“There’s only one way to eat an elephant–a piece at a time.”
The trail to the top of the peak was carved out perfectly in the gray rock–an unrelenting uphill climb. I looked ahead and then reflected briefly on the sensations in my body–my legs were tiring, my heart was pounding, and my lungs were working harder than usual, not used to breathing up at 14,000ft.
My friend Rachel and I were climbing two connected 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado: Grays Peak and Torreys Peak. The goal of reaching the summit of a 14,000ft peak (or as hikers call it “a fourteener”) has long been a bucket list item for me. However, the task was daunting, and I’d always found reasons not to do it. But there we were, up before the sunrise, walking steadily towards our goal of reaching the top.
As we climbed, step after step, with the peak of Grays looming in the distance, Rachel told me about the first American woman to climb Everest, Stacy Allison.
“I always remind myself of what Stacy told herself as she was climbing Everest,” Rachel said.
As Stacy climbed up the 29,000 foot peak, she had a phrase that she repeated to herself:
“All I’m doing is walking uphill, slowly, one step at a time.”
As we hiked that day, I kept returning to that phrase. We were, indeed, just moving slowly upwards. I was reminded how powerful it can be to use small phrases and mindset shifts when, like that phrase, when you are in the midst of a trying task or challenging moment, and how helpful it was for me to treat this daunting task as if it were just a series of small tasks.
Rachel and I made it to the summit of the first peak and as we stepped up onto the mountain-top I felt my breath catch in my throat. All around us the vast, expansive peaks of the Rocky Mountains jutted into the air, stretching on for miles, endlessly into the sky. We were standing above it all. The whole world at our feet. In that moment, I knew that every small step was worth it.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
– Lao Tzu
How to present this theme in a yoga class:
So the yoga theme I present to you is the idea of starting with small steps to get you to a bigger goal.
In our yoga practice, we often face challenges that we feel are too big for us. When we feel tired before we’ve even started class we wonder how in the world we’re going to make it to the end; when we’re in chair pose and our thighs are burning we feel like it will never end; when we have an advanced posture that we hope to be able to access one day, but our bodies don’t seem close to ready, we can feel like giving up. These are natural, normal feelings. However, the reminder of not treating these tasks like one big thing that will be accomplished in the moment, but rather just facing the next task, the next pose, that lays ahead of you, is a great theme to bring into a yoga class.
As a teacher, you might begin weaving this theme into your class by introducing a story of your own on this theme as your opening centering moment. From there, perhaps you invite students to think of an intention or mantra around this theme. As you move through class, particularly in challenging postures or intense periods of movement, you can encourage them to remember and repeat their phrase again:
I’m just taking one step at a time.
Just reminding students to take practice (and life) one step at a time can be a meaningful way to cultivate presence and perseverance. It reminds us that a big task, taken in tiny increments, becomes much more manageable.
So, my friends, this is the yoga intention I invite you to use with your students, too. The theme of taking big tasks in small steps. The theme of perseverance. The reminder that they are, indeed, strong enough to take that next step.
It’s all part of the journey.