There are few certainties in life. No matter how much knowledge we’ve accumulated, it’s still safe to say that life is about learning. One of my favorite song lines comes from Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock song: “I don’t know who I am, but life is for learning”. So if you’re afraid to come to a class because you think you won’t know what to do, try to remember that none of us (myself included!) knew what to do when we first started. Everything I do now is a result of trying, adapting and practicing. There was no innate ability or talent. Just a desire to learn and consistent effort. Often in the beginning, and certainly as my body as changed through the years, I have had to accept the realities of my abilities and adapt my practice accordingly. Surprisingly it is not that difficult. I’ve been able to continue to benefit from my practice even though my movement may not look the same as someone with a different body type or capabilities.
For the past few weeks I’ve been suggesting that we reframe some of our approaches in order to let go of what has become the default reaction and allow ourselves a different experience simply by thinking differently. So here is another opportunity: instead of approaching a new activity with fear and insecurity, try thinking of it as an adventure in learning. When we were children everything was new and unknown. The only way to learn was to take that leap without knowing what to expect. Meditation teachers often use the term “beginner’s mind”. This refers to one’s initial experiences with the practice when everything is new. No preconceived notions. No judgments. No right or wrong. No expectations. Try thinking of your movement practice this way. Start slow and simple and give it some time. Stay with the experience rather than focusing on outcomes or even goals. If something seems difficult, instead of saying “I can’t do that” try instead thinking “Maybe I can find a different way to do that.” Make the movement smaller or slower or do fewer repetitions. Try different approaches like bending your knees. Use your fists or forearms instead of your wrists. Incorporate props like pillows or blankets. There are so many different ways to make your practice your own. Each day your experience may be different. Approach each effort with a “beginner’s mind” and allow it to be a new experience.
The bodies we inhabit are miraculous. Each of us is a precise collection of muscles, bones, veins and nerves with systems that keep it all working together. Work with your systems and let them work for you. We have the incredible senses of sight, taste, touch, hearing and smell. Instead of lamenting what you can’t do, remember all the things you can do and adapt what you want to do accordingly. Celebrate your ability to move and breathe and treat these profound capacities with the reverence they deserve. It’s never too late to try something new.
It’s still January so the new year is still a work in progress. Perhaps you’ve already seen some decline in your resolve. No problem. That’s not a signal that you’re a failure or that you should give up. It may simply mean that you need to adjust your expectations.
When you start something new or return to something after an absence, you usually don’t know what to expect. You observe and listen and work at mastering skills. But once you’ve become a bit more experienced, you may find that you begin to establish rules. Your mind tells you that things need to be done a certain way. Perhaps you’ve read or heard other people suggest methods deemed as “correct” by some standard. Or maybe you look around and see others performing in ways that seem beyond your capacity. Instead of concluding that you’ll never be any good at whatever it is your pursuing, try changing the rules. Adjust your expectations. Do what works for you. It may look different from someone else’s version but it will still be “right” and you will still benefit. Best of all, you will stay on track and continue working toward your goals.
When it comes to diet and exercise, most rules are just guidelines. Each of us is an experiment of one. Regardless of what you may read or hear in popular media, there is no such thing as the perfect answer. What works for one person may not be appropriate for someone else. Moreover what works one day may not work the next. And vice versa. Change is constant. It is one of the only certainties in this life. Even though we waste a lot of energy resisting change, it is always happening. As difficult as it is sometimes, in the long run we are much better off if we can just go with the flow.
So if what you’re trying to do today just isn’t working the way you want it to, instead of beating yourself up because you’re not “doing it right”, try doing it differently. March to your own drummer. It may seem like it’s not the same as what you’ve been told or what you’ve observed, but so what? That doesn’t make it “wrong”. It just makes it different.
There is substantial evidence that exercise is an important way to keep your muscles working and your bones strong. But it is the exercise you actually do that matters. The key is consistency. Developing habits helps you to maintain that consistency, but adjusting to daily circumstances is equally important. If you stop doing something because you’re not living up to your concept of perfection, then you’re not getting any benefit at all. Try allowing yourself to be who you are right now in this moment and move from there. You may surprise yourself by eventually noticing that you still experience positive changes.
Unless you’re ill, it is far better to show up, go easy and just do what you can than it is to not show up at all. Intention is more about process than outcomes. Adjust your rules, let go of expectations, participate in the process and be grateful for what you can do. You won’t be sorry.