A thirty-day yoga challenge brought results and growth that she had failed to experience from her inconsistent practice of yoga in the past.
By Allison Mundy
Life has shown me that how I think and feel affects my body; my health, in turn, affects my emotions and attitude. This mind-body connection is foundational to yoga practice. Yoga can produce a multitude of benefits: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It can improve strength, balance, flexibility, posture, systemic functioning throughout the body and even help physical ailments. It can deepen your breathing, decrease stress, increase concentration, and mitigate negative emotions such as anxiety and depression. Practicing yoga can even cultivate compassion, acceptance, and improved relationships.
I practiced yoga sporadically for years but only felt better in that moment. It’s not that I didn’t believe these additional benefits to be true; I just wasn’t experiencing them. Would the results be different if I committed to a deeper, more consistent practice? I was curious whether there were cumulative benefits that I was missing because of my inconsistency.
The people who know me best would probably not consider me a very – ahem – relaxed person. I’m a perfectionist, an over-achiever, a worrier, a talkative and intense person. I crave silence and quiet, yet it often feels maddening. I do not rest easily and self-care is not my strength. So I’m either the worst—or the perfect—person to practice yoga. I made a commitment to practice yoga for thirty consecutive days to see if I could become a converted yogi. Before beginning, I talked with yogis, joined a studio, checked out books, and researched online to make a plan. Here I go.
Week One: Beginning to Breathe and Listen
Day 1: When I hesitantly walked into my first class at the studio, mats were rolled out and students were stretching, sitting meditatively, or talking quietly. After the instructor introduced herself, we were instructed to go into Sukhasana pose: legs crossed gently, sitting tall but relaxed on a block. The class began with meditation. Meditation! My eyes twitched as I tried to keep them closed, my mind raced, my breathing was certainly not very meditative. She guided us through several minutes of meditative imagery, bringing attention to our breathing. My eyes relaxed and my breathing steadied, but my mind still resembled a conversation with a toddler – disjointed and easily distracted.
In this first class, we moved slowly through a series of basic poses, or Asanas, and ended with Savasana, or Corpse pose. The poses were easy for me – that was where my prior experience with yoga had focused. My challenge was in the quiet breath and meditation.
In both the studio and online classes that I found this week, I was drawn to the instructor’s words about attending to my breath. I found grounding and release from stress by focusing on and pacing my breath. Initially, concentration and breathing was easier through Asanas, but with each day I found more and more quiet breath during meditation and Savasana. Gradually, my body relaxed into my mat and my mind began to still.
I began to learn to listen to my body. Instructors urged me to search my body, sometimes with curiosity and concerned interest, looking for and releasing areas of tension. I was to attend to my body with compassion and acceptance, hearing what my body was capable of, and to accept it. Permission was given to welcome all feelings, positive and negative, but to let them go.
This concept, of listening and honoring my body, was profoundly mysterious. As a former athlete, I had great body awareness but almost no experience in listening to my body. I had long established patterns of pushing through pain, ignoring exhaustion, and fostering intolerance towards my body’s imperfections. Listening and honoring my body became impactful to my practice, self-image, eating habits, and how I approached negative emotions throughout the day.
Week Two: Building Strength, Flexibility, and Confidence
My second week of daily practice began with a more challenging class,“Vinyasa Flow,” at the studio. We did arm stands like Crow pose and mini back bends. Although awkward and imperfect, trying new and challenging poses gave me a sense of pride and satisfaction with my body. I was empowered to know my imperfection was a part of my journey and I was propelled into week two.
My confidence and strength grew with each Chaturanga Dandasana, High Plank, and Downward Dog. I experimented with my home practice by replicating sequences of poses from previous classes and sometimes guiding my own practice. To improve my form, I watched online tutorials. I experimented with the dynamics of my practice, trying music or calming essential oils like lavender. As a sensory-sensitive person, I found that the right music or oil could enhance my experience.
Slowly, I was becoming a more limber, balanced version of myself. Even off the mat, I became more attentive to my posture. In yoga, I was also finding relief from discomfort, tightness, and soreness after a strenuous workout or a restless night of sleep.
