On the Terrors of Inadequacy

Today, during the yoga class that I taught, I had a moment of panic (a very long moment actually) triggered by the appearance of an extremely proficient student.

(This was the kind of student that makes every teacher—every young teacher at least—wonder why the student is still a student.)

For once, I was at a genuine loss as to what I was supposed to contribute.

Now, as someone who teaches university courses and leads and conducts seminars on a regular basis, I’ve had my fair share of sharp and questioning minds. And there have been instances when I didn’t have the answers and when the sufficiency of my knowledge was critically tested. But I never felt personally incompetent on any of those occasions—never had any qualms about admitting my ignorance and never felt insecure for making the admission either.

But when it comes to yoga, apparently, I’m a lot more sensitive about my deficiencies—and I suspect it has a lot to do with my deep-seated distrust of my physical capabilities. At the end of the day, I know I’m smart, and errors in the academic or intellectual arenas simply don’t erode my . . . robust confidence in my intelligence. But when it comes to proficiency in other areas (particularly the physical), it doesn’t take very much to make me feel like a fraud. I see what some of my yoga students can do, and I marvel at the graceful and unconscious ease with which they do things that took me years to accomplish. And in those instances, I take refuge in the fortress of my intellect, relying on my gifts for fact or philosophy to provide some compensatory measure of value.

(Ah, the things I do to protect myself.)

But this fear—and the defensiveness it provokes—is just one of many I’ve confronted on this (ever) surprising journey that began the first day I encountered ashtanga. And in the same way I conquered all the other fears, I trust that all that’s necessary (and all that will ever be necessary) is to follow the words of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois: Practice and all is coming.


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