The yoga mat is so unused it won’t roll out flat. I set a shoe down on either end to keep it from scrolling back up on itself, and then stare at it with a sigh. Pink. Why did I choose pink? I don’t like pink.
Three years ago, at the pinnacle of my physical fitness regimen, I loved yoga. I had gotten good at it. I knew how good it felt to stretch tired ligaments, strengthen underused muscles, and balance – in ways that made my toddler son believe I was a super hero. I was diligent in my practice – if twice a week is diligent. I was more confident than afraid - still a little afraid. But not like I am now, facing the horrid Pepto Bismol pink mat.
I’m out of practice.
The new app on my phone has a 14 minute intro sequence for beginners. I prop it up on the couch and press “start.” Let the torture begin.
There was some falling. I fell over (is tree pose really for beginners??). The phone fell over (it must’ve felt my pain). My confidence fell (I guess we don’t just pick up where we left off, after all).
But nothing got broken.
“Practice makes perfect” is a thing that they say. Except it’s not true. “Nobody’s perfect,” is another thing they say. You can’t have it both ways.
As a kid I practiced for a lot of things. We probably all did. I practiced piano (45 minutes a day!!) I practiced viola (not nearly as much, owing to the fact that stringed instrument practice sounds are significantly less tolerable to the parental ear as piano practice sounds. The astute student will use this truth to her advantage). I practiced spelling words and singing and soccer. I practiced drawing nearly every day for the year in which I knew my calling was to be the next famous American artist. I practiced shooting hoops with my little sister and brother. I practiced dance routines for show choir. I practiced making friendship bracelets during a brief entrepreneurial stage when I convinced myself this could be a legitimate income generator for a 14 year old. It was not, in fact.
But the point is, a lot of my kid time was spent practicing. For something. And that’s just it. There was always a something. Practice, when we’re kids, has a specific purpose. We practice for performance: a concert, a recital, a game, a show, a spelling bee, a test, a tournament. That’s true right on up through high school, college, grad school – if you go that route.
Then the real world of adulting happens and by and large the tournaments are over. The select few among us find vocations still driven by performance, which inspires the necessary practice. But for the rest of us…the concert/recital circuit for the 30-something working mom is, well, you can imagine. There are no spelling bees for millennials or Gen X-ers or those of us who fall in between, and organized sports are only organized if we organize them now. All of a sudden our reasons for practicing are gone.
Or they’ve changed anyway.
Now the average Jo among us doesn’t practice so much to win or achieve or outshine or excel. I didn’t pull out the stinky pink mat to gear up for my yoga show or compete against my next-door neighbor. I’m not practicing it for a prize or applause. So what’s the point?
We redefine what practice means to us when performance is no longer the motivation.
Practice doesn’t make perfect. It never did. Practice makes a pattern.
And patterns are internal – which makes this kind of practice so much harder, but so much more worthwhile. Practicing for the sake of creating a pattern to our lives with no particular end in mind is deeply spiritual work and it requires intention on our part. We don’t so much practice to be good at what we do. We practice to become who we are.
We get to choose our own regimen. We decide what rituals we want to write on our hearts, our minds, our bodies. No one will make us do it, unless we ask them to, but through the practicing we choose we compose the rhythm of our lives. The things we practice (or don’t practice) now tell us less about what we can do, and more about who we are.
So now, I practice Portuguese so that I can communicate with friends in Mozambique – and also absorb a different socio-linguistic perspective on the world, because I’m nerdy like that.
I practice writing, not because I think anyone else will want to read it, but so that I can know myself as a writer.
I practice prayer, not because there is some great epiphany every time, but so my heart is trained and ready for those times when God does speak.
I practice singing, not because the mom-choir is holding open auditions, but because I always want a song in my heart.
And I suppose I’ll roll out the gross Bubble Yum pink mat again and resume my practice of yoga. Not because I will ever be amazing at it. But because I want my body to be strong. I want a pattern of balance in body and mind. Aaaand…maybe because I don’t want to throw my back out while chasing my toddler around 5 Star Burger. That’s a thing that happened.
But one thing’s for sure – I’m going to need a new mat.