The first class I took at The Health Advantage Yoga Center was Yoga 1. I had been doing yoga for five years as a way to balance my body and mind after long daily hours in front of a computer, but the style of yoga taught at HAYC was different than those I had taken before and I felt I needed to start again at the beginning to learn the alignment and terminology.
One of the first poses we did was the leg stretch where you lie on your back, place a belt around the sole of your foot, and lift your leg up to stretch the muscles at the back of your leg. I knew I should just focus on myself, but I glanced around the room and saw that everyone in class could bring their leg up to ninety degrees. My leg barely reached forty-five degrees. I was discouraged; I was the only person in the class who had done yoga before and everyone in the room was clearly more flexible than I.
Though I had heard repeatedly that yoga is not a competition, this leg stretch pricked my pride. I was determined to get my leg up to ninety degrees too. Since my job at that time required long hours every day including weekends, it was difficult to find time to stretch. I did not want to risk hurting myself by doing strong, advanced stretches, so I decided to do a simple standing forward bend every night for fifty breaths before I brushed my teeth. It was one stretch a day for one to three minutes, nothing more. Surprisingly, I began to see progress in a few weeks: my hands went from knee level to shin level. In four months, my fingertips brushed my feet. This was the first time in my life I had touched my toes while standing.
This was also the first time I practiced anything voluntarily as an adult. I had taken classes ranging from calligraphy to electronics to yoga since leaving school and I had learned from all of them, but I never did much besides attend the classes and complete the homework assignments. I never practiced what I learned in these classes to become more proficient in the subjects.
As children we do a tremendous amount of practicing to learn skills. We spend hours tracing and copying letters while learning to write and do hundreds of math problems to learn basic arithmetic. When learning a musical instrument, we practice scales and the same pieces of music over and over again. In sports there are drills to prepare us for games.
When we become adults, the inclination to practice to learn or become more proficient in a skill seems to fade. There is no one telling us we must practice, it is hard to find time, there are distractions, or it just is not fun. Yet we know there are rewards for practice and experience. We respect experts and people who are accomplished in their fields. Usually they have spent years studying their crafts, doing the same things over and over again, seeing different permutations. Though repetitiveness can be dull at times, with each repetition there are often small differences and lessons to be learned.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the modern founder of the Ashtanga system of yoga, often said “Practice and all is coming”. Is there a subject you would like to learn or a field in which you would like to feel more accomplished? Is it worth spending a little time to practice?