What Yoga Taught me about Language Mastery
Back in English class in high school, I had an American teacher. She was American in the best ways - motivating, energized, open to chit-chatting and proud of her students.
One day, she praised us for our hard work but admitted that for now, she couldn’t see a clear evolution in our results. She went on to explain that it was okay; she knew that if we kept our efforts high, we would climb the next step sooner than later. Learning a language is not a steady curved line, rather, a staircase with high steps, she said.
She shared that ‘practice makes perfect’. It was the first time I’d heard the expression; it stuck with me for a little while. I was so hopeful and very excited. I deeply wanted my English to be perfect. Her words gave me the energy to keep working on my vocabulary lists, writing practice, song-translating, movie-watching, 6-minutes-English-podcast-listening.
10 years later, still not perfect
But almost 10 years later in practice, my English is still not perfect. Sure, it has improved significantly, but Grammarly is always there to remind me when I get confused with prepositions, and native speakers remind me of my non-nativeness when they say that my articles are ‘very well-written,’ but that they ‘wouldn’t have put it that way.’
Language and yoga practices have a lot in common.
After practising anything for a while, wether it's cooking or swimming or yoga or language learning, we realize that the more we practice, the more we have to practice. The more we learn, the more we understand, the more we can keep learning. The way we perceive our practice and the way we define perfection evolves with who we are and the seasons we go through. Meaning that a handstand might matter to me now, but once there, once the excitement of getting into the handstand has passed, will I really care, stop there and stop practising?
When it comes to learning, we go through stages. The confident-I-can-do-this stages, the I-am-excited-about-this stages, the this-is-too-hard stages, the why-am-I-not-getting-better frustrating stages; they go in circles and the circles go round and back and on and on.
It doesn’t stop - and fortunately for us, I don’t think it ever will. The perfect is never around the corner. There’s always something to better, tweaks to be open to, adjustments to make.
It’s the lesson, not the perfection, that’s interesting
It’s all a practice - there’s no perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist because there’s always something to learn. The learning never stops; and whether it’s from a seemingly positive or negative experience, it’s the lesson, not the perfection, that’s interesting. It’s because of the lesson we get from getting into a handstand, or from getting to use new words, that we come back to the practice. Not because the handstand looked oh so aligned or the new word made the sentence beautifully complex.
May we remember, on our next adventure - whatever it might be - that it’s not because we managed to get to ‘perfect’ that we keep aiming for more. It’s because of the growing, the learning, the 'look how far I've come.'