How to teach a (Down) Dog New tricks

Learning to be a ballerina … when you’ve always been an Elephant.

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I was a chubby child. Big boned as my Mother called it, to be polite? I was also a tom boy who shunned make up for maths and dates with boys for dates with my radio, taping the Top 40 on a Sunday afternoon, trying to edit out the DJ. Ahhh simpler times.

I never enjoyed PE (physical education), I fractured my wrist playing hockey and over egged my asthma to get out of swimming – I got to sit in the gallery watching with a hot chocolate, that you might say was clever! Cross country filled me with dread & I’d hang around at the back hoping for a pity short cut allowance. In fact the only time I remember enjoying physical exertion at school was Tug-O-War for sports day – big boned you see.

About one of the only things I ever wanted to do with my body, was ballet. My Sister did ballet. It was what the girls did, it involved music & dance, it was princess like & graceful and required you to be thin & pretty; or so my child mind thought at the the time. But my big flat footed hooves were never going to make the barre.

Then one day, only about 5 years ago now I decided to go for a run. I’d tried many times before and given up as soon as I was certain no one could see, normally within minutes of leaving the house. But for some reason it was really goading me, thinking this really simple action of walking more quickly was beyond me & so I was determined to prove to myself I could run.

I used one of those apps that builds you up from running one minute to 5K – a complete beginners guide, that talks to you whilst you’re doing it & I would pretend no one else was there, so that it didn’t matter when I stopped & walked. It wasn’t easy, but I’m pretty stubborn and so being able to breathe correctly to allow my body to run was going to be something I would overcome.

Once I’d mastered the 5K, I paced for a 10K goal and when that was achieved, was determine to stamp a Half Marathon … tick, tick, tick. Stamp being the operative word, heavy footed, flat footed, hard miles on the pavement. I didn’t do any of this agility & speed malarkey, I just got out there & stomped one foot in front of the other. Partially because I just like to crack on with things & partially because co-ordination is a mystery to me, just correctly getting left from right is sometimes a challenge.

If anyone’s every read the book ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall (& if you haven’t – it’s an awesome book, about running, clue in title) the ultimate goal to run well is shortened to four words ‘Easy, Light, Smooth, Fast’ … having challenged myself purely on the basis to run, a distance, none of those words applied to me. I did not find it easy, I was far from light of foot or smooth of flow and I was by nobody’s standard ‘fast’. I repeated that mantra on my runs and it did change the way I ran, I only ever mastered the easy part, but once I stopped trying to achieve something in my running, I enjoyed it a whole lot more. I’ll likely never attain the other 3 as a result & I’m cool with that.

And so running brought me to Yoga as I looked for new things to test my body with, new ways to push it and do what I had never pushed myself to do before.

To recap, my foot placement is heavy, I lack co-ordination, I need to make an L with my hand to remember it is the left one and I escaped PE including gymnastics (which I thought was torture at the time) at every opportunity. Just to add to this, I lack balance, have no upper body strength (if only secondary school had Tug-O-War) and I’d now developed super tight hamstrings from a relentless running regime. AND I WENT TO YOGA. It’s fair to say I didn’t know what I was getting into, or I might never have gone?!

That was the best part of three years ago now & what’s the difference?

Well, where to start …

  • When I flex my arm, there is a small bump that appears.
  • I can actually chaturanga into up-dog e.g. do the down bit of a push up & without needing to rest on the ground, roll over on my toes & arch my back to point my head towards the sky.
  • I can stand strong on either foot and balance quite neatly, sans wobble … at least in tree pose or some simple like posture.
  • I’ve fallen a little bit in love with my feet. These strong, grounding beasts, that connect me to the Earth & are all feeling. It’s fair to say I’m still a big stomper! My jump backs & forwards have required me to start practicing downstairs after a line appeared on the ceiling under the room I had been practicing in – Oops.
  • I still use an L for Left in my Clark Kent life, but on the Mat, you can be assured I notice when the teacher gets their sides mixed up!
  • And I’m working on my forward fold … my flexibility has a Long, LONG way to go, but with each millimeter I can feel my body wanting to give more and finding a happier place.

So what’s the next goal?

Well, that’s the really good part. Yes there are poses I would like to master, Headstand is always on a Yogi’s list to attain, and yes I’d like to be more flexible, same with strength … but I know there isn’t a magic wand for these. I won’t see muscles appear overnight and tomorrow I won’t suddenly not need the wall when I flail my legs up with hope in a headstand, that’s why it’s called practice. But everyday is adding to the magic, every practice is easing my body into a new place it has never been before, every single day. How cool is that? So instead of goals, I’m enjoying the gains, everyday, practice, practice, practice.

New trick one: stopping trying to attain all the time and enjoy the journey.

New trick two: the body is as old as the mind allows it to be … it can learn & be flexible too.

So the moral of my story is, if I can start my ‘running career’ at 31 and Yoga journey at 34 … you can teach a semi young, definitely still 18 in my head, bad ass bitch, new tricks.

Namaste 🙂

PS: these are just the physical benefits too … the mental, for another time.

Photo credit: @Yogerina on Instagram – stunningly beautiful inspiration, check her out 🙏

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