“Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty.” – Brene Brown
Vulnerability, surrender, uncertainty… for most of my life, there was nothing I wanted to feel less than those things. Raised Italian/Irish Catholic, I was also queer and very much closeted. Fear, anxiety, self-doubt, and shame were my childhood companions. I had no idea how to face uncomfortable feelings, let alone express them in a healthy way. I liked being in control, having a plan, and doing everything in my power to create a predictable outcome. I mastered the arts of procrastination and compartmentalization. I made choices based on what I thought other people wanted from me. That would make things easier, more certain—right? I told myself that I would just deal with all the things…later.
Even after I came out in my mid 20’s, even after I married a man, even as I started feeling more comfortable in my own skin—there was still much I packed away. “Later,” I thought, as I hastily folded up whatever the feeling was and shoved it back down into its compartment. Around this same time, I found a fabulous therapist who would often encourage me to “get curious” about whatever subject I would rant about in our sessions. Get curious? No thanks, I have other plans.
In 2013, I began practicing yoga. It started for me as it does for many – an intensely physical practice. I quickly grew to love my time on the mat and began taking heated flow classes daily. I had some exposure to eastern philosophy and found glimpses of calm and stillness in those early practices, but shape achievement was still front and center for me. Over time, my neat little compartments morphed into overstuffed dresser drawers with sleeves and socks bulging out. I still kept trying to compartmentalize, do my yoga and push the difficult stuff away. Curiosity? Yeah, I’ll try that later. I’m really busy. I have things to do, you see.
In 2016, I separated from my husband and eventually divorced. I turned to yoga for solace and was met with confrontation. My asana practice began shining a mirror back at all of the fears, judgments, and self-doubts that were bubbling beneath the surface. Meticulously concocted plans, be damned! It has taken some time, but I’ve grown to love the first of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Atha Yoganusasanam, which translates to “Now, the practice of yoga.” Not later… now. Maybe it was time to get curious after all.
When I opened to it, I discovered that asana had a way of inviting curiosity at every turn. Curiosity about sensations in the body, qualities of the breath, where the mind goes and why, how one responds to the shapes presented, to achievement, to perceived failure… there were opportunities to explore and question all of it. As scary as that was to move toward initially, cultivating curiosity actually started softening the jagged edges of judgment. It opened up the space to observe, to inquire, to name the feeling and to check if this fear, this self-judgment, this morsel of shame that feels so true—is it actually true? What if it’s not? What happens then? Yoga asana facilitated this inquiry over and over again.
Now, let’s be clear—this all can still be REALLY uncomfortable, especially for a Procrastination Guru like myself. The good news, I found, was that the discomfort was temporary. By riding the wave of sensation, by moving toward the discomfort with curiosity rather than reactivity—the feeling would start to dissipate. The wave crescendos and eventually breaks. That does not mean it is gone forever –the fear and anxiety are still there in some capacity—but by working through the tension in my body, I began the practice of letting it go.
Now, my yoga practice is one of constant exploration. Even in shapes that I initially perceived to be “simple,” I found much depth to investigate. I certainly still have days where my inner procrastinator pokes his head up and whispers “pssst…. later” but even that invites curiosity. Why later? Why not now? This has also become quite the useful tool in my teaching. I like to ask questions of students – about a shape, an adjustment, an idea. I don’t necessarily know the answer, maybe they don’t either and I think that’s OK. I have found freedom in that uncertainty, in that vulnerability. What a revelation to learn that I do not always have to predict and be predictable, that I do not always have to hold on so tight, that sometimes I could just let go – maybe I could just be, even for a few breaths.
With all of this said, I still forget. I still get in my head. I still have days where old habits show up. Thankfully, the practice of yoga is always there waiting, inviting me to remember. When my mind wanders, when the self-doubt creeps in, when I have no idea what I am doing and why… I try to get curious. I ask a question. Then I get on the mat, breathe, listen, observe, keep breathing, and ask again.