It is with a basket full of sweaty yoga laundry and a heart filled with ecstasy that I write to you about my first experience from a 10-day yoga challenge. My goal was to complete 10 straight days of yoga, without injury or over-exertion. The yoga sessions needed to be between 60-90 minute sessions each day, and I was not going to practice yoga religion in this challenge. I wanted to explore many different forms of yoga during this experience. With different styles and types of yoga, I would be able to get into as many possible postures and enjoy benefits of a more well-balanced regimen.
Why the challenge? Well, first, because I can – or I shall find out if I can. Second, I still feel the remnants of a particular week a few years ago, where by luck and chance, I attended 5 straight days of yoga. Towards the end of week, the emotions and sensations visiting my body and mind were both new and familiar – I felt deeply peaceful. The quietness of the mind and openness of my body was a sweet combination, one that I have missed sorely. Here was hoping to find my way back to that sensation, and to remember what greatness our bodies can achieve through consistent practice and careful discipline.
Day 1: Hip Opener Podcast on YogaDownload.com:
The first day of yoga Practice happened in the lower deck at home. In the 75 degree (Fahrenheit) temperature and the lush green woods at which to gaze, I started Lisa Richard’s hip opening flow. Early evening weather and my happy body allowed for a beautiful practice, and I wore off the distractions – the bugs, the loud A/C machine turning on and off at intervals, the phone vibrations – nothing mattered by the sound of Lisa guiding me through pose after pose. After finishing the 60-minute session, I felt the usual happy – open – jolly feeling with which hip openers shower me.
Day 2: Vickie’s Power Vinyasa Ashtanga-infuenced class:
I started going to Vickie’s class about 2 months ago, and have cherished few classes more intensely than the rigid disciplined set of poses and the deep sense of humor she brings to class with her every time. She adjusts me, pushes me, and is the reason that I have broken small thresholds in my yoga journey. Her 90-minute session on this Sunday morning was divine as usual, and I was feeling happy after two consistent days of practice, and the post-practice feeling from this class is when I set my intention to do the 10-day challenge.
Day 3: A Hatha practice at a new studio:
Monday came with the expected back soreness from Vickie’s class – bittersweet and a kind reminder of yesterday’s sweat. As for the 3rd day, I ventured to try a new studio for a Hatha class. The best results from a Hatha class are usually when it follows a hard-core workout. I wanted the calming effect of holding the poses, working the muscles while quieting the brain through stillness. Susan’s 75-minute Hatha class was ideal for what I needed today. I went through it without any struggle, giving in to the sensations of working my muscles for the 3rd day in a row, and accepting some of the resistance without allowing any laziness to slip into my system.
Day4: Bikram yoga for the first time:
The anxiety from doing Bikram for the first time kept me conscious and aware of my body and diet all day. I drank more water and far less Oolong tea than usual, and relaxed myself. I was not tired or sore today, and very happy with feeling so healthy so far in my challenge. I was also determined not to push myself too much the first time with Bikram, despite the disciplinary nature of practice and instructions. The 90-minute session was a unique experience: I made it through every single pose, and had unusually good balance. The 26-pose sequence, repeated for two sets each, makes up the Bikram practice and is always conducted in a 105+ degree studio. Water is allowed in between sets, and cleaning off the sweat is discouraged because it cools down the body more, and apparently produces even more sweat. The heat forced me to preserve my energy as much as possible, to focus and pay attention and listen more intently to my body, because the heat may be exaggerating how far I can safely push. After Bikram, I had a pounding headache, regardless of attempts to rehydrate my body. The next morning, I woke up not sore but feeling a strange sensation. The headache subsided. Perhaps my body was feeling effects of detox from extreme perspiration. I made it through my first Bikram experience, and the 4th day of this challenge.
Day 5: A meditative slow motion class at another yoga studio:
On this day, I was tired, very tired with extremely sore muscles. I have started to sleep a little more too. I just went with the flow. I was very happy that I had no injuries, and the soreness felt a natural result of 4 days of yoga. Even so, I was hoping to have a more mellow practice tonight. My body was screaming for rest. I decided to visit a yet new studio; I remember the rain and horrendous traffic making me wonder if I should take them as a sign – to rest, to stop, to take it easy. I pressed on. It just so happens that this particular vinyasa class was the most meditative slow motion flow- and any other time, I would have been disappointed with lack of challenge, but I was presented with yet another perfect practice for the 5th day of yoga challenge. This 90-minute class focused on breathing, slow series of Hatha poses, mini vinyasa flow, holding of poses, and gentle bends and twists, followed by a long Svasana. I felt restored and ready for more. Thank you Faith!
