I have always tried my best to stay fit, but I am by no means an expert in exercise. I try to work out either with weight lifting or some form of cardio at least three times per week, more if I’m up to it. While I don’t succeed every week, this is a good baseline to keep me feeling healthy and happy.
So, when my wife mentioned the idea of wanting to do a 30-day yoga challenge at the start of the new year. I agreed *almost* right away! After a few days of hesitation, I opted to start the 30-day yoga journey on January 1st with her.
What did I possibly have to lose? It would be perfect. I’d get to spend some time with my wife doing something she enjoys, I’d get to try something new on a consistent basis, and hopefully, I’d be able to touch my toes again by the end of it! Plus, maybe I could impress her with my supreme balancing skills.
. . .
We used Yoga With Adriene, a YouTube channel that features hundreds of yoga videos and is supremely popular. By the time we started the session each day, there were generally hundreds of thousands of views on the video. It was kind of fun thinking that all of these people had been through it already, and now it was our turn. That was consistent with the vibe that Adriene was going for as well. She frequently mentioned that we were all in this together.
She chose to begin the series at Day 0, where we basically took five minutes to sit and breathe on January 1st. This was relaxing, and honestly a better start than I expected. Over the next 30 days of yoga, I would learn a lot about yoga itself as well as about my body and how poorly I’ve treated it over the years. Here are some highlights and observations from the subsequent thirty days.
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Downward facing dog is not that easy of a position
“AM I DOING THIS RIGHT?” I whisper harshly to my wife while trying to hold my hips in the air for this awkward position. She suggests that I bend my knees a little and ease into it rather than trying to go for it all at once.
I struggle to try to follow her lead and am met with the deep pain of a stretch in my hamstrings and calves unlike any I’ve felt before. I’m convinced that something is going to tear. I’m shaking already and we’ve been at this for just 5 minutes.
I had heard of downward facing dog before. So, for some reason, I assumed that if an amateur like myself had heard of it, it would be an easy pose. I was sorely mistaken.
“Stick with it,” encourages Adriene. She is basically always smiling. So, I push through it desperately hoping that things will get easier in time.
“Do we have to do this often?” I ask.
“Probably at least once every day,” my wife answers laughing at my straining voice and shaking body.
It was naive of me to think that I would jump straight into this and be able to do it well. I haven’t done a proper stretch in years. Add to that the importance of balance in yoga and I was woefully underprepared. The downward-facing dog position is actually pretty strenuous on your shoulders and, as I mentioned, your legs as well. I was surprised by the way this was starting out. I could tell you already that there would be no impressing my wife throughout this experience.
Breathing with the moves is actually very helpful
The theme of Adriene’s 30-day experience was breath, and she focused quite a bit on it. By focusing on your breathing you can separate the yoga experience from all else that you have going on. At first, I admit I thought it was a little corny, but as the days went on I realized that synchronizing my breath with the moves was actually quite helpful.
I was quickly learning that yoga is about balance as much as it is about flexibility. I found that maintaining focus on the inhale and exhale allowed me to stay more stable when striking some of the poses.
For example, breathing out when doing a move called the forward fold, where you literally fold your body towards the ground using your waist as a kind of hinge, helped me to get lower and stretch deeper through my legs.
Additionally, the breath was helpful when transitioning from one pose to the next. It promoted a tightening or loosening through the mid-abdomen (or mid-body as Adriene calls it) driven by the diaphragm coordinating your breath. This, at least to me, made it easier to go from a straight plank to a downward-facing dog pose and various other transitions that we practiced through the month.
Breathing with my body’s movements also made my body feel unified. It felt like I was one organism moving through the poses rather than focusing on each individual part like I might when doing curls or situps for instance. Plus, if I would have been holding my breath in some of these poses I truthfully may have passed out.
Some days are more flexible than others
I mean this both in the literal sense of your body’s flexibility, but also as it relates to the daily schedule. Doing yoga every single day was exhausting, and I was surprisingly sore many of the days throughout this process. There were some days where I flat out did not want to do yoga. Then there were others where I thought it would be impossible in the time constraints that I had.
