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Jenny Hansen shares her experience of Teacher Training in the Spring/Summer of 2013 in a series entitled The Mirrored Mat: Reflections on Life and Yoga.

It’s mid-morning on a Friday in May, and I’m sitting at my desk at the office, slowly gearing myself up for a yoga-centric weekend: 22 hours of it, to be precise. Another Teacher Training weekend at YogaSport is on the schedule, beginning with this afternoon’s 5:30pm Hour of Power, and concluding at 6pm on Sunday. Hours and hours of sweat, strength, thought and emotion lie before me, and it will be a tough run – one that will leave me feeling like I didn’t get a weekend come Monday morning. One that will result in a large pile of sweat-soaked laundry and dirty Tupperware. One that I will complain about to my boyfriend, likely more than once. And one that will leave me incredibly fulfilled, stronger, and profoundly grateful.

Yep, despite all the so-called “drawbacks” of sacrificing my precious weekend to the rigors of Teacher Training, I am downright glad to be doing it, and in all honesty, kicking it at the yoga studio will do more for me than my typical weekend routine, which involves lots of sleep, junk food and TV…and quite often, very little yoga.

But truth be told, there is part of me that would rather spend my weekend, sloth-like, holed up in my apartment with back-episodes of Breaking Bad and binge-worthy amounts of sugary-salty vittles vs. growing spiritually, physically, emotionally with a powerful group of like-minded people. I would rather lay low than reach high: This is what I know, this is what I’ve done – for years – and it has become my default setting. This is my comfort zone.

Comfort zone: I have a love-hate relationship with the phrase. It denotes a preference for stagnation, a refusal to experience life in favor of the familiar, and for me, the familiar is frequently unkind. Sure, comfort zones can keep us safe and secure until we’re ready to grow, ready to take that next step forward, but in my case, my comfort zones (yes, zones) are a big road block to freedom, life, and happiness. And slowly but surely, they’re holding me back, and in some cases, hurting me. Comfort zones are easy, never say no, always put out, and are almost always accessible. But at what price?

Teacher Training has always been “something I was going to do one day,” but year after year, that something stayed on the back burner. I would tell Angela and others in the studio that I was going to do it “this year,” that the time had finally come….and then the time would go. Something would come up, it wouldn’t be the right time, the money wasn’t there, etc., etc. But the crux of the matter was that I was afraid to step out of my comfort zone and try something new – something that I knew I would enjoy and where I would flourish. It was simply easier to push it off, yet again, and go back to life on my couch. Teacher Training will always come around again, right? No need to rush these things. Now where’s my remote?

A creature of habit, I am. And change does not come easily for me. Yet, when I stop to consider all the times in my life when I have summoned the courage to take that first step, to try, when I was willing to be willing…the results were truly amazing, and frequently pivotal moments in my life. Taking my first step with a running group. Turning in my resignation at an unfulfilling job. Walking in to my first 12-step meeting. Online dating. Showing up for a free beginners’ class at YogaSport. All of these events, and many more, have done more for me as a person than ANY amount of TV, sleep, and junk food ever will. Had I not been willing to step out of my comfort zone, I would never have experienced a spectacular starlit-tapestry of a sky while doing a nighttime trail run in the Texas Hill Country. I would not be employed at an amazing company surrounded by wonderful people. I would not be living a sober life in recovery. I would not have met my best friend and boyfriend who I love dearly. I would never have discovered a truly special yoga practice, nurtured and loved by a precious community in a growing studio. And I would never be in the position I’m in right now: on the cusp of a Teacher Training weekend, with much sweat, fatigue and joy ahead of me.

These things have not been easy for me: what if I look stupid when I run? (I really thought this). What if I can’t find another job? What if yogis are weird? What if it’s hard? I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time asking myself the “what ifs” and deciding that the unknowns were a good enough reason to stay within my comfort zone. But that only works for so long, and ultimately, I bottom out. I become miserable, withdrawn, depressed, and fall further into myself. Experience has taught me that I can either continue to sink, or learn to swim, and these life events have increased my buoyancy tenfold.

I’ve tripped over my own two feet and looked stupid when I’ve run, I’ve romanticized addictive behavior, I’ve been to plenty of interviews where I did not get the job, I went on some doozy first dates, and lord knows I’ve run into plenty of weird yogis. And YES, it’s ALL been hard. But I’ve also stayed the course, and increased my happiness and understanding of the world more than I could’ve dreamed. It is scary, it is the great unknown, it is not a sure thing…but stepping out of my comfort zone is a raw, vulnerable act that shows me who I am and what I am capable of, and I cannot think of a more pure, personal experience. It has enhanced my existence, my relationships, my spirituality more than anything else I’ve done, and I cannot imagine my life without this path.

It’s progress, not perfection, and believe you me, I have comfort zones that are alive and well. But I also have awareness, and willingness to entertain the idea that the unknown doesn’t have to be a bad thing. That it might, in fact, be a good thing.

As for today, when quitting time rolls around, I will not begin preparations for a night in, complete with junk TV and junk food. Instead, I will be on my mat, likely silently cursing the instructor as s/he orders an extra set of abs, sweating my ass off, hair disheveled, my face beet red with exertion and heat, perhaps looking stupid, but loving every damn minute of it. I will share openly with my fellow teachers-in-training, I will listen to their wisdom and their strength, and I will relish the experience. We will spend the weekend together, growing edges, growing ourselves, laughing, crying, living. My couch will be empty, but I – my heart, my soul, my life – will be full.