I have a tendency to see myself as an expert at an activity if I have heard it described by a friend, seen it demonstrated on a Youtube video, or attended a lecture about it once on a rainy Tuesday evening of my sophomore year of college.
This bad habit gets me into trouble most of the time. You may remember how well my expert level knowledge of German treated me in Germany. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sautéed myself into a corner after reading a blog recipe that is “so easy even a five-year-old could cook it.” I will probably never be able to stomach ground cloves or lentils after the disaster that was my attempt at this recipe.
The past few years, I have harbored a particularly strong delusion of being naturally skilled at yoga. In my mind, yoga is a relaxing opportunity to do some deep stretches, think calm thoughts, and maybe also wear some comfortable pants. But every time I convince myself to go to a class, thinking it will be a rejuvenating re-centering of my mind and body, I end up leaving with nothing more than an unseemly sweat stain on my center.
Last spring, for example, I convinced myself that it would be reasonable for me to attend the yoga class sponsored by my company’s monthly employee educational program. I had forgotten which day the class was occurring, so when the day arrived, I was wearing my favorite red Fair Isle thick-knit sweater, a pair of sturdy jeans, and some leather boots. I contemplated not going to the yoga class, but then was told that “it would be very basic yoga” and that “other people were wearing their work clothes too” and to “just come on, Molly, and stop being such a stick in the mud.”
My body may have fared better that day had it been a stick in the mud.
After that perspiration-soaked hour of slip-sliding on the inadequately-glued-down carpet squares in the makeshift work yoga room, I swore off all forms of yoga on principle. What good was an exercise if my skill level didn’t soar from novice to virtuoso in the span of ten minutes? If I was looking to break a sweat, I could do that on the running trail, where judgment from others was dealt out in quick, matter-of-fact, “On your left!” bursts as the faster runner blazed past my sluggish body.
I steadfastly maintained my aversion to yoga throughout the rest of 2015 and into the first three days of 2016. But then, in the midst of my pursuit of lazy fitness, the unexpected happened: the public library sent me an email announcing their free weekly classes. Would you believe they dared to place beginner’s yoga at the top of the list of classes? The announcement startled me so completely out of my complacent lethargy that I stumblingly gathered a crew of coworkers and went to the class the very next week.
I expected to leave the class feeling frustrated and still confused about why I found yoga so difficult while everyone else seemed to find it so simple. Instead, it turned out that library yoga was the absolute easiest yoga class in the galaxy, even for the person who had failed the basic hamstring stretch portion of her college health class. I was able to do all the moves without injuring myself physically or psychologically.
I therefore left convinced that it was a trap. There was no way I was good at yoga. Since I had given it two tries in the past and failed, library yoga was clearly just not real yoga.
My coworkers and I went back to fake library yoga two more times, and it turned out it was neither a trap nor fake yoga. It was way too crowded, though, so we transitioned to Youtube-guided yoga that we now do after work once a week.
The only explanation I can give for what happened in library yoga is that it tricked me. So I guess I’ll take back what I said about it not being a trap and say it was a trap. Library yoga met me at my mediocrity and showed me what yoga could do for me if I gave it a real chance. It reminded me what I knew all along but was too stubborn to admit: yoga, like most things worth doing, is not a simple exercise that can be easily mastered. I can’t go strutting into a yoga class expecting to have a perfect chaturanga the first or four-hundred-and-fifty-fourth time I try.
But I am still assuming that my four-hundred-and-fifty-fifth chaturanga will be gangbusters.
I am far from being a master yogi, but yoga is already showing me how to be more patient with myself, how to accept where I am now, and how to work steadily towards becoming stronger in the future. It is a slow process, but I think it helps that now I leave my boots and red Fair Isle thick-knit sweater at home.