Worry less, practice more.

After a rough practice, I felt pretty rattled and decided to do a bit of skate maintenance to settle down.
After a rough practice, I felt pretty rattled and decided to do a bit of skate maintenance to settle down.

I fell at practice last night and scared myself more than I hurt myself. I needed to get back on wheels tonight* and not let that fall defeat me, so me and my anxiety went to the skating rink with Jennanigans and her daughter.

The cool thing about skating with the Little One (we need to give her a derby name!) is she distracts me from myself. I’ll skate backwards in front of her slowly, pretending to guide her when really, I’m using her as a focal point so I will stop obsessing about the fact that “omg I’m going backwards!” After a few laps like that, I started to feel pretty good, but still struggled with transitions. Going backwards? Not so bad. Getting backwards? Scary, apparently.

One of the lame parts of open skate is self-consciousness (also known as just another form of fear). At derby practice, everyone is working on themselves and you know they’re not judging you. People fall so often during practice that no one even looks twice unless they think you might be seriously hurt. But at open skate, derby girls tend to stick out, and it’s a whole different atmosphere. The thought of a fall like last night’s during open skate made me too nervous to practice transitions on the track with kids.

I spent some time on more familiar skills including one-footed weaving. The weaving was where I got in trouble. Certain rink regulars love to give advice, and I haven’t minded it in the past, but tonight it was just a distraction. I really wanted to focus on my own work, but here I was trying to ignore this guy who wanted me to use my lifted leg as a rudder. He tried to quiz me on how boats work and actually asked, “Have you seen a boat?” I had to tell him, “Are we having a physics lesson now? I just wanna skate. I don’t wanna talk about it. I learn things by doing them.” What I wanted to tell him was I am from the motherfucking Gulf of Mexico. I have seen boats, my knee is not a rudder, and pumping your leg out to the side like you’re working an invisible thigh master is not going to make you go faster.

All the distractions eventually frustrated me enough that I gave up and went to work on the thing I was feeling afraid of. I went in the center of the rink and skated back and forth for around 30 minutes turning around over and over again. I figured out which one was my “bad side” and kept turning that way until it felt as good as my other side. I practiced until it didn’t feel scary, and then I did it some more just for good measure. It was not glamorous or interesting to watch I’m sure, but it felt pretty great.

Some days (like yesterday), I don’t even know why I want to play roller derby. I don’t care about being a star athlete. I’ve never even viewed myself as very athletic. I love the community, but that alone isn’t a good enough reason for me to push myself like this. Yet I am addicted to derby. It’s not just the endorphins from a good workout but the exhilaration of having dome something I was once afraid to do.

Chances are, the next time I put on skates I’ll still feel a little intimidated by my first couple transitions. Just like I used to be scared of crossing over. But crossovers kept getting easier until they became natural, and transitions will be the same. It’s funny to me that I can predict: This is going to get easier. I know it will because I’m practicing. That actually makes me feel powerful in a really simple and practical way. I have the ability to get better because I choose to practice.

*It’s 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday, but I’m still calling it Tuesday because I haven’t gone to sleep yet. So sue me.

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When a Fail isn’t a Fail

Roller skates at La Muette, Paris, 1955. Photo: Robert Doisneau; One of the drills we did last night looked a lot like this. I was the one in back.
Roller skates at La Muette, Paris, 1955. Photo: Robert Doisneau; One of the drills we did last night looked a lot like this. I was the one in back.

Last night, we had a skills assessment at practice, and today I’m waiting to hear how I did. I am about 90% expecting to hear that I did not pass, but a little part of me is holding out hope that maybe I did better than I thought. The thing is, almost no one passes the orange assessment on their first try. Leading up to last night, lots of teamed skaters told me and the other white stars (the nice name for fresh meat) how many times they had to take the assessment before they passed. Many tried two, three, or four times. I’ve heard it’s common to take six months for a brand new skater to be ready to start scrimmaging. That sounds like a long time, but based on the progress I’ve made so far, it wouldn’t surprise me if it takes that long. From one practice to the next, it’s slow, steady improvement. The world doesn’t change over night, and neither does my ability to do a proper plow stop.

So, why did I do the assessment if I felt certain I was going to fail? Well, mostly because I needed the practice points to make the attendance requirement for this month, but also to find out how far I’ve come and what I need to work on the most. And yes, part of me thought, “Maybe it will all click and suddenly make sense when I’m testing, and I’ll do really well.” Some things did click for me. In a slightly pressured situation, I found myself a little more agile and confident than I was two months ago. On the other hand, I realized some skills I just don’t have yet: I don’t really know how to hit, I don’t get low enough to take a hit without falling over, and I don’t have very good endurance. And that’s all stuff I’m aware of without getting my feedback yet, so I’m sure what I get back will be helpful, and then I’ll have some points to focus on before the next assessment. And the cool thing is, I’m pretty sure I can get better, so I just have to keep doing it.

As my fellow freshies are getting their responses and sharing them among our little group, I’m eager to get mine, but mostly I’m feeling really happy for us all. There was a lot of team work involved last night, and I was proud of the way we communicated with and encouraged one another. We did a good job of supporting one another while we did our own best. At one point or another, every one of us said or thought, “I can’t fucking do this,” but we did. And everyone was so damn proud of everyone else by the end of the night, it was a little ridiculous. The experience itself was worth the nerves and exhaustion, and even though I feel certain I didn’t pass, it doesn’t feel like a failure.

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Why Do Derby Today (my reminders)

Attack Dog Three Kids

I’m pretty sure my fellow freshies will understand when I say I identify a little too much with these toddlers.

