My first ever yoga class happened six miles from my house. I was annoyed about the distance, but because Malinka had strong recommendations, I drove across town. Malinka, not her real name, was known as a laid-back teacher, which appealed to me. The last thing I need is a yoga instructor that encourages my competitive streak.
As I drove to the session, I wondered about who would be in the class and whether I would be able to keep up. I looked around but couldn’t tell anything about my classmates. In Malinka’s dark living room, I could discern seven lumps lying quietly, each in a personal cave comprised of four fluffy blankets and a few small blue blocks. These items, I would learn, are called props. They are intended to support our bodies as we move into poses. I liked learning this new language.
Malinka coached us in hushed tones. I gave myself over. Might as well.
Several times Malinka returned to the matter of effort. She believes we are too occupied with it. In yoga, a goal is to reduce our efforting. EFFORTING. For years, I’ve been tickled by gerundifying in my world, training and technology. (For example, see gamifying, systematizing, and disambiguating.) Here it is in yoga. I chuckled at how much effort I would have to put into reducing my efforting.
This was the least hurried 2 hours and 15 minutes I have ever spent. We pressed every inch of our bodies into the floor and then we released the same inches, slowly, ever so slowly. I tried to put it out of mind, but remained aware that I was doing nothing except stretching and relaxing in the middle of a Wednesday morning. I liked how this was making my body feel, but was struck by the difference between the real me and this blissed out version.
I guess I was not altogether blissed out. That class was supposed to be 90 minutes and it lasted 135 minutes. I was irked.
Malinka was probably not the best match for me.
A friend suggested that Andalusa, also not her real name, might be just the instructor I have been seeking. She works out of a posh studio about a mile from my house. When Andalusa said she preferred to commence the work with an individualized assessment, I was delighted. Assessment, personalization, I’m so into that.
I showed up ready to be put through my paces to match a progam to my yoga readiness. Andalusa demonstrated nearly 20 poses. I struggled to mimic her form. She helped along the way, placing a block or a chair or a strap where it needed to be to make it possible for me to approximate the desired positions. (There I was, efforting again.)
After each pose, Andalusa made a note and a comment. A sampling: “No, not quite.” “That was hard for you, wasn’t it?” “Was that very hard for you?”"Have you always been so tight in your hamstrings?” “You have problems with your shoulders, too.” “Look at where your knees are. They are not close to the floor.” ”You’ll have to work on that. And that. And that….”
I experienced not one moment of success in 90 minutes. She gave no extra credit for the little arm muscles I have been cultivating in reformer Pilates. She did not even nod at my sort of flat stomach. My conclusion is that they are featured on another test, not this one.
After each test item pose, Andalusa coached me on how I could improve what I was doing, and then urged me to practice often. I experienced immediate benefits from the tweaks she proferred. I rehearsed her suggestions in my mind, promising myself I would return to these stretches daily. But as the poses and suggestions for performance piled up, they scrambled in my mind. No surprise, now, two weeks later, I can remember almost nothing. What I do remember is the yawning gap between what I could do and how it ought to be done.
How should it be done?
I talked about my interest in yoga with a friend. Like me, Antonia, her real name, wants to get into yoga. Like me, she wants to do the best she can do. And like me, she is an instructional technologist who, by disposition and profession, wants to know the standards. How are we going to do this if excellence is unclear to us?
Antonia described a conversation with a friend who has long enjoyed a yoga practice. Antonia was concerned that she wasn’t doing it right, that, for example, she wasn’t sending energy into her toes in the proper fashion. Her friend said, “Don’t worry about being perfect.” Antonia persisted, “How do I get it right?” Her friend responded, “Do it the way you think it should be done.”
This wasn’t at all satisfactory to Antonia. “How will I improve then? How do I know what to change?” she fretted. Her friend suggested that she not worry at all, that she is “exactly where she needs to be.”
Antonia is exactly where she needs to be with no clue about where that might be. Antonia and I looked at each other with disbelief.
The search continues
When a former student heard through the grapevine of my yoga aspirations, he contacted me, “You’re the last person I would expect to be taking yoga– and that is why you need it so much.” I think he has that right.
Thus I continued my search. I sent out two emails. I asked for a very introductory experience that is heavy on education and stretching while light on philosophy. Yoga instructors are not sitting on top of their email. No responses two days later.
I’m continuing to put effort into this because a yoga practice isn’t going to fall from the sky into my lap. But I am trying to get myself situated with an instructor and class using an approach that is more effortless than is typical for me. I’ve made no list. I’ve sent no follow-up emails. I’m respecting their pacing. I’m saying things like, “It will happen when it happens.” Really, I said that. So not me.
On day three, I received a welcoming note from a yoga instructor who, like Malinka and Andalusa when I first encountered them on email, fills me with hope. This might be the one. We have much in common, including that she likes to blog. After a bit of emailing, I sent her to a posting in my blog. Here’s how she responded to my concern that I might not be ready for yoga, “ You’ll do great, with that kind of focus, with Iyengar Yoga!”
Focus. Somehow focusing is OK, but not efforting. Hmmmm. There is much here for me to understand.