A common thread runs through humanity, whether we practice yoga or not: the experience of self-doubt. This daunting, often daily occurrence more often points to a lack of larger vision than to a lack of innate capacity. In other words, we feel anxious because we don’t have an actual plan for where we’re headed. So we live with this subterranean doubt, which damages our hearts, our minds, our children, our colleagues, our friends and our lovers, and most notably ourselves.
Baseline doubt has infected many of my choices. If I don’t have a super clear aim, for example, to experience peace in the context of my family, or to have strong communication among my employees, I’ll react negatively or falsely when I feel confronted. With a clear aim in front of me, I’ll more likely remember that it’s my responsibility to respond effectively and with kindness. Having this vision or dream for each aspect of my life, I’ve learned that doubt doesn’t need to play a role anymore.
With a clear aim, I’ve learned that I’m always free to choose the environment of my mind.
Creating a specific aim, or a “dream” for every area of my life, seemed at first, to take the fun out of just living my life. And since the DOUBT that I couldn’t change was always at the forefront (rather then the dream for who I wanted to be), I was always scared. And that fear that I’d be as temperamental as my relatives kept the behavior close to me, and for the last few years (as my kid, my Man, my parents and my sister can tell you), I subconsciously adopted that very temper as my very own.
My yoga teachers taught me how to see the doubt, feel the fear, acknowledge the anger, breathe through it and witness it, which worked beautifully—on my mat. One of the luminaries of our time, Richard Rosen, believes that the entire world is moving in the direction of self-realization, and that yoga is a means of helping the universe along toward this goal. Agreed. Yet for me yoga had a finite reach; my behavior wasn’t changing, even though I could see it taking up space in my mind and my reactions.
Then I discovered the Handel Group, a groundbreaking, life-coaching method that has shifted my relationships to myself, my family, and my work in the world. Under the tutelage of my Handel coaches, the precise actions I take toward changing my reactivity are now my option in the most challenging situations—not just on my yoga mat. And now that I know who and how I can be, my yoga mat feels like more of an affirmation of that, rather than the place I go to escape my unsavory and embarrassing behavior.
At the behest of my coaches, I wrote my “dream” down for how I wanted to behave in any context and then I spent weeks researching myself. Every time I experienced doubt, either internally or in my outward behavior, I would note it in a memo on my phone. Specifically writing down the incidents of doubt in the moment still helps me witness damaging behavior as it happens, so that I may design ways to behave otherwise. When I pretend all is well and subjugate my fear, it turns into rage, which causes the worst sort of trouble in my most valued relationships. Pretending I’m not afraid slays all sweetness, and I become angry at myself and everyone nearby, which leads to that familiar sinking feeling: if I’m like this, I’m a fake; I can’t accomplish anything of value; I am worthless in this world. That narcissistic, overly dramatic lack of confidence is felt, by my kid, my parents, my Man, my students.
And it has to disappear from my life, because I don’t want to teach doubt to my students or to my child.
There are 18 areas for which I have “dreams” written (to be super clear, they’re really visions that we set out for ourselves, rather than dreams we have when we sleep). The areas are: Body, Career/School, Money, Relationships, Romance, Sex, Community, Character Traits, Family, Relationship to Time, Relationship to Self, Bad Habits, Home, Personal Space, Learning, Fun + Adventure, Spirituality, Health (physical, mental and emotional). Each dream has its own flavor and direction and is to be written and revised (that is, designed) several times during the year. And I’m designing not just the results I aim to achieve, but my state of being in each of the areas. I’m learning what trust in myself feels like, within each of these areas, without drama or fanfare. Perhaps most importantly, my son is watching me find that self-trust, and is finding his own as well. Here’s my dream for my “Character Traits.”
I am a calm, centered, elegant woman; listening, steady and clear. I trust, respect and love myself. I am deeply connected to my heart and proud of my strength and my softness. My family, friends, students, teachers and employees consistently experience my kindness and attentiveness.
Since writing and refining this dream, when I’m presented with the option of sweetness or thinking/behaving like a judgmental lunatic, I see my elegant options (and choose them more of the time). And as simplistic as this exercise of noting doubt may seem, I’m certain that this is what the yogis meant when they spoke about self-study, or svadhyaya, one of the eight limbs of yoga. If I can witness my mind in postures, I can witness and consciously refine my thinking anywhere. Now whenever I feel like I’m selling myself short in any aspect of my life, I go back and rewrite that area. With the dream as my beacon, rather than unleashing my temper and then turning my bad behavior into an attention grab, I can inhabit my heart and be a calm, centered, elegant woman.
Elena is a Mama, internationally respected yoga teacher and coach in collaboration with the Handel Group. She is the founder and co-owner of Virayoga NYC, and co-author of Art of Attention.
Photo by Dominic Neitz