by Blakeney Schick
As adults, we rarely learn a whole new set of skills all at once. But when I signed up for driving lessons about a month ago, I was setting myself up to do just that.
Now I’m learning how to coordinate my muscles and my awareness in a new way so that I can make the car start, stop, not hit the bicyclist, and turn. The last time I signed up to learn how to use my body in a different way was the day I stepped on to the mat. As with my early yoga practice, a familiar set of emotions comes up every time I get behind the wheel — excitement, fear, frustration, and joy as I see the progress I’m making.
Like just about everything in my life, I find echoes of learning how to drive when I step onto my mat. Like driving, when we’re on the mat we use the same sets of muscles over and over in different ways. Same muscles, same actions, new challenges.
I will never forget the first time I tried to do L-shaped handstand. I didn’t see how my legs wouldn’t slip down the wall. For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine that all of my hand would ever remain flat on the mat, instead of doing that uncomfortable “tenting” thing that put all the pressure on my wrists. If you had asked me that day how I felt about L-shaped handstand, I would have told you that I wasn’t so much afraid as I was totally convinced that I couldn’t do it. And I fell back on the mat that day. But then I tried it a few hundred more times, and I found out how much I had to use my leg muscles to push my feet into the wall so they wouldn’t slide and I discovered how push the floor away to make the palm of my hand meet the mat. And, as I began to coordinate those actions, I found that I could do it.
And, like many things I’ve learned on the mat, this has shown up in my life — specifically, behind the wheel. Right now, I’m trying to observe the process of honing these very basic skills of turning, stopping, starting and avoiding stationary objects in increasingly complicated and varied situations. And parallel parking is my L-shaped handstand. My first attempt to parallel park was a nerve-wracking, halting hot mess. But, a few weeks in, I can already see that I’m learning how to gauge where the car is in space and how to adjust when I need to. After a few hundred tries, I think I’ll have gotten the hang of it.
I’m sure that in the weeks to come, I’ll stop patting myself on the back for the little stuff. The beginner’s joy will fade, and I won’t over think it as much. A stop sign will no longer be a progress report on how well I’m using the brake. A mistake will not be a referendum on my abilities. Pretty soon, driving will probably be, like getting on the mat, a set of skills that I’m honing, which can take me many different places.
Blakeney Schick is a public radio producer who follows events and elections. She started going to yoga 8 years ago in the hopes that it would help her stand up straighter. It has. But she’s stayed on the mat because yoga’s also made her stronger in every possible way. Blakeney found her way to Mala in late 2007, and finished Mala’s 200-hour teacher training in 2012. She is also a regular contributor to the Mala Yoga blog.