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“As you push back into down dog, lift with your hips, rotate your thigh bones in and up towards the sky!” the yoga instructor chanted. I was about halfway through a thirty-day yoga challenge, which meant I had pushed back, lifted hips and rotated in about fifteen times that month already.
When my local studio sent out an email for a thirty-day challenge, it was the perfect timing—I was in a bit of a fitness rut, had an open calendar and the studio was around the corner from my house. The yoga was moksha, a heated series of poses, something I had done a few times before. So I threw myself into it, scrambling out the door to 6am classes, squeezing in two classes in one day to make up for ones I’d missed and scheduling social times around my time on the mat.
Logistics aside, it was a month that tested me, but also ripped my heart open in ways I couldn’t imagine. My initial misconceptions about the commitment levels were tested and I found myself going deep physically as well as mentally. It was something I had never done before—a daily practice in which I was only accountable to myself.
Since that first month long challenge, I’ve completed numerous other ones—some are studio regulated, others are my own personal challenge with a customized start and end date. I’ve learned a lot about what to expect and also what I wish I would have known that first time around.
Set up for success
When I got that email about the first yoga challenge, I checked my schedule to see how it would work with the reality of my life. A month with birthdays, trips and work obligations can derail your commitment before you even make your way into that first downward dog.
Set yourself up for success by clearing the social schedule, or at least planning for the days that you know will be busy. I did this by doubling up on classes (pairing two shorter classes, or tacking a restorative class onto a more vigorous session) or making sure my practice was the first thing I did on the busy days. Also, knowing that the class schedule works with your schedule is key. If you just can’t make it to the studio, you can always substitute in an at-home practice. That’s okay- you can make the rules!
Know your intentions
In yoga, students are continually reminded to set an intention for their practice, a way of focusing the mind. If you are embarking on a month long yoga challenge, get clear on why you want to commit. Are you looking to get into shape? Set new habits with a daily practice? Seeking internal satisfaction from the accomplishment? Whatever it may be, knowing your intention before you start will help to keep you motivated throughout the entire month, especially if things get to be hard, or the social scene beckons. Throughout my challenge, my intentions actually evolved. I’d initially started the challenge as a way to accomplish something, ticking off the days. However, by the end of the month, I’d developed a greater awareness of the practice and had fallen deeply in love with yoga. I’ll take that bonus.
In yoga, the physical poses (“asana”) are only one component of the multi-dimensional practice. Ahimsa, the yogic principle of nonviolence, can be just as important as the physical practice—it can be really easy to get frustrated with yourself, or compare yourself to other students. Be kind towards yourself and refrain from judging others. Competition and yoga don’t really mix.
It is important to celebrate the incredible investment you are making in your mind, body and soul. Remember that progression isn’t necessarily linear when it comes to yoga—each and every time you come to the mat, it is a new opportunity to practice. You may not open into full dancer’s pose each time, or rabbit pose may feel different every day. That’s okay. If you show up to the mat, all month long, you are doing incredibly well.
In prepping for this article, I thought back to everything I experienced the first time I jumped into a month-long yoga challenge. In addition to the incredible self-satisfaction, deeper study of yoga and the physical changes in my body, there was one other resounding memory: laundry.
Because I did a hot yoga challenge (and because I certainly sweat more than I just glow), I ran through clothing, towels and even yoga mats like crazy. When you are checking out your schedule, also make sure you are prepped for the challenge. Check out some meal planning ideas like So Fresh Mag's clever smoothie solutions. Start carrying around a water bottle and make sure you are treating your body right in all other ways. Staying hydrated and mindful of how you fuel for yoga will keep you happy on and off the mat. Finally, make sure you are achieving a balanced work, social and yoga life.
Enjoy it all
A month long yoga challenge is an amazing way to treat yourself and go deeper on a number of levels. It is also a great way to spend your free time, so make sure you enjoy it! Try to take a few classes before jumping into a challenge and make sure that you like the style and atmosphere of the studio that is hosting you.
If rotating your thigh bones in and up seems like an anatomical nightmare, connect with the instructor after class for further guidance. You want to make sure that this challenge is yours, enjoyable and is everything that you intended it to be.