by Blakeney Schick
Look up the word “practice” in the dictionary and you’ll see that all of the definitions can apply when we’re on the yoga mat. But, I suspect like many people, my yoga practice isn’t my first practice.
When I was 7 years old, the word “practice” meant playing the flute for half an hour each day. I was very excited to start playing an instrument like many of my friends had, but a few years in, I lost interest. I ended up playing the flute for a decade, and as a teenager, I tried to cut corners as much as I could. When I went to college, I happily put down the flute, and started singing more.
When I was 11 years old, I started playing basketball on a series of positively mediocre teams, but something about the game – and being on a team – appealed to me and I played for 6 years. My asthma made “practice” — the laps and drills — hard, and I learned what it was to dig deep so that I wouldn’t fall behind on the court. I was clearly not a natural player, but I was out there. And, despite all the drama that arises when you put a dozen teenaged girls together for 3 months, I was always sad to see the season end. Even so, when I graduated from high school, I left basketball behind and I’ve never really missed it.
When I was 22 years old, I stepped onto a yoga mat for the first time. I didn’t use the word “practice” in connection with yoga for a long time, but something about it clicked with me right away. My practice simply emerged, without a label attached. Unlike playing the flute, I have found that I don’t really cut corners on the mat. (In fact, there don’t seem to be any to take.) And I see my limitations differently on the yoga mat than I did on the basketball court. I’ve learned that I have to respect my body’s boundaries instead of trying to blindly push through them. Digging deep now means something entirely different to me. And, unlike the flute and basketball, there is no end-of-year recital, there is no big game; there’s just practice.
I have learned a lot from all 3 kinds of practice. Although the flute and basketball are no longer part of my life, they taught me skills and perspectives that I still use today — from how I listen to the world around me to knowing that a lot of teamwork (like so many other things) starts by simply showing up. Those earlier practices inform my yoga practice because they have shaped my life. Yet the biggest difference may be that my yoga practice is the first one that I’ve ever called my own.
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.