By Morgan Mitchell
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch
Staring at the charmingly tiny two-story building, I fumbled with my car keys and barely remembered to lock the door before hastily stuffing them into my purse. I walked around to the other side of the car to meet up with my friend, Abby. After thanking her again for coming with me, I received the same response I had on the other occasions, which was her hand waving enthusiastically through the air as if she were trying to brush away my gratitude. It was an entirely friendly gesture, not at all intended to convey hostility or dismissal. She had wanted to come herself, and besides, she’s the type of outgoing that would enjoy meeting up with a friend anywhere. As an introvert, I admired her ability to experience new adventures with more excitement than trepidation. I did, however, have to give myself some credit. Whether I was nervous or not, I had successfully dragged myself to the aerial silks yoga class, and I wasn’t going to back out now. No one need know if my heart was racing. I could simply lift my chin a little higher and stuff my hands into my pockets to hide their tremor.
Abby and I tried to enter the building through the door on the first level, but it was locked. Forced to climb the wrought-iron stairs lining the outside of the building, we made our way to the second story with the hope that we would have better luck there. Indeed, the handle turned without resistance, and the door was open wide. Only just managing to control my impulse to push Abby over the threshold first and make a run for it, I squared my shoulders and walked in.
As it turns out, we were the first class members to arrive. It gave me time to calm my introverted soul and all the nerves that come with agreeing to group activities of any kind, especially activities that are unfamiliar and thus impossible to prepare for. While Abby and I waited for the other people to arrive, we filled out an emergency contact form and signed a waiver. These forms are standard and required by law, but they certainly did nothing to relieve my stress. Because of my belief that being on time equates to being late—and because of my ensuing frantic need to be early for everything—Abby and I had a respectable amount of time to kill before the size of the class slowly grew in number.
Once everyone was in attendance, our instructor began with an introduction that explained the benefits of aerial yoga and how we should approach this experience as first-time flyers. As I learned, a major philosophy of aerial yoga is that it should be a no-judgment zone. I could decide that I did not like it after I tried it, but I could not dislike it simply because it was different. I realized I needed to check myself, fast. I had come into this class with a fear of aerial yoga because it wasn’t in my comfort zone. Growing up, I joined Girl Scouts, or I played in the band. I was never one to succeed in sports, and I wasn’t interested in physical activity, either. Yet here was a class marketing itself as a way to improve strength and balance, and I assumed it wasn’t for me because I had neither the strength nor the balance that I thought would be required for aerial yoga.
In the midst of my epiphany and my subsequent attempt to reevaluate the class, the instructor transitioned into a time of meditation. I scrambled to clear my mind in order to focus it on the task at hand. The meditation was followed by a series of warm-ups in which we held onto the silk sling with our hands and swayed in place, like flowers flowing in a breeze, to stretch our core muscles. We then sat on the yoga mats, and I placed my socked feet in the slings to practice crunches and other upper-body strength exercises. As someone who can barely do a crunch on solid ground, the experience was interesting, to say the least. We did lunges where we placed our arms in the slings for balance and then bent our knees up and down in a smooth, slow transition. The instructor also showed us how to turn upside down with the slings and then do crunches from this position, which strengthens the core muscles. She allowed the regular flyers to do this step on their own, but she thankfully came to each first-time flyer individually to spot us and help us in and out of the pose safely. As soft and delicate to the touch as the silk slings were, they had enough strength to support me once they were wrapped securely around my waist and I let go with my hands. This activity was definitely the most difficult because it required a lot of trust that the sling would hold me up. I was shocked when I realized that it had also been my favorite part. I had been terrified of trying something new because I just knew that I wouldn’t be capable of succeeding in something that was so demanding physically. In the end, though, it was the activity that challenged me the most that yielded the most reward.
Participating in activities that are outside of your comfort zone is hard. But it’s supposed to be! We would never be able to develop or grow as people if we only ever engaged in activities that are familiar and safe. To broaden our horizons is to stretch ourselves; it forces us to overcome our weaknesses. It can also bend and break our expectations and assumptions in ways that are so rewarding. I went into this experience with my own preconceived notions, but I discovered quickly that I had an incredibly incorrect image of aerial yoga in my mind. It is detrimental to automatically equate different with bad. We cannot possibly know how we feel about something until we have tried it, and we could lose out on a new favorite activity—or book, or movie, or song, or person—if we choose to come to conclusions without first giving it a chance.