Challenge 7 – 30 days of yoga: overview

Friday was Day 30 of 30 days of yoga. I did it! I gave up my morning walks most days to make the time to do yoga in the mornings, and reduced my daily step target to 12,000. I missed reaching it on nine of the 30 days but most of them were weekends or holidays where I don’t have my regular walks to and from work, so I’ve often struggled with reaching my target, even if I do go for a walk in the morning. And of those nine days there were only three that I didn’t reach 10,000 steps, which is my ideal minimum. Those were all days I was home by myself with Kramstable and didn’t get up early enough to do yoga and go for a walk as well.

I’m not too disappointed overall, because I did yoga every morning. Because I hurt my back doing an over-enthusiastic locust pose early on, I’ve been taking it very easy and spend the first five minutes or so of each session doing the exercises my physio set for me when my back was really bad at the end of last year. I do not want to go back there, so I’m being a lot more careful now.

Between the last yoga class of Term 3 and the first class of Term 4, I effectively had three weeks away from formal instruction. I really noticed this at the start of Term 3, but this time, even with a relatively short daily practice, I didn’t have the same issues when we went back to class this term.

So I’m going to keep doing it and maybe mix up the poses that I do a bit more, because I’ve pretty much been doing the same ones every day.

The other thing I did was do my yoga practice before my 12 minute meditation, to try and wake my body up and get out of sleep mode before I meditate. It’s worked most days, except the ones where I went to bed too late and all I wanted to do was go back to sleep.

I think someone needs to review the evening routine challenge right about now.

Anyway I promised myself a new (thicker) yoga mat if I could keep it up for 30 days to encourage me to keep going, so that’s this week’s project.

In the other challenge, I’ve been doing cryptic crossword puzzles in the mornings instead of drawing, though some days I’ve had time to do both. I’ve just started my 18th puzzle on Day 8 of the challenge, and have completed nine of them. Most of the others are sitting there with only one or two clues that I just can’t figure out taunting me. I don’t know whether to look up the answers and work out how they fit the clue or to leave them until I get more experienced and can figure them out.

In the mean time I have learned some interesting things this week:

  • Nubia is a region in southern Egypt and northern Sudan, along the Nile River.
  • The okapi are the only other living members of the giraffe family, aka the Giraffidae, besides the giraffe obviously. They are striped like the zebra but they look like the giraffe without the long neck.
  • Lissom means supple, thin and graceful. I am not lissom.
  • Puttee is a large strip of cloth wound around the leg from ankle to knee. It can be part of a solder’s uniform. Can also be a leather legging. (This wasn’t a crossword clue; it was on the TV quiz show The Chase.)
  • The capital city of the Dominican Republic is Santo Domingo. (This also wasn’t a crossword clue; it was a question at a trivia night.)

In my drawing, I’ve moved onto trying to draw faces, eyes and hands. The results have been somewhat different to the subjects. I keep trying to tell myself that this is early days and I’m not supposed to be good at it at this stage. It’s a challenge I want to persist with.

This week’s goals:

  • Get a new yoga mat
  • Get as far as I can on at least 6 more crossword puzzles
  • Draw two faces
  • Complete steps 5-7 of Living With Intent
  • Write a blog post on where I’m up to with the “clarity” challenge
  • Write a blog post on what I learned this week

Time to take stock

When I started this project back in June, I imagined that I’d be able to have two challenges on the go at the same time – one would be a small habit change that I would try our for 30 days and the second one would be something more substantial that I would think about over 30 days and see how I could incorporate some new ideas into my life. I imagined that at the end of each challenge I’d launch into the next one the next day.

It’s not working out this way and I’ve been feeling very frustrated about it.

The 30 day habit changes are working well – I was pleased with how the 30 days of no alcohol, the 30 days of facing fear and the 30 days of evening routines panned out. But the less defined challenges have been, well, a challenge. Not a complete failure, but not progressing in the way I thought they might.

I think there are at least two reasons for this. First, I haven’t really been clear on what I want to achieve out of the challenge and what I’m actually going to do and second I haven’t set aside time to do the undefined things I’m going to do, so I’m fumbling round in the dark a bit (a lot) and not making much progress. What I need to be doing is setting myself a SMART goal (we all know about them right? – Specific/Measurable/Actionable/Realistic/Time-bound – or something like that), working out that actions I need to take, and booking time in my schedule to do them, instead of thinking “oh I haven’t worked on the blog for a while, I’d better go and do something” and not knowing what I actually need to be doing, and ending up getting distracted by squirrels and other shiny things.

