Last year I completed my first yoga challenge: 21 hot yoga classes in 21 days. This took doing: I doubled up on classes, rose at ridiculous hours and skipped the coffee pot until hours after I’d been awake. I endured when I would rather have been lounging on my couch. This was in large part because my friend Bryan was completing the challenge with me, and counted on me the way I counted on him — neither of us wanted to let the other down. In the end, we finished our 21st classes together on the 21st day of the challenge. Our bodies no longer tired after 60-second planks, and our attendance in class increased as an overall result.
This year, Bryan was unavailable to join me on my journey. Undeterred, I encouraged myself, thinking, one, I’d finished such a challenge before and, two, this one was 26 classes in 30 days — so there was a buffer in time and expectation! I would be able to sit on my couch for at least four days this year! And the vegan cleanse that accompanied the challenge sounded rather simple. I prefer a healthy, vegetable-packed diet year-round, and while it generally includes a lean white meat, I considered 30 meatless days a flash in the plant-based pan.
I opened my MindBody app and began scheduling classes. This is where I hit my first snag: even with scheduling every single class available to fit my schedule between two studios, I could manage to commit to only 21 classes.
I told myself this number is still respectable, and went to the local co-op to pick up some ghee, almond milk and a basket full of leafy greens to begin my challenge.
My first scheduled class came along, and I had to cancel it. I had traveled to Dubuque for a two-day event, and at the end of a very long day, chose to eat dinner with a colleague and his wife instead of attempting to find a yoga class at 7 p.m. in a strange city. We went to Texas Roadhouse, where I had literally one meal option that would work in my diet. I thanked my lucky stars that white wine is vegan, and enjoyed my baked sweet potato in lieu of a steak.
I arrived back at home on a Thursday, and headed to the studio. I stretched out on the mat and waited for the class to begin, acclimating to the heat and meditating on everything I’m grateful for. I eked out 20 chaturangas throughout the 75-minute class and went home feeling triumphant.
Then the weekend came. My mom traveled from Kansas City, Missouri for a short weekend visit, and while she was here, I hosted a pumpkin decorating party. I allowed myself to eat party food. As of this writing, I can’t remember what it was I ate that tempted me away from my cleanse, but I do remember how excited I was that I could use the cheeky hashtag #cheatercheaterpumpkineater in my Insta post.
The next weekend I held a citywide clothing swap. I’d arranged to have drop-off dates at our home the week prior, so, you guessed it: I canceled my scheduled evening classes. Instead, I answered the door, met a new neighbor, arranged strangers’ clothing and prepared giveaway bags stuffed with goodies from area retailers. The swap was a success, and we managed to donate 12 boxes of clothing to an area nonprofit once it was over. And the day after the event, I went to the studio to sweat, stretch and meditate on how lucky I am that I am always clothed, safe and in a happy marriage.
The challenge went on this way for me for the remaining weeks: I scheduled classes, I canceled most of them and I carried through in being a bad vegan. I felt lighter on the inside due to my plant-based diet, but in fact I was gaining weight, and consuming more gluten than ever. I stressed out over not staying on track with my yoga and not enjoying the cleanse like I thought I should — until I saw a piece of art in a colleague’s office that says, “Let whatever you do today be enough.”
What I hadn’t been doing during this challenge was remembering that yoga is so much more than showing up on your mat. While that’s an important step, it’s likewise important to remember the tenets of yoga. I don’t call myself a yogi only on days I make it to a studio. I’ve been a yogi for almost 10 years now. I don’t forget how to do a Sun Salutation — I wake up and on some days, that’s the only pose I complete.
Yoga changed my life because it’s taught me to quiet my mind, to focus on the moments in my day. It encourages introspection. It inspires balance, both literally and figuratively. It’s strengthened my core muscles and it’s strengthened my character. It’s allowed me to understand that perfection isn’t the goal, but the success in what lies in the attempt to improve.
And so. I did “complete” the challenge. I showed up, I confronted the task and I cleansed my body during a time when it likely needed it most. I learned that the restaurant world understands vegetarians now, but needs to work on its vegan offerings. I learned that I do, in fact, need milk more than meat (I craved cheese more than anything during my restrictive diet). But most importantly, I learned that what I could do — and what I did do — was enough.