Doing something different can be a very scary thing. There’s always the potential for it to go completely tits up after all, and for you to end up looking foolish, getting hurt, or in painful footwear, none of which appeal to most people.
It’s rare however to regret diverging from the path and taking the road not travelled. Even when you hit on any of the examples above, you inevitably get something from the experience. Usually it’s a lesson about the kind of person you are, or think you are. Sometimes it’s just learning that you can’t get away with a peep toe heel on a night out in Camden for more than three hours. But either way, it sticks with you.
Exhibit A: I had an orange and red onion salad a few months ago. I’ve detested fruit since the age of two apparently (some sort of childhood citrus trauma is no doubt buried deep, deep in my subconscious) but it was a friend’s pop-up restaurant effort, it looked delicious and so I thought ‘what the hell’. After my first bite, I thought I’d died and gone to tropicana-tastebud heaven. The salad was sweet, juicy and refreshing, the tartness of the onion melding with the lush flesh of the oranges and the moreish olive oil dressing. Now, I’m not suddenly scoffing oranges every other day as a result of this encounter, but to know that there’s a way of enjoying a food that was previously heinous to me and my fussy palate was a happy revelation. And I only learnt that my putting my supposed self-knowledge (and fruit prejudices) on hold for a few moments. How often do we cross something off our ‘to try’ list because we think we know better?
Of course, sometimes we do know. Exhibit B: I recently tried a new yoga class. My usual Hatha yoga class hadn’t happened for a few weeks and I was keen to keep my dogs downward (so to speak) so I thought I’d give a local class of Iyengar yoga a go. It turned out to be a lesson that it’s good to try new things, if only to realise that you never, ever want to do them again. (I could also tell you the story about the time I went on the waltzers at a local fair a few years ago but that’s a lot more embarrassing and just consisted of me yelling ‘help! help!’ in a pathetic, I’m-over 35-and-shouldn’t-be-pretending-I-like-fast-and-spinny-carnival-rides voice.) The yoga class was something I was keen to do, to go outside my comfort zone, even if only for me to learn that I wasn’t ready to embrace every citrus fruit warrior one combo on the block.
Firstly, the class was scheduled for an hour – but went for two. I realise this a proper middle class concern I’m voicing here, but thank god I didn’t have an Ocado delivery scheduled. It was two very long hours of which fifteen minutes at the start was given over to the instructor – a short, powerful, verbose Italian woman in her early 50s – talking at me and another startled new pupil about the wonders of Iyengar. It was according to her the ‘one true yoga’ and she had dedicated her life to it. Her glowing, walnut-hued skin and Chris Hoy-esque thigh muscles in small 70’s styled shorts attested to this claim, and despite her long oration (and urging to us to part with a ten quid to buy a book she had illustrating a variety of Iyengar poses), I still felt confident she’d provide good instruction. Thighs that impressive don’t lie, right?
I was prepared, being new to the style that she was going to have demonstrations and corrections for me to follow, but by the end it had put the ‘D’ in ‘diabolical class’. There was no warm-up. There were more props employed than an authentic production of Chekov. There was so many demonstrations that I felt half the time I’d paid £14 just to watch someone else do yoga. Her guidance on rhythm or breathing was scanty at best, and any allowances in peoples differing abilities was minimal (although she did change my pose when I mentioned I thought my kneecap was ready to pop – only to tell me I’d need to practice at home every day in order to sort it out.)
And just when I thought I’d reached the end, there was a 20 minute ‘relaxation’ exercise that the instructor talked incessantly through. I lay with my chest arched up on a bolster, a belt over my eyes, my knee throbbing from an awkward earlier twist and my brain bouncing between show-tunes and a nagging thought that I’d left my bathroom window open. At the end, I said my goodbyes and hobbled out of there faster than you can say ‘Namaste’ to get home and put a bag of frozen peas on my aching knee and delete the class details from my phone.
But I don’t regret the class a bit. For one thing, I learnt that Iyengar yoga is not for me or more specifically, that particular class and instructor were not for me. There were people in that class who were loving it, I just wasn’t one of them. There are so many forms of yoga now, I think a bit like salads or hair beards on men, it’s a good idea to put you preconceptions aside and give a different one a go now and then. If you did a bit of creative extrapolation I suppose you could apply that logic to anything – board games, citrus fruits, music, sexuality, skirt lengths, holiday destinations, whiskey varieties, breakfast TV shows. You don’t know until you try, so you may as well give it a go.
By the same token, you are completely in your rights to try – and decide it ain’t your bag. And if it’s not for you it may still be for somebody else. That’s the beauty of freedom of choice – not everything is for everyone, but there’s something for everyone. Freedom of choice means we are allowed to express our choices without fear, or prejudice, or pressure. You can say ‘yes’ or you can say ‘no’ and either should be okay.
So whether it’s orange salads or downward dogs, I hope you enjoy, and employ your freedom to choose.