The second reason isn’t one that I’d thought about much, but a couple of things I read recently reminded me of a key thing I’d left out of my project plan (in so far as there is a plan) – Down time. In short, I was expecting myself to be able to swing from branch to branch to branch, encounter new things and take as much on board as I could without ever stopping to consolidate or to rest. (Thanks Kendra!)

A good analogy I came across recently was that life isn’t a marathon, it’s a series of sprints – more like interval training if you like. Google that and you’ll get many varieties of it (and people who don’t agree), but the idea is that your body and mind need periods of down time after a period of intense activity. This is true on a daily level (you can’t work flat out all day long), a weekly level (why we have weekends) and a yearly level (why we have annual leave). But it’s also true, and this is the bit I was missing, on a project level.

I can remember one particularly intense project at work a few years back that I worked flat out on over several months. I really enjoyed it, I loved the pressure and the intensity of the work and the feeling I was doing something worthwhile. It was one of the high points of my recent career history. But when it was done, I completely crashed. I went back to my normal work, but I wasn’t able to get my focus back and in some ways I wonder if I’ve really recovered from it.

It’s the same for these “undefined” projects. Trying to bounce from one 30-day project to another without stopping is completely unsustainable. What’s happened is because I haven’t factored in any down time or time to process anything for the last two challenges I’ve tried to do, I’ve basically done nothing in those challenges. First because I haven’t panned and secondly because I haven’t really processed, closed off and recovered from the previous challenges.

So I’m doing a total rethink of the project to slow things down and focus on one thing for as long as I need to, and then to take some more time to process it before moving on. I hope that by doing this I’ll achieve something lasting. Some of the things I want to do will take longer than 30 days, and some might take less. (Example: my drawing lessons, which if you go by the title of the book should have taken me 30 days, but I’m still working though it – I’m up to Lesson 28 after almost four months.) And the 30-day theme will continue with ongoing 30-day habit change challenges.

This means I’m not giving up on Challenge 6 (clarity and purpose) after 30 days. I’m going to keep working on this because I think it’s important. I’m making a firmer plan for what I want to do, and I’m trialing the Happiness Planner as a record keeping tool.

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I feel a bit more optimistic now that I’ve figured out what’s going on and have made some more concrete plans. And I’ve decided to reward myself with a new yoga mat if I do 30 days of yoga in a row. 13 days to go! Yay!

What I learned this week

30 days of yoga is going well. I’m now 14 days into the challenge and I haven’t missed a day so far. I’ve had to incorporate my back exercises into my practice, because whatever I did to my back has either stirred up my old injury or resulted in a new one, and it keeps flaring up again.

I’m being Very Careful, especially with the back bends, and I haven’t been game to try any twists. My normal class starts up again this week so I’m looking forward to seeing if it will be easier to get back into it after almost three weeks away than it was last time when I didn’t do anything during the holidays.

Now onto what I learned this week.

1. In my drawing lessons, I’ve been learning about two-point perspective. This was fun. Lots of straight lines here!

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2. I read the book The Road to Lower Crackpot by Brian Inder, the Laird of Lower Crackpot. It’s a fascinating read. In the book, Mr Inder says,

“The name Crackpot comes from a real village in Swaledale, Yorkshire. It means ‘a low place where crows gather’. I added ‘Lower’ because we are in the southern hemisphere’.

 

This interested me because my mother’s family emblem is the crow. I asked her if any of her ancestors came from Swaledale, but she doesn’t believe that they did.

3. If you see something in a shop you want, buy it when you see it. It might not be there when you go back to get it.

In the same vein, take photos when you have the chance, because you might not go back that way again. We went to Freycinet National Park on the weekend. I took lots of photos.

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Challenge 7 – 30 days of yoga

I started this challenge on Thursday with 15 minutes of yoga following my daily 10 minutes of meditation instead of going for a walk. It feels really weird to be doing yoga by myself, without the direction of a teacher or a DVD. To guide what I was doing, I used a handout that my lovely teacher Fran of Derwent Valley Yoga had given us last holidays to practise with, which I used exactly zero times in the three weeks we had off.

I felt bad because Fran had taken the trouble to sketch out the postures, so I hope that using them now will make up for that.

15 minutes seems like enough time to work through most of the poses Fran has suggested and a few others that I’ve always liked to do, plus end up with a couple of minutes resting in corpse pose (savasana) at the end. I’m avoiding twists at the moment because my back is giving me grief but I’m no having trouble with any of the others.

Unfortunately i didn’t have 15 minutes on Day 2, because I fell back to sleep after my alarm went off, but I managed to reshuffle things so I got in 10 minutes of practice.

Day 3 was Saturday and I had enough time to do 15 minutes and go for a walk, so I was pleased with that. Day 4 (today) was the same, but I think I might have over-extended my back trying the locust pose (salabhasana), so I might give that one a miss for a few days. It wasn’t on the list anyway.

