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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.

Maggie Fazeli Fard

Maggie Fazeli Fard, RKC, is an Experience Life senior editor.

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