I’ve been doing yoga since I was 19. I started in a beginner’s yoga class taught by the beloved Amber Burke — Amber, the one I dreamed about being. Amber, the one I dressed up as for Halloween. Amber, the one who coined the term:
If you need to take a child’s pose, take a child’s pose.
I loved Amber. I loved yoga. I was hooked from the moment I started — on the way my neck felt like it was going to fall off as I grabbed opposite elbows in a forward fold. On the way that I was told to hold my hands together, but — this time — to put my other hand in front, the one that feels weird. On the way that I could finally relax the space between my eyebrows during shavasana.
I continued doing yoga throughout college and picked it back up the moment I had enough money to pay for classes as a working gal, which means that I’ve been doing yoga regularly for about a year now. I do it twice a week. But, I’m not very good.
I still struggle with the basic fundamentals of the craft.
I was corrected while in a downward facing dog not too long ago. Sometimes I have to put my arms down while in warrior 2 because they hurt too much. Chair pose is a killer. I suck.
Being a naturally competitive person, my inadequacies in the studio have always bothered me. I failed to see how something I loved and spent so much time doing could ever be a bad match for my body and mind.
Only recently did I realise that I’d spent 7 years doing yoga without trying. The thought occurred to me when I was trying to explain to my friend how I could be so bad at yoga despite my years of experience. There was no a-ha! moment that I can reference — it’s almost as though I’d never tried to understand why I was bad at yoga until that very moment.
You know when you’re riding your bike up a hill and you trick your mind into thinking that you’re in a race? All of a sudden you have to go as fast as you possibly can— you speed up the hill, against the clock or hoards of competing commuters behind you.
Or when you’re doing push ups and, even though you’d started thinking you were going to do 10, your brain challenges you to do 15? You have no choice — you have to do them.
I never felt that with yoga. It was perhaps one of the first things that I let myself be uncompetitive with. In the studio, I was always ‘not really feeling it’. It was always my off-day. I always needed to take a child’s pose. Stop for water. Bend my legs when I started to sweat.
These careless actions had been ingrained in my practice from the very beginning, to the point that it never occurred to me that you could even actually try at yoga.
It’s been two weeks since I’ve started trying at yoga and it’s been amazing. I can’t believe how much I have physically improved at my poses and how much more comfort I’m willing to sacrifice for the sake of improving. My warrior 2 is fierce.
I never thought I would have to be re-taught how to try. Trying feels deeply ingrained in human beings, but after childhood, it’s easy to lose the competitive spirit that makes us all so good at learning and improving. Not trying in one thing leads to not trying in everything and soon you’re flipping between online shopping and messaging at work and falling asleep with a half-eaten kebab in your bedroom trash can (true story).
I’m so pleased that trying continues to lead to improvement, just like it did when I was a child. I could easily think up a dystopian universe where we stop being able to learn at 18, stuck physically and intellectually for the rest of time. Maybe one day I’ll write a book about that, but for now I’ll just end by saying that I’m so glad that I can try.