Each month, we set a challenge based on our month’s theme. As self-love was the theme this month, 30 days of yoga felt like an appropriate challenge.
The benefits are yoga go beyond physical with many yogis claiming that daily yoga practice has helped them ease anxiety, become more in tune with their bodies and be more mindful. I wanted to see if 30 days of yoga would make me calmer and more in touch with my inner self. Also, I want to be able to do crow pose and handstands.
I’ve previously dabbled in yoga, so I was somewhat familiar with what I was taking on, albeit very much out of practice. But it’s like a riding a bike. Right?
I approached my 30 days of yoga challenge much like I do entering a swimming pool. Hesitatingly, dipping one toe in, slowly getting more and more comfortable until finally I was fully submerged.
For the first 7 days I didn’t step into a yoga class. Instead I spent time each day re-familiarising myself with yoga and relearning my warrior 2 from warrior 3. Day 1 started with an 18 minute yoga session from the NTC app most of which was spent trying to figure out if I was in the right position. It took until day 3 to realise that NTC, whilst a fantastic gym app, was not a great yoga app.
I downloaded the Daily Yoga app and proceeded to make my way through a series of sessions for the remainder of the week. I struggled to keep my mind focused and felt like I was doing daily stretching, not daily yoga. I discovered in week one that I do not stretch enough.
After week one, I had the great epiphany that to actually reap rewards from doing yoga, including but not limited to learning to stretch deeper, learning new poses and the possibility of quietening my monkey mind, I actually needed to get to a class.
Early the following Monday morning I headed out to a one hour beginner yoga class meant to target good posture.
I arrived at a small class, led by a soft spoken woman named Jooin. Her yoga soundtrack included songs like “Purple Rain”, and she ended each class by playing the harmonica while doing the final omms. During shivasna, Jooin walked around massaging an oil of some sort into everyone’s neck and head. I have no idea what it was, but it smelled like flowers and made me feel incredibly relaxed.
While I was pushing myself more during class, holding poses for longer and focusing on form, than when I did yoga alone, my monkey mind still ran rampant with a million thoughts.
My first yoga “aha” moment happened on day 11 during a forward bend when the instructor guided my breathing and on every exhale gently pushed me further into the pose. I finally realised what it meant to breathe into poses and why you’re told when to inhale and exhale.
For the next two weeks I attended 2-3 classes a week and supplemented them with sessions from the daily yoga app as well as Tegan Burger’s online Yoga classes.
I’d recommend Tegan’s classes over the daily yoga app for a proper yoga session. The classes are structured like they would be in person, with each move flowing into the other. The only thing to take note of is, because it’s audio and not video, you need to be familiar with poses to follow the instructions.
For my final 7 days I decided to challenge myself and attend a yoga class every day, including classes I’d never tried before. This meant forgoing my usual vinyasa flow classes for something different.
I started with Hot Flow Yoga and arrived woefully unprepared. In long leggings sans water and with a sweat towel about an eighth the size of everyone else’s. The room was packed and it was also the first class I’d gone to that was led by a male instructor. It was higher energy than any yoga class I had ever been to and felt more like a workout class than a calming yoga class. I made it through 90 minutes and left feeling like I got in a good workout.
The next day I attended a restorative yoga class and I’m positive I was the youngest person in the room. Restorative yoga is a slow yoga in which you hold poses for a few minutes as a way to unwind and focus on being not doing. Physically it was the easiest class, but mentally one of the hardest. There was little movement and a lot of focus on breathing, almost like meditation. If you are going through a tough time, I can see restorative yoga being helpful. I left feeling sleepy and decided I’d rather have an hour nap than do restorative yoga again.
The following day was Iyengar yoga. From what I understand, it is a method not a style which focuses on precision and endurance within a multitude of progressive sequences. The focus is on learning poses with proper form. You spend a lot of time getting into and staying in poses which not only means you get a deeper stretch, but it also allows you to follow new poses easier.
Halfway through the class I had my next yoga aha moment. As I lowered down, for the first time, I noticed that after a backward bend that my back actually felt good. The deep stretches felt fabulous. I had found my yoga tribe.