Roller derby is not easy. As I was reminded at practice this week, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” In fact, if it were easy, I would have done it ages ago, gotten bored with it and quit by now. In the past week or two, I’ve had moments of wondering whether derby is for me or if I’ll ever get good at it. A pulled muscle in my hip and one very discouraging practice had me thinking I’d never be good enough to scrimmage, let alone get on a team. But a couple days later I had a good practice, learned some things, felt a little stronger, and connected with league mates I hadn’t talked with before.

I love the way our practices are set up so the new girls get to drill with the vets and learn skills from them. Skaters at every level are eager to share what they know and to give a word of encouragement whenever it’s needed. Still, there are days when you come home and just want to cry because (a) something hurts, and/or (b) you just don’t think you’ll ever get there.

Especially when you’re in pain, it’s easy to forget all the good stuff, so I’ve started a running file on my phone called “Why Do Derby Today.” This is where I keep track of the reasons I love derby so I won’t forget them when I have a hard day. Here’s the list so far:

  1. Derby makes me feel really strong.
  2. Facing challenges helps me get braver.
  3. All the awesome friends.
  4. Be an example of what’s possible for other women.
  5. Do it for the sense of accomplishment.
  6. Eat what you want, and never feel bad about it.
  7. Seeing how far I’ve come already, I wonder how much further I could go.
  8. My league mates are awesome and always willing to help me learn and improve.
  9. Hitting drills are fun and not as scary as I thought.

So, next time I’m afraid I totally suck and will never get it right, hopefully this little list will remind me why it’s worthwhile to keep trying. With a little encouragement from my friends I’ll keep showing up, doing what I can, and hopefully growing a little bit at a time. And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll even get to skate in a bout.

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How Derby is Teaching Me to Let Go of Fear

800px-Jeanne_d'Arc_Joan_of_Arc_at_San_Francisco's_Palace_of_the_Legion_of_Honor_and_crepuscular_rays

This is the year I let go of fear. This is the year I push myself. That’s what I determined at the start of 2014. There is no path laid out ahead of me: no promotion to work for, no boss to please, no raise to negotiate. It’s up to me to determine where I go this year and beyond. Total freedom is very similar to total lack of direction, and the main difference between the two is having the ovaries to take action. And that means I cannot be frozen by fear.

Trying out for derby was a pretty big challenge and a good way to practice facing my fears, but it was only the beginning. Getting into the league is one thing, but sticking with it, practicing even when you’re tired and sore, reaching out to new people, and challenging yourself physically and mentally with every practice … well, it’s hard work. It’s especially hard if you’re naturally an introvert who’d rather stay home and think deep thoughts than sweat or meet new people.

Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing this, and the answer seems to be: Because I want to see if I can. The challenge is satisfying in a way I’ve never experienced before. What I get from derby that I haven’t had in the past is a particular sense of accomplishment. Unlike my professional accomplishments, what I achieve in derby directly benefits me first and foremost (later I hope it will also benefit my team). Unlike writing or artistic accomplishments, there’s no questioning whether other people will like or appreciate it — I’m not doing it for an audience. And whereas my yoga practice is very personal and private to me, derby is something I can share with a vibrant community of people who want to help and cheer each other on. It turns out, derby fills a hole in my life I didn’t know was there.

As for the fear? Yeah, it’s still there, but I’m working on it. During practice this weekend, Mr. Pistol (one of the coaches) kept talking about committing to your movements. If you don’t commit, you’ll always do it half way, and you’ll never really get there. And what stops me from committing? Fear, of course. So I started telling myself to let go of fear and commit to doing the falls, stops and various techniques we worked on. I did not instantaneously became awesome at them, but it felt good to make a sincere effort, focus on my work, and see improvement.

I’ve also noticed that what I learn from derby often relates back to my other love: yoga. Just the other day, I complained about being afraid that I’m not a good enough yoga teacher. Yep, there’s that fear again. I have to let go of the fear of failure and commit to teaching with my true voice. If I try to please everyone, I will end up pleasing either no one or everyone but myself. Neither option is acceptable to me. If I teach the yoga I love, there’s a chance that the folks at the gym will decide I’m not their right teacher, but there’s also a chance of real success.

And what does real success mean to me? It’s pretty simple: Doing what I love in a sustainable way that adds to the overall good in the world. I’m pretty sure that’s not asking too much, and all I have to do is get the fear out of the way.

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Yoga Sutras 1.21-1.22: Intention Correlates with Progress

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Man_Meditating_in_a_Garden_Setting

1.21: TĪVRA SAMVEGĀNĀM ĀSANNAH.
To the keen and intent practitioner, this [samadhi] comes very quickly.

1.22: MRDU MADHYĀDHIMĀTRATVĀT TATO’PI VIŚESAH
The time necessary for success further depends on whether the practice is mild, medium or intense.

 Simple advice plainly stated.

Dedicate yourself to your practice. Dedicate yourself to evolving. Be studious, and choose the most challenging practice you’re able to do. Even if you’re doing very simple poses or the most basic pranayama, practice with intense focus and utmost sincerity.

The degree of dedication you have to your practice directly correlates to the degree of impact the practice will have on your life. If you practice once a week and forget about it the rest of the time, the progress will be slow. You may forget things between sessions or just feel that you’re not getting anywhere. If you incorporate your practice into your daily life in small or large ways, your progress will speed up significantly.

If you know just one or two yoga poses or a simple meditation technique, try practicing every day for 5-10 minutes and make note of if/how it changes your day. Do you feel any differently? Think any differently? Can you apply yogic ideas such as ahimsa or breath awareness into other aspects of your day?

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