The Mermaid Challenge

Earlier this spring I returned to the vinyasa yoga class that had kicked my butt a year earlier. While I finished the class and walked off the mat, I left a few things undone ON the mat.

Part of yoga is taking what you learn and your intentions with you. I decided I would need to be creative to achieve more of my goals.

One morning, coming down into pigeon pose, my eyes fell on a woman extending pigeon into mermaid pose, sort of a backbend while twisting around and holding your hand over your head. Comparative judgments aside, it was beautiful.

I wanted to do it. The Mermaid Challenge was born.

But how?

Like anything else, take baby steps. One thing at a time. No judgment of myself.

Who, me? I wanted to do mermaid right then and there!

Yoga instructor Ashley Gormley, director of group fitness for Lifetime Fitness, explained, “You have to work up to poses, but the heat will help because it will help you stretch your muscles. Also, your back might not be flexible, so mermaid might never happen. But you know that’s OK, right?”

That was a good question. What if I didn’t achieve the Mermaid Challenge?

Friend-yogi Angie Gellner immediately jumped on the challenge. We would do it together.
Every Monday morning found me in the back row of the yoga studio in hot vinyasa flow. And every Monday morning I talked myself into going. This class was not easy. It was challenging, hard and hot with the temperature rising to 90 degrees. My body sometimes would not do what I wanted it to do.

Sigh. So many good yoga concepts for me to embody.

Ashley reminded me, “Since no two people have the same bodies, no two poses are going to look exactly the same. We can be cued how a particular pose should look and how we can get into it, but we need to understand that it may look very different (from) the person next to us in yoga class.”

The bottom line in yoga is that despite practice, some people never are able to do specific poses because of individual anatomy. The one thing everyone can do is breathe – the only mandatory element in yoga practice.

Most Mondays found me wondering why I was there. Why was I not dancing in Zumba or outside walking the dog or riding my bike? Why subject myself to a hot, crowded room using my body weight to twist and turn, sit, and balance? It took a month to answer these questions.

I thought it through. How many times in life do we experience something that seems just too hard, so we walk away – simply because we can? Karyn Fairchild Franklin, the amazing instructor commented, “Most people wouldn’t do this, you know? If something is hard or complicated, people won’t do this.”

It was not time to walk away. I couldn’t. Something inside me kept bringing me back to this class and this instructor and the class challenging me in ways I had no idea I needed.

Meanwhile, Angie took up to four yoga classes each week and became increasingly flexible. She easily reached mermaid eons before I could imagine. She progressed to summer practices on a paddle board.
Watching Angie and Karyn, bodies bending and moving through yoga in ballet flow, was inspiring. Their balance was astonishing. Karyn was as encouraging as she was supportive. She talked of accepting “our bodies where we are today” and encouraged us to be grateful that our bodies “brought us here.”

Still returning week after week, I stretched and became more flexible, too. The heat helped me elongate. Most classes leave me dripping with sweat. I love it.

By June, my attitude about hot yoga had changed. It helped me slow down. And one Monday morning, I no longer tried to talk myself out of going. I was hooked. Ashley named that moment for me: life changing.

Travel kept me away three weeks in July. The first Monday back, again I had to sit down and concentrate on breathing. By the second week, the consistency was working, and it seemed that in time, I would return to my previous level. It was also in this class that, when I pushed further and – surprise! – catching pigeon pose, I reached back and grabbed my leg without cramping.

With miles still to another level, smiles radiated through the sweat.

Each and every yoga class teaches me something. With Karyn reminding us to accept ourselves where we were, I did feel gracious on that momentous day that my body could indeed make it beyond where it had stalled for weeks.

I love a challenge, physically or intellectually. Maybe my Mermaid Challenge has taught me to look for a way to push myself closer to the edge of what seems my limit.

In late August, Angie casually said, “I was able to reach mermaid pose yesterday!”

Very happy for Angie, I still want to achieve that pose. Maybe I will — and maybe I won’t. It is OK.

That attitude is one I plan to take off the mat with me.

This piece originally appeared in St. Louis Moms and Dads in the column SOS From Suburbia. I still cannot do a mermaid, but my tree pose, and dancer are spectacular!

About Pam Wilson

I've been writing since I can remember. At heart, I am a story-teller; making sense of my world, finding humor and light through writing. Now I help clients to write their own stories. As I continue my own writing journey, my passion is to help clients write their own stories.