30 Days of Yoga Day 18: A Moving Meditation

A few weeks ago my mother and I decided to start a 30 day yoga challenge, specifically Yoga With Adriene – 30 Days of Yoga. This was a course I had done a couple of times before, although never in the supposed 30 days, but it had been several months since I’d done yoga at all regularly and I was trying to find a way to ease my mum into it. I kept extolling the benefits of yoga and she kept claiming she had no time. A mother-daughter 30 day challenge seemed to be the perfect fit, especially since I found that suggesting we do it first thing in the morning was the best way to stop my mum using the time excuse – I have to both get up earlier than she does for my job, and also leave the house about an hour earlier. If I could do it, she could easily do it.

So we began. And for the first week or so, I was very good at getting up at 6:30 to do my yoga before going down for the hotel breakfast, and I received a daily text from my mother claiming that she too had done hers for the day. It felt challenging, but I was enjoying it. My body clearly wasn’t used to doing half these poses anymore and I was glad we’d chosen a more gentle introduction than we could have done.

Of course, after several days I couldn’t manage to maintain my ‘every morning’ routine, and I decided to sleep in a little one Thursday instead. It was supposed to be a longer session, and Thursday mornings are always tighter for me as I have to pack and leave slightly earlier than usual so that I can check out of the hotel. Disappointed in myself, I wasn’t looking forward to telling my mum the next day that I’d fallen off track, and so I decided when I got back home that evening – back in London – that I would catch up and do it before bed.

Since then I’ve more often done my yoga just before bed than not, and I don’t mind that. Particularly since I have started doing more consistent workouts this last week as well, I’ve found that doing some stretching just before bed is a great way to unwind for the night, step away from my phone or laptop and stretch out my muscles from whatever I’ve put them through earlier in the day. It has also made me miss less days – and by that I mean I have only missed one so far and I’m on day 19 – because it’s a lot easier to find the time just before I go to bed than convince myself to get up in the morning. I think I still want to try getting up early and possibly doing a few stretches, but so long as I get my yoga done at some point during the day I’m not going to beat myself up about the time. It’s better than not doing it.

As for how I feel after doing yoga consistently for 18 days, I am definitely noticing a difference, though I wasn’t aware of this until last night. Yesterday was a great day, but it was a little exhausting. It was a very hot day and I’d started off fairly relaxed, lazing around my bedroom, but as the day went on I did a pretty intense 25 minute workout, followed by a 5 mile walk up and down a hill, and then going out for dinner with a friend in the evening and following that up with a 30+ minute walk. By the time I got home close to 10pm, I had done 25 minutes of intense exercise and 20,000 steps, it was still warm, and I was exhausted. I sat on my bed and thought that I would leave my yoga until today, because I was just too tired and my muscles were a little achy.

But after a few minutes I decided that I wanted to get it done. It was 20 minutes, and I could go to bed straight after. I realised that I’m starting to rely on doing yoga as an essential part of my daily routine, which is newly cultivated. It made me feel good to have got it done. But more than that, I noticed that it was coming easier to me. As I went through the session, I was tired and achy but I found myself getting more into my head than my body, if that makes sense. For the first time, I understood why people say that yoga can be a moving meditation.

Because I’ve done this for about three weeks now, I’m developing some strength and finding the moves a lot easier than I was in the first few days of practice. So I found myself spending less time paying attention to what my body was doing and whether I felt uncomfortable or not, and more time focussing on how my mind was feeling, and slowly quietening it and settling down for the night. It was only when I caught myself not really paying attention to doing a vinyasa, and yet managing to do it better than I ever have before (not collapsing to the ground for one thing) that I had this realisation. It was a calm, relaxing session, and I really felt like I could let go and just trust my body in what it was doing, rather than getting frustrated and trying to force myself into doing various things.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty of frustrations in my yoga practice in the future, but I felt that last night turned out to be a good way of showing myself what benefits having a daily practice can bring – and hopefully this will encourage me to keep it up once the 30 days have ended. I already have a plan of what I would like to move onto next. Having made this a daily part of my life, and knowing how I felt last night – like I really wanted to get it done despite being tired etc.. – I really feel better for it, and I hope that the benefits only continue to increase in future.

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Perspective

There are, unfortunately, some moments in life that just put everything else into perspective.

On Monday there were two completely unconnected events. Throughout the day I read about the awful hostage situation in Sydney, and Monday evening once I got home, I stopped thinking about it. I did some pilates and spent ten minutes doing some yoga for the first time in weeks. I felt extremely uncomfortable and didn’t quite hate every minute of it, but it was a close thing. I’ve written about learning discomfort in the past (in a post on another blog that I may re-post here), and the point still stands: I need to stop being afraid of discomfort, and stop letting the feeling overwhelm me.

So I did ten minutes, thought very negatively about the whole experience, and went to bed.

Open up the news on Tuesday whilst at work – there’s been a massacre in a school in Pakistan. Over 120 killed, most of them children.

