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Touching my head to my knees

By Heather Oman

After my son was born, I was looking for a way to get back in shape. My options seemed limited–it was early spring in Boston, so it was too cold to run/walk outside, and we were too poor to join a gym. But one day, I happened upon a “Yoga for Beginners” DVD at the grocery store for $12.99. Thinking that was probably in our budget, I bought it on a whim. It seemed like something that I could do in our small, 3rd story apartment.

I totally fell in love with it.

I’m not a flexible person by nature. My mother forced her daughters through years of dance classes, and in all of those many classes, I was always the least flexible of the bunch. One of my siblings once triumphantly told me when we were adults that I am not flexible because our family has shorter hamstrings than normal, which seemed like a perfectly plausible explanation for why I could never really properly touch my toes.

(I actually have no idea if this is true, by the way, having never measured my hamstring length, and indeed, having no idea how to do so in relation to “normal” hamstrings of the general population.)

Enter yoga, an exercise that is all ABOUT flexibility.

The video I started with was excellent, I have to say. I guess I was lucky to get a decent video, because in the years since, I haven’t found anything that disputes those initial lessons I learned from that instructor. She described the poses correctly, succinctly, and gave excellent modifications for the beginner, all of which I used. There is nothing more frustrating to try an exercise video that you can’t do (um P90X, anyone?), so the fact that all of the moves could be modified was a good way to keep me motivated.

Also, she talked a lot about yoga. Not in a fruity, we are all giving energy to Mother Earth who harnesses our love and repeats it in the sunrise way, but in a straightforward, what do you want to get out of your practice kind of way. She also said that 10 minutes of practice every day was better than an hour and a half practice once a week, and she even demonstrated the 5-6 poses you should do, as a beginner, every day in those 10 minutes.

I took her lesson to heart. I started doing 5-6 yoga poses, almost every day. I got other videos from the library, got some books, dabbled a little in teaching myself new poses.

And the day came when I almost touched my forehead to my knees.

I was doing a standing forward fold, where you bend forward, keeping your chest open, with the idea of wrapping your hands around your knees with your forehead touching your knees.

Yes, I know, it sounds like a move only circus freaks can master.

Still, I persevered, with my short hamstrings, pulling my quads up, my belly in, opening up my chest, bending at the waist, hooking my hands over opposite elbows, and seeing how far I could go, breathing all the way.

And one day, there I was, nose just inches from my knees. Whoa, how did I get there?

I called my husband to come witness my awesomeness, and he congratulated me on my stretchy accomplishment.

But I learned a lesson that day that I have had to constantly re-learn since:

Small, consistent efforts have powerful cumulative results.

Like I said, I’ve had to learn this lesson over and over, especially with physical goals. Training for my first half-marathon ended in injury because I pushed myself too fast too far, instead of doing smaller, more consistent efforts. And losing weight doesn’t work if you try to do it all at once–small and steady changes of habit are what changes a body for keeps.

But I have to relearn this lesson in other areas, too. I’m the woman who gets overwhelmed at housework because I don’t take the 10 minutes of daily cleaning to maintain my home, and am far too often faced with a monster that takes hours to reclaim. I wouldn’t have to spend 2 hours in the bathrooms if I could just remember to, as FlyLady calls it, to “swish and swipe” every day.

Even more importantly, though, I think this concept has powerful spiritual and emotional implications. I get a large dose of scriptural rhetoric and prayer during those 3 hours on Sunday, and yet I neglect my 10 minutes of daily scripture study, or time spent in actual, focused prayer. I get preached at to serve my neighbor, and yet tend to neglect those in my immediate circle who may have needs, preferring instead to hole up in my messy house watching the newest episode of Downton Abby.

And if positive habits have cumulative effects, imagine what small negative habits can do. I know a woman who doesn’t know how to communicate without complaining and ranting. It is what she does, because she has been doing it so long she doesn’t even realize that she does it. Her interactions with everybody in her life, from her husband and children down to the cashier at Target, are almost exclusively, heartbreakingly negative. And her spiritual life and relationship with God are almost completely non-existent.

I don’t like re-evaluating my life. Nobody ever re-evaluates her life and comes out saying, “Oh my goodness, I’m like a ROCKSTAR!” Re-evaluation, if done right, is hard, and to be effective, sometimes requires difficult follow-up action. But every now and then, I think of this lesson and wonder, What are the consistent efforts I am making in my life now, and where are they taking me?

