My 30-Day Yoga Challenge
By Allison Mundy
Life has shown me that how I think
and feel affects my body; my health, in turn, affects my emotions and
attitude. This mind-body connection is foundational to yoga practice. Yoga
can produce a multitude of benefits: physically, emotionally, and
spiritually. It can improve strength, balance, flexibility, posture,
systemic functioning throughout the body and even help physical ailments. It
can deepen your breathing, decrease stress, increase concentration, and
mitigate negative emotions such as anxiety and depression. Practicing yoga
can even cultivate compassion, acceptance, and improved relationships.
I practiced yoga sporadically for
years but only felt better in that moment. It’s not that I didn’t believe
these additional benefits to be true; I just wasn’t experiencing them. Would
the results be different if I committed to a deeper, more consistent
practice? I was curious whether there were cumulative benefits that I was
missing because of my inconsistency.
The people who know me best would
probably not consider me a very – ahem – relaxed person. I’m a
perfectionist, an over-achiever, a worrier, a talkative and intense person.
I crave silence and quiet, yet it often feels maddening. I do not rest
easily and self-care is not my strength. So I’m either the worst—or the
perfect—person to practice yoga. I made a commitment to practice yoga for
thirty consecutive days to see if I could become a converted yogi. Before
beginning, I talked with yogis, joined a studio, checked out books, and
researched online to make a plan. Here I go.
Week One: Beginning to Breathe and
Day 1: When I hesitantly walked into
my first class at the studio, mats were rolled out and students were
stretching, sitting meditatively, or talking quietly. After the instructor
introduced herself, we were instructed to go into Sukhasana pose: legs
crossed gently, sitting tall but relaxed on a block. The class began with
meditation. Meditation! My eyes twitched as I tried to keep them closed, my
mind raced, my breathing was certainly not very meditative. She guided us
through several minutes of meditative imagery, bringing attention to our
breathing. My eyes relaxed and my breathing steadied, but my mind still
resembled a conversation with a toddler – disjointed and easily distracted.
In this first class, we moved slowly
through a series of basic poses, or Asanas, and ended with Savasana, or
Corpse pose. The poses were easy for me – that was where my prior experience
with yoga had focused. My challenge was in the quiet breath and meditation.
In both the studio and online
classes that I found this week, I was drawn to the instructor’s words about
attending to my breath. I found grounding and release from stress by
focusing on and pacing my breath. Initially, concentration and breathing was
easier through Asanas, but with each day I found more and more quiet breath
during meditation and Savasana. Gradually, my body relaxed into my mat and
my mind began to still.
I began to learn to listen to my
body. Instructors urged me to search my body, sometimes with curiosity and
concerned interest, looking for and releasing areas of tension. I was to
attend to my body with compassion and acceptance, hearing what my body was
capable of, and to accept it. Permission was given to welcome all feelings,
positive and negative, but to let them go.
This concept, of listening and
honoring my body, was profoundly mysterious. As a former athlete, I had
great body awareness but almost no experience in listening to my body. I had
long established patterns of pushing through pain, ignoring exhaustion, and
fostering intolerance towards my body’s imperfections. Listening and
honoring my body became impactful to my practice, self-image, eating habits,
and how I approached negative emotions throughout the day.
Week Two: Building Strength,
Flexibility, and Confidence
My second week of daily practice
began with a more challenging class,“Vinyasa Flow,” at the studio. We did
arm stands like Crow pose and mini back bends. Although awkward and
imperfect, trying new and challenging poses gave me a sense of pride and
satisfaction with my body. I was empowered to know my imperfection was a
part of my journey and I was propelled into week two.
My confidence and strength grew with
each Chaturanga Dandasana, High Plank, and Downward Dog. I experimented with
my home practice by replicating sequences of poses from previous classes and
sometimes guiding my own practice. To improve my form, I watched online
tutorials. I experimented with the dynamics of my practice, trying music or
calming essential oils like lavender. As a sensory-sensitive person, I found
that the right music or oil could enhance my experience.
Slowly, I was becoming a more
limber, balanced version of myself. Even off the mat, I became more
attentive to my posture. In yoga, I was also finding relief from discomfort,
tightness, and soreness after a strenuous workout or a restless night of
Despite how it may sound, at the
close of week two, my experience was not idyllic. Life was still hectic, and
I was frustrated on some days at my lack of time, childcare, or energy to
practice as long as I would like. I was self-conscious chanting “OM” while
in the studio. Some poses were challenging and acceptance was hard. My
journal was spotted with moments of disappointment, but my journey was
taking me forward. Four steps forward, one step back, four steps forward. In
this way, I continued on.
