Inviting the limber young neighbor girl to do yoga with me one day really put me in my place. This kid could put her leg around her head, do the splits, and almost tie her arms in knots. I couldn’t help but stare as she slid into each pose like syrup on a pancake. Jealous much?
In my favor was patience, a highly crucial aspect of yoga, I like to remind myself while watching the 10 year-old hold a perfect triangle pose without toppling. She would get into the pose as quickly as she could to impress me. Ok, it worked, but I kept reminding myself that speed was not the issue here. Focusing on the breath as it guides you through various poses and pauses is the key in my practice. She was just plain showing off, the little rubber band.
Then I remembered how limber I used to be as a child and even as a teen. How many of us used to be flexible if not downright limber? But elementary school put me in a chair for 7 hours a day, and the academic hours spent at home increased as I approached my graduate degree. So much sitting. It wasn’t until I was married with three kids that I got a gym membership, took up spinning and cycling and did my first century ride. My strength improved, but as my good friend and yoga instructor used to cluck at me, “You have strength, but you need flexibility!”
I turned back to my little yoga partner and wished that she could stay flexible, eager to show off her amazing skills, and never feel that tightness in the back of her neck from bending over books or staring at a computer. The reality is, and I don’t think our academic culture has realized this yet, that in order to excel, we really need to take care of our bodies as much as our minds. The connection is intrinsic as medical study after study shows, and as yogis and yoginis everywhere already know to be true.
If you have a child in your life who is just embarking on or is already in the midst of an academic career, encourage him or her to spend time daily working on the mind-body connection, either through yoga, meditation, or just some slow, simple stretches. Teach them to focus on their breath to guide their physical movements during this time, and their ability to focus on any task at hand will also improve.
I think I’ll do yoga with my young friend again, if only to continue to be inspired. But perhaps I’ll be able teach her by example that speed isn’t everything, and spending a Life on a Yoga Mat is a great way to live.