Discovering Yoga, a Recent 23 Day Challenge, and What I’m Learning

If you had told me a year ago that I would become a self-proclaimed “yogi,” practicing Vinyasa Flow yoga daily either by myself or with a group, meditating, and taking time for personal introspection through yoga, I would have seriously doubted you. Not to say that I didn’t like yoga, because I did. I liked the idea of it, and I recognized that it was great for some people. I just never thought I could be one of those people, as much as I might have wanted to be.

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All of the times I had tried yoga in the past, I had been fidgety, spending more time anxiously waiting for the next pose or for the Savasana to be finished so I could finally move at my normal warped speed mode. I associated “yoga” with physical movement—I imagined it as a form of exercise, or a sport. That’s probably why it never clicked: because yoga is not about physical movement at all.

Yoga is literally the breath, and using breath in sync with movement as a pathway to thought and emotion. It is a way of channeling energy, both internal and external, in a positive and healing way. Yes, technically speaking yoga involves being “active” to an extent, but it is activity not only in the body but also in the breath and the mind. Yoga teaches you to filter out what clouds your emotions and head, bringing in acceptance, love, and change.

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I also think that, honestly, I was scared to truly embrace yoga, because it takes a certain level of vulnerability to reach into yourself.  A large part of me was made completely up of the walls I had built around my own insecurities and vulnerabilities in order to create an image that I felt comfortable projecting into the world. Yet, eventually, trying to block yourself from yourself ends up only burying you further, and you become increasingly disconnected in a mind-body sense.

My past experiences with yoga had been challenging because I fought what yoga truly is. I tried to connect heart and mind, but there were walls in the way that I was afraid to knock down, scared of what I had hidden behind them.

About 5 months ago, I realized that I needed to change this blockage. Or, better said, I allowed myself to accept the idea of change. Some of my close mentors recommended that I try yoga, and I agreed, willing to give it a shot and thinking that it couldn’t hurt. So I tried yoga again, instead with a different mindset. It was kind of like a team building exercise, except the team members were all inside of me.

When you’re trying to bond with a group of people who you haven’t really known, but will have to rely on to produce the best success, it’s awkward at first. Maybe you’ll play an icebreaker, like trust falls or relay races. At first, the games seem silly. You wonder, “what if they think I’m weird?” “What if I don’t fit in?” Yet, if you are willing to just give that silly game your all, regardless of your worries, you have taken a major step. You have opened yourself up to vulnerability, to change. Without those thoughts clouding your mind, you can focus on the intention of the activity: to build a supportive team comprised of healthy and helpful relationships (even if the pathway to get there involves some silly exercises).

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Starting yoga, my inner selves faced a new team bonding activity. They were used to clinging tightly to the safety of their own bubbles, unfamiliar with the uncharted territory of operating together positively, if at all. At first, my yoga classes were just that: classes. I would walk in, follow what the teacher said, avoid looking at anyone else, and walk out immediately after class was done. But as a month passed, and then two, I noticed myself growing. Letting go. Tearing down those walls brick by brick. Allowing myself to be vulnerable. I talked to the teacher and other students a few times. Tried new poses. Developed my own style of meditation. Began setting intentions for every practice.

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Even farther down the line, I started (slowly) bringing in small bits and pieces of the hard stuff inside of me: taking it from my jumbled head onto the mat in hopes of untangling it a little. It wasn’t easy by any means. Hell, it was even embarrassing. It was scary taking those steps, especially because I didn’t know how I would react. What I realized was that there was so much I had been holding on to, and when I let some go, relief followed. Me, the person who hardly ever cries, let alone in public, cried during the meditation following one of my practices. Not from pain or hurt, but from emotional release. Relief to let go.

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The more I’ve done yoga, the more I’ve learned. The more I’ve felt whole and connected. The more I’ve realized the true power of yoga. Now, I can confidently say that I am a yogi, and proud of it. I have a very very long way to go in untangling that ball of messiness, but hey, I’ve started. For that, I am beyond grateful.

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There was an Instagram challenge recently through the online yoga community called oneOeight. Each day for 23 days, there was an assigned pose and a theme to go along with it. The challenge was simple: post a picture of that pose and in your caption, write about what the theme means to you.

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At first, I’ll admit that part of me only decided to do it because there was a chance I could win a giveaway. I’m a sucker for free prizes, what can I say (Not to mention that I am one of the most competitive people I know)? However, as I began each day with a photo and a theme, I started actually thinking. Those themes were similar to intentions.

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I would prepare for every day thinking about what that word meant to me, and what I started realizing is that my thoughts and actions began to change as a result. I started being more mindful of what was going on around me, and how my life was panning out. In writing each caption, I (in a way) was forced to actually ask myself what my opinion was on that idea. I took each word and applied it to my own situation personally.

Not every theme was a perfect match for what I am currently facing, but some hit home hard. Just like the practice of yoga, incorporating themes into my life allowed me to start to work through my thoughts and focus on acceptance, vulnerability, and improvement.

