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Notes From a Yoga Challenge

by Megan Wood May 19, 2011
I’m recently divorced and decided not to attend grad school. I need something in my life that will build me back up, make me stronger, and help me believe in myself again.

OUTSIDE, THE temperature in New York City is in the single digits. In the Lower East Side Bikram Yoga Studio the temperature is a regulated 105 degrees Fahrenheit. I am sprawled out on my yoga mat, pulse racing, mind in a panic. “This is how I’m going to die,” I think to myself as I watch 50 other composed yoginis stretch their bodies into eagle pose, content looks on their faces, seemingly oblivious to the sweat streaming off their bodies as they balance on one leg, eyes focused on themselves in the wall-sized mirror.

I feel nauseous, dizzy, and scared. I am on day one of a personal challenge to do Bikram yoga every single day for 30 days. I need to get out of my own head. And if that means 90 minutes of focusing on my breath and opening my hips everyday, I’ll try it.

“Sip some water, little sips, and put your head above your heart,” the instructor advises me in her Eastern European accent. “Go to your breath. No matter what happens, you always have your breath.” I don’t believe her but I follow her instructions. I breathe
through my nose, take a little sip of water that started cold in my metal thermos but is now warm enough to brew weak tea.

The negative thoughts of death and insanity are replaced with calm. I feel enough energy to get up and perform my best attempt at standing bow position — balancing on one locked leg and kicking the other high above my head.

One day down, 29 more to go. The rest of the first week passes the same way. Me: feeling intense emotions shifting through my subconscious and being released as I sweat. Classmates: not noticing me, worried about what’s happening on their own yoga mat. Instructor: gently reminding everyone that the class is a moving, guided meditation, as much about healing the mind as it is about perfecting poses.

I am beginning to like Bikram yoga. On day eight I make it through the entire series of 26 repeated poses without taking a break on my mat. I have become used to the heat, the overwhelming feelings, and the urge to run from the room and fill my lungs with
cold air. Things are starting to shift internally. After class, I walk back to my apartment, sweaty and sore, but feeling like I took a mind-altering drug: floaty, light, and completely free of worry.

Two weeks into the challenge and I no longer feel a burning sense of humiliation that I am a 27 year old divorcée. I have more energy for my day and, while I still cry, it happens more often on my yoga mat and less often on the subway. Suddenly, I’m
looking forward to yoga instead of dreading it.

On day 20, I fall on my ass in a big puddle in front of the yoga studio. I remain in the dirty pool of ice water, shivering and embarrassed, while I go over my options. There is only one thing to do: I stand up, take a deep breath, and walk up the hot pink stairs that lead into the yoga studio. Day 20’s practice is completed in yoga shorts that are equal parts cold, filthy, and wet. It’s my best class yet.

“Just being here is doing yoga. The only bad class is the class you don’t come to,” instructs the teacher from her podium at the front of the room.

As I get closer to finishing the challenge I find I still can’t complete every pose perfectly, that will probably never happen, because yoga is not about perfection. But I am going to finish the challenge. A part of me fears external circumstances will prevent me from finishing; I’ll get trapped on the subway or come down with pneumonia. I tell that part to be quiet.

It took me 30 days, 2700 minutes, and 1,560 repetitions of the postures. I didn’t quit. That would be enough.

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