What I Learned From Doing Yoga Every Day For A Week
What happens when a non-yogi decides to do yoga every day for a week? Our intrepid reporter Rebecca Russo found out the (painful) truth.
Here’s the thing: I’m not a yoga person. I’ve tried and failed to master mindfulness, I regularly scroll/eye roll past inspirational quotes on Instagram, and just the thought of blissfully contorting beside a group of strangers on a Wednesday morning sends chills down my Netflix-loving-pizza-wielding body. But seeing as 2016’s dreaded half-way mark has come and gone and I’m still complaining about my bad posture/constant worrying/lack of any formal exercise routine, I decided to take my mid-year goal and kick it into high gear.
The challenge was to complete seven yoga classes in seven days. Was it doable? Probably. Would I be sore after? You betcha.
As someone who struggles with anxiety and an overloaded mind, I’ll admit I was sceptical seven sessions of yoga would have even the slightest effect on me – after all, I’m impervious to anything that claims to reduce tension, anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue in one glorified stretch session.
When I walked into my first class at Breathe Wellbeing, a hip studio in Melbourne’s CBD, I was a mixture of nerves and excitement. I witnessed my fellow practitioners stake their claims to the rapidly disappearing black mats that covered the shiny hardwood floors. I casually observed as everyone grabbed two purple blocks, a blanket and a boulder cushion from the shelves at the rear of the classroom. I followed suit, trying to act as nonchalant as possible. “Do we need belts for this class?” someone asked me as I dug my way through the pile of cushions. “Um, no, I don’t think so,” I said, ecstatic that this woman thought I was a seasoned yogi pro, and fearful that any second she’d figure out I had no clue what I was talking about.
As I sat down on my mat and prepared myself for my first Vinyasa class, I was apprehensive for what was about to happen in this room. Will it be hard? Will it be boring? Will it hurt? Will I make a fool out of myself? Will I ever stop thinking about yoga farts and smelly feet to actually relax? A flurry of questions, but only one seemed to stick: will I actually like it?
Here’s what I learnt after downward dogging it for seven days’ straight.
I was breathing all wrong
Admittedly, I knew I wasn’t going to catch onto some of these poses straight away. It would probably take me years to master a headstand or even balance on one leg without vigorously wobbling. But there was one thing about yoga I thought I’d have no trouble with: the breathing. Ha! Apparently not.
I’ve inhale-exhaled my way through a lot of difficult times in my life. Uni exams, anxious job interviews… that one time in high school when I fell down a flight of stairs, sprained my ankle and spilled Fanta all over myself. So it came as a pretty big surprise to learn that I’d been breathing wrong. Yes, breathing. That thing we do every single day.
The realisation came after I’d pretzeled myself into a pretty convincing pigeon pose during my first class. Admittedly I was in pain, so my breathing had hitched a little to cope with the shooting pain that was running through my hip flexors. The instructor spotted me in the back corner of the classroom and made his way over to me with the same flighty ease as Voldemort in a cape.
He squatted beside me, observing me in pain. “Breathe softly,” he said. It took me a second to realise I was exhaling with the tenacity of an equestrian horse. After a few stumbles, I chimed in with his breathing rhythm, counting to four on my inhale, and repeating the count on my exhale. I felt myself relax with every passing breath.
Savasana is the best
It’s a mystery to me that I’d never heard of Savasana before this. Savasana, also known as corpse pose (or the one where you just lie there), is incredible. Each class finishes with a three to five minute version of this that includes the lights being dimmed, blankets brought out and the ethereal music being turned down. After 45 minutes of painful stretches and trying to figure out if my limbs are actually attached to my body or just operating on their own accord, Savasana was like the cooling sauce to my sweaty pile of chips. It’s tops.
Savasana also taught me a thing or two about the tightly wound ball that is my body. Even when I thought I was completely relaxed, I wasn’t really relaxed. Every time the instructor repeated the word “relax” I found a body part that was still tensed. I relaxed my face, unclenched my jaw and un-furrowed my brow. I dropped my hands on either side of me, letting every muscle droop and release. It felt hypnotic. I was on another level entirely, and maybe if I thought real hard and repeated a pagan phrase or two, I’d actually start floating.