There was also a certain level of vulnerability involved. I mean, these weren’t reflections spilled in my personal journal and locked with a key. They were public posts on a social media account followed by hundreds of people. What I was saying wasn’t all happy go lucky either. Some of it was stuff that wasn’t filtered, airbrushed, or polished. I let myself say what I felt, even if it meant giving little hints that Hey, World, I’m an imperfect human being!” I know it sounds silly, but admitting imperfection is one of the hardest things for me to do. The fact that I was able to through this challenge was a testament to the progress I’ve made since starting yoga.

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Because I loved these themed intentions so much, I thought I’d share my posts and what I captioned each day with all of you, and maybe give you readers a chance to ponder them as well.

Day 1: Downward facing dog; gratitude

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“Down dog is a very appropriate pose for the theme of GRATITUDE. I’m grateful for new perspectives on life, others, and myself. I’m grateful for the opportunities I have and the future ahead of me to turn those opportunities into experiences. I’m grateful for support and friendship, for safety, for warm weather. I’m grateful for so much that it would be impossible to list it all here. Lists aside then, I’ll choose just one word instead: life. I am grateful for life. All aspects of it, good and bad. Because without life, I wouldn’t have the chance to truly live.”

Day 2: Any inversion; love

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“I believe that everyone wants to LOVE and be loved, no matter who or what they are. When it comes to love, there are no rules. No boundaries. In lieu of the horrific and tragic Orlando massacre early this morning, I could not drive this point in harder. We all deserve love, whatever form it may take. There is no judge, jury, and certainly no executioner. To act or believe otherwise, said lightly, is a knife in the back to what love really is and always should be. I am sending love to those affected by the event, and to everyone else as well. You do the same. Never be afraid to love, and always always love freely. After all, ‘Love makes the world go ‘round.’”

Day 3: 1 minute of yoga flow; practice

“The word “PRACTICE” for me is a loaded term; growing up, practice to me meant perfection and monotony, pushing myself to reach an expectation I always set just far enough away to never cut myself any slack. But what I’ve learned about yoga is that the yoga “practice” is simply about being. Not setting rules, but letting your brain and body loose. Not striving for perfection, but accepting wobbles here and there as a sign of perseverance. This sequence was an entirely unplanned set of moves I came up with as I went along. And yeah, it had some bobbles. So I adjusted. THAT is my PRACTICE.”

Day 4: Upward facing dog; trust

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TRUST. Not something that comes easily to me. Actually, in most things it’s not something that comes to me at all. Maybe it’s because of the doubt, or the fact that I’m a person who wants everything in total control 100% of the time. But that’s not the reality, and the more I can open my heart up and trust myself and others, the more I can trust that everything turns out okay in the end.”

Day 5: Tree pose; balance

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With my yoga teacher, Lara, who I have so much to thank for!

“Whether we are literally balancing on one leg or balancing the many parts of our lives, it’s important to let opposites coexist. BALANCE sleep with wakefulness, being serious and being playful, working and relaxing, heart and mind.”

Day 6: toe stretch; freedom

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“You know that saying “freedom is never free?” I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that recently. It seems like all we want, no matter where we live or who we are, is FREEDOM. Yet, freedom is not objective, and neither is the way we choose to pursue it. In the wake of such horrible events like Orlando, there are people everywhere giving their opinion on freedom. Here in the US, some ignorant individuals are arguing we should have the freedom to bear arms, to “protect” ourselves, to feel “safe” from threats by allowing access to the same guns that just murdered countless people. Terrorist groups justify their actions by saying they want to be “free” from the West, or “free” from the LGBT because their lifestyle goes against their beliefs. In the middle of all this talk of violence, there’s a harmless group of targeted individuals—LGBT, women, people of other races, or religions, or refugees seeking asylum who are also asking for freedom: the simple freedom they deserve to live and love on equal terms as everyone else. Who is suffering here? The people pushing guns and terror, or those asking for peaceful coexistence? All groups want freedom, but it’s not free. And the ones who suffer, who get shot and murdered in cold blood, are paying the price they don’t deserve. Freedom…it’s an endless battle, and one I wish would just…stop. Stop the guns. End the violence. Accept differences. Fight for your beliefs without murder. Please.”

Day 7: Handstand; embrace

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“That’s me, upside down in the pool. That’s me, practicing the theme of the day…EMBRACE. Because I’m embracing that even though it’s warm outside, the pool is an ice cube. Oh, and life. I’m doing my best to embrace that too.”

Day 8: Warrior I; vulnerability

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“Not the best Warrior I ever, but I guess that’s what VULNERABILITY is about: being okay with your imperfections, and letting others see them.”

Day 9: Deep crescent lunge; transformation

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TRANSFORMATION is tricky, because I find it’s hard to make an active decision to ‘transform’ without being influenced by something external. Many times people are influenced in good ways, yet many times the ideas of others may influence someone to transform in a way that is unnatural or unlike their true selves. Thus, I prefer to look at transformation in retrospect, and see where change has occurred naturally. Because when we can look behind us and see growth, we known it’s true. And we know it was for the better.”

