The magic of ‘maybe not’.

yoga

I went to a yoga class this weekend and the teacher was someone new to me. It was my same studio in my same small town, but I had never had a class with this particular instructor. She was so friendly and warm. And she was super-fit so I figured if I did everything just like her, then I’d be a size 2 by the morning.  I’d like to say the class was high-intensity, but I think that really I have just been away from the studio for about 6 months so laying in the corpse pose for more than 1 minute would have felt high intensity. It was all strength-building stuff which I love. Core and back and legs. Lots of shaking and clenched jaw and big breaths and sweating.

I really enjoyed the class. I was happy to be back on the mat noticing how my own body felt. Noticing my thoughts and releasing them. Finding the edges of my strength and then relaxing just a bit beyond.

But something was missing.

I’ve only ever had yoga instruction from one teacher (mostly). There have been one or two other teachers here and there, but mostly one woman has been my person. She was the first person to ever teach me the basics of yoga four years ago, just after my second son was born. She was the first person who ever witnessed me doing the crow pose. She’s the one who taught me warrior three and happy baby. She’s great at the physical part—noticing when you can shift a half a centimeter with one finger and change the way the whole pose feels. She’s great at the emotional and spiritual parts too. Her language is powerful and she kindly and boldly leads us through what feels like church with her centering scripts. Today, she used the analogy of a conversation with a dear friend to keep bringing us back to the present moment; encouraging us to give ourselves the same respect.

And there’s one phrase she says many, many times during class. And I almost took it for granted until I went to a class without her. It’s the one thing that was missing with the new teacher: “Maybe not.”

My main teacher will guide us into a pose. She’ll then suggest that maybe we bend our arm. Or maybe we set our gaze upward. Or maybe we bend our leg. Maybe we reach just a bit beyond where we are. And then she says, every time: “or maybe not.” Maybe not is code for ‘you don’t have to do what the teacher says.’

It’s another way of reminding you about what’s most important on the mat. What’s most important is not what you think you should do or what the thin lady next to you is doing or even what you did yesterday on the mat. It’s what your body says to do today. So she can kindly suggest it, and then she kindly gives you permission to take whatever shape feels good to you. Maybe you want to do this standing stretch thing, or maybe not. Maybe you should be in child’s pose resting instead.

Maybe not is permission to choose. It’s the anti-should.

‘Maybe not’ is a reminder to listen to your best teacher:  not the woman in the front of the room, but the body you are living in right now.

It’s a reminder that yes, you can trust yourself to know what shape you need. You know when to push and when to relax. You know what will serve you well and what won’t. And you can trust that as long as you’re on the mat, there’s no judgement for the choice you make.

There was a series of core work that the new teacher led us through at the end of our practice. Lots of heavy breathing in the room and a little grunting because we were doing a pose called ‘boat’. It sounds lovely, I know. Relaxing, almost. Boat! I’ll do that! It’s like vacation! But it’s really more like abs on fire with your legs in the air.  After the third round of these boat things, I was wondering how many more times she’d want us to do it. And then I remembered ‘maybe not.’ So she said once again to lift our legs in the air and I said out loud, ‘or maybe not.’ And everyone in the room giggled and exhaled and relaxed. And I gave myself permission to get out of the boat.

I grew up involved in sports like track and basketball and I would hear daily that I needed to push myself. We used to practice so hard that we’d throw up and our coaches and teammates applauded. So there’s this old story-line in my head from that—and probably also from some of my early workplaces—that says if you don’t push yourself to exhaustion you aren’t really working hard. You’re weak. Lazy. Never going to get any better. Destined to lose. There’s no room for ‘maybe not’ because we were too scared of not improving, not winning.  Giving up.

My journey for the last year has been about trusting myself again. It’s never God I lose faith in. God I can trust for sure. When I’m struggling—physically or emotionally—it’s usually because I’ve quit trusting myself. Or I’ve quit listening long enough to even know what my gut is saying. Every day provides hundreds of temptations to turn the volume up so loud that we can’t hear. Every day also provides hundreds of opportunities to get quiet. The magic of ‘maybe not’ is the magic of choice. The magic of maybe not is that you have all you need and you are enough—no matter what you choose. You have permission to go fast or slow. You have permission to push or pull. Either choice is the right choice. You’re enough—with or without the headstand twisty pose.   In or out of the boat.

