familiar and new

Familiar and New

Raise your hand if you prefer novelty to familiarity. ::raises hand:: I do!  

Not in all things. I really like my home and studios to be familiar. But generally speaking, I have a tendency toward new things. New experiences, new projects, new books, new practices, new knowledge. This shows up in the pressure I put on myself in teaching. I feel like to keep it interesting, I need to keep it fresh. New sequences, new focus areas, new techniques. I don’t want to teach the same thing day to day or week to week. I don’t want people to get bored.  


But repetition is the key to learning. Take the same idea or action and learn it, relearn it, apply it, fit it into different contexts, stay with it, and one day understand it fully…know it. Then it’s yours to use to build upon, innovate, and create. Plus, knowing what’s coming next can reduce stress. Routines are soothing. They help you feel ready to handle the unknown.  


But the body and brain love novelty. Without it, we stagnate. If we’re kept immobile, as in a cast, our muscles atrophy. They waste away. If we don’t challenge our brains, we dull our mental capacities. We get slower, we lose wit. Besides that, with the same ole same ole every day we can get unmotivated, bored. Stuck.  

Which is another reason, in my long list of reasons, I love practicing yoga. It’s both familiar and new, built in. 

For example, you can return to the same pose again and again and do it five million different ways.  

On the outside, to an untrained eye, it might look about the same every time. But from the inside, the mind/body experience of that pose can change dramatically. The first dozen times you do it, you notice the excruciating stretch in your hamstring, and how when you bend your knee you get relief.  

Then you notice how your feet feel naked on the mat, connected, grounded. For the first time you really sense how your feet hold you up. You can feel your toes gripping the mat. You relax them. Ahhh, that feels nice. You now have a working relationship with your toes. Toes! Who knew? 

After that, in the same pose, you feel how your ribs expand when you inhale and shift your bones ever so slightly, lifting your chest off your belly. You notice how you tend to collapse and slump. You find strength as you lengthen your spine. Aha! This is the whole “better posture” thing you’ve been thinking about buying that weird back buzzer device for. But here, in this familiar pose, it dawned on you intuitively. You’re connecting deeper to your felt sense of self. You don’t have to buy anything.  

Some time after that, in the same old pose, you hold the feeling of compassion in your heart and notice your tight jaw, your physical rigidity. You soften the force and let your breath flow through the shape you’re making with your body. It softens your chest, your heart. You feel tears welling up. Now you’re that guy crying in yoga class. Now you think you get it. What “it” is, well…it’s you. You get you. Familiar, and new.  


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