Getting Good at Being Bad: A Battle of Ego and Self


By: Danielle Wilson

Countless times, I’ve stood in front of a class full of yogis and said, “allow yourself to be where you’re at. Let your body land in the pose exactly as is, without comparison or judgement, simply with an embracing sense of compassion.” These are words that I’ve always believed wholeheartedly, and provided genuinely, but I didn’t realize just how ignorant I may have been in saying them.

I am a dancer of 25 years. The truth of the matter is, when it comes to yoga, my dance background has allowed me to sink deeply into the stretch or hold that inversion with incredible strength since the pretty much first time I stepped on my mat—granted, my technique was completely off, and I held my breath the entire time, but making the poses “look” the way the instructor demonstrated was a fairly easy task. In reality, I’ve never really had to struggle as the least flexible or weakest yogi in the room at any given time. So, the invitation I give to my students to accept and love themselves and their bodies as is in the moment hasn’t come from a place of empathetic understanding. Honestly, I’m not sure how it feels, or how it’s felt for those yogis who can’t touch the floor in a fold or keep their bellies from dropping to the ground in a chaturanga. I do, however, sympathize with this chapter on their journey, and simply wish for all of my students to feel comfortable, worthy, and accomplished within the space. That is, until I did something out of the norm for myself this week, allowing my sympathy to evolve into empathy in a single moment.

I’ve always loved to sing, but I will be the first to admit that the amount of love I have for singing isn’t at all reflective of my level of talent. I remember, as a kid, belting out with zero inhibitions until my sister (a naturally gifted singer) started making fun of me for how terrible my voice sounded. “You’re going to shatter the windows!” she’d yell; all a bunch of sibling rivalry/kid antics, but it definitely prompted a complex of insecurity for me around singing. My senior year of high school landed me in a few choir classes, as well as the lead role of the school musical—to be clear, it was double casted with the hope they could teach me to sing and the other girl to act—and I slowly started to face my fear of singing in public and everyone hating it, laughing, and covering their ears (I know it’s dramatic, but seriously, it’s been a nightmare of mine).

Senior year came and went, and now, a decade later, my voice is conditioned into its deep, projective teacher voice, and completely out of practice when it comes to singing. If you’ve followed either of my blogs, I’ve been sharing how as I choose to stop taking myself and life so seriously, I’m simultaneously finding more joy and energy in every moment that passes. I’ve found myself singing nonstop: in the car, doing dishes, on the sidewalk, in the shower…it’s constant. My confidence in singing may be nonexistent, but my love for it is as all-encompassing as ever! I decided that, with no true end goal in mind, I would try taking some singing lessons to learn more about this art form I’ve always felt so passionate about, and face the insecurities that have held me back from it for so long.

My first lesson was earlier this week, and, essentially, I was just as horrible as I thought I would be (note: as I type that sentence, I’m chuckling because I really am okay with it). My teacher is very patient and kind, and truly believes that in time we can break through to a range of voice that really works for me! She started guiding me through some exercises, even asked me to just sing a song of my choosing (that was terrifying), and every time my voice would painstakingly crack or go out of tune, I would blush, or curl into myself, or just stop singing all together, having to build up the gusto to start all over again. After a few tries, and my noticeable acknowledgement of what was happening, my teacher said something that really struck the yogi in me. She said, “every time your voice cracks, that’s you breaking through. Let it crack, let it go out of tune. The only way to discover the beauty and capability in your voice is to allow it to sound truly terrible for a while, first.” I immediately thought of my yogis, grunting and moaning through half splits or forward fold, crashing to the floor attempting an inversion, and it all clicked. ‘So, this is what it feels like to push through something you aren’t quite great at,’ I thought. 

I started to realize just how much strength and courage it takes to push through the mess of achieving that which doesn’t come easily. For the most part, my main focuses in life have been dance, school, yoga, and teaching—all things I happen to have a knack for naturally. I’m beginning to see that I’ve rarely put myself in the position to be “bad” at something, and although it feels great to be good at the things I put my effort into, the real challenge lies in dedicating myself to being terrible at something in order to promote growth on a technical and soulful level.

I’ve been practicing my vocal exercises since my first lesson, and I would be lying if I said it’s getting any easier for my ego or my body to just sit in sounding so bad. Everything in me is resistant to the sounds coming out of my mouth. I’m realizing that the facing of my insecurities is happening now, even when, especially when, I’m alone in my car for no one but me to hear the screeching of my vocal cords rubbing together. The truth is, my fear of singing never had anything to do with singing in public at all. It was, and is, an insecurity that has lied within me, and me alone, all along. Every time I take a deep belly breath and begin to reach for that note, I watch as my soul battles my ego in a fight to keep going, let go, and walk straight through the fire of being not so great at something. My logical mind knows that the only way I will get better is by facing what is and pushing through with determination, consistency, and patience, but that doesn’t mean my ego is quick and willing to back down from the shame and embarrassment that have always left me feeling insecure.

And so, right here is the practice of yoga: I take on the role of observer, watching my mind and body in their experiences. I intentionally choose to sit where I land from moment to moment, and all the while doing so with a sense of compassion and pride in my heart for the bravery I display in being up for the challenge. Being naturally good at something feeds our ego but choosing to dedicate ourselves to the things we aren’t so good at creates space between our ego and who we truly are, allowing that authentic Self to grow and evolve overtime. This is the work. This is what it means to live and experience, to rise and to fall. I understand it now, and to all of you yogis showing up on your mat and taking the risk to put your body in utterly uncomfortable, challenging positions: you inspire me with your willingness to jump into the fire and not look back.  YOU are incredible for being willing to not be the best every time and enjoying the process anyways. You are strong, you are capable, and you are as tenacious as they come!

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