30-day Yoga Challenge: Four Challenges in One

Since I’m nearly done with it, I feel safe to share the fact that I’m participating in a 30-day yoga challenge:  30 consecutive days of yoga classes, come hell or high water, from April 2 to May 1. And in some ways this challenge isn’t challenging at all — in other ways it lives up to its name entirely.

Challenge #1:  Deciding — And Sticking With It

For most things in life, the deciding part is hardest. Well, not the deciding part so much as everything else that follows once the deciding has been done. After I decided to do this challenge, a lot of things had to shift in my life to make space for it, the biggest being how I spent my time. My alarm clock has been going off faithfully every morning, no sleeping in on the weekends. Most days I’ve had to either stay late at work or leave most of my work to do list undone so I could fit in a yoga class. I’ve had to rearrange social engagements on the weekends so that I can get to yoga, and sometimes skip or reschedule appointments during the week. This may seem extreme, but it’s what commitment looks like when any one of us makes a decision and then sticks with it. Those things we’ve decided are the big deal things in our lives take precedent — or they should — so they’re setting the tone for the day, the week, the month. Everything else should be secondary.

And I have to say that the “sticking with it” part has been tough when I’ve been faced with a tempting alternative to my decision — most often sleeping in on the weekends or skipping an evening class to go home and laze on the couch. But it’s been a good test of my will, to see that I can be determined and strong enough to push myself out of my habits to I achieve something new.

Challenge #2:  Pacing Myself

Unfortunately — or maybe fortunately? — I tend to be a competitive person, even in a noncompetitive setting like a yoga class. Most days I have some form of Rubber Neck Syndrome, where I’m checking out what everyone else is doing, looking at their form, their flexibility, their strength, and then of course comparing it to mine. Maybe it’s from my many years of dance training or my perfectionist tendencies that I naturally start to compare myself to others, but in this challenge I had to really let go of that. In some ways it was good to know that I wasn’t in the same place as most of the other people in the room — there were only about 12 of us doing the challenge overall and maybe one or two in the room with me most days, so that meant that the pressure was off — or maybe not off — but my mindset definitely adjusted when I went into a class. Like I mentioned in last week’s entry, I was really running my own race — or yoga-ing my own yoga. Because of course I couldn’t force myself into the splits and then flip myself upside down into several reps of a forearm stand and then push through a dozen jump-backs from crow pose to chaturanga (first and foremost, because I can’t do crow pose jump-backs to chaturanga) but also because I had to come back to class tomorrow and the next day and the next.

I had to pace myself for the long haul, take it slower than I usually would, and really focus on my own process, listen to my body and my body alone to make sure that we’d get through the month in one healthy piece. Because if I “won class” for the day but felt miserable and sore — or even injured myself — then I’d be defeating the whole purpose of the challenge, and of yoga itself.

Challenge #3:  Imbalance Exposing Imbalance

I mentioned earlier that once I’d made the decision to participate in the challenge I had to reprioritize the way I spent my time, and now that I’m almost through I can look back and see how much this yoga challenge — in some ways its own imbalance on my time — exposed other imbalances in how I spend my time, particularly at work. Without the yoga challenge to pull me away from work and to put some pressure on how I spend my time in the evening, it was easy for me to excuse long hours at work, sometimes up to 12 hours a day. But this challenge has made me notice that work really demands a lot of me, and a lot of my free time. I’m not complaining that I have a job that requires after-hours time, but I’m concerned by the amount of after-hours time I was spending — and am still spending — usually up to 20 unpaid hours a week. This challenge has made me feel some stress, and even anxiety, around time but mostly because there never seems to be enough time for work and also for myself. It’s something that I’m going to be further exploring even after this challenge ends; balance is such a key value that I hold and I want to embody that more.

Challenge #4:  What Happens Next?

This leads to the final challenge within this challenge. I’m almost done with it, but I’m already thinking about what’s next. Do I want to continue daily yoga classes? Do I want to take a break from yoga? Do I want to continue daily exercise and meditation, but expand into to different forms, like gym workouts and more traditional cardio or pick up my meditation practice from months ago? I’m not quite sure yet, and I have a couple of days to decide, but I do know that this challenge has pushed me to make a decision and to make shifts in my life that push me to be more balanced. I’ve also seen that competition is not as important as compassion — especially self-compassion — and that even when I don’t think I’m making any gains I am. I’ve surprised myself this month by becoming physically stronger even when I didn’t think I was, by becoming more patient with myself, and more able to let go, even if momentarily, of the demands of the outside world on my inner life.

After this challenge ends on Tuesday, I look forward to Wednesday and the days that follow and the decisions I’ll get to make that will quiet the outside world and amplify my inner voice, one that is still keenly competitive, but also more compassionate and striving for balance.

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