Day 10: L handstand in nature; we the blessed

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“I think along those lines of WE THE BLESSED comes gratefulness. It’s a lot easier to think of what we’re not grateful for than what we are, so I challenged myself today to be more mindful of the things around me I am grateful for. What I’ve noticed is that there’s a lot more good out there than I’ve been seeing. Sometimes letting go of my inner cynicism opens my eyes once again to the positive that is always there, but that I tend to block out.”

Day 11: Half moon

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HAPPY INTERNATIONAL YOGA DAY!

Day 12: Wild thing; letting go

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“I’m a tightly wound person, speaking lightly. But since starting yoga, I’ve begun to realize that LETTING GO of worries, anxieties, and all that unnecessary shit that clutters my mind makes me happier. I want to think that clinging to control will make me feel better, but the times I am the most free to be myself are when I let that control go.”

Day 13: Forearm stand; shine

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All of us are special. We SHINE in our own ways. We shine the most we are really, truly doing something we care about and being the people we want to be. It may not be an easy place to reach, and we may not even feel like we deserve that happiness. But we do. ‘This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.’”

Day 14: Half saddle; cultivating quiet

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“The theme is CULTIVATING QUIET. It can be difficult to sit with our own thoughts, but when we do, that’s when we can work through the challenges we face.”

Day 15: One leg extended toe stretch; kindness

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“So the first thing I thought when I took this photo for the pose of the day was that I hate feet, especially mine. But then I remembered that the theme today was KINDNESS. It’s really the theme every day. Kindness to others, always. But I also can’t forget kindness to myself. There’s nothing wrong with my feet. They let me walk, they protect me from stones on the beach, they used to be the only things keeping me on a four inch beam. We are our harshest critics. But kindness is so much more fruitful than criticism.”

Day 16: Camel pose; self love

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“Not an easy pose to settle into and likewise not an easy theme to be comfortable with. SELF-LOVE is hard because we so often doubt our own abilities and underestimate our worth. But true to today’s challenge, here’s 3 things I love about myself: 1. My independence 2. My creativity 3. My passion for what I believe in. Self-love…we all deserve it.”

Day 17: Half moon (ardha chandrasana); tolerance and acceptance

“Today the focus was TOLERANCE AND ACCEPTANCE, something that has been very prevalent recently with hate crimes being committed and the rhetoric of judgmental politicians spreading. What we have to remember is that we are all cut from the same cloth, biologically, and one pointed or hurtful finger only causes 4 more. Tolerance is not achieved through ignorance and stubborn adherence to hateful beliefs. It is about learning and cooperating, coming to compromises, talking over acting. And acceptance? It’s just as important. If you can’t accept, then at least tolerate. But if you can accept, then you’ll go just that little bit further. This all applies to ourselves as well. It’s difficult to accept who we are, or are not. But guaranteed, as Dr. Seuss said, ‘You are who you are.’ That is something to be accepted, tolerated, and rejoiced. I am what I am. That is just fine.”

Day 18: Seated forward fold; hope

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“I HOPE for a lot of things. Sometimes small, like hoping that the humidity today hasn’t made my hair totally frizzy or that I’ll get the motivation to do laundry tomorrow. Sometimes my hopes are larger, like hoping that I’ll just make it through a difficult time, or that one day I’ll have my life all perfect. Regardless of the long term significance of any hope, they all have this in common—they are proof that I am living, learning, and never giving up.”

Day 19: Straddle, open your heart

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“I try to OPEN MY HEART up every day, either to accept aspects of myself or to accept aspects of others. If I can give love and take some in, I can stay open and fulfilled.”

Day 20: Warrior II; softness and strength

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“The theme is SOFTNESS AND STRENGTH, which is a great example of a dichotomy that doesn’t seem to go together, but is extremely successful when it does. Like anything, we need a balance of softness and strength. Sometimes we want to be all strong, and put on a hard shell and a tough front, never letting others in. Other times we are too soft, and find ourselves stuck without any motivation or resolve. Yet, when we can be strong to an extent, and then bring in softness by asking for help or showing vulnerability, it doesn’t make us weak. It just makes us wise, and better for it.”

 

Day 21: Headstand; creativity

“CREATIVITY is something natural…we all possess it. It’s not measured in product—you don’t need to color in the lines or create masterpiece oil paintings to be an artist, or to be creative. You simply have to express yourself in some way. Creativity is an art in itself, immeasurable but universal.”

Day 22: Mermaid; channel

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“Yoga is centered around this idea. It’s about CHANNELING energy, emotion, and breath from one place to another, in and out.”

Day 23: A demonstration of what you do when you want to unwind; be

“When do I feel like I can just ‘BE?’ When it’s 2 AM playing with my cat, with half dried hair after a refreshing shower, pajamas, Netflix crime or food network shows, some tea, and no makeup. Just being.”

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I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the start of my journey with yoga, and the challenge I recently did! Namaste!

 

Love,

Rowena

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One thought on “Discovering Yoga, a Recent 23 Day Challenge, and What I’m Learning

  1. Jackie Lillo says:

    As I’ve said many times before you are an amazing young woman. I am always impressed reading your blog. You sound and look great!!!! With much love, Jackie

    Liked by 1 person

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