Lessons from a month of yoga and meditation

Over the past few years, I’ve had an on-again-off again relationship with my yoga mat. I can’t quite remember how I got into yoga in the first place many, many years ago, but once I tried it, I loved the way yoga made me feel — energized and relaxed yet sometimes a bit stretched and challenged. I loved the way it worked my mind, forcing me to connect with the moment, to link my mind and body. I loved how it forced me to work through frustration, to let go the need to achieve anything (including a sense of peace and flow because hey, if peace and flow aren’t there, you are not going to create it by forcing it!) and to begin to let go my inner judgements.

But here’s the thing: I never would take time for it on a regular basis, even though I loved it. And I’m beginning to realize that not doing something you enjoy is, well, not a great way to live day to day. So I got pretty excited when I saw the 21-day Challenge from Yoga Journal. I got even more excited when I saw the challenge was to do a daily yoga practice for 21 days and to meditate for 15 minutes each day. I saw it part as “Game ON!” but more a perfect opportunity to develop good habits.

I’ve talked about this journey a few times over the last three weeks. On Sunday night, the challenge  ended. And here’s how I did:

Yoga practice

I completed a yoga practice every single day for the past 21 days.Some days it was the video which came through Yoga Journal. One day it a yoga class in Rochester. A few other times it was my own practice, helped through Rodney Yee yoga cards or via an iTunes podcast. Sometimes I did my yoga practice first thing in the morning while other times it was my cool down from a run or bike or swim. A few times I got my practice in just under the wire, doing a relaxing practice at the end of the day to prepare for bed. Without the challenge I would have skipped any yoga on those days, but I’m glad for the nudge to practice. On those nights, I slept pretty well.

I had a friend ask me how I fit it all in. The answer is that I don’t really know. I just do it. My at-home yoga practice wasn’t an hour long. Some days it was just 10 minutes. But I made sure to do it every day. And the more I did it, the better I felt. Physically I could feel a difference when biking and running. My form felt better. My posture was better. My breathing was deeper and easier, even when I was working hard.

Meditation practice

I started just as excited about meditation, planning my 15 minutes each day, usually (but not always) around my yoga practice. I found some great podcasts at Meditation Oasis and used a variety of them throughout the three weeks. The focus varied — compassion, opening your heart, gratitude, peace, trust. But each theme featured the same premise. It wasn’t about shutting down thoughts. It wasn’t about having a certain kind of experience. It was about getting quiet. It was about letting thoughts come and go without following a certain train of thought. It was actually practicing the notion of just letting it be. Toward the end of the three weeks, I missed a day or two of meditation and didn’t get the full 15 minutes in every time. Life got busy. But on days when I didn’t meditate, I was keenly aware that I was missing something.

What I learned

Who has time to meditate? I do. It may be five minutes a day, but it’s going to happen more often than not. Same with yoga. It’s not about the quantity but the quality. It’s about taking care of myself. It’s about taking that time to be calm. To be thoughtful. It’s about going inside where I know that I am strong, where I know that I have everything I need. It’s about learning that I have that strength to face any challenge life throws my way. It’s not always easy. I’m not always focused. My mind wanders and sometimes I just power through poses without much purpose. But the practice brings me back to who I am. It is healing and it is empowering. And really, how can I afford to not make time for that?


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