Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Just jump in!

A few weeks ago, I started Lucia in a new swimming class. My family is going to Hawaii in December, and I wanted to get Lucia a final few lessons to prepare her for the ocean. Lucia can definitely swim, but she lacks confidence. She will only go in the shallow end and, even when she doesn't need to, she stops mid-way through to settle her toes on the pool bottom. I called around for private lessons thinking that would be the most efficient way to get her proficient in six weeks. Private lessons are not only expensive, but I was struggling to coordinate a time that worked with a busy eight-year-old's schedule.

I finally decided to just enroll her in the community pool's group lessons. Lucia was totally bummed. New place, new kids, new teachers. That's so not her style. As she changed and showered in the frigid, prison-like dressing room, shivering and shooting me a major stink-eye, she said, "Mommy, swimming is my least favorite sport." Lucia knows that I was a competitive swimmer for thirteen years. She knows I love swimming. "Soccer is my favorite sport" she snarled, "and swimming is my least!" (Soccer, mind you, before she started, also occupied the ranks of most-hated sports.)

When we got into the pool area, Lucia was pleased to see a classmate. They stood, purple-lipped, shivering in wait for their teacher. Lucia had missed the first week so the pool manager guided her to beginners. Lucia was visibly pissed to learn that her classmate was intermediate. "Jump in!" Lucia's beginner teacher instructed her group. Lucia looked back at me with what I assume was an imploring stare, but I averted my eyes so she couldn't make contact with me. She jumped in. There were 21 kids in this class! No private lesson here. They separated the kids into three groups, with three teachers, each on a different wall of the pool. I watched the beginners teacher ask Lucia to swim a little bit to assess her skill level. Lucia, like a kid in an episode of Scared Straight, did as she was told. The teacher saw that she had above-beginner skills and promptly sent her into the deep-end to the advanced class. I imagine this over-burdened beginners teacher was thrilled to be responsible for one less swimmer-in-training.

Every time Lucia looked my way, I put my head down as if captivated by my book. When it was safe again, I'd look up and see her swimming. She, along with the ten other kids in her group, were swimming laps! Back and forth. No tippy-toes touching the ground. The girl could swim! I giggled the entire lesson thinking to myself, "This child has been holding out on me for months! She's actually a good swimmer." Lucia, competitive by nature, and a bit of a perfectionist, would not be out-shown by these other kids. When the teacher yelled "Backstroke" she did it. When he shouted, "kick more!" she damn well did it.

I don't think Lucia was actually tricking me. I think her mind was tricking her. Lucia needed someone to push her over her mental hump. She needed a fresh environment. Her previous lessons, where teachers indulged her anxieties, weren't helping. She needed someone to ignore her anxieties and look at her potential.

After Lucia's first lesson, she emerged, blue lipped and frozen, with a beaming smile. The proud look on her face is one that I will never forget. As I stood holding Lucia's towel while she shampooed her hair in the warm shower, she said through chattering teeth, "Mommy, swimming is my new favorite sport."

Here's to just jumping in!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Listen harder to yourself

Lately I've noticed lots of coming and going in the yoga room. Refilling water bottles, getting a Kleenex, going to the bathroom. One person starts the exodus, and then it spreads like ringworm. I've observed it more as student than as a teacher. One person leaves the room and soon there are three, four, TEN people jumping off their mats to do something seemingly urgent. But what is urgent during a 90-minute yoga class really? Yes, sometimes a student really truly needs to do some business in the bathroom. Of course, by all means, go to the bathroom. But 99% of the time there is really no great reason to leave one's mat.

As a teacher I'm pretty strict about this stuff and make no bones about my approach. "Strictness", I tell my students, "is the love language of The SweatBox." I remember kids (including me) doing dumb stuff in childhood and adolescence. A teacher or a parent would inevitably respond to our stupidity with, "If Max jumped off the bridge, would you do it?" That cliche phrase is one that most of us heard (some of us with more frequency than others) during childhood. I use it with my own daughter. "Think for yourself," I tell her. "Be your own person."

A regular yoga practice will result in a more connected self. There is more connection between the physical and the mental, the emotional and the spiritual. With regular practice one can also develop a stronger sense of self, a more clear point of focus and direction. Ninety minutes can seem like an eternity some days, and there are potentially thousands of distractions to lead us astray in every session. We have to be committed to following our own path, not that of someone else in the room. As Bikram himself says, "Don't let anyone steal your peace."

When one person in a class makes the first move, hops off her mat to get water in the middle of the posture, there is an interruption in the class that invites other people to follow suit, ("jump off the bridge with Max"). It's so easy. We've all done it. We see that sneaky cat get across the room with no trouble and figure it's easy so we do it too. Some teachers (yours truly) are more vocal about discouraging this behavior. I make it clear as a teacher that my expectation is that people won't do this. So recently, as a student, when I watched 5, 7, 12 other students interrupting their practice with silly distractions, I started to wonder why they do it in this class, but not in my class.

And here's what I realized. We're all human. We live in a world filled with temptations and sometimes we fall prey to them, even when we don't want to. This is why yoga is important, why it makes us healthier, saner, more calm. Yoga helps us develop our own internal voice to guide us through the distractions. It shouldn't matter if a teacher ever says one word about staying on your mat. Part of your yoga practice is building your discipline, honing your internal voice, so that it is louder than any other. You are your most important teacher and your internal voice, your more connected voice, if you listen, is likely telling you to stay on your mat.