Thirty

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No I definitely do not look like this, but my inner peace does! photocred

One of the shortest Ted talks I repeatedly refer to for inspiration is by Matt Cutts. The 3 minute 20 second talk describes how Cutts was able to transform every single aspect of his life by trying a hobby for 30 days. He took up photography, rode his bike to work, and even wrote a novel! His challenges had such a positive impact on his life and health, that he was able to advance his career, change his perspective on happiness, and even climb up Mt. Kilamanjaro! He simplifies the idealogy to “small changes = sustainable”.

The phenomenon of “Thirty Day Challenges” are everywhere. Just a quick scroll on Pinterest will show you 30 day detoxes, 30 day happiness plans, 30 day recipe challenges, and so many other diverse projects you can take on. I’ve tried to complete 30 day challenges before – I remember vividly trying to hold abdominal planks for as long as the day’s challenge told me to when I was following the 30 day, 30 plank challenges. I think I gave up around day 4. I also remember trying to follow 30 day fitness calendars, as per the Blogilates regimen. During the summer after my freshman year of college, the pilates calendars were working for me, and I lost around 15 pounds and felt in great shape! Yet, the moment I’d return to campus, the fitness regimens would fall apart.

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Well, today was my last day of the DoYouYoga.com 30 Day Beginner Yoga Challenge. I completed all 30 days of yoga videos in order without skipping a single day. I have gained so much in such a little time, and have been able to commit to a safer, healthier lifestyle. Here are some lessons from my experiment:

ONE. Do it every day at the same time – I recently finished reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. The book analyzes habit loops and teaches you how to create a new habit and how powerful habits are in our daily lives. The book opened my eyes to the extent of the role habits play in our psyche. I can tell from the moment I get out of bed in the morning if my day is going to go well or not just by if I remembered to fill up my water bottle so I can drink my morning 8 ounces. If the water bottle is present, I don’t think twice about it and proceed to consider other aspects of morning routine, like showering and eating breakfast. Duhigg writes about the habit loop: a cue which leads you into a routine that ends in a reward. He gives an example of his own habit routine with eating cookies and gaining weight in this video (it’s a fun watch!).

For me, I was able to learn from the book that if I wanted to start a new habit, I’d need to cue myself daily to do the routine, and provide myself with a reward. I set up the cue – an alarm on my phone. This alarm would ring every day at 3:00 pm. It was automatic, and would require no conscious effort on my part. I didn’t want to set myself up to fail, and taking up too much of my mental effort when I’m studying for the MCAT was definitely out of the option. This cue led to me unplugging my laptop and taking it into my bedroom, where my yoga mat sits neatly rolled in a corner, awaiting my routine practice. I’d play the day’s video, usually about 15-18 minutes in length, and allow myself to work towards relaxation and flexibility. Afterwards, I’d roll up my yoga mat and store it in the corner of my room, wash my face and hands, and proceed to the kitchen to enjoy my reward – an afternoon snack. I quickly realized that yoga is best performed on an empty stomach, and wanted to kill 2 birds with one stone (my horrendous afternoon eating habits and lack of activity) by finding a routine that would force me to think about why I was eating.

Pretty soon, I’d find myself consciously stopping workflow around 2:50 and mentally anticipating yoga practice time. I began reading various yoga blogs and learning more about the spirituality behind the practice. As a woman of South Asian descent, I’m familiar with the practice of yoga, but I never before attempting to delve as deeply into the challenge as I found myself going. This leads me to my next point,

TWO. The benefits of Yoga are far beyond the physical movement. I’m dealing with a difficult time in my life, where I see other people able to take flight in their careers and relationships from what feels like my cage at home, as I study to retake an examination and reapply to medical school. Yoga has taught me to walk along a path of acceptance. I cannot control what happened in my past, and I need to learn to only reference it from time to time, not LIVE in it like I am doing. I’d find myself pressed to the verge of tears in poses, wondering whether it was from the pride I felt in being able to hold a downward dog without panting or whether Erin Motz’s points on the yoga video led me to really open up internally. I attempted this project with an open heart, really hoping to explore my inner thoughts on this journey and hoping for the strength to change. Little by little, I found myself replacing my afternoon microwave popcorn snack with an apple (of course it was slathered in peanut butter). I have been able to turn away from caffeine completely (even the little amount in my Tazo Zen), and drink around 3-4 cups of herbal tea daily. I start and end each day with a guided meditation (from calm.com, Stop Breathe Think, and Pacifica). I turn to meditation to take study breaks instead of mindlessly watching Netflix and YouTube. I journal more, and when I express gratitude, I’m really meaning it. I leap out of bed in the morning to cycle through a Vinayasa flow, when 28 days ago I could not even hold a downward dog for more than 30 seconds. I’ve already downloaded the calendar for my next 30 day yoga challenge, and am excited to continue this journey tomorrow.

THREE. My focus and concentration has improved. The most surprising part of these past 30 days was the improvement in my ability to study. I barely noticed it at first. My study sessions were getting longer by 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, a full hour. I found myself in a flow of sorts, an optimal arousal for study without being too distracted or overwhelmed. Whenever I found myself getting overwhelmed, I just focused on deep,¬†diaphragmatic breathing, and brought my attention to myself. I don’t feel shame at falling behind on my study schedules in the past when I’d feel too overwhelmed to continue. Rather, I acknowledge the pieces that led me to feel that way and take an introspective look at myself. I learned that I like to work with music or some documentaries/Ted videos in the background. However, when it’s time for me to learn a difficult concept, I can completely focus on the task at hand. I don’t see my to-do lists as handcuffs anymore, and I don’t feel trapped by my past. I’ve been inspired to work hard and tap into my inner energy for success. And so far, I’ve been very happy with the results.

I hope that you are able to find your yoga, your passion for self-care and relaxation, in whatever means you can. The strategies for taking care of myself will be invaluable for my future career in medicine, and help me accept the present more than I ever did while I was in college, constantly pining of the future.

–A.