Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
You can’t possibly have missed the IG “challenge” trend. If you’re on social media, you’ve probably seen those viral posts that encourage you to participate in some activity for 30 days straight. Yoga hasn’t escaped. Yes, we’re talking about yoga challenges, as noted—and lampooned—in an article by The New Yorker late last week.
Written with the characteristic dry wit and unsuppressed sarcasm the publication is known for, the essay pokes fun at the tendency of yoga challenge participants to succumb to distraction or lack of enthusiasm and disappear for days (or weeks) at a time. It also captures the curious and stereotypical way that we yoga teachers sometimes have of inspiring, shaming, and affirming all at once.
But what many practitioners—along with the talented staff at The New Yorker—can find it hard to understand is that just because you’re not attending a studio class, working on your handstand, or pulling up a YouTube sequence, doesn’t mean you’re not practicing yoga.
Yoga is about so much more than the physical practice. But all of the different ways you engage with it may not be readily apparent. Luckily, the author inadvertently pointed them out for you.
Here’s a look at all the ways you’re practicing yoga, possibly without even knowing it, as outlined by the article. (And we couldn’t help but point out a few common misconceptions about the practice.)
1. The true challenge in yoga is knowing why you do it
“Hello! And welcome back to this thirty-day yoga challenge,” begins the essay. “It’s so great to see you! I’m excited to continue our incredible journey together.”
We interpret the word “challenge” here in the broadest sense of the word. A lot of challenges push you to do something you probably wouldn’t do on your own–which means maybe you haven’t found a way to want to do it on your own. Before you begin any challenge, maybe take some time to figure out why you want to do this—or think you need to do this—in the first place. What’s your goal? More importantly, why is it your goal? Take your time on that one.
2. It’s not how yoga looks; it’s how it feels
“Hop into something comfortable and let’s get started.”
Truth. It’s as if the author is affirming those of us who practice yoga wearing sweats and faded concert t-shirts or even, on occasion, a dress. It’s also a relief to hear someone else de-emphasize how anything looks in yoga and instead focus on how it feels. That applies not just to what you wear to yoga but your experience in the actual poses.
3. You don’t have to feel beholden to #yogaeverydamnday
“It’s been eleven weeks and you’ve done yoga eight times. But no worries! The important thing is that you’re here today.”
Seriously, if you’re stressing yourself out about what you haven’t done, you’re erasing any benefits you might have gotten from those eight times you came to your yoga practice. Don’t worry about what you didn’t do, be grateful that you’re doing it now. And, TBH, you’ve done some yoga. Did you lie down at any point? Surely, you’ve been breathing. That counts.
4. There is yoga in everyday tasks
“One day, you carried two boxes of old clothes up from the basement and thought that that basically counted as three days of yoga. It doesn’t, and you’ve still only completed eight days of actual yoga. But what matters is that you showed up here today. I’m so happy to see you.”
Actually, it does count. Two boxes of old clothes up from the basement is the practice of saucha, which translates from Sanskrit to “cleanliness.” Look beyond the literal meaning and you’ll discover that in the tradition of yoga, cleanliness also applies to how you think about yourself. If you observe yourself closely, you may find that you’re also practicing yamas, niyamas, and other limbs, or tenets, of yoga as well.
5. Your practice can feel different each day
“Now, plant your palms and walk back to downward-facing dog. You should feel this gently stretching the same muscles that we’ve already worked many times.”
It may feel different than the last time you were in Down Dog. Notice it. But don’t judge it. That’s part of the practice for everyone.
“…but if for some reason you’re out of practice you can just skip this step and meet us back in uttanasana.”
“Or, if you’re feeling like you really need a break, you can just skip the uttanasana and rest for a while.”
We support this.
6. There’s a reason you skip your practice
“Take as long as you need. If taking a break and eating an entire chocolate babka by yourself is what you are feeling right now, you can turn the video off and meet me back here when you’re ready.”
Babkas are delicious. And if you’re feeling like you need to eat a whole one, then something is probably going on to make you feel that way. While you’re noshing, maybe take some time to parse that out, feel the feels, and be curious about that. What’s going on inside your head or your heart that the babka is helping with (or distracting from) your reality? Don’t judge it. Look at it. (And if you’re feeling stressed about eating that babka, see #3.)
7. The practice of yoga is not only for the “privileged”
“Your ninety-dollar yoga mat and I will be here, waiting for you to restart your unique and incredible journey.”
Does that expensive mat make you feel like you’ve made an investment in yourself? Like you’ll be more committed to your well-being? If so, then it was a good purchase. The pretty $5 mat with the lotus designs on it is also just as good if it makes you happy and keeps you safe in your practice, which is all a mat is supposed to do.
8. Yoga is always here for you
“Hello! It’s so nice to see you again. If you’re just joining us on day ninety-nine of your thirty-day yoga challenge, I am so happy that you’re back. You’ve still only completed eight and a half sessions, and that babka was a mistake, but what matters is that you take the time to love yourself for who you are.”
Well, eight and a half physical sessions, but remember those boxes also count. Plus all that breathing. The babka? That’s all in the past, but it was like a hug from your grandmother, wasn’t it? Whenever you’re ready to come back, yoga will be there.
9. Yoga asks you to be self-aware
“I’d prefer if you didn’t stop to check Twitter right now, but, if you need to take a moment to scroll through your D.M.s, I support you. Even showing up for one single minute of class is valuable.”
We, too, prefer you not reach for distraction while you’re practicing yoga. But since you’re always practicing yoga in some form, ask yourself, why are you turning to social media? What are you getting from the messages and the likes and the constant distraction? Check in with yourself about that. No judgment. Just check in.
10. It’s all about giving yourself what you need
“Believe in yourself. The most important thing is to do what feels good for you, even if doing what feels good is a thirty-minute savasana followed by a sixty-six day hiatus.”
If you allowed yourself a half-hour Savasana, baby, you are #goals. But the main thing to remember about yoga is that it’s not just what you do (or don’t do) on that mat. That simply allows you to be aware of how you approach (or avoid) challenge in your life. Yoga is about how you live your life, relate to others, and find love and acceptance for yourself once you have this awareness.