If I’m being honest, by the end of day one of this month’s yoga challenge, I was pretty over it. My body was weak and sore after taking almost an entire month off of yoga (and pretty much all physical activity, for that matter) all the while overindulging in rich food and drink over the holidays. My heart entered 2019 heavy and disappointed as a relationship ended the day before New Years Eve (which also happened to be my 32nd birthday). While both my mind and body ached and urged me to give up that first week, I knew at the core of myself this was something I needed to do (and let’s be real, my competitive spirit couldn’t give up the chance to win a free year of yoga). While the desire to quit didn’t dissipate quickly — it took weeks, in fact — I’m grateful that I listened to that nagging voice within me and pushed through to complete 35 classes throughout the month of January.
As I sit here now reflecting on the impact this challenge has had on me, it’s more immense than I could possibly fit into this blog post. Rather than trying to fit in every lesson I learned and each way I grew, I decided to focus on the areas I feel I gained and grew the most: strength of body and strength of mind. While these two concepts do not exist outside of one another because they are intrinsically woven together, for the sake of both brevity and organization, I will be splitting these lessons into two entries. This first post will focus on body, and in Part 2 I’ll be back with the ways my mind has simultaneously strengthened throughout January’s challenge.
Strength of Body
It never ceases to amaze me just how much strength any single pose requires. Every downward dog I held those first couple weeks in January brought on so much discomfort it left me taken aback by just how weak I felt in my own body. I remember wondering if and when this would shift. And while I’m not sure exactly when this occurred, by the end of the month I was amazed by just how much physical (and mental) strength I felt, even amidst the soreness and discomfort. By the last week of this challenge, I found myself celebrating my aching muscles and trembling forearms during chaturangas and chair poses, grateful for the strength I’d gained and proud of just how far my body had come.
One of the greatest (and most unexpected) gifts of this challenge is the increased appreciation for and acceptance of my body, just as it is. While I know this didn’t come from the January challenge alone, there was a distinct moment (which I’ll share about in a moment) when I realized just how far I’d come in this area over the past 9 months of my practice. My first introduction to yoga was during Blue Sky’s “Yoga Virgins” series this past May. I remember how Erin would start and end each session: taking a moment to give appreciation to the bodies that brought us here and moved us through our practice. I remember my automatic, visceral reaction this idea, resigning myself to the fact that this simply would not be a part of my practice. Not because I felt above it, but because it felt like a distant impossibility; quite honestly, I could not imagine myself ever getting to a place where I would truly appreciate my body — where I would look at it with anything other than frustration, disdain, and if I’m being completely honest and vulnerable, disgust.
Over the past 9 months (and certainly throughout this month), I have come to slowly but surely appreciate this body I have been gifted. I’ve come to know it more intimately than ever before and to begin to appreciate all it does for me every second of every minute of every day of this life. I’ve begun to learn just how strong it is, how lucky I am that it works so well and can do so much, and how considerably it can continue to grow in strength and flexibility as I nurture and lovingly push it to its edge.
A Turning Point
Last Monday I was feeling emotionally low and physically bloated as I entered into Annie’s final ‘Monday Medicine’ class of the month. It was definitely one of those days where showing up at all felt like a major win. As we moved into our first downward dog of the class and I looked down at my bloated, imperfect body, the thought popped into my head “I’m disgusting.” Almost instantaneously a smile spread across my face as I joyously realized that
I couldn’t remember the last time that thought entered my mind — a thought that used to be present during every class I took
I no longer believed it. I calmly responded to that voice and to my body, “You’re not disgusting. You are beautiful and you are strong.” The most powerful piece of this was that I didn’t say it because I was supposed to, but because I truly believed it.
Somehow, without intentionally battling against that thought or even actively trying to alter it, that belief changed for me. By the mere practice of coming to yoga, becoming more acquainted with my body, and offering small gratitudes along the way, I moved from a place of abhorrence to genuine love and appreciation for this precious body of mine. This body is beautiful and resilient and strong. And I say that now not as a cliche or a practice of acceptance, but as a declaration of something I wholeheartedly believe for the first time in my life.
I hope that whatever body you are walking through this life in, you find sweet moments of acceptance, gratitude, and genuine love for it (even if those moments are brief or fleeting). And if you’re not there yet, know that that is truly okay. Wherever you are today, in this moment, is exactly where you need to be. Rest confident that the only constant in life is change and that where you are today isn’t where you’ll be tomorrow, next week, 9 months from now, or on January 1st of 2020 when the next challenge begins. January’s challenge and my time at Blue Sky has been a life-altering gift already; I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2019 has to offer. See you on the mat.