The Agony of Learning

Well, about 5 weeks ago I started Student Clinic, which means for 4 hours every week I have the opportunity to practice what I have been learning for the past 8 months.  This has been a very…overwhelming, humbling, joyful, agonizing, educational, fun, scary, awesome, horrible experience.  I have found that I am MUCH more comfortable reading about providing therapy than I am actually DOING therapy.  Where the rubber meets the road is WAY outside of my comfort zone.

There is SO much to process in a 60-minute neurosomatic therapy session:  you need to be PRESENT with the patient, you need to connect with them, make them feel safe, make them feel like they are in good hands (when you really doubt that you have good hands at this stage), you need to converse with them while taking 84 measurements (some of which take a degree of palpation skill I do not yet possess), you need to register what they are saying while also figuring out, if my finger in her right earhole (aka external auditory meatus) is higher than my finger in her left earhole, does that mean her left side is higher or her right side??, and then remember that for at least 10 seconds while you mark it on the posturology chart.

Then, you survive taking all the measurements, and then the really hard part comes – analyzing what is going on in that beautiful, complicated, multidimensional, fluid/solid mass of bones, soft tissue, emotions, and thoughts.  So you look at the chart, form a semblance of a plan and get started.  Then the clinic supervisor comes over and challenges your assessment, based on his years of experience in comparison to your 6 months of experience.  So you adjust, all the while trying to maintain an air of confidence in front of your patient patient (yes, that’s intentional).

And then you look down at the body on the table and realize you forgot all the techniques you’ve been learning.  Then the real panic sets in.  You question your ability to function as a coherent human being, much less a competent neurosomatic therapist.  Your brain hurts from this strain of trying to juggle so many requirements. Your thumbs hurt because you are too focused on everything else to focus on good body mechanics. Plus your thumbs are double jointed which adds an even more interesting challenge to performing deep tissue/trigger point work.

BUT, while that whole process continues to happen with each successive Student Clinic, each time it gets slightly less awkward and slightly more fun.  Especially when the patient gets up and says,”Wow – my sinuses are so much clearer!”  “My neck feels so much better!  I have so much more range of motion!”  “My head feels lighter.”  “The pain in my chest I’ve had for 8 years is GONE!”  And you’re like, “Holy shit.  This DOES work!  I CAN help people.  I am not a failure!”  And that part is super awesome.

So, the gist of this whole long rant is that learning a new skill (manual therapy) that is worlds apart from the skills you currently posses (business analysis/project management) is PAINFUL!!  Especially if you are a perfectionist with helpful undercurrent of anxiety.  Oh man.  It is SO hard.  But no growth comes from living in your comfort zone.  And living in the comfort zone  leads to atrophy and dissatisfaction.  I would rather, when it’s all said and done, push my boundaries and experience all the emotions and trials that come along with that, than continue doing what I already know how to do and staying in that safe (but ultimately very dangerous) comfort zone.

I feel as if I should have gotten some intense psychotherapy before taking this leap.  All of the changes in my life, location, career, friends, etc. has brought to the surface so many limiting beliefs that I have unconsciously held for my 41 years of life.  These beliefs (I’m not good enough, mistakes and failure are bad, etc.) are intensifying this experience so much.  Or, is this experience bringing these beliefs into the light of awareness, so I can process them and let them go?  So I guess things are working out as the wise universe intended.  So I just need to ride that flow and trust the (painful and awesome) process.

And the light gets brighter and bigger

I had what I would consider an adventure Thursday night.  One of my fellow YTTers (yoga teacher trainees) messaged me and asked if I could cover her 6PM Pre-Teen Yoga class.  Well, if you don’t know me, then you do not know precisely how far out of my comfort zone this request fell. I was never a kid who liked babysitting or who liked playing with younger kids. I babysat exactly 3 times that I can remember, and it was always for my cousins who really didn’t need a sitter anyway.  I had dolls, and I loved playing with them – dressing them up and taking them on marvelous adventurous through mazes (aka our front yard).  But I never loved real babies.  Even now, I can appreciate some of their cuteness from a distance, but I have no desire to get up close and personal unless I think it will offend someone if I don’t.

