I've done yoga on and off for many years but I would never say I have a regular practice. I try to hit the mat at least once a week but even that's not always possible. One of my New Year's resolutions for 2016 was to complete the yoga challenge hosted by many local Houston studios that span 40 days. I tried it at the beginning of 2015 and only managed to make it for two weeks before real life got in the way and I quit. I still feel shame over quitting, so this time around I made sure that completing the challenge was a priority.
The challenge is officially called 40 Days to Personal Revolution and follows a blueprint set out in the book of the same name by famed yogi Baron Baptiste. Yogis joining the challenge are supposed to read this book over the course of the six-week challenge. We're supposed to attend six days of asana practices every week with one day of rest. Each day also includes two short meditation practices in the morning and before bed. A food cleanse is encouraged, but it's mostly to maintain focus on nutritional awareness instead of eliminating entire food groups. And finally, we have to attend a weekly meeting at the yoga studio to meet our fellow challengees. We were encouraged to socialize and work on short journaling exercises through excavating questions and discuss the theme for each week.
To get all this to work for me, I had to make some tweaks in my life. If I wanted to practice yoga daily and continue to work and maintain a social life, I had to drop my other physical activities. So Crossfit had to go. I also needed to complete the challenge through a studio that would allow me the flexibility of practicing in multiple locations, so I signed up for the challenge through YogaOne and I got an unlimited membership at Namaste Yoga Studio by my office in the Energy Corridor to easily pop in before or after work or at lunch and not worry about fighting traffic back inside the loop. Nothing is worse than showing up late and stressed to a yoga studio. Nothing. To keep me encouraged, I bought a calendar and crossed off each day I had completed with a giant red X.
Week 1 of the challenge began in mid-January. My start was shaky to say the least. I missed the kickoff meeting completely because I got the date wrong. So much for mindfulness—which was actually the theme for the first week. I shook off this minor disappointment and continued on with the challenge.
By week 2 I had my daily asana practice down. The nutritional aspect wasn't an issue either, but making time for the reading and meditation was tough. Meditation especially stumped me. I tried guided meditations but I tuned it all out and let my mind wander. I tried listening to music for meditation and that didn't help either. Turns out the biggest challenge was going to be meditation.
I continued to work on all this through week 2 and then I got some devastating news: I was laid off from my oil and gas job. Except I wasn't devastated at all. My now-former boss commented on how "at peace" I was over the news and I joked that it must be all the yoga I'm doing. I honestly think there's some truth to that. I was only two weeks in and yoga was working already!
The rest of week 3 and 4 I was able to modify my schedule to fit my new life sans job. I started attending lunchtime Forrest yoga classes at YogaOne in the Heights and Midtown. Forrest yoga is a modern yoga style developed by Ana Forrest, known for its long holding of positions, emphasis on abdominal core work, and standing series that can go on for 20 poses on each side. This stuff is intense and very internally focused, which I find suits me more than the typical flow class. I liked Forrest yoga so much that I'm now considering attending a Forrest teacher training in the Fall. Maybe I can start a new career as a yoga instructor?
I decided to travel to Michigan to visit my family over Week 5, but that didn't stop me from completing the challenge. I couldn't find a yoga studio I liked in the area, so I signed up for Mat2Mat, a streaming service that offers YogaOne classes online. Every morning I would connect my computer to the big screen TV in my parents' living room and practice away with a number of YogaOne instructors. My family would point and laugh—I begged them join me but everyone declined my offer.
When I returned to Houston for week 6 I was feeling burned out on yoga. 40 days of anything is too much and I was hitting my breaking point. I put in some half-hearted practices at home and at the studio but stopped meditating completely. I also gave up on "nutritional awareness" and just ate whatever came my way. Even with this dismal performance, I found that I stayed mindful of what I was feeling and doing and forgave myself for not going full hog to the end. My body needed the break and I cared enough to surrender to that feeling. Expert yogi status achieved!
Over the 40 days, I found that the daily yoga practice helped me in dealing with the challenges life had recently handed to me. I'm really proud that even with the setback of losing my job, I managed to continue towards the very end. Would I do this again? I don't think so, but I still recommend other yogis try it at least once. I enjoyed getting on the mat daily and the mindfulness that it brought to other aspects of my life. I plan on continuing with deepening my yoga practice, with the goal of hitting the mat three times a week and getting better at some of the more difficult poses. Maybe one day I'll even master meditation.