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Sun Salutations: From Resistance to Acceptance! (and Improvement)

On the 20th September, I set myself a goal to do
10 sun salutations a day for 30 days. This week, I completed my 30th
consecutive day of downdogs , cobras, and forwards folds, and I wanted to share
my journey and inspirations with you. (I have done 6 more days, but then missed
a day out on a lazy Sunday and something in me wanted the days to be
consecutive!)

This was an unusual goal for me to pick – I only do yoga
occasionally, on the Wellbeing Retreats that I run alongside business partner,
and friend, Lindsey, who is a yoga instructor. I lead the walking and NLP
coaching that we do, