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The Surprising Things I Learned by Starting a Daily Yoga Practice

How a monthlong New Year’s resolution changed my body and mind, and deepened my understanding of what it means to practice.

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After unfurling my trusty purple mat, I took a deep breath and a good look around the sun-drenched, Hudson River-side studio. As my fellow practitioners at Hoboken, New Jersey’s Devotion Yoga staked their claims to the rapidly disappearing spots on the hardwood floor, I searched the room for signs suggesting I was insane for what I was about to do. I soon found one.

There, in the last row, emblazoned in big block letters across a woman’s tank top, was my New Year’s resolution: Yoga Every Damn Day.

I wasn’t sure if it was meant as an empowered, euphoric exclamation—“Yoga Every Damn Day!”—or a statement muttered in sheer exhaustion after an eternity of overdosing on Downward-Facing Dogs. But as someone who was standing at the starting line of a 31-day-straight yoga marathon, I had a feeling I’d become familiar with both.

Of course, many yogis say a daily practice helps them stay balanced, and as an ADHD-afflicted inhabitant of our increasingly time-crunched and social media-saturated society, I hoped it would do the same for me. I got a taste of just how rejuvenating a yoga life could be last September, while attending my first yoga retreat in Ojai, California. During three fabulous and almost completely Facebook-less days there, I spent ample time with one of the organizers, Julie Hovsepian, a co-founder of the LA-based retreat and wellness marketing company, Birds of a Feather. Julie is one those always calm, always smiling, always positive people, and I chalked up at least part of the near-constant serenity to the fact that, for her, yoga is not just a means of physical fitness but a full-on lifestyle. Though she’s a busy entrepreneur, Julie manages to make it to a yoga class almost every day. What’s more, she finds so much joy in it. In Ojai, I marveled at how she seemed to embrace every single moment on the mat, no matter how challenging the pose. When I asked her if she ever gets anxious at the beginning of a class, thinking about how she was 90 minutes or more away from laying down in final rest, she answered with a big, beatific grin: “No, never.”

Lori Majewsi in Savasana after a private yoga class with Candice Maskell.

Me, I was all too familiar with those pre-class jitters. Although I’d been practicing yoga for 17 years, going into the retreat I worried about surviving four classes in two and a half days. Would I feel too tired? Too sore? Too out of my league? But by the time we convened the closing circle, I was wishing I’d signed up for a seven-day retreat instead. I was proud of my body for carrying me through, and my mind felt like it’d just been given a system update.

That got me thinking: Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could feel this centered, this content, this confident every day? Would a daily yoga practice help me to spend more time in the moment and less time toggling between Instagram and Twitter?

I also hoped daily yoga would help me to be physically stronger. And my normally tight hips had become so closed-up I’d recently begun expensive physical therapy.

Thus, I resolved to start 2016 by doing yoga, well, every damn day. Read on, as I share what I learned, as well as valuable insights and advice from the teachers and students I encountered along the way.

The world of yoga is vast—and every day is a chance to broaden your horizons. Before, I pretty much attended the same class once or twice a week: same time, same teacher. During my daily-yoga experiment I’ve learned that there are as many different class styles as there are teachers, so why stick to the same meal when you can sample all the flavors and cuisines that this all-you-can-eat buffet has to offer? During the past month I’ve taken classes in the Bhakti, Jivamukti, and Iyengar traditions. I received instruction from more than a dozen different teachers during weekdays, weekends, and holidays. I experienced my first full meditation in a class setting at Devotion Yoga, and at Euphoria Yoga in Woodstock, New York, I took part in my first yogi “birthing canal,” an emotional experience in which I walked eyes-closed through a lane of my fellow students who whispered kind wishes for the New Year in my ears. Lesson learned: Good things come to those who venture outside of their yoga comfort zone.

It’s not as difficult to find time for yoga as you think. One of the things that stood between me and a daily practice was the idea that I didn’t have the time for it—or the money. However, there are a plethora of options that anyone can access at all hours from their living room, such as free videos on YouTube or here on Sonima.com. This month, whenever I couldn’t make it to a studio, I popped in one of the 12 DVDs in the The Prasha Method by Dashama series ($12.69 at Target), which features 90-minute lessons for all levels led by the cheerful, internationally-known Dashama Konah Gordon. Going forward, I’m going to subscribe to her 30 Day Yoga Challenge subscription course ($14.97 for one month), which offers bite-size 10- to 20-minute clips. “If you always frequent the same yoga class, you’ll get a lot of the same poses, so with my yoga challenge, my aim was to provide variety and more in-depth experiences, to take people deeper,” says Dashama, who was one of the first yogis to offer classes online (her workouts can also be streamed via FitFusion.com). She devised her month-long program based on the belief that it takes 21 to 30 days to form a habit. “When you do something once or twice a week, you will see minimal results,” she says. “Sometimes you can maintain, but you won’t see the kind of improvements you will when you do something with more frequency. I want people to see results from their effort.”

