Some times you have to step outside of your comfort zone to evolve into the person you want to be instead of the person you are. The fact is this process is seldom fun and often painful. But it is absolutely necessary for growth.
This is the story of one of those moments for me.
It was early in my fitness/wellness career. I was a personal trainer who taught a few boot camp-style classes when I was pressed into service–no Shanghaied– into teaching yoga. The yoga instructor at the spa where I was working quit unexpectedly and I was the only other person at the spa who had ever done yoga before but I had never taught yoga. Still this got me the job. Now this was back when yoga first started to get popular again in the mid 1990s and finding a yoga instructor was like trying to find a Republican at a Grateful Dead concert.
Feeling vastly under-qualified and terrified of being outed as a fraud I began having to teach yoga on a daily basis, often to people with far more yoga experience than I had. It was during this period I began having nightmares. You know the ones–your garden-variety nightmare where you’re completely unprepared, completely undressed in the front of the class and completely ridiculed by an unruly mob. In the dream I am late for class. In a panic, I grab my yoga mat and race for the studio. The class is packed. I throw down my yoga mat and introduce myself, only to realize that I’ve forgotten to put on any clothes.
One day after teaching yoga, a student from the class approached me. She said that she had really enjoyed the class and that she worked for an all-inclusive hotel chain in the Caribbean. This chain liked to bring in guest yoga instructors and they would pay for all expenses all you had to do was teach two classes a day. Sounded like a great deal to me; They would assign me to one of several resorts with varying themes like sports-oriented, high-end luxury, or their non-stop party location. A few days later I signed a contract stating that I would teach whatever, whenever, wherever in exchange for a one-week free vacation.
Three weeks later I was on a plane headed for the Caribbean. I arrived at the party hotel, unpacked and headed for the manager’s office where I was told I would get my schedule for the week. The manager was super busy but he welcomed me warmly and handed me my schedule, assuring me that his assistant would answer any questions I might have. She gave me a tour of the lush, tropical resort, explaining to me that the resort was divided in half. One side was the nude side and the other side was the prude side. “Your 7 am class tomorrow morning is “Nude Yoga on the Beach” and your 5pm class is “Sunset Yoga on the Prude Terrace.”
I stood there in shock. Nude yoga on the beach? She asked me if I had any questions, but all I could think of was that I had signed a contract to teach whatever, whenever, wherever they wanted me to. They’d flown me all the way down there from L.A. to the Caribbean– what the hell was I supposed to do? Nope, no questions, ma-am.
I didn’t sleep a wink that night–all I could think of was that my nightmares were coming true. At 7am I wrapped a towel around my naked waist, grabbed my yoga mat and headed down to the nude beach. There on the sand, assembled on towels and yoga mats were 40 people patiently waiting–most of them women and all of them naked as the day they were born. I strode confidently to the head of the class,..OK maybe not that confidently, laid out my yoga mat, ripped off my towel and in all of my naked glory introduced myself and started class. The participants ranged in age from early twenties to late sixties and honestly, it was a tough class to teach. There were students with lots of different fitness levels, the sand made balance postures tough, and there was the difficulty of analyzing body alignment while trying really hard not to “look” at bodies. I was a little freaked out about touching people to help them with their poses, even in places I would have been fine touching them clothed. Somehow it all seemed weird in this setting, because dammit, I was naked!
But I made it through class without any embarrassing, er, problems arising. At the end of class several people came up and told me how much they had enjoyed the class. A nice woman in her late fifties with HUGE blue eyes asked me “Are you a nudist?” I politely said no, to which she replied, “Well I really appreciate you respecting our lifestyle. My husband and I come down here three or four times a year and we always enjoy the yoga classes. But you’re the first teacher that ever taught the class naked!”
After the shock wore off, I realized that I had just lived through my “nightmare,” and while it had been challenging, I had made it through. Every class I taught after that seemed, well….easy. And when I was faced with a situation that was tough, my mantra became “Well, at least I don’t have to do this naked!” Not surprisingly the nightmares disappeared after that and yoga became my specialty. The resort was so impressed that I began to fly to the Caribbean on a regular basis moving from property to property to teach. As the popularity of yoga grew I was contacted by other companies to teach at their resorts and on cruise ships and was blessed with the opportunity to travel the world and teach yoga. Now I never taught nude yoga again, but somehow knowing that I could made me a far better teacher
What I learned was that stepping way outside of my comfort zone made everything seem possible and allowed me to be more than I ever thought I could be.
Kent Burden is the creator of the “Workout at Work” e-book series. The first two books in the series are “Workout at Work: 25 Upper Body Strength Exercises with Resistance Bands to do at Your Desk,” and “Workout at Work: 25 Lower Body Strength Exercises to do at Your Desk.” Other recent books include “Exercise Sucks! The Secret to Losing Weight Without Really Trying” and “Is Your Chair Killing You?” All of Kent’s books are available at www.amazon.com