On Wednesday I completed a 30-day yoga challenge, finishing 22 classes in 30 days and logging over 1,500 minutes of mat time. My goals shifted along the way, along with my perceptions and judgments of my body, my athleticism, and yoga itself. At the beginning of the challenge, I envisioned being able to do the splits on day 30 and being able to float the perfect crow. What I actually achieved was nowhere near those monumental milestones, but I’ve come to learn that they were just as equally important. Thirty days later, I’m loving yoga more than ever before and am appreciating it not only for what it’s physically helping me achieve with my body, but what it’s teaching me about humility and patience. Here are six big ideas I’ve learned from yoga in the past 30 days.
1. Learn to ride the wave
On day 21 of my yoga practice, having practiced 18 of the last 21 days, I noticed that I was growing tighter in my muscles, rather than more flexible. At that point I had already logged over 1,000 minutes of practice for the month, and instead of getting close to doing the splits, a personal life-list goal of mine, I was even further away than before I started. I asked my teacher what gives, making sure to tell her how dedicated I had been for the past three weeks. Turns out, my intense dedication was actually working against me. All that stretching had most likely resulted in lots of tiny muscle tears, which needed time to heal before they could stretch out further. She told me I wouldn’t likely see much progress until I learned to back off a bit and ride that delicate wave. Often times in other forms of exercise, we are encouraged to push through the fatigue, soreness, and tightness to make progress, but in yoga that is often counter-intuitive and pushing ourselves often prevents progress. After that conversation I realized that the concept of backing off and letting go of control to achieve progress is such a great life lesson in general. We often force our way through these difficult situations, fighting to gain control over situations and relationships, but often times if we just learned to back off a bit, things would iron themselves out and often fall into place. After my talk with my instructor, I backed off and took the next five days off. When I returned to my mat after my break, I felt stronger and more agile than ever before.
2. The right teacher makes all the difference
During my 30 days of yoga, I practiced with over 10 different teachers, and one thing’s for sure, they all had 10 different styles. From their choice in music to the intensity with which they push you through poses, down to the temperature of the room, each one had their own unique spin on practicing yoga. In life we tend to get stuck in ruts and places of comfort. We find a teacher or someone who makes us feel comfortable, so we stick with them, which is all well and good, until it comes time to progress and move forward or even step back. What I have appreciated about practicing with so many different teachers in the last 30 days is I now know who I can go to when I really need to be pushed and want an intense workout, I know who to go to when I just need some mellow stretching, and even better, I know who has the best music and words of encouragement to help me leave feeling lighter than when I stepped in the room. Life lesson learned? Seek out a variety of people to learn from and get inspiration from.
3. Endorphins are magic
Whether it be a gentle stretch or an intense sweat-inducing workout, getting your body moving in any form or fashion is good for your body all-around — from mentally to physically. Getting to my mat was tough on many days, but I never ever once regretted it when I was done. This is often the case with any form of exercise. The yoga challenge was there to push me out of my comfort zone of sitting on the couch most nights and showed me how much better it is to get up and move rather than sit. Those endorphins truly are a powerful thing. Lesson learned and I won’t soon forget it.
4. Practice makes (almost) perfect
I think what has drawn me to yoga the most in the last few months is the idea of being able to reach some sort of goal through achieving certain poses as you progress through your practice. Never much into the idea of being able to lift a certain amount of weight or do a set number of push-ups, the idea of being able to balance in standing lotus or be strong enough to achieve a handstand are the types of fitness goals that are right up my alley for this stage of life. The beauty and poise that can be achieved through regular yoga practice is beyond magical to me, but after finishing an intense 30-day challenge, I realize just how very far I have yet to go to achieve any sort of magnificent feats of flight. I didn’t think I’d be doing a handstand at the end of 30 days, but I at least thought I could hold crow or some other “basic” pose. Instead, I focused on lots of perfecting of the basics and, along with that, lots of strengthening. There’s a reason why they call it “practicing” yoga, because when consistent, you are always learning, always progressing, never really achieving some perfect ideal but instead evolving. Life is a lot like that too, I suppose. We can practice at getting things just right, but often times before “perfect” is achieved, something comes along to knock us off balance. It’s our job to just keep practicing, never wishing to achieve perfection but just doing the best we can.
5. Patience is a virtue
Along the same lines of being dedicated to a consistent practice, I also learned how important patience is. During my last class of the challenge, a woman next to me was holding one of the most strength- and balance-challenging poses: side crow. After class I asked her how long it took her to achieve that pose, and she simply replied, “Years.” I was sort of put in my place a little, reminded of just how far I have to go and how patient I must be with myself and my practice, never giving up. How often are we taught life lessons about patience, too? Some days it’s an almost daily battle, especially for us mothers. We want our kids sleeping through the night, potty-trained, talking, walking, this and that, often times rushing through these stages of life only to stop and realize on occasion that we have been anxiously rushing things along instead of just enjoying the ride. These past 30 days reminded me how much I rush through things and how much I need to just stop and have a little more patience.
6. Love your body
While I may not have achieved any monumental feats of strength in the last 30 days, one thing I did achieve was an even more intense love of my body. It’s sad that at 38, women of my age are sent messages through the media and society that we are aging, that we need to actively fight the wrinkles and fat surrounding our bellies and thighs. We’re sent mixed messages that we’re too old to have children or that we’ll age out of the desirable work force if we decide to take a few years off to raise our kids. I feel like I should “feel” older than I do, but truth be told, I still feel young, and doing an intense yoga program the last 30 days has reinforced my own feelings of youth. Sure, I have some limitations, but for the most part, I know that with regular practice and patience there are no limits to what I can achieve. I also spent a lot of time surrounded by other women much older than I on their mats achieving things some of the youngest members of class couldn’t even do. First, age really is a state of mind. And second, I am even stronger in my love and appreciation for my body — to do what I ask it to do, or often times, will it to do; to be flexible and strong and beautiful. Our bodies are here to work for us, and if we treat them right, they will do what we ask them to do in most cases. Whatever our shape or size, if we treat it right, it will repay us a million times over. Love your body, and it will love you in return.