Summer is on its merry way, and in yoga class today, my thoughts turned toward the swimming pool. I think the train of thought went something like this:
"OMG, I can't believe how much I'm sweating already. It's only Awkward pose, and already my clothes are soaked. I look like I just got out of the swimming pool. Swimming pool, yeah, like when I was little kid. My brother and I could stay in that pool for hours."
"Yes! Now it's Eagle pose, and then we get a water break."
"But Mary, mother of God, why do we have to do every pose twice? Why twice?!"
My thoughts drifted back to the swimming pool now and then during that class, and I ask the "why twice?" question a couple more times. Sometime during savasana between the standing and floor series that I thought of my first swimming lesson as a child.
I was three or four years old, and I had never gotten my head under the water before. As you swimmers might remember, getting the head underwater is a huge step for beginners. I was in the shallow end with the teacher--an old, firm, but calm woman--and she had thrown plastic sea creatures onto the bottom of the pool. After we got into the pool, she very quickly and very precisely touched the back of my neck and said, "You're going to get the sea creatures! GO!" and pushed my head under the water.
I came up coughing and frightened, but I got no sympathy from the teacher. She asked firmly but kindly, "Did you get the creatures? Did you get them?" I remember shaking my head no as the tears rolled down my face. Before I was fully able to process what was happening, she said, "OK, you'll get them this time." Before I had a chance to protest, she said, "breathe in!" and shoved my head underwater. This time, I reached out my hand and grabbed one of the plastic toys before she released her grip.
I remember that feeling of "I did it!" when I came back up. It was mixed with fear, of course, but I felt a sense of pride and elation. Even better, when I left the swimming lesson wrapped in a big towel, the teacher handed me an enormous home-made cookie to nibble on as we drove home.
My mother later told me she was horrified when the teacher pushed me under like that. But you can't argue with results, and the teacher got them right away.
I'm thinking that this little story might relate to the "why twice?" question. For beginners especially, the poses are foreign and frightening. Even for experienced Bikram yogis, the body in the asana varies so much day-by-day that they can seem a little like being underwater for the first time. There are days when I feel like I'm doing Camel for the first time. So much comes up, and so much feels new. But we get to try it again, to go deeper, to get it right this time. And, we get to try right away, before we have a chance to protest.
Maybe our yoga instructors are like that swimming teacher. They push us into a world we are not familiar with, and then they push us into it again. And eventually, we can learn to breathe there, to really be there. That's where the sense of accomplishment comes in, and that's why we leave the class feeling better than being nuzzled in a towel and eating a freshly-baked cookie.
OK, well... the sense of accomplishment is great, but I'll still take that cookie!