There was this pretty ‘big deal’ kinda guy by the name of Buddha that once said, “there are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.”

When I went through my first yoga teacher training I hadn’t expected to actually teach. At the time I was 25 years old and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life (imagine that!), let alone have the confidence it takes to be one of those ‘teacher types.’ Nonetheless, after graduation, I was encouraged to volunteer for an organization teaching awareness practices to at-risk and incarcerated youth. Intrigued as I was, my doubts kept me from taking action right away. I thought, “I have nothing to offer these kids. I’ve never been incarcerated myself. How can I relate?” Truth be told, this was just my excuse for not starting.

Because at the heart of that doubt was a belief I had been carrying around for long enough. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I had anything to offer those kids, it was that I was afraid I didn’t have anything to offer anyone.

Eventually, with a bit of persuasion from my heart, rather than my head, I got out of my own way and took a leap of faith, despite myself. That first class turned into six years working with that organization. And if it changed one student’s life even a tenth as much as it changed mine, then it is undoubtedly true that we must start and we must go all the way. Not just in honor of finding our own truth, but to take hold of as many hands as we can along the way.

The youth I came across in those settings challenged me every time I taught, and they also enlightened me. They caused me to take a real long look at how I was showing up in my life and to seek the truth of what’s really holding me back. In circles, we spoke about universal subjects. We spoke about the things that make us human: choice, freedom, identity, beliefs, fear, the masks we wear, and what really matters to us. We let vulnerability lead us and authenticity move us. To this day, I say that my highest teachers are those students that graced me with their presence during those six unforgettable years.

Three life-enhancing lessons I learned from my highest teachers:

1.Your authenticity inspires a collective opening of hearts. BE real.

When I first started teaching at-risk and incarcerated youth I went in with my walls up. I separated myself from truly connecting by believing I didn’t have anything to offer them. One day I went in and decided to talk about something that was real for me. I remember I was so scared and so vulnerable in that moment. I felt like I was 12 years old again (which was the age of many of the kids in front on me). I talked about the masks I wore as a teenager and the masks I was still wearing as a 20 something-year-old. I spoke about my fears of rejection and how I would lose myself behind a persona that wasn’t who I really was because I was afraid to be me. What happened after this sharing was incredible. One by one, each student started sharing their own stories about the impact the masks they wore were having on their life. Some of us cried, most of us laughed, and we all held space for this human experience – in that moment I learned that ‘being real’ is the only way I want to be in this world.

2. Bringing your full self to the world isn’t a place at which you arrive, it’s a place at which you choose to start.

I remember one circle in particular where we were discussing choice. “Do you have choice?” As you can imagine, this was quite profound for the kids to reflect upon. There was silence for a bit and then one student said, “as long as I am stuck in these walls I don’t have choice.”

In order to inspire deeper reflection, I shared a story. I told them about a man I knew with no legs from the thigh down and no arms from the elbow down. I met him training Capoeira (a very athletic and acrobatic Brazilian martial art). He was not only a high belt, but he was also a teacher of the art. Sure, he looked different than others doing the practice and for sure it took incredible mental and physical fortitude for him to achieve what he did, but he did it.

Most might think that a person born with such circumstances would have very little choice about how their life would unfold ‘as long as they were stuck in that body.’ And certainly some might think that something as physically demanding as Capoeira would not be a choice he could make, yet there he was.

After another moment of silence, a different student spoke up, “I feel I have choice. I’m choosing to make the best out of my time here. I get a lot of time alone to think and I’m choosing to become better while I am here so that when I get out I can make better choices for myself. I’m choosing to think of this experience as an opportunity.”  That day I learned that choice is always our next move. No matter how limited life may seem for us we always have choice in the meaning we give to our circumstances.

3. Peace of mind is possible if you are willing to consciously be with yourself when it feels like it’s not.

I remember one day ‘on the inside’ the girls were very somber. They seemed distracted and emotional in a way I had not experienced with them before. In the circle, I asked if they wanted to share. One girl told me that later today many of the girls would be getting their sentencing and then sent off to another, more long-term location. They were scared, anger was coming up, and they really didn’t want to have a session that day.

This was the day I decided to go against the grain and teach them something I had wanted to bring in, but was hesitant, due to the ‘no touching people under 18’ policy. I told them I would teach them an ancient and powerful practice, Thai Yoga Massage if they were willing to stay and learn. Rather than me working on the girls, I had the girls work on each other by pairing them up and guiding them through by demonstrating with my co-teacher. What unfolded was one of the most tender classes I have ever witnessed. The girls’ bodies melted and their minds settled. The energy shifted from hostile to holy within minutes. At least for that hour, the girls truly experienced peace of mind in spite of the day ahead. I learned that even when pain is present, peace is possible.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to keep the inspiration going. Which lesson most impacted you and why?

Amber Campion is an internationally recognized lifestyle strategist, transformational coach, and mind/body teacher. She is the founder of The Changemakers Circle and The Changemakers Adventure. Through her esteemed coaching programs, trainings and retreats she has guided thousands of bright, high-achieving visionaries to create positive change in their own lives and the lives of others by bringing their full self to the world. Create a fulfilling and meaningful life that is game changing and change making by downloading her free 3-day eCourse: Focused, Free, & Fulfilled. You can follow her on FB, Instagram & Twitter.

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