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New Year, New Lessons: January 2015

Jen has been teaching me some Yoga in my Private lessons with her. In this picture, we are working on Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose).
Jen has been teaching me some Yoga in my Private lessons with her. In this picture, we are working on Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose).

I always make New Year’s resolutions in January. There is something I really love about deciding what’s important to me, writing it down, and then staying accountable (even if only to that little piece of paper).

This year, one of my personal goals is to try something completely  new to me. I decided that it has to be something outside of my comfort zone and something to keep me moving through this hibernation-inducing season. So, I bought a month’s unlimited pass to a very popular yoga studio semi-near my house (only $60 for new students). I decided to join the all-levels classes right away.

I met up with my friend Rebecca for my first class. She and I both have very limited yoga experience, so I felt more confident trying it out with another newbie! When we first arrived, there was a long line of people (obviously other “resolutioners” like myself). The staff at the front desk processed us all with a balance of courtesy and a bit of reluctance, while making it known there were “so many new people today.” The reluctance I sensed might have been their unwillingness to invest in remembering us if we were potentially just riding the New Year’s bandwagon. It embarrassed me.

As a loyal and motivated student of Pilates and a professional in the same industry, this first impression almost shamed me. It made me feel like I had something to prove, which is counter to why I actually wanted to join.

I wanted to be a new student to something again: humble, open, and listening. I wanted to not know what was coming next; what the names of poses meant. To have to be present in every moment. These were a variety of motivators that drove me to this studio, but ego wasn’t one of them. This was never about wanting to be noticed, to show off, win something, or prove anything to anyone. This was about me being a busy, balanced, business owner carving out self-care time away from my everyday norms.

Luckily, I had forgotten all of that lobby-impression-ick within the first few moments in the studio space. This place was beautiful. I walked into an expanse of light wood floors and a high-ish drop ceiling and soft pendant lights. I was surrounded by orderly shelves of blocks, straps, and other props. It felt warm and golden. The sun filtered through a semi-opaque curtain running the entire length of the wall of windows straight ahead. The welcoming 90-degree temperature (after coming in from a blustery January day) was calming and softening to my entire body.

As I started taking more classes, I noticed more and more similarities between Yoga and Pilates. Like a lesson at Springboard, this studio’s vinyasa flow classes always followed a similar arc from beginning to end, no matter the teacher. We always start seated while the teacher led us through deep breathing and centering, as well as setting an intention: anything from a very personal goal that day to something as universal and grand as a wish for peace. The movement began slowly as our bodies warmed up and then poses were repeated a number of times before a new series was taught and repeated. Most challenging things were done deep into the class when our muscles were warm and ready (like headstands, backbends, and bridges), and then came stillness to balance the movement: Savasana (Corpse Pose).

All of this relates effortlessly to the arc of a Pilates Reformer lesson: we begin breathing deeply through Footwork and The Hundred. As the body gets warmer, more is asked of it in exercises that are seated, standing, kneeling, sideways, backwards, and more. Most flexibility is asked of the body deep into the session when muscles are warm and ready (like backbends, headstands, and bridges), and then comes the cooldown of Running, Bottom Lift, and various splits.

I learned to rely on this predictable arc for my stamina and focus, and to know about where we were in class based on what we were doing. This made me feel I had earned Savasana when it finally, inevitably appeared every time, at the end of class. One thing I noticed, to which my Pilates teachers might say, “obviously,” is that I have trouble being still. I fidget and fix, I am always trying to adjust things until they are as symmetrical or situated as I can possibly control. I’ll fix my hair, wipe my sweat, straighten the seam on my pants, remove a dog (or cat) hair from my mat/clothes/mouth, rearrange my towel and mat, reposition my foot this way, or rotate of my humerus that way. It’s insane. I have learned this about myself and it is purposeful, satisfying work to try to become more still. To simply be.

Once during Savasana, these words came into my head: “Stop fidgeting. You’re perfect.” It was like a message planted sweetly into my awareness from someone else. It wasn’t self-congratulations like, “You’re perfect – nothing needs to be done here. Great job, Meredith you’re now complete.” It was more like a kind and loving friend saying, “Listen, you are perfect just as you are in this moment, right now, so just stop. Breathe. Be grateful.” The sentiment brought tears to my eyes right there in class, all alone on the mat, with lots of other people around alone with their own thoughts. I wished upon them just as loving a sentiment as I’d received that morning.

I’ve learned so much from this new venture. There is something about going to another studio to take classes that is very satisfying for the student in me. Being taught by people with lots of different teaching styles is also very informative to me. I’ve learned what I’d like to emulate and what I’d like to drop from my own teaching toolbox.

It has been empowering to feel my own strength in challenging poses, and to witness it change over only one month. It has been humbling to find at times things were just out-of-reach…maybe my feet are never going to get up off of the ground in Crow Pose (although I’m going to keep trying).

It is also wonderful to be constantly reminded to declutter and “Let go of anything you do not need.” Every time a teacher asked this of me, I could find doubt, fear, worry hiding out somewhere and I’m learning how to set them free.

All of this begs the question: Will I continue with my newly-budding practice after my month promotion runs out? Considering how much I have grown and learned about myself in only one short month, I don’t see any reason not to keep on this path of self-discovery. I’ll hope for more spontaneous thoughts of kindness to pop into my consciousness. I’ll continue to become a better teacher and leader by practicing what I preach. I will fly like a crow all in good time.