worth the risk

Worth the Risk

A Yogic Perspective on Growth and Success - By Andrea Marcum

Reading time: 3 minutes

What’s the riskiest thing you’ve done this year?

Mine might be swapping out my sure-thing, beach-luxury, Mexico retreat for one in the rural mid-west, U.S. state of Iowa… no, not Hawaii… Iowa. It’s unlikely you’ll find Iowa on anyone’s bucket-list of yoga retreat destinations where places like Costa Rica and Bali are the headliners. It was a leap of faith, and you might say those who signed on to come with me risked it too.

But what exactly is a risk?

Risk is derived from Latin riscus (meaning cliff) and the Greek nautical term rhiza (stone difficult to avoid in the sea.) The Germans added “to dare, undertake, hope for success” to the definition. “Journey” and “pilgrimage” are elements of risk, according to the French. And in Chinese, the word for risk is a combination of two symbols, “danger” and “opportunity.” Risks are the “cliffs and rocks” we navigate on our journey as we seek opportunities and success.” Yoga philosophy might call them kleshas (obstacles).

A risk is the fear of potential danger we feel when we take both feet off the ground in our crow pose hoping to find balance without falling on our face. A risk is also launching a brand-new-wobbly blog post, relationship, sequence, idea, or innovation we worry might fall on its face. Risk is the realization that fear is part of our pilgrimage towards progress- both on our mat and off.

There’s a saying in the business/finance world, “you can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” Let’s amend that for our purposes and say, “you can’t kick up into a handstand with both feet on the ground.” I’m not suggesting that you recklessly throw yourself upside down next to sharp objects and sheer drop-offs, but I am telling you that you can’t try something new without taking a chance.

Yes, you want to be mindful as you discern the risk in front of you. For example, if you have a shoulder injury, maybe that handstand isn’t the best idea right now. But if you’re just risking feeling awkward and new, invite the vulnerability and curiosity of Beginner’s Mind and “live the question now” as poet Rainer Maria Rilke said. Even if you never get all the way up, you’ll succeed at learning more about yourself along the way.

It's impossible to take (or teach) your first yoga class without actually doing it, and you can’t explore a new idea or landscape without stepping outside of what you already know. Lately I’ve been learning Spanish and feel painfully self-conscious about speaking, but I’ll never speak it if I never speak. Often the biggest cliff or rock in our way when it comes to progress is our ego.

Yoga is the perfect laboratory in which to dissect our fear of risk. Maybe the most challenging leap you take on your mat is savasana… simply being with yourself instead of perpetually doing things can be a brave undertaking. You might feel worried that you aren’t accomplishing anything, that you’ll make yourself late, or perhaps that you’ll have to sit with something uncomfortable you’ve been trying to avoid.

It's tempting to do only the poses that are easy for you, to do only the things that people say you’re good at, go only to the places that other people say are cool, and to cling tightly to praise and outside approval. Ultimately yoga is an inside game. Even that handstand you’re trying to kick up into isn’t for show… it’s to help you grow.

Perhaps it’s our definition of success that's most at risk. Although success might be financial gain, or an explosion of likes and follows, I would argue that success is more personal, ongoing, and complex.

When I swapped out Mexico for Iowa, I knew I might fall on my face economically and in the public eye. I also knew that I wanted to keep taking both feet off the ground—to keep learning and growing. If I could encourage others to do that with me, it would feel like a success. My Iowa group discovered that it was well worth the risk to kick up into something new. I believe all of us want our lives to feel like an adventurous retreat, not just repeat, repeat, repeat.

So I ask you, what will you risk next?

Andrea Marcum

Andrea Marcum is a yoga teacher, retreat leader & author. You can find her online classes at andreamarcum.com