January is the month of #challenges as people come out of last year ready to slay their New Year’s resolutions. I shook things up a little and embarked on my own fitness challenge before most people, on Thanksgiving all the way through Christmas last year. That 30 day challenge was enlightening for several unexpected reasons, though meeting my fitness goals was not among the accomplishments. Because I was still pumped about the inspiring 30 day fitness challenge I finished in December, I did not hesitate to join a 20 day Bikram hot yoga challenge presented by the best little Atlanta studio, Still Hot Yoga
The amusement of joining a 20 day challenge starting on January 20, 2020 was too much for me to pass up. I signed up and taped my challenge chart to the wall, ready to fill the 20 open squares with 20 stickers by the end of those 20 days. I only started practicing hot yoga in December, so I was still a beginner when this challenge started. Thinking about 20 days straight of hot yoga was daunting. I actually asked the instructors if it was even safe to do hot yoga 20 days in a row.
If you’re not familiar, hot yoga includes 90 minutes of yoga, moving through 26 yoga poses, twice each, in a room heated to 105°F and 40% humidity. It is hot and humid as hell. It was a challenge to do two or three classes a week, so I couldn’t imagine trying to do it every day for 20 days.
I decided to attempt four days in a row to see how it goes, and if it felt like too much, I would take a day off. Worst thing that would happen is that I don’t get 20 stickers. I could live with that! I was still going to benefit from the challenge. There was chatter in the studio about doing double or triple days, to make up for a skipped day. Two or three 90-minute hot yoga sessions in one day? I truly believed that would be impossible. I could hardly get through one class without feeling sore and spent.
Ultimately, I made it past four days of hot yoga in a row. I finished all 20 hot yoga classes in 20 days, even doubling up on classes some days. It shocked me to get through this challenge. Even more exhilarating, each of those 20 classes gave me far more than greater flexibility, strength, stamina, and tone. The meditative nature of the practice allowed me to become aware of valuable principles contained within the practice and challenge that could serve me well out in the world.
These are 20 lessons learned during a 20 day hot yoga challenge that will help you kick ass in all areas of life; reach beyond your self-imposed limitations and maximize your true potential.
1. You can do more than you think you can - The idea of 4 days in a row of hot yoga didn’t sound doable to me, yet I managed to finish even more than that, just by showing up and not believing my own thoughts about it being too hard. I pulled off two classes in one day more than once, too. Had you asked me if I could withstand 3 hours of hot yoga in one day before this challenge, the answer would have been a resounding “absolutely not.” I was wrong.
2. Sometimes doing less is doing more - The struggle to get through a class was very real some days. We don’t always get enough sleep, hydration, or nutrition on any given day, and this impacts our abilities on the yoga mat. The instructors often reminded us that if we are breathing too hard, feeling dizzy, weak, or strained, we should lay down flat on our back in Savasana and relax. Pushing yourself too much when you are struggling is not recommended. It is better to do less, until you are ready to do more.
3. Always do your best, and realize your best will change each day - Don Miguel Ruiz gave us this lesson in the The Four Agreements as a means to enlightenment and it applies no less in yoga. Every single day will be different. Don’t judge yourself on what you did yesterday. Focus on doing your best at that moment, no matter where that lands.
4. There is always a way. No excuses - Once I was determined to finish this challenge, I had to figure out how to fit all this yoga into my already full life. Most of us have the grind going; working full-time, kids, obligations, schedules, and if you’re like me, you also enjoy a fun social life. I wasn’t even sure I would be able to fit 20 days of yoga into my life, but I took that as a mini-challenge for my challenge and rearranged my life to prioritize the yoga classes for that period of time. I planned ahead, made arrangements, moved things on my calendar, figured out what it would take, and I executed.
5. Look in your own eyes and focus - We spend so much of our lives swirling around to-do lists at work and at home, doing things for others, trying to keep up with life’s demands. This yoga challenge made me stop and focus on myself for 90 minutes straight. Part of the hot yoga practice requires you look in the mirror into your own eyes during the postures. This felt uncomfortable to me at first, but soon I realized how little I focus on myself, and how empowering it is to concentrate wholly on the eyes looking back at me in the mirror.
6. Every obstacle can be overcome - During the hot yoga challenge, I got sick twice and pulled my hamstring twice. Instead of letting my health and injuries hold me back, I did all the things needed to support my immune system (i.e. Vitamin C, zinc, rest, water) and I was back in no time. The hamstring was a bigger issue, because I couldn’t fully extend my leg for the postures and it persisted, but modifying your poses not to strain your injury is better than not showing up. It comes back to doing your best at that moment.
7. It is not shameful to need a break - I’m guessing some of you are equally Type A as I am, pushing yourself to do more and better all the time. One of the most impactful lessons I got from this challenge is the benefit of honoring your body when it needs a break. There is strength, not shame, in taking a break, when it’s needed.
8. Listening to your body will help give it what it needs - The hot yoga challenge made it necessary for me to become hyper aware of my body. I was doing yoga every day and had to make sure my body was going to be able to get through it. I paid more attention to dehydration or how certain foods made it harder to practice. A bottle of wine the night before a morning class was not going to work. I had to regulate every aspect of what I drank, ate, and how much I slept to adjust my body to where it felt strongest.