Similarly, there were days when I’d be lowering into a stretch and felt it was just too much and I couldn’t physically push any further. Then there were others where I was able to finally get my hands down to the ground and touch my toes. A feat that has not been consistently accomplished by me since my days in high school.
While I’m not going to pretend that this was some life-changing realization to me, I will say that it was an important reminder to me to put things into perspective. I often struggle to find time to fit things that are important to me into my busy schedule; though, it’s frequently easier to do than I give myself credit for. I realized that the days that I wanted to be there the least often turned out to be the best. The days when I didn’t think I possibly had time for yoga were often days that I found extra time to write or read after the yoga sessions. Then finally, the days that I found I struggled to get anywhere near my ankles, let alone my toes, were generally followed by a couple of days of toe touching victory!
It’s not all about just touching your toes
As I’ve alluded to, yoga goes far beyond just simply gaining flexibility. Sure, people that are experienced at yoga have supreme flexibility and can go much further than just simply touching their toes. However, there is more to it.
I had always pictured yoga as a glorified stretching exercise. This was a gross simplification of what it is.
What stood out to me the most was the amount of focus placed on the core of the body. There are multiple poses throughout the yoga workouts that focus on your larger leg muscle groups, like your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, as well as on your abs and lower back. These regions see a lot of the heavy lifting for the day in and day out activities, and I find that they’re often neglected with my other workouts.
It’s easy to center workouts around muscles that are going to be seen by others more commonly rather than ones that are frequently used. Yoga doesn’t give you that opportunity. The poses and progressions of yoga practices require a special focus on tightening and strengthening your core.
Without this strength, you are more likely to fall. Oh, and fall I did. One of the major feats of this month was that I managed to avoid breaking anything in our living room!
Pets can have a blast too
While this isn’t a major point about the 30-day experience, anybody that owns dogs and cats will likely see some of the benefits for your pets too. My dog, Feta, would get so excited each evening as we laid out our yoga mats and joined her on the floor. Adriene’s own dog, Benji, is featured in many of the videos that uploads.
From bringing kibbles over to the yoga mats and eating in our ears while we lay on our back in corpse pose to slingshotting her favorite ball from our yoga towels and chasing it down the hallway, Feta may not have learned a whole lot, but she certainly had a blast too.
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I have not taken the best care of my body over the years
I would be lying if I said that any part of this was easy for me. I could certainly get into some of the poses easier than others; however, I was sore for basically the entire thirty-day experience. It surprised me how such simple motions were so exceedingly difficult for me.
There were basic poses that created such a deep stretch that I couldn’t hold it anywhere near as long as Adriene was recommending! I’ve always felt that I take good care of my body, but my neck, lower back, and legs would surely disagree with that sentiment. The years of neglect that these areas have suffered were evident during this experience.
My focus in workouts had always been geared more towards building muscle — more ‘manly’ workouts in the classical sense I guess. I have been lifting weights since I was in middle school and for cardio, I play soccer with friends or go lap swimming.
Yoga has historically been and still largely is, practiced by more people identifying as women than men, but I believe that everybody has a lot to gain from yoga. I can excitedly state that throughout these past 30 days, I’ve acquired an additional exercise outlet that I can utilize for years to come.
I had for some reason never considered yoga as a valid workout to incorporate into my weekly exercise rotations. However, this experience has shown me that it is a very effective and often time-efficient workout to do. It can be done as a sole exercise or as a supplement before or after a different workout which adds to its utility.
This 30-day challenge was fun, challenging, and educational. I look forward to continuing to incorporate yoga into my weekly routines and hopefully maintain some of the flexibility that I obtained this month. Thanks for reading!
Note: This post is not affiliated with Yoga with Adriene. I have included links to her YouTube Channel throughout the post both for informational purposes as well as to provide a source for the 30-day challenge that we followed.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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