Do you believe in divine timing? When an email hit my inbox saying I had 24 hours to sign up for a 30 Day Yoga Challenge at my favourite studio, that’s what I thought it was. For months I’d wanted to recommit to my yoga practice and this made me realise that I couldn’t afford not to. After a personally turbulent time between work obligations and my family life feeling unsettled, the opportunity for a spiritual and mental refresh was something I needed. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen that I shared daily mantra’s or intentions from classes during September when I did the challenge. I also wanted to share the deeper lessons that I’ve learned through daily practice.
A few friends assumed it was a ‘Summer Body’ driven challenge but I was actually pretty happy with my body at the time I started the challenge. Please note that I’m no professional or expert and neither do I claim to be. I’m just a girl, sitting in front of a laptop, asking whoever is reading this to listen to her personal experience.
Before I can share more, a few important notes on the studio, Living Yoga. Living Yoga is a holistic studio. Yoga is not a form of exercise to get abs and toned legs, as it’s often emphasized in Western Culture. It is a practice uniting the spiritual, mental and physical through breath. My love for yoga is because it’s so much more than just physical. Living Yoga teaches the Jivamukti school of yoga and stresses the importance of intelligent yoga and learning the basics thoroughly. This means that they teach the physical alignment which is crucial to get both the physical benefits and the metaphysical aspects. The metaphysical aspect is offered to those who are interested- without being dogmatic or forceful.
Right now onto what I learnt.
Revisiting the Basics.
I started learning yoga because of back and shoulder tension, going to a physio for weekly messages with no physical strength exercises was not working out very well for me or my wallet. I found a YouTube video called Yoga For Back Pain and after a month or two I gathered up the courage to go to a studio. This was just over a year ago and I did the 4 Basics Class recommended for beginners. Bruce Burger is an incredible instructor who heads up these classes and explains why and how yoga works and explains correct alignment. He also goes into the concept of intelligent yoga to avoid injuries. I revisited these classes throughout my 30 Day Challenge and going back to basics really helped between the more challenging, faster-paced classes. I fully intend to keep attending classes on backbends and inversions to help me deepen those parts of my practice while I gain strength and work on poses like Headstands and Wheel Pose. But I think returning to basics frequently can be a good habit in life too.
The Importance of Listening
After you attend a few classes that follow the same format or flow, it’s very easy to assume that you know what will happen next. But preempting the yoga instructor and putting your foot where you think it should go, not where they told you to put your foot, can get you into the wrong shape and put your mind off. Especially when everyone else is facing the opposite direction… In life, it also helps to just listen to what others are saying and not hear what you want to hear from them. Or assume that you know where they’re going with the end of a sentence and cut them off. Possibly more importantly, is the ability to listen to yourself and become an observer of the mind on a daily basis. Listening and noting internal dialogue can be really important in times of frustration or disappointment. These are the times I find myself to be particularly reactive, so this lesson helped me stay calm when I previously wouldn’t have.
Not being Attached to Results
I mentioned Bruce’s basics classes earlier, one of the first things he told us to be cognisant of in the first Basics Class of the month was not to get attached to the results of the class, but focus on the process. This was probably my biggest lesson throughout the 30 Day Challenge. Because who doesn’t start yoga and go ‘”oooh I can do this, I can’t wait to pop out a crow pose” because it’s a more advanced and impressive pose? Well, that’s the ego entering the practice. A lot of the mantras instructors shared during the month spoke about the relation of the ego to the human experience and spirit. The results of your practice may also change daily- what was easy yesterday could be challenging today or it could be even easier today. Figuring out why, inspecting that, is part of enlightenment. Another gem was ‘The point of yoga is not to get a good Instagram post, it’s enlightenment”
Patience is the key to Progress
Speaking of ego related mantras and intentions, one that’s stuck with me the most was from Tannah Sawyer. I’m paraphrasing her analogy, but she said that the ego is a steering wheel and it can direct you to where you want to go, but the rest of the car is what will take you there. So you can’t give the ego all the control. To me, this translated into being a little more patient with myself and my body and, trust that I’d get both the physical and mental strength to reach aims and goals on and off the mat- with time.
You are Not Your Body
“You are not your body, you are not emotions, you are not your thoughts. But your connection to these things is vital in your experience.” This mantra and different forms of it were prevalent during the Yin classes I attended.
It’s such an important lesson in a modern world where our self-identity is highly skewed. We tend to think our value is how we look, and who we are, are the things that have happened to us.
“You are not your body” has been so powerful. I used to think that all women were affected by unrealistic beauty standards portrayed in media. But the issue has been affecting people of all gender identities for years. I’ve spent my entire adult life working in fashion- part of the job is deciding what is and isn’t ‘beautiful’. (Thank goodness fashion and, to an extent, advertising are making steps towards embracing diverse beauty representation. These steps are still slow.) Years of hearing and making judgements on people’s looks had me in a headspace of thinking people were better based on their outward appearance. And trust me, I wasn’t raised to believe that. Hearing “you are not your body” and feeling the truth in the mantra has helped me accept my body, or at least start to accept it. It’s an ongoing process and something that will need daily reflection, but this is the most body confidence I’ve felt in my life. The freedom of not hating certain parts of my body or calling them “problem areas” is a relief I hope everyone finds. The duality of this is learning not to judge people based on looks. As my friend Liezl often says, our bodies are just “meat suits” after all.