Eventually, I got tired of saying the same thing over and over again—and I'm sure my friends got tired of hearing it. So to make myself accountable, I told my editor I'd volunteer to do a whole month of yoga, at least 10 minutes every day, and write about it. I found some online yoga classes to stream and diligently followed along. Here's what I learned.
1. Bending myself into a pretzel wasn't the hardest part.
I went into this ready for my muscles to scream at me and for my body to yell, "I just can't bend that way!" Which, to be honest, it sometimes did. But it came as a total shock to me that the hardest part wasn't trying to stand on one leg while I held my ankle in one hand and pointed toward the wall with the other—a pose I was finally able to accomplish by the end of the month—it was breathing. Practicing yoga is as much about being aware of your breath as it is twisting your body into different shapes. Breathing deeply in and out of your nose supposedly helps you melt deeper into a stretch, while also aiding in stress reduction, lowering blood pressure, and lifting your mood, yoga instructor Kristin McGee writes on her blog. But it was surprisingly hard to match my inhales and exhales to my movements. At the end of the month, I still haven't mastered it.
2. I do have time for yoga.
My biggest complaint, that I was just too busy to do yoga regularly, went right out the window when all I had to commit to was 10 minutes. When it was an hour-long yoga video I was planning to do every day, those excuses were valid, but 10 minutes on my yoga mat was nothing. Even on days when I didn't have time to settle down until 10:00 or 11:00 at night, I could still stretch before bed. This is a good lesson that goes beyond yoga—making time for something that's important isn't actually impossible.
3. Sometimes your body gets in the way—and that's fine.
I'm short, I'm fat, and I was able to pull off a month of yoga with almost no problems. So just toss your idea of a perfect "yoga body" in the trash—anyone can do yoga, even if they need to make modifications to some poses. That said, there were some poses that just seemed impossible if you weren't a tall, skinny 20-something. When I watched one of these tall, skinny, 20-somethings perform a routine on day 15, I wasn't expecting the "basic" yoga flow to be so hard. "I couldn't reach my thighs," I wrote in my notes for that day. "Do you need to have a certain body proportion to accomplish this?" The answer? Yeah, probably. While some of nailing down a pose comes with practice, yoga instructor Rosanna Gordon wrote on her blog that your body shape and bone structure can make a big difference in how well you can do certain poses. Sometimes you won't be able to perfect a pose and that's perfectly fine—just modify it so it works best for your body. (Here are 11 ways to make yoga easier at any size.)
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4. You can do it literally anywhere.
It was day nine, 11:00 at night when I popped up from my bed in sudden realization: "I didn't do yoga!" Instead of getting out of my warm, comfy bed, pulling on yoga pants, and rolling out my mat for a good 10 minutes of stretches, I typed into Google "yoga you can do in..." and the first thing that popped up in the search bar was "yoga you can do in bed." I'm not the only lazy yogi out there! Not so surprisingly, yoga in bed was the most relaxing routine I'd done yet and stretching my muscles before turning in helped me sleep better that night. I did bed yoga three more times throughout the month.
But my bed wasn't the only unconventional place I got my om on. Every Friday night, I head to the bar with three of my good friends. I talk, I drink (a little), I play pool (badly), and then I fall into bed exhausted sometime around 1:00 in the morning. That leaves no time for 10 minutes of yoga. So instead of waiting until I got home like I did every other night, I closed my office door toward the end of the workday and found a simple yoga video to do in my desk chair. Though the routines were nothing too intense—you're not going to do downward-facing dog from a chair, let's be honest—they actually gave me more of a stretch than I was expecting and helped loosen up my back from sitting all day.
5. There's no need to empty your bank account.
Other than not having time, my biggest worry about starting this yoga experiment was whether I'd have to spend a lot of money on clothes and gear. Yoga blocks—I didn't have them. Yoga pants—Do my leggings count? Turns out, I didn't need any of that stuff. Most nights I just did my routine in whatever I was going to wear to bed—space-themed pants, stretchy shorts, sweat pants, even my underwear. And there was only one time a video asked me to grab my yoga blocks. My solution was two big books about string theory and black holes—thank you, physics.
6. Even when you think you're relaxed, you're not really relaxed.
When the company I work for rolled out a Wellness Wednesdays program that included a free hour-long yoga class, I was one of the first to sign up. It was the only time during the month that I did more than 10 minutes of yoga in one day and did yoga with an actual instructor in the room. Toward the end of the class, when we were supposed to be winding down in corpse pose, the instructor came over to me and told me to lay my head in her hands. "Relax," she said. And then she said it again. And again. I felt my muscles loosen a little bit each time she asked me to relax, but then she'd say it again and I realized that I was still incredibly tense. Though corpse pose seems like the easiest pose in yoga, it was actually really difficult to let my muscles rest. After the third "OK, you can relax," as my muscles finally loosened, I felt something I haven't felt in a long time—completely and totally calm.
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7. Real live instruction is worth it.
The other thing I learned from that instructor? I probably shouldn't have started with videos. Obviously it would have been nearly impossible to find the time to go to a yoga class every day, but attending one showed me that trying to get the basics of yoga from a series of videos probably wasn't the best introduction. The instructor came over to me several times to make small adjustments to my form and I learned that I'd been doing a few poses wrong the whole time. Doing yoga by video also requires you to constantly look up to see what the instructor is doing next, while an in-person instructor can walk around the room and give specific instructions like "lift your left leg to your shin" if she sees anyone who looks confused. (That said, here are 6 times you should actually ignore your yoga instructor.)
8. The benefits are endless.
When you're a girl my size, adding 10 minutes of exercise—even a gentle exercise like yoga—may seem like you're after one thing: weight loss. But the goal of this experiment had absolutely nothing to do with my weight. I have no idea how much I weighed at the beginning of the month and no idea how much I weigh at the end—and I don't care. What I wanted from this experience was to stand up a little straighter and to wake up without a throbbing pain in my upper back. My research, however, told me I was setting my sights too low. There are plenty of studies out there that claim yoga is beneficial for much more than a little back pain, like mood, breathing, flexibility, energy, and even sexual function. (Don't believe me, check out your body on yoga.)
Even though I was doing yoga for only 10 minutes a day, I still noticed some pretty awesome benefits. By the end of the month, I could stand in tree pose without feeling like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I could walk up to my third-floor apartment without wheezing for the next few minutes. I could tell when my posture started to slip and I needed to stand up straight. Oh, and that back pain? It's not completely gone, but it certainly hurts less and there are some days my back doesn't hurt at all.
This article was originally published by our partners at Prevention.