Given that it is National Coming Out Week, I’ve been thinking more about coming out; about the benefits and the risks involved. Coming out takes courage. It takes the willingness to be vulnerable, something often frowned upon in our culture. Sharing any part of our authentic selves requires vulnerability and the willingness to take a risk. How much more so when the aspect of self we are sharing is still seen by some as pathological, sinful, or just plain wrong.
And yet with great risk comes great reward, for with vulnerability comes the potential for deep growth and connection with others. As a trauma therapist, I see this risk pay off in therapy all the time, as clients are willing and able to connect with their authentic selves and share this with others.
I want to share an amazing piece by AJ Durand that illustrates the coming out struggle, the risks and rewards, through the lens of yoga practice. After reading this today I couldn’t stop thinking about how well it expressed and illustrated what coming out is like. I am grateful for AJ’s permission to share it with my readers. If you are lucky enough to be in the Chicago area, you can attend a class with AJ at yogaview.
Coming out – a body practice. it happened slightly like this…
I taught some straight people about coming out today. As a yoga teacher, it’s interesting the different populations of people who may occupy my class. And today I decided to be fearless. I try to never force my opinions on my students as I believe this is their space to transform and to work within and beyond their own borders. This is why I usually refrain from my disdain for Christianity, conservatism, censorship and the like.
But today, I was fearless. Today is national coming out day. Most queer folks know this and my friends and I all have a specific tether to the moment that we came out. To this day, I live with the memories of those precious moments, for me in late adolescence, as transformative, revelatory and ultimately healing.
I opened my classes saying “you may or may not know that today is National Coming Out Day” and received some nods, some confused faces, and some blank stares. To be fair this happens every time I open class with a statement. I could say – “you may know that today is a full moon” and I would likely look upon these yogis and see similar responses. From there I began to digress.
“it’s clear that this date is intended for people who are in the closet, but I think it’s important to address the underlying qualities that make coming out such a transformative, revelatory and healing experience. We opened class with a familiar pose, downward facing dog. I invited my students to explore the way that their body moves and introduced the yogic principal of “svadyaya” or self-study. I asked them to address the pose and try to see how their body fit into it. I asked “is this a pose you enjoy and if not, will you ever enjoy it? How does breathing and subtle movement enhance or discourage you and the pose itself? what will it take to make this familiar pose all your own? only yours.
as we began to move and breathe together. I developed a flowing sequence that took a lot of concentration to link the body’s movement with the breath, a lot of attention and awareness. For about 20 minutes. And then we rested in child’s pose. That’s when I asked the question – “what’s the secret you are keeping?” a group of heaving and breathing body’s rose and took reclining hero’s pose. I asked them to look beyond the ceiling and ponder the sky. What if you could give this secret to the sky? I asked and followed with a short “you can’t”
For the last twenty minutes the only thing you were able to focus on was breathing into these poses, moving your body sequentially through the sequence I have given you.
What sense of courage does it take? what fearlessness do you seek to be your truest self no matter what anyone tells you. Please come into your favorite pose. Bask in the light of it – see that joy is light.
they were confused. clearly they wanted a more specific direction. I waited.
I said “why are you confused? What is holding you back from the pose you hold in your mind right now? I know you have a favorite.
and then they came out. almost everyone came into downward facing dog. but one student in my morning set up blocks and laid herself in supported fish pose. When I came over to her and asked her if that was her favorite pose and she said to me frankly, “it makes my heart explode and I love it” Three students in pigeon prep told me that this was the one that felt the best.
I cried a little.
Something as simple as declaring your favorite yoga pose was threatening. It seemed as though the level of certainty required to identify it simply lead everyone back to what they knew was safe. downward facing dog. home.
I turned off the lights and said – now we’re practicing in the dark. everyone chose a new pose. to put it simply – I died. Some in camel, some in happy baby, others in triangle! a small few remained in dog or pigeon.
When I turned on the lights I asked everyone to come into a comfortable cross-legged position.
So for the last twenty or so minutes – you let go of your mind- embraced your body and breath – and still didn’t know what to do with it when I asked you to speak for yourself. who are you? and do you possess the uncompromising desire to be your truest self that you could do it in the face of danger – of ridicule, of shame? That’s what it takes to come out.
come out, come out, wherever you are.
So what’s your secret? the one thing you don’t want anyone to know about? Do you wish to be free and feel proud of who you are? Come out.
Because who you are is exactly what the world needs.