In my never-ending quest to find good yoga classes in my area, I recently purchased a Groupon for a new studio in Bethesda. The website was a tad confusing, probably because the owner (and sole teacher), a Chinese woman named Jin, has a less-than-perfect grasp of both English and website technology.
There was nothing on yelp about the place, so I clicked through the pictures on the website, which were mostly of Jin in various yoga poses, along with a few shots of an empty studio with mats on the floor but no students. It was unclear to me if anyone actually attended her classes, or if this studio was just a converted office space where Jin hung out by herself, doing yoga all day long. I emailed her about using my Groupon, and she wrote back, saying, “Welcome. 5:45pm class is valuable for you today.
So, after work, I drove to the two-story brick building that also housed a Smoothie King, an orthopedic shoe store, and a rare coins shop. I walked up the stairs and opened the door to Suite 201. There was Jin, sitting on a mat at the front of an empty room. The floors were shiny wood paneling, and there were several framed photos of Jin in rigorous yoga poses decorating the walls.
“Am I the only one tonight?” I asked, rolling out my mat.
“Maybe more people,” she said, and sure enough, by the time class started there were two more students.
And so we began an hour of very slow yoga. I’m used to vinyassa flow classes where you move quickly from one pose to another, so I was feeling a bit antsy as we stayed in each pose for ages. Jin would move around the room, yanking on our various body parts and admonishing us: “deep breathing! You must deep breathing!” I sucked in air and wondered how long we’d have to hold this pose.
I have a hard time moving slowly and standing still. That’s why I tend to get frustrated with how slowly the publishing world moves (see my latest frustration). The other day I was listening to a podcast interview of literary agent Brianne Johnson of Writer’s House on The Narrative Breakdown. She explained that she submits manuscripts to editors who she knows personally, and who she knows will get back to her in a reasonable amount of time – “like eight weeks,” she said. What?! I get antsy if someone doesn’t email me back after two weeks… two months is an unfathomable amount of time.
But that’s the way the publishing world works. I had two agents request my full manuscript eight weeks ago, and I still haven’t heard from either of them. (I just sent follow-up emails, and one agent said to please give her more time.) It can be maddening to wait, holding the pose, and explaining to family and friends that no, you still don’t have a book deal. Deep breathing!
I’ve just started a new project I’m very excited about. It’s different from anything I’ve ever done before, and it’s going to require a lot of research. In fact, I may need to research for the next year before I’m even ready to start writing in earnest. So it’s not just the publishing world that goes slowly; often the writing itself moves at a snail’s pace. In his book You Can’t Make This Stuff Up, Creative Nonfiction guru Lee Gutkind says writers often make the mistake of rushing to publish. He emphasizes that slow is okay: it took Rebecca Sloot thirteen years to write The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, he reminds us, and it went on to win numerous accolades and spend more than two years on bestseller lists.
At the end of Jin’s yoga class (aka, after about six poses and a lot of deep breathing), she instructed us to sit in staff pose with our arms along the right side of our body. “Now, lift butt up, lift legs, balance on arms, like this.” She demonstrated, and the three of us stared at her for a moment.
I didn’t think I’d be able to do it, but I placed my palms on the mat and tried to lift my legs. “Deep breathing!” Jin scolded. “Lift butt up.” I followed her instructions, and for a split second, my legs hovered an inch above the mat. I hadn’t done the pose, not really, but I could tell that with more practice, more patience, more deep breathing, I might be able to. These things take time.
After class, I asked Jin how long she’d been living in the U.S. “Since four years,” she said. She explained that when she first arrived she spoke no English. She wanted to be a yoga instructor, as she had been in China, but only recently has she begun feeling confident enough with her English to teach classes. It’s taken her a long time to get to this place: her own studio, and she seems really happy and proud.
I guess the point is, faster isn’t always better, and patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to yoga and writing… and just about everything else.