Recently, I attended a yoga workshop with a group of yoga teachers and advanced yoga students. Towards the end of the yoga class, the instructor invited us to do a yogic squat or a more difficult pose called “Birds of Paradise”.
I looked around the big group of yogis and realized I was the only student who was not in ‘Birds of Paradise pose’ and immediately I felt the feeling of shame rise up from my lower body to my cheeks, which were becoming flushed.
In this moment, I felt inferior. I wanted to find a hiding space pronto where I could disappear. I mentally beat myself up by uttering these words in my mind’s eye, “I suck. I am a yoga teacher, but I can’t come close to mastering this pose.”
At this moment in time, I wanted to be anywhere else. I told myself they should take the word paradise out of the name of this pose, because there was nothing heavenly about this position for me!
But I mindfully returned to my yogic breath and reminded myself that yoga is a journey of self-discovery that celebrates imperfection. I practice yoga to find freedom in my mind, body and spirit and not to be perfect.
I could practice self-flagellation and remind myself of what I could not do in yoga or I could celebrate the many improvements I am making in my practice.
Both on and off my yoga mat, I can choose to emotionally karate kick myself or I can recognize the gifts and graces I bring to both my yoga practice and this world. So yoga is not only an exercise class for my body, but it is an exercise class for my mind and spirit which ultimately helps me practice self-compassion.
How do you react to shame?
In Dr. Brené Brown’s book, Rising Strong, she speaks about the importance of staying in her own lane when she is swimming. Swimming is a meditation practice for Brené, as long as she doesn’t start “comparing and competing” with another swimmer.
She tells the story of impulsively deciding to compete with a swimmer who pushed off the wall at the same time as she did. This sent her into a competitive mode and so she started to try to swim faster than the other swimmer. In this push to win a race with someone who was not even cognizant of the competition, Brené almost reinjured her rotator cuff. So when she is feeling vulnerable, her shame causes her to become competitive.
When I am feeling vulnerable, my shame causes me to shut down. In other words, my response is the opposite of Brené Brown.
She almost injured her shoulder because she became so competitive with another swimmer. But my tendency is to become so cautious that I don’t try to grow in my practice. I choose not to try new things and I often end up wrongly telling myself I’m not strong enough to do the more challenging yoga poses.
Shame arises when we compare ourselves to others
Brené’s insecurity encourages her to be competitive and my self-doubt causes me to shut down and stop growing in my practice. In both instances, we are worrying too much about what someone else thinks and we are being hard on ourselves.
If you are swimming, it is important to figuratively stay in your lane and if you are doing yoga, you must stay on your yoga mat. We can metaphorically end up on someone else’s yoga mat or in their swimming lane, and when we do this we start to compare ourselves to another yogi or swimmer. And when we play the comparison game, we are swimming in pools of shame. These shame-infested waters shout out to us that we are not good enough.
When we start to compare ourselves to others, we can shut down or hurt ourselves. But this is not just true in yoga and swimming, but also in life.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Shame takes us to the place of comparison, which in turn robs us of joy, because in order to validate our sense of self we please others, become defensive, compete, cut ourselves off from loved ones, gossip, manipulate, put down ourselves and/or others and are passive aggressive. We do these things because we doubt we are enough.
Overcoming shame by Practicing self compassion
It is really important to notice our thoughts, because when we find ourselves comparing, it is vital to identify that we are being hard on ourselves, in the hope we can find our way back to self-compassion. So we must find ways to give up our critical voices and stay in our own swimming lane or on our own yoga mat.
When we stay in our own lane or on our own mat, we don’t have to be perfect swimmers or yogis. We just realize we are on this journey to grow and experience the gift of connection with ourselves and one another.
It is important to remember that shame always takes us to a place of disconnection. However, compassion for ourselves and one another, takes us to a place of connection.
When we practice self-love, we are able to stay on our own yoga mat or in our own swimming lane. When we stop comparing ourselves, we know we are enough. And it is in this place that we grow and find joy in life.
So be who you are. Embrace your imperfections and growing edges, but also notice your strengths and gifts. Don’t let your shame take you to a place where you start to become hard on yourself or others.
You don’t have to be the fastest swimmer in the pool or be proficient at the birds of paradise pose. You are already enough.