on expanding the introvert's toolbox in an extrovert's world.

You know those times when your computer starts running so slow you think it must be 1998 and you downloaded one too many songs from KaZaA or your brother picked up the phone and booted you from AOL? You've got 16 million tabs open, 12 pinterest recipes/hair colors/light fixtures for an imaginary house open, Spotify running in the background and then all of the sudden one last cat video sends your computer into no-thank-you land. In the midst of the chaos that was my desktop, I stared closing out things that I wasn't using (and mostly didn't even know were open) and came across a lonely single page document with 2 quotes on it.

I can't remember when I saved them or what precisely I was going to use them for, but there they were nonetheless, staring at me, feeling comfortingly familiar.

“I often carry things to read so that I will not have to look at the people.”
― Charles Bukowski,
“People empty me. I have to get away to refill.”
― Charles Bukowski

Now, say what you will about Charles Bukowski, but he was the master of real talk. And real talk, these snippets make me feel oddly at ease that I'm not the only one (I know, of course I'm not the only one) who sometimes has these types of feelings. Hello everyone, I'm Carling and I'm an introvert with a light dusting of social anxiety. (Hi Carling)

It's an funny thing, being introverted in such an extroverted profession. Its quite clear that most yoga teachers are probably a bit of control freaks (tell me more about how exactly you like the room set up and how long it takes you to make a playlist...). And no matter how well intentioned, the ability to stand up in front of students and command a room, it requires ego (how very ironic).

Looking back, I have run into this impasse quite a few times throughout my life.

During my freshman year of high school I tried out for the cheer squad in solidarity with a friend who was too nervous to do it on her own. Then I accidentally made it and my life of learning to "Fake it till you Make it" officially began. To be fair, faking it till you make it can be quite a blessing for someone like me. Sometimes, faking it brings you to something wonderful you might not have discovered or engaged in otherwise. Sometimes, its allows you to get over your own shit. and sometimes we need that. But if you're a person who thrives more so off of quiet and independence, then, well, faking it can also be pretty exhausting.

Getting lost in routines, in performing and in dancing that was what I loved, but I can't exactly say that team building exercises were ever my strong suit. Big group activities? nope no thanks. Team sleepover? absolutely not, I'm going home, see you guys at practice. In and out. That has always been my approach. The master of the quick exit at a party. When you lean toward the introvert side of the scale in a world that celebrates and caters toward extroverts, you have to have tactics. you gotta have a plan.


plans are important.

plans are important.


#1 Fake it till you Make it

#2 Lie.

To get around the inevitable well-intentioned friendship guilt trip that came with choosing not to go out some nights in college, I often employed tactic #2. I'd even sometimes pretend that I did in fact end up going out and saw some of my friends but they totally don't remember seeing me, how rude, they must have been so drunk (sorry guys) or oh no, I fell asleep and just woke up and now its so late what's the point in coming out, I'm so sorry! Was I doing anything more important? Not necessarily. Was I employing very selfish tactics because I just wanted to hang with myself for no discernible reason in particular? Most certainly.


Even my yoga practice has followed a similar path. If you want to find me in a public class, you should look in one of the corners, in the back row, next to a wall, or directly in front of a wall so that I won't have to interact as much, I won't have to be small talking.  So I can just be in my little bubble and practice. I never went to class or the gym to be social or to feed off other peoples energy.  For me, its always been for the exact opposite reason. to shut out the rest. put on the headphones, slip away the same way you might slip into a good book or a warm nap.

So how do you reconcile an innate desire for solitude, with a life such as ours that puts you in front of and surrounded by people on a daily basis? Well, I'm not totally sure I've got it figured out quite yet, or that I ever completely will. There's a balance in there somewhere and finding a practice like yoga has allowed me walk that line much more effectively.

There's a push and a pull, and to be quite honest, the push of getting out there and teaching classes, making YouTube videos, or meeting new people all the time is part of that good balance. Even when sometimes (read: a lot of times) we would rather turn down the invitation, instead just practicing yoga at home and then binge watching House of Cards. If I had my way, I'd likely walk around with headphones on listening to music or podcasts everywhere I went when I'm on my own. I like being in my head. its familiar, and its pretty nice and cozy most of the time.

When teaching, I'm often talking to one person in particular, maybe just more loudly so it serves the class at large. I often teach from the back of the room, Observing and reacting, teaching to what I see. feeling more free and expressive, more authentic and at home without so many eyes on me. I find it difficult to teach and practice at the same time, its too much stimulation. What allows me to move past some of the bits of social anxieties that crop up when its class time is the ability to focus is on the particulars. your toes. your arches. the breath. asking questions, looking for patterns. and then asking students to do the same. what happened to your breath? what is that pinky finger doing? notice. check in. How can you be here now?

I love to learn. I love school and since I was young have always spent hours/days/weeks/years(?!) researching the many random things that peaked my curiosity. I am a veritable bucket full of 27ish years of (semi)useless knowledge. Teaching yoga feels like one way to move into that space. To embrace that side of me that I didn't always show. Its a comfortable way to not only share what I've spent so much time devoted to, but also continually learn from each person I see and teacher I take from. It's a balance.

From my practice, my introvert toolbox has grown. My plan has evolved and my tactics along with it.

#1 Fake it till you Make it

#2 Learning how to say No

#3 Honor yourself and your comfort zone.

Sure, yes, I am still faking it till I make it. I suppose it has actually become a very real part of me over the years and continues to allow me to pendulum between the two polarities when this life requires.

Embracing how you function best shouldn't make you feel guilty. It shouldn't make you feel weird or embarrassed or nerdy or insecure. It should make you feel like you. and likely, the best version of you. Honoring your strengths and preferences doesn't have to be selfish and it's taken me a very long time to learn that. When I crave a world with a little less stimulation, I work hard to try to be honest with myself and honest with those it impacts. I step back, I build up some courage and I say "no thanks" or I get real brave and say "great, lets do it!" and then I make sure I have the time/space/love/support I need to make it happen wholeheartedly.

Which brings me to my last strategy, although its less of a strategy and more of a gift you can give yourself.

#1 Fake it till you Make it

#2 Learning how to say No

#3 Honor yourself and your comfort zone.

#4 Practice (something)

It is the magic of this yoga practice that has truly been my best implement in finding some sort of union.

Through pranayama and meditation we learn to sit with our selves, something that if you're an introvert like me is probably already quite familiar, although still certainly not easy. Through asana we can find external expression, without ever having to leave our bubble. Expression and creativity aren't always loud. they aren't always big and they aren't always public. Sure sometimes they might be, but extroverts don't have the monopoly on self expression. It can be as quiet as the brush strokes on canvas or as subtle as the whirl of inhales and exhales on a mat.

When I feel myself teetering and needing to recoil, my yoga practice is there for me. All I have to do is unroll my mat. tune into the particulars. immerse myself in my body and my breath, and all of the sudden the rest seems much less daunting.

"Go inside" the teacher says, "gladly" I respond.


Carling Harps