We’ve seen them all over our social media feeds: photos of shiny, happy people decked out in the most on-trend yoga gear, blissfully contorting against backdrops of beaches, sunsets, and sun-filled studios; captions filled with inspirational quotes and tags for their favorite Insta-brands. Some days, this is all the inspo we need to get up off the couch, brush the Cheetos dust from our fingers, and get on the mat. And then there are the days…where we just look at those photos, sigh, and then continue on with that Netflix marathon.
We all want to be the person who does something good for our minds and bodies every day. Except…that can be really hard, especially if it’s not part of a regular routine. It’s so tempting to spend that extra hour in the morning, or after work or school, watching YouTube videos or texting friends. (Or, you know, sleeping.) But here’s the thing: We are what we repeatedly do, and it’s possible to have yoga become a real part of our lives by committing to a regular practice (and not just having a friend take our photo as we strike a yoga pose, just so we can post it to Instagram).
“The biggest step is getting to that first class,” yoga instructor Cara Unrue tells Teen Vogue. “Once you are there, connecting with your breath and your body, everything else will just fall into place.”
With that in mind, as a noted exercise slacker and commitment phobe, I decided to do yoga every single day for 30 days without any expectations: just me, my mat, and maybe a YouTube sequence or two. Below, five things I learned from doing #YogaEveryDamnDay for an entire month.
It’s more than “just” breathing
Yoga is all about conscious breathing, and conscious breathing takes awareness. You breathe differently when you’re present in your body and focusing your mind, than you do when you’re merely respirating. “Pranayama, or yogic breathing, calms the mind,” Unrue says. “When we enter the yoga practice in a state of calm, it is far easier to move in and out of postures, as well as maintain focus throughout challenging postures.” Basically, conscious breathing helps keep your mind in your body, rather than wandering off toward homework assignments or that argument you got into a few days ago. Once I stopped breathing automatically, I became that much more present in my mind, which helped me be present and engaged on the mat.
It’s not just physical
According to the Yoga Sutras (which are basically the guidelines for living a yogic life), the asanas, or body postures, are just one small part of the eight-limbed path of yoga. Yoga is about being conscious and present, which means looking inward. “Many people first enter the practice for the physical benefits, seeing it as a ‘workout,’ if you will,” Unrue explains. “Typically, they soon discover that yoga is also a ‘work in.’ Meeting physical and mental challenges on their yoga mat, students begin to notice a positive difference in the way they handle challenges off the mat, as well.” In short, yoga is much, much more than movement. There were days when all I did was work on my breath, grounding in myself. The meditation part of the practice is just as important in working out mental blocks to help propel you forward. More than anything, that is yoga.
Your mind is your strongest muscle
Your fears do a lot more than hold you back — they influence the way you perceive yourself, and in turn, how you act as a result of those perceptions. “We are constantly feeding ourselves limiting self-narratives that hold us back from achieving our dreams,” Unrue says. “Yoga can help us overcome this negative self-talk. By achieving goals on the mat, we grow our confidence to achieve goals off the mat as well.” Case in point: Until recently, I used to think of myself as someone who “didn’t do” inversions. But when my instructor gently coaxed me into an L-shaped handstand, I realized my mind was the only thing holding me back. Without my negative self-talk in the way, my body was doing just fine. Maybe a real handstand is next.
Face it—you need a good mat
After years of practicing on a $10 mat that was starting to flake apart, I decided to bite the bullet and get a high-quality—though considerably more expensive—mat that would serve me for years to come. What I immediately noticed was that I felt more stable and grounded, and therefore more confident. Unrue agrees: “The initial investment can seem frivolous, considering all the cheap mats out there. But it’s well worth the extra money.” Choose a high-quality mat that provides good support and a non-slip surface for sweaty practices—once you break it in, it’ll become tailored to you.
Yoga is exactly what you want it to be
There’s yoga, and then there’s your yoga: Everything you see and hear about it, versus what you bring to your mat—the thing that keeps you going back to it every day, or week, or month. Just like every person is different, everyone’s practice is different—which means that comparison is only natural, but it doesn’t help us grow. “There’s no such thing as being ‘good’ at yoga,” Unrue says. “If you’re doing it, it’s working. Simply meet yourself on your mat, and let the magic happen.” When you look at it like that, it’s easier to commit to. In other words, 30 days down, a lifetime to go.
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