Because while Downton Abby is pretty fun (and oh my goodness, this season is the most fun EVER), it’s not taking me very far. And unless I start practicing my yoga again, my forehead will never touch my knees.

What are some effects you have noticed in your life from small consistent efforts, both good and bad?

About Heather Oman

(Prose Board) lives in the south with her husband, her two kids, and her wiggly black lab. She is a licensed speech language pathologist, but spends most of her days trying to teach her own kids how to say please and thank you. She is a member of the Segullah Editorial Board, and is the founding member of the blog Mormon Mommy Wars.

23 thoughts on “Touching my head to my knees”

  1. Loved this.

    I'm a big believer in keeping up with the little things in life – especially spiritually. You never know when life is going to punch a hole in the bottom of your bucket and how desperately you'll need each precious drop left in there. I've had some rough patches where I could feel the difference that getting my daily prayers and scripture study done made in my survival. I don't know how I would have survived my divorce without the solace I found in regular temple attendance.

    P.S. I'm fascinated by your yoga experience–what was the name of that first DVD that was so helpful? Anything else you would recommend to a beginner?

  2. great post.

    i too, am interested in the name of your yoga dvd! i just had a baby and find myself in the same boat. i would love to learn more about yoga and start off with a great tutorial dvd. thanks!

  3. I just did a quick google search, and the video I used seems to no longer exist. It was the brand name Gaiam, which also prints the journal YOGA (I think?) which I used to buy at Whole Foods, back in the day. I have done videos by Rodney Yee, who seems to be a big wig in the yoga video world, and he's okay. I have his book, too, which has taught me some nice moves. Anything with the Gaiam label seems to be high quality, or at least I think so.


    Yoga is a great way to exercise after birth, imo. Gentle and slow, but can really make you strong again. I'm far from a yoga expert, though–I just checked out a billion videos from the library, read some books, and took a class here and there.

  4. Thank you for this post. It is so very much what I needed today.

    I am a grandmother who has done a little Yoga and TiChi for yeas now. It has saved me a lot in doctor bills, and I have had plenty of those. Yet when I am consistent my challenges shrink.

    Just this morning the Lord reminded me to get back to it when I complained about having let myself go to flab. Yes, ten minutes a day makes a huge difference particularly when prayer is also involved. It has helped me keep my relationship with the Lord open and my self image from crumbling from this and that.

    Slow and easy allows the brain to work too.
    What fun to be reminded of this very simple self help.

    Thank you again ?

  5. I am a bit of an all-or-nothing personality, so learning that small steps lead to big changes was a hard lesson to accept. If my goal isn't big (Train for a marathon! Get ready for a doctoral piano audition! Organize the entire downstairs!), I tend to get sidetracked and maybe unmotivated. (Run 3 miles? Why? Practice 30 minutes? Why? Organize a kitchen drawer? Why?)

    I learned the lesson well earlier this year when I tried a new idea: 3 Tiny Goals. I made 3 teeny tiny little mini goals toward a bigger goal to see if that helped me progress better. The one that really stuck was to clean up something in my car for 5 seconds every time I parked in the garage. My van went from slightly scary (my husband says "terrifying") to mostly clean within a week. I've been able to keep up on the habit for nearly a year now, and it never felt overwhelming.

    Scripture study and prayer (and exercise) is something I've learned makes an enormous difference in my daily mood, too. When I don't do any or all of these three things for too long, I find myself spiraling downward. The effort to pull myself back up when I hit bottom is much harder than the daily 20-30 minutes that keeps me centered and happier. (OK, 90 minutes if I factor in exercising. It is a long time, but I've decided that 90 minutes of my time in payment towards sanity is better for my family than having a glum mom for the entire day.)

    One other small thing that has resulted in a big result is the simple act of keeping a gratitude journal. I was skeptical about starting one…cynical, actually. I wrote my first entry last December and by March I felt like a new person. My heart has been softened and changed. There is so much more joy in my life than I would have imagined. SO MUCH. I really can't even tell you how much of a difference there is.

  6. What an inspiring post. I'm in recovery for my eating addiction, and this principle you discussed is really what the 12 steps are all about–I can recover and overcome addiction one day at a time, one step at a time, one meal at a time. Lots of small, correct choices–in which I subject my will to that of the Lord–lead me in the direction I need to go.

    I just need a lot of reminding, from minute to minute, so I don't psych myself out. Thanks for being one of those reminders!

