I have been learning and practicing yoga for the past four years, which is significant for three reasons:
- I always swore that I wouldn’t like yoga — too slow, not enough hard-core exercise, and what’s up with those strappy little outfits? Etc.
- More importantly, I also always swore that I couldn’t do it. Touching my toes has been one of the hardest things for me to do next to eating eggplant that is served to me when I am at someone else’s house for dinner and need to be polite. I was sure I would fail.
- I also used to try to stay away from exercise that required equipment or cost. For goodness sake, I thought: why would I pay money to go to a stuffy gym and wait in line behind a bunch of testosteroned people to get on a torture machine when I could go for a walk around the neighborhood with my dog and actually enjoy myself?
But four years ago I decided I would try yoga (at the time, a desperate move to build an exercise regime into my daily schedule — it was, for me, all about convenience), and after 6 weeks of doing yoga 3 times a week and taking Advil 3 times a day, I came to appreciate it. And here’s why I am telling you (my students) this:
- I had my assumptions about myself and about yoga challenged, and I am better for it today.
- I have learned a bit about learning by learning — by practicing — yoga.
1) MOVE TOWARD IT: I may not be able to hold a pose, but I can move toward a pose, and often moving toward a pose every time actually gets me closer to the actual pose, and in at least three cases now (crane, tree, and dancer) I have gotten to the pose and can do it pretty well, to my complete astonishment. Relevance to learning? Here goes: You don’t need to learn something right away or all at once, and if you’re trying to, you probably won’t have learned it well. Instead, move in that direction. Move toward it.
2) MOVE WITH IT: Poses don’t necessarily need to be perfect. When I was learning how to do tree and struggling with my balance, my teacher reminded me that trees sway in the wind, and so it was perfectly ok for me to sway while I was learning how to hold still. The lesson? To move with things instead of against them. Once I allowed myself to sway, I relaxed, and in no time I was stronger and able to hold without swaying (though some days I still like to sway, and I also like to close my eyes to challenge myself even more).
3) PRACTICE IT: Yoga is about practice, not about something elusive called “mastery.” Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois said this: “Yoga is 99% practice and 1% knowledge.” I think this applies to a lot of things we are trying to learn.
4) GET RID OF “NOT- IT”: Twist. It gets rid of stress. ‘Nuff said. Here’s my favorite: Supine spinal twist. 3 minutes on my mat with this twist is all I need — not even Calgon can take me away like this twist can.
Finally, every time I practice yoga I am reminded that it’s good for us to get our assumptions challenged — it’s actually healthy! We usually become better people for it because we realize what can happen when we open our minds to new experiences and ideas. For example, many of you have told me that you can’t do / don’t like / are scared of math. You tell me you break out in a cold sweat whenever you hear the word and you avoid this requirement like the plague. Well, yeah, and try it. John Newbury wrote about his experiences learning math in his blog, and I think you might find the same kind of “ah-ha” as well if you’re open to it.
Finally part two: While I am still quite possibly the most inflexible person I know from a muscular standpoint, I do like Betsy Cañas Garmon’s perspective on practicing yoga: I do yoga so that I can stay flexible enough to kick my own arse if necessary. Surely as learners there are times that it’s necessary for us to be able to do just this.