I started to feel convinced that if I were to move my fingers or wiggle my toes, they wouldn’t move. It was at once very soothing and a little overwhelming.
My body doesn’t bend like other bodies
And that’s totally fine. The myth of the #yogabody is well and truly defunct once you’ve seen a 40-year-old man attempt daytime yoga in cargo shorts beside you. After a week, I’d seen it all – and any qualms I had about my stomach rolls or flabby arms faded away somewhere between my first “om” and final “Namaste”.
Sure, it wasn’t some miracle fix for my deep-seated body insecurities, but in that space I really didn’t feel any judgement – I was mostly just trying not to fall onto my face.
I couldn’t get through my “oms” with a straight face
Speaking of “om”s, sorry guys. I just couldn’t do it. I can get behind the intention – the “om” mantra is said to allow yogis to recognise their experience and reflect on how the whole universe moves – but in execution, to me, it just sounded like a group of people emulating a freight train, which was hard not to chuckle at.
I did have time for it…
As much as I whine about not having time for exercise, I managed to make room for five 45-minute classes throughout the week. That weekend I’d planned to go down to the Mornington Peninsula with some mates, so I anticipated this by downloading the Yoga Studio app and coercing my friends into an early morning stretch with promises of sun salutations and stronger lower backs. Much to my surprise, they obliged.
While I did have to move things around to fit classes in, it wasn’t so much of a stretch: I rescheduled dinners a little later to fit in an after work class and I took the early train to catch 8am classes. For that week, yoga was pretty much all I could talk about. I couldn’t shut up about the poses that caused me the most grief, or the complimentary cups of herbal tea, or the fact that one of my instructors looked like Trey from Broad City. I even coerced a few co-workers into joining a lunchtime class with me just so that I would have another excuse to talk about yoga.
I was getting really into it – possibly to an annoying degree. I’d never felt this excited to throw on my active wear and smoosh my body onto a rubber mat. On Thursday night I was so jazzed I fell asleep listening to Yoga With Adriene.
…but maybe not the money
Look I’m not going to lie, my biggest issue with exercise is that I am a supremely lazy person. The thought of getting up that extra hour earlier to go for a run or sweat it out at the gym is always surpassed by my desire to stay in bed and bury myself in my covers like a bean burrito. But with yoga, I don’t know, it was just different. Sure, my initial push to start this week of yoga was for curiosity’s sake, but I can definitely see myself continuing further beyond it.
The only hiccup I see with this is the fact that proper classes cost money – and quite a bit of it. While my health is very important to me, gym memberships and exercise classes often feel like a luxury on top of more important things like rent, food and bills – and I know I’m not alone. But I think I’ve come to realise there are ways around it: there’s a wealth of online resources (the aforementioned app and YouTube channel are really ace) so it is possible to become a yogi from the comfort of your own bedroom. (And yes, yoga in bed is a thing you can do – so now you’ll never have to leave your burrito bed cave ever again.)
I’m a lot stronger than I think I am
Yoga made me acknowledge every muscle in my body, all 640 of them. And to my surprise – it actually gave me a lot of insight into my own thoughts under pressure. Once you’ve spent 10 minutes in King Arthur’s pose, seconds from unleashing a full-on guttural scream, you learn a thing or two about compartmentalising your inner thoughts.
I learnt to embrace the “good” kind of pain. This kind of pain gave me release from the incessant worrying and over-analysing that goes on in my head every day. As I focused on the debilitating pain in my quad, my thoughts shifted from worrying about work, friendship dramas or whatever menial thing I was obsessing over that day, and focused directly on the pain and nothing else. That godawful pain saved my brain. (But seriously, guys, it hurt a lot. I’m still sore.)
Going into this week of yoga I knew I’d never be able to completely shut off the part of me that constantly worries or obsesses over embarrassing things that happened years ago (ugh), but at least those thoughts took a back seat while I focussed all my energy on the task/crippling pain at hand. And that, for me, was a pretty big win.
Rebecca Russo is a freelance writer and editor, community radio dabbler, occasional hiker, celebrity autobiography enthusiast. She has written for online publications including Junkee, AWOL, Fashion Journal and Tone Deaf. Find her online here.
All images: Breathe Wellbeing