Mar 8, 2020

What is "extra" about extra curriculars?

I started to learn tennis at a very young age - three years old, to be precise. I would practice against the wall while dad would play with his coach or his friends in the bigger courts. Slowly, I graduated to the bigger courts and event went to a tournament at the age of 9 where I won a bronze medal at mini-tennis. I continued to play all the way until the age of 16, after which hitting the books became more important than hitting the balls in the heat, that seemed to only get worse every year.

Even though I played tennis atleast once a week for 13 years - I never got very good at it. I was never that advanced a player. My strength and speed were average at best, and I was never really committed to the sport. I only played because it was one of the extra-curricular activities that didn't require too much thought or attention beyond the few hours spent on the court every week.

I think my lack of attention to tennis was partly because I didn't see a purpose to it beyond physical exercise. It wasn't like I was trying to become a star tennis player or get something out of it, so there was no reason for me to get better. Tennis being an "extra" curricular activity simply made it one with no real goal or purpose.

I kept thinking that way until a year ago. Around the time when I turned 25, I happened to go to a shitty yoga class. I'd started going for yoga classes at the age of 18 because I liked the way my body looked when I practiced yoga regularly. Eventually, it became a way for me to relax and find peace of mind as well. At the shitty yoga class, I kept thinking of all the things I would do differently if I was teaching it - I would remind everyone to be more mindful, use instructions that helped everyone get deeper into the pose, introduce more stillness and less movement, probably play some music, adjust students more than the teacher did.

And then I thought - maybe I could teach part time. I went home and quickly found many part time yoga teacher courses. After a 200 hour part time course, you could become a yoga teacher. Very quickly I also found the course that was a good fit for me. I signed up for it - but had a few months before it started.

In the few months leading up to the course, I worked hard to get my body to a point where it could match the level of an advanced yoga practioner - at the time, I believed that this was important to become a yoga teacher. While I don't think this is important anymore, I do think that this effort led to outcomes that were important for me - it taught me how to use my body better during sports.

While doing yoga and trying to get into advanced poses, I would need to find the right way to use my body strength and flexibility. I find that this skill has helped me a lot in other sports too, which got me excited to so many other sports I can't wait to learn. I recently started learning to swim - it was far easier to learn now than I remembered it being the last time I tried, which was just a year ago. Somehow, I was less afraid and more confident that I could mould my body to do all sorts of things.

Last weekend, my friends and I went rollerblading - it was my first time, and I fell multiple times, but somehow I was able to get through the hour without giving up and picking up a basic level. Just today, I was talking to a friend about learning krav maga. While I still don't see myself becoming a professional swimmer or fighter, the joy I get from learning these new activities in incredible, partly because its so different and refreshing from my usual day of sitting in front of my computer.

I think it isn't uncommon in Asia for kids to consider art, music and sports as extra curricular activities which don't need as much attention as math and science. So when we grow up, we don't quite get to enjoy all these things as much as we can, just because we never developed the skill required to appreciate and enjoy them.

I know that these are skills that don't bring in an income as often as math and science does, but I do think these greatly enhance the "life" part of my work-life balance. In my spare time, these are the types of things that make my life feel more holistic, exciting and creative.

It makes me think that our school system and cultural emphasis on academics brings us up to be humans who don't yet know how to fully use the hours outside of our income generating work! If I were to do my childhood over, I would spend a lot more time and effort mastering sports, art and music, just so I could have had more years with an appreciation for those things.

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