“Do you feel different?” a classmate asks as we roll up our yoga mats on the last day of the 30-day yoga challenge and stow the studio’s blocks, blankets, and bolsters on the shelves.
“I’m not sure yet,” I say, uncertain about how I feel. As an ardent Type-A (a characteristic I’m trying to modify with yoga), I completed 36 classes in the 30 days, doubling up some days to “bank” classes in case I needed to miss a day.
Although I practice most days in some way on my own, it was hard to make time to get to the studio every single day. I fought traffic and my resentment toward it. I pushed through poses I had no business being in, and then through the need to be in those poses. But on balance, I was more in balance for the experience.
Facing the Yoga Challenge
The studio, Yoga for Everybody, had presented this challenge before, but I only looked longingly at the flyers announcing the event and enviously at the participants and their names on the sticker-laden wall chart marking their progress.
It was never the right time. Is it ever the right time, though? There was always an excuse, but this particular slice of time seemed perfect. My mother had died, my house was on the market, and my oldest would soon graduate from college.
Thirty days of yoga might be just the recipe to turn this swirling batter of emotion into a piece of cake. I felt about the challenge as I do about baking: I fret and worry, making a mess, much more proficiently than I organize, mix, and manage to turn life’s ingredients into pretty frosted cupcakes.
I signed up on the spot, before I had time to think.
I am no stranger to yoga.
I have a 15-year practice, and have been a certified teacher for two years. It has been my salvation and my medication. When I practiced yoga, I managed to yell at my children an hour later in the day than usual. It grounds, centers, and calms me. It stretches and opens my mind and body.
But getting to the studio every day? Chakra-balancing or not, that is an entirely different kind of stretch. I was not sure how I would find the time in the day or the strength in my body, but the gauntlet was down; and I was up for it.
“Do you feel different?” I thought. Yes and no. Just as Yin and Yang dance in a delicate balance in life, the good and bad aspects of this challenge sang in harmony, too. That was lesson number one. Here are a few other things that the 30 days taught me:
- Enlightenment comes more as a series of small gems rather than a major Eureka! moment. I had no major epiphany. My seventh chakra is not blinding anyone with its violet radiance. But I did discover little cultured pearls on my mat every day. Rather than keep a journal, I captured these glimpses of truth in a string of haiku poems; one for every day of the challenge.
- There’s no gain in pain. At around day 12, things that I’d tweaked wrong started to tap me on the shoulder. Literally. And still I took a class I shouldn’t have in order to fulfill my daily requirement. Somewhere between the third and fourth chaturanga-to-up-dog-to-down-dog, I realized that while suffering may be inevitable, it ought not be self-inflicted.
- I prefer choice to obligation. I do many things every day by choice, and never resent them. Once something becomes de rigueur it tarnishes a bit.
- …Unless that thing is “having” to wear only yoga clothes for a month. That was pretty cool. I allowed myself an entirely Zen lack of attachment to wardrobe vanity.
- Trying something new makes my body and mind smile. Different classes, non-customary times, and unfamiliar teachers lifted me out of my complacent I’m-an-experienced-yogini rut. It was nice to notice and accept what I liked, and, as well as what I didn’t.
- Nature is awesome. I placed my mat in the same corner spot, with a large window to my left, for every class. I watched, as if through a National Geographic time-lapse camera, as the winter-bare, scraggly branches developed soft, velvety buds, which yielded lime green spears that morphed into variegated, red-tipped fans.
- Anger is not a useful defense against things we can’t control. Acceptance is better. People come into class late. Very late. They snore in savasana and leave cell phones on to vibrate, ring, and play “Who Let the Dogs Out?” When I felt indignant, my shoulders hiked, my stomach churned, and my mind boiled in a way that would make Macbeth’s witches proud. It yielded neither a good yoga class, nor the ability to change their behavior. When, instead, I thought “Hmmmm. They must have hit traffic and really need this yoga class,” I watched that ire pass like a wispy, wafting cloud, and the sun shone on my yoga mat once more.
- Balance rules. This is just a good general framework for life. Except for the occasional beach walk, I did virtually no cardio for 30 days. As much as I’d like to devote the number of hours Madonna does in a day to physical fitness, I have other stuff to do. I missed my gym routine as much as the workouts themselves. The bright lights, loud music, familiar faces, and the whir of treadmills soothe me as much as the softly lit, Om-clad studio infused with melodic chants and the scent of jasmine tea. I crave and need both.
- The moment is the best place to be. I honed my ability to be calm and focus as much as I stretched any muscle. Mindfully staying present is a gift. I tried to capture snapshots of this glimpse of deep truth in the haikus.
“Do you feel different?” she asked. “Yes,” I said. “And no.” I feel kneaded and baked; sweet and in need of icing. I need to focus on some of the things I’ve let slip during this month. But I will approach everything with different eyes now, because I rediscovered that little quiet place deep inside all of us that makes us both unique and inextricably links us on a molecular level.
So yes, I feel different. But, also, I feel very much the same.