I did my first class earlier this fall, a free outdoor session in Boston. It was a sunny day, I had a newly purchased yoga mat and pants and was ready to finally give it a try. While the class had its pros--it was a lovely day outside, there were over a hundred people in attendance, thus no one had time to pay attention to the new girl struggling to keep up in the back, and I realized I knew a few of the moves from my theatre training. Still, the cons outweighed my desire to go to another class: there was loud music, the instructor moved us through the poses at the speed of the light, and I found myself wishing that I had the instructor's attention so that she could help me modify things for my past injury.
The most dominant feeling I had when I left the class was not discouragement or even fear, but a sense of realizing that yoga didn't seem like my "thing". Despite what I had thought when I had walked into the class, I didn't feel compelled to make a bunch of new yoga friends or challenge myself to work up the ranks of a class and be the best student. I know myself, and although I try to embrace imperfection, it's easy for me to start an activity or a new hobby, "just for fun", and find myself soon swept into a world where I want to be incredibly skilled, rise through the ranks, and come out as one of the best.
This desire to be the best you can be is hardly a bad thing, and I feel this way about theatre. I want to be the best I can be and I strive to surround myself with kindred spirits who love creativity as much as I do. Theatre is a way of life for me. I wouldn't have it any other way. But yoga? Something I want to do to prevent a back injury and manage stress? I don't have to be the best. I don't have to practice every day if I don't want to. It's ok if I'm not the best--it's even ok if I'm not particularly good at it.
I went back to a real studio this past week to a gentle yoga class. Unlike the loud music in the open air of the last class, I walked into a small, darkened room lit only by candles. There was music quietly playing--it reminded me of the music I'd warm up to in my college acting classes. There were only three other people in the session, most of them new to yoga too. They introduced themselves to me and self identified as people who were not experienced with yoga, but "enjoyed it very much". There was nothing trendy or cutthroat about this space. This felt right.
The instructor was calm and helpful--as we cycled through the poses slowly (one every six minutes), she would come around and make a few adjustments, always ending her time with me by saying "How does your back feel? Are you doing ok?" Her compassion and kindness made a huge difference to me during the course of the hour.
We ended with a meditation in corpse pose, something we used to do in my acting class as well. I can recall being able to let my thoughts go in college and drop off into a deeper sense of consciousness. At this yoga class? I was comfortable in the physical space, but it was much harder to get my mind to stop whirring. I started to berate myself for not being able to relax. I was in such a conducive space for decompressing and yet I felt that I was not falling into a deeper sense of peace as I had hoped.
And then a small voice in my mind reminded me that I had not come to class wanting or expecting to be perfect. I had come to prove to myself that I could show up to something completely new to me and be ok with where I was. I was not very flexible--it was ok. I did not achieve a Buddha-like calm in meditation--so what? I showed up. I was new. I wanted to be there. All these things provide the sense of peace that I am looking for. Peace does not require proficiency.
Now I throw this out to you: what do you wish you could try: for fun, for you health, for a reason you aren't quite sure of yet? What keeps you from going for it? What would happen if your intention in trying this new thing was not perfection or even skill, but the satisfaction knowing that you tried it at all?
Peace does not require proficiency.