Namaste.

namaste

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fiddle lesson #2

My husband and I haven’t bought gifts for one another at Christmas in probably 8 or 9 years.  The first few times it didn’t go especially well (like, the year he bought me a VACCUM, for instance.)  So when, on Christmas morning, he walked in with a fiddle-shaped package, I was thrilled.   I’ve had the slightest music-crush on Amanda Shires (wife of Jason Isbell, whom we’ve seen many times) for some time.  The violin is like a voice–when I hear it, it sings to me.  And I’ve been wanting to learn it.

As the kids played with their new toys and slime on Christmas morning, I watched youtube videos and learned where the notes were, how to hold the thing, what the rosin was for,  how to tighten the bow, all of that.  I could read music because my mom taught me when I was little and I had learned other instruments growing up–piano, clarinet, guitar.  But this fiddle is different.  You don’t play by sight so much as you play by feel and sound–two things I’ve never been trained to do and two things that don’t come naturally.

I signed up for a lesson at the music story where the instrument was purchased.  My first lesson, titled on my calendar ‘fiddle lesson #1’ was just OK.  The instructor talked an awful lot about himself, all the instruments he played, how long he’d been playing, how much his fiddle was worth, and how he hated playing ‘second fiddle’ in the orchestra.  I can’t say I learned anything  about playing that I hadn’t learned on youtube–which was disappointing because the point of lessons is to have real-time feedback.

A friend told me about another place that gives lessons so I gave them a try.  ‘Fiddle lesson #2’ showed up on my calendar and I went.  As I waited, I spied on the lesson in the next room over.  The door was wide open so I could hear the teacher with the student.  He had her sing a little and play a little.  And they talked about how music was like a language.  When you’re new at reading words, you register the steps slowly and methodically.  That’s letter ‘C’.  And the ‘A’ and ‘R’.  That makes the sounds k-a-r.  Car!  Once you’ve been reading a while, you see those letters in a sentence and it’s automatic.  The car turned the corner.  You don’t even consciously think about it.  That’s how it is with music, he said.  Right now you’re still registering each note and it’s a lot of work.  But it won’t always be as long as you keep reading.  I thought, yeah.  That’s exactly right.

It was my turn.  The teacher asked a lot about me.  Where did I work?  What kind of music did I like?  What about the fiddle did I enjoy?  What did I want to learn?  He looked at my instrument and decided that the pegs needed to be more ‘sticky’.  This would help it tune better.  So he worked on sticky-ing up my fiddle pegs.  And while he did, he explained how it was built, how it was put together.  Why the substance he put on it would work the way it did.  Then, while he worked, he said he wanted to hear what I could play.  So he handed me his instrument.  It was old and beautiful and sounded amazing.  I played one of the few songs I’ve taught myself, “Just As I Am”–an old hymn that was played at my wedding.  I did a terrible job because I was nervous.  And I was giddy because I was actually enjoying myself.

After he finished the work on my pegs, we talked a little.  About the ways you could hold the bow and the physics of it.  Where on the strings made what kinds of sounds and the physics of that.  He drew pictures of where the notes hit and we talked about frequencies and pitch and why certain things sound good to our ears and other things don’t.  He showed me a few tricks about how to learn chords and it was mostly math and science.  He tuned my instrument by ear while he played it.  He made me some worksheets and gave me some real homework to do.  We talked about posture–playing with confidence–and he even referenced the TED talk by Amy Cuddy.

Then, before I left, he said: “Every year or two I pick up a new instrument and try to learn it from scratch.”  Why?  He did it because he wanted to always remember what it was like to be a student–to not know anything about what you were doing.  He said he thought it helped him be a better teacher.  I said I thought it was working.  I took my homework, packed up my newly sticky fiddle and went on my way, saying I’d call to set up the next one.

An hour of my life couldn’t have been better spent anywhere else.  He taught me about trust when he handed me, a novice, his antique instrument.  He taught me about the importance of being a student, especially in our quest to lead.  He reminded me that I could, in fact, learn something new.  He created a space where I could have fun doing it.

A few good friends have reminded me about two things I could stand to do a little more of in 2016: To start fully receiving the good that comes my way; and to play a little more.  I’m grateful that this tricky little instrument will allow me to do both.

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