I stumbled upon yoga somewhat inadvertently.
While interning at a magazine during college, I was part of a small team of writers that competed for assignments based on how quickly we could respond to an email request. This meant it didn’t matter what the request pertained to: if you wanted a job, you fired off a reply as fast as your little fingers could type.
One spot I managed to snag was covering a new yoga class at The Four Seasons hotel. Any excuse to get out of the office and check out a swanky ass hotel was cool in my book. That and the comped lunch.
Needless to say I fumbled through all 75 minutes, not entirely sure what I’d gotten myself into until it was too late. (It’s all fun and games until the whole class starts doing headstands, you know?) But despite an awkward beginning, something inside me lit up and I started attending class regularly. Not at the Four Seasons, but a cheap little studio nearby that smelled like lavender and was covered with strange biological maps that I later learned were depicting chakras.
Fast forward 10 years, and many sun salutations, and yoga is now very much a part of my life. While I still don’t fully understand the chakras, I try to get to class about three times a week and crave it when I don’t.
I’ve been wanting to make it a daily practice for awhile, but felt like giving up cardio or weight training for a month would affect my endurance, strength and, to be honest, my weight. I figured maybe I could do a quick at-home yoga practice in the morning and still go a spin class later on, but knew that realistically may not happen. Only so much time in the day.
Still, I’ve always been curious how I’d feel, if at all different, if I went to class every single day.
I decided upon returning home from a week of inhaling tacos and margaritas in California that the time was ripe for a 30 day challenge. Being surrounded by Moon Juice-drinking chicks clad in LuluLemon may also have had something to do with it. Anyway, I was feeling a little bit sluggish and a little bit anxious, and what better antidote than slapping my butt on a yoga mat and repeating some spiritual mantras for a month?
30 straight days of yoga. Some form of vinyasa or restorative everyday: either a regular class or a quick home practice. I was shooting for an hour ideally, but knew some days may require adapting.
The Play by Play
Monday March 5th started out rough, to be frank. I’d indulged on one too many glasses of wine during The Oscars and stayed up late to see who won best picture. Day one of my challenge also coincided with day one of my menstrual cycle. Fun! But I put on some leggings and dragged myself to a 4:30 pm vinyasa class which felt surprisingly good. Consequently realized it only takes deciding to start again to fall back into a habit. Doesn’t matter if you feel ready or not.
On day two I was craving cardio and went to a spin class, so I did a 20 minute restorative practice at home before bed. This was a nice change of pace and felt great, however my roommate does this super annoying thing whenever I pull out a yoga mat: she tries to eat it! Not zen.
Days 3-6 were all fairly similar and I won’t bore you with the details. Each afternoon I went to an hour-long vinyasa class and felt swell.
But on day 7 something shifted. I jotted down in my little journal where I tracked the whole challenge that “something felt different today. Loved being there, felt a sense of pure joy and peace and strong desire to come back tomorrow. Great music helped.”
Okay so aside from a sweet playlist, what was different? Being a full week in? I’d never gone that long practicing everyday. Perhaps I was already feeling aligned beforehand, so class just enhanced it?
Then day 8 I skipped. Dammit, I was feeling so good! I went out for drinks the previous night and didn’t sleep well (at this point I’m noticing a theme cough the wine cough). Just couldn’t make myself get to class so I took Lucy for an hour long walk and called it a day. Felt a twinge of guilt, but no big deal. I’ll get back to it tomorrow.
Days 9-12 I began to notice that I was feeling stronger. Let’s not forget that squatting down with your feet hips width distance apart before lifting them into the air while balancing your knees on your triceps like some long-winged bird is no picnic.
Day 13 I skipped again. It was St. Patrick’s Day and I chose the brewery over the yoga studio [insert shrug emoji].
Days 14-17: back to my routine and feeling real good.
On day 18 I felt so great – strong – but more importantly, I noticed a big shift in the mental game. I came away from an hour-long vinyasa class more empowered, aligned and ready to tackle life goals than ever. This could have something to do with the teacher and the class (by the way, if you’re local to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I go to Three Bridges and highly recommend it). But I also think it has to do with a steady practice and truly tuning into the present moment.
The morning of day 19 while walking Lucy I slipped on snow and banged my head on a metal railing. Go figure, I went all winter without falling once (big feat for this klutz) and then bam! Feeling a little bruised but okay, I proceeded with the rest of my day thinking it wasn’t a big deal, my headache would go away. But when I went to a vinyasa class that afternoon I was so dizzy and out of it that I decided to get my head checked out. Surprise! Turned out to be a mild concussion and I had to chill out with the exercise for 3-7 days, maybe more.
So that whole saga really threw a wrench in my challenge. I gave it three days, then went to an hour long vinyasa class and struggled through it. My head was still hurting and I got dizzy at several points, so I decided to give it more time. Can’t mess around with the head stuff ya know?
That was about a month ago, during which time I’ve been chilling on the exercise front. Lots of long walks, but not much else. I’m finally feeling ready to get back to it, especially because I had been feeling so great. And even though I didn’t officially make it to day 30, the benefits revealed themselves long before then.
- Increased strength and flexibility: I was surprised at how fast I started feeling stronger throughout the first couple weeks. While other workout are effective (how we can get toned pumping weights the size of tic tacs in barre is still unfathomable to me) yoga seems to require a set of muscles I don’t otherwise use, and you certainly can’t beat the stretch. I didn’t gain or lose any weight, though I haven’t been back to spin yet and I’d guess my endurance has definitely dipped.
- Calmer mind/focus on the present: no surprise here. One of the main objectives of yoga, as teachers often remind us throughout class, is to let go of whatever else is going on and be still in the present. AKA stop future tripping. This is good for me, I need this.
- Better mood: hands down the best benefit, in my opinion. Not many feelings compare to that post-yoga glowiness, which probably has to do with the exercise/meditation combo. This crunchy bunch is onto something!
So, what did I learn from 19-ish days of yoga?
While in theory it sounds nice to fit a practice in everyday, I did miss my spin and barre classes and don’t really see myself spending more than an hour a day exercising. Sticking to an average of three yoga classes a week works for now: I can still feel the benefits, but can also enjoy the variety of cardio and weight training.
That said, the mental effects were hard to ignore. There’s something truly magical that comes from movement that also promotes mindfulness, and yoga may be the ultimate combo.
One other thing I noticed was that I started to feel much less comparison as time passed, in terms of pitting other people’s practices against my own. The more I simply showed up, the more confident I felt in my own practice and the less I paid attention to (or cared) what was going on around me.
Which brings me to what is perhaps the most important observation: that we don’t need to make dramatic changes in order to feel dramatic shifts. What a revelation, right? Just one week in I felt different – better – simply by showing up more often.
Have you attempted a yoga challenge? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.
Oh and if you don’t have a yoga studio near you and want to give this challenge a shot, check out our favorite at-home app here!