In other news, I am continuing with my drawing lessons that I started as part of my Growth Mindset challenge in June. I’m now up to Lesson 23 of Mark Kistler’s You Can Draw in 30 Days course.

This is one of Lesson 23’s bonus lessons. It took me three days, but I’m pretty happy with it.

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Book 16/24: Yoga For Life

I didn’t know anything about Colleen Saidman Yee or her husband Rodney Yee, other than that they featured on a couple of yoga DVDs I’d bought. Turns out they are a pretty big deal in the big wide world of yoga, which I’m largely unfamiliar with – hence my not knowing about them!

Kramstable really got into Colleen and Rodney’s DVDs when I was using them, so I started following Colleen on Twitter. I was quite delighted a couple of years ago when she responded to one of my photos of Kramstable following her yoga sequences on the DVD and offered me some tips about keeping him interested in yoga.

Book 16 - Yoga for Life

Yoga For Life: A Journey to Inner Peace and Freedom is the story of Colleen’s life, starting with her early life in a large Italian/Irish family in New York, who moved to Bluffton Indiana, where a teenage game of chicken on the highway changed the course of her life. The book tells of her early marriage, return to New York and four-year heroin addiction, the lowest point of her life.

Colleen then writes of how, after the struggle to kick heroin, she established a modelling career. She ponders the question as to whether her longing to find expression through her body would have led her to modelling in the long run; whether she would have become a model if a modelling agent hadn’t stopped at a restaurant not long after she’d stumbled on it and found a job at – and what, even with the break she’d had, were the odds she’d succeed as a model.

“Some people believe we make our own luck,” she writes. But she takes the view that what seems like good luck can easily turn into bad luck, and that bad luck can result in something good:

“In yoga we learn that there’s no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because everything is always in flux and rarely what it seems. The key is not to get too attached to any one scenario or outcome. . . . Life is sometimes beautiful sometimes ugly, sometimes sad, sometimes joyful. It’s a wild unpredictable ride. The best we can do is take the ride with love and a sense of humour. Notice your breath in the present moment, whether you consider it to be a ‘good’ moment or ‘bad’ moment. Because that moment is all we have.”

Colleen spent some time in India volunteering at Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity, a time which profoundly influenced her and indirectly became her first experience of yoga teaching. During this time she began to realise that “every encounter is sacred” and that everything will pass away. She writes that Mother Theresa had said even though everything is impermanent and could disappear at any time, that is no reason not to do your work.

“What you spend years creating someone could destroy overnight. Create anyway.”

On the theme of impermanence Colleen also writes about how clinging to what is impermanent prevents us from living in the present moment, and she tells of how distressed she was when her daughter left home to go to college. “I wanted to run back and grab her and tell her not to grow up and leave me.” I feel like this every single day when I think about Kramstable growing up and eventually leaving me.

Colleen continues:

“I have been studying and practising yoga for the last 28 years learning how to avoid clinging to what is impermanent as gracefully as possible, and to focus on what doesn’t change – call it the higher self, love, the soul, God, the divine, true teacher, essence, original nature, or the state of yoga – whatever you want.”

It occurred to me that this concept of impermanence connects strongly to what Brené Brown wrote in her book I Thought It Was Just Me. She writes of how, in a culture of shame, we see people as “us” and the “others”. The “others” are the people who we don’t want living next door; whose kids our kids aren’t allowed to play with; the ones we insulate ourselves from. But, she continues, we are the “others”. We are all one [insert unfortunate event] away from being “those people”, the ones we pity, the ones bad things happen to.

I think what this implies, and what Colleen is saying, is that it’s important to fully live in the present moment, but to know it’s just that: the present moment, and that if we get completely attached to it we’ll be unable to deal with what happens when things change, as they undoubtably will.

Likewise, if we get hung up on times things aren’t going well, instead of accepting that what’s happening is what it is, we can end up clinging to old pain long after the events have passed.

Of course, when things are hard, it’s difficult not to focus on the pain. Accepting that what’s happening is what it is, says Colleen, is something that she can grasp intellectually, but when something devastating happens, she’s still in excruciating pain. However, she says, feeling this pain is important. “If you can’t feel the fullness of any emotion you’re not fully alive.”

(I think I got a bit distracted here. Colleen’s comments on the impermanence of things, whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, reminds me of a difficult time at work when I was really struggling. Someone who was struggling with the same issue I was stood up and said publicly that yes what was happening was painful, but “there will be an end point”. Realising that the painful events were a stage I had to get through but that it wouldn’t last forever really helped me to clam down and take things one day at a time.)

