The difficult part of a 21 day challenge is obvious - finding the time to get to the studio. But the amazing part of coming to the studio regularly is that you may discover a class you’ve enjoyed so much that you’d like to add it to your weekly regimen.
Personally, I decided to focus only on Gentle Yoga classes during this challenge. By cutting out all flow/hot classes, it definitely limited me. Last year I’d pick the best time for my schedule and go to whichever class fit in that time slot. By only signing up for gentle classes this year there were times when life definitely got in the way. Last minute work meetings, my daughter’s work schedule, a child’s evening activity or carpooling duties to name a few. The few times I couldn’t make it to the studio, forced me to get back on the horse, so to speak, which is another advantage of being accountable to the 21 Day Challenge parameters.
What I’ve discovered this year is how much I absolutely love gentle yoga, something that honestly, use to annoy me. Slowing down and being mindful is sometimes the hardest part of a yoga class. Those first few minutes spent centering, breathing and unplugging from the previous activities of the day used to be torture. I just wanted to get on with it. Just wanted to start moving, flowing, pushing and experiencing the fullest expression of a pose so that I could check off some secret list in my head. Held down dog for the entire 10 breaths - Check. Did the crescent lunge without my back knee being down - Check. Got the sole of my foot higher up my thigh in tree - Check! Eventually by the end of the practice due to my exhaustion, I could finally check in and check out of the craziness of my day.
By not having to keep up with the flow this year, I’ve been forced to check in, be more mindful and present in my body from the first breath to the last. I’ve quickly discovered that these quite moments of reflection were exactly what not only my mind but also my body needed. By being okay with the subtlety of a movement that I linked with breath, I’ve found that I am best able to experience and appreciate the small, victories.
I now experience and better appreciate the structure of a pose and how my body feels in it. I can more easily re-align, adjust, use a prop and get comfortable in an asana for longer periods of time. Now I actually notice that my left big toe is more active in a crescent lunge, which is allowing my knee to extend toward the front of the room and thus engaging my quadricep more fully. Yet there’s nothing to check off in my mind as I’ve never had a “use your big toe more” item on my yoga to do list before. I’m simply noticing and experiencing what’s happening as it’s happening.
This extended focus has brought my yoga practice off my mat and into my daily life more than lasts year’s challenge. I’m not checking things off my daily to do list as much. I’m simply more apt to re-align, adjust and ask for help to get comfortable in whatever challenges life throws my way. Not only metaphorically, but physically.
Walking down the steps in heels the other day, I notice my big toe again. It wasn’t pressing down as I walked. I was using only the outside left edge of my foot to bare the burden of each step, which was throwing my knee out of alignment and pulling me off balance, completely. Not a smart thing to do in a pair of heels. So I adjusted by walking more slowly and consciously using my entire foot with each step. How often have I been walking incorrectly, I wonder? Maybe years. But at least now I’m conscious and can bring this new awareness and alignment to my day-to-day movements and ultimately my daily life.
Thank you 21 Day Yoga Challenge not only for the gift of yoga, but also for this gift of perspective.
Thanks to Marge Ely for the photograph for this post.
Posted on Tuesday, January 24th 2012