February 23, 2018

Accepting a challenge, one woman wondered: How would daily yoga workouts make me feel?


When my yoga studio promoted a challenge – complete 30 days of daily yoga practice to win the prize of a hefty discount off membership – I signed up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. How would daily yoga workouts make me feel? This challenge started two weeks before I would start a new job. Let the games begin.

Yoga week 1

Monday, Vinyasa (“flow”) yoga, 7:15 p.m.
Tuesday: Hatha yoga (a slower style, focusing on stretching), 7:15 p.m.
Thursday: Basics, 6 p.m.
Friday: Vinyasa, 5:45 p.m.
Saturday: Basics, 8 a.m.

I’ll never forget what the instructor said during my first class of the challenge: Don’t be unforgiving of yourself – physically or mentally. It spills over into how you interact with everyone else – “and that’s not nice.” You can’t complete anything if you’re injured. By Friday, I thought this yoga challenge was definitely not nice to me. I was sore and a bit frustrated. Friday’s instructor cautioned those of us doing the 30-day challenge: “Don’t give 100 percent in every class. If you do, you’ll miss out on the benefits of daily yoga practice,” from exhaustion.

I immediately fell into child’s pose – a nice gentle move – because I listen to smart advice.

I had no idea how I was going to get through Saturday. Somehow I did – probably thanks to child’s pose, the instructor’s hilarious stories and the Epsom salt soak.

This is when the Type A screams, “How can I not give 110 percent to me? Why would you even encourage half an effort?” Little did I know there is so much beauty in knowing when to give only parts of yourself. Pace yourself so you don’t wipe out before reaching the finish line.

Yoga week 2

Sunday: Vinyasa, 12 p.m.
Monday: Vinyasa, 7:15 p.m.
Tuesday: Vinyasa, 5:45 p.m.
Thursday: Basics, 8:30 a.m.
Basics at 6 p.m. (got to make up for missing Wednesday).
Friday: Vinyasa, 12 p.m.
Saturday: Basics, 8 a.m.
Full Moon Meditation (a group meditation my studio holds close to the full moon), 6 p.m.

I rushed into Sunday’s class from church, rolled out my mat and decided that my intention that day was to feel relief. This week was also the last at a tumultuous job. Yoga would be a great way to detox the negative energy.

What I love most about Friday’s vinyasa instructor is her energy and the calming essential oils she rubs on your forehead during savasana (resting). Her practice is physically and mentally intense. Another vinyasa instructor also leads a difficult class. I leave those classes sweaty, pushed to the max, but feeling fantastic. (Dear Lord, I hope I am not cursing myself in future practices by saying that.)

This week, I noticed my body aches were not as painful as during the first week. Oddly, the aching felt like strength, especially in the most difficult vinyasa class, with its advanced poses: three-legged dog, plank with a hint of mountain climbers. Lots of expletives and sweat going on in this class as I push myself. And because I doubled up on Thursday to make up for missing Wednesday, I am completely exhausted – mentally and physically – depending on sheer will to keep me going.

I didn’t know how badly I needed Saturday evening’s Full Moon Meditation until I was there. My body craved an easy class. My mind, did too, to provide me with a new, positive attitude for starting my new job two days later.

Yoga week 3

Sunday: Vinyasa, 12 p.m.
Yin and Meditation at 2 p.m. (Doubling up here because I can’t make it to yoga on Wednesday.)
Monday: Basics, 5:45 p.m.
Tuesday: Hatha, 7:15 p.m.
Thursday: Basics, 6 p.m.
Friday: Vinyasa, 5:45
Saturday: Basics, 8 a.m.
Vinyasa, 11:30 a.m.

I can’t remember which instructor said, “Bring in peace. Let this practice and the rest of the day be peaceful.” But it’s something that I have adopted.

I’ve gained so much flexibility and openness. My shirts fit tighter in the shoulders and chest because I opened my torso so much. I silenced a lot of those loud voices of “can’t,” and began to “can.” Everything became easier. I began focusing on myself differently, respecting my body, asking it to move forward, to get stronger, so I could complete a tricky transition in poses (Warrior two to side angle to plank to chaturanga to up-dog to downward dog).

This week it occurred to me that breath is a gift. You’ve got to use it, in yoga and in life, to help you get over the humps.

Yoga week 4

Sunday: Basics, 8 a.m.
Monday: Vinyasa, 7:15 p.m.
Tuesday: Iyengar Foundations (focusing on the body’s alignment), 6 p.m.
Wednesday: Power Vinyasa, 6 a.m.
Thursday: Basics, 6 p.m.
Saturday: Vinyasa, 11:30 a.m.

The finish line approaches. The yoga challengers have dwindled to two or three in each class. Sometimes I am the only one.

By this week, I gained a hyper awareness of my own body. I noticed my sitting and standing posture. My shoulders and feet felt different in certain positions. I could tell when something wasn’t right, and that little tinge of scoliosis my doctor told me about in my teenage years was the culprit. My overall posture had improved, but I could feel that my shoulders were ever so slightly uneven. Being at a desk all day was a bit uncomfortable. I became just a little obsessive about making things around me as ergonomic as possible.

Which class made me notice this most? Iyengar Foundations. It focuses on the correct alignment and positioning of the body. My chiropractor even noticed that I was more aligned and stronger. As I became more aware of my body’s misalignments, I wondered if I was broken. (Yes, there is a such thing as knowing too much.) When you start noticing how you don’t do so many things right, you can start thinking: Have I been doing life wrong? What is the right way to stand, sit, drive, live, be? How can I fix it – fast? Ugh.

Yoga instructor Kristen heard me lamenting. She chuckled, then said, “You’re not broken. No body is perfect. Improvement comes over time, and sometimes that’s just how God made you and you just have to be okay with it. You can’t fix something you’ve been doing for years in a matter of days.”

Yoga week 5

Sunday: Vinyasa, 12 p.m.
Monday: Power Vinyasa, 6 a.m.
Tuesday: Iyengar Foundations, 6 p.m.

I had become lighter day by day, and these final three days I felt as light as a feather. I beamed through the doors knowing that the end was near. When the studio owner said, “Congratulations challengers, you’re done!” I was ecstatic but mostly relieved. Trust me, 30 days of yoga ain’t for the faint of heart.

I also felt magical and strong! To know that I didn’t have to go anywhere other than my home after work was such a treat. I had a new outlook on how I would spend my free time. If something didn’t serve me mentally or physically, it was a no.

This yoga challenge taught me that self-care and love lives in the strange place where physical and mental challenges meet openness, expletives and cute workout clothes on a yoga mat.

I didn’t quit yoga completely after the 30-day challenge. I took a week off, then returned three to four times a week. Oddly, I miss doing daily yoga, and now I’m increasing my practice by a few more days each week. The potential physical improvements alone make it worth it.


This post was written by Ashley White,  a digital content producer at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.


yoga for back pain

Read more about the benefits of yoga in other posts on My Southern Health.