I’ve been practicing yoga on and off for about 18 years now. At 14, I took a meditation course at the local community center. At 16, I took my first asana-based yoga class.
If we were going by numbers, I should be some sort of super-bendy pretzel person that can do headstands and handstands and contort into all sorts of odd shapes.
In reality, I still can’t do a handstand, headstand, or get into full-lotus. I’m not any closer to doing the splits now than I was at 16 (or ever? I’m not sure I could ever do the splits), and currently my balance isn’t really the best. I’ve had phases, certainly, where I was more flexible than I am now. I could do asanas with the bind (an expression that usually means being in some kind of twisty stretch with the added element of wrapping your arms around and through your legs/shoulders/back [or some combination of the three] and clasping your hands together), and I was getting close to being able to lift myself up in lotus, by “levitating” on my hands, and was pretty sure I was close to doing a headstand without assistance.
That’s not where I am now. My hips and hamstrings are tight–painfully so, sometimes–and days that I can hoist myself up into backbends make me feel like I could probably conquer the universe that day, because it’s so damned miraculous.
I’ve been trying to get into a daily practice for months. It’s just not happening. I’m not sure what the problem is, because I certainly have the desire.
I decided to try out a yoga channel on YouTube, and did the first day of a 30 day yoga camp. The workout was short–only about 20 minutes–and it was so basic that at first I was bored and didn’t think I would do another day. The next day, though, I could feel all my muscles. I could feel the practice in my body in a way I hadn’t felt my practice for months. So I did another video, and the next day another. While the practices are certainly not the most physically challenging I’ve ever done, there’s something important in the act of approaching my practice not as an experienced practitioner, but as a beginner. There’s something essential to stepping back from what I think I’ve learned and opening myself up to the possibility that I need to relearn.
This realization came in synchrony with my acceptance that I needed to take a step back in my dissertation and relearn my writing process and relearn my research. As much as I want to rush forward, it seems that taking steps back is actually what needs to happen on and off my mat. And, since I’m an English major, I’m having a hard time avoiding the analogy between my yoga practice, my scholarly pursuits, and my life.
I’ve been in college since I was 17. 15 years. Almost half my life. (eep) Yet I still need to come back, once in a while, and revisit my process, rediscover myself, and approach my work as a novice instead of as an initiate. Perhaps, in approaching as a novice I’ll be able to tap into the enthusiasm and energy only people new to something can have: the sense of wonder and curiosity that sometimes fades with familiarity.