I just… it’s one of those moments when you realise just how privileged you are, that your main concern is that you were uncomfortable whilst doing some yoga having come back from your ‘cushy’ city job. The people who have been in the situations in the last few days, I’m sure they’d give anything for that to be all they needed to be concerned about. And tragedies aside, there are millions of people in the world who would kill to be in my situation I’m sure, and have to put up with far worse “discomforts” than I could ever dream of.

I can spend ten minutes being uncomfortable in yoga. I can be grateful that’s all I have to put up with. This is discomfort caused by something I’m choosing to do to myself, and in the long-run it’s doing me some good. I am extremely lucky, extremely privileged, and thank whatever-you-believe-in I’ve never known anything else. Most people aren’t so fortunate.

Just something I’ll be thinking of next time I’m in that situation.

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Recommitting to Yoga

A couple of days ago DoYouYoga.com published an article on The Cycles of Yoga Practice. The author talked about three recurring stages of yoga practice – the falling in love, the consistency, and the falling out of love.

Recently, I think I’ve been falling out of love with yoga.

I started practicing yoga consistently(ish) almost two years ago in my third year of university. Prior to then I’d dabbled once every few months or so, but for my 21st birthday I received my first ever smart phone, and a whole new world of apps was opened to me. I went on a bit of a “apps that could help me improve my life” binge, and quickly installed an app called Daily Yoga. From there I quickly got into the habit of practicing almost-daily, even if only for 5-10 minutes (which was more often than not).

Despite starting off with only very short sessions, I loved yoga. I was extremely unfit and had virtually no upper body strength, so five minutes including a minute and a half of downward dog was pretty much all I was able to do without my arms giving up. When doing the single run-through of a sun salutation using the app, you do two downward facing dogs. The first is held for thirty seconds, the second for a minute. At first, just fifteen or so seconds into the second DD my arms would be shaking, and I’d collapse soon after.

However, with commitment to practice, I gradually increased the length of time it took for me to collapse, until I was able to hold the second pose for the full minute. And I was then able to do a third, upon moving to the longer sun salutation session. When I did do a longer practice, it could easily last anywhere between forty-five minutes to an hour. These were rarer, but they did happen. I just loved what I was doing and loved feeling myself improve.

But life moves on and circumstances change, and I occasionally found myself not having practised any yoga for several weeks. Boy, could I feel it. I don’t know whether I hadn’t realised how much I was aching on a daily basis prior to yoga, or whether the pain was a new thing, but my body was not happy with me putting a stop to the practice. I was usually fairly quick to get back into practice as soon as I could.

Eight months ago I started my first full-time job, and five months ago I started working in a city two hours away from where I live. Initially I stayed in a hotel during the week, but for the last couple of months I’ve been commuting. This upheaval and change in circumstances pretty much brought my practice to a standstill, and whilst I’ve been trying recently to get back into a routine, I’ve hit a couple of snags.

Because of how infrequently I’ve been practicing yoga over the last year, in some ways I’m back to square one. I don’t maintain the flexibility I used to, and I no longer have the stamina for certain routines and poses. Having not touched the yoga app in about a year, having preferred youtube videos recently , a few days ago I went back to the five minute sun salutation. Roughly fifteen seconds into the second downward facing dog, my arms gave out.

Frustrating isn’t the word. If it weren’t for the fact that I know I love yoga, and it makes me feel better and it is immensely good for me, I’d have been tempted to give up. I certainly wasn’t tempted back on the mat. I felt like I should have been better than this, that I should be on more advanced poses, I mean, I’d been doing it for nearly two years now and…

At some point, I managed to tell my ego to shut the hell up. Yoga isn’t about how advanced the poses you can do are, it’s not about looking flawless whilst practicing, it’s about showing up on the mat. And I don’t do that. It can’t be surprising that I’m practically back to square one when it took weeks of consistently getting on the mat every single day in order to move away from that and see some “results” – whatever that means. Whilst it’s great to notice yourself improve, I also need to keep in mind that  no matter what I’m doing on the mat, the very fact that I’m there makes me feel better mentally, and keeps me healthier physically.

I’d been falling out of love with yoga not because I’d been having any problems with yoga, but because I’d been having problems with myself. I need to stop caring about what I “should” be able to do, and rather than even focus on what I can do, I need to concentrate on what I am doing. With this in mind, I did a 25 minute session yesterday – another from the yoga app. I wobbled a lot. I fell over a few times. I had to keep bringing my mind back to the moment, rather than getting frustrated over myself. But I got through it, my mind settled and I felt miles better at the end of it than I had done in weeks.

The fact that I need to bring consistency into my practice is one of the reasons I decided to make yoga one of the things I regularly talk about here. Keeping you updated on my practice will help to keep me accountable, and hopefully you can take something from my practice –  successes and failures both – that will help or inspire you in yours.

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