I remember the first time I walked into the Bikram Yoga studio at Yoga+. I felt out of place, very nervous, and a part of me wanted to walk out and never look back. I felt gigantic next to my tiny yoga instructor, Aisa, and overdressed in my leggings and tank top in the warm, humid room that seemed to get hotter and hotter as we progressed. After my first Bikram class, I laid down on my mat, thinking about what the hell I had gotten myself into and if I could survive the next 29 days of doing this over, and over, and over again. And you know what? Somehow, through some sort of miracle (and the support of my incredible yoga instructors), I pulled through.
After completing 30 days of yoga – mostly Bikram, with a little bit of Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow classes in there as well – I had come to love that hot room, with the sweaty people, and the breathing exercises that leave you wheezing, and have become excited to get back on the mat to push myself further and discover more about myself and what my body and mind is capable of.
Yoga, at least for me, is the most strenuous form of meditative exercise. Here are seven lessons I learned on my mat and how I try to integrate them to help deal with everyday life.
1. Be patient with yourself. Don’t expect to be great at yoga overnight or get all the poses down in a week, a month, or even a year. Even the most simple standing poses can take a few months to master, and that’s alright. I would get so frustrated when I’d keep falling over on myself when the people around me looked almost swan-like, stretching out on one foot and wrapping their fingers around their toes, but after a week into it I had finally managed to find my balance, slowly but surely. You can’t force a change, you can’t will yourself to be great at something, but with enough patience, you may just get there. The same goes for diets, working out at the gym, and life goals – you won’t get to where you want to be all at once, but be patient with yourself and enjoy the journey, and you’ll get there someday.
2. It’s ok to be stubborn. I was the type of person that, if I didn’t naturally get good at something, I’d tend to just give up and move on to something else. This might have been the same for my practice, but the 30-day Yoga+ Challenge forced me not to give up and just soldier on. I hated waking up at 5 in the morning to make it to a 6am class and I abhorred having to miss a class and making up for it by doing two yoga classes the next day. But I made sure I did it, and it is something I have never forgotten. Sticking to a routine is something I was never good at (which is why I ditched the 9-5 and settled for consulting work instead), but this challenge made me feel a lot more grounded and gave me a whole new respect for the people who do commit to going into work everyday, rain or shine.
3. Leave the Ego at the Door. Yoga class is not a place for the ego. There will always be someone better than you, with longer legs and a flatter stomach than you, that rocks the itty-bitty shorts and yoga bra and is completely stretch mark and blemish-free. It isn’t about how much better you are compared to the person next to you or how fat you look next to you the hot guy sweating it out in his super small shorts – it’s about concentrating on yourself, looking inwards instead of outwards, and just concentrating on enjoying the present moment. Like good little soldiers, we were all raised to think that everyone else was the competition and that we had to be better, faster, or stronger than the rest in order to get ahead in life. We compare ourselves to other people and judge them based on where they live, where they went to school, or how they dress, when we should be looking inwards and looking to improve ourselves, instead.
4. Change your perspective. When i first started the 30-day Yoga+ Challenge, I took it as just that – a challenge, something I was to contend with, something I was going to be locking horns with. It was an uphill climb for most of the first week, and I felt like I was dragging myself to class just to get it over with and felt stifled in that hot room, wanting to claw myself out once the practice started. But sometime into my second week of the challenge, my perspective started to slowly change. I didn’t see going to yoga everyday as a chore, but more of a lifestyle change I had to do towards a better me, and what used to be inconveniences, like waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning, became a habit I developed to appreciate the beauty of my mornings more and to get my day started early.
5. Listen to your gut. While on the mat, you learn how to listen to your body and your gut. If you feel that something isn’t right for you during your practice, just stop and go into child’s pose. For the life of me, I couldn’t complete inversion poses for the duration of the 30-day Yoga+ Challenge – I would get dizzy and start to black out when I tried, so I would just stop and wait it out. A few months later after a routine doctor’s check up, I found out that my hemoglobin count was low and I was anemic, which was the reason behind my feeling poorly with certain yoga poses. I have found that listening to my body and trusting my gut is particularly useful outside the yoga studio. Don’t push yourself if you start to feel lightheaded, it may be your body’s way to telling you to take a minute or to eat something. Trust your gut from everything from business decisions to people. If you get a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach, put that contract on hold or take a good hard look at the person you’re about to date – it may not make sense to you right away, but the big warning sign at the pit of your stomach should be enough to give you pause.
6. Be kind to yourself. Don’t let the hot pants fool you. Yoga – although it doesn’t look like it – is as good as any cardio session out there. I learned that after a Vinyasa Flow class and what seemed like 23,403 repetitions of Chaturanga (a.k.a. low plank), upward-facing dog, and downward-facing dog. I couldn’t move my arms, my knees were killing me, and I promised myself to never put myself through that again. But I did, at least six more times during the course of the month. What helped was the relaxing 90-minute massage I got after – I felt like I melted into that massage table! I also started to be more mindful of what I ate and drank before each class, and I started eating more fruit and vegetables as a result. Being kind to yourself is something many of us take for granted and are too caught up in our lives to notice the results. Eat healthier, get in enough sleep, disconnect from the rest of the world for an hour everyday or read a book.
7. Always remember to breathe. During yoga classes, I would hear the yoga teachers telling us to “breathe into the pose,” especially in Bikram class where I’d feel claustrophobic and struggled with my breathing. It took me a while to understand what that meant, that stopping my breath was only increasing my levels of anxiety and by breathing more mindfully and, particularly, I exhaled and let my breath flow resulting in a more relaxed practice. Back in the real world, we forget to take a moment and just breathe when things get too overwhelming.
I learned a lot about myself, my limits, and my potential while going through the 30-Day Yoga+ Challenge, and I am very thankful for all the supportive Yoga instructors for making my lifestyle change a whole lot easier. Created with the busy yoga practitioner in mind, Yoga+ only requires that you bring your own water bottle when you take a class – they even provide you with the Alkaline water, yoga towels, Manduka mats, and microfiber bath towels. It is the only studio in the country with state-of-the-art facilities like the Infrared Lay-in Ceiling Heater imported from Australia that kills bacteria and uses infrared rays to produce gentle heat; Special Yoga Flooring made out of non-toxic materials, fine cushioned to prevent the bruised knees; and shower rooms complete with shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, to accommodate practitioners after their class.
It was a difficult 30 days, to say the least, but I feel that I got much more that what I put out, and this would definitely be something I think I would like to do again in the
distant future. Yoga+ (the Fort branch) is located on the 11th Floor of The Fort Legend Tower, 3rd Avenue corner 31st Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. To inquire about membership or day passes, call +63 2 238 2768 or +63 917 808 3957.