Over the weekend, my friend Cari came to visit, and I thought it would be fun for us to go to yoga together on Saturday morning. I’ve been practicing yoga for eight-plus years, but Cari just started a little over a year ago, and I wondered what level class she’d feel comfortable in.
“There’s a level two at 9:15,” I said. “Or an all-levels vinyasa at nine.”
“I’m fine with level two,” Cari said. “What type of class is it?”
On the schedule it was called Big A&#! Yoga, which I assumed meant a big, challenging class. I looked online to read the description. “This fun, challenging, and inspiring class is designed especially for bigger woman and men ,” I read. “Oh no, Cari. We can’t go to that one.” Cari and I both have rather small asses.
So we went to the all-levels class. Afterwards, we both agreed it was much too easy.
“I didn’t even break a sweat!” Cari said as we walked to my car. “To me, all-levels means they should give easier modifications, but they should also give more challenging modifications, too.”
We decided to go home and do some more yoga on my living room floor.
I led us in a few rounds of sun salutations, followed by a series of warrior poses. “Can you do side crow?” I asked. I assumed she wouldn’t since I only learned how to do the arm balancing pose last summer, but Cari said she did, and then she went into a more difficult version of side crow than the one I was doing. I’d seen people do it before but never even attempted it myself.
“Oh my gosh, Cari, wow!” I said. I couldn’t believe she’d only been doing yoga for a year.
We moved on to inversion practice. In the past year, I’ve learned how to do a headstand, handstand, and forearm stand. Cari knew how to do all of these poses, as well as more difficult versions of all of them. I was amazed.
When I first started doing yoga at the age of twenty-five, I went to a beginner Hatha class once a week for a year. After that, I started sampling different classes at studios in New Orleans, DC, Cape Cod, and Richmond, VA. Because I move around a lot, I rarely got to the point where I was familiar with any particular studio or teacher, and normally I only went to yoga once or twice a week. Most of the classes I took were “all levels,” which tended to mean the instructors didn’t do anything that might scare away a beginner: no headstands, no arm balances.
Occasionally, I would go to a more challenging class where the teacher would, for example, tell us to go into side crow. But I didn’t know how to do side crow, and it looked difficult, so usually I didn’t try unless the instructor gave step-by-step instructions, and often he/she didn’t. Instead of asking for help, I’d just do regular crow or some other pose I already knew how to do. The same with headstands. On the rare occasion that an instructor told us to do one, I might give it a try, but often I felt stupid and frustrated, so I would go into shoulder stand or some other easy pose instead.
It wasn’t until I moved to Seattle and started working at Yogalife that I really took my yoga practice to the next level. Because I worked there, I not only went to the studio regularly for my shifts (we were allowed to take the class after we signed in the customers), but I got free, unlimited yoga. I started going to class four or sometimes five times a week.
Yogalife had incredible teachers and a large selection of challenging classes. For the first time, I started attending Level 2 and Level 2/3 classes. The classes were tough, and the instructors expected us to try new things. They gave us step-by-step instructions for more difficult poses and time at the end to practice inversions and ask questions. And since I went to class regularly, I started to feel more comfortable asking the teachers for help with the things I didn’t know how to do.
In one year, I went from thinking I’d never be able to do an inversion to being able to do a headstand, handstand, and forearm stand.
And yet, sitting in my living room watching Cari do a series of insane arm balances I had never even seen before, I realized I still had a lot to learn.
I wasn’t jealous like you might imagine. I know (although I sometimes have to be reminded) that yoga is not a competitive sport. It was more like I felt disappointed with myself. What had I been doing all these years if one year was all it took for Cari to have come so far?
I was sort of ashamed that I hadn’t been seeking out more challenging classes. That I hadn’t been attempting difficult-looking poses and asking instructors for help on how to do them.I felt the way I sometimes feel when I hear about authors who are younger than me writing award-winning or best-selling books. They’ve been at it for less time than I have, and already they’ve surpassed me. Am I not putting forth enough effort?
When it comes down to it, Cari did learn and accomplish an unusually large amount in one year. The question is, how did she do it? I think it comes down to four things:
1. She goes to yoga almost every day.
2. She obviously goes to a great studio with teachers who know her and challenge her and give excellent instruction.
3. She’s not afraid to try new things. She’s not afraid to fall.
4. She loves yoga.
I think “Cari’s 4 Point Plan” is a great prescription for how to learn and accomplish a lot in writing as well. First, you have to put in the time. Write nearly every day, and you’ll make progress.
Then, at some point, you need good teachers, even if those teachers are just books. Ideally, you need people who know what they’re talking about to read over your writing and point out where you’re not in alignment, where you need more strength. You need teachers who will challenge you.
You can’t be afraid to fail or look stupid. You have to put yourself out there and admit that you’re a writer. (Something I was afraid to do for a long time.)
And, of course, you have to love it. If you don’t love writing, it’s hard to put in the time and dedication you need to really make progress.
I do have these four things when it comes to writing. At least, I have them now. It took me a while to work up to where I am now. I wasn’t always so dedicated. I wasn’t always so willing to put myself out there and risk failure. But I got to this point eventually, and in the past few years I think I’ve made significant progress with my writing career.
It’s the same with me and yoga. I didn’t plunge in head-first the way Cari did. I dipped a toe in and then slowly waded out to the deep end over the course of many years. It wasn’t until this past year that I started putting in the time with great instructors who challenged me. But once I did, I learned and accomplished a lot fairly quickly.
In the end, it’s not about how fast you make progress. It’s about getting there eventually. But if you do want to make great strides in writing or yoga, or anything else, following Cari’s 4-Point Plan is not a bad idea. And although I don’t want to make yoga into a competitive sport, I do want to challenge myself. I found a level 2/3 class that I’m headed to tonight, and I’m thinking about signing up for a handstand workshop. Just because something isn’t a competition doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for ways to challenge yourself and learn new things.