9. Every day is different, Go with the flow - It’s easy to let things throw us off track. This challenge came with moments of discomfort. Sometimes the studio was packed like a can of yogi sardines, and with that much breathing, sweat, and body heat in an already heated and humid room, it got hard to breath quickly. The smells weren’t always pleasant either. But, each day was different, and on days when the challenge was more challenging, I had to go with the flow, or else I would not have accomplished a thing.
10. There is definitely a hard way to do things, Don’t do that - There is a hard way and an easy way to do everything. In yoga practice, the instructor guides you by explaining how to adjust to keep your balance or shift the weight away from your knees or move your body deeper into a pose. When you listen, the postures become easier and you stop struggling. In life, you’re doing things the hard way when you’re struggling. You don’t have to struggle. There is a better way. You have to find it.
11. Enthusiasm is required - Your attitude will make or break you. Fill yourself with excitement for what you’re doing! My dear friend said to me, “You’re like a hammer and everything looks like a nail.” Get after it. Smash it up. Goals crushed. Be a hammer happy to nail it.
12. Even when you think you can’t, do it anyway - The first time I attempted two back to back 90 minute hot yoga classes, I was highly skeptical that I’d make it through. I did it anyway. I managed to finish both of those classes and in better form than I imagined. I wouldn’t have known that I was capable of that, if I didn’t just do it anyway. Plus, it always feels so good once you’re done. Worth it.
13. Know when to push through or pull back - This is a difficult and ongoing lesson that I had to contend with daily during this challenge. Judgment calls on when to stick it out or when to give it a rest were easier to make with advice from the fantastic yoga teachers at Still Hot. Learning to talk about your concerns with people who understand your practice, whatever it is in life, can make the difference when you’re conflicted.
14. Stay in the room - Cleve, the studio owner, and my fave instructor, Cathy, helped me out a lot when I began doubting myself. I was worried that I shouldn’t practice if I might have a cold or that I would hurt myself because I was too drained. They assured me that we all go through that and it’s fine. “Just stay in the room,” Cleve would say, even if I need to lay flat on my back the whole time. This is probably the greatest lesson I got out of this challenge. Stay in the room; follow through on your commitment, do your best, modify as needed, take breaks, don’t give up, just ease up, and always show up. The group benefits from your presence, as well as you.
15. Stickers and accountability are motivating - The wall of the yoga studio hallway was plastered in sheets of paper, each belonging to a person signed up for the challenge. A pile of stickers was placed nearby and every time we finished a class, we got to pick a sticker and place it in one of 20 squares that signified how many of the 20 yoga classes we’ve completed. I had no idea how motivating getting a sticker on this sheet of paper would be to all of us! We earned that sticker. I wanted all 20. The simple act of reinforcing your efforts helps keep you going. What made this system even more reinforcing was the accountability that comes with everyone else being able to see where you are in your journey.
16. Community is everything - Surrounding yourself with good people, who are encouraging, helpful, and interested in your well being makes all the difference in the world. I couldn’t have made it through without supportive family and friends who helped out with taking my kids to piano lessons or appointments and making them dinner when I was going to be home late, pulling a double at the yoga studio. The community at the yoga studio also mattered, with everyone sharing their excitement for the challenge and congratulating each other on each sticker earned. People are precious and paramount to success.
17. Smile through it - Hot yoga is a fulfilling practice, but it is also sticky, hot, hard, and tiring. It’s easy to forget to enjoy yourself. Such is life, too, sometimes. One of the instructors made it a point to remind us to smile. At first, it seemed ridiculous to smile while my muscles shook, concentrating on maintaining a posture, while I was barely holding on. But, I tried it and smiling actually made a difference in how I felt. A simple smile made it feel less hard and invoked feelings of gratitude that I didn’t otherwise remember to consider. Next time you’re stressing, just smile through it.
18. Consistency matters - Doing anything consistently can feel like a burden, but consistency matters, if you want to succeed. Whether it’s a hot yoga challenge, or becoming a better writer, musician, gardener, or dancer, consistency is the key. I noticed a huge difference in my body’s flexibility and tone when I began doing hot yoga daily, rather than just twice a week. The more consistent you are, the better your results, without fail.
19. Shifting gears helps with consistency - Although you want to be consistent, that doesn’t mean you are always functioning at the same level. You move through gears, like a car, where you slowly get past first gear to shift into higher gears as you keep up with your practice. You can move back and forth between gears depending on how you’re feeling on any given day.
20. Stillness is mandatory - This is another difficult concept for me, because I am always on the go, filling my life with busyness morning to night. In hot yoga, stillness is mandatory; it is part of the practice through a posture all its own, called Savasana. In this posture, you relax every muscle, sit still, with your eyes open, breathing in and out through your nose. It is a challenge to sit completely still and relaxed for 30 seconds; that made me realize how uneasy I was with stillness. Now I remember to be still occasionally throughout a hectic day, which helps immensely with not getting overwhelmed.
If anyone has gone through a hot yoga challenge and has something to add, I hope you’ll comment and share. In my experience, there’s nothing quite like it, and I’ve taken on some challenges in my time!