Despite how it may sound, at the close of week two, my experience was not idyllic. Life was still hectic, and I was frustrated on some days at my lack of time, childcare, or energy to practice as long as I would like. I was self-conscious chanting “OM” while in the studio. Some poses were challenging and acceptance was hard. My journal was spotted with moments of disappointment, but my journey was taking me forward. Four steps forward, one step back, four steps forward. In this way, I continued on.
Week Three: Facing Challenges
I finally found the courage to try power yoga classes, which were similar to an Astanga Vinyasa style. The room was heated and knowledge of yoga recommended. The classes consisted of difficult strength building poses and a continual, intense flow. I worked harder and sweat more in those classes than in an hour of intense weight training or jogging. But, in the end, I felt intense calm. Calm was not found in slow paced, controlled poses and quiet meditation but from intense physical exertion and meditative movement.
I was surprised to learn that yoga can be as physically challenging as it can be relaxing. With the many varieties of yoga practice, different styles of instructors, and its wide spread accessibility, I see how anyone can practice yoga to meet a wide variety of goals and needs.
Week Four: Compassion and Acceptance
I sailed into my last week of my 30-day challenge with routine. The newness of daily practice wore off and with great enthusiasm, I continued to look for new ways to experience yoga.
In an Acro Yoga class, which combined yoga, acrobatics, and therapeutic massage, my strength, balance, and form were refined. Moreover, my openness and trust in other people were tested. This experience gave me the opportunity to see my body as one part of a greater whole, working with others to achieve large poses. Next, for a nearly opposite experience, I attended a Yin Yoga class where I experienced a slower, more contemplative setting. This approach pushed me to release further, deeper, and longer in poses, where I found even greater connection to my body.
In this fourth week, I was feeling more committed to and inspired by my practice. On my last day, I unassumingly walked into a studio class that tapped into an even deeper level of understanding.
It was a basic class and I was excited to try a new instructor. Everything was aligned to be a positive, fairly easy class. And yet, it wasn’t. My breathing and focus were disjointed. My clothes were bothering me. My balance was off. It was not the ceremonial ending to the challenge that I had hoped.
I am a mom, a sister, and a trained social worker; therefore, compassion is a big part of my life. Yet, on my last day of my yoga challenge, I understood more about compassion. I was expecting to see my best practice and my progress in that class—but fell short. Yet, I walked away without self-loathing or criticism and only hope and compassion. Expressions of compassion can feel void of high standards and expectations, but I learned compassion is not contradictory to high expectations. I believe compassion can be shown to ourselves and others alongside high expectations. Expect the best, strive to meet potential but allow acceptance and love to meet them on the way, washing over imperfection. Compassion and expectations are not two ends of a spectrum but fluidly exist together.
Consistency and commitment made all the difference for me. My 30-day challenge brought results and growth that I failed to experience from yoga in the past. I saw positive changes in my body, my perspective, and my emotional well-being. My 30-day yoga challenge is now just the first step as regular yoga practice has become a new part of my life.
I found that the approach I used to get the most out of my challenge can be the same approach to get the most out of life: try your best, accept imperfection, see every experience and person as an opportunity to learn, breathe, be open, and hope for the best.
10 Tips for Aspiring Yogis
- Go to a Yoga Studio—Adjustments from instructors and the community experience are worth the investment.
- Diversify—Try many forms of yoga. You will learn something different from each one, even if the style is not for you.
- Buy a good mat—Just trust me. It’s worth it.
- Find daily inspiration—Subscribe to a daily yoga newsletter or yoga blog for inspiration, information, and reminders to be mindful in your practice.
- Be a student—Learn from other yogis and read about the practice.
- Set the mood—If meditative music, essential oils, or proper yoga clothes help keep you focused, take the time to prepare.
- Make a commitment—Make a plan to fit yoga into your life.
- Be flexible—A few Sun Salutations and deep breathing is better than nothing on a hectic day.
- Use online resources—The internet is an easily accessible source for classes, podcasts, tutorials, articles, and more.
- Practice acceptance and compassion—Practicing yoga is part of a journey. Expecting perfection is a quick way to thwart growth.
Allison Mundy is a former social worker and freelance writer who is currently staying home with her two daughters. She lives with her family, dog, and chickens in Centerville, Ohio. Allison enjoys writing, reading, gardening, hiking, crafting, and spending time with her family. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared in Natural Life Magazine.