I don’t know why I picked up that particular yoga video. Maybe it was the woman smiling peacefully in meditation on the cover, or the bold letters proclaiming it was definitely for “any body” (not to be confused with “anybody”). Probably it was the only workout video in the $5 bin and I’d had enough of myself: I was fat and I couldn’t touch my toes, two facts that had only become more factual as time went by.
But after one attempt, I was in love: Yoga was pretty.
It wasn’t like all the sweaty, gross exercise I had tried in the past. There were so many lovely names for the poses that I couldn’t do: Lotus, which involves tying your legs in a knot; Half Moon, which involves standing precariously on one leg; Birds of Paradise, which involves tying your limbs in a knot while standing precariously on one leg. All of these and more were demonstrated by a serene instructor, near a beautiful beach setting. “Go at your own pace,” the instructor said in her charming foreign accent. “Don’t push your body too hard.”
“Right,” I said, “Not pushing,” but in my heart I knew: If I could master yoga, then I would have arrived. I didn’t know where I was arriving, only that I wanted to be in that place – that pretty, serene place – so very badly.
I wasn’t naturally talented at it. Halfway through the 45 minute video, I would sit in the floor, head cocked like a confused terrier’s, watching as the instructor flowed through ever more complicated poses as the most basic poses eluded me. I couldn’t get my forehead to the ground in Child’s pose. I couldn’t hold myself up in Down Dog. I couldn’t stand up straight in Mountain pose. “When you are tired or out of breath, just return to these poses until you find your center,” the lithe video-instructor told me.
“Where do I go if those are the poses knocking me off center?” I wondered.
I tried everything. My Amazon wishlist was covered in yoga videos. I was getting a new one every month and couldn’t do half of them. I listened to yoga podcasts, went to yoga classes, read yoga blogs, always seeking more of that beauty and serenity in my everyday life.
“Just pick one pose,” a friend suggested, “just one pose to do during every yoga workout until you get it right.”
I settled on Tree pose because I liked the name, never considering that it was yet another pose that involved standing precariously on one leg. I persevered. Trees are calm. Trees are spiritual. Trees are solid and sturdy.
I fell down.
I inwardly referred to my efforts to do Tree pose as “Toppling Tree pose,” until I learned that Toppling Tree was the name of an actual and altogether different pose that I also was unable to do.
I fell down some more.
I picked a different pose to work on.
After months, I still couldn’t tie my limbs in knots. “Bring your arm behind your back, under your thigh, and clasp your hands together, coming into a bind,” an audio podcast said.
I twisted my arm behind my back and strained toward my thigh, coming nowhere near under it, and not even to the same zip code as my other hand.
“What if my body just isn’t built that way, no matter how hard I try?” I lamented to my husband, who was playing video games nearby.
“It just takes time,” he said.
I sighed as the podcast directed me to attempt the same move with the other arm. “They won’t let me on the colony ship to Mars because I’m not supple enough!” I said.
Matt only shrugged. That’s when I knew he wasn’t really listening.
And then one day when the instructor in one of those videos said, “Now hold the pose for five breaths,” I said, “Screw it. I’m tired,” and I did Down Dog instead.
“Wait a minute…” I thought. “I can’t do Down Dog. This is one of my least favorite poses…”
Only it wasn’t. I couldn’t remember the last time I had dreaded hearing the words, “Raise yourself up into Downward Facing Dog.” What I remembered was the instructor from that very first video saying, “When you are tired or out of breath, just return to these poses until you find your center.”
Tossing yoga DVDs around the living room, I searched for that video, long neglected amid all the new ones from Amazon and the audio podcasts. That day, I did the entire 45 minute workout for the first time. Somewhere along the way, the things I couldn’t do became doable.
So I kept right on doing them.
I never did find that pretty, serene place. Life isn’t like the yoga videos. There are things I still can’t do, both in yoga and in everything else. There will always be days when I’m off balance, when the most I can do is the least I’m capable of doing. Those days are okay.
I know now, in a way I couldn’t know before, that you keep doing the things you can’t do until you can.
I also know, unequivocally, that I can touch my toes.