I remembered the first time I was able to do a headstand by myself. At first I was so afraid of falling that I couldn’t even get my legs up. Once I fell, I realized that it wasn’t so bad, balance came easily. All of the energy I put into avoiding my fear of falling had actually held me back. As soon as I dove into the fear by letting myself fall, I saw that there was nothing to be scared of. This gave me the freedom to ultimately do the pose.

Once I had paddled out far enough, Tom swam up next to me to guide me. When the swell was approaching he told me to begin paddling. I could feel my momentum picking up as the wave began to carry me. “Harder!” Tom yelled. I paddled harder. I could feel my speed picking up fast. The wave was right underneath me. “Up!” The moment of truth, time to pop up. I’m ready to do it, but then I hesitate and make it only to my knees. I feel my body stiffen and become awkward. The nose of my board plummets into the water ahead of me, and I’m thrown off and pulled to the bottom. Water rushes up my nose as I curl up into fetal position. Remembering to stay calm, I wait under water and let the current thrash me about until the wave rolls over me. I make my way to the surface and orient myself with my board so as to not get hit.

The next few waves send me to the same fate. I’m able to stand up a few times, but just for a second before tensing up and falling off. I am determined to pop up and stay up.

Meanwhile, Albert has gotten the hang of it and is able to pop up almost every time. My ego is crushed, he doesn?t even do yoga.

“You’re too tense,” Tom tells me, “relax and find the center of your board when you pop up … and remember to have fun.”

I know all of this, I think to myself. This is what I tell my students all the time. I lay on my board, breathing deeply. I am so attached to being able to stand up that I’m pushing it away. I’m fighting the surf, trying to conquer it. My ego is hurt — I realize how important has been for me to impress my teacher and my fiance.

I have been so focused on the goal of getting up that I am missing the point. It’s ironic that I can stay calm and relaxed when a wave is pummeling me to the bottom of the ocean floor, but in the few seconds I have to stand up, I panic and fall. It is because in those precious seconds, my ego takes over. In those few seconds I become desperate to be in control, so desperate that I get crushed.

I leave my first lesson humbled. Knowing that I must allow myself to be a beginner for a while. I also see the ways in which this goal-oriented determination affects other aspects of my life. That afternoon, as I do my yoga asana practice, I am grateful that the mat beneath me is not slipping out from under me.

Yet there are different waves to meet. The waves that ebb and flow within me; the waves that can drown me in illusion, fear and distraction or carry me to freedom and happiness. With every inhale I move into the darkness, and with every exhale I turn it to light.

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