“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
– Arthur Ashe
Growing up in Iowa I was lucky enough to go on family vacations every summer. Four kids and my parents packed ourselves in a four-door Oldsmobile, pulling a pop-up camper with attached bicycles and coolers and fishing rods projecting like appendages on a bug. Our destination might be a lake in Minnesota or a valley in Colorado, but it always included a campground with plenty of space to wander and a ring of stones for a fire. And no matter where we went on our summer adventures, getting lost along the way seemed to be natural. My dad would drive while my mom read the map and the blame for “who got us lost” was never fully established. So, we would pull over to the side of the road and study the Rand McNally.
The first order of business when you’re looking at a map, or consulting your GPS is to determine where you are. With a big red X you conclude the place you are currently occupying, then find the destination you’re after, and chart the best route to get there. But always, you start from where you are.
Arriving at the destination of our week-long reprieve meant cranking open the camper, unpacking the gear and setting up “home” in the trampled grass. We carried “entertainment” with us on those trips. No televisions or cell phones or electronic game devices. We had a bicycle or two for sharing, lawn darts and whatever small toys we could carry in our communal suitcases. My parents were practiced and proficient campers but with four little kids and a weeks worth of provisions, there wasn’t room for excess. We learned to be content with the goods at our disposal, and used what we had.
If we were lucky enough to be near water on our summer adventure there was unlimited enjoyment to be had. Swimming in the cloudy lake, digging in the sand or fishing at the banks. If we camped among the trees, we hiked worn pathways through the timber and climbed rocks in the foothills. We explored every nook and dark space of our surroundings and even made occasional day trips to caves and reservoirs. It seemed there was always a small town near our favorite campground with a souvenir store and ice cream. No summer vacation is complete without ice cream. We had pancakes at the picnic table in the morning and devoured s’mores each night in the fog of our campfire. We did everything we could within the boundaries of our vacation location, and we made the most of those family trips.
When Arthur Ashe uttered the words of his familiar quote, he probably didn’t have a camping vacation in mind. But I think the impact of his statement can be applied to nearly all aspects of life. And none more congruously than yoga.
Yoga is a lifestyle that encourages more mindful breath, movement, introspection, consumption and inclusion. Yoga encompasses so much more than the poses that are associated with its practice, yet it’s the poses that generally keep newcomers from taking part. We rationalize that we just aren’t flexible enough or an injury has us apprehensive. When, in fact, the entirety of yoga comes without judgment or pre-requisite. Yoga is not about “getting somewhere.” Yoga teaches us to start from where we are. Each time we come to the mat, whether it’s for the first time or the one hundred and first time, we begin anew. Like a road map, we are aware of the space we currently occupy and the body we are in. We get to decide the direction we take and the speed at which we travel.
Yoga reminds us to use what we have. If you don’t have a yoga mat, you can use a towel or a rug. You can plant your feet in the grass or dig your toes in the sand. Yoga can be practiced in a chair or atop a paddle board. Yoga happens on a busy street, in a crowded restaurant or sitting in your living room. Yoga can be five minutes of quiet meditation or 90 minutes of power holds. Yoga is a mindful mixture of incremental movement, broadened perspective and narrowed focus. All it takes is a flexible mind and a beating heart to invite yoga into your life.
As a yoga instructor, I always encourage my students to listen to the voice of their own body. Only you know what you’re feeling on a particular day. Only you are aware of the sensations caused by illness or injury or a poor night’s sleep. Today you may stand on your head to meditate, but tomorrow a simple forward fold requires your deepest concentration. You may never touch your toes. You may never be a vegan. Meditation may be elusive, and your compassionate side might wax and wane. That’s why we call it yoga practice. There is no expectation for perfection. You do what you can.
When I’m teaching a class, I love the moment when I cue a new pose and I see as many versions of that posture as there are students in the class. Every individual is working to their own ability, within the limitations of the moment, and they’re not afraid to express their uniqueness. That’s when I know they have tapped in to their own yoga practice.
No matter what the circumstances we are dealing with in our life we can remember the words of Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” When we follow this simple mantra, we can be anywhere on the road map of our life, with the ability to choose the path that best serves us. From there we take the first step and do what we can; on this day, in this moment, and with this breath.
Laurie Kasperbauer is an active Florida Realtor specializing in properties in Naples and Marco Island. Laurie also enjoys the spiritual and physical benefits of yoga practice and instructs both group and private classes.