Thursday, February 21, 2013

It's Not How Far You Go...

I've been taking yoga classes for just over two years now. A lot of my ideas for blog posts pop into my head during yoga class, inspired by a bit of poetry, a bend or twist that I never dreamed I could do, or just lying quietly on my mat at the end of class.

I did quite a bit of yoga back in the 1970s, and I was very proud of how flexible I was. It was all about reaching a little further, clasping my hands around the soles of my feet, getting my forehead to reach the floor, any way I could. Meditation and insight didn't factor in back then. Here it is, almost 40 years later (ack!), and I'm taking a different approach. I started classes because I had a sedentary job that left me too drained to even think about going to the gym after work. I was living pretty much completely inside my head, and I needed to get my body into the act as well. Yoga seemed like a nice, gentle way to ease back into my physicality.

Those first classes were miserable. My muscles ached, I couldn't hold the poses, I couldn't keep my hair out of my face (that's still a problem sometimes). I missed half the classes that first session because of an infection on my knee. My teacher was a patient, gentle soul -- a woman about the same age as I am, her middle-aged roundness disguising her amazing strength and flexibility. She took my classmates and me through the basic techniques slowly, thoroughly, explaining how the various parts of the body worked together and making sure that we lined everything up just so. She was always ready with a funny observation to help us smile as we held our wobbly Warrior 2 poses and teetering Tree poses.

It was humbling to start all over again like that. I couldn't bend and stretch like I used to, and it wasn't just age and inactivity. Taking the poses with strength and alignment makes for more gradual progress, but greater confidence and bigger after-class benefits in the long run. The muscles begin to develop and strengthen, not just stretch. The posture gets better, the balance is more secure. Gradually, the effects become apparent.

I'm taking two classes a week now, and the basic poses have become much easier for me. Downward Dog is a delicious stretch rather than an endurance test. My Warrior stands just a little stronger now. I remind myself of these things as I venture into more advanced poses in my Level 1-2 class. Half-handstands on the wall? One side of my mind says, "The heck you say!" while the other side says, "Well, let's try this and see what happens." Tonight, I tried my first supported half shoulder stand. Head, shoulders, and spine positioned just so on the mat, muscles engaged and pulling in the proper directions. Lift the butt off the mat and rest it on a block. One leg goes up, then the other. How about that?

After that 40-year hiatus, my body had almost completely forgotten those haphazard poses I did in my younger days. I had to begin again from scratch, but this time, I have the patience to build my skills bit by bit. Line things up just the right way instead of going to extremes. "It's not how far you go, it's how you go far," my teachers tell me. I practice improving my posture as I sit at my desk or wait for the train. I practice standing on one foot as I brush my teeth. I concentrate on my breathing when I'm stressed out. Instead of "doing yoga", I'm "living yoga". Or trying to, and getting progressively better at it.

That's kind of like what's happening to me after this year off. I had to break apart all the schedules and structures that had bent and twisted me into such an uncomfortable shape. I spent some time with hardly any structure at all, and then slowly put the pieces back into place. Before, I was organized, efficient, and productive -- but I was doing it in a way that eroded the very things that make me unique and creative. Now, I sometimes wonder where the day got away to, and I'm distressed by how little I've done -- until I remember that I have restored the things that keep me in proper alignment and make me strong. The yoga classes and long walks to clear my mind and keep my body healthy. The good night's sleep and nutritious food. The writer's workshop where I'm honing my skills in the company of a dozen delightful fellow writers.

Gearing myself up for the next phase of my life is not a sleek, elegant process. It's slow and stiff and wobbly. I'm staying with it, though, because I know that I will pick up momentum over time. I'm being very mindful of how I put the pieces into place, making sure that things are lined up just so. Strengthening myself in the basic things so that I can be strong and confident as I move into more adventurous things. I'm making myself schedule information interviews (which are a lot of fun once I'm actually doing them). My resume and website are up to date, and I'm pursuing job leads from various sources. I'm letting my professional network know that I'm alive and well, and back on the market. I'm less like a bullet train and more like a hiker following a badly marked trail, but I am making forward progress. And like they tell me in yoga class, "It's not how far you go, it's how you go far."


  1. Wonderful piece, Nancy! I could almost imagine the poses from your word artistry :-)

    It sounds like a wonderful way to find your way back to a new adventure...

  2. Nancy, having watched some of this journey with you, I know that you have come far and are going far.


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