One of the “small but mighty” changes I made when I moved to North Carolina was to start a yoga practice…as in start from scratch. I was looking forward to gaining all of the much-touted benefits of tree pose, butterfly pose, warrior two and standing mountain. Even the language of yoga gave me a wild head rush that I knew would culminate in a heartfelt Namaste. And while I was beyond midlife – technically, that is – I was backed by a lifetime of mostly-healthy habits and sound nutrition. I was confidently “good to go”!
Little did I know how challenged I would be. My peripatetic mind struggled with the “be where you are” foundation while focusing on my breathing was a complete and utter bore. And what happened to all of that flexibility I was sure I still had? Not so much. I quit one studio where I felt like a kindergartener mistakenly placed in senior high. That experience almost slammed the door on my yoga experience, I admit, but I picked up my wounded pride and tried again, somewhere else. In the next place, two things happened. First, I shifted my expectations of myself. I understood and accepted that I was a STUDENT who had nothing to prove except my willingness to learn. Second, the folks here felt more like my tribe. Many were older, like me, and clearly moved along at their own pace with a sense of wonder and humor. A great combo, I soon discovered!
Along the way, my reset allowed me to understand that practicing yoga was the perfect analogy for practicing life. Because isn’t that really what we do? Aren’t we always students, attempting to be and do better in one, more, or many ways? Does anyone, anywhere have it all figured out? To say that I doubt it would be an understatement. Approaching each new day as a student in life and on the mat means that we show up fresh, eager, open… and then do the best that we can.
Even with that sound intention, we do trip ourselves up. I have found that how I trip up in life is often how I trip up on the mat…and vice versa. So, a few gentle reminders that I’m now harvesting:
- Constantly anticipating what is next gets in the way of what is. As an uber-neurotic planner, I am always relearning this. I now laugh at myself when I assume we will be moving from a full forward fold to a half fold only to hear the instructor guide us into an entirely different configuration. Slow down, Jean Marie, you will get there, wherever “there” is.
- Looking around at everyone else too often and too closely leads to comparison, self-doubt, shame, and sometimes, guilt. While this has never been a big tripping point for me, I realize that feeling vulnerable is a trigger. The point is always my journey, not someone else’s. Truly accepting where I am allows me to appreciate and admire where others are.
- No two experiences are exactly alike. Being able to hold a triangle pose one day doesn’t mean that I will the next. Some days are better than others in terms of what I am able to do and accomplish.
- To “fail” is to learn. There is something magnificent about having the humility, courage and strength to pick oneself up after falling flat on one’s butt. Thank you, yoga!
And guess what? It’s enough. Maybe even more than enough. I still fall out of tree pose and my butterfly pose is always a work in progress!