Off the Mat Reflections: Leadership in Action

I have a confession to make – I am not always who I appear to be. I run a non-profit, Global Shine Project, which empowers women & girls to be catalysts for change in the world. That alone should suggest that I am an empowered woman. Combine it with the fact that I also serve as the Global Ambassador to Uganda and a Senior Leader for Off the Mat Into the World, and one might assume that I am running on full catalytic power. Sometimes, I do feel like a world catalyst. Other times, I feel like a fraud.

via Global Shine Project

Last year, as I sat in a circle of 60 yogis and activists who had all gathered together for 5 days of leadership training with Off The Mat Into The World, I tried to tap into the confident catalytic side of my self. I knew the tools to use as I had already been leading Off The Mat’s Yoga in Action workshops back home. I looked around the room and got my bearings. I took deep breaths and felt the floor beneath me. Then I connected to my center. “Okay,” I thought, “I am oriented, grounded, and centered.” I listened as each person in the circle stated their name, their hometown, and why they had come. I practiced my own introduction a few times in my mind. We made it halfway around the circle, and I was still feeling good. I relaxed my shoulders a little more. No one was ever going to guess that I was terrified of public speaking. I was going to wow the circle with my charming one-minute intro.

When we reached the woman sitting five spaces away from me, I felt a flutter in my chest followed by the familiar flush of heat rising up my neck. I tried to look casual as I sipped some water. My hands were shaky as I screwed the top back on my bottle, and I wondered if anyone noticed. I felt awkward and clumsy. When it was my turn to speak, I heard the tremor in my voice and immediately dismissed any thoughts of wowing anyone. I just wanted to get the attention off of me – quickly.

I left that first night feeling like I had let not only myself down, but all of the women who look to me as a leader. What were the founders of Off The Mat — Seane, Suzanne, and Hala — going to think? They would probably ask me to stop representing Off The Mat immediately. If I had a leadership badge, they would surely have taken it away. I crawled into bed that night feeling like a first-class fraud.

We started the second day of leadership training on the mat. I was grateful for the opportunity to get out of my head and into my body. I quickly realized that this was not going to be yoga as usual, the kind of practice that I can mindlessly flow through with heart and head closed. Seane Corn doesn’t let you off the hook that easily. That’s why all of these people were here. That’s why I was here, right? So why did I feel the incredible urge to curl up into child’s pose and stay there for the next two hours?

 via Global Shine Project

Seane answered that question for me during the practice as she explained how our soul craves the karmic lessons that life puts in front of us. It wants to go straight into the fire and be transformed. Our ego, on the other hand, tries to protect us from any perceived threats. Or as Seane so perfectly put it,

“Your soul co-creates with the universe to teach you the lessons you need to learn in this lifetime. Your ego says, ‘f@#k no, let’s make this lifetime easy!”

My ego wanted nothing more than to curl up and hide. I decided it was time to put my soul in the driver’s seat. I spent the rest of the day trying my best to lead with my soul. It wasn’t easy. We were asked to explore our core wounds, our shadows, and our triggers. These are not easy exercises for an ego to go through. Every now and again, I’d catch my ego starting to question things, “what does any of this have to do with my leadership skills?” My ego just wanted to get my imaginary leadership badge back and get on with the business of empowering other women. So what if I wasn’t fully empowered myself? I could fake it.

My soul and my ego played an on-going game of “Whose Life is This Anyway” for the next few days. It wasn’t until we got to the voice work on the fourth day that my ego finally threw in the towel. Suzanne Sterling began leading us through exercises to connect us to our voice. Suddenly, I felt those same feelings of panic growing inside my body that I had felt in the opening circle. I was going to be exposed for a fraud. I was a leader without a voice. Thankfully, my ego was too tired to put up a fight this time. I took a deep breath and let my soul lead the way.

I wish I could tell you that the voice work miraculously turned me into the public speaker of my dreams. It did not, but by letting myself move into the fire, I did come closer to that transformation. And what I realized is that moving into the fire is what leadership is all about. Being a leader isn’t about reaching the pinnacle of perfection. It is about moving beyond our comfort zones, learning that a pinnacle is just another safe hiding place for our ego. Once we stop growing our edges, exploring our challenges, and honing our skills, we stop moving forward. And I ask you this, who wants to be led by someone who isn’t really going anywhere?

Yoga Modern is featuring a series of essays inspired by Off the Mat Into the World’s Yoga, Purpose, & Action Intensives.For a list of upcoming Off the Mat, Into the World leadership trainings, click here. First up: Austin, Texas in March

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Amanda Stuermer is the director of both Global Shine Project and Shine Studio. She offers programs that combine yoga, art, service, and travel to empower women and girls. Amanda also serves as the Global Ambassador to Uganda and the Senior Leader for Off The Mat Into The World. She is a mother, wife, small-town southern girl, global activist, writer, and past editor and contributor for Outside Magazine. She loves cowboy boots, levis, big dreams, big smiles and the word "y'all."

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