“Do you feel different?” a classmate asks as we roll up our yoga mats on the last day of the 30-day yoga challeng.
“I’m not sure yet,” I say, uncertain myself about how I feel. An ardent Type-A (a characteristic I’m trying to modify with yoga), I completed 36 classes in 30 days, doubling up some days to “bank” classes in case I missed a day. Although I practice most days 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 through the need to be in those poses. But on balance I was more in balance for the experience.
The studio had presented this challenge before, but I had 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; 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 too much time to think.
I am no stranger to yoga. I have a 16-year practice and have been a certified teacher for almost three 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 to it.
“Do you feel different?” I thought. Yes and no. Just as yin and yang dance in a delicate balance, the good and bad aspects of this challenge sang in harmony too. That was lesson number one. Here are a few other things 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.
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 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.
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 vanity.
Trying something new stimulates chemicals, neurons, and synapses that make my body and mind smile. Different classes, times, and teachers lifted me out of a complacent I’m-an-experienced-yogini rut.
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 – inside the studio or out. 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 workouts. 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.
“Do you feel different?” my classmates 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 the month. But I will approach everything with different eyes now, because I rediscovered that little quiet place deep inside all of us that both makes us unique and yet inextricably links us on a molecular level. So yes, I feel different. But, also, I feel very much the same.