I’ve developed a little bit of ritual after yoga over the last year and a half. When the weather is good, I’ll walk over to the Starbucks down the street and get myself a latte and a protein box. I will sit inside for a while, enjoying the apples and peanut butter, and then I’ll take my sweet time walking home, possibly stopping by Lululemon or Pacers, the local running store (mostly to browse).
While at Starbucks today, I was thinking about the class I’d just finished and the varying degrees of strength and flexibility among the students. Most people – like myself – seem to do very well with certain kinds of poses and less well with others. Some people can put their hands flush on the ground while keeping their knees straight during a forward fold. Some people can’t do that, but can easily nail every Chaturanga our semi-sadistic but lovable instructor throws at us.
It reminded me of a conversation I once had with my sister (yes, I know I talk about her a lot. We’re pretty close). I mentioned to her that even if you can’t fully get into a pose, you’re still reaping the benefits. Today, as my hips were screaming at me from trying to get into Lizard, it occurred to me that you reap the benefits ESPECIALLY if you can’t fully get into the pose – and I’ve lived it first hand.
To purpose of yoga is to increase flexibility, build strength and hone balance. When you get into certain poses, instructors often tell you where you should be feeling the stretch to make you aware of how to position your body properly so you don’t inadvertently mitigate the benefits of the pose. In other words, the point is to feel the stretch as opposed to finding a way to get into a pose without feeling anything. So, if what you’re going for in a forward fold is touching your toes, you might hunch over and bend your knees to make sure you get there. But if you understand that the point isn’t to touch your toes but rather to stretch your hamstrings gradually until your fingers eventually graze the ground it doesn’t matter how inflexible you are when you start – yoga is serving its purpose.
While sipping my latte at Starbucks this morning, it occurred to me that this process – the process of gradually stretching your muscles until they allow you to reach a goal (your toes) – is really similar to the process for trying to change things in your life.
So many people see things as an “all or nothing” proposition. You’re all in, or all out. You think you have to adopt a hardcore workout routine and lose 30 pounds right away, or stick to the status quo and do nothing. You think you have to quit your job tomorrow, or stick it out until it kills you. You think you have to save half your salary, or not save a dime.
I don’t see it that way at all. Any step you take that nudges your life in a different trajectory is a step worth taking. Do one forward fold a week, and eventually – in a few years – your fingers will touch the floor. Too easy? Do one forward fold a day, and get there in a few months. Too easy? Do two. It’s like that in yoga, it’s like that in weight loss, it’s like that in finances. It’s like that in life.
Want to change something? Take a step. Take tiny steps, and as long as you’re moving, you will eventually get there.
I gained 60 lbs during pregnancy and for years resigned myself to living in a size 12 body – many sizes bigger than was healthy for my (short) small frame. It really didn’t bother me, actually, I just accepted the new me as she was (I look pretty good no matter the size, in my humble opinion). And then one day I felt like changing. I wanted to be better, not because I didn’t love myself but because I thought I could. So I started to look for ways to change.
I’m pretty active now, obviously, and have become really athletic over time – mostly because I’ve come to enjoy it. It took four years in total but I’ve gone back to my pre-pregnancy size and have even started building muscles in places I didn’t even know people had them.
But sitting at Starbucks today looking at the name “Lisa” written across my coffee cup, I remembered what my first step was, when changing my diet and adopting a regular workout seemed too daunting.
I stopped putting sugar in my latte. And that made a world of difference.