Before dismissing the entire yoga mentality and genre, I encourage you to close your eyes and forget everything you may know about the subject. It’s not a bunch of freaky, granola-crunching women with hairy armpits, playing esoteric music. Yoga has evolved into something hot, challenging and rewarding – fun and satisfying with a twist of sexy.
But a 40-Day Yoga Challenge? I had no idea what to expect. I knew it was a challenge and commitment, but I didn’t expect the sense of empowerment upon completion. Like any goal we set for ourselves, we may question and doubt our ability. What if I fail? How am I going to wedge another task into an already crazy schedule?
There were progressive, weekly meetings at my yoga studio, The Yoga Shop, in South Windsor. We discussed awakenings, pitfalls, challenges and accomplishments. A 64-ounce water bottle was given for daily proper hydration. Participants kept a 40-day journal for yoga practice, food intake, sleep, meditation and logging our daily obstacles and how we reacted to them. We also received a yoga DVD for home practice and the book 40 Days To Personal Revolution, written by yoga master Baron Baptiste.
A particular subject that spiked my interest was practicing non-reactivity, a powerful skill of responding to situations rather than reacting to them. When conflict interrupts, we have choices on how to react. We can choose to get angry, hold a grudge, yell or scream.
Or, we can choose to breathe, remain calm and respond differently. I was often surprised with the outcome of practicing non-reactivity. It takes effort and energy to stay angry. Letting go of the the things we can't control is actually a pretty cool concept.
It wasn’t always convenient. Making the commitment meant rescheduling and working around standing responsibilities. Kids had to make their own lunches and sometimes get themselves on the bus. Dinner was often late, asking favors of friends and neighbors was now on the menu. Sweaty yoga clothes packed the laundry basket, prompting late-night wash cycles.
Personal appearance, along with hygiene, took a back seat. No make-up, calloused feet, living in Lululemons, a popular brand of yoga attire, and delayed shower schedules grew tiresome. I often missed freshly styled hair, perfume and jeans with boots.
Carrying around a keg-sized water bottle became a standing joke with friends and family. It often rolled off the front seat of my car, spouting water on the floor while driving along I-91. It wouldn’t fit in my large messenger bag, but surprisingly felt at home in the kiddie seat of a Target carriage. I wasn’t used to the required water intake. Daily responsibilities and activities were planned according to strategic bathroom locations, preferably the ones I knew were clean.
Classes at 6 a.m. were often on my agenda, which meant I was up by 5:15 a.m. and leaving the house at 5:30 a.m. Getting into a cold car while driving through a dark abyss can be lonesome. My coffee cup and talk radio were my only companions. Even though practicing at home was an option, my self-discipline is easily swayed. Exploding laundry baskets, work, phone and piles of paperwork tend to look appealing when a commitment lingers. No one is directing, watching and correcting. It’s a free pass to slack but I’d rather not.
Practicing in the studio became routine, even addicting. With each day, you find more strength, more confidence and more room. In a positive reinforcement tactice reminiscent of potty training, happy-face stickers were placed on a chart after each class. Regardless of age, visual positive reinforcement works!
There’s something to say about using your core while holding a bind. Like the studio, the music was hot, building hype and energy. Gracefully you move from one pose to the next, discovering strength. Bending your back, reaching to the sky, listening to your breath while finding more room and length in your practice.
Your body transforms from stiff and weak to flexible and strong. The recessed lighting is blinding in certain poses while salty beads of sweat drip into your eyes, causing a stinging sensation. Like twisting a saturated washcloth, yoga wrings out the unnecessary distractions in our lives. It itemizes your priorities, while focusing on what’s truly important.
I found myself taking risks and pushing for more difficulty. This was becoming true both on and off the yoga mat. Attitudes and inner voice of doubt transformed from, “I can’t do that” to, “Why the hell not?” and, “Yes, I can.”
I was never alone, always guided by professionals and fellow yogis with open hearts and encouraging spirits. As the 40 days progressed, I was surrounded by transforming, strong, positive and energetic individuals.
The only thing keeping you focused is your breath. There’s no judgement. Start small. Make yourself a priority and commit to yourself. No matter your goal, whether it's professional or physical, take a risk, push and trust yourself. Expect to sway and tumble, fall and get back up, but gradually you'll perform a backbend as familiar as the grassy backyards of your youth.