I recently went on a yoga course, and it was WAAAAAAAY outside my realm of comfort. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t comfortable, I didn’t like the experience while I was in it (it really challenged me), but looking back I wouldn’t change it one bit.
While it’s much easier to stay where we feel safe, we need to step outside these easy places in order to experience growth and a better understanding of self.
Let me first say that the course I took was amazing; it was taught by an incredible teacher and what I learned has really shaped my yoga teaching and my personal yoga practice. It was nothing short of transformative, both personally and professionally. The environment however, was, for me, extremely challenging. I knew it would be (as a partial introvert, communal living has never been my thing), but I didn’t realise to what extent.
It was set in nature at an eco-retreat in Portugal – a really beautiful spot, which, under different weather conditions might not have been so difficult. Like many eco-retreats, the showers were heated by the sun, so when it’s sunny you can have a hot shower, but no sun = cold water. You’ve probably guessed that when I was there, there was no sun (for most of the week, anyway), so I got to have quick cold showers, never feeling particularly clean as I was just trying to get through it fast.
Second, there was only one toilet for 40 people, which, in terms of timing wasn’t such an issue as the toilet was a compost toilet, meaning no pee (generally, this also meant no queues for the loo). When we needed to pee, we went wherever we wanted, connecting back in with nature. I don’t mind this once in a while, but I realised that when in communal living (we were 4 to a tee-pee) I really value those moments of being completely alone and private. Peeing outside did not afford me this solitude and I noticed the impact of that as the week wore on.
And the tee-pees! Beautiful and luxurious … as long as the sun was shining. In the rain and cold, much less so. It rained a few nights (and let me point out that tee-pees have a hole in the roof where the canvas and the frame meet- fine when dry, but ineffective in the rain), and we ended up with big puddles of water on the beds and floor, and damp bedding. On one night, there was so much rain dripping from the aged canvas that we had to seek alternative sleeping arrangements (luckily there was a relatively dry yurt near-by).
The week was cold, damp, communal and very out-doorsy. And while I really hated these things, I loved the overall experience because of what I learned:-
- I (and we, as a society) take much for granted. Hot showers, shelter from rain and the elements, plumbing, the ability to feel clean, and have food whenever we want …. These are things not available to many, but we have come to expect them as basic. Removing them for a while makes us appreciate the value and luxury that some of us have. I like being in nature, but I like coming home to a warm bed, free of bugs (or toads, as one of my fellow tee-pee dwellers found), I like having hot showers and value the simple luxuries afforded in my life (these of course, are privilege for much of the world, but I appreciate and enjoy them).
- Removing the “easy buttons” forces you to feel your emotions. We don’t realise how many quick fixes and distractions we have day-to-day that allow us to tune out from how we are feeling, especially if those feelings are uncomfortable. The eco-retreat had no wifi, no television, no (as far as I was concerned) basic comforts, which meant that I had no way to distract myself from feeling uncomfortable. How often do we start scrolling, reach for something delicious/comforting/intoxicating, or tune out on Netflix when things get a little tough? I had nothing that I could use to turn off or avoid the feelings that came up, so I had no choice but to acknowledge them. And although it’s not easy, learning to sit with sadness, discomfort and anger is one of the most valuable lessons we can learn. It teaches us resilience, and the understanding that nothing is permanent – happiness, sadness or anything else. We learn that chasing happiness is futile because happiness is fleeting, as is everything. Appreciating where we are now, and recognizing the impermanence of everything (and accepting that fact) creates contentment because we are focused on the only moment we have – the present.
- Hard times breed deep connections – with self and others. Some of my best friends have come from the connection that happens during a shared difficult experience. Bonding over leaky tee-pees, lack of toilets and an understanding of being out of your realm can bring deep bonds of sisterhood, both with yourself and with others. You are forced to get real, real quick. And connection comes from being real. I met beautiful women, witnessed and felt true vulnerability, and saw incredible moments of honest bare souls. First by allowing ourselves to feel and then opening up about those feelings, we realise that we are not alone, the human experience is shared, and vulnerability and honesty breeds connection. Seeing this openness in ourselves and in others helps us connect to what we truly need, and allows us to better understand ourselves. Being honest, and also available to receive honesty, allows for more connection, more understanding, more love; that’s really what life’s all about – giving and sharing love, with ourselves and those around us.
Although it’s much easier to stay inside our bubbles of safety, stepping outside can be the best and most incredible experience. Although I won’t be signing up for another eco-retreat anytime soon, I wouldn’t change a thing – I have a deeper appreciation for the life I live, a greater awareness for the distractions I use to avoid discomfort, a deeper resilience for feelings of discomfort, and a renewed sense of connection with myself and others. So break the bubble, get dirty and see what happens … I daresay you won’t regret it.
Have you stepped outside of your comfort zone? What was the experience? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Photo Credit: Paula Sanderson @paula_sandersonphotos