My Yoga Journey, Part 4: Aerial Yoga

Aerial Yoga

This past week, I received an email from the first yoga studio I had dropped into in California congratulating me on my 1-year anniversary with them. It was a rather profound moment for me. One year. One year since I went to my first yoga class since 2002. One year since I discovered how much fear I held in my body and carried through my life. One year since I discovered my personal practice made me extremely flexible, but I’d only spot-developed strength over the past 16 years.

Back in 2009/2010 when my practice deepened and became my happy, meditative place, I had begun to search for yoga teacher trainings so I could learn more. More about why I had these fleeting images run through my head, more about the asanas and alignment, more about my practice. I hit upon the perfect program, but it was 6 months long and cost $3K+. At the time, I knew with my work I didn’t have the bandwidth to dedicate every weekend to yoga, and I didn’t have the money either. But each time enrollment would roll around, I would think about it. Look at my calendar. And sigh.

Then, in 2012 I took a “break” from work. At first, this break was going to be 6 months. Then it stretched to 9 months due to travel opportunities. Then 1 year due to more travel opportunities. Then I arrived back in the US, and as I was re-acclimating, I decided why not try a yoga teacher training? I had just spent 4 months traveling. I could stay put for 6 months. I didn’t have a job that was eating up all of my time. The plan was to look for one, but for now…

So I took the plunge and signed up for the training, purely to enhance my own practice. Maybe to help friends who wanted to try yoga, but mainly for myself. At least, that’s what I was telling myself. That was much less scary than uttering the words, “Maybe I want to teach yoga for a living.” Because that just sounded laughable. Ridiculous. Absurd. I’d just spent 12 years climbing my way up the corporate ladder to become a product marketing director. I couldn’t become a yoga teacher.

I assume the thought of becoming a yoga teacher was buried deep within, however. After determining I was going to do this training thing, I decided maybe I should go to some classes, see if I could figure out why on earth anyone would ever take their yoga practice to a studio, letting someone yammer in their ear for 60 to 90 minutes. This was the antihesis of yoga in my mind.

One idea that intrigued me was aerial yoga. I had always wanted to give it a try, so I decided it was the best place as any to start. At the least, it satisfied my “why” question – it was something I couldn’t do at home. Not quite yoga in my mind, but it sounded like fun.

To preface, I had taken acrobatics and gymnastics as a child. Hanging upside down, flipping around – these were not things that induced fear in me, but glee. So imagine my surprise when I was told to lean back in my hammock to hang upside down, and I froze. My back did that thing where instead of arching into a backbend, it rounded forward, keeping my head firmly erect above my body. “Lean back,” my brain was saying, but my body would not have it. Extreme anxiety and fear was coursing through my body. I did make it upside down, where the stress subsided, and I made it through my first class – aerial and yoga. But I left feeling somewhat defeated and befuddled. What had just happened? I know it wasn’t yoga in the sense of what I practiced at home, but how was I so weak in so many of the movements even though I’d had my own practice for 16 years? And why on God’s green earth could I not just flip upside down??!!

I pondered on these questions for a couple of days until it hit me. I’m afraid. I’m afraid to hurt myself. Over thirty years of life experience has taught me all the ways I can injure myself. I was operating from this place of self-preservation and not opening myself up to the opportunities to feel the joy I felt in my childhood of doing these wild and crazy things.

Like most studios, this place had offered a multiple class pass for new students which I had taken them up on. The following week, I first attended a gentle yoga class. Ah! Easy peasy. My flexibility working for me, my lack of strength not working against me. Later in the week I headed back to an aerial class. Different teacher. I introduced myself, told her I had taken one class, and then I did something that surprised me both back then and now as I look back. I admitted I was afraid. Which is something I don’t do. Put on a brave face, buck up, push through your fears, and don’t let anyone see your weaknesses. But I uttered these words, “…I discovered how much fear I have in side of me…” It was a sort of confession not only about the aerial yoga, but about my life.

I’m not sure if I was more open to hearing the cues on this day, or if this teacher was just more sensitive to my fear, hearing me admit it. But that day I learned why I was safe in the hammocks, how I wouldn’t be safe, and how to ask for help when I felt overwhelmed. I began to feel the muscles that I hadn’t been using in my personal practice on the mat, that kept things like crow and jump throughs elusive to me. So I kept coming back, building that strength, breaking through that fear, and discovering my glee.

As I embarked on teacher training, aerial practice fell a bit to the wayside as I immersed myself in other types of yoga I was studying. But acknowledging my fears, verbalizing them, helped me along my path. Though it still wasn’t easy, it helped me say, “I want to teach yoga. For a living.” It helped me acknowledge that I feared being ridiculed by my family and peers, and for me to say, “That’s okay.” It helped me see that I approached challenges – physical and mental – with fear of failure instead of potential for success. It helped me realize that the strangers I was surrounded by in class were supportive, nice people, all on their own journey. Maybe I shouldn’t be scared to say “hello” or ask, “How did you work up to that asana?”, or just say, “Yeah, this scared the crap out of me too the first time I tried it.” Of course, some people look at me like I’m nuts, but others open up and we have a chance to make a connection.

That’s not to say I’ve just put all of this behind me. I’m still that quiet, shy person that comes off as snobby, because I often retreat back into my shell, being worried about what others will think of me. I’m still scared I will do a face plant in crow. And I still think about, “What if I fail at this new venture?” But I think about it a little less. And I put my authentic self out there a little more. My hope is one day the scales tip, and that fearful, scared person will fade far into the background. But as I sat, looking at the “Congrats on 1 year!” email, I realized how far I had come in the last year. I have made it through my teacher training. And through my aerial yoga teacher training. I’ve started my own business, Om Fairy. I’m working with people one-on-one providing personal yoga sessions, and I’m teaching classes. I discovered why I want to go to classes, and I’ve brought so much more into my personal practice. Oh, and let’s not forget, my back simply arches back when I flip myself upside down these days.

Learn more about my yoga journey: Read Part 1: Discovery, Part 2: Music, and Part 3: Meditation.

Thanks to Lanore Martinez for capturing this photo!

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