What I Learned Doing 30 Days of Yoga

When I first posted this picture of Sam, I had no idea that only two weeks later, he’d be gone. I thought of it for this post because seven years ago today, I’d posted on Facebook: “On our walk this morning, I smiled at a little boy on his way to the bus stop, which made him smile. Then he said, ‘I like your dog.’ I said, ‘thank you,’ and then he said ‘I have a tall one too.'” It made me smile, made me miss Sam. Another memory came up from 11 years ago, a picture of Obi, our first dog, on a walk we’d taken in the final few months of his life. We knew we were losing him, as he’d been diagnosed with lymphoma seven months earlier, a treatable but incurable cancer in dogs. I’ve been so blessed in my life, and I have lost so much. Both, and.

That’s the trick, the dilemma, the riddle. To be aware of impermanence, how precious it makes every single moment, being, and thing, to be able to hold space for that truth without freezing up or freaking out. It’s a lot: everything and everyone we love will eventually be lost to us, bad things will happen. This is the truth of being human. As yoga teacher Michael Stone said, “Pain, loss, confusion, and illness are all part of what it costs to be human.” Nobody gets out of it. We might not all be in the same boat, but we are for sure riding out the same storm, and there’s ultimately only one possible outcome. I don’t know about you, kind and gentle reader, but most of the time I don’t feel great about that.

As a practitioner, I work to soften to what is, to stay with it. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I try to make room for all of it, including joy, grace, love — all of it. Practice is intimacy with what is, connection to the inherently creative energy of life. Cultivating my ability to stay, without shutting down or running away, is the antidote to impermanence. Seeing our experience as precious, our lives as sacred exactly because they are temporary. Weirdly, the thing that is the most awful about being alive is precisely what makes it so precious, if we can surrender to it, accept it, stay with it.

Practice keeps me going. Even when I am completely lost, wrecked, shook, I keep showing up, hoping that things will come together, start to make sense, that I’ll know what to do. I have a whole regular daily routine for practice, and there have also been “30 day” challenges that have helped me to stick, to stay. For example, Susannah Conway has hosted three different month long Instagram challenges this year — April, May, and August — that have helped to ground me, given me something akin to a flotation device. There’s also Blogtober and NaBloPoMo (“National Blog Posting Month”), challenges where bloggers publish a post a day during the month of October and November. There have been others too, some that I credit for getting this blog off the ground, keeping it going.

Recently, I’ve been grieving the loss of my yoga teaching gig, along with everything else there is to grieve. The clinic where I taught is too small a space for us to continue to pack in together and practice, and I’m not comfortable subbing at my other studio, in person or online, so I’m just not teaching right now. And, I don’t know when I will be again. For a few months, the only yoga I was doing was a Sunday morning class I’ve attended and taught for at least the past four years. I couldn’t figure out why I was so reluctant to practice. With some mindful contemplation, I realized it was because for the last few years, yoga asana, even my own practice, had been all about my teaching. Sure, I practiced and took classes because it felt so good, because I felt so good afterwards, but other than that, it was mostly about coming up with (sometimes outright stealing) ideas for the classes I was teaching.

I needed to find my own practice again, the one that was just for me. In August, I committed to doing Adriene Mishler’s (Yoga with Adriene) August calendar. Each month, she puts together a collection of videos that follow a theme and releases a calendar and puts together a playlist on YouTube. With August now over, I wanted to share what I learned/remembered from doing 30 days of yoga with Adriene.

  1. A little bit of yoga is just as valid as a lot. There’s no need to make it a big deal, a project. Even if you simply get out your yoga mat (you don’t even need a mat) and stretch, ask your body what would feel good and do that, it’s enough.
  2. I liked having Adriene’s calendar to follow. I didn’t have to choose a video (she has hundreds) or a teacher, I just did the next video in the playlist.
  3. Yoga teachers can make and share videos that are short. It doesn’t have to be a full class, a full practice. Some of Adriene’s videos are only 10 or 15 minutes long.
  4. If you slow down when you teach, it won’t be boring. I tend to be an over planner when it comes to teaching, trying to cram twice as much stuff into a session and keep things moving because I worry my students will lose interest, get irritated if we take our time, (some will, but that’s okay too).
  5. It’s okay to slow down when you practice. Pay attention to your breath, be mindful of transitions between poses, don’t rush or push yourself. Notice what is happening and stay with it.
  6. As accommodating as you try to be as a teacher, you’ll miss the mark. And that’s okay, as long as you continue trying, learning, listening to your students. Every teacher practices in their own body, from their own experience, and we all have blind spots.
  7. “Breathe lots of love in, breathe lots of love out.” This is something Adriene says a lot when she teaches, and I love it, the way it reminds us to be as open to receiving love as we are to giving it, and vice versa.
  8. Having dogs around when you practice is a very good thing. Adriene has a Cattle Dog named Benji, and I admit that’s 70% of why I like her so much.
  9. Be yourself. It’s not as hard as you think to let people love you, and it’s usually the weird, awkward, messy things that make you the most lovable, especially if you have a sense of humor about it.
  10. The mix of substantial free offerings and a more in depth paid version works.

One more bonus thing I learned/remembered: I always feel better having done some yoga, moving my body. Getting my heart rate up, taking deep breaths, doing what feels good, breaking a sweat, is very very satisfying, releases stress and trauma built up in my body along with a rush of good energy, and it actually benefits the other practices I do, as well as the people around me, the world.

I'd love to hear what you think, kind and gentle reader.

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