30 Things I Learned About Yoga (Yoga Challenge: Day 30)

30 Days of Yoga = approximately 36 hours on the mat in 1 month and a whole lot of learning…

1. One of the best ways to awake from Savasana is in the same way you would wake a lover or a small child: with gentleness and tenderness.

2. When we humble ourselves, let ourselves rest and reach out to others for help, we are made stronger by the community and energy that surrounds us.

Photo by Paul Zizka Photography: http://www.zizka.ca

3. Sometimes allowing ourselves to feel pain is the only way to get out of it.

4. Yoga is not about the how. If yoga is about anything at all, it’s about the who and why. It forces us to be aware of who we are being and why we have come to the mat.

5. If we really watch our breath – notice when it is smooth and when it is laboured – we’ll know when too much is too much or when it is time to try something new.

6. Yoga is a great chill pill if you’re ever feeling stressed at work, had an argument with your partner or feeling overwhelmed with life’s circumstances.

7. Remain present in the small things.

8. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you felt yesterday, how solid your practise was compared to today or what progress you’re making. Each day you come to the mat is a new day. Ask yourself, how am I feeling in this very moment? And that is where you are.

9. What teachers do you have in your life?  Who and what can help you heal whatever is a wound within your own personality?

10. It’s fine, and totally necessary, to have a good sense of humour about yoga.

11. Yoga is an incredible gift. It’s not something that we should be consuming like a chocolate bar. Receive it like a gift that you didn’t expect and didn’t deserve.

12. Take yourself – your thoughts and goals – out of the equation and no doubt more will become available to you in yoga than ever before. Goals have their place, but will only be effective if you allow the journey to mean more than the destination.

13. Instead of expecting the same thing for our practise day after day, we can go into each practise expressing a different quality depending on the day of the week.

14. Treat your body as a temple. Don’t feel you “can’t eat this” or “can’t do that,” but be prepared to take the necessary measures to flush it out eventually and bring your body back to all its shiny goodness. That stuff won’t come out on its own.

15. Have a ‘play date’ with yoga sometimes. Just go and have fun with it, try new things, explore and come into it like a kid again, full of excitement.

16. Yoga prepares us for challenges we face in life.

Photo by Paul Zizka Photography: http://www.zizka.ca

17. Sometimes doors will only open up if we open them on our own.

18. Getting to yoga should be the least challenging part of your day.

19. Imagine how your practise will change if you consider that each breath in brings you expansive power.

20. Don’t waste your mind in yoga. Just keep it focused on your body and on being free from judgement.

21. Open yourself to the community that surrounds you. People are there to support you and encourage you if you let them. So many of us walk through life thinking we can do everything on our own. We simply cannot, nor are we meant to.

22. Each time, approach the mat like you never have before.

23. There is no suffering in yoga. When we come to our mats, we are there to heal, find peace and overcome fears.

24. The true yoga challenge really exists off the mat.

25. Keep changing. Keep things fresh. Life is boring if you’re reading the same page recurrently.

26. Lean on others and lean on your mat like it was a warm embrace. Let yourself open up just a little more each day and breathe through any pain that comes up. Work hard to avoid that knee-jerk reaction of getting out of postures that are uncomfortable.

27. In our quest for freedom from any shackles in our life, we need to push ourselves to new things while still erring on the side of reason and caution. Don’t lose sight of the end goal. There is no freedom in pushing too hard and hurting ourselves more.

28. If you ever feel panicked in your breathing in class, attend a Pranayama workshop or spend some time at home working on your breathing, even just for 10 minutes.

29. Yoga won’t be a healing force if your mind isn’t open to that possibility.

30. Yoga is 100% an individual and collective experience. How is that possible? Your individual practise has a ripple effect in your life and the people you interact with each day.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2011.

3 Intentions (Yoga Challenge: Day 29)

This is the first time in this challenge that I am writing a post in advance. While it would be great to have been able to write after each class, I want to make sure a post goes up each day of the challenge but I’m headed out ski touring until Sunday evening.

So, I won’t be practising yoga on Day 29, unless I can fit in a session high up on the Wapta Icefield at Bow Hut. I have been known to pull a Downward Dog or two in the most random places. It feels pretty nice to stretch out the kinks after a long, hard day out skiing with an overnight pack.

Lately, I’ve been really intentional about bringing particular lessons into my practise. So, because I can’t write about the class and lessons from Day 29, let me tell you what I’d be bringing into my practise on Day 29.

