The Courage of Transformation
Change is inevitable.
Yogic philosophy explains that change and transformation are an inherent part of nature and life(Parinamavada). The practice of yoga on and off the mat helps us learn to accept these changes.
Life involves transformations, some good, others less welcome. Our bodies age. We graduate from school. Relationships start and end. We begin and leave jobs. Move into, then out of, apartments and houses. We suffer injury and illness, some of which result in permanent changes to our abilities and chronic pain. We experience the death of someone close or the loss of a cherished animal companion.
Change and transformation are stressful. In the throes of grief, we may wonder how we’ll manage after a loss. Or we resist an undesired change, fearing the unknown. This is natural, as our brains prefer certainty.
So how do we keep moving forward when facing a transformation? When the future is unclear and the outcome unknown?
It requires courage.
The courage of transformation.
Courage and vulnerability researcher Dr. Brené Brown provides a helpful definition for courage: being brave and afraid at the same time. This reminds us that courage isn’t something we arrive at once we figure everything out and are no longer fearful. Quite the opposite. Navigating change requires that we accept that the future is not guaranteed, and transformation is something of a leap in faith.
I experienced this leap several years ago while facing a midlife career change due to severe burnout. My mental and physical health was suffering, and it was time to transition to something different. This terrified me. The field of medicine was my life. Becoming a clinician had been my dream since childhood, and I loved my patients and the science of medicine. In fact, helping people navigate frightening clinical challenges with greater ease was one of the reasons I’d become a yoga teacher. However, systemic challenges and chronic stress had taken a toll on my wellbeing. Yet I had no idea what came next, how I’d support myself, who I’d be once I lost my identity as a clinician. It took a great deal of courage to admit to myself that the most self-compassionate choice was to leave a field I loved. And more courage still to reinvent my career.
Courage is self-trust.
The thing is, when facing a transition, we aren’t starting from scratch. We have lived experience, acquired skills, and learned knowledge to rely upon. I’d navigated many challenges and transformations over my lifetime. And while the experiences hadn’t necessarily been comfortable, I’d always landed on my feet, usually stronger and wiser than I’d been before.
So I compiled a “Courageous Moments” list. A literal catalog of transformations I’d successfully navigated. The length of this list surprised me! I’d thought of 32 times in my life where I’d stepped into the unknown and figured things out. Where I was afraid and brave at the same time. The final item on that list? “Trusting myself to figure this out.”
Our ability to be courageous is directly proportional to our willingness to trust ourselves. To know that we will figure things out, even if we don’t know what comes next. To have faith in our ability to choose what’s best for us and create a path forward.
Change is inevitable. Asana and meditation help support us during times of transition by connecting us with our inner selves, strengthening our bodies and mental focus, and helping us approach our lives with equanimity. In this way, yoga teaches us to believe in and trust ourselves, allowing us to negotiate life transitions with courage and self-compassion.
Written by: Christine O’Neill, PA-C, ACC, RYT-200