I’m the bottom of the class. A yoga teacher training class.
I’ve been here before; at the bottom.
During my some of my O’ and A’ levels I was that student that the teacher picked out for extra attention I was so bad.
Mrs Garrett the Maths teacher would explain the Maths to the whole class and would then say; ‘Julie poppet, you’d better come and sit by me and we’ll go through it again’. She didn’t even wait for me to ask for help, she just called me up right away. Maths used to make me cry.
So did Physics. I once got 4% in an O’ level Physics class test and cried all the way home.
I passed Maths and Physics with Cs. I was lucky enough to have very patient teachers and I guess I must have kept going hard enough to squeeze passes.
So it’s not the first time I’ve been at the bottom of the class, but it’s been a while and it’s not a comfortable place to be.
You see, I’m doing my yoga teacher training and most of the people on the course are much younger than me and have also been doing yoga for 15 years or more and so are super flexible. I’ve been doing it daily for 2 years and am more flexible than I was, but no where near as flexible them.
So on Sunday we were all doing seated forward fold (Paschimottanasana) which is where your legs are out straight in front of you with your toes towards the ceiling and your back is at 90 degrees to your legs. You then bend forward from your hips only, keeping your back straight. Some of my class mates could lay their straight torso along their straight legs. I could only move about ten centimeters forward (or that’s what it felt like). Tight ham strings. The teacher used me to demonstrate how to adjust someone with tight ham strings.
Then we did downward dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) which I thought I was ok at, but oh no, apparently my lower back is still a bit curved…you guessed it; tight ham strings, and yet again the demo model on how to adjust someone.
Then when we were planning a lesson together, the teacher was using all the Sanskrit names of which I know about 2 out of many; so I was the only one in the class saying ‘which position is that then?’.
It didn’t feel good.
So of course I have taken action. I have started to learn one Sanskrit name a day; today’s is Virabhadrasana (warrior pose). I have also googled ham string stretches and done some today.
But the real learning for me was to really remember how it feels to be not very good at something, especially compared to other people, in a public space. It helps me empathise with my eldest son who is in the first year of his GCSEs and has struggled with being the bottom of the top sets. He wanted to quit and move down a set, to be the best of the second set. When he was having his wobble, I did empathise, but during my yoga class, I really felt how he must have been feeling. It would be so much easier to stay where it is comfortable, for him in second set and for me, not doing yoga teacher training. But where’s the challenge in that?
So many of the kids I coach see failure as an ending, as a sign that is all over. I remind them that they only learned to walk by falling over a lot first and to talk but babbling for months and months before they produced their first word. We forget how far we have come but also how long it took to get here. We forget that anything we get the hang of or succeed in is only because we have practiced and practiced it.
One of my colleagues at work is learning Italian; slowly. She was so chuffed the other day when her daughter told her what a great role model she is to her for struggling with something she finds hard. She practices regularly.
All of which makes me think that it’s not often that kids see their parents struggle to learn something new. By the time they come along we are often settled into careers and competent in daily living. Any struggles we are facing are often at work, where our kids don’t see us, or in our personal life, which we don’t want to share with them. So they don’t see that it’s OK to struggle, to get things wrong, to make a mess of things; what they see is competency and it looks easy.
So I have made a point of talking about my feelings of incompetence at home and the boys have been testing me on Sanskrit words (with some very funny pronunciations). I want them to see me struggle to improve, not to be the best in the class, which I am seriously never going to be, but to improve in my own practice, which I am.
I can do the pose above much more strongly with my foot right at the top of my leg, and in the spring I cracked the wheel pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana ). When I first started learning crow pose (Bakasana), I kept literally, falling on my face, and now I can do it. It is hugely satisfying when suddenly I master a balance or when I can bend further than I have before.
Maybe as parents we need to put ourselves in situations where we struggle and fail at first so that our kids know that they are not alone and that it really is all about perseverance, practice, determination and commitment, and most importantly, getting up every time we fall down, and doing it again, and again and again.