Right now in my physics class I am teaching about conservation of momentum. My students struggle with these problems because their are so many variables to identify and solve for. To solve those problems you have to be able to clearly separate the before from the after.
A year ago is the before.
This is the after. A lot of people have worse afters, but I have never looked at my life so distinctly in those two halves as I do right now.
It has been nearly a year since I have gone for a long run. I was cleared to run months ago, but each time the pain comes back. Like coffee, running is just something I have had to have an ugly break up with. Unlike Taylor Swift, I am still holding out hope for us getting back together. But for now, my running shoes are retired. The cold and the wind are also an issue, and turns out this thing called winter happens every year. For months at a time. So I have had to take my physical activity indoors. Until recently, I assumed this meant Netflix marathons, but then I ran out of pants that fit. So I decided to go back to yoga. I love yoga but I haven't been in years. The hot kind. The impossible planks and poses and balances. I have the flexibility of a brick, so even in my best shape I am terrible at it.
These days I am far from my best. My muscles haven’t been worked hard in a year. My yoga pants spend so much more of their time at Target and my couch than in an actual gym. I dig a mat out of the bag of the closet and promise myself that I will go anyways.
I have been meaning to go to yoga for almost a full year now.
I am afraid to and first class back I almost talk myself out of it.
I know I am bad at it. In the past I hate to modify or rest and once I nearly passed out in a class. And that was when I was running 20 miles a week. I worry about what happens if I have an attack now. But I go anyways. Everything going in is a disaster. I forget my hair tie and my mat. I get shocked long and hard from the brisk walk from my car to the gym door. This should be enough to make me turn around and go home, but I don’t. I attempt to put my hair up with a grocery store produce twisty tie, the gym attendant takes pity on me while hand typing my membership number into her system…because I also forgot my gym card…and pulls a rubber band from her office drawer. I shove my jacket and shoes in a cubby and grab one of the community mats that smell like feet.
I lay there.
I fall out of poses.
My weak arms shake, my legs wobble and my stomach muscles don’t want to get on the boat.
At the end, my legs up in an inversion — all my body weight is on my head and electricity jolts through me. The class is all lying on their mats. Everyone is breathing loudly. No one notices and eventually it passes. I breathe out.
What I miss so much about running is how it clears my head. How it makes me feel strong. How there is always a goal. Further. Faster. Push through.
I go back to class after class. Yoga is hard for me. The goals are less clear without distances or times to aim for. Clearly there are still things to strive for - not fall on my face, one day be able to touch my toes, get the pose right, hold it for the full count. I have found new ways to be strong and still.
The difference is this. I went for runs. I ran races.
Yoga is called a practice. As far as I know there are no yoga competitions, awards or medals.
You just breathe and try to get better.
I miss running. I miss new tennis shoes, good playlists, the sound of my feet on the pavement, race day jitters and the burn in my legs and my lungs as I carry myself further than I thought I could.
But for now, I like the idea of just breathing and getting better. Of finding my strength in different ways.
Recently I listened to an old podcast by Rob Bell called “Changing the Tapes”. The whole thing was about the things that run through our heads and how to have a healthier version. For a girl who loves a mix tape…..the one in my own head is usually pretty terrible. And on repeat. It is better than it used to be…but sometimes the old tracks find their way back in. One of Bell’s suggestions was to write “student” on a notecard and place it somewhere where you will see it often.
That we are all students. Students get a kind of grace and patience that we do not always allow ourselves. That maybe we are all learning and figuring it out….and aren’t expected to have all the answers or get it right on the first try. Or maybe even the sixteenth try. Even Jesus called his friends and followers disciples. A disciple just means student. Like my own students struggling through their before and after problems.
Like me on my mat and in my mind and my own before and afters.
That kind of grace and patience is something I could also find a way to practice. Hopefully also while wearing yoga pants.