I Did a 40-Day Yoga and Meditation Challenge — Here's What I Learned
Just over a month ago, I felt like I was in sort of a workout rut. Walking out of a hot yoga class one night, I was stopped by a friend who asked me if I had heard about the 40 Days program. As in, yoga guru Baron Baptiste's 40 Days to Personal Revolution. My local studio, Lyon's Den Yoga, was launching a group challenge to follow along with Baptiste's program, so I decided to join.
To say that the challenge involved a lot of commitment is a total understatement. You're doing yoga six days a week throughout the 40-day program, and the duration of time you spend doing yoga gradually increases, culminating at 90 minutes each day. The same goes for meditation; starting at five minutes in week one, you meditate twice a day, and you're meditating for 30 minutes by the program's end. There's also required journaling and reading the book the challenge is based on. There are also excavation questions you answer that help you learn about yourself, as well as in-person meetings every Monday.
For me, hot yoga feels like the ultimate reset.
I know. It sounds like a lot — because it was. But I felt like getting involved would push me past my comfort zone and would be a good chance to work on myself. What seriously intimidated me, though, was the meditation. I've tried to get on board with meditation a handful of times, and it has just never stuck.
But I went for it, and although it was nothing like what I expected, I learned a whole lot about myself in the process. Here are the four biggest lessons I learned from spending 40 days investing in myself:
Doing hot yoga regularly makes me feel better than any other workout
For me, hot yoga feels like the ultimate reset. For instance, if I've gone out and housed a few slices of pizza with girlfriends, hitting up a 60-minute flow the next morning makes me feel like I'm sweating all those toxins out. Sweating all that out day after day throughout this program was a recipe for a great-feeling body.
Getting to the studio and taking classes felt more rewarding than logging a flow in at my apartment. I was carving out part of my day to do something special for myself, which upped my attitude in general. Plus, the results kept me coming back, too. More than any almost other steady workout routine, I find that all of those Chaturanga push-ups make my arms look top-notch.
Meditation takes practice
I'd be lying if I didn't admit that, during the first several days, meditating felt like a total chore.
We've already established that I didn't walk into this challenge as a meditation guru. Friends of mine who were good at meditation (which meant that they actually enjoyed it and didn't count down until its end immediately after beginning a session) told me that, with time, it would become easy and I'd actually enjoy it. Or so they said.
I didn't really believe them, but still, I persisted. The structure of, firstly, learning how to meditate for just five minutes at the end of my day was a good base. From the get-go, I used the meditation app Headspace as a guide. Cofounder and former Tibetan Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe voices the meditations, and his voice is ridiculously therapeutic. So much so, in fact, that the nighttime meditation occasionally would put me to sleep.
I'd be lying if I didn't admit that, during the first several days, meditating felt like a total chore. Even when the session was only five minutes, my mind started racing. By the end of the first week, though, I caught myself getting through 10 minutes of meditation without counting down until the end. I felt more relaxed. Like the daily yoga, I felt proud that I was taking some time for myself. I learned to actually focus on my breath.
However, when things got hectic in life toward the end of this 40 days, the meditation was the first thing to go. When my mind was frantic, although I knew that taking more time for myself was exactly what I needed, I felt as though I couldn't commit or ground myself. I couldn't bring myself to sit still for a total of an hour each day without my mind in shambles.
I sat down and really thought about where in my life I wasn't being present and what the cost of that is. I felt like I was learning about myself.
But it's all about progress. After the 40 days were over, I integrated meditation sporadically throughout my week, which is a habit I never would've guessed I'd adopt before starting.
Journaling is a really good way to check in with yourself
I was actually pretty proud of myself earlier this year when I started a gratitude journal. Each morning, I would take the time to write down three things that happened over the course of the past 24 hours. If I couldn't pinpoint three good things, I would sit there and evaluate what I had focused my energy on that didn't bring me joy.
Admittedly, leading up to this 40 Days program, I had certainly fallen off the journaling bandwagon. But journaling throughout this program, in the midst of personal chaos, was one thing I did not let fall by the wayside. I felt that, more than ever, writing things down helped to keep me sane.
Through the prompts in this program, provided in Baron's book, I also found myself answering a lot of questions that I'd never put energy into before. When asked to write a list of the fixed opinions I had of others (and myself), I realized that there was room to shift my vision. I sat down and really thought about where in my life I wasn't being present and what the cost of that is. I felt like I was learning about myself.
I shouldn't take failure so literally
Here is the biggest confession of them all: I stopped being fully committed to the 40-day program about 31 days into it. Because after 31 days, my relationship fell apart. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. I remember sitting on my couch wondering how I would even manage to eat dinner, let alone quiet my mind to meditate.
Everyone has their own version of chaos. This program taught me that you have to look at the small wins and take a step back.
As I evaluated life once again as a single almost-30-year-old, I wanted to entirely jump ship from the program. By even having those thoughts, I felt like I had failed. I was getting a manicure on day 33 when one of the studio owners called me. Getting tipped off to my situation from a friend of mine, she encouraged me to come to the meeting that night. "You've put in so much work, and whatever you decide to do going forward, remember the value in how far you've already come," she said.
I showed up to the meeting. Upon entering, I had a realization: I had won. I did something for myself despite being in this place where I was questioning my value. I sat in that small yoga studio and listened to others talk about their victories and their struggles. And between all the fog happening in my mind, I realized how magical this opportunity truly was — a magical thing that I had almost deprived myself of.
Everyone has their own version of chaos. This program taught me that you have to look at the small wins and take a step back. Did I finish this roaring and proud, with all of these new personal realizations, as I had hoped? Honestly, no. But the reality is that when life pivots, it's our responsibility to pivot with it. I'm better for having dedicated all of this time to work on me. Being a work in progress isn't such a bad thing after all.