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I’m toggling between work projects when I see the email from YogaAnytime.com pop up in my inbox. It reminds me that it’s time to take a break and start the 7-day Summer Challenge that I signed up for (for this assignment). When it comes to freelancing, the Law of Attraction actually plays out—a lot of work tends to beget even more work. So while several projects that I was juggling for other clients were already eating my weekends, I’d taken the assignment to do a 7-day summer challenge on YogaAnytime.com and write about the experience because I figured, if nothing else, it would MAKE me take a break each day for a week and get on my mat.
So I do that now, unrolling my neglected yoga mat on my office floor. I play the Challenge Intro trailer, where I meet the spirited (and very young-looking) Steph Winsor for the first time. I have to admit, I’m skeptical. The title of the challenge is “Enjoy Yourself.” What does that even mean, I think, still wearing my editor hat. I’m a little annoyed that I have to trade the dent that I could be making in my long to-do list for “Day 1: Simple and Sweet.” I assume it will be a basic beginner practice that I could lead myself through—when I actually have the time. Which isn’t now. What can this twenty-something have to teach me? I probably finished my yoga teacher training before she was out of middle school, I think. But I suck it up and start—only because I have to. For work.
It doesn’t take more than a few rounds of movement-synced breath before things start to loosen inside me. Steph’s voice feels a little too cheery at first, but the practice begins doing its work of slowly untying the hold my to-do list has on me so that I can just be there and breathe. Within minutes, I’m not thinking about deadlines or the impending parade of houseguests we’ll have over the next two months. I’m in the practice and I’m enjoying it, despite myself.
And then—what? I suddenly can’t autopilot the pose she’s cueing. I look up at my screen to see her arrange her knees in Garudasana and then rise to stand on them. Garudasana is a well-worn groove in my body, but lifting my hips and torso to stand on my knees with my legs crossed? The action taxes not only my balance but my brain. It’s new—to me, anyway. I’m listening a lot more carefully to the ingenue on the screen now. And by the end of that first class, I understand that I’ve grossly underestimated her. The yoga is already doing what it reliably does well—holding up the mirror, showing me my blindspots.
It turns out, Steph Winsor and this challenge did teach me a few things.
Here are five lessons I learned from Yoga Anytime’s Enjoy Yourself Summer Challenge:
1. New movement leads to new discoveries.
I later learned that the variation of Garudasana that Steph teaches so often is a pose from the Katonah classes she takes with Abbie Galvin at The Studio in Bowery. She says the kneeling version of Garudasana is not only good for people who struggle with the classic shape of the seated posture but for everyone because it provides you with information from both the right and left sides of your body. And sure enough, I did feel tightness in muscles on my outer left hip that I’d never felt before and nothing on my right hip when I switched sides. This is the kind of new knowledge about my body that I treasure as I work toward more functional muscular balance and symmetry.
2. Shaking things up is always valuable.
A couple of times during the Challenge, I found myself gyrating in ways I hadn’t ever before on a yoga mat. One such instance, Steph had me sitting propped up in Virasana and then instructed me to bounce up and down for a bit. It felt a little odd at first but I knew this kind of bouncing was supposed to be good for moving lymphatic fluid and thus the immune system, so I went with it and felt undeniably lighter after.
Steph later confirmed my suspicions, “Unlike the circulatory system, which moves by virtue of the heart, the lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump. Our daily movement is the source of the lymphatic fluid’s movement and filtration. The bouncing and shaking should also really help you clear your energy field and expel things that weigh you down.”
3. There’s no one right way to do things.
With a background in an Iyengar-based practice, it used to be easy for me to get caught up in perfectionism on the mat. So Steph’s reversal and acceleration (she floors it!) of the usual breath pattern in Cat-Cow got me curious. Instead of inhaling in Cow and exhaling in Cat, she frequently exhales in the backbend and inhales on the contraction.
Steph pointed out that we already do this (exhale on the spinal extension) in poses like Ustrasana or Standing Backbend. “I feel that this breath is safer for the back as we pick up the speed of Cat-Cow,” she says, explaining that as you exhale the engagement of the belly helps to protect the spine. But ultimately, Steph says if you’re practicing poses with integrity, “you should, over time, be free to breathe wherever and whenever you like. The practice can remind you that you’re not beholden to a certain way of doing things.” There’s so much freedom in that.
4. I can always talk myself into 30 minutes of yoga.
This challenge reminded me of the value of a daily practice—no matter how short. A couple times I considered skipping it, but Yoga Anytime’s daily email reminders were effective at fighting desk work–induced inertia and getting me up out of my head and into my body. After seven days, I learned that, really, I can always find 30 minutes in my day for yoga and without fail I feel better afterward.
5. And online yoga makes that even easier!
When I’m time-strapped between work projects, family, and my social calendar not having to go anywhere but my browser window for a class or think about what to practice actually makes it 100% doable no matter how busy I am. After the first couple days I began looking forward to Steph’s bright, uplifting vibe. And each day I landed at my desk feeling a little lighter, a little clearer, a little more capable of tackling my workload. I have to admit it—I enjoyed myself. Which it turns out was exactly what I needed this summer.