Why a 30 day Yoga experience?
I used to work in a typical 9 to 5 office job in London. My typical day would start in a rush to catch my bus and then squeeze myself on the overcrowded and hot underground to commute to the office located in always busy central London. My colleagues and I would then sit on our desks for hours with a maximum of an hour break which we might use for a little walk around the office blocks – or not. I would often feel imbalanced after such a day – mentally tired and stressed while physically stiff and restless. Going to the gym and movement practice in the morning helped against the stiffness but didn’t really benefit me mentally. The busy local gym actually stressed me out even more. In Summer long walks, movement and meditation in the park were a great balance to the busy office day. However, in Winter this was no real option as parks were closed before I would leave the office.
I needed to tackle this feeling of imbalance and remembered the positive effect of some Yoga lessons I had attended when I was a teenager. These were great thanks to a wonderful teacher who taught me about Yoga meditation, breathing, as well as basic poses and ways to stabilise my body (sometimes activating the right point can make a huge difference). Yoga is ideal to find your personal balance as the practice aims to go beyond limited results and to unite all aspects of the person: mind, body, heart and spirit.
Considering myself a beginner with some awareness, I checked some Yoga studios around my area which turned out to be barely affordable. I personally also don’t like most of the overcrowded gym Yoga classes with their little experienced teachers. I thus started searching for beginner YouTube tutorials for this challenge to get me started. After checking out a few different ones, I discovered and liked the popular Yoga with Adriene channel including the existing 30 day Yoga challenge playlist for all levels (thirty 20-30 minutes long sessions). The challenge was on!
The first days – “find what feels good”
I started on a Saturday when I had time and space in my living room to start with the 30 days of Yoga. All I needed was some space, my exercise mat and my laptop: Day 1 of 30-Days of Yoga with Adriene!
The first session was an easy one and I really wanted to follow any good yoga teacher’s advice to take it slow and “find what feels good” in each and every pose.
Starting off at the weekend allowed myself the possibility to explore different poses more thoroughly. An obvious challenge for me was the famous downward facing dog pose. A position which looks easy and is meant to be a resting position but which requires a great stretch in the legs and feet. For my part, it will require some many more practices until I will be able to flat out my feet and straighten my legs completely. As I was relying on my digital coach and couldn’t directly ask for help, I sourced Adriene’s additional of Yoga videos and tried a few of these short tutorials for basic yoga poses, such as the downward facing dog and decided to be very mindful of my progress in performing this popular pose during the challenge. And I am happy to share that I made great progress within the 30 days!
After the first seven days I definitely felt a lot more mindful and energised. I think the introduction of a morning ritual as well as starting off the day with a 20-30 minute movement practice was very beneficial for my overall positive feeling. I guess partly because of the positive benefits of Yoga practice, and partly because of the general good feeling to approach a new habit in life and taking part in a challenge.
Progress and “keeping it going”
The second week started with the same good attentions but a couple of early morning work meetings/ late nights of socialising made me break my morning rhythm. However, I kept the challenge by doing yoga in the evening/night before if I went to bed. And although it broke my new routine, it actually highlighted the positive effects of yoga in the evening. Especially some poses and stretches made me feel good and relaxed after a long stressful day or a big dinner (yoga can be amazing to get the digestion going). So, although I broke the cycle, I actually felt that I progressed as I discovered what felt good for my body and mind at different times of the day. I could tell that I was able to reach my arms further down and stretch a bit more day by day, for example in my downward folds.
Another great aspect I became more aware of was the power of breathing and attitude. Since my first yoga class when I was 15 I have been amazed by the impact of the breathing and positivity in the practice on one’s daily life and overall well-being. Back then I had for example learned about the Breath of Fire, which is great to get the blood flowing, and thus heats you up internally and energises you. The daily practice made me more aware of the balance of breathing and movement. While I struggled in the first days to follow the movement and breath rythym correctly, I felt the difference once I managed combining breathing with movement. I slowly started following my own breathing rythym for each exercise flow. In this 30 day challenge the Lion Breath is being used sometimes which is also quiet energizing and funny, so it makes you laugh and feel positive about yourself.
This positivity is also why I very much enjoyed Adriene’s videos at any time of the day. She often reminds you to smile, and who would have thought that the simple use of your face muscles actually can brighten up your day completely? When starting a day with a smile, I had a much more positive attitude during my commute, was less annoyed of delays or a bad weather day. When practicing at night the smile and reflection/ meditation time at the end of every session reminded me of the best things that happened on the day and put negative moments into perspective.
Break and “being flexible”
This worked well for 2 1/2 weeks…until the Christmas holidays arrived. For me this meant travelling home to Berlin, sleeping on couches or sharing rooms with family and friends. For two weeks I was a guest and wasn’t in full control of my time. It was an amazing two weeks at home but I only managed to continue the practice for two days, and added an occasional practice whenever I had the opportunity. I could have prioritised the challenge and organise meetings only after a certain time, of course, but in order to make the busy holiday time not unnecessarily more stressful I decided to pause the challenge. This is not ideal but I guess one should always live a flexible life.
So, I picked the challenge back up as soon as I was back in my place in London without counting in the occasional practices during the break. I had 1 1/2 weeks to go and was determined to fully benefit of it. Still following the 30-day tutorials, the sessions had become more challenging with more freedom in poses and more options, applying what I had practised in the previous weeks. This was great as I had definitely reached some of my flexibility limits in my legs and feet which I now focused on and some strength limits in my core and arms which I started working on with ‘easier’ options until I master the more advanced ones. One example is that I am far off mastering the Crow Pose at this moment of time. But instead of giving up I watched the separate tutorial for this pose and added other practices which would strengthen core, arms, and wrists (like a few extra planks and push ups) while I keep on working on mastering the pose with some progress each time I try.
The final session in the playlist was an open one, Adriene recorded her own practice and it was optional to follow, replace certain elements or completely create one’s own session. I chose to follow parts of her practice and then replaced or added some practice elements.
And that’s it?
No, this is just the start for me. Since the challenge has finished, I have integrated Yoga into my daily life and only missed a couple of days (because I was travelling). I truly believe that the daily mix of movement, stretching, meditation and mindfulness is making me a more positive and balanced person and I think it’s a great workout, too. It can also easily be combined with some bodyweight exercises or running if you feel it’s not enough for your daily portion of exercise.
However, as I want to advance I will continue searching for a good Yoga teacher around my area to help me working on difficult poses and guiding my movement, breathing and meditation. As I am currently travelling, I’ve attended a few classes in a small Yoga studio in Medellin. Comparing these experiences, I think that while the home challenge is a great introduction to Yoga and the YouTube tutorials are good if you want some practice right at home. However, a good teacher in the room with you is very important to activate the right movement and stretches in your body as the teacher would push and pull your body into the correct position, could show you new or variations of poses and guide your meditation. I am planning to continue combining studio classes and home practice and have even booked a yoga eco camp for a week in mid-February.
Cairbre is the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Tipperary Hurling Team, having previously coached Arsenal Women FC and at the Arsenal Youth Academy. Blog posts inspired by a curiosity about the inner workings of the body and mind, and the pursuit of athletic performance.
UKSCA accredited, with a Sport and Exercise Sciences BSc, and Sports Performance MSc from the University of Limerick.