I’ve been practicing yoga since I was 11. Twenty-seven years of group and solo sessions has not made me an expert, but it has helped me create a ritual around meeting myself as I am. My mat is a place where I can push myself and forgive myself, accepting the day-to-day variations of my body, my mind, my energy, and life in general.
At the same time, in almost three decades of practicing awareness, I developed some unintentional habits. One was that when given the cue to “jump or step” my feet from downward-facing dog to meet my hands for a standing forward fold at the top of the mat (a traditional part of a vinyasa flow), I always stepped.
I don’t remember ever making a conscious decision to step instead of jump. Jumping is challenging, so maybe I originally wanted to take the easier path. Or maybe, at some point, I felt afraid of falling or failing or looking silly and I chose to protect my body or pride.
Regardless of how I ended up on Team Step, for a long time I was firmly in that camp and didn’t give it a second thought. It was as though I had stopped even hearing the instruction to make a choice. My brain and body simply skipped over the option to jump.
That is, until something in the “jump or step” cue changed. In a recent virtual class with yoga instructor Kathryn Budig, the jumping option expanded to include new-to-me instructions: Bring the big toes together to touch, bend the knees, raise the heels, gaze forward, and then jump.
Without thinking, I tried it. Not only did I jump, I landed. Not only did I land, I did so silently, even gracefully. (At least I was silent until I realized what had happened, and then I gasped and did a little cheer. My inner 11-year-old was quite impressed.)
Ever since, when the option arises, I have made a conscious choice to do one or the other. Do I want to jump or do I want to step? What suits my body today? What suits my energy? What might bring me a bit of lightness, a bit of joy?
Transitions do matter. They prepare us for what comes next, laying a foundation for success.
The newfound awareness has not only given back to me a choice I didn’t realize I’d been denying myself but opened me up to new ways of moving to the top of the mat. Maybe I’ll take teeny-tiny steps on my tippy-toes, I thought one day. Maybe I’ll do a little dance, I thought on another, trying a series of step-ball-changes as my mode of travel.
This might seem like a small shift — an inconsequential one, even. After all, the jump or step is just a transition between big-ticket poses that make up most of an asana practice, right? A jump or step takes only a moment. What difference does it make?
I’m here to tell anyone who’ll listen: It makes a big difference.
One of the greatest yoga (and fitness and life) lessons I’ve learned is that the transitions do matter. They prepare us for what comes next, laying a foundation for success.
Transitions can be challenging — in this case, a test of balancing engagement and relaxation, control and ease — thus setting us up to “Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” to borrow from Samuel Beckett.
We can blow through transitions, moving on autopilot, never pausing, never making a choice. Or we can take a moment to come back to ourselves and to what we’re doing, what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling.
The transition becomes an opportunity for connection — linking not just point A to point B, down dog to forward fold. When I pay attention, transitions become even more substantial, connecting me back to my self.
I don’t land every jump I take now. Sure, sometimes I feel like I’m floating. But just as often, I land awkwardly or stumble. I misjudge my center of gravity, mistake speed for power, get distracted, or overthink it.
It’s all OK. For me, the yoga mat is a place to play and to welcome lessons that I can carry with me out into the world.
This article originally appeared as “To Step or to Jump?” in the April 2022 issue of Experience Life.