Week Three: Facing Challenges
I finally found the courage to try
power yoga classes, which were similar to an Astanga Vinyasa style. The room
was heated and knowledge of yoga recommended. The classes consisted of
difficult strength building poses and a continual, intense flow. I worked
harder and sweat more in those classes than in an hour of intense weight
training or jogging. But, in the end, I felt intense calm. Calm was not
found in slow paced, controlled poses and quiet meditation but from intense
physical exertion and meditative movement.
I was surprised to learn that yoga
can be as physically challenging as it can be relaxing. With the many
varieties of yoga practice, different styles of instructors, and its wide
spread accessibility, I see how anyone can practice yoga to meet a wide
variety of goals and needs.
Week Four: Compassion and Acceptance
I sailed into my last week of my
30-day challenge with routine. The newness of daily practice wore off and
with great enthusiasm, I continued to look for new ways to experience yoga.
In an Acro Yoga class, which
combined yoga, acrobatics, and therapeutic massage, my strength, balance,
and form were refined. Moreover, my openness and trust in other people were
tested. This experience gave me the opportunity to see my body as one part
of a greater whole, working with others to achieve large poses. Next, for a
nearly opposite experience, I attended a Yin Yoga class where I experienced
a slower, more contemplative setting. This approach pushed me to release
further, deeper, and longer in poses, where I found even greater connection
to my body.
In this fourth week, I was feeling
more committed to and inspired by my practice. On my last day, I
unassumingly walked into a studio class that tapped into an even deeper
level of understanding.
It was a basic class and I was
excited to try a new instructor. Everything was aligned to be a positive,
fairly easy class. And yet, it wasn’t. My breathing and focus were
disjointed. My clothes were bothering me. My balance was off. It was not the
ceremonial ending to the challenge that I had hoped.
I am a mom, a sister, and a trained
social worker; therefore, compassion is a big part of my life. Yet, on my
last day of my yoga challenge, I understood more about compassion. I was
expecting to see my best practice and my progress in that class—but fell
short. Yet, I walked away without self-loathing or criticism and only hope
and compassion. Expressions of compassion can feel void of high standards
and expectations, but I learned compassion is not contradictory to high
expectations. I believe compassion can be shown to ourselves and others
alongside high expectations. Expect the best, strive to meet potential but
allow acceptance and love to meet them on the way, washing over
imperfection. Compassion and expectations are not two ends of a spectrum but
fluidly exist together.
Consistency and commitment made all
the difference for me. My 30-day challenge brought results and growth that I
failed to experience from yoga in the past. I saw positive changes in my
body, my perspective, and my emotional well-being. My 30-day yoga challenge
is now just the first step as regular yoga practice has become a new part of
I found that the approach I used to
get the most out of my challenge can be the same approach to get the most
out of life: try your best, accept imperfection, see every experience and
person as an opportunity to learn, breathe, be open, and hope for the best.
10 Tips for Aspiring Yogis
1. Go to a Yoga Studio—Adjustments from
instructors and the community experience are worth the investment.
2. Diversify—Try many forms of yoga.
You will learn something different from each one, even if the style is not
3. Buy a good mat—Just trust me. It’s
4. Find daily inspiration—Subscribe to
a daily yoga newsletter or yoga blog for inspiration, information, and
reminders to be mindful in your practice.
5. Be a student—Learn from other yogis
and read about the practice.
6. Set the mood—If meditative music,
essential oils, or proper yoga clothes help keep you focused, take the time
7. Make a commitment—Make a plan to fit
yoga into your life.
8. Be flexible—A few Sun Salutations
and deep breathing is better than nothing on a hectic day.
9. Use online resources—The internet is
an easily accessible source for classes, podcasts, tutorials, articles, and
10. Practice acceptance and
compassion—Practicing yoga is part of a journey. Expecting perfection is a
quick way to thwart growth.
Allison Mundy is a former social worker
and freelance writer who is currently staying home with her two daughters.
She lives with her family, dog, and chickens in Centerville, Ohio. Allison
enjoys writing, reading, gardening, hiking, crafting, and spending time with