Many of my adolescent memories involve running around on a tennis court. This was fine for me, as I was never that good at any of the other sports my siblings and friends participated in. During the off season, when everyone else would put their racquets away for running shoes or lacrosse sticks or swim suits, I’d keep on playing. It was during these off seasons that the pros who taught me lessons would often decide to tweak my technique.
I vividly remember the winter I was asked to change my grip. This new grip required just a subtle shift of my hand on my racquet – maybe ¼ of an inch. The pro said it would allow me more diversity in spins, more consistency in shot placement and more power. This all sounded fantastic! Until I hit my first forehand and the ball shot off into the next court. The second blooped into the net. The third careened wildly over the net, landing nowhere near the corner I’d aimed at. I muttered, “This new grip stinks,” and slid my hand back into its old position for the next shot.
But my teacher was smarter than that. He shook his head at me, marched around the net and repositioned my hand into the new grip. “Give it a chance,” he said. Shot after shot, lesson after lesson I practiced with the new grip. I’d have bits of success, but mostly, it was an exercise in frustration. Until it wasn’t. One day, the grip no longer felt new. I was able to move the ball around the court. Shots were going in that would have been iffy with my old grip. And I found that I had as much power with my forehand as I’d always had with my backhand. “This new grip’s not so bad,” I whispered under my breath. I’d figured it out and, for the rest of my tennis years, I swore by the “new” grip that I’d initially hated.
I haven’t changed much. New car? It drives differently than my old one and simple things like parking are not going well. Hate it. New haircut? Can’t get it to look right. Hate it. New operating system on phone? Everything on the screen looks different and I can’t figure out how to work it. Hate it. New yoga mat? Feels funny. Hate it. Until I don’t. With time and practice, I adjust. I’ve come to see the benefits of a stickier yoga mat. I’ve figured out how to work my phone and appreciate the new OS’s speed and new design. And, while I still miss my beloved old car, I’ve come to appreciate many of the features of my new one. (The seat warmer, for instance, is perhaps the greatest invention of all time.)
The same thing happens to me day after day on my yoga mat. I can honestly say, I’ve never loved a posture when it’s new. Mostly I dread them. I can’t count the number of times I’ve inwardly railed against new techniques suggested by my teachers to make my practice better or easier or stronger. Just as I did on the tennis court, I’ve often “snuck” back to my old ways when a new position or movement felt strange. New postures and new techniques can be terrifying or impossible or awkward, until the light of understanding begins to dawn. The “switch” for this light is the same as it was all those years on the tennis court. It’s the willingness to give it a chance. To practice. To play with it. To fiddle around with it until I figure it out.
The fact that yoga gives me chance after chance to experience new things and, most importantly, to witness my knee-jerk reaction to them, is a gift. Over and over again, I’ve watched myself initially reject new things. And over and over again, I’ve managed to talk myself into giving them a chance. Each time I do so, I develop a little more faith in my ability to adjust. Each time I do so, I’m a little less reactive to the initial frustration, awkwardness and challenge involved in trying something new. Each time I do so, I develop a little more willingness to be patient and even curious about what this new thing has to teach me.
While it’s nice to learn new skills on my yoga mat and even how to work my upgraded phone, this is not the point any more than that new tennis grip was. The point is the fruits of practicing with something new – patience and curiosity. These are the gifts that support me and sustain me when “what’s new” is way more significant than a new yoga mat or a new haircut. Imagine how these skills (and they are skills) could come into play when you start a new job and everything is new and different. Or when you move to a new home. Or when you join a new church. Or start a new school. Or when you marry, or divorce or lose a loved one.
When life brings you “new,” it’s OK to hate it. It’s OK to think, “This stinks!” As long as you notice what you’re doing. As long as your next step is to take a deep breath and give it a chance. Because, with a little patience and an open mind (and time, sometimes A LOT of time), the new will become familiar. And, as it does, it’s likely that you will find it leaves you new and different, too.