Gap years provide opportunities to try something new or — if your time off comes later in life — to return and revisit neglected passions. In the last six months I’ve taken a writing course. I’ve incorporated my long-time love of guitar playing into my daily routine. A course on wine or bourbon tasting, to gain fresh insights into a couple of my more pleasurable pursuits, may be in my future. Perhaps I’ll use the new bike path that runs in front of our house as the impetus to rekindle my passion for cycling.
And while I’d given yoga a chance in the past, there were always other, seemingly more important, calls on my attention. But I now find myself here, in my gap year, returning to the yoga studio.
There’s a very logical reason for making this move: my muscles and joints were crying out for more flexibility. Several months ago I tripped while stepping off the train in London and fell to the concrete platform, landing directly on my right knee. For a number of weeks the pain in that kneecap, along with sympathy discomfort in my hips and other related body parts, had me feeling as if I had suddenly jumped on a fast track to old age*. It was easy to project forward a few years, see the probable upshot if things didn’t change, and know that it wasn’t pretty. While I have a collection of historic walking sticks I inherited from my dad, I’m not interested in using them anytime soon.
That led me to give yoga another try and, thankfully, the knees and hips are responding well. My morning walk no longer brings twinges of pain as I ramble through downtown. I find myself moving better than I was before my encounter with the train platform.
But physical flexibility hasn’t been the only outcome of this practice. Something strange began to happen while stretching body parts into new positions and discovering previously unknown bones, joints, and muscles. As I focus on listening to my teachers, I’m beginning to see that the lack of suppleness in my body had perhaps become too well matched with similar traits in my way of thinking.
This will come as a shock to those who know me well, but I realize that when making decisions or choosing a path forward, there are times when I can be inflexible. (I’ll wait for the laughter to die down.)
In working through issues with physical flexibility, I came to see that rigidity in mind and spirit can also be a challenge. Think of the decline in communication that’s all around us, where we attack others rather than seek to understand different perspectives. We’ve all seen examples of people who, as they move through life, fear what’s next and want to hang on to what they have and what they wish to be true. As the writer Ursula K. Le Guin notes in No Time to Spare, these are the ones who have “given up on the long-range view.”
Fortunately, there are also those who, in her words, live in a country that has a future. Who realize the incredible amount we learn “between our birthday and our last day.” If we are flexible enough in mind and spirit to recognize “how rich we are in knowledge, and in all that lies around us yet to learn,” we can maintain the seeking, trusting capacity for learning that we had as a two-year-old.
I went into a recent yoga session with this on my mind. When the question was raised of our intention for that day’s practice, a thankfulness for having the time, the teachers, the family members, and the friends to focus me on the need for flexibility — in all its manifestations — rose to the top. I am grateful for those who have encouraged me to pursue that link between mind, body, and spirit. Although I am (at this point) about the least capable and least flexible yoga student in my classes, it doesn’t matter. The very practical impetus on getting my body aligned has, surprisingly, led me to think more deeply about the need for flexibility in other parts of my life.
The gap year results are not always as planned, but thanks to an unexpected search for flexibility, I’ve been rewarded nonetheless. Who knew? (That’s a rhetorical question.)
Have a good week.
More to come…
“The toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
Shin bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
Hip bone connected to the back bone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
Neck bone connected to the head bone
Now hear the word of the Lord.”
Old Ezekiel would have made a good yoga teacher!
Installment #12 of The Gap Year Chronicles
Image: Sign and entrance to my yoga studio