Lesson from Day 29

1. Not to stop in Upper Plank in my Sun Salutations. I learned this from an instructor about a week ago and it has changed my practise completely. Yoga is often taught with a pause in Upper Plank before lowering in Chataranga Dandasana. Ever since I started flowing directly into Chataranga, whether back from a forward fold or in a Vinyasa, I can’t really explain it, but everything in yoga seems stronger and more fluid.

2.  To really use my breath as an indication of how far I can push in each posture. If I find it difficult to maintain my breath, to lay off a little or change the posture slightly. If my body is feeling really open, I often have less challenging my breath.

3. Open my mind to the possibilities of yoga. I was reading yesterday in Meditations from the Mat (pg. 270) about how yoga is “a program of forced integration.” So often our minds are disconnected from our bodies and “souls are disconnected  from our hearts,” the book says. This is why some people have found dramatic healing in yoga. It forces those aspects of ourselves to come together as an “integrated whole.” This has been important to my practise. Whatever ailments or injuries are bothering me, yoga won’t be a healing force if my mind isn’t open to that possibility.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2011.

Learning to Breathe (Yoga Challenge: Day 28)

Just a quick one today because it is quite simple.

It all has to do with wishing I had learned something about yoga well before I started the asanas (postures). I was reminded today by a fellow student that was most likely completely unaware of her frantic breath. Now, I have been there before and still fall in to it from time to time. Once I realize it, I can get into Child’s Pose to bring my breath back into rhythm again.

It was a welcome reminder of the importance of breathing through the nose in yoga and filling the lungs and ribcage 360 degrees. Without hearing it from another student, I don’t think I would have come to recognize it so strongly in myself.

Lesson from Day 28

I learned how to breathe in yoga, in this case using the Ujjayi Pranayama, well after I started practising. Now I feel that learning to control the breath should almost be a pre-requisite before actually moving into any postures.  There are many types of breathing patterns or techniques one can use in yoga. Without a deep understanding of these, however, our breath in our asanas becomes laboured and short (and rather frustrating). Sometimes you might as well be trapped under a vehicle. This is not yoga.

So, I encourage you, if you ever feel panicked in your breathing in class, attend a Pranayama workshop or spend some time at home working on your breathing, even just for 10 minutes. I’m no expert, but I also recommend attending a Level 1 Ashtanga Class if you haven’t before. For reasons I have mentioned before, Ashtanga will help you focus on your breath while you move into the postures.

I promise it will elevate your practise hugely.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2011.


Learning from Icarus (Yoga Challenge: Day 27)

I felt a little bit weak today. But something neat happened.

I came to my mat feeling a little bit tired, for no particular reason. I struggled to want to practise today, but went to the studio regardless. The last time I wrote about feeling this way was on Day 2 of this challenge. In that post, I wrote about giving in to the weakness and being tender with ourselves. “Otherwise, we are like the tragic hero that believes he can somehow avoid the consequences of his overestimated sense of competence,” I wrote back on January 16th. “The word in Greek is hubris. In one famous story, Icarus flies too close to the Sun despite warning. Sometimes by pushing too hard to deepen each posture, I might be flying too close to the Sun.”

The Lament For Icarus, by Herbert Draper. Let Icarus remind you of how to hold back, even in your pursuit of freedom.

Poor Icarus. Such a tragic story and yet, there is something so touching and so human about his hot-headed demise. Really, the image is beautiful – Icarus, his wings outspread, soaring higher and higher, beyond where any man had gone before.  If you know the story, he is seeking freedom from imprisonment, escape from a life of shackles. But in his giddiness in the freedom to fly away, he flies too high and ends up in the sea.

Lesson from Day 27

What I gather from the story of Icarus is that in our quest for freedom from any shackles in our life, we need to push ourselves to new things while still erring on the side of reason and caution. Don’t lose sight of the end goal. There is no freedom in pushing too hard and hurting ourselves more.

What was different about today in my practise is that I didn’t need to push. Thirty days of yoga has made certain movements more intuitive and more natural than before. I am stronger – even on my weaker days  – than I was at the beginning. I didn’t fear flying too close to the Sun, or trying to go too hard in a time of weakness. The strength just came on its own and I didn’t have to think about it.


Incredibly, the card my instructor gave me at the end of class today was the exact same one as Day 2: “Strength: Be powerful in all you do.”

Sometimes being powerful means holding back a bit.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2011.

What You Might Be Missing (Yoga Challenge: Day 26)

Sometimes we’ve just got to slow down.

