As #TeamHB3 make their way home from Antarctica after a life-changing experience, we share more photos and reflections from aboard the #MVUshuaia. Stay tuned for more updates as the women return to their homes, families and lives, and apply their leadership lessons.
I have practiced yoga for decades, always as a student of an experienced teacher. The discipline of breathing intentionally and letting go of distraction has helped me work through body image issues, cope with the distress of sexual assault, manage the stresses of political turmoil and academic burnout. After the death of my infant son, I found a teacher who helped me connect with the emotion of loss and the essence of my grief. The focus on being fully present was tremendously helpful in that long season of despair.
Despite good intentions, I have never found the discipline to practice yoga on my own. I’ve watched fellow practitioners and family members attend yoga teacher training, but it’s never been something I’ve been tempted to do. I spend so much of my personal and professional time leading others that I relish the weekly hours when I simply need to follow instructions in a yurt in Alaska with snowflakes falling on the skylight.
When I was chosen to participate in the Homeward Bound leadership initiative with 80 women in science, I discovered that our group included people with diverse extracurricular skills including improv theater, collegiate rowing and circus experience. I was confident there would be a yoga teacher among us and looked forward to practicing vinyasas in Antarctica with icebergs floating in the background.
After two days of seasickness while crossing the Drake Passage, I shakily climbed the ship’s stairs to the yoga space to find only one other person there. I asked if she was leading the yoga class, and she said no, she was just stretching. Another woman soon joined us and she asked if I was teaching the class. I paused as I pondered the leadership lessons we were learning together: the importance of taking risks and trusting each other and stepping up to offer our expertise to help others, so I said yes. Yes, I would teach the yoga session.
It is different to lead a class than to follow. I use my voice to guide others instead of settling into the familiar rhythm of breath. I look around to see how the others are keeping up instead of staying focused internally on my own mat. I think ahead to what comes next instead of being purely in the moment. In my emerging leadership, I learned that I can rise to the occasion, that having related experience can be enough to take on a leadership role, that there comes a time for all of us to step out of our comfort zones and say Yes. I have learned that being mindful about my presence in Antarctica enhances the experience immeasurably. The woman stretching alone was Christiana Figueres, internationally renowned as the architect of the Paris Climate Accord, and she practiced yoga with me the first time I ever taught a yoga class.
Kristin Mitchell is a board certified Internal Medicine physician who practices medicine and yoga in Alaska.