Keeping Another Streak Going: #30DaysOfYoga

I've written about the strange power of a #30DaysOf approach to working on a new habit like flossing. I'm now working on a new #30DaysOf challenge to revive an old habit: Yoga.

I used to have a regular yoga practice and loved the way I felt as I got stronger. It served as a moving meditation and gave me a community of people I practiced with.

It also gave me a different relationship with food. I could think about a snack (like, say, a giant snickerdoodle, which they sold in the bakery next to the yoga studio I first started going to) and my mental response ran along the lines of, "You don't want to eat that right now. You're someone who does yoga and you need to be empty for practice," or "You're someone who does yoga and you're deciding not to indulge."

Being "someone who does yoga" was good for me in the way the giant Snickerdoodle Incident sign was. Even better because it provided other positive benefits from the exercise and mental focus.

I lost that habit, though, for various reasons.

The first reason: Because I said so.

I gave myself permission not to do yoga in 2012 when adding it into already-packed days felt like a chore, not a gift I gave myself. This has happened more than once, as I blogged back in 2008. 2012 was a particularly full year that included changing my career along with the city I lived in, and with the move I gave up my access to a yoga community in a studio that felt like home.

The new career was intense, the days were long. After that 2012 career change I had another one in 2016 and yet another in 2017. With all those changes I really lost my yoga self even as my professional self stretched in new directions.

The second reason: The space/time continuum.

My life is more geographically challenging than it used to be. In Spokane I lived 2.5 miles from work. Although the bike ride to the studio was uphill all the way and thus a bit of a butt-burner it was only three miles from work and the ride home after practice was a downhill coast.

I now live 8.5 miles from my Seattle office or a 60-mile drive to the office in Olympia I'm in roughly every other week. Time isn't money, time is distance. Or distance is time, which is the same thing. I enjoy my 40-minute bike ride to work but it's 40 minutes, not the 15 it was in Spokane. Bus ride takes about the same amount of time.

Bicycling may have adjusted my attitude toward time, but the day has 24 hours and sleep is a food group so I make tradeoffs. (Sidebar: I'm quite aware of the privilege that enables me to live relatively close to work in Seattle's overheated housing market.)

The third reason: A trilemma.

I haven't found a studio I like in a location that makes sense with a class schedule that fits my work life. This equation is similar to the classic "Price, Quality, Speed -- Pick Two."

I can work from home occasionally, which gives me a great quiet space in which to focus and crank through a lot of things (although I've given up on the idea of "inbox zero" as a goal -- people just send more). Telecommuting essentially gives me time. But if I were to go to a studio near my office then I'd need to go to the office to be near yoga. And when I go to Olympia or travel somewhere else -- I'm on the road roughly every other week one way or another -- I'd be nowhere near the Seattle studio.

The fourth reason for a while: Ouch. 

The Great Broken Elbow Complicated Later by a Subsequent Frozen Shoulder Yuck of 2016 meant no yoga. No bicycling. That stupid frozen shoulder was incredibly painful and went on and on through physical therapy, medical massage, ice packs and ibuprofen, but eventually subsided.

Moving past those

So here I am. Settled into the new job that as of March 1, 2018 was a year old. Still geographically complicated but I travel less than I did early on when I needed to build relationships with new colleagues all around the state. I successfully completed a 10-day bike touring vacation fall 2017 so my body is clearly capable of some movement.

And I really need yoga. One of the side effects of the broken elbow coming after 18 months of savagely long days (merging two nonprofits is a lot of work) and sorrow at the loss of my beloved brother Don was weight gain. When you're drained by the day, a little sofa time with a nice glass of red wine feels medicinal.

Let that habit replace your exercise, though, and the effects of fewer calories out and more calories in really compound. I want the mindfulness I have when my identity includes that of "person who does yoga and thus pays attention to her food".

Given the success of my less-than-serious #30DaysOfFlossing personal challenge, I'm bringing that approach to yoga. There's no giant sign saying "Days I've Done Yoga" in the house but I'm on it.

I have a great app, Down Dog Yoga, that lets me choose length, level of difficulty, and a special focus if I want it like some extra core work or hip openers (good for people who bike a lot). The instructional approach and sequences are similar to those of my Spokane yoga home.

I'm practicing alone and thus don't have a community. But this practice has its own placemaking element. If you've been a regular studio practitioner you know what I mean by placemaking. You step into that dedicated space with its wood floor, its particular scent or sounds or vibes, the quieter voices and bare feet, and you've entered Yoga Land. It's a peaceful place.

Our house has enough open space in the living room for me to leave my yoga mat out. This provides a visual reminder that I'm Person who Does Yoga right next to the table where I eat. I light a couple of candles, set my tablet on the little stand that was a gift from Second Daughter, and touch "Start Practice" on the app.

How I'll get there -- ahimsa. 

Ahimsa, one of the core tenets of Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, calls for nonviolence, including nonviolence toward oneself. A while back I happened across a comment on social media from someone who was doing a similar 30 Days of Yoga challenge. She gave herself permission to be kind to herself. If what she could manage in a given day was a few minutes of legs up against the wall, which is an actual asana, that would count. Given these kinds of parameters and the ability to choose a really short practice on the app, I figure I can make this work even when I'm on the road or if I happen to feel under the weather.

How I won't get there -- making it extra hard by setting the bar too high.

Someone I know started sharing on Facebook when he committed to doing not just 30 days of yoga, but 30 days of hot yoga. The post the day he had an all-out meltdown and ended up getting his heart checked out was not motivating.

I don't see any need to break myself in this process. The point is re-establishment of a habit, not some Olympic feat, although maybe someday I'll once again feel I can do 108 Sun Salutations for Solstice, as I did a couple of times back in the day. (The feelings created by doing this provide another wonderful example of the power of repetition.)

I'm reminded of Betz's comment about people who tell her they can't come to her yoga class because they're not ready for it -- not good enough. "You don't get flexible to do yoga. You do yoga to get flexible." My left elbow, Breaky McBreakerson, is sending me some reminders that I'm not really back to nailing a bunch of full crocodile poses yet so I also need to remember I'm doing yoga to get stronger and am not there yet. Say, ibuprofen, come over here and sit down by me.

How I'll get there -- tracking, reminding, reporting. 

I do better when I'm keeping track of my follow-through. I keep a health notebook in which I record exercise on a chart showing four weeks at a glance (along with text notes on various things that need tracking for good healthcare advice, like my occasional migraines), so I have a visual pattern to look at. An empty box would be Not Good.

I set a reminder on my calendar that pops up at 7 p.m. every night to ask "Have you done yoga tonight?". Mind you, it doesn't bark at me in all caps DO YOGA. It asks gently. With ahimsa.

For more of that accountability that research tells us helps you develop new habits I'm texting Second Daughter every other day or so with an update on how many days I've practiced. Even if I don't reach 30, it's more than I was doing before I started. Yesterday's text read #10DaysOfYoga.


Your Turn
  • If you practice yoga, what keeps you doing it?
  • Are you working on some kind of commitment to yourself? How's that going?
Lots of 30 Days of Yoga Content and Other Good Yoga Advice Out There

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