Why do a 30-day yoga challenge? And why talk about it on my blog?
Thanks for asking, self. I’ll tell you.
I have a bad history with perfectionism. It kills a lot of things I would, or used to, enjoy. Yoga has been one of its perpetual victims.
I start off by just doing whatever yoga I feel like by watching online yoga videos. Then, I start getting interested in specific poses I want to do or improve, like headstands, Dancers Pose, or Crow Pose. This also leads into me wanting to build practices around these poses. That sounds fine in theory, but it becomes an obsession for me. Must do flexibility this day. Strength this day. Core this day. Shoulders the next day. If I miss any of them or the schedule gets messed up, I beat myself up and worry I’ll “lose my progress”.
I usually set unrealistic expectations, with videos that would add up to an hour and a half on some days because of all the targets I want to hit–cardio, shoulders, and core, for example. With no formal training of my own, I build my practices by just following online instructors on YouTube. I pick out the videos that suit my needs/goals and go from there.
So, basically, I push myself too much, try to do too much, then when I fail, I get mad at myself for failing, and ultimately I quit. I don’t try to re-tool things, start up again, or re-evaluate. I just quit.
Why try to fix things into a reasonable set of goals and an enjoyable practice when you can just quit and hate yourself?
It really goes against what yoga is about in practice–being in the present, finding balance, don’t focus on doing things perfectly. But I’m a perfectionist, and I have this idealistic version of what I want to achieve. It’s not necessarily fair to myself, nor do I realize that it’s unrealistic or unhealthy at the time. I see myself achieving the goal, and I want to shortcut to it by ramming yoga videos down my own throat until I am successful.
Apparently it doesn’t work that way.
I decided this time I wasn’t going to let quitting be my final legacy. I’m tired of those two extremes: do everything perfectly or don’t do it at all.
I challenged myself to do yoga for 30 straight days to see what would happen. Not to get ripped, not to lose weight, not even to achieve one of my goals, like having flexible shoulders or a strong core.
I wanted to see what I could learn about myself. Could I gain any insights in 30 days of doing one thing over and over? Maybe I would see what dedication and commitment could get me. If only I could overcome my paralyzing perfectionism and just do it.
I didn’t have a plan as to what videos I was going to do or what flows or sequences I would be trying. I just wanted to wing it.
So that’s what I did.
As for why share it with the world? 1) I hope to inspire you to do the same! Or something similar. Sticking with something for 30 days is quite a commitment, and 2) It’s a way to keep accountability.
But before we get into the videos and the included yoga spreadsheet, let’s dive into what I learned on and off the mat.
Yoga is full of transitions. So is life.
Transitioning between poses in a yoga sequence often requires balance and grace. You need good use of the core, an understanding of where you’re going in relation to where you started, and strength to get there. I’m not deft enough to create a direct metaphor out of that to relate to life, but it caused me to reflect on my own life transitions.
Sometimes they’re messy and awkward. Luckily, I don’t have to keep repeating them to get good at them, which is how I get better at them in yoga. And I know my way around some big life transitions.
Coming back to civilian life after only 9 months in the Navy, which I joined at the tender age of 19; working retail after a few years in corporate America so that I would have the flexibility to go back to school on-campus; moving to Indiana to support my current boyfriend as he finishes college.
Even with all my own personal transitions aside, we’re all currently in a state of transition: from normalcy, to life in a pandemic, and now, to creating normalcy within the pandemic. As to whether or not we are handling that with grace and balance, or any real guidance, is not a question to be answered on this blog.
It won’t always be this hard
Some of these practices were harder than others. Some movements were far harder than even the teacher probably intended them to be. I challenged myself as much as I could, coming out sweaty and exhausted on the other side, more than once.
I didn’t even choose any high-power, high-intensity workouts. But sometimes it felt like a workout because I would move between poses and find myself winded and struggling. The movements were more of an effort than I thought they would be for my state of fitness at the time. I used this as a learning opportunity, knowing that I would get stronger and better the next time I had to do that pose or transition.
I related this back to my life. Things won’t always be this hard. We will know a life post-pandemic. I will move back to Tennessee, my home. I will have the life I imagined, even though every year for a long time has felt like the smallest of stepping stones. That’s okay. Even a small step is still a step in the right direction.
I stepped outside my comfort zone
I picked a couple videos during the 30 days that I would have maybe shied away from normally, or put off doing until I was in better shape, mentally and physically. Things that maybe seemed outside my sphere of interest, like Kundalini Yoga, or maybe would have been intimidating, like a 45-minute Hatha flow (I didn’t finish it, but that wasn’t the point).
I wanted to challenge myself. Being successful is subjective and not even the point during this 30 days. Trying is half the battle. Trying is the success.
I put this into practice off the mat, too. I inquired about (Covid-safe) volunteer opportunities with the elderly. I took on a 10-day, 2-client dogsitting stretch that I likely never would have taken on in prior years as a dogsitter, due to my mental health and extra need for recharge and decompression. I got myself back into personal budgeting. I visited my family in Tennessee and continued my yoga practice while in an uncontrolled environment. And, perhaps the biggest move of all, I enrolled in a free bookkeeping certificate, courtesy the state of Indiana!
It’s been a time of growth and reflection, and it’s fun to look back and realize these seemingly small decisions to say yes led to something big.
