At a time when my life seemed out of control, I decided to do an experiment... What would happen if I went "all in" on a yoga practice? Maybe I would feel better? I joined a yoga studio unlimited membership and decided to do yoga every day for 30 days. I had recently left my corporate job and I was building new routines for daily living for this next chapter. I went to 4-5 classes in the studio each week and the other days I did a 15-minute yoga workout on Audible. The yoga studio also offered weekly mindfulness meditations that I attended on Monday nights. In true geek fashion, it became a controlled experiment that provided surprisingly much more benefit than I expected. Here are the outcomes I observed through my 30-day yoga experiment:
Released tension - I learned how tight my muscles and joints were. I walked around for years with normal aches and pains like anyone, but it wasn't until I started yoga that I could isolate where the pain was coming from. I could now feel that my hips were inflexible, my quads were super tight, and how the tightness in my left calf contributed to my occasional plantar fasciitis flare ups.
Emotional awareness - I became more conscious of my emotions. When an emotional situation came up, I could see the situation and separate it from the emotions I was feeling. My mother-in-law had dementia and we had moved her to assisted living a few weeks before my yoga experiment. There were so many emotions to deal with during this difficult time and I found I could cope effectively. There were some days when I was near tears and craved "taking it to the mat" to help sort it out. I cried a few times unexpectedly during yoga sessions but no one judged me, and afterwards a few caring classmates asked if I was okay. The instructor shared an awesome quote one day that really made me understand it. “Crying is one of the highest devotional songs. One who knows crying, knows spiritual practice. If you can cry with a pure heart, nothing else compares to such a prayer. Crying includes all the principles of Yoga.”― Kripalvanandji
Yogi's are my people - I met great people that became my tribe. My classmates at the yoga center are part of this mindfulness community and have the same interests that I have. Often I found my eclectic set of beliefs has made it hard to connect with others. I believe in astrology, earth wisdom, Buddhist teachings, energy healing, Ayurveda, meditation, the esoteric list could go on forever. These are all topics that I typically struggle to have conversations about, but not here! This community is legit and what I have been looking for my whole life!
Meditation is for me - I began a solid daily meditation practice. I participated in meditation classes at the center and it "clicked" in my brain that I needed to establish my own daily practice. I had tried many times before but I let life get in the way. Now, meditation is part of my day that is not optional.
Reduced stress - I learned to step out of situations and observe myself from a higher perspective. This helped me to see the mountains were actually molehills in some cases, and helped me to let go of worrying about things I couldn't control. I began to feel like I could handle whatever the world threw at me and things will always work out. This strengthened my resilience at a time when I really needed it. The peace I experienced lowered my blood pressure and my anxiety levels dropped to the point I felt like a “normal” person (whatever that is)!
Better sleep - was an unexpected benefit of my new yoga and meditation practice. I fell asleep faster, slept more deeply, and felt more energized in the morning. I found myself needing less sleep and was able to establish a 7-8 hour sleep cycle. During my corporate days, I averaged about 6 hours of sleep which was not enough. After leaving corporate life I found myself sleeping 9-10 hours a night which I told myself I was "catching up on 20 years of sleep deprivation." But two months of oversleeping began to feel like a habit I needed to break to get more productive. I was happy the yoga experiment helped me get my sleep straight.
Body awareness - I could tell how different foods affected my body. I realized that dairy made me feel unwell and I needed to cut back on caffeine. I was able to pay attention to my body and adapt to help myself feel better. I knew when I needed to take a walk, drink extra water, or stop clenching my teeth.
I craved healthy foods - I know right! My lifelong struggle with sugar addiction and poor eating habits began to shift. I found myself wanting to eat fruit and vegetables. I was hungry for salad! I craved bananas and avocado! And surprisingly I just wasn’t interested in alcohol. I quit my wine club membership and started drinking LaCroix sparkling water. I was no longer eating hurriedly at my desk so I learned to eat slowly, taste everything, and eat for fuel instead of other reasons like comfort, emotional eating, or bingeing.
Mindfulness matters - Much of the benefits of my yoga experiment converge at the common theme of awareness - each day is an opportunity to slow down and enjoy living. I practiced mindful eating, mindful driving (no radio), mindful walks, and reflected upon being in this very moment to fully experience life.
When I started this experiment I was in a tailspin. I was recovering from burnout, adapting to a major career transition, and dealing with caring for an elderly parent, then moving her to a memory care facility. I was tired to my bones, feeling adrift and broken hearted about the failing health and challenges we faced with my mother-in-law.
At the end of the 30 days I felt calmly capable of facing the world. I continued doing yoga classes for several months until the pandemic hit and transitioned to online classes. I was able to get off the blood pressure medication I had been taking for nine years and found yoga to be the most important thing I have done for myself. Since this experiment I have developed my own daily spiritual practice that keeps me centered. I don't attend as many yoga classes but I have my own little bunch of poses I do each day at home.
There is a great quote from B.K.S. Iyengar “Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.” This accurately describes how I benefitted from yoga practice.
If you have never tried Yoga, I encourage you to check it out. There are many free beginner Yoga practice videos on YouTube. The yoga center I attended was amazing – The Heart Revival Center for Yoga at www.theheartrevival.com. Maybe do your own yoga experiment?