April 27, 2012

No One Said This Was Going To Be Easy.

Falling down is how we learn. Staying down is how we die. – Brian Vaszily

I have a friend who is quite used to being the only girl in her family. She grew up with two brothers and has gone on to raise three sons. While I’d never call her a tomboy, she has a special ability and willingness to fall in step with the guys. Weekends spent skiing have been a favorite family pastime for my friend since her boys were very small. In fact, we spent a fabulously snowy weekend with them when both of our families deposited a little one just out of diapers into “Ski Wees.” Schussing down a hill on a winter day is great fun for all ages.

Little boys turn into big boys surprisingly quickly. As her sons grew, their interests veered away from skiing toward snowboarding. My friend found herself at a crossroads. She could continue to ski or she could join her sons in snowboarding lessons. Because so much of the joy of their family weekends came from doing something together, the decision was an easy one for her. She rented a board, acquired some boots and tromped out to her first lesson alongside her boys.

Learning how to snowboard, it seems, is really learning how to fall. In fact, week after week my friend said she spent more time on her fanny than on her feet. People, I have never seen bruises like the ones she showed me that first winter.

But, before that winter of lessons was over, I also remember her positively beaming with joy and pride. She’d figured it out! She’d managed to spend two whole days off the bunny slope and on the actual mountain snowboarding with her sons. Did she still spend some time on her bottom? Sure she did. Falling down is a massive part of learning and getting better. Once you get yourself back up and going again, she told me, you’re having way too much fun to dwell on your falls.

It wasn’t easy. In fact, from my perspective, it looked supremely hard. But, for my friend, it was more than learning how to snowboard. It was a way to continue the joyful family weekends she and her boys had come to treasure. For a parent, that’s a gift worth any price – even some serious posterior shiners.

While yoga doesn’t leave bruises the way snowboarding does, it’s not easy either. This can be surprising to new students. “After all,” they think (and sometimes say), “how hard can some relaxing stretching be?” (I’m assuming many of you are stifling a laugh right about now.)

The first month that I practiced yoga, I hurt in places I didn’t even know muscles existed. Until my first yoga class, I believed I didn’t really sweat. (This from a girl who grew up on outdoor tennis courts in steamy Houston, Texas!) I was mystified watching my teacher and classmates as they floated lightly around on their mats while I felt and sounded like a stegosaurus stomping around on mine. Week after week, I had to retreat to child’s pose (balasana) several times a class because I couldn’t begin to move into the position my teacher was describing. I even managed to fall on my fanny – right out of revolved side angle (parivritta parsvakonasana). Yoga is, hands down, the hardest thing I’ve ever learned how to do.

Why, you may ask, did I keep at it? Even after classes where I spent more time falling over, struggling and wondering if I’d survive, I felt a glimmer of something that I wanted more of. Something deep inside of me was responding to the practice no matter how I was butchering it. I sensed that this was something big, something life-giving, something that I needed almost more than I wanted. This was something that was a lot more than a work-out. As much as I knew my body was going to change, I could tell that the inner changes could be even more significant. So I kept showing up.

Here I am, a decade later, still showing up. Is yoga easier? In some ways, yes. But, amazingly, it can still be supremely hard. There is always something to learn (or re-learn). There is always something I cannot do. Sometimes, I still even manage to fall on my fanny.

Just as my friend somehow sensed that the hours she would spend on a snowboard were much more than hours spent alternately schussing and falling, I somehow knew right from the start that the hours I would spend on my mat were much more than that. Just as snowboarding has become another way for my friend to continue to connect with her boys as they grow into manhood, yoga is a way for me to stay connected with who I am and why I’m here. Both my friend and I discovered long ago that, as long as we keep getting up, our falls can’t hold a flame to the gifts we’re receiving. 

For the record, no one ever told either of us it was going to be easy.
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