Embracing my outsiderness

I meant to post this last week after last Wednesday’s yoga class but then I woke up the next day and it didn’t seem so important anymore. But then Wednesday’s class happened again and I felt the same again. Now it seems important again.

I have never felt like I belonged to any particular group of people. As a child I would often wander around on my own with no one to play with. Friends have come and gone in my life, sometimes I have a few and sometimes I have little to none. Which is strange because I like people and I like having friendships. A lot of my childhood was taken up by me feeling somewhat ‘out of it’, I had no friends at the orchestra (but I felt I had to go because I was told I was a good violinist), I had no friends at my dance class (ditto dancer) and I was such a nice little girl that I was frequently taken up as a best friend only to be later dumped by less kind hearted, more manipulative little girls.

But in some ways I accepted this feeling of outsiderness, I understood that not everyone could have friends all the time. I did things because I was interested in them, people I could take or leave. I have never been one for small talk. Strangely enough despite all this I am actually a really good friend and I have had a lot of close friendships. I’m always the confidant, the agony aunt, the shoulder to cry on as well as the one to mess around with.

This feeling has carried into my adult life, I felt it at university and I feel it very much in my yoga classes. The first class I went to was full of 30-40 something year old women complaining about how terrible they were at yoga and how glad they were to be away from the kids. As a depressed 23 year old with no kids who had an earnest desire to do yoga I could not relate. I just smiled and did my yoga. And stopped going.

Now in my new class I’m amongst mostly 30-40 something year old women who complain they’re not better at yoga, that they can’t do handstands or they can’t balance in this or that pose. The air of competition and performance is overwhelming. It’s one of those non-stop flow classes which I enjoy and I do practice at home but then at some point in the class it’s time to get the big guns out. It’s time for handstands, or arm balances, or big showy backbends (which we haven’t prepared for). Inevitably everyone watches everyone else at this point and if they “achieve” said pose they get clapped. I do yoga as a form of mindfulness meditation, they seem to be treating it as some kind of gymnastics competition.

I hate it and I feel uncomfortable knowing I am being judged. But I love learning new things in yoga and I think it’s good to at least try to be part of a community. Long ago I adopted the attitude “get what you can out of a situation because nothing is going to be perfect for you” and I live by that. But by god it’s lonely. I do not want to be a part of that group but I do not want to be so outside it that I get upset. Within my body when I am doing yoga I am home and I am whole. In a yoga class I am an outsider. I will have to learn to accept that.

All I can take from it for now is when I teach yoga I will try hard to make sure that everyone is welcome, that no one feels they are not ‘good enough’ or they are not able to be a part of the group. That is my promise.

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8 thoughts on “Embracing my outsiderness

  1. That yoga is not competitive is one of the hard things to get about yoga for many people. It’s an individual, personal practice that benefits from being practiced in community. We should be openhearted and supportive of all, but our practice is our own and really shouldn’t be compared to anyone else. The teacher should know this but maybe doesn’t. Are there other teachers in your area?

    • Thanks for your comment. I agree completely but unfortunately I think I may be alone in this where I am! I live in a relatively small island and there’s only a handful of yoga teachers, a lot have trained at the same place. I haven’t found any amongst them that are a perfect fit so I think I may have to settle for good enough.

      • Can you bring your “witness” to class? Observe what’s going on and say – With all this primitive hubub going on, this is a good opportunity to practice mindfulness under challenging circumstances? Good opportunity for practicing patience and allowing life – no matter how silly – to be as it is. Can you practice letting go of your critique and just be with the good-heartedness that no doubt is present? I know the outsider. I know how tempting it is to withdraw into one’s own space in a way that feels alone. Dissolving that perception of separateness between ourselves and the other is of course deep yoga practice. And difficult.
        Assuming there is a minimum level of competence in the teacher, maybe there is good opportunity for practice here. I hope you can find a way to hang in and
        work with the mess. It’s pretty messy everywhere, after all. Good luck. I think I see in your post a real yogi at work. Blessings.

      • I have thought that that would be a good opportunity to practice mindfulness! I start off with good intentions but have found that staying with the bad feelings that arise is exhausting. At some point I realise I have no energy to observe my thoughts and reactions anywhere and I retreat back to my safe “I’m so alone, I’m so different from these people” headspace. Which I don’t really want. I have found that wishing the others in the class lovingkindness (both at the beginning of the class and whenever I find myself judging) does break down that barrier of separateness so I may have to pick up that one again.
        It was really nice of you to comment and it’s always nice to hear from someone on the same wavelength. Thanks for your kindness.

      • Okay, don’t wear yourself out observing what comes up. Just practice bare awareness. Immersion in what is right before you on the mat. No thinking about it, just awareness. Just you and your breath. Let the rest of them preen and clap – that’s where their practice is. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s not where you are so it doesn’t have to do with you. Because while they perform, you are working down through the koshas.

        This is almost off-the-mat practice for you. You are in a yoga class that isn’t a lot different than not being in a yoga class. But you are in a well-intentioned community, and the teacher (I hope) does have something to offer. So not feeding you as you would wish, but not a total loss? It does seem though that the community might be important. My lineage is Kripalu. Swami Kripalu taught that it was most important to love each other. Even ahead of our spiritual practice was the importance of love. Maybe this class is there for you. It sounds a lot like real life – not always easy to love. But worth the effort? Peace.

      • Good advice, I’ll definitely be trying to practice bare awareness. The teachers do have something to offer and everyone is friendly enough, if not entirely inclusive. I will try to love and accept and hopefully the rest will come.

    • It’s true, I think more people do this than we would know by looking. Sometimes its the loudest people in a group who feel the most insecure. But there are those rare people who do feel comfortable in groups. I can neither be comfortable nor pretend I am comfortable!

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