Last Friday I made it to yoga class for the first time in a long time. Despite my best intentions, it seems like something unexpected prevents me from attending more regularly, as I would like to do. A sick child, a rescheduled appointment, basket fulls of neglected laundry. You know the drill. There is always something standing in the way of what we know is good for us. But the other thing that keeps me away, at times, is the realization that yoga is going to require something very different out of me…a deeper kind of discipline and self-awareness than I’m accustomed to practicing. I’ve always been a team-player, a competitor, a play-your-heart-out kind of athlete who likes to work hard, sweat a lot, and earn a few bumps and bruises in the process. So when I think about yoga, about being still, and being quiet, and being “alone,” focusing inward and tuning in to the less obvious messages my body tries to send me…well – that can be uncomfortable. I find I like to GO, GO, GO all the time. So much easier to multitask on the stationary bike (simultaneous podcast + movement is my new favorite combo) or go for a run and let my mind wander, or sweat it all out in an intense interval class. All of those options are great, and I enjoy them all at one time or another, but it takes a special mental and emotional commitment when I walk into a yoga class knowing I’m there to experience the process and the practice.
So last week I was feeling “all there,” so to speak. I was able to get a little deeper into some of the positions and I felt more present than usual…not so much brain clutter and constant self-imposed distraction. But just when I was feeling confident and comfortable, down-dogging like I was born for it, I noticed the bare feet of the instructor pad over to my spongy blue mat. And then I felt the pressure of her hand between my shoulder blades, gently but firmly pushing everything down and back. And then she whispered, “How’s that?” Even though it was just a minor correction, the difference in the stretch was significantly better, and deeper, and much more challenging. And here I thought I was doing it totally right!
Along with this kind of gentle correction, the instructor is also very skilled at offering customized alternatives. Need a little more today? Put this here, and that there, and now bind or balance or close your eyes. Need a little less? Bend your knees, use a block, leave one hand down for support, ease up on that stretch a bit, follow your breath. My own pride sometimes gets in the way, and I am tempted to try the harder maneuver when I might not be ready for it. But then I tip over, lose my balance, or stretch things a little too far and wish I’d listened to that muscle that said, “That’s far enough for today, girlfriend. Don’t push your luck.” I talk to myself and laugh at myself a lot during yoga, and I think that’s a good and healthy thing. It reminds me not to view everything as a competition or something I must achieve or prove or win. I don’t know about you, but I need to be reminded of that often.
I think the same kind of timely corrections and appropriate challenges apply to our food choices as well. It’s unlikely any of us have it all wrong, and I’m certain none of us have it all right. We are all just learning as best we can, sometimes thinking we finally have it all figured out – – until that firm steady hand encourages us to move in a new direction, maybe an unusual or unfamiliar direction, a direction we hadn’t even considered before it was brought to our attention. Sometimes we jump with both feet – into a new diet, a workout regimen, a fasting cleanse – without counting the cost or doing the research. Or conversely, we drag our feet in stubborn resistance to necessary change, and then realize down the line that we’ve made a mistake and dug our ditch of misery and poor health a little deeper. But you need to hear and believe that mistakes aren’t show stoppers. Grab a shovel, start filling in those holes, and once you reach ground level again, simply pivot and take one step forward, one step at a time. Sometimes we need that objective person from the outside, someone with a different perspective and a little more experience, to help us identify areas where we can make improvements or adjustments. They see things we don’t see. They have knowledge and resources we don’t yet have, and they are typically very willing and eager to share. I know I am. And I’ll be here when you’re ready.
Tomorrow is yoga again, and I’m planning to be there. I’ve still got so much to learn.