Day 6: Back to Vickie’s for Power Vinyasa flow:
After yesterday’s class, I was feeling restored and pretty energized for the 6th day of yoga. I knew Vickie’s class would be challenging, and the closer to evening hour, the more tired my body became. I noticed that my mind was playing tricks on me by now, telling me I have reached my limit and pushing further is just risking injury because my bod is ripe for it. My stubbornness pushed ahead, and I wanted to let my body decide the final vote. Vickie’s class started fine, but towards half-way, my exhaustion set in, and I struggled to follow, so I pushed. I held every single one of those long binds, eternal holds in a pose, and did every single core exercise – a routine part of her class which I have come to loathe and love. During pigeon pose, a sadness came over me – I was watching everyone in class and reflecting on how terribly sad I felt. Class was over and I should have been relieved. In the evening, I still dealt with a tinge of sadness and low self-confidence. I heard my mind asking me why I am doing this, what a meaningless challenge this is, and how I should focus on more worthy goals. I realize this must be the closest thing I have experienced to “emotional detox” and I listened to everything that I was hearing, without giving in to the ridiculous notion that this is meaningless, because it is far from it. I need to finish this.
Day 7: A Lunar Flow with Yogadownload podcasts:
Today I had every intention to go back to Bikram, but a full day’s schedule of events and meetings and the exhaustion from the yoga was fighting hard. I gave in, and decided to postpone Bikram until tomorrow, and to allow one more slow flow, for which I chose the 60-min Lunar flow from my podcasts. The physical practice was not nearly as challenging as the mental. My mind wandered everywhere. I even happened to get interrupted several times, and each time I got back into it, I wondered how much longer is left. Towards the end, I focused on the flow and my breath, and stopped making allowances for interruptions. This was the time to focus on my mat and the pose at hand. This was the only thing that mattered then, and I kept saying it as a mantra. Focus now. Focus here. Be with the flow. Your body is stronger than your mind will ever let you believe. And so it was. We finished, mind and body, in perfect sync.
Day 8: Bikram Yoga back at the hot yoga studio:
Going back to the studio on this Saturday was not easy. It was the same day as the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer walk, and after walking 3-miles in the 90-degree heat in the morning, I was ready to relax for the whole day, and particularly to stay out of the heat! It sure created amusement for my husband who pointed out the irony of my plans to do Bikram. Up until the last minute, I was indecisive but when I made the decision to go, I urged my body to push through another session. After much hydration, I found myself sitting in the 105 degree room, drinking water before class. I perspired far more than my first Bikram class, and found it a little easier than last time. My body was welcoming the poses, and I did not face much resistance anywhere. I finished class, and slept very soundly that night. The soreness was slowly subsiding, and a small voice inside me whispered that I can do yoga forever. I smiled broadly at the possibilities ahead.
Day 9: Vickie’s Power Vinyasa class for a 3rd time:
After sleep and rest, I was feeling fabulous this morning. All my soreness has dissipated, replaced by a desire to do more. Perhaps it is true that you can heal soreness with more of the same sweet torture that brought it on. Vickie’s class was another fabulous flow. I was balanced, felt strong, and held my Pincha Mayurasana more than ever before, without wall support. By now I am convinced more than ever before that there is a magical quality to the particular series that Vickie teaches. My body was feeling open, extremely open and welcoming to challenge. I started working on a new balancing pose, the Peacock pose. After practice, I was elated, all signs of earlier sadness in the week melted away like snow melting with rays of sunshine, and I felt indelibly ecstatic in mind and body. This was what I wanted to capture again from day 1 and it came to me in all fullness I can imagine possible today, on Day 9.
Day 10: Kundalini yoga at home with Ana and Ravi:
I have been sleeping more soundly, more deeply, and more peacefully. I do not like to sleep more, I am always aiming to sleep less but I am flowing with my body’s will, without giving in to sloth! And on this last day, I woke up with great soreness but with no pain. I have pushed my body and kept it safe from injury. For the last flow, I chose the most challenging kundalini flow by Ana and Ravi from my 5-DVD collection: The Warrior Workout. And so this tired but determined warrior set out to finish the 10-day challenge and lived to write about it. “Nerves of Steel are a warrior’s Shield and Sword” Ravi says in his beautiful bits of wisdom. His voice is what keeps me going during the kundalini bursts. In the warrior DVD, there are mostly no pauses, just slow transitions, in between each set, and after 65 minutes of this detox-inducing, nerve-testing, breath of fire session, you open new paths of energy in your body, and a sense of serenity embraces your whole being. The rewards of hard work to me are most evident in these intense kundalini sessions followed by a brief meditation. And so this is how I closed my yoga challenge.
So what is my next challenge? Tomorrow is for physical rest, and reflection on the full spectrum of emotions I enjoyed and accepted during the 10 days. It is also a day of gratitude to my body for not giving in to exhaustion while still keeping me alert and in-tuned, and my mind for not wavering when doubt set in, and it did a few times. When my energy is completely restored, I will set out on a new adventure to push and play with the limits of these invaluable gifts placed in my possession at the hand of a benevolent universe: my mind and my body.
To all of you yoga lovers, yoga inspired, and even all my new-to-yoga readers, Namaste!
A note about the photography: All the photos were taken by my brother’s professional camera (lucky me, kind brother) in a photo shoot at my house. All editing is done through my fun with Picnik. Each photo symbolizes the primary pose I remember from the classes of that particular day, and is posted here to inspire and awaken the spirit of yoga and well-being in all who see and read this post.
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”