The Fine Art of Being Boring

Why pants? Keep reading!

I spent three years worrying I was boring my therapist to tears. Lord help me, I wanted to be a little nuttier. Instead, I felt I was dysfunctional enough to need therapy, but not enough to be a remotely interesting client.

This conviction would reach a peak every six months or so, when I would become absolutely certain that I had run out of things to say. Finito. That’s all she wrote. I had told all my childhood stories, and all the adult stories could be summed up in three or four narratives that I had already flogged ad nauseum.

I would prepare myself to quit. And then, something amazing happened.

She kept listening.

Through great waves of the white noise of my thinking. Through oceans of “ums” and “uhs” and “I don’t know what I really mean by that, or maybe I meant this other thing.” She just kept listening. Yes, I know she was being paid to listen, but the fact that she didn’t fire me so she could spend that hour listening to someone else was so validating. And eventually, through the ums and uhs and I don’t knows, something would be born – I would have a thought I hadn’t had before, or make a new connection. I just had to wade through the muck of uncertainty for a while, as unpleasant and, frankly, boring as it was.

My name is Madeleine and I’m a performance addict. In this most intimate and honest of settings, the therapist’s office, I was still trying to do a good job. Once I figured this out, I saw how it spills out into other situations –  in teaching, socially, in my marriage. I would like very much to impress you with my interestingness. Inside of me, my inner child is continuously tap dancing. After everything I say, she gives a shuffle ball change and a desperate “ta-DA!!!” I fear that how much I am valued in relationships is in direct proportion to how interesting I am, rather than how kind, how honest, how open. All that dancing is exhausting.

This addiction is dangerous when you’re a yoga teacher. In that role, it is much less important to be interesting, and much more crucial to guide students into being interested in themselves. Certainly, it helps to keep a freshness to one’s teaching, to approach the same old poses from a new angle. But there is a fine line between this and what we might call Performance Teaching.

Performance Pants. Not that I don't want some, because I do.

My teacher, Mary, calls it putting on your Teacher Pants. We put them on when we want to seem like an authority, someone who’s Good At Yoga – someone very Interesting. This addiction isn’t just for teachers – we can all can be drawn to put on our Performance Pants when we hit a yoga class.

A couple weeks ago I took an intensive week of study with Mary at Yoga Mendocino. While in tree pose, Mary asked that there be “no Performance Trees” in the room. I think you could imagine what a performance tree might look like – if not, grab a Yoga Journal. I was completely falling out of my tree at that point. Mary’s encouragement to let go of performance hit me just at the right time. I gritted my teeth and I put my foot down. I did my tree just the way I teach my Yoga Basics students to do theirs – rather than the active foot pushed right up into my perineum like a bony mula bhanda, the toes rested on the floor like a little kickstand holding me up. Boring as heck, I thought, but functional.

After the practice, a visiting teacher from Portland approached me. “I want to offer you something” she said. “I was falling out of my tree, deep in my narrative of how much I hate that pose, when I looked across the room. And there you were, so rooted you were a freaking redwood. It was beautiful, and so inspiring.” Right when I let go of the performance, as disappointed as I was in myself, that’s when I touched someone, when I connected with another person.

When I was preparing my students for my impending absence during this week long intensive, I assured them I would return with a bag of “new yoga tricks.” What a mistake. It was prompted by my feeling that I needed to  return more interesting than before. “Ta-DA!” Instead, I returned with fewer tricks in that bag. My interesting-ness regressed. I took off my Performance Pants. I put my foot down. Sometimes I gave up and lay down. I flailed a bit. I did the asana version of “umm…” “uh…”

I tell you this, dear reader, because I began this blog six months ago, and I have reached the conclusion that I have absolutely run out of things to write about.  Finito. That’s all she wrote. So I could quit now…or I could stop Performance Blogging. Dive into the ocean of uncertainty and boredom and see what happens on the other side. Hopefully, you’ll still be listening.