I’ve come to see daily yoga as a necessity, not a luxury. When I told people I was doing yoga every day, some reacted as if I’d checked into a Swiss spa for four weeks. In fact, the opposite was true: Last month was one of the most challenging of my life. A beloved aunt died; my mother suffered a stroke; and I needed a biopsy after a mass was detected on my annual post-mammogram sonogram. (Thankfully, the cyst was benign.) As difficult a time as it was, though, I imagine it would have been far less tolerable — I would’ve been far less tolerable — had I not had that hour or so every day to turn inward and set a tone of positivity. Instead of reaching for a Xanax or a glass of wine, I made a beeline for my mat. “I have seen changes in my students, people who arrived with certain body issues and who have battled cancer,” says Thea Daley, yoga teacher and co-owner of The Daley Practice in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Personally, Daley has found that her 15-year daily practice has “helped me to deal better with what has been handed to me. If I had to miss even one class, it would feel like something was missing.” Adds Sarah Bond, one of my regular Devotion Yoga teachers and co-founder of the yoga and travel company One Hundred Skies: “Having a daily practice matters. Frequent, if not daily, yoga prepares you to handle life and all its challenges in a more relaxed and less destructive way. Through daily practice you are more present each time you come to the mat, which transfers to your daily life. We may come to yoga for many other reasons at first, but over time it’s the practice of living in the moment that truly grounds us and helps us to obtain that ultimate calm, clarity, and eventual bliss.”

Yoga Every Damn Day, yes—but my new goal is Yoga Every Damn Minute. “I think of my life as being yoga,” Daley told me. Now that I have a daily practice, I have an idea what she’s talking about. These days, when I depart the studio, I’m outfitted in yoga armor that protects me as re-enter into the boisterous outside world. I carry with me the uplifting mantras imparted by my teachers, allowing me to “settle my dust” and remember “I am enough” well after the final Om. A big benefit of a daily practice, says Bond, is “you find yourself keeping your yoga and your practice top of mind. The first thing you do in the morning is figure out what class you are attending and you work your day around it, not the other way around.” Actually, that’s the second thing I do in the morning. Currently the first thing I do is open my eyes to the sound of soothing music and a calm voice leading me through some energizing stretches or a short guided meditation, courtesy of Yoga Wake Up. The new app, which takes the place of an annoying buzzing alarm clock, is the brainchild of Joaquin Brown, who was inspired by a yoga class that started in the usually class-ending Savanna pose. “I thought, “This is the most amazing way to start your morning! I want to wake up like this every day’,” said Brown, who, then, along with his wife, yoga and wellness PR veteran Lizzie, began recruiting notable yogis Derek Beres, Elena Brower, and Jen Smith to record the 10-minute “wakeups” (some downloads are free; others cost 99 cents). Says Smith, group fitness manager for Equinox in LA’s Santa Monica and Century City: “Yoga Wake Up allows you to begin your day from the start with clarity, balance, and a sense of body-mind connection. This is a great foundation for a day filled with success, while feeling grounded.” It’s also allowed me to finally break my habit of immediately grabbing my smartphone and disappearing down the email and social media rabbit holes. Namaste!

Having a daily practice means not always having to do yoga — physical asanas, that is. Frequent yoga has clearly made me physically stronger. For example, while upper-body strength has always eluded me, as the month wore on, found I was able to hold planks for longer than before. Brendan Gibbons, instructor and co-owner of Devotion Yoga, adds that consistent yoga makes him “feel like I recover more quickly from injuries and sickness.” But even the most musclebound of dedicated power yogis shouldn’t turn it up to 11 every time. Gibbons advises everyone to “make sure some of their practice is gentle so that they aren’t causing any harm to themselves by practicing too hard. Add in a restorative class at least once a week or more.” And, some days, forgo the physical yoga altogether. “A person with injuries or limitations could also practice pranayama, which is a way of harnessing our prana or energy, also known as chi, by controlling the rhythm of our breath in various ways,” he says. In addition, one “can also practice dharana, which is concentration and dhyana, which is meditation. These are all very powerful tools to help us uncover our true nature, which is the heart of yoga.”

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