  7. This post is a perfect example of why I love Segullah so much. The wisdom and brilliance I find here is nothing short of amazing. I always feel inspired after reading a post like this, and also a little bit frustrated with my inability to make significant progress personally. But mostly just inspired. I hope this post moves me to action and personal growth. Thank you for your eloquent way of putting these thoughts and sharing them with us. ♥

  8. I loved this post too. What were the 5 or 6 poses you mentioned? I started into yoga (with Rodney Yee actually) a couple of years ago. When I started I was like, "Um, yeah. This isn't doing anything." But I kept up with it–ten minutes a day. It was GREAT! I got a lot stronger and felt better–like a new woman when I'd finish my little routine. I just had a baby 5 weeks ago and have been doing a Cathe Friedrich dvd (two actually)–step aerobics and weight lifting. I do 20 minutes of cardio in the morning (with the step dvd) and 15 or so of weight lifting 4 days per week in the afternoon (different muscle groups.) This combination (with a little yoga) worked WONDERS after my last pregnancy. I don't have the time or attention for a long workout, which is why I break it down. It doesn't take long to see the gains–defined muscles and flexibility, no back pain anymore, etc. I find it is the same thing with scripture study, as you mentioned–a consistent little goes a LONG way. Thanks for this post!!!

  9. Perfect post to start out my morning! I've been thinking a lot this week about how our physical and spiritual selves intersect…or at least how we can reach our best selves when we allow the spiritual and the physical to work together and inform each other. This is a splendid example of that and resonates so completely with me.

    On a yoga note…I use a Bryan Kest power yoga DVD that I quite like. He's a little chatty for some folks, but it works for me because it distracts me from thinking "wow, is this pose ever going to end? I don't think I can hold it two seconds longer…"

  10. Heather O., you don't happen to know the name of the instructor on that beginner video you used, do you? She sounds great. I am curious if I might be able to find another video with the same instructor.

  11. I picked up an interesting book in the airport last week and all it talks about is how the little things done over and over and over are what will truly change your life. He likens it to the financial term of 'compounding' where just a little money can turn into a lot over a long period of time and so to can positive changes in your life. Seems like I need this message alot since then I come here today and read pretty much the same thing! Ok – I'm listening!! 🙂

  12. Ana, it's super simple. Cath A. wrote some lovely posts on gratitude late last year and I had already been nudged towards a study of gratitude, so I paid attention. I bought a cute orange journal and started listing things I was grateful for. A month or so later I bought 1000 Gifts which I highly recommend. It really taught me more about being thankful in all things and remotivated me to keep going with my list. I'm almost up to 750 things on my list…aiming for 1000 by the time I hit the year mark.

  13. I'm in awe of what you've learned through your private course of yoga study. It's taken me many years of pricey studio yoga, as student and teacher, to begin to put this together. From a lit perspective, it was in part connecting yoga to Keats's negative capability which helped things click for me, yoga-wise: the poet's being "capable of living in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any iritable reaching after fact and reason." My only geeky quibble with this amazing yoga post would be with its emphasis on flexibility in practice. Yoga requests the strengthening of certain muscles to support the stretching or lengthening movement of other muscles. The process is one of multidirectional movement, inwardly and outwardly. The outward stretch is made more difficult and dangerous without some coordinating gathering toward the core.

  14. Oh, and the poses Patricia Walden said should make up the bulk of the beginner's practice are the standing poses—mountain pose, triangle pose, side angle pose, standing forward fold, and I think wide legged forward bend. And of course, downward facing dog. The video said that if you only have time to do one pose a day, it should be downward facing dog.

    Crud, now everybody is going to get this video and come to find out that I remembered it wrong. Keep in mind that this was 10 years ago.

  15. Ana, I don't recognize the cover, but after reading the reviews, I'm pretty sure that's it. There was a prologue of her practicing in a desert, and that's mentioned in the review, so it sounds like the same video. Thanks for finding it!

  16. Nice post.

    Sometimes, though, our faces will never touch out knees. Not all bodies are alike. My yoga instructor mentioned that in all her years of practice, she still can't touch her heels to the floor in downward facing dog.

    And that's okay.

    It's okay never to pray the gay away. Some singles will never find a partner. Some couples fast for children and go to their graves childless.

    Sometimes our faces never touch our knees, even if we try. And sometimes it's okay not to try. We need to know our limits and modify our postures if need be.


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