My brother is almost five years younger than I am. Being older, I learned how to do most activities first, and he would imitate me. Every summer we went to a local pool where I learned to swim first. My brother valiantly attempted the same strokes, but it was a struggle. His arms and legs flailed and his head popped up occasionally as he gasped for air. It was a bit unsettling to watch him; it looked like he might go under at any moment.
A few years later at the beginning of the summer, he jumped into the pool and swam. His kick was steady, his arms moved in rhythm and he took smooth breaths instead of gasps. It was as if he had been swimming for years. At the end of the previous summer, he had looked nothing like this, and as far as I knew, he had not been to a pool all winter. I asked my mother what happened, and she explained that I had done exactly the same thing. One summer I jumped into the pool and swam. She thought it had something to do with age. At some point there is a breakthrough connection between the mind and body so that the complicated coordination of swimming is possible.
I have seen similar breakthroughs many times in my classes. Three years ago, a woman in my Level 1 class had trouble holding the basic alignment of poses. When one leg was in alignment, the other was not; when her legs were in alignment, her torso was not. Regardless, she had a wonderful attitude; she did not get frustrated or compete with other students. Instead she just played with each pose to the best of her ability. A few weeks before the end of the session, we did one of the more challenging Level 1 standing poses for the first time. When she moved into it, something clicked and it looked like she had practiced the pose for years! She had all of the major alignments, even those I had not taught yet. I could tell by her smile that she knew something had changed. After that pose, her other poses changed too. There had been a breakthrough. Through her quiet persistence, her mind and body had made a connection and a beautiful joy radiated from her.
There are many components to a breakthrough. The physical part is the most obvious: suddenly moving more deeply into a pose, or attempting a pose that a few months before seemed impossible. Though these breakthroughs seem sudden, they are usually the result of many components developed over time coming together.
For many people forward bends are a challenge. They cannot be forced; it requires time and patience to stretch the hamstring muscles. When somebody finally touches their toes for the first time in a standing forward bend, the physical accomplishment is obvious, but the patience that the pose teaches may not be immediately apparent. The person may discover one day that they can deal more patiently with friends or family in a stressful situation. Or, perhaps they notice a sense of calm that lasts an entire drive to work in heavy traffic. When we can do something new physically, the reward is the joy of a new accomplishment. The qualities such as patience and persistence that accompany each breakthrough enrich us; they add value and meaning to our lives.
I hope that as you explore through yoga, you enjoy all of the facets that each breakthrough brings.