My New Year's Resolution was to be more consistent with my healthy habits, ideally daily (meditation, yoga, workouts, language, etc.), so when February came around, I decided to do pick one- yoga, and practice every day for a month, no excuses. I had never done a month-long challenge before, but I figured if I were ever going to do one, it would be for the shortest month of the year, and it might help me build the habit- after all, yoga is something that I think feels better the more consistently I do it. I strongly believe that in order for me to be consistent with any habit, I have to figure out how to enjoy it, and how to best work it into my day- this month-long challenge allowed me to play around with how to best fit yoga into my life. I haven't written about this monthly challenge until now, because I wanted to see how I would keep it up the following month. I was surprised at a number of different things I learned along the way! Here are 8 things I learned from doing a yoga challenge:
1) The Most Important Lesson- Show Up Often In The Spirit Of Having Fun!
My original plan was to measure how much I could improve with yoga, which I've come to realize, is the most un-yoga approach to yoga. I wanted to start off at 20 minutes, move up to 30, move up to 45 minutes a day, etc. While I'm still interested in increasing the amount of time I do yoga, my focus has shifted. I asked myself, "well, how did I become so good at cooking?" I didn't make a point to learn new skills, I didn't try to make a certain amount of recipes- I just showed up again and again in the spirit of fun and enjoying myself. I decided to start taking this approach to yoga- and I think this was the most important lesson I learned from my February practice. Show up not because you want to improve, but to enjoy the practice! The growth will be an effortless byproduct.
2) Honor Your Rhythms
My intention was to do yoga in the morning after waking up- after all, that's what "sun salutations" are for, and it's advised not to do an intense yoga practice at the end of the day. It seems really lovely to wake up in the morning at the crack of dawn, light a candle, meditate, and then ease into a daily yoga practice. For whatever reason, at this moment in my life, I am very tired in the mornings. I think we all go through phases and need to respect these- and at the moment, I cannot be bothered to do yoga in the morning, and I enjoy it more at night. It's nice to have a relaxing practice before going to sleep. When this phase is over, which I'm sure it will be, I may add a morning yoga practice into my day.
In February, I focused almost solely on yoga, but in March, I began to more heavily incorporate a HIIT workout in the morning. This worked out really well because I could use the majority of my energy for my more efficient fitness practice in the morning, and any extra energy I have left could be used for a yoga workout or stretching practice at night.
3) Less Is More, Stay Consistent
As I've covered in a previous blog post, I tend to overdo it and then become injured, so I've had to scale back my effort in my workouts. This way, I can be more consistent without getting injured. In the past, I would go to a yoga practice once in a while, and be sore for a week- whereas with this challenge, I was fine. I think it may be a while before I work myself up to an hour and a half class, which is a studio practice, and I'm okay with that. I've improved so much, and I'm enjoying my daily movement (and saving money on studio classes).
4) It Doesn't All Build
I quickly came to realize that increasing the amount of yoga I do daily wasn't going to work- this is particularly because I could not do so many chatarungas every day. It's too much to work the same arm muscles each day. As my yoga practice became more difficult, I would either do a practice and lay off all the chatarungas if my arms were sore, or just stick to more of a stretching practice on day to day basis. This is an issue that I only noticed from doing this yoga challenge. What I learned was that I really enjoy a stretching/flow practice every day, and a practice that builds more strength every so often if I'm up for it.
5) Other Exercises Will Benefit Your Yoga Practice
As I was doing my yoga challenge, I began incorporating more consistent HIIT exercises. I noticed that the strength I was building in my HIIT workouts, was greatly improving my strength in my yoga practice. I'm sure my yoga practice was helping my HIIT workouts as well. I know lots of people say to do yoga as stretching for your workouts, but I had never really thought of the benefits of strength training in order to help your yoga practice. In addition, I've also begun to do more daily walks. It's been really interesting to notice how all of these work together and compliment each other in making me stronger.
6) I Don't Like Holding Poses For A Long Time
What can I say, this is just something I realized about myself. I do like holding poses for longer when you're on the ground, like in forward bends or pigeon, but I do not want to be holding any warrior poses for a long time. A steady flow really helps to relax me, and the movement feels really good to me. Holding poses does not- it makes me think in my head: "when is this over??" If I want to incorporate yoga daily or almost daily, it's great to know what I like and don't like.
7) Stretching and Inner Calm, Not Strength, Is My Top Priority
My February challenge was all about incorporating yoga every single day, but towards the end of the month, and March, I started to realize that what I really want from yoga is flexibility and inner calm. I really enjoy weights and HIIT exercises for strength, and for yoga, I really enjoy the flow and don't love focusing on things like planks and ab exercises. I enjoy weight training and HIIT exercises, so it works out. As it turns out, when I build up my strength during HIIT exercises, I'm able to do more of the strength poses when they do pop up in a yoga class.
8) You can always do 10 minutes
During this challenge, I had to get rid of all my excuses. Not feeling well? Too late? There's always time for 10 minutes. Just 10 minutes is enough for me to feel some good stretching, and most importantly, to give me the confidence that I could stick to something so that I could continue the next day.
The month after, in March, my life and schedule became craazzzyy (started a sales job- maybe a story for another day). I didn't keep up my yoga practice for a couple of weeks, but eventually, I went back. I really missed how good it felt to do my practice.
Overall, I think the February challenge made me realize how good it felt to keep up a consistent practice. Even just the first moment of a class sitting on my mat seems to put me at ease. It's something I knew logically, but feeling it was different. Now I'm able to keep up my practice because I want to stay flexible, and feel good from my yoga practice. It's also highly motivating when you see progress from your practice- I love how far I've come in just one month.
Even though I had never done a month-long challenge before, I think it's something I'll definitely do again. What should I do next? Have you ever done a month-long challenge before?