This morning I went for a walk. I started going for walks first thing each morning about 10 days ago. I go early, as I’ve started rising with the dawn as the seasons have changed. The first day I went because I woke up stressed and anxious, and it wasn’t the first day that had happened, or the second, or the twentieth… My mind has been busy, flooded with to-do lists and worries and and and. That morning I woke up, looked out the window, and remembered that walking is medicine. (Side note: there’s a lot of great essays and books written about walking. It’s worth investigating. I recommend going to the treasure that is our local library.)
I poured myself a cup of coffee, put on an old pair of shorts and my trusty worn-in sandals and out into the dawn I went. I walked slowly, sipping my coffee carefully, letting my eyes go where they wanted, noticing the air and the quiet and the ways the morning was not quiet: birds, a gentle wind through trees and leaves, the occasional car, a couple passing by me walking their big floof of a dog. Whenever a stressful thought came up (and that first morning they were near-constant), I reached back to all those times I’ve been in yoga or mindfulness/meditation classes and the teacher said, “If a thought comes into your mind, notice it and let it go.” I had left my phone at home on purpose, so I could do nothing about the thoughts that kept coming up: I had no way to write them down, no way to set a reminder for later, no way to “just check this one thing real quick.” I had to put it aside and bring my attention back to what was around me now: my footfalls, the coffee mug now lukewarm in my hands, the rustling of a big tree up ahead, the tinge of pink on the edge of the cloud over the house across the street.
Did I become a zen master during this 30-minute walk? Not at all. When I walked through my front door I went straight to my phone and checked that one thing real quick, made notes I could remember, set that one reminder. And the stress just settled over me again. I could feel it gloating. “I’m here to stay, you’ll never be rid of me!” I choose not to believe that.
So I went for a walk the next morning, and the next. And the next. I am purposely making it a habit to get up, put a pot of coffee on, wash my face and dress, then take my first cup of coffee with me out into my neighborhood. When I bring my phone it’s in case of emergencies–I do not let myself pull it out of my pocket, other than to take an occasional picture.
This morning, I noticed that I felt more clear during my walk. It was easier to leave thoughts of my to-do list and various “should” things at home. I stopped for a moment to watch a crow eat the neck of a young possum; I noticed several chipmunks, a squirrel in the branches of a tree above me; I walked past scores of bright flowers with damp, weary heads; I noticed my own posture and made small adjustments to the tilt of my pelvis and the subtle lean of my body to encourage my lower abs to engage.
Noticing my body more throughout the day has been a consequence of a slow exploration of yoga classes at Centered lately. In the past 6 weeks or so I’ve been to two of Kinga’s Ashtanga-sequence-based Bhakti Vinyasa classes (Wednesday nights 6:30-7:45), a handful of Kundalini classes with Lauren, and several of Matthew’s Subtle Power Yoga classes. (Note: Matthew’s beginner class on Monday evenings at 5 is for anyone of any level wanting to go back to basics. The classes are not “easy” the way Lauren’s Gentle Yoga classes mid-morning on Tuesdays and Fridays can feel, but I, as a definite beginner, feel challenged in a good way and I’d recommend his class to anyone wanting to get to know their body better, regardless of fitness level.)
On Being a Beginner in a Challenging Class (and as a beginner, let’s be real here: they’re all challenging):
I get overwhelmed sometimes. I get frustrated sometimes. I tend to cry in class…sometimes a lot. This is all normal and expected. In Subtle Power Yoga, when Matthew notices the tension in my face, or other indications of duress, he reminds the class that we are not here to be perfect and we don’t have to make our bodies look like anyone else’s. Sometimes I remind myself, and sometimes I hear him remind us, that the important part is simply showing up. Sometimes I spend several minutes of each class in child’s pose, and sometimes during that time I am quietly sobbing. Because learning about my body and its limitations and recognizing with fear how it’s changed over the past 20 years can be downright frightening and/or overwhelming. Plus, there’s a lot of information in a yoga class: breath, alignment, the names of the postures, how to use blocks, when to push myself and when to relax, trying to recognize what exactly the instructor is illustrating, etc. Sometimes I’m knocked off balance by a strong emotion or thought that seems to come out of nowhere. I’ve learned this is part of the deal, and it’s okay.
I keep showing up, and I keep trying.
The goal is not to become the “best” yogi or the most anything; the goal is to show up and genuinely try my best from day to day. You know, like life. Our best is variable. Some days my best is showing up and staying in the room the whole time, even if I’m just hanging out in child’s pose for half the class; sometimes my best is trying for the most challenging of presented variations even if I don’t “succeed” in a single one.