I had a few simple visions when I began my one year yoga challenge last March. Mostly I wanted to stay active during the pandemic lockdown. I wanted to keep the old body from decline and wobbliness, if possible. Also, I wanted to develop proper form so I could practice without a teacher.
I am overjoyed to report total success, delight in what I’ve learned, and enthusiasm about future challenges.
Four Things I Learned
In no particular order, they are:
ONE: If you’re trying to form a new habit, pick something you love. It will be a lot easier.
I think I had the daily yoga habit nailed in a month. Had my desire been weaker or had I resented my decision (you know, like we all do with things that are good for us), I know I would have missed days and had to start over. For example, I tried and failed for three years to complete a one year challenge of daily Spanish study on Duolingo. This year I finally succeeded. I attribute my language success to my new yoga challenge mindset. When one habit clicks in place, other habits follow.
TWO: A yoga practice can be as gentle or as demanding as you want or need.
Regardless of energy, illness, injury, or time, the breathing and meditation practices are always accessible. I learned this the hard way because I was injured three months from my finish date. Although many people do indeed get injured practicing yoga, my injury came from a fall. An itty-bitty fall on a hillside of mud and slippery grass.
We were on a day trip to Granada, I was in slick-soled street shoes, and I fell on the muddy slope of a park. So, what did I do when I realized I was going down? I did what we all know we’re not supposed to do - I threw out my arm to break my fall. I wasn’t thinking about my arm. I was thinking about having to walk around all day with muddy pants. Instead, I walked around all day in a lot of pain wondering if I had a broken bone, a sprain, torn ligaments - or all three.
Well, the sprained wrist healed in about eight weeks but my yoga practice had to be reinvented. No vinyasa’s, no down dogs, no weight bearing poses on the wrists at all. This gave me the perfect opportunity to stop using video classes and quietly practice the poses I could do with an injured wrist. I now enjoy making up my own practice, choosing my own music, and selecting the poses my body needs on any given day.
THREE: The mental component of yoga shouldn’t be ignored.
Four elements contributed to my general state of well-being during the past year. Major credit goes to the daily yoga practice with breath work and meditation.
Unrelated, but equally important is the slower pace of retired life and the even slower pace of pandemic life gifted to some of us. I guess that’s a tiny silver lining for me. Additionally, we moved from the city to a small village where we can enjoy daily excursions in nature.
In all fairness, I recognize this was not a scientific experiment. We’ve seen mental health issues become a worldwide concern during this pandemic. That’s why a little self care never hurt anyone even if it doesn’t have the capacity to heal all troubles. It certainly helped me keep a positive spin on things.
FOUR: After we moved to southern Spain and began hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains, I discovered my cardio conditioning could use some help.
It was at the same time that I began reading the book The Cure for Everything by Timothy Caulfield (2013. Penguin Books Canada). In a chapter about the yoga phenomenon Mr. Caulfield plainly stated his belief that yoga is insufficient and inefficient.
I know my cardio respiratory health has slipped these last few years. Yoga rarely takes my breath away! So, in addition to our hiking we’ve added HIIT (high intensity interval training) back into our fitness regime at least three times a week. And while yoga does score points for being a compound exercise which strengthens multiple joints and muscles in the same pose, most classes are long. The time crunched can perform compound exercises in less time by lifting weights.
Efficiencies and effectiveness aside, this year taught me that yoga is more than exercise. I can honestly say that with daily yoga I can keep the neck, shoulder, and back pains at bay. I can enjoy quiet moments of reflection and I can successfully clear my mind to invite in new thoughts.
As I mentioned, it has been a good year with respect to physical and mental health and I give the daily challenge most of the credit. A daily challenge goal provides a teeny bit of structure that can extend to other facets of life. I found myself enjoying and expanding my knowledge in many interests: Spanish language study, writing, reading nonfiction, Kahn Academy classes, oil painting, and cooking.
I’m not sure what my next challenge will be, but I know I’m not going to follow in the footsteps of a woman from Ashland, Oregon. Her challenge? Bake a pie every day for a year and deliver it to someone with gratitude. She didn’t make pies with Sara Lee crusts and pumpkin pie filling. She made fancy pies, sweet and savory. No, no, that won’t be my challenge. I still need to give it some thought. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, if you have a one year challenge underway, please tell us in the comments.