I want to make a difference, have a real purpose
Just something I realized during my practices. This past summer, I started streaming video games on Twitch. It was a casual thing, but I hit Affiliate, which allows me to begin making money from my streams. That encouraged me to keep going, but as I did, I realized it wasn’t as much fun as I wanted it to be. I felt all my time went toward that, including all the networking and social media time I put in off-stream with Twitter and Discord and watching other people’s streams. I felt off-balance and unhappy. So I quit, at least for a little while.
It occurred to me that as fun as streaming can be (and I will probably even return to it in the future), it’s not ultimately what I want to do in life. I don’t want to be a full-time streamer. I don’t want to put in the work and effort other streamers do. I want to have fun and build a small community and have the friends I do have, but I don’t want it to be my grind.
I want to make a difference. I want to have purpose. I want to help people. That’s been a common theme for me. I think a lot of us feel this urge, this pull to be something greater than ourselves. It can be obscured with the need to make money, or sometimes, just the need to survive.
However, I’m conflating “make a difference” with “make a living”. You don’t have to get paid to make a difference. You can make a living, and separately, in another avenue, make a difference. This is what inspired me to apply for volunteer opportunities, and ultimately, realize what was missing in my life.
It occurred to me also I have friends that I don’t often keep in touch with. Family who I hardly speak to. People in my life I can reach out to and be there for. Isn’t that a greater good? Those around me could use a kind word or two. I know I could. That interaction is so valuable.
Balance is important
Balance is a common theme in yoga, and it’s not just so-called balancing poses, like the popular Tree pose, or Warrior III.
We aim to find balance in all of our practice. Strengthen where it’s needed, and soften everything else. I’ve heard a variation of that line a lot in my yoga videos. What can you let go of? Unclench your jaw, relax your shoulders away from your ears, maybe let go of some worry and negative thoughts, if you can.
I did it when I didn’t feel like doing it
It’s amazing what impact this had on me. So many times (as you’ll see in my notes), I wanted to quit. I didn’t want to practice that day. I felt wiped out or just not in the mood. But there were 0 times during this challenge that I regretted doing the yoga that day. It’s encouraging that it’s only my mind I have to overcome. What I can do if I only try!
Committing to something every day
There’s something to be said about building habits. The consistency of doing something every day really made a difference. It was a foregone conclusion–I am exercising today. Not “will I feel like exercising today?” Not “I might exercise later”. It was already on the calendar. It caused me to reflect on other things in relation to consistency.
What in my life would I have succeeded at if I had committed to doing it for 30 days? What would be different for me if I had done it every day? How much of success comes from just doing something over and over? Not giving up?
Probably the most unexpected side effect is my increased self-esteem. A weird feeling for me, as someone with perpetually low self-esteem. I’m making strides by using self-compassion and positive self-talk. But I didn’t expect daily yoga to help like it did.
My theory is that committing to something every day and following through with it gave me that confidence. It feels good to accomplish things; I think everyone can relate to this. I love the satisfaction of completing tasks, and working out certainly gives me that feeling. Exercise is also a natural mood-booster, thanks to the influx of endorphins that are released. I imagine that helped a great deal.
Exercise is a form of self-care, too. One that I’m coming to accept as a way to nourish my body and take care of it, rather than punish it or use it as an act of self-hate. Self-care is a way to boost self-esteem because it shows yourself that you are worth the time and effort. Doing it over and over can prove to yourself that you deserve to feel good and do things that are good for you.
Seeing my growth in 30 days was really inspiring. When you can see changes and improvements with anything you do, it gives you a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. I did that! I’m proud of myself! It’s not about vanity or arrogance. It’s about believing in yourself and being happy when your hard work pays off.
I am not above learning something new–or something old
Just because I have a background in doing yoga, and even earlier this year had a much more committed regular practice, does not mean I am some expert yogi. I am forever a learner and student of this practice. I am humbled in my endeavors, almost every day. I am reminded that I can always make progress and improve. But that it’s not ultimately about that. I’m on the mat to better my mind, body, and soul.
Where else can I remain humble?
Still hanging onto perfectionist tendencies
My last day, I intended to do a sequence for my stiff neck, and also a more energizing practice, like a faster-paced flow. However, I was feeling so wiped out that I did just the shoulder and neck practice. I procrastinated with social media and the online assessments for my bookkeeping certification far longer than I should have. It was well past 8pm. I just decided to quit. It felt anti-climactic, and I immediately was mad at myself.
I beat myself up over that the rest of the night, not realizing that it was this kind of thinking I was trying to leave behind. Then, in an even greater twist of irony, I felt bad for feeling bad. It’s day 30! Shouldn’t I know better than to feel like this?
Well, it looks like I could use some self-compassion. It’s okay that I wasn’t perfect, and it’s okay that I realized I still wasn’t perfect after 30-days of yoga. Imagine that. Doing a 30-day challenge of something didn’t irrevocably cure me of being human.
Yeah, those tendencies are still there. But I finished the challenge. I did it every day. That was the challenge, so I was successful! I need a 30-day challenge of self-compassion next.
How to use the spreadsheet
However you want!
It can be a guideline, it can be your step-by-step instruction manual, or it can be a blank canvas for you to fill with what you wish. If you suffer, like me, from being indecisive over having so many choices, the list might be helpful in getting you started.
I didn’t do these videos with any rhyme or reason in mind. I picked them all on a whim, whatever I was feeling in the moment. Sometimes, it was what my body needed. Other times, it was what my soul needed.
So whether you follow exactly like I did, use the blank template, or something in between, I hope you challenge yourself to 30 days of yoga. See what it can do for you.
(And let me know if this link doesn’t work!)
What can you do with 30 days?