Resist that knee-jerk reaction to get out of a posture the moment it becomes uncomfortable. Photo by http://www.zizka.ca

Erin read a beautiful passage from Meditations from the Mat today about not rushing in our yoga practise. Running to the finish line will not help us deal with our pain any faster. Thankfully,  nor will it bring us any less grace. We can go from workshop to workshop, trying to find the key to unlock the remaining mysteries of our practise, but we might be moving too quickly.

In this way, it’s like driving somewhere you’ve never been before using only written directions. You know you need to turn right on Spruce Avenue. If you slow down as you approach side streets, you are more likely not to miss your turn. But if you keep cruising at 80km/hour, you are sure to drive right by.

What might you be missing by driving or walking too fast?

Lesson from Day 26

Allow yourself to be nurtured and stretched each day in your practise. Your instructors, including you, the self-teacher, are there to make sure you are safe and protected. Slow down and let yourself be guided through the tough bits.

It is different for each person. I struggle with postures on my stomach. They make me feel claustrophobic. Some balancing postures on my left leg bring out old injuries and, you got it, not just physical ones. The tensions we hold in our body are the result of emotional scars and past experiences as well, which is why when we struggle with certain postures, we may have an emotional, not just physical, reaction.

Lean on others and lean on your mat like it was a warm embrace. Let yourself open up just a little more each day and breathe through any pain that comes up. Work hard to avoid that knee-jerk reaction of getting out of postures that are uncomfortable (while keeping in mind the difference between Discomfort and Pain).

And by the way, there is no such thing as a finish line in yoga. You are already there, wherever you are each day.

Each person's experience on the mat is different. Photo by http://www.zizka.ca

© Meghan J. Ward, 2011.

Learning to Enjoy Routine (Yoga Challenge: Day 25)

The Ashtanga style of yoga didn’t used to be my favourite style, but it is quickly taking over.

Doing yoga six days a week has been a lot to process. Aside from the constant learning and dealing with ‘where I’m at’ each day as I come to the mat, some

David Swenson's "Ashtanga Yoga"

classes require even more thought. In a Flow class, for instance, as the practitioner you don’t ever quite know where it’s going. The sequence is really up to the creative mind of your instructor. It’s actually quite ironic that it’s called a “flow” because in many ways it flows a lot less than other styles of yoga, such as Ashtanga.

The past two weeks, however, I have grown to really love the Ashtanga classes and the routine of flowing from posture to posture in sequence. This really allows you to focus on your breath, as our instructor pointed out at our 8am practise today. He mentioned that the asanas provide a challenge to your breath. Your work is to keep it consistent. It’s quite difficult to do that, though, when you don’t know what posture you are moving into. But, if you know where you are going next, as you do in Ashtanga, you can really stay focused and still challenge yourself to go deeper in each asana.

Lesson from Day 25

I love all  styles and mixing things up from day to day. But, I think my next challenge after this 30 day yoga challenge may be to do a six day/week Primary Series Ashtanga practise, even if it’s just at home. Even just for a short while. Thankfully, I have David Swenson’s Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual to guide me.

I’m not usually a creature of habit and routine, but I go through phases where I enjoy it, if even in one aspect of my life. The moment that becomes ‘stale’ for me, I’ll begin to mix it up again or find a new way of approaching it so that it can be fresh again.

One of my favourite quotes is by an author named Donald Miller.

“Everybody has to change, or they expire. Everybody has to leave, everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons. I want to keep my soul fertile for the changes, so things keep getting born in me, so things keep dying when it is time for things to die. I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently.” (Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts)

Keep changing. Keep things fresh. Life is boring if you’re reading the same page recurrently.

A six day/week Ashtanga Practise might be might next challenge.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2011.

The True Challenge (Yoga Challenge: Day 24)

I took another rest day today. It got me thinking what the meaning of “rest” is in this context.

On a busy day of work, yoga offers me a break from my computer, from staring at that bright screen and from words, in general. If I can turn that part of my brain off for even just a hour, it is a welcome alternative. And yet right now I find myself taking the time to write about Day 24 of this yoga challenge when what I really need and want is a break from the old MacBook. In that way, the challenge of writing each day about the yoga challenge has become a practise of its own.

I have to come to my Mac in the same way as I come to the Mat. With intention, focus and a desire to learn and share.

My other yoga teacher.

Lesson from Day 24

I’ve learned an important lesson through this whole challenge and that is that the true yoga challenge really exists off the mat. My time on the mat has given me valuable skills to take into my life, into my career, my day-to-day activities and my relationships. I’ve posted about each of these aspects throughout this yoga challenge.

So, my challenge to you is this: In what areas of your life could you be taking a “yoga challenge?”

© Meghan J. Ward, 2011.