Firsts are often rather scary – or intimidating, if you tend to not feel fear (or prefer not to admit it!). The first time you do something, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Firsts are scary because each one represents a leap of faith, an endeavor into the unknown. The unknown is usually pretty scary – you know, the “only thing to fear is fear itself” sort of thing.
I taught my first yoga class the other day – the Introduction to Hatha Yoga workshop. (Well, the first class I’ve taught since completing my student teaching.) For some of the students who attended, it was the first time they had done yoga.
Firsts are scary and intimidating perhaps because we compare them to experiences that are old-hat. I’ve gone to the grocery store a thousand times; I’ve made and drank hundreds of cups of tea; I’ve rolled out my purple yoga mat and done probably hundreds of downward-facing dogs… but I felt preeeeetty nervous about that Into to Hatha Yoga class. And this is my first blog post (finally, right?); I’ve been avoiding it in part for fear of what will happen after you read it. But the grocery store, the tea, and downward-dogs on my purple mat – these acts, these experiences, I have encountered multiple times. So it’s not particularly scary when I face them again. I find some sense of security – a sentiment that, I think, most of us desire to feel; I believe that I am secure when I repeat those acts and experiences – I believe I know what is going to happen as I repeat those acts, what I will experience as I do so, and what will happen afterward. And so when I encounter the first time to do something “new,” I can feel insecure, because I do not know any of those same things.
However, the underlying assumption here is that an experience can actually be repeated. What I sometimes forget is that, even though I may have done fifty sun salutations, every single one is different. Each experience is new; perhaps sometimes it feels familiar – but sometimes even doing something that has been done a thousand times before can feel like a “new” experience. I’m sure some of you have heard those stories about people who have started practicing yoga, and then had that “off-the-mat experience” of feeling the wind on their cheeks for the first time, for example.
This concept of new, yet repeated, experiences reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from a literature class in college:
“That is the paradox of our [human] condition… Our experiences are not historical, but we are. Each of us is unique but the experiences of death or love are universal and repeated” – Octavio Paz
This is true not only when comparing ourselves to the people around us right now, and when comparing ourselves to others in the past and future, but also when we compare ourselves to ourselves! The person I am today is the same, but also very different, from the person I was five years ago, the person I was yesterday, the one I will be tomorrow, and even the one I will be five years from now. Or consider the love that I feel for my brother and sisters, for example. Today it is different than the love that I experienced for them ten years ago… because, I mean, ten years ago, I thought they were really annoying and kinda didn’t want them around! Certainly it will be different ten years from now as well. It is a unique love today – and even if I feel the exact same love tomorrow, it will be yet another unique love, because it will be a new experience: tomorrow, the history of us will be different.
So it is with yoga. We can repeat the exact same sequence every morning for ten years, and yet each time, the teachings of yoga encourage us to face the “same” sequence as if it were new. As if we can learn something new. As if it is the first time we do yoga… In fact, it’s not even an “as if” – because it is the first time we have done yoga. It is the first time we do yoga that day, at the very least. We do not know how our body will respond to the asanas today, even if it is the exact same asanas as yesterday.
I have been putting off writing this first blog post for a really long time now… That first yoga class I taught was a little over two weeks ago; and the first time this website made its appearance on the internet was, wow, a little more than two months ago. I have been both procrastinating and percolating – letting ideas come and go; letting ideas steep and develop; and also letting feelings of fear, concern, and anxiety block the way of my thoughts traveling through my fingers to the keyboard to this screen. But I’ve finally made my first posting – hopefully the first of many! Don’t worry, friends; as most of you likely know, I usually have a lot to say. It will probably come tumbling out soon, now that the “first” is over.
Until then, I hope that all have a most excellent day – and maybe feel the sun (or the rain) as if it were the first time again. Cheers!