Not finished with trying new classes, the following day was a Vinyasa flow class. It reminded me of why I like Flow Yoga and ended up being an incredible ab and core workout.
The final “new” class I tried was Bikram Yoga. I came slightly more prepared than to the hot yoga class, dressed in shorts and armed with water.
Much like hot flow it was high paced, but easier to follow, as the class is 28 poses repeated twice. The instructor taught the class like he was commentating a horse race and sprinkled his instructions which gems like “The minute you want to give up is the minute yoga begins” and “Love is a drug, but it’s the best drug”. I left dripping and slightly delirious.
For the final days of my 30 days of yoga challenge, I stuck to Iyengar and Vinyasa Flow classes, which have become my favourites.
During the past 30 days I have gathered some tidbits which may help you on your own Yoga journey.
What I learned from 30 Days of Yoga
1. Most yoga studios offer a first time rate that gives you an unlimited pass for 7-10 days. Choose that option and try out as many different classes and teachers as you can. This enables you to see what style you like or don’t like and which teachers are better suited to your personality without committing to a membership.
2. Figure out what you want to get out of yoga. This was my biggest aha moment and only came during the last week when I attended different classes with different teachers.
During my first Iyengar class I clicked what I wanted out of yoga. I don’t view yoga classes as “exercise or a workout”. I know, it’s physical activity and I certainly had challenging classes, but for me my workouts are a run or gym session where the goal is usually to move faster and push harder – they are physically louder actions .
Yoga focuses more on slowing down and following your breathing. For me, yoga is about strengthening my foundation, gaining flexibility, stretching and learning to slow down – which is why I disliked the hot yoga and Bikram classes which were more fast paced and loud.
A big goal of mine is to learn how to do a crow pose, hand stands and proper backward bends. This is why I immediately loved the Iyengar class, which has a strong focus on learning poses slowly with proper form.
3. Stay on your mat. This is something I heard long ago, but only now really put into practice. While I can admire the person who is able to do a handstand, I’m ok with not being there yet.
I was surprised at how ok I became with knowing when I had enough in pose and just sitting and watching how other people did it without feeling like I shouldn’t be there. Push yourself but know when to back off and rest.
4. Bring ice cold water to Hot or Bikram yoga along with a towel, you’ll need it. Remember the room is hot, so your water will warm up – the colder it is to begin with the nicer it’ll be to drink.
5. Wear as little as you’re comfortable wearing to a Bikram yoga class. Trust me there’ll be a guy in a tiny neon speedo that’ll make you feel overdressed.
6. Yoga isn’t a girl thing. I was surprised at how many guys were in every class. So if you’re male and wanting to join yoga, do it – you won’t be the only one.
7. Do not roll up your yoga mat and forget about it after Bikram Yoga. Leave it unrolled and air it out to dry. Unrolling a damp mat is possibly the most awful thing that happened to me throughout my 30 days of Yoga challenge.
8. Don’t be on time for class, be early. Yogis are super punctual. One minute late is late. A lot of studios will not let you enter the room late. In addition, I found most of the classes filled up 15 minutes before they started. Come early and put your yoga mat down ASAP so you get a good spot.
9. You don’t have to omm or chant. I’ve never been fully comfortable with the omming and chanting especially when it’s in a language I don’t understand and I don’t know what I’m chanting. I’ve found it to be less common in South Africa vs classes I’ve done overseas. Instead of omming, I inhale and then exhale really loudly. During chanting I keep quiet.
10. Always carry a hair elastic. You don’t want to be that girl who has pinned her hair up with every stray bobby pin she could find. I was that girl, and 10 minutes into the class, half the bobby pins were on my mat and my hair looked a fright.
30 days of yoga later, I don’t feel a huge change, but I have begun to actually enjoy the practice of Yoga. I question whether yoga has made me calmer or less anxious, my mind is still as busy as ever. But yoga has made me more aware of how tight my muscles are, gotten me to – just for a few minutes – focus on nothing but a stretch and breathe. It made my body feel good and best of all; I think a handstand is in my future.
For a teacher’s take on what to know before your first yoga class, click here
Zissy is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to make things, do things and wear things.