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About madyoga

Yoga Teacher and Massage Therapist in Sacramento, CA
This entry was posted in Self Study, Teaching and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The Fine Art of Being Boring

  1. Ryan says:

    I was having a conversation with my aunt who is a LCSW and therapist this past weekend. She offered up an insight that resonated me–that some many of us are caught up in the struggle/competition to be “the best at being ‘good.'” To be the “good” student, the “good” son or daughter, the “good” teacher, which usually just ends up on our being all gooed up in ego and pain. Thanks for continuing this conversation in my own process.

  2. Claire Peterson says:

    This is so interesting and consistent with my experience with most of my clients. I often hear clients say, well this problem is petty, insignificant, other people are worse off, etc., etc. I am also frequently challenging client’s beliefs about needing to be perfect at everything. “I need to be the best at what I do, there are others who are better students, teachers, artists, athletes, writers, etc.” I can certainly relate, because as a graduate student in psychology, I wonder, am I doing everything “right” as a therapist? A helpful re-frame is, did I go into (fill in the blank) to be the “best” or to be the most effective that I can be at something I am passionate about?

  3. blogasana says:

    funny… by taking the fancy pants off and being you — being real — we get to see how *genuinely awesome* you are. and i hope it’s a big ocean with room for me too 🙂

  4. scthree says:

    what a good thing to remember. I find myself paralyzed everytime I try to write creatively because I get a)caught up in the drama in my head about it not being perfect and b)I feel like its boring…not the writing process but the writing product. I love your reminder to be real and be me. Thanks!

  5. Keleigh says:

    i sure do love you.

  6. Linda Dekker says:

    So true. Thank you so much for your openness.

  7. oh mads…. i love you.

    first, i thought i was the only person to bore their shrink. or at least think they are. and again, in the ums and ahs, getting to some really good stuff. it might be time for me to do another short run soon. impending parenthood is bringing up lots of new topics.

    “This addiction is dangerous when you’re a yoga teacher. In that role, it is much less important to be interesting, and much more crucial to guide students into being interested in themselves.”” nail head? oy. so, so, so hard for me not to make my classes the tami show that sometimes i just get really quiet so they can concentrate on them. so hard.

    “I have reached the conclusion that I have absolutely run out of things to write about.” YES!!!!!!!! me too. now let’s dig in and get all messy.

  8. vanessa says:

    my goal in life should be to not be able to relate to this post as much as i do. you keep writing, and i’ll be happy to keep listening.

  9. littlecat8 says:

    Doing things “right” or “well,” along with having the approval of others, has been a lifetime theme for me. In yoga class, I fight the urge to look around to see if my poses “look like” other students’ poses. Really???!! MY yoga is supposed to be what’s right for me, in that moment, right?

    Maybe if I can learn to let go of “doing it right” in yoga, that can eventually translate to other areas of my life…..

  10. Braidedbear says:

    really beautiful …. thanks for sharing …. i, too, feel that i bore my therapist. sometimes, as a caregiver (massage therapist and yoga instructor and teacher of massage), i even try to turn the tables and see how she is doing, what’s wrong in her world. and she calmly, quietly redirects me everytime. in the moment, i hate it. resist it. and then i notice those are the weeks that i look around more while taking a class, focusing on who i’d assist or how, rather than worrying about ME and my very own wee mat! and those are also the weeks i am less connected with my students and my teaching feels a bit ‘off’ …. love the kickstand … i am gonna let go of my performance pants a wee bit and kickstand myself a bit more this week! THANK YOU!!

  11. Laura says:

    Thank you so much for your honest writing. You spoke to my heart! Lx

  12. yoga-adan says:

    “I did my tree just the way I teach my Yoga Basics students to do theirs” – i’m listening too 😉 just ‘cuze my branches flapping as the summer breezes balance 😉

    great post, thanks!

  13. Lillianese says:

    Yes. Recently a fellow traveler in 12-step recovery shared a comment someone said in a meeting – we don’t get into recovery (from you-name-it) to get “good,” we get into recovery to get “real.”

    It’s been my experience that the more “real” I risk being, the more I get out of my life, the more I connect with others. Thanks for this wonderful post, and the wonderful comments/feedback it aroused.

  14. I’ve been thinking about this post all week!

  15. Cyndra says:

    I know I am late as usual…but thank you for continuing to be such sn inspiration to me and my teaching. XO

  16. I feel like this should be required reading for every yoga teacher in training. Thanks for this!

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