At church on Sunday, I watched a mother with a tiny newborn walk down the aisle. Her precious baby looked to be just a few weeks old – still curled into fetal position and snuggled closely to his mother’s breast. Watching her hold him brought back vivid, quite tangible memories of doing the same myself. I remembered the weight my own brand new babies. They looked so small in their bassinets, but felt so heavy in my arms. I remembered the endless feeling of the days when they were little – how the hours until naptime could seem like an eternity. I remembered wistfully watching older children who could toddle, run and even climb.
I also remembered wanting to smack the older mother in the park in Brooklyn who warned me how quickly they grew. Holding my little babies, it felt like they’d never be big enough for the adorable “6-9 month” outfits folded in the dresser. It felt like I’d never be able to shower again (let alone shower in peace). It felt like I’d never again go to bed and wake up when I wanted. It felt like my husband would never come home from work to liberate me to do something “grown up” such as make dinner or clean the bathroom.
It turns out that mother in the park didn’t deserve to be smacked at all. Now, with one in college and two in high school, all I can think is how incredibly right she was. In hindsight, the pace of change and growth that felt so slow as to be almost imperceptible now seems blinding.
Yoga offered me another visceral experience of the way we experience long-term change. I don’t think I will ever forget my first yoga class. I still find it mystifying that I could fall in love with something for which I had absolutely no natural talent. Truly. I showed up wildly inflexible, pretty weak and healing from injuries so old I didn’t even remember that I had them. Daily, I am profoundly grateful that something deep within me moved during that class because my shoulders and hamstrings sure didn’t!
I remember working in Triangle pose. My teacher cued us to grab our big toe. Mine was simply not within reach. It wasn’t just an inch out of reach. The distance between my hand and my big toe felt like a full mile. (I have really long legs.) It was so far away that I decided not to even try to touch it. I had to tune out the specifics of my teacher’s instructions, set aside any and all aspirations and goals and just do my thing. This went on class after class, week after week, month after month. It went on for so long that, if asked, I would have said that nothing was changing and that the chance of change was almost nil.
But, as I promise my students today, simply showing up in your modification of a yoga posture over and over is enough. It was for me. And it will be for you.
Without my awareness, over the course of a year, my hand must have been moving microscopically lower and lower on my leg. The pace of change was so glacial that I did not even suspect that it was happening. All I know for sure is that on almost exactly the anniversary of my first class, I heard my teacher say, “Grab your big toe,” and I did. In an instant, the impossible was suddenly possible.
Only it wasn’t really an instant. The evolution (or, as it felt to me, sudden appearance) of my Triangle pose mirrors almost perfectly my maternal experiences. Like babies growing into toddlers, teens and young adults, my body had changed dramatically over the course of a long time. In hindsight, that change seemed sudden. While in it, it felt endless.
There is an expression I’ve heard countless times during the course of my 19 years of motherhood: “The days are long, but the years are short.” When working on a yoga posture, it might be more accurate to say, the minutes are long but the weeks are short. But the essence of this little pearl of wisdom is the same. Depending on where you are in the arc of your journey, you may indeed want to smack the person who has offered it to you. But there comes a moment when you understand that it is true.
It’s in that moment that your capacity for patience, persistence and sheer perseverance grows exponentially. It’s also in that moment that you begin to truly understand the notion of savoring the moment rather than peering longingly ahead to the next. Because, it’s at that precise moment that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the next moment (and the next and the next and the next) will be here before you know it.