The first thing I did after signing up for a thirty day challenge at my local Bikram yoga studio, was to find a quiet corner of the class, sit down on my unrolled mat and think to myself, very clearly: "I immediately regret this decision."
What was I doing? I was new to the city, had just started some intensive journalism training, and I knew no-one. Why add a month of 90-minute classes (heated to 95 degrees!) to my misery?
In the end, despite the overwhelming urge to run out of the room, and straight into the loving embrace of an ice cold shower, I stayed. I got through the class and came back for another one the next day. And the next. Before I knew it, the month was over – I’d been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Here are some reasons why I think it was one of the best things I ever did, and why everyone should try devoting themselves to a month of yoga.
It made me fall in love with my body
I admit – sometimes I would lose focus in class and become completely distracted by the display of bendy yoga bodies. I felt so shy at my own imperfections, and so envious of the improbable abs I kept unrolling my mat next to. But yoga has this miraculous way of making you appreciate the skin you’re in.
As the days went by, I cared less and less about how my body looked and more about what it could do. I began to love my legs for holding me steady and strong during Triangle pose. I adored my arms for staying ballerina-taut during Awkward pose. Eventually I even abandoned my leggings and long shirts for cropped tops and shorts – not because I was suddenly slender, but because I was prouder of my body than I’d ever been before.
It made me feel joyful
The pursuit of wellness can seem so serious sometimes, especially during a yoga class. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have carefully plastered a blank expression on my face to ignore the odd fart noises that my mat sometimes makes (I swear! It’s the mat!) or pretend that it wasn’t me who started snoring gently during Savasana.
During my Bikram month, I learnt that giving myself permission to chuckle at the occasional joke from a teacher, to smile during a favorite pose, and to laugh rather than blush when I make a mistake, makes a world of difference. Finding joy in my practice took time, but it was a valuable lesson than can be applied to more than yoga. We should try to find joy in everything we do.
It made me feel in control
We usually assume that having a choice means having control. I therefore thought that by pressuring myself to do the thirty-day challenge and having no choice but to complete it, would make me feel put upon and powerless. Weirdly enough, the opposite happened. When I made a commitment to myself to devote 90 minutes EVERY SINGLE DAY WITHOUT FAIL to nurturing my body and mind, I felt enormously powerful.
My confidence to claim that time for myself grew with the consistency that I devoted to my practice. I know I missed a few happy hours and weekend sleep-ins that month, but I don’t really remember. After the sacrifices, the achievement was what remained. Plus, nothing raises your spirits like a yoga class at sunrise when the rest of the world is sleeping off its hangover.
It made me feel like nothing was impossible
I have a favorite quote, which I usually hesitate to share with anyone, being as it is from Winnie the Pooh. It goes like this: “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” I always took it to mean that how we see ourselves, and what we believe we are capable of, is only a fraction of the truth.
Completing my seemingly impossible thirty-day challenge changed the way I saw myself; it made me realize that we have the freedom to choose our identities. I can be Stacey the yogi, or Stacey the writer, or Stacey the future Mrs Robert Pattinson (okay, perhaps not that last one). The point is, that the freedom of choice is an underrated and sometimes undiscovered joy. Surely, I thought, as I sank deeply into my final Savasana on my thirtieth day, this proves that I can do anything I put my mind to. And so can you.