I often reflect on the strength of my “personal power:” the sense of agency I have over my life. There are times in my life when I realize I’ve given up some of my personal power and I need to re-focus and reclaim it. The first time I recognized this clearly was just after I moved from Kansas to Washington.
I was still new to the Pacific Northwest when I found myself staying late after work talking to a colleague about a terrible experience I had during a recent series of yoga classes. I had just completed my 2000 hour yoga teacher training certification but my move across the country meant that I had to find my place in a new community of yogis. I found a local yoga studio near my house and started practicing there fairly regularly. I instantly loved the studio, it had a nice, chill vibe that resonated with me almost immediately. So, my terrible experience wasn’t with the studio or the students, it was with a particular teacher who occasionally taught one of the classes I attended.
Looking back on it now, she was a fine teacher and a good yogi but sometimes there are teaching styles that just don’t work for you as a student and this was one of those instances. The instructor had a style of teaching that involved what felt to me like a lot of corrections and adjustments. I’m sure there was a lot of ego-identity going on for me too, with my shiny new teacher training certification, I thought I “knew” how to practice yoga. And so, her style felt like a criticism of my technique and, in short, I hated it.
After a few sessions with that teacher, I stopped taking classes at the studio and hadn’t returned for about a month by the time I was venting to my co-worker. I loved the studio and most of the instructors but I could not bring myself to go back out of fear that I would have a bad experience in class. To her credit, my colleague listened patiently and quietly before giving me a piece of advice that I still remember and often think about to this day: “you need to go back there and get your power back.”
Going back to reclaim my power meant returning to the studio on my own terms. It meant not letting my previous frustrations stop me from going to a studio where I enjoyed practicing yoga. It meant not giving up my own power over my practice to an instructor I didn’t prefer. It’s not always easy to reclaim your personal power and stand in it with strength and conviction. Regular meditation practice helps me find the inner strength I need to reclaim and hold on to my personal power.
Meditation helps us to learn how to be less reactive in the present moment. With practice, we learn to respond to the difficult situations in our lives with mindfulness rather than react out of anger, fear or frustration. Cultivating mindfulness enables me to reclaim my personal power because it helps me clear my mind to make better choices that are aligned with my values. I experience this as a sense of personal power: an internal feeling that I am making my own directed choices in my life, rather than letting circumstances push me one way or another.
My colleague could see that not returning to that yoga studio meant that I had given up some piece of my personal power and she was right. I didn’t make a conscious choice to leave the studio; I was running away from my own frustrations with a particular instructor. I had to reflect on what was really bothering me so that I could make a better choice about continuing to practice yoga there or not. There is a difference between quitting by running away versus making the decision to try a different teacher or new studio. My colleague’s simple advice to go and “get my power back” was both insightful and impactful. She could hear in my words and see through my actions that I had given up some part of my personal power and I had to go reclaim it. For me, that meant going back to the same studio – even if that instructor was teaching – and focus on developing my practice of yoga. That studio went on to become like a home to me and I eventually found an instructor there who became a dear friend through some incredibly hard times. I’m glad that my colleague encouraged me to go get my power back and I’m glad I pushed through my frustration and did it.
Reclaiming your power means responding to your life rather than reacting to it. It also means owning your part in your problems. We cannot control what happens to us in our lives but we can decide how we are going to respond to the challenges we face. Learning to face the difficulties of life with full awareness takes time and practice. Be kind with yourself along the way and know that every time you recognize that you have lost awareness, you are getting stronger in your practice.
What does personal power mean to you?
Are there any areas where you you are giving up your sense of personal power?
How can you get your power back and feel a greater sense of agency on your life?
Until next time, I encourage you: stand in your power!
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