courage is the quiet voice inside that say’s “I’ll try again tomorrow.” That’s the work of developing courage.