Yesterday, I marked the end of my 31 day yoga and meditation challenge. For the entire month of May, I committed to a minimum of an hour of daily yoga practice and a few minutes of daily meditation. Like most great ideas born of small stuff, this one started from a casual question; I shared my 10 Day Yoga Challenge from last year, wondering who may want to join me for a second round and seriously expecting no one to respond in kind. I was most delightfully wrong.
Delighting in the Yoga Journey
There is nothing sweeter than meeting a challenge in life with friend or family. When two of my darling cousins, one on each coast, decided to come along for the ride, my excitement tripled and a lonesome challenge turned into a deliriously happy one. The 10 days soon came to an end but I saw no good reason to stop just yet, turning a 10-day challenge into a 31 day opportunity. For the first ten days, we three kept each other honest, sharing the day’s practice and whatever related struggle in intimate details, but most of all, deepening our relationship with each phase of this shared challenge. For the next ten days, two of us kept pushing forward with momentum and perseverance, drawing on each other’s energy from coast to coast. For the last ten days, fueled with all the enthusiasm from all our energies, I pressed on.
There is a great passage in my favorite book by Michael Crichton, the memoirs of his own life, “Travels”. In it, he climbs Kilimanjaro, the remarkably stubborn man that he was, and when he reaches the magnificent summit, expecting a world of elation and emotions to hit him hard, he feels nothing instead. I remember this because after I finished my last practice and meditation yesterday, I felt absolutely nothing. I waited, reflected, and forced myself to feel something. No luck! An empty, hollow feeling alone greeted me in this state. How brilliant! Climbing Kilimanjaro and doing a daily yoga practice are worlds apart on the challenge level, no doubt, but both of them are prime reminders of the true cliche phrase: It’s all about the journey.
It is all about the journey. The beauty is in the process, not at the end. The learning, the growth, the change, it all happens in the moment. That may explain the urge we have to set another goal the moment we reach the first. The end of anything is just an arbitrary marker, a place where we arrive only to realize how much more we should have delighted in the journey, whatever it may have been, challenging or easy, painful or blissful, long or short, alone or hand in hand with a friend.
It is all about the course: the beginnings, all the middle parts, and the moments just before the end. So delight in those moments a thousand times more than you already do, no matter what your journey or your challenge.
Alas, I felt nothing at the very end but in the span of those 31 days, I loved the challenge to no end, most of all because of my body’s varying response from day to day. The physical challenge of daily yoga for a month illuminated one lesson for me more than all others: You get to know yourself intimately well through these explorations. It is not about building extra muscles (which I did), losing weight (a little), toning (oh yes), testing your physical strengths (naturally) and increasing your stamina (definitely).
Yoga is about coming face-to-face with exactly who you are when you set such a challenge for yourself and when no one is watching and no one is judging. It is how you do the yoga practice and why you commit to the stillness of mediation that counts and I walked away both pleased and disappointed with myself:
- Pleased in that I kept my promise and every day I committed to my yoga practice. Not a day went by without it and I shortchanged nothing for it.
- Disappointed in that at times during my home practice, I felt distracted, I watched the clock, I waited for the end of the session. At times, I was doing the practice simply because I had said I would and therefore I missed an astounding opportunity for self-reflection and growth.
The 31 Day Yoga Challenge Schedule
On the Physical and Emotional Roller Coasters of Yoga Challenge
The First 10 Days:
Even after all these years of yoga, the first straight 10 days were a rude awakening for my body. It screamed of soreness. All illusions of my having a rather fit and flexible body were thrown out the window and a new reality had set in with the discovery of these new tight hips! Every morning, I would wake up with a new level of soreness in my hips. It ached to move around in those early morning hours. By day 4, it was an event to climb the stairs, something of which I have plenty in my home! By day 6, I contemplated calling the whole thing off especially since I was the only one in the group fussing about extreme soreness. By day 8, soreness had become a part of my daily life and it had actually started to grow on me. I must admit when it disappeared after Day 11 or 12, I missed the darn thing and wondered whether I was still pushing myself hard enough or whether my muscles had finally learned to adapt to this daily rigor. The sweet irony of yoga is simple: You remove soreness from yoga with more yoga! And more yoga I did every single day.
The Middle 10 Days:
My cousins and I, we discovered a new muscle rule which Vickie, my teacher, promptly validated. If you go more than 48 to 72 hours between stretches, your muscles lose the memory of that stretch. When you do it again, it’s a new stretch and you are building those motions again into your body. If you constantly repeat a stretch in less than 48 hour periods, your muscles will use the first muscle memory, and each new time, go deeper and deeper into the pose and stretch further and further. By this analogy, if you buy this concept as we did especially since our practice was reflecting it as such, you need to do a good hour of yoga at least 3 times a week to make progress forward. Any less would still bring you benefits but dramatically slow down the otherwise amazing opening of the body. Oh and my soreness had dramatically reduced in the middle phase, not to mention the challenge of doing first series of “hotel yoga” went successfully as well. Determination and self-discipline is a thing of beauty!
The Last 11 Days:
By now the soreness had almost completely subsided, my body started to really open and the daily ritual of doing yoga became more of a habit. They say things are hardest at the beginning and it rings absolutely true for me during this challenge. In these last few days, even as I had to accommodate for 4 days of yoga from a hotel room on a sliding mat on the carpet, I had some of my best practices. Some of the same poses I had done all month long had a new meaning and my body had a new response for an old pose. I would open deeper and stay in the pose longer and breathe better. I considered myself an unsatisfied intermediate practitioner of yoga before this challenge, and now I see myself as a happy and encouraged beginner with vast possibilities for growth. I have not regressed; I have simply realized the depth and width of a yoga journey, the true value of understanding the foundations and returning to them – and practicing them daily.
~ Things I would do the same way again ~
- Partner with a friend or family member: Share the experience, even if partially.
- Do not plan travel around yoga; plan yoga around travel
- Incorporate at least 50% to 75% home practice into the challenge; get to know yourself in this solitude.
- Practice in the same spot in the house and if possible in the studio. Having the same space has a strangely calming effect.
- Break up the practice into two 30-minute or longer sessions during the day if crazy schedules persist.
~ Things I would do differently ~
- Plan out the sessions well in advance. You may lose some spontaneity but alternating carefully among different yoga styles creates excellent balance.
- Add daily positive thinking to go along with that daily meditation and yoga practice.
- Document noticeably big changes in your emotions and be more in tuned with the emotions.
- Push through at the end; do not just fizzle out.
- Plan the hour of your practice first thing in the morning; do not leave it to chance.
~ The End is always another another Beginning ~
Dave Farmar says “How you do anything is how you do everything in life!” The things we do vary all the time but our innate approach to doing them does not change all that much. It is the the only phrase I clearly remember from 31 days of listening to podcasts, teachers, and guided meditations. This little phrase sums up my takeaway from this yoga challenge, what I loved and what I want to improve about my approach to practice and to life.
Our approach and our attitude in all things matters the greatest. My body pulled through just fine with this practice but my mind, not surprisingly, has incredible room to improve on letting go, believing more, and allowing the real transformations to unfold. What a never-ending journey! The daily challenge ended but the real self-discovery and learning process begins today.
Here’s to your next challenge and endeavors and to my continuous one!
What are you doing to push your body, your mind, your stamina, your self-discipline, and most of all, your edge?
What boundaries are you trying to break, physical or mental or both?