Saturday, October 29, 2011

Back to Basics

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” – John Wooden

It is sort of hard for the current me to believe, but there was a time when I wanted to go to Stanford for college to play basketball. Sadly, I stopped growing at about 5’6” (167 cm), and more importantly, I was never very good. But that did not mean I did not try, and I went to a basketball camp a couple of times, which was run by Steve Lavin, an assistant coach for UCLA, where John Wooden’s legacy has lived for years. So this is how a lawyer-yogi quotes John Wooden and knows what it means. The man was, and remains, inspiring. I went looking for him (specifically the quote above) when I wanted to write this post, and I found several gems. Expect him to grace the pages of this blog over the next several weeks.

But today’s topic is “back to basics.” I have talked about this before (here and here), but I have also been thinking about it a lot this week.  All of the yoga teachers whose classes I attend know that I am also a teacher. So do many of the other people in the classes. But many people in the class are “better” at asana than I am. I have very problematic hips and a serious fear of handstands, so my asana practice comes and goes. Some days (ok, most days), I think I have more to learn than the first time I stepped on a mat.

And that’s the best part! 

It is very easy to get complacent in life. It is very easy to think, “I have done this before, so I can let my mind wander as I do it again.” It is really easy to fall into our patterns and samskaras. To be honest, driving on the left side of the road is starting to feel natural now, and I find myself being less and less conscious as I make wide right turns.

But yoga is about noticing the subtleties and noticing how each day is different. Sure, you can “do” vrksasana (tree pose), but how is it different today than yesterday? What muscles need to work differently now to hold you in space? Is today a day where I feel balanced and comfortable in the pose, or is today a difficult day where I wobble back and forth?

I have taken a couple of meditation classes here over the past few months, and one of the yoga teachers asked me, “do you not have a practice already?” To be honest, I have never meditated every day in the past. I start and stop. But that was not the reason I took the classes. The woman who taught the first class said it best, “you can never take too many introduction classes.” That was her way of saying, “it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

Going back to basics keeps us honest in everything we do. We learn to be better lawyers, librarians, psychologists, athletes, and people when we constantly forego what we “know” and remember that we always have a long way to go. This is not a nihilistic view that we can never be good enough at anything. Instead, it is a recognition that we can always engage more deeply with ourselves and learn to do things better. The more we learn, the more we can tune into the subtleties. After all, we know “the devil is in the details,” so when we take the time to tune into those details, by continuously going back to the basics, that’s when we do our best.

John Wooden was right. We may think we know it all, but that’s when the going gets great! That’s when we can let go of trying to do it, and actually begin to understand. Where do you go back to basics?


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.


  1. In the basics a discipline that teaches us how to relax so completely that time stands still, everything becomes quiet and clarity ensues.
    And our bodies relax further and deeper from that state of complete relaxation.
    Life Coach Australia

  2. A Great Content. Thank you very much for sharing value blogs for Yoga.