BUT I figured that maybe, just maybe, I could handle pre-teens. I kind of remember being in 5th and 6th grade.  I remember having a monstrous crush on Corey Schatz.  I remember our teacher handing out Woofies. I remember playing Boys Chase Girls at recess.  I remember smack-talking my mom and having her chase me around the outside of the house a few times.  I outlasted her, but when I finally came back inside, all my dolls were gone – hidden away until I behaved.  I remember how a harsh word from a teacher would devastate me and make me quiet for days.  I remember how noisy everyone was at lunch-time and how upset that would make the teachers.  Perhaps I could connect to these girls.

So, while I really wanted to say, “No, I’m super sorry, but I’m busy tonight,” instead I told my friend, “Sure.  What is your class usually like?”  Oh boy.  Her answer made me even more trepidatious than I already was!  Evidently class consists of partner work, some yoga dance, some student-led sun salutations, and all sorts of fun-ness.  Well, I’m used to teaching stressed out adults with sore backs and necks.  I wasn’t sure ANYTHING in my toolbox would translate over, but I figured, how bad can it be.

Don’t tell my boss, but I spent a few pockets of time that afternoon at work, jotting down notes for a class.  During YTT, Abby showed us some partner poses and some Thai massage moves. I figured the girls would think that was fun, so I wrote those down.  Then I tried to think of other fun postures that would challenge girls  whose bones are the consistency of rubber – wheel, bow, etc.

Armed with my list, I walked into Indigo.  I only had 4 girls show up (thank God it was an even number!!), but I knew I was in trouble when the first girl paid me for the class, and I could tell she had more sass and confidence than I EVER will.

When the clock rolled around t0 6, I corralled all the girls, and we tromped, skipped, and flipped into the center of the room, where they proceeded to tell me what to do for the next hour.  It was both horrifying and hilarious. I now have a VASTLY greater appreciation for what teachers do every day.  I was exhausted after an hour of trying to figure out how much authority I had and when I should use it.

The girls were great – they ran the gamut from super boisterous and energetic to shy and reserved (which WAS something I could actually identify with), to somewhere in the middle. One of the girls, I swear, was a 40-year-old in a 5th grader’s body.  During the Thai massage work, she was sighing as if she just got done with a 12 hour shift writing briefs for the Supreme Court justices.  It was awesome.

So, while I can’t say I really *enjoyed* the experience, I am very glad to have done it once. Each time I get out of my comfort zone and do something that I’ve never done before, I see my worldview brighten and my circle of understanding broaden.  My empathy for others’ increases, and my appreciation of the fact that we are all good at different things deepens. If everyone was like me, no one would be teaching these girls yoga, and they obviously LOVE it.  That would be very sad.

I was also pleased to observe a different attitude within myself.  For years, when I have not done something well, I typically felt as if it was because I had no aptitude for it and no chance of getting better.  I don’t know if it’s yoga or 4 years of reading about happiness research, but this time was different.  Afterwards I reflected on my experience and saw mistakes I had made and things I could do better, but it was with an understanding that this was my first time dealing with kids since I WAS a kid.  It was a learning experience – one I could use to improve my skills for next time.  I was so happy with myself for not seeing myself as a failure at this task.  I think I’m growing. Or something.

All that being said, I don’t know if I WOULD volunteer to teach that class again. I pretty much used up all my material on Thursday.  But if I got coerced into doing it for some reason, I’m confident that I would do a better job.

This whole experience just solidified my belief that I need to start trying more things out of my comfort zone.  Another one of my fellow YTTers gave me that advice over the weekend when we were discussing finding our purpose/passion.  It’s sage advice, and even if I try something new and fail miserably, now I am confident that I will learn A LOT from the experience.  I will get a more clear view of humanity and how things work and a better appreciation of the shades of gray that fuzz the rigid definitions of Right and Wrong and Good and Bad.

What challenges have you faced that helped you realize what you are capable of? What “failures” have taught you valuable lessons?