This Post Has Nothing To Do With Downward Dog

2013 January 21

My shoulders have always been a trouble spot. My sisters used to make fun of the way I would try on new clothes at Christmas – scrunch my shoulders all the way up to my ears and then ask if the hitched-up garment looked okay. I even sleep in that posture. Everyone knows that crossing your arms over your chest is a classic defensive stance, but I guess I’ve always figured there was no similar law against pulling up your shoulders and tucking your head down like a turtle. There should be – it looks weird and makes your joints ache.

Whenever the yoga instructor offers encouragement for everyone to drop their shoulders, I assume she’s specifically referring to my poor posture. And, indeed, when it’s time for hands-on adjustments, invariably the teacher du jour tries to push the tension out of my shoulder blades. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, they just spring right back up.

Yes, I do yoga now. I have gone 11 times in 14 days. It was very simple. I paid a fee and I go to class. Two weeks ago, I wasn’t someone who practices yoga. Now, I am. I don’t feel more spiritual. I don’t feel more in tune with my body. My legs frequently ache and my flexibility is laughable and I don’t like when other people put their mats too close to mine. No, I feel good because I made a commitment. I decided to do a thing and then I did the thing and I keep doing the thing. And I made it a thing that it would hurt me not to do. If I don’t go to yoga, where else will I get exercise? And if I don’t exercise, my health and fitness will suffer. If I don’t go to yoga, I will just work all day without interruption. And if I work all day without interruption, I will burn out quickly and it will get difficult to force myself to go outside even when I need to. So, I go to yoga.

Not all changes are so easy of course. Going from someone who isn’t a world-renowned neurologist to someone who is takes a whole lot more effort than mastering downward dog, but I like this principle. There is something hopeful in the idea that you can always add and subtract and try on and take off, that your story isn’t immutable. If you want to be a person who does yoga, do yoga. Congrats, you’re there! If you want to be nicer to your mother, you can just start being nicer to her. Maybe it matters why you weren’t nicer to her before and maybe it doesn’t, but even understanding that won’t help you to be nicer to her now. The only thing that will? Doing it.

So often, we get knotted up in trying to figure out why we aren’t A or we are B. And as valuable as figuring that out is to our understanding of ourselves, it doesn’t actually help us become A or stop being B. Knowing can’t substitute for doing or changing. There are probably some excellent reasons why you’ve been afraid to learn to drive, but if what you desperately want is to get your license and drive up the PCH, all the self-knowledge in the world won’t bring that to fruition. You need to get behind the wheel and practice. Understanding precisely why you’ve sabotaged all your previous romantic relationships won’t actually be much of a comfort to you when your current one goes south because you failed to work on it, will it? And there might be a well-sourced laundry list of explanations as to why you’re failing half of your classes, but being able to list them all in ascending order of importance isn’t going to wow your professors into passing you. What good is insight without application?

The only thing holding me back from being a person who did yoga was the fact that I didn’t do yoga. And that was a pretty easy fix. The shoulders will come with time.

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