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So before it’s assumed that I promote crazy-yoga-animal stunts… hear me out. I’m a pretty traditional yoga studio owner/teacher who doesn’t support beer, goat or kitten yoga. (Allergies…and cultural appropriation) So before assuming that I’m promoting a new type of yoga, understand that this photo isn’t about Alligators…it’s about saying YES.
Here’s the story
About 25 years ago a high school teacher had our class make a list of 100 things we wanted to do in our lives. At that time I was set on being a professional musician, so a lot of my list was music focused. These music goals never came to fruition, which is totally fine…I love my career path. But there was something interesting I put on the list.
I remember throwing “Wrestle an Alligator” on this list. Why? I don’t know. I remember thinking “well that sounds crazy, but I’ll probably never to that.”
And for some strange reason, I kept this list in a box for all these years. I never really thought about it, but I always knew it was there. Along with old love letters and special notes…maybe a concert ticket and crystal or two.
Fast forward to a few months ago when I became friends with the owners of the Colorado Gators Reptile Park. I told them about the above list and how it was kind of a dream of mine to wrestle an alligator. Sure enough, they made it happen!
On a Wednesday night after the Gator Farm closed, my family and I headed in to “wrestle” my first alligator. Talk about an adrenaline rush!
First, Jay had us catch smaller alligators…which isn’t as easy as it sounds! Those little gators are strong! For some reason, they terrified me, but I did it. My family and I got to handle small gators to warm us up!
Next up was the 5-foot-ish gators! Those guys are strong too! Once I got a hold of my gator, he dragged me for several feet, before Jay taught me how to handle him. See that look of exhilaration and terror?
This was the biggest Alligator I “wrestled”. The sun was going down and there wasn’t enough time to handle a 10+ foot gator.
Maybe I’ll go back for the big guys…maybe I won’t.
So after that adventure, Jay and I were talking about how our businesses could support each other. It’s kind of a stretch for a Gator Farm and a Yoga Studio to complement each other right? Well maybe not.
Jay asked me to teach a yoga class to him and his wife, Erin in an alligator pit. What is an alligator pit you ask? Well, it’s a marsh with a small walkway down the center. 10+ foot alligators swim in the marsh on either side of the walkway…like, right up to us to see what is going on.
Did you hear me? 10-foot Alligators.
I said YES.
Why did I say yes? Because it was terrifying!
I live a pretty average life I’d say. I work all day as a physical therapist. A few days a week, after work I head to the yoga studio to teach, and the other days I head home to my family. We ride bikes, go for a run or snuggle up to read Dr. Suess books. We camp and hike a lot in the summer and snowboard in the winter. I’m busy, but really my life is pretty mellow. Full…but not that exciting, really.
I decided a few months ago, that I was going to say YES to new opportunities. Particularly opportunities that take me out of my comfort zone.
What is out of my comfort zone? Sharks. Tornadoes. Ghosts and up until now…Alligators.
Next January I’m signed up to go snorkeling in Mexico…and this year I decided to say YES to teaching Yoga in an alligator pit here in Colorado.
Life is short my friends. I refuse to step away from exciting situations just because I’m scared. Will I ever have another opportunity to hang out among alligators? I’m assuming probably not. So why not say YES to jumping right into the pit?
Stepping into an alligator pit is about trust.
I’m going to be honest. I have a very hard time trusting people. Vulnerability is a hard concept for me to embrace and though I teach it A LOT…it isn’t easy to sit with.
Sitting on a small path while large alligators mozy-on up to check me out is not a comfortable place to be. It’s kind of the stuff of nightmares. However, I trusted the two experts I was teaching. For some reason, these two instilled calmness and trust, and I’m unsure I would step into this situation with anyone else.
Jay Young has grown up with these animals, and his wife Erin is one of the calmest women I’ve met. They sit with stillness and authority with these animals and I trust them fully.
