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?