Friday, December 2, 2011

Things I have learned during 30 days of yoga

For the month of November I participated in the Moksha Yoga Dartmouth's 30 day challenge. The rules are pretty simple: practice yoga every day for 30 days. That's it. The purpose is to make your practice a habit. It is said that it takes 21 days of repetition to build a habit that is 60% likely to stick. Or something along those lines.

So I committed myself to 30 days of yoga. There were some ups and downs throughout the month but I stuck to being true to myself and my practice and learned a lot. Here is some of what I learned.

1. You don't actually have to do yoga every day. A lot of people that participated in the challenge will disagree with me on this one but hear me out. In our Western society, our schedules (for the most part) are dictated by our jobs. Mine being a Monday to Friday 9-5 type job, it does put restrictions on when I can actually practice yoga. There were a handful of days over the past month where after having a crappy night of sleep and a long day at work all my body wanted to do was sleep when I got home. And so that's what I did. I slept for 12+ hours. No joke. Straight through the night. I confess... I skipped yoga class and I didn't roll out my mat at home. Instead I listened to my body and my body told me to crawl into bed and close my eyes for an unknown amount of time. This is yoga. Listening to our bodies and knowing what is right for us in this moment. Whether that is not going to class or not going up into headstand when everyone else is. Be present in your life.

2. My body wants to be healthy. I have always been a relatively healthy person. Sure I have my days where I can wake up and have ice cream for breakfast. But for the most part those days are few and far between. When I am practicing almost daily though I find my body craves healthy foods. I no longer crave sweets or greasy foods. My body wants vegetables and fruits and real food. Our bodies are smart machines and if we listen closely enough they will tell us exactly what they need.

3. The ego is powerful. This one I feel is pretty obvious. For the first week of my challenge I was constantly looking around at other people in class. I couldn't help but compare myself to others. "Her heels are touching the ground in down dog" or "his upper body strength makes bakasana look so easy", etc. I found it so discouraging and distracting when I was comparing my practice to them. I recognized this at the end of the first week and made an effort to keep my eyes on myself, the wall or my mat for the next week. Of course my eyes would still wander but when I realized what I was doing I just brought my attention back to myself. Everyone gets that competitive feeling in class (even instructors) and that's ok. When it comes up for you just try to acknowledge the feeling and bring yourself back to your own mat. Don't be discouraged by it.

4. Yogis are not perfect. A lot of times yogis are labeled as being peace lovers, hippies, never get angry, zenned-out, vegan, etc. But we really are just regular people. Most of us make a conscious effort to practice things like ahimsa but we're not perfect. For me this is particularly obvious when I'm driving to yoga class. I try to have patience with other drivers but sometimes that just isn't possible. And that's ok. If you do 30 days of yoga in a studio like I did sometimes you might feel left out when other yogis talk about their vegan diet, their hemp clothes, etc. Remember that they are not perfect and some of them probably even rush home to sink their teeth into a big, juicy burger. Don't let their "yogi" persona bother you.

5. Finding teachers you like is key. I think anyone that is comfortable to stand in front of people and teach them how to move their bodies is brave. I have the utmost respect for all yoga teachers. But that doesn't mean I like all of them for my own practice. I have been to some classes that I find the teachers voice or demeanor is so distracting that I can't focus on my practice. Everyone has a personal preference when it comes to the "type" of yoga instructor they like. It is important to find instructors that you feel a connection with and stick with their classes.

6. Drink a lot of water. For the first ~two weeks of the month I'm pretty sure I was dehydrated. I drank the normal amount of water I have always drank. Instead I really should have increased my consumption. So for the last two weeks I increased my water intake and felt a lot better; more energized, aware and alive. My 30 days was in a hot room (for the most part) so I sweat a lot but even if yours is not in a hot room, drink as much water as you can handle. The water will not only keep your body hydrated but it will help your digestive system work more efficiently and flush out the toxins your organs sometimes hold on to. If you do sweat a lot in your practice make sure to also replenish your electrolytes. Some easy ways to do this is to drink lemon water (full lemon worth), coconut water (no sugar added) or eat a piece of fruit right after your practice.

7. Your body will get strong. I can only comment on my own experience but the difference in the over all strength of my body from Nov 1st to Nov. 30th is remarkable. I can now keep my legs straight when I lift up into headstand! Before I always had to bend them into my chest and extend from there. I know everyone progresses at their own pace but I have found that in one month my flexiblity and strength has improved faster than it has during any other period of time in my yoga practice. When you are practicing every single day you become very aware of your body. You will start to notice the subtlest of changes. Like maybe chaturanga isn't as hard as it normally is. Or warrior 2 doesn't burn until the 3rd time you do it instead of the 1st. Whatever the change is, it'll happen and it feels marvelous.

8. Emotions will come up. I can't speak for everyone but I found that after doing certain poses over and over again over the course of 4 weeks I would find certain emotions would arise every time. Towards the end of the month I found myself in a downward facing dog almost in tears. For some reason this particular down dog made me whole body overflow with emotions. Fear, doubt, joy, sadness, anxiety, hope, faith. All of it came out in the 5 breaths I spent in this pose. Thankfully it was a hot class so the tears were mixed in with the beads of sweat. I haven't had this happen to this extreme before but I have found that I will be peaceful and present in a pose when all of a sudden an emotion washes over me. My best piece of advice is to ride it out. Let it take it's course in your body/mind. Experience it fully and then let it go. Remember that nothing is permanent and you will get past that feeling.

9. Find your yoga vibe. One of the biggest things I learned this month is that a daily practice is just not for me. I missed 4 days in 4 weeks. Hence a 6 day a week practice is more suited for my life and body. I find if I miss more than one day in a row I am craving yoga, but I do feel like I need at least one day of rest a week. I think this will fluctuate for the next few months depending on what is going on in my life but for the most part it will be a 6 days a week practice for me. I have also discovered that I like certain styles of yoga more than others; I tend to enjoy Baptiste and Ashtanga style classes the most. There is no "best" yoga style though. There is only what is "best" for you. So find what style you like and stick with it. :)

10. Last but not least, yoga can actually help you through major events in your life. This month my grandmother passed away. Specifically, she passed away at 2:20am Monday, November 14th. Nan had been diagnosed with colon cancer in June of 2010. We knew that it would be terminal but had no idea how long we had left with her. She started chemo treatments around Christmas time of last year but by August 2011 there was nothing more they could do for her. I think her death didn't hit me as hard as it could have because I have been preparing for it since August when all of her treatments stopped (or I am in denial). When her treatments ended I started to dedicate every moment I spent on the yoga mat to her. This was my way of dealing with what was going to happen. To honor her I actually went to yoga class that Monday. It's funny how the universe works because Monday classes are with my favorite instructor in Halifax, Stefanie Winters. As usual her class was awesome and I'm so proud to have been able to dedicate it to my Nan.

The overall experience was fantastic. I can't wait to do the challenge again next year. I highly recommend trying this out if you want to deepen your yoga practice. Remember, it doesn't have to be in a yoga studio. Even committing to doing it at home will benefit you in so many ways.

"This practice becomes firmly rooted when it is cultivated skillfully and continuously for a long time." - The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali 1:14

1 comment:

  1. congratulations!!! what an amazing accomplishment. And your observations are very insightful and interesting.
    I agree with you, I also noticed a huge difference in strength and flexibility when i practiced every day that month a few years ago (lol, didn't keep it up! I'm more of a 3-4x a week gal).

    I'm sorry to hear about your Nan, but thankful that your yoga practice was helpful!