My journey with yoga began in middle school with a gym teacher making our class watch and practice with a yoga DVD. My conclusions: I sucked at balancing, couldn’t touch my toes, and thought shavasana was just an excuse to lay around (the meditating pose at the end of a practice). My confusion continued in high school when my best friend, Travis, started doing “Yoga for Athletes” CD. After making fun of him nonstop, he convinced me to try it and it completely kicked my ass! I had never been so physically exhausted before in my life. My ignorant belief that yoga was “non-manly” was instantly transformed.
A few years later while in college I signed up for a hothouse yoga class. It was killer, but I was instantly hooked. For the first month $35 gave you access to as many classes as you want. Not being a man to turn down a deal like that, I went to a class every single day (sometimes I would combo pilates and yoga…hothouse pilates is still the toughest athletic thing I have ever done). Quickly I saw benefits: I was relaxed during conversations, focused in class, became less uptight and shy, I could finally touch my toes, my core felt amazing, I just felt like a more optimum human.
After that month ended, the price went up to $100 a month, something a broke college kid cannot afford. They did the whole “first taste is free” strategy and sadly I had to let it go. In the years that followed I would do yoga every so often, twice a week to once a month, but nothing reaching the intensity of that month in college.
When I made a commitment to a year of monthly challenges, I knew “Practice yoga every day” had to be one of the months. So for 28 straight days, through rain, shine, or newly found fatherhood I would take 20 minutes to an hour and a half to practice Yoga. Now that February is over I have found that a little bit of Yoga every day just fits right into my routine (even with a newborn in the house!) and plan to continue through March.
For anyone who has done Yoga before this will not blow your mind, but Yoga calms you down. For those of you who have never attempted a Yoga routine, this may seem conterintuitive and for your first few sessions you will struggle to reach this calming sensation. You are stretching and contorting into weird positions your body has not been in for YEARS and at first you will feel very uncomfortable. But, here’s where Yoga sneaks in like a ninja, you will be so focused on that discomfort (for seasoned Yogis it will be “focused on your body’s energy” rather than discomfort) that you will let go of anything you have been worrying about recently.
I had a lot on my mind this month- my daughter was about to be born and yoga helped me let go of constant worry about complications during delivery. On a lesser note, I started the month missing “Mancation”- an ice-climbing and skiing trip with my friends that the tag-team of Mother Nature and the Airlines prevented. Starting the month I would go into practices with a mind full of worry or anger. Five minutes into the practice, all that was forgotten. You are focused on your breath- that is all. Breathe in, breathe out. Do that for an hour and you will realize that Yoga is a perfect form of meditation.
After an hour of mindful breathing you are able to be much more present in your life. Your mind is relaxed because you took a break from constantly dwelling on the past or worrying about the future and your body feels amazing because you spent an hour of focused stretching and contracting to every single muscle you have.
In my opinion, the best part about Yoga is that there are aspects of your practice that carry over to your everyday life. For me it was the mindful breathing (Ujjayi breath). As an 8th grade teacher, you can find yourself in stressful situations…constantly. Yoga helped me remember to breathe through those situations in order to transform reactions into responses and helped me find patience and gratitude in my work.
Mix it up
I recently heard a quote from ultrarunner Gary Allen (the dude who ran from Maine to the Superbowl in New Jersey) “Be a chef with your training.” In other words be like a chef and combine simple ingredients to make a badass meal. You need to be able to understand the basic ingredients of training to mix them into something that meets your individual needs. “Throw out the cookbook.” Understand a lot of different methods and use what works best for you. You don’t always have to follow an exact workout routine. If you train like a chef, you know the simple ingredients and are able to combine them to create something awesome!
Applying his analogy to yoga, I decided early on that I needed to learn what “ingredients” are out there. I had taken Power Vinyasa Yoga before and have tasted some other various types, but overall I was starting fresh. Best time to experiment!
There are hundreds of different ways to do yoga. Do you want to flow quickly through the poses? Do you want to hold poses for longer periods of time? What is your intent for your practice (meditation, strength, balance, etc)? Is your day starting or winding down? So for the whole entire month, I mixed it up, trying to decide what works best for my body and mind. Each day was completely different from the day before.
Various ways I changed my routine:
- Different lengths – 20 minutes, 40 minutes, hour and a half
- Different times of the day – morning, before bed, etc.
- Changing locations – inside my house, in my backyard, by the river after a trail run, on top of a mountain
- Practice intentions – yoga focused on meditation, yoga focused on strength, flowing yoga, stagnant poses
- Who I’m yoga-ing with – yoga by myself, yoga with other people
- And just because you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously – yoga in the buff
The main takeaway I received from this monthly experiment is to place value on a variety of experiences.
Fill your life up with as many amazing, beautiful, wonderful, and sometimes bizarre experiences that you possibly can! This will allow yourself to become a more complete human and discover what you enjoy. One of the most memorable experiences I had was after running up Hanging Rock state park in North Carolina. I was the only person on the top of the mountain practicing yoga while overlooking the beautiful countryside. The gratitude I felt in that moment was only out-shined by doing a few sun salutations in a cramped hospital room while my beautiful newborn daughter slept.