(I have done 6 more days, but then missed a day out on a lazy Sunday and something in me wanted the days to be consecutive!)
This was an unusual goal for me to pick – I only do yoga occasionally, on the Wellbeing Retreats that I run alongside business partner, and friend, Lindsey, who is a yoga instructor. I lead the walking and NLP coaching that we do, and she leads the twice daily yoga sessions, which is really the only yoga I’ve done. A couple of times in these sessions, she’s led us through a traditional routine of yoga poses called sun salutations, or Surya Namaskara in its Sanskrit name, normally only for 2-3 rounds. I always found I had a real resistance to doing these, that bubbled up as soon as she announced it and continued throughout the routine.
On reflection, this was probably because I was finding it hard as my body wasn’t used to it. Voicing this resistance over lunch on retreat one day (backed by another retreat participant who felt similar,) Lindsey decided in that evening’s yoga session that we would do a round of 10 sun salutations to break through our resistance……
It didn’t. By the end, I still hated doing them, and hated myself even more for how unfit and inflexible I was.
The thing that changed was the next morning, at 7am. Again, Lindsey suggested that we do a round of 10 sun salutations, met with load groans from the both of us. However, Lindsey then suggested that we do them outside, on the grass, facing the sunrise.
Wow……that’s all I can say! Being outside made a world of difference. Instead of feeling unfit and sweaty in the yoga studio, the gentle breeze meant it was good to be moving as it warmed you up in the early morning freshness. Instead of watching Lindsey leading the moves in front of me (and comparing myself unfavourably) I could watch the glow of warmth as the sunlight spread across green fields and caught the colours of autumn on the trees. And just as we reached sun salutation number 8, the sun itself burst above the skyline, rising from behind the mountain side with majestic splendour. This was truly something I could salute; a magical start to the day that made me feel grateful to be alive and inspired by the wonders of the natural beauty all around me. 10 rounds went by with no sign of resistance……even Lindsey’s suggestion of an 11th round to dedicate to someone in need was done willingly.
Now, having completed 30 consecutive days (36 day in total), here’s something things I have learnt:
1. I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t challenged myself – there’s been a few occasions where I made it through to bed time without doing them, and could have easily just fallen into bed, but the yoga mat was staring accusingly at me. Particularly once I decided that I wanted to do it as 30 consecutive days, the self-pressure increased day-by-day not to throw away X many days previously.
Learning: Setting a clear goal, and being disciplined about achieving it, really helps your motivation and chances of success.
2. My flexibility has improved quite considerably in just 30 days. At the beginning of the challenge, there were some movements (coming out of downward dog into my forward fold for example) were I had to help my leg into the correct position with my hands. Now, I can do a full 10 rounds without needing to adjust my position with my hands.
Learning: Doing something consistently for a relatively short amount of time, allows incremental improvements that can only be noticed over time.
3. Your left and right side can be quite different from each other. In the above example, my left leg progressed to unaided movement after about a week, whereas my right leg took over two weeks to get to the same point. I have no idea why, and channelling one of Lindsey’s yoga mantras to just accept where you’re at, I just accepted each side for what it was each day.
Learning: Accept where you are at each day. It may be different from yesterday, it may be different from other people and it may be different from where you want to be, but it’s where you are.
4. My strength has improved. Part of the sequence is to do a plank, lowering it towards the floor. At the beginning, I had to drop to my knees as my arms were not strong enough to support me (i.e. could not even hold up my weight when stationary, let alone when trying to do a slow controlled lower towards the floor.) Now, I can hold the plank for some time (and sometimes hold it for a count of 10 before continuing the sequence) and can just about make it to the floor in a controlled manner without using my knees or face-planting into the mat. There’s still a way to go until I could do a press-up, but this is still significant progress in just 30 days.
Learning: Doing something and making just a small improvement is better than doing nothing at all.
5. I’m overall fitter. I used to get really out of breath doing a round of 10. I am now just slightly out of breath at the end. Not a huge change, but definitely a noticeable one, and one I didn’t expect from doing yoga. I always associate this type of fitness with things like running and cycling and hadn’t considered how a dynamic yoga routine could have the same effect.
Learning: Sometimes, positive consequences come in ways you don’t expect when you set about making a change.
6. You can do sun salutations at any time. Although traditionally done at sunrise, I am not traditionally a ‘morning person.’ On occasion, my busy schedule for the day meant that first thing in the morning was the most sensible time to fit them in, but on these occasions, I found my body felt extra stiff and I found myself frustrated that my flexibility was not as good as the previous day. Throughout the 30 days, I have done them at varying times of day, from first thing, to after being up for a few hours in my PJs, just before a shower, in the afternoon, in the evening before dinner, and sometimes at midnight before bed when I’ve forgotten. I have found my flexibility is at its best mid-afternoon.
Learning: It doesn’t matter when you do something, as long as you do it. Doing a little something every day towards goal keeps momentum going.
7. You can do sun salutations anywhere. Through the course of my work, I have spent several nights camping or away staying in bunkhouses, and have done them in the middle of the campsite, on the floor of a campsite toilet block (when it was raining really hard to prevent me being outside), sandwiched between 2 twin beds in a bunkhouse in a space literally just wide enough for my mat, and also on a beautiful pebble beach at St. Mary’s Loch on a stunningly still day, overlooking the reflections of the mountains. While the location looked great, I quickly discovered that pebbles were not the most comfortable thing to have under my mat!
Learning: Stop making excuses about not having enough time or enough space, or the right environment. Make time and make space.
Here's some pictures of places I've done my sun salutations.
Learning: Find the way that works for you. Just because there’s a ‘traditional’ or ‘accepted’ way, it doesn’t mean it’s the only way.
9. I have favourite numbers. Getting to number 4 always prompts a reaction of ‘ooh, good, I’m at number 4 – nearly half way.’ Number 7 also feels good – I’ve broken the back of the routine and know I’m going to finish. Numbers 9 and 10 always seem to go really quickly. On occasion, I’ve probably done a number 11 due to losing count part way through and doing an extra one just to make sure.
Learning: Breaking a hard task into small pieces and celebrating achievements part way through helps keep motivation to get to the end. Give yourself some credit!
So these are just some of the things that I’ve learnt from doing 30 days of sun salutations. Sometimes the things we find the hardest are the things with the biggest benefit. The next time you feel yourself having a resistance to something, don’t ask yourself why. Find a way to break through that resistance!