Yes fellow lifers, I have completed my 30 day yoga challenge! There is a bit of an asterisk associated with the last week of my challenge -- because of the downtown Calgary fire and power outage, I was out of a studio for the last week.
I managed to get a few shorter sessions in at home, but I definitely was not as dedicated as I've been through the rest of my challenge. That being said I really enjoyed this entire process and I think I know that I'm going to keep practicing -- whether that be at a studio, at home or at my current gym Fifth Avenue Club, that remains to be decided.
Let's review the expectations I had coming in to this challenge, shall we?
Get More Flexible
I claim to believe that there is no such thing as 'toning', I believe there is building muscle and there is losing fat. You can't make a muscle look more toned without either building that muscle or losing fat around it. Interestingly, I still entered this challenge believing that Yoga was going to make leaner.
Why would I think that??
I argued that because I was doing less strenuous workouts, I would have a lower appetite and as a result I would maintain a calorie deficit. In effect my argument had little to do with the workout and everything to do with my nutrition.
Even though I wasn't working out as "hard" during this challenge -- I wasn't breaking down and repairing muscle on a daily basis or challenging my conditioning consistently -- I still ate about as much as I would if I were in the gym. I probably did reduce my calorie intake slightly but my workout intensity was also significantly lower. As a result I did not burn a significant amount of fat.
Despite all of this I still lost just over two and a half lbs. The majority of this weight was muscle due to lack of resistance training. You can be the judge yourself looking at my Day 1 vs Day 30 picture. Personally I like the way I looked at day 1 more than I do today, and despite losing a couple of lbs, I don't know that Yoga helped me improve my physique.
I think Day 1 vs Day 30 pics help illustrate a point that I try to make on a regular basis. It's the combination of muscle and fat that defines your physique. Girls, if you're rail thin but have no muscle your not going to look the way you want. Conversely, guys you may find all that 'muscle' your putting on the gym doesn't do much for your physique if it's covered in a layer of fat.
Conclusion: Yoga is not my conditioning exercise of choice. Any movement is good, and yoga was great for 'moving' but I didn't find it to be an effective method of burning fat.
Ok, this one was a no brainer! I believe in practice to improve and I submitted myself to 30 days of practicing various poses and stretches that challenged my flexibility. As a result? I gained flexibility
Alright, I just attempted this gorgeous looking split squat whilst balanced on the handle of a kettlebell and completely ate it. So I'm not quite there yet, but I can honestly say that I know that I am more flexible.
I didn't measure directly but I do know that I've been able to sit more upright in my 'ass to mat' squat position. I am more comfortable touching my toes and I can comfortably step over the baby gate in my front entrance now without having to stand on my tippy toes to get my back leg over. Mission success.
This was probably my favorite part of the yoga experience. I didn't expect to enjoy coming to the studio every day like I ended up doing by the end of this challenge. I didn't expect to feel as relaxed as I did throughout this process, even getting more comfortable with the request to 'Om' at the end of each class or bid 'namaste' to fellow classmates at the end of a practice. I still am a bit iffy on the really spiritual side of yoga but I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the act of meditating by focusing on the breath.
You can ask my colleagues or my wife if I was actually less stressed, but I have to say that at least for that one hour a day, I felt like I was.
Every class the instructor would begin by reminding you to leave all the outside stress at the door and to challenge yourself to commit an hour where you allow yourself to be absolutely present -- wow that sounds hokey, but it's pretty dang beneficial.
You did this by clearing your head and focusing on your breath. Most classes you started by laying down or stretching for a few minutes and then to start up you would be asked to start drawing your attention to your breath. Your mind really is only capable of focusing on one thing at a time and so placing it on your breath stops it from wandering anywhere else.
It's hard to do for 50 minutes, and every single class I would fail several times over, but you don't let it bother you, you just keep practicing!
This one I seriously had my doubts. A good buddy of mine had mentioned that his older brother had grown over 2 inches(!) since starting practicing yoga a few years ago. First of all, I recognized that even if it was possible, given the focus yoga places on elongating and stretching the body, I also thought it was highly unlikely to see any measurable change after a measly 30 days.
So tonight I set myself against the same wall I measured against on day 1, set a hard book atop my head, assuring it met the wall at 90 degree angle, marked my spot and took my measuring tape out. The results?? I gained a half an inch!
I also gained a half an inch on my wingspan!
I will admit, I have yet to find a medical study that indicates that this is physically possible. I will also admit that despite my efforts to limit measuring error, it is still very possible that this extra half an inch of height and wingspan is random error in my measuring method.
As much as I think the yoga probably did help my posture a bit, I don't know if I can attribute any perceived height growth to my practice of Yoga. If you recall from Joel's post on Bulgarian Squatting Method, he and I had just finished a very heavy cycle of lifting where we spent 4 days a week lifting near our 1 rep max squat for a month straight -- I finished this the week before I started my Yoga challenge. So, if I did actually gain a half inch, I'm guessing it's more likely due to not having 350lbs on my shoulders 4 days a week then it is to stretching a bunch.
Regardless of the reason, I'm going to continue to bask in the knowledge that I measured a half inch taller today than I did 30 days ago. It feels good!
I think the most important thing I take away from this Challenge is that I really do enjoy yoga. I never found it quite as taxing a workout as I expected it to be, but it challenged me in different ways. I came to really enjoy the challenge of keeping my head in it, by clearing my mind. I really enjoyed the challenge of getting a bit deeper in to a stretch or finding my balance in various poses. I liked seeing different poses improve and my form continuing to get better. After 30 days, I feel like a half decent yoga practitioner. Next challenge? Hot Yoga?
My biggest takeaways are that Yoga is a great way to reduce stress. Yoga is dedicated time to practicing and improving your flexibility. If you dedicate to practicing, you will probably find your posture and mobility improves and who knows, maybe you'll even get a little taller!
I hope you have enjoyed tracking my progress over this 30 days. I've enjoyed tracking it myself and I'm tempted to try some other challenges, maybe nutrition based, in the coming months. If you guys have any ideas of what my next 30 day challenge should be, I'd love to hear it. Until then,
Live your best life!