While on a camping trip with her brothers, Colleen was struck by lightning, an experience which she says “zapped” her into contemplating santosha – contentment. At this point in her life she had thought that she would only be content when her grades improved, or she got married, or she had money. She writes:

“You can wait your whole life and never happen upon contentment. The key is to accept what is and not allow yourself to be jerked between liked and dislikes, attachments and aversions. Accept what is, right now, whether it’s comfortable or painful.”

At the end of her time in India, Colleen was ready to search for something bigger than what she had been seeking – a boyfriend, a career, a family – but she wanted to be able to “serve in a way that would enable peace to prevail in [her] heart” while living in the modern Western world.

Her story continues through her increasing immersion in the world of yoga while maintaining a career as a model, her struggle with epilepsy, her second marriage to photographer Robin Saidman, and a miscarriage, followed by the birth of her daughter. She then talks about how she moved into yoga teaching and how she and Rodney eventually ended up together.

In respect of her epilepsy, which she developed later in her life, Colleen writes:

“The biggest transformation has been my acceptance. When I take my little white tablets every day, I’m grateful for Western medicine. . . . I don’t feel defeated any more. Instead I feel awakened to the fact that I’m not in control of everything. Maybe we’re born into bodies that challenge us to learn lessons we haven’t yet understood. All situations, no matter how painful, can be opportunities for growth.”

She takes this lesson into her birth story, where like so many of us, Colleen had expectations of what her daughter’s birth would be like and was disappointed when it didn’t turn out as she’d wanted it to.

I remember one day at pre-natal yoga my beautiful teacher Julia was speaking about expectations, and something she said has stuck with me to this day. She said, “You don’t get the birth you want; you get the birth you need.” To this day I am trying to figure out what my experience was trying to tell me; what I need or needed at the time.

Expectations can make us unhappy when they aren’t met. Colleen observes:

“We all have small daily desires. Something as insignificant as expecting ripe avocados at the market, then finding they’re all hard can make us irritable and impatient. When you count on a future-based result you’re not living fully in the moment. Expectation can keep you locked in a narrow tunnel with no broader vision. Joy is right here right now. The key is mindfulness, noticing when your expectations have taken you out of the present and made you unhappy.”

Colleen also relates a story of attending a workshop with yoga legend BKS Iyengar, who told her that her problem was that she didn’t take the time to let anything absorb. “You are moving too fast from one pose to the next. Perhaps you do this in your life as well. Slow down.” Colleen says that he was right and that since then she’s started to notice when she’s rushing mindlessly from one thing to another. It’s a good thing to notice when we feel overwhelmed and rushed.

I loved this book. Colleen weaves her story into 14 themes, ranging from roots, addiction, forgiveness, service, fear, love and peace. Each chapter relates her story and the things she’s learned back to the theme of the chapter, and includes a yoga sequence connected to the theme.

It’s beautifully put together, and even though my life is completely different from Colleen’s, I could relate to almost everything she had written. I think this is because she has captured the essence of the human experience in her writing: Beyond the superficial differences that make up the detail of our day to day lives, we’re all human beings and we’re all making our way the best we can in this unpredictable world.

The Dalai Lama has said that we are more similar than we are different, and I think this is why I was so easily able to connect with Colleen’s story.

I got a lot out of this book. It’s one I want to refer back to again and again.

yoga boy

I bought the yoga DVD so I could keep up with a structured routine after my teacher left.

Someone else decided that they would like to do yoga as well. He’s started getting up early to do the routine with me and he knows a lot of it off by heart.

Now he’s now created his own “DVD” and his Hairy McLary toy, in the background, “helps” him do the poses, just like the instructors do in the DVD.

P365 – Day 312 – yoga

Tonight I went to my first yoga class since 2006.
I’ve done yoga on and off ever since I was at uni. Most recently I did pregnancy yoga classes, but that was more than five years ago.
I’d been thinking about starting again for a while. What originally got me thinking was Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey, which was on tv earlier in the year. In the show, Judith talked about how practising yoga had changed her life, and it reminded me of how I too had got a lot from it when I’d done it – yet somehow still managed to keep dropping out.
Recently I was speaking to someone about the need for me to take some time to do something just for me, and also for me to find ways to relax so that I can deal with particular things that have been happening in my life.
It occurred to me that yoga might fulfil both of these needs. But I didn’t know how I was going to do it, since most of the classes around seemed to be too far away and at inconvenient times.
Then Slabs mentioned he’d seen a poster advertising local yoga classes, so I contacted the teacher and, lo and behold, the next term’s classes were about to start – in the evening – so I signed up.
It seemed like everything had fallen into place. I love it when that happens!
I’ve started getting up a bit earlier (on some days) to practise a few poses on my own, and tonight was my first time at the official class.
I think it will be really good for me.