On Beginner Success

December 14, 2011 / Aaron


I was really struck by Matt's post on Chasing Success, especially the part about how quickly you sometimes "progress" in the beginning of your yoga practice. For me, that post hit very close to home, and I wanted to share my thoughts.

Before I started practicing regularly, I couldn't even touch my toes. Touch my toes, kids. I was TWENTY-SIX YEARS OLD. And my toes were out of reach. Also, I would get ridiculously sore after every class. Like, it-hurts-too-much-to-lift-my-arm-and-brush-my-teeth-sore. Honestly, when I first started, I didn't even know hips could stretch, or where my hamstrings were. I would sashay down the grocery store aisles, not sure why my hips felt like jello, thinking, why is my butt so sore? I knew 4 muscle groups: arms, legs, butt, and abs. It was not a pretty picture.

After a few weeks of yoga, that started to change. It didn't take long at all, and before the month was over, I was getting up into headstand. A few classes later, I did a rotating headstand. I busted out astavakrasana after two months. I felt like I was born for this, and should probably see about getting yoga into the Olympics and training for my new career as an Olympic yogini. Because see, that's how I still thought of yoga: that's how competitive I was.

Thankfully, I got a little reality check. I started to learn what yoga was really about (at least for me... some people still want to see it in the Olympics, but that's not my bag anymore), and I started to respect it for what it was. I also began to see my journey through yoga less as "progress" than I did as a way of building my relationship with my body, my balance and focus, and my practice. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that while, yes, my body did change once I started practicing--it got stronger and slightly more flexible-- what really changed was how well I got to know my own body. I got to know my own strength, and how to balance, and how to stack and align my joints to make the poses "click" rather than muscling my way into them. I learned how to push through what I thought was my end range. I learned how to actually stretch. I learned to trust myself, and that even if I did face plant in an arm balance, my face was only a few inches from the floor, and falling didn't hurt. I learned that even if I did try taking handstand off the wall and forgot to engage my core like mad and my feet went sailing over my head, I could catch myself, or at least cartwheel down. I could fall and not flail terrifyingly out of control.

Who am I kidding, I'm still learning. Donkey kicks still scare the crap out of me. But I've taken the word "progress" down a notch, and am thinking of it more like making acquaintance with all my muscle groups. I still get stronger, I still get more flexible, but I've also learned not to flip out at myself for being too tired to get into parsva bakasana. I am learning to ignore the urge to "win," to "progress," to "conquer" the splits or tittibhasana.

I am, ironic though it is, learning to play.