"Adult humans are really bad about sticking with something that is good for them, but that they aren't great at. Doing something difficult requires strength. Be strong. "
-- my yoga teacher this morning, dropping a truth bomb.
For a while now, I've been operating under the theory that we are happiest if we are really good, even great, at at least two things. It helps if one of those things is the way the person makes a living -- you know, a skill that leaves you able to afford food/housing/etc. at a level that makes you happy/comfortable or at least takes away some worries. I also think that, ideally, the second thing ought to be a hell of a lot of fun. (Obviously, if you're lucky enough to combine fun and making a living, you get some sort of Life Bonus Points).
I'm doing OK on both of those fronts. I've always been pretty accomplished at my attorney day gig. And I've become a pretty damn good drummer too. "10,000 hours," and all that.
But lately I've been thinking about another category: doing something that you suck at. Because if "relentless self-improvement" is the goal -- hint: it is; it really is -- just improving the things that you're already great at seems like cheating, or selling yourself short.
I've been going to the same yoga studio for the last three years, and they're closing. No big deal, right? Just find another, you say. There are tons of yoga places around. OK, sure. So I shopped a bit, looking for a mix of different types of classes, at convenient times, etc. And I found a studio that seems to fit the bill.
When I got out of the chilled-out/hippie comfort zone of my usual yoga place, I was then almost immediately reminded of one thing: good lord, I suck at yoga.
I'm 56 years old. Despite being in generally good shape -- healthy, decently strong, good aerobic capacity, etc. -- I have arthritis in both knees, both shoulders and at least my right elbow (and probably the left one too). That right elbow is also damaged enough from 37 years of drumming that it doesn't allow my right arm to fully straighten in a locked-out position. I was at the old yoga place -- a quiet studio with a mostly older clientele -- for so long that I sort of forgot how many rungs down the proverbial ladder of yoga skills I am. I can get left in the dust pretty quickly.
At the new place, a lot more than at the old one, the proverbial dust and I get a little time together quite often, while the rest of the class plows ahead at full speed. The clients here are all ages, and all skill levels, but mostly they are much more accomplished at yoga than I am. It's a humbling exercise to be practicing at this studio.
But yoga is not about competition, you might say (and you'd be right). Sometimes, being a bit of an overly-competitive jackass, I have to remind myself of that fact over and over. "YOGA IS NOT ABOUT COMPETITION," I mentally yell to my inner self as I wait for class to begin and the room fills with beautiful people who can accomplish twisty/bendy things with their bodies that appear to be flat-out sorcery.
I mostly focus inward and, depending on the class and the teacher, struggle somewhere between a little and a lot.
But, in the new studio, I'm already learning cool new things too: like that doing yoga when the room is already warm-ish and there is also a giant infrared lamp turned on does crazy positive things to both my state of mind and my flexibility. That ginormous glowing infrared lamp doesn't heat the room. Nope, in its own bit of sorcery, it heats the people in the room but not the room itself. My only prior experience, a couple years ago, with "hot yoga" was in a grossly humid studio that was so unpleasant that we were one small step from doing yoga in Satan's armpit (or close to this). The infrared experience is nothing like that. Or at least the humidity/armpit part is removed. You get really warm; you sweat; but you do not feel like you are in a rain forest. The heat comes from within because the lamp heats your insides. I told you: sorcery. Wonderful wonderful sorcery.
Just the other day, in an infrared class, instead of mentally mumbling, "Oh I don't think so," to myself when the teacher suggested transitioning one difficult pose into another tougher one, I just... did the harder pose. When sweat is pouring out of me, I am not thinking about anything else. I'm in the moment -- you know, that place we're always supposed to be?
But this post is about sucking at something, not about success, and let's not pretend -- despite small gains being made in the mental and flexibility arenas -- that I don't suck at yoga. I definitely suck at yoga.
But here's the thing: in a Zen trick of sorts, that's kind of the point, hmmm? Somewhere, even amidst the modest improvements, there is an ever-present thought that no matter how much yoga I practice, I am never going to be able to do whatever the hell that pose was that the teacher showed us at one point today. And that's OK.
Really, it's not just OK; it's why I keep moving forward.
It's fine to do things that you're good at, and it's even better to get really good at those things, but sometimes -- despite my reflexive recoil against such new-agey phrases -- it really is the journey and not the destination that's important. That concept right there is why I do yoga: because I suck at yoga, the "journey" will be an endless path forward, and forward is a good direction. Indeed it's the only direction worth going.
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