Baffled by Numbers

Navigating information towards better health decisions.

My First Day of Paddle Board Yoga School

What should you wear on the first day of school?

Paddle board yoga on Lake Tahoe
To stay on your paddle board - take it easy
As the first day of school approaches, everyone, from kindergarteners to graduate students, aspire to do better this year. To expect more of themselves. To overcome their challenges. And I commend this general trend of self improvement, truly I do. All I'm saying is – let's take it one step at a time. Just like we need to be mindful and compassionate with every other form of behavior change – diet, smoking cessation, whatever is difficult and new. Why not go at our decisions with full speed? Because new habits take time to form new paths in our brain, and we need to allow for this transformation to occur. Or we fall in the water, just like I did.

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It was a beautiful morning on Lake Tahoe, and I dragged my older daughter to a paddle board yoga class. It seemed fairly innocent – the peaceful lake in its glorious summer, a purple paddle board, and yoga – which I have never done anywhere except on land.

What the heck do I know about paddle boards? Absolutely nothing. The closest I ever came to acquiring any marine experience was watching Jason Segal get surfing lessons in Forgetting Sarah Marshal ("do less, less, no, do more," remember?). 

And what do you wear? Just my yoga outfit, but I was wise enough to leave my glasses on shore.

How should you approach new habits or new skills? Gradually, with caution, with some level of compassion, allowing your mind and body to catch on and get you where you want to be. Because otherwise, you set the bar too high, and miss it, which can be discouraging, even painful.

How did I approach this new skill? Like an idiot, that's how. At first I was good, I was cautious. Doing downward facing dog, then cobra, while maintaining my balance on the paddle board. Doing cats and cows – poses that take place on your hands and knees. This was good enough. This should have been good enough for me, acknowledging that this is my first time, that I was born in a city far from the sea, with neither lake nor river, not even enough water to allow people to hose their cars. And that I'm far from being a natural at this. Even my daughter, reluctantly awoken at what for her is the ungodly hour of 7 am, was doing way better than me.

And then the instructor's voice carried on the water, asking us to amp it up a little, and take warrior one pose, involving sending one foot forward, the other one back, about four feet apart. Too big of a split on a shaky board. Too much of an endeavor for a beginner like me. A paddle board beginner born away from the sea.

This was the moment when my body knew I should stay on my knees, but the show off in me wanted to get on my feet and assume warrior pose.  I have been practicing yoga for nine years now, so surely I could do this on the paddle board, right? Everyone else was.

I'm ashamed to admit – not that I fell, but that my ego got the better of me. I got off my knees, sent my right leg forward, my left one back, and lost balance, falling into the nippy lake, yoga pants, tank top – the works. Getting soaked and laughing my head off. Because I, of all people, should know that learning a new skill, just like taking up a new habit, should be done one step at a time. That each step should be rewarding, even if you're still far from your ultimate goal. Because if you bite off more than you can chew, you may lose it altogether.

My daughter gave her old mother a shadow of a smile, a harbinger of how she will look at me when I spill my apple sauce in some nursing home.  The instructor asked if I needed help. No. I was fine, thank you. Humbly I climbed back on the paddle board, and did all the poses in a modified manner, a cautious one. Accepting myself and the fact that easy does it. That it's ok to get there one step at a time, and that taking baby steps, in paddle board yoga or any behavior change we take on in life, is better done in baby steps than not at all.

I may never go back to that studio on north Lake Tahoe. But I do know that I learned an important lesson, on my first day of paddle board yoga school – reach for the moon, but allow yourself to get there slowly but surely. With new habits, new skills, new challenges, this is sometimes the only way. 

Talya Miron-Shatz, Ph.D., is a researcher at Princeton University. She specializes in medical decision making of patients and health professionals.

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