I trusted that if any animal would have attacked that they would have taken care of the situation immediately. What you also don’t see in these pictures is my photographer Kim Marquez is assisted by another alligator handler, Noah. He kept her close to us, but safe in this unique environment.
I also had to trust Kim in this extreme situation to keep her cool and use her beautiful eye to take excellent pictures in the crazy wind we had that day. She didn’t let me down.
Stepping into Fear
Stepping into Fear is a hot topic these days. I’m a fan of Ruth Soukup’s recent book Do it Scared.
Because of her book, I’ve realized that I’ve given up on useless fears long ago. Or least the fear of failing, looking stupid, or fear of what other people think of me. I typically live my life by stepping towards things that support me vs shying away from activities that scare me. I haven’t always been that way but can say with confidence that I typically don’t shy away from much.
So when Jay suggested we hold a yoga class amongst dinosaurs, I agreed. Was I terrified? Absolutely.
I thought I was a brave, fearless woman until I was asked to teach yoga in the middle of an Alligator Pit.
Though I have given up on caring about what others think of me. Apparently, I still have a fear of being eaten alive by alligators.
But as I mentioned before, I fully trusted my friends. I knew that although this seems like an unsafe situation, I was in a safe place and they would protect me.
Yoga teaches us to be fully present in the current moment. Be here now. There is nothing that helps us be fully mindful and present than being scared for your life!
A whole new level
So what happened after we filmed Yoga in the Alligator pit? Jay brought snakes out for me to pose with.
Remember all those things I said about stepping into fear? Well, Jay pointed out that since I was terrified of snakes, I should pose with his snakes too. (Seriously…how did I end up here?) He challenged me on what I was teaching.
This was the true test of embracing fear. Maybe I was afraid of losing face in front of my friends, but I took that damn snake and rocked yoga poses with it.
And yet again, the thing that scared me…didn’t kill me.
We’ve been calling these photos, “Zen in the Alligator Pen.”
Do you want to know why?
Because in order to have an alligator in pictures, you have to be really quiet, slow and intentional. Alligators are actually pretty spooked of humans. Especially the alligators at Colorado Alligator Park.
Alligators aren’t huge fans of humans because they catch them to give them medicine or move them to other pens. Many of these alligators are rescued from Hollywood or inappropriate pet owners. So these guys really aren’t fans of the up-right walkers.
In order to hold a yoga class in an Alligator pit, you have to be very still. Remember Jurassic Park when the T-Rex couldn’t see Lex because she was still? It’s the same thing with alligators. If you move too fast, they scurry away. This whole event was to promote the Alligator Park on social media, so we had to be very still.
I kind of have a loud voice and swear a lot when I’m scared, so this was a challenge. But honestly, I felt calm after our little yoga class, as I had to keep my voice low and my body slow. It was an unexpected bonus.
Fulfilling a life-long dream
Not only did I face the fear and do it anyway, which made me stronger but this opportunity allowed me to check off a fun item off my life-bucket list.
Looking at what my 16-year-old self thought life was going to be like was interesting. Returning to the idea that I wanted to be a professional musician (though I wasn’t that good) was entertaining. My life headed in such a different direction, and I never thought I would actually wrestle an alligator. But here we are.
There’s something to be said for checking such a major thing off a 25-year-old bucket list. It allowed me to revisit the goals of my youth, notice what is still important to me, and smile at what no longer matters. It reinforced that I had big goals for my life and that I still do. The theme of this list was that I wanted to continue the adventure and help others along the way. I’m giddy to report that I’m still on that track.
As in most situations, things aren’t always what they appear. Though these pictures may look like we’re promoting crazy, dangerous situations there is a lot more going on behind the scenes. This story has a long history with many layers of fear and uncertainty. I don’t suggest jumping into a zoo cage for the apex-predator selfie. In fact, quite the opposite. Respect zoo-rules without question.
But if you have an opportunity that makes you uncomfortable and terrified, it might be just the right thing to fulfill your life and make you approach the world with less fear. Even when you’re not ready, just say YES.