Well folks, I have successfully completed my 30-day Bikram yoga challenge.
The challenge is deceptively simple: take a Bikram class every day for 30 days in a row. At Bikram Yoga Harlem, you are allowed to miss one day, provided you make it up by doing a double (i.e., two classes in one day) before the end of the 30-day period. Fortunately, I didn’t have to do that.
For the uninitiated, Bikram yoga is not just “hot yoga.” Bikram yoga is a series of 26 postures (asanas) and two breathing exercises, performed in a sequence over 90 minutes, in a heated room. Completing the challenge meant going to class on Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day; taking class at 6:30 am on the coldest day of winter (thus far); taking class with the flu, including one day with a 102-degree fever; washing stinky yoga clothes and towels every couple days; and leaving my office every day by no later than 5:15 pm to get to 145th Street by 6:30 pm.
What did I learn about myself during 30 straight days of practicing?
1. The hips really don’t lie.
I’ve battled knee and ankle issues for years – issues caused by tight, weak hips. With daily practice, my hips have gotten stronger and more flexible. Walking up stairs is easier. There’s a little more spring in my step. Those are the physical benefits. But they’re not the only ones.
For years, I’ve read and heard in yoga classes that our hips are a reservoir of stored emotions. I never really knew what that meant. But it’s starting to make more sense. I haven’t had a sobbing fit in class. But I feel like I’ve been really blunt – even for me – with the people in my life. Things I would have normally let go and tried to shrug off, I’ve confronted. And I feel better for having done so.
2. The importance of obligation, or you really can do anything you set your mind to.
We often hear platitudes like, “we do the things that matter to us most.” And that’s somewhat true. But we also fail, all the time, to take action around things that matter. Good health, for example. Good health is important to me. But that never stopped me from doing things I know are unhealthy.
Signing up (and paying for) a 30-day challenge established an obligation. I didn’t want to get up and go to class when I was sick, or on Christmas. I could have blown off class on the coldest day of the year, and just made it up another day, as the BYH rules allow. But I not only paid for it, I announced it on Facebook and Twitter, as well as on my blog. I created an obligation for which I was publicly accountable. So I went to class even on days when I didn’t really feel like it.
For the first 18 days of the challenge, I was on vacation. Almost every one of those 18 days, I had to fight the temptation of my sweet-talking bed: “You don’t have to get up and go to class yet, baby. You have all day. Now, put your head right here. Doesn’t that feel nice? Relax. You can always go later.” I fought that voice and chose one set time to go to class, every day, during my vacation – a discipline that helped once I returned to work.
3. It’s not about the scale
A woman at the studio asked if I’d lost any weight doing the 30-day challenge, because she was a good 15 days into hers and had dropped only about four pounds. In fact, I lost about eight pounds in 30 days. But even if the scale hadn’t changed at all, the mirrors at the front of the yoga room showed me how my body was improving. I saw my waistline slimming. I caught a glimpse of my booty in the mirror and, just like the hips, the booty didn’t lie. A personal trainer once told me that working out would make me feel better and move better before I started looking better. Well, turns out the joke is on her, because I feel better, move better, and look better all at the same damn time. Yay me.
4. Worry about yourself
By now, we’ve all seen this little girl telling her dad “worry about yourself!”
Doing yoga in a hot room with 40 or more strangers is like having this little girl’s admonishment running as a mantra in your head on continuous loop. The person next to you is a mouth breather? Worry about yourself. Someone else took your favorite spot in the room? Go find another spot. Forget about those people in the front of the room who have perfected Bow Pose while you’re still struggling to pick up your foot and balance at the same time. Work on picking up your foot. Celebrate every inch closer you get to having it. Worry about yourself.
5. What do you do when your 30-day challenge is up?