I started doing yoga at the beginning of July in a last desperate effort to address the constant orthopedic problems I’ve been suffering for years (and especially the last 2) that medicine, chiropractic, acupuncture, immobilization, physical therapy, hot tub, ice packs, positive thinking, and therapeutic doses of cheap sparkling wine have not managed to eradicate. After 5 months, I am pleased to report that it’s helped a lot, and I’m not in the constant chronic pain I was. I initially started with private lessons with my teacher Vivianne, who was, and remains, fantastic. I worked one-on-one with a teacher because I wanted to learn at my own pace, with consideration and accommodation given to my myriad physical issues that I just couldn’t get in a group setting, where either I or the teacher would feel pressured to push so as not to slow down the rest of the class. After two and a half months, I transitioned to a 4-day workshop of Anusara 101. (Anusara is the kind of yoga I’m learning to do.) So for 4 Sundays, I would attend a 2 1/2 hour workshop covering the basics of this yoga. I made it to 3 of the Sundays, and missed the last one because my guts were rebelling in ways that made twisting for 2 hours a more dangerous prospect than I normally care to engage in.
Several Saturdays ago, then, I attended my very first “real” class, mainstreamed with the big kids, and taught by Vivianne. I’m definitely a yoga noob, and as I suffer from a severe balance deficit (one I hope to correct through continued yoga), I can’t do a tree pose to save my life, and have trouble with others. I teeter and totter and sometimes I just stand there and study everyone else, in the hopes that someday I will be able to emulate their grace.
I bought myself a somewhat spendy and highly recommended sticky mat, but even so, yoga is hard work, and my hands get sweaty. During this first class, I found my hands wanting to get away from me, sliding forward if I spent any significant time in downward-facing dog.
Being the practical sort, and a former Girl Scout no less, I decided to solve this little problem by folding the towel I’d brought in anticipation of “glowing” profusely and placing it across my mat where my hands would go. It was a no-slip, easily implemented solution and I was happy to continue on my merry yoga way.
However, my neighbor was not. She took it upon herself to tell me to go get a different mat, finding something mysteriously offensive in my terry cloth Macguyvering. I informed her that I’d paid a pretty penny for my mat, and I was going to learn how to use it. (Which in hindsight was not what I should’ve said, but despite my longing for a verbal “undo” button, I’m stuck with it.)
“What I don’t understand,” I ranted to Scott when I got home, “is why other people just can’t let me do my own thing and learn at my own pace?” I wasn’t hurting anyone. I was perfectly happy with my towel solution to my slippery hands. I didn’t need another mat. I wasn’t slipping so badly that I was threatening my neighbor with bodily harm if my hands finally gave out. But she just couldn’t help herself.
I am perfectly able to suck with a fair amount of equanimity as I learn something new. It does not bother me that I’m the worst yogi in the class. I’m new; of course I’m the worst. If nothing else, I provide a service to all my classmates, who can go home confident in their practice because at least they’re better at yoga than that tall uncoordinated woman in the green shirt, poor thing.
Happy to help.
This is not the first time I’ve run into this, mind you. Two years ago at guitar camp, I was in a class that was way over my head (as most of them are), puttering along at my own pace, which is much slower than that of the more advanced guitarists that generally attend camp. My teacher, a dear, kind, concerned soul, kept checking on me (and calling attention to me) and she was worried that I wasn’t keeping up with the group. There was no way, short of a miraculous (and non-lethal) lightning bolt of guitar knowledge directly into my brain, that I was ever going to be able to keep up with the group, but I was working hard at it anyway, and I was, in fact, learning. I told her not to mind me and go on, and I’d be fine. And I really was.
But the guitarist next to me was not fine with my stumbling around the fretboard, and without a word of warning, she reached over and actually moved my fingers whither she decided they should be. I was shocked. Nuh-uh…no you didn’t! I’m sure her intentions were good, but “help” like that usually has more to do with what the helper needs at that moment than the victim of their ministrations.
Another time, I was attending a beading class at one of the local bead stores, and was having a hard time making the proper knot to get started on my project, so I asked the teacher to go through it again, which she did. It took me several tries, but I was determined to get it right. However, the teacher was impatient, and she reached over to grab the thread and finding out of my hands, saying “Oh give it to me…I can’t stand to watch you.” That’s some supportive teaching there, I must say. I gently pulled my materials back toward me and explained that she wasn’t going to be at my house when I tried to do it myself, so I would need to learn how to do it myself now. She was frustrated, but I am not going to be bullied out of my own educational experiences.
I have been both teacher and student enough to have a pretty good idea of what it takes to learn something, and when to nudge and when to let people find their own way. I understand wanting to help; I understand not wanting to watch people being frustrated. For example, I can’t stand to watch Scott iron, which is why I leave the room. But I don’t understand this reluctance to let people learn their way. Frustration is almost never fatal, even if it is unpleasant, and the resulting pride of working through it and surmounting the obstacle is a prize we should be wary of denying anyone.
I didn’t learn to ride a bike by watching my dad ride my bike. I didn’t learn to play the guitar by watching Antiguo play my guitar. And I don’t learn yoga by sitting on the couch watching a video of someone else doing it. I had to do these things myself in order to learn them, and this would be, I should think, pretty self-evident to anyone who has ever learned anything. It isn’t. But it ought to be.