365 Days of Yoga and what it did for me
At the beginning of 2016 I set myself a challenge – practice yoga for 30 consecutive days.
There’s a yoga studio opposite my flat and they had a deal, £30 for 30 days. After 30 days, I felt pretty amazing. Not just because I felt physically better, but because I’d actually managed to keep at it every day. I felt like I had accomplished something. So then I aimed for 50 consecutive days. Then 100. At this point I decided – I’m going for the big one. 365 days of yoga (or Pilates), every single day. Half the time in a class, and half the time doing self-led sessions at home for half an hour. The day of writing this article was day 365. I’d completed one year of yoga every day, and started to reflect on the effects, what it changed and whether I’d do it again.
I’ve broken this down into different areas, based on my personal experience, and been completely honest about how this has had an impact on me.
Discipline. First up, doing something every single day is not easy.. Holidays, sick days, injury days, Christmas day, practicing with a hangover… committing to a yoga session every day definitely taught me to be more disciplined. Coming home after a day of work, then dinner with friends and suddenly remembering that I hadn’t done my session for the day, it’s very, very tempting to give it a miss. The longer it went on however, the less tempted I was to skip a day – the momentum took hold. Granted, some days’ sessions were less “quality” than others – I remember being on holiday in Japan, coming back to a tiny hotel room after a fairly wild night out in Tokyo and having to do my yoga in the cramped hotel corridor. Suffice to say this was not the most accomplished session I’ve ever done, but I still managed it. Keeping it up in such circumstances proved to myself how disciplined I can be, which is something that has transferred to other areas of my life.
Muscles. Very quickly I learnt that I had muscles I never even knew existed. Balancing on one leg, trying to do some extreme stretches for minutes on end, I learned that there were a myriad of muscles around my calves and ankles that I never knew existed. And it hurt. It was nice to meet them though.
Knowing my body. I’ve never been one to be massively “in touch” with my body, whatever that means…to me it didn’t use to mean anything. Fast forward one year and I have a much better understanding of my body. I know that my hamstrings are inflexible from years of playing football and not stretching enough. I know that my hip flexors are incredibly flexible (more due to flat feet than any intentional activity), but my quads are also tighter to compensate for my gait. I can feel when certain muscles are loose, tight, weak or strong, whereas in the past I wouldn’t pay any real attention and just dismiss any differences to the unknown section. I know when I can exercise on certain injuries, or when I can’t. It was pretty cool developing that understanding.
“Zen” and breathing. Ok, we’re all different, but for me personally I never got into the whole mindfulness and meditation aspect of yoga. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good savasana (where you lie down at the end of the yoga session) but that’s really just because I like lying down. I’m not a massive “om” guy either, and found it hard to bring myself to take part in the chants. What doesn’t work for me may well work for you however, and I know a lot of people who really found tranquillity through their practise. In terms of breathing however, I’ve become a lot more aware of my breath. I can hold poses for longer, and have a more measured approach when doing cardio through controlling my breathing, something I’ve learnt entirely through yoga practise.
Weight. I put on weight! Which was unexpected after 365 consecutive days of exercise.. I did different kinds of yoga – hatha, vinyasa, ashtanga, hot, yin… a variety of high and low intensity basically. However the problem I found was that by committing to yoga I was neglecting other types of exercise, like weights and boxing, which had an adverse impact on my weight. Don’t get me wrong, I only put on about half a stone, and I’m not saying it’s all because of the yoga, but in my experience, yoga isn’t the best form of exercise for weight loss – unless you supplement it with other types of activity.
Flexibility. Should go without saying, really. Years of cycling and playing football, with little stretching meant my hamstrings were insanely inflexible. That’s right – insanely. Touching the floor seemed impossible, I was about a foot away when I would try to do so. I’m no super flexible guy now – in fact I’m still very inflexible compared to some of the amazing people I’ve seen doing yoga. However, compared to where I was a year ago, I feel like a 13 year old Olympic Russian gymnast (only on vitamins though, no other supplements ;)). And now I can touch the floor without bending my knees!
Moves. Yep, I learnt some moves. Crow into headstand. Or balancing my entire body on one arm (think press up position). Always good for a party piece, and pretty incredible evidence of what you can do with your body with repetitive practise.
The power of small gains. Setting a challenge of doing something every day for a year can be pretty daunting, so breaking it down into smaller goals really made it more manageable. I definitely didn’t expect to last the whole year, but looking back I’m amazed that I’ve managed to do over 250 hours of yoga practise in a year without any drastic sacrifices to my life. So whatever it is you want to learn, or improve, make the decision to commit a small amount of time each day to that goal. Whether it’s yoga, exercise in general, or learning a new skill, you’ll be amazed how quickly that time accumulates.
Accomplishment. Each session, each milestone, I felt like I had achieved something. I did it every day. That felt good. Hitting 30 days released some endorphins. As did 50, 100 and 250. The last one of the year though, day 365 was a big one. I’d managed it – a seemingly undisciplined, football playing Mancunian with the flexibility of a concrete post. It has set me up well for 2017. If I can do that, you can do anything. Don’t be constrained with your goals, and don’t be scared of going for something big.
And yes… I’m still going to carry on doing yoga every day (going for 500 days now)!