Happy February, loves! Did anyone else feel like January was simultaneously the longest and shortest month that they have ever experienced? January is always an interesting span of time for me. I run headfirst into the array of resolutions, life changes, and new beginnings. My birthday is two days after Christmas, so during December, I must find a way to somehow survive not only the holidays, but also embrace being another year older and fumble through New Year's Eve shenanigans. The end of autumn and early winter brought some big changes in my life (new apartment, new job, new singledom), and I was so ready to kiss 2015 good-bye and move the heck on. It was time to try something new.
I've heard about yoga benders in the past, and I've seen friends post about them on social media. In the past, I have been a sort of sporadic practicer of yoga. During college, I was attending classes regularly, and in early 2013, I had an unlimited membership to a studio through my then-job. But after mid-2013, I completely fell off the wagon. I became active in other ways with a gym membership, weights lifting, and Zumba. Although all of these options kept me healthy and happy, nothing ever came close to the inner peace and sense of home that yoga brought me. So in December of 2015, I made a split-second decision and purchased the yoga bender package from Southtown Yoga. I wasn't even sure I could make every single day.
For only $30, you are able to attend one class per day in January at Southtown Yoga, which is nestled into the main shop fronts of Park Avenue in Lafayette Square. The price was right, and the challenge was high. One thing that works as an extreme motivator in the case of Jillian: doubt. Especially when someone says that it can't be done. In 2014, I worked my ass off to get down to my high school weight when a friend told me it couldn't be done. To be perfectly honest, weight and my current state of shape affairs played a big role in the decision to do 30 days of yoga in a row. In the middle of December, I clocked in at my heaviest ever. Everyone would say, "But you look fine!" I think my haircut has a lot to do with this (mad props to my stylist Stephanie Mattina!), but I was down to only three pairs of pants that fit at all. I couldn't struggle into some of my favorite shirts. Jacket sleeves were so tight I abandoned two of my favorite blazers. I donated or sold several pairs of beloved vintage pants. And made the choice to start over.
Neither happy hour nor heavy snowfall could stop me from making my classes. Of course, there were a few days that, as my friend Whitney said, my stability was severely compromised by raging hangovers, and there were also a few days I almost napped right through class time. I would think to myself, "No one really cares if I finish this bender," and then I began to notice that the teachers at Southtown started treating more like a friend than a student. They knew my full name, they knew my interests. We began following each other on social media. Courtney asked me in a hushed voice one day, "So, how are you doing this week?" when we all knew what she really meant was "How are you handling David Bowie's death? I know you're a big fan." I changed my attitude. I knew I did not only want to make myself proud, but also make my teacher-friends proud. They were invested in me. That made a world of difference.
A lot of people have asked how I feel now that I managed to complete 30 days of yoga. Is "The same, but different?" an acceptable answer? I feel stronger, more confident, and definitely more stretchy. I feel more at peace, more quiet, and a deeper sense of self-appreciation. My body carried me through a whole month of strenuous, almost unfamiliar exercise, and I grew to understand its language more than ever.
I thought I'd share a few more specific things I learned from my experience:
1) Some days are going to be great, but some are just going to suck. One day you'll nail a certain pose, and the next day, you'll fall flat on your face in the same form.
2) Listen to your body. It will tell you how it feels, and sometimes it just doesn't feel like doing Crow and you'll topple over onto your neighbor.
3) Your mind might be the loudest thing you've ever heard. Learn to tell it to STFU.
4) Be sure to make friends with your fellow bendees. You'll see them every day for a month, and they'll understand what you're going through.
5) You will run into scheduling snafus. Thank heavens everyone was understanding and no one fired me from any of my jobs (Thanks, Darin!). Learn to work with them.
6) Forget everything you know about personal boundaries, both physically and mentally. In one of my classes, there were 52 students smashed into one studio. Be prepared to butt your mat directly up against a stranger's. Be prepared to accidentally kick someone's water bottle over. Be prepared that not everyone attains a sense of inner stillness from yoga like you do, and ignore them when they look grouchy at you for breathing awkwardly in Triangle Pose.
7) Drink more water than you think you can handle every day. Otherwise you might white out like I do and see spots, and almost faint in class several times.
8) Try as many classes as possible. You will mesh better with some teachers better than others. You will learn that some teachers work best for you on Fridays, but perhaps are too energetic for you on Mondays. Maybe one day you're too bubbly for a basics class, or one day you feel too tired to attempt Vinyasa. Again, listen to your body, and make your class choices based on what it says.
9) Not everyone will be as happy about the bender as you. Learn to pretend to not hear the complaints about packed classes and early arrivals. If those people attended classes as much as they griped about silly things, they might be able to keep up with you and not look surprised when your head is to the floor in wide-legged forward fold, and you're staring them right in the gripey eyeballs.
10) You will likely hurt yourself. I woke up one Saturday with both of my wrists feeling totally busted without any warning. I could barely hold a plank or do a pushup for a few days. It was frustrating, but I used this time to learn to work with my body and not fight the pain.
And lastly, learn what it is like to belong to something other than yourself. Yoga, in my opinion, should be done in a community setting. We feed off one another as humans. That symbiotic relationship in a yoga studio is very apparent. It is not a competition, but you will be inspired, motivated, and wowed by your fellow classmates. Never, ever, despair when you see someone in a pose that is difficult for you to achieve, because odds are that you are much more bendy in a way that they aren't. Feed off your classmates' energy.
The first Saturday of the bender, my 52-person class sang "Om" together, and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. You could practically feel the energy from the vibrating of everyone's voices, and that, my friends, is something you can never achieve with a solitary yoga practice.
And of course, people are curious how things changed with my body. I wasn't expecting any miracles, but that is because I was also not supplementing my yoga practice with cardio, outside of the once-weekly soccer game I play. However, I was consciously drinking a little less, and trying to eat a more balanced diet. Sure, I had a pizza once or twice, and didn't cut out all bad foods, but here are some fun results: At the beginning of January, I weighed in at 148lbs. In December, I hit 151lbs. So I started January slightly lower than my "heaviest ever." On the 29th of January, I weighed myself out of curiosity, and I was at 141lbs. I remember feeling rather surprised as I feel like seven whole pounds lost might have been more obviously reflected in my body. But, like I said, I wasn't expecting a miracle. Looking at the photos closely, I can see a more lean figure, but just ever so slightly - and mostly through my middle and upper legs. And you know what? That's a great start to me. I just finished doing a half hour of Zumba videos on Youtube, so I'm ready to get the cardio training going again. I hope to check in monthly on my progress with you!
In honest conclusion: doing a yoga bender is probably one of the most mentally and physically difficult things you could ever choose to do. It will make you feel pure bliss, cause you to cry in shavasana (resting pose at the end of each class), force you to face your body's weakest bits, and charge you with a challenge to be passionate about you. Yoga is a me, myself, and I habit.
Thank you so much to the teachers and community at Southtown Yoga for supporting me on this journey! I am so grateful to be a part of your flexy family now.
Yoga pose photos by my darling Abby Gillardi.