Friday, February 3, 2017

Reflections on 30 Days of Yoga

First of all, let's get the elephant out of the room. Yes, I'm a Christian (or a follower of Christ, as I prefer to call myself) and I do yoga. I don't see any problem with it. God made our bodies in all of their intricacies and connections (Ps 139), and I believe that He wants us to use them for His honor and glory. With that being said, I don't do yoga as a religious practice, which for me, means avoiding yoga where Buddha is a central figure, or where I'm encouraged to recite Buddhist mantras. I use yoga to calm my mind and spirit, move my body, and find stillness, something that God commands in the Bible (Ps 46:10).

I only dabbled in yoga (via my roommate's Biggest Loser yoga DVD and one bikram class) before returning to Arizona. When I started my new job, I got really excited when I saw that one of the teachers offered a weekly class after school. I started going and found that the practice helped sooth sore muscles (especially after running) and calm me down after a week's worth of work. (Classes occur on Thursdays.) Life got a little hectic, though, and I missed a few classes. At that point, I discovered Do Yoga With Me and started supplementing my live practice with yoga videos. I really relished having one spot of rest and repose during the week.

So what got me started on 30 Days of Yoga? Well, I've read a lot of blog posts about how yoga helps reconnect mind and body. I've heard that it's gentler on the body, but also still a good workout. I was getting tired of my normal workout routine and wanted something new. When Do Yoga With Me posted the 30 Day challenge, I decided to try it.

I'm a perfectionist, so I like keeping my commitments, but I have to admit, keeping this one was hard. At first, it was hard for me to give up my regular workouts in lieu of yoga. I wanted to do both! I work nine hour days plus commuting an hour, so I don't exactly have the time to do that. I don't have a ton of extra energy, either. So I decided to give yoga a shot as my primary exercise for 30 days. In that month, I learned and recognized the following:

1) I realized that yoga is a practice, which means it takes practice. I wasn't good at it when I started, and though I'd say I'm better now, I'm still can't do all the poses or make it through a long class without taking a rest. But that's not the point. The point is practice: coming back to the mat again and again regardless of last class's results.

2) My flexibility did improve. By the end of 30 days, I found myself going deeper into my forward folds and down dogs. That didn't happen immediately, but more flexibility came with time.

3) Speaking of time, practicing yoga made me more aware of and appreciative of time. The challenge warned me of the time needed to practice a day ahead, and then I had to clear my schedule. Sometimes, I had to get up early. Sometimes I needed to give up evening habits. I had to choose yoga.

Some people practice yoga without a clock, which I did. I used the time bar on the yoga videos to pace my practice, however. It helped me to know when I was only a quarter of the way through the practice, or when I was close to savasana. It forced me to embrace my time on the mat instead of wishing it away. I've carried some of that awareness with me even after ending the challenge.

4) Yoga helped my posture. I'm tall and have a bad habit of slouching when I sit. After only a week of yoga, I noticed that I kept my shoulders back and sat up straighter more often. All those resets in mountain pose started to transfer to real life.

5) I realize the value of space in my mornings. It really helps the day go better. Since ending daily yoga, I've started getting up 15 minutes earlier, just to give myself that extra time to start the day off right.

6) Yoga isn't about necessarily about time spent, but about the intention of doing it. I'm a diehard rule-follower, and my rule for myself is that I need to work out 30 minutes a day. Well some of the yoga classes were 13 minutes, and some were 73. I had to accept this and learn to relish whatever time I got. Doing this helped me be more flexible in my mind.

7) The results of my personal yoga practice correlate with the information I read. Practicing yoga every day did reconnect my mind and body. I was able to say, "No," to continued roller skating with friends because I felt pain, rather than pushing through like I normally do. My mind tells me to stretch more when my body feels uncomfortable (like it did after standing too long in one place at work today). I want to spend more time in quiet exercise, rather than the frenetic HIIT that I tend towards. Perhaps I can learn to blend the two in order to appreciate each more.

So was my challenge successful? Yes, it more ways than one.

What do I plan to do now? For starters, I plan to recommit to practicing yoga at least once a week through the class at work. (Yoga every day isn't sustainable.) I hope to incorporate more stretching into my life and keep getting up early (which means I need to go to bed earlier.) I want to keep appreciating the body God gave me, honoring it (1 Cor 6:19) more instead of ignoring it as I tend to do. These are lofty goals, but if I could commit to 30 straight days of yoga, surely I can give my new goals my best efforts.

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