When I started teaching in Santa Monica, the land of yoga teachers, people warned me that I was making a big mistake, saying it was too competitive—there were simply too many people doing it. All I can say is that I am glad I listened to my intuition, to the voice telling me:

This Jen, this is who you are. Keep going.

It took courage, which is the theme of my yoga classes this week.

After I watched Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability, I started thinking a lot about courage, about what it really meant.

Brene says:

“The original definition of ‘courage’ . . . is from the Latin word ‘cor,’ meaning ‘heart.’ And the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first, and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. And the last was they had connection, and—this was the hard part—as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be, in order to be who they were, which you have to absolutely do that for connection.”

There it is—“the courage to be imperfect.” I think people grossly underestimate themselves when it comes to courage. You do not have to jump from a plane with a parachute to be courageous.

Courage in action

On my last retreat, one girl came all the way to Mexico from Amsterdam—alone—with a group she didn’t know, having never done yoga, leaving her two small children back home. Now that’s courageShe had the courage to be imperfect and ask for private help from me with the poses. She had the courage to sit out and watch at times. She had the courage to make new friends and be vulnerable.

My sister also joined us, having the courage to leave her two kids (one who has special needs and a very strict regimen) and take a week just for herself. Something she had never ever done in her life.

Today my sister is signing up for a yoga teacher training course in Atlanta. After allowing herself that week in Mexico, she connected to what inspired her and renewed her sense of courage and came home ready to take on the world. She is also getting a tattoo on Saturday that says “Courage.”—BAM!

A woman came up to me after a recent class class, informing me she had just signed up to go back to school back to school so she could become a clinical psychologist. She is sixty. Another shining example of what courage looks like.

Embracing courage

When my dad died I told myself not to cry. I held that cry in for years. I would literally bite my lip and say “Don’t cry. Be strong. Be courageous.” I was eight. Going on forty. I thought holding it in was the courageous thing to do. To be brave like an adult, move on, and get up and live my life.

It took many years for me to develop the courage to show emotion in front of other people. I had a very hard time as an actor, being vulnerable or crying because of all the years I spent stifling that part of me.

It took courage for me to admit to my hearing loss. At first, I was mortified. I felt less than human. I was afraid I would be alone in the world—an island of silence in a sea of noise.

As soon as I started to tell the story of who I was with my whole heart, much to my delight, I ended up inspiring people and encouraging others to be vulnerable and open.

I finally opened up I realized that it was, in fact, my courage and that very vulnerability that drew others to me—even allowed me to make money. The thing I had stifled and been ashamed of was now my source of income—and my bliss.

Is it my bliss not being able to hear well? No way! However, it is most absolutely my bliss being able to share and talk and teach—to be a role model—and take people on a journey where they can discover what courage means for them.

Ask yourself what courage means to you. Where you have demonstrated courage in your life? Where you could use a little courage?

It took courage for me to __________ despite ____________.

I have the courage to say “I love __________.”

When ________ happened I found I had courage I didn’t know I had.

I have the courage to ask for help with ________________.

I have the courage to admit to myself that I really want ______________.

I have the courage to accept ___________________.

I have the courage to forgive _______________.

I have the courage to go after my dream of ___________.

I have the courage to love myself even though I ________.

My life has been laced with opportunities to grow through courage—and I’m just getting started. It took courage for me to talk openly about my history with a severe eating disorder and my coming to terms with my hearing-loss. Courage propels me—and holds me accountable. My courage inspires others to find their own.

Jennifer Pastiloff was recently featured on Good Morning America. She is a yoga teacher, writer, and advocate for children with special needs based in L.A. She is also the creator of Manifestation Yoga® and leads retreats and workshops all over the world. Jennifer is currently writing a book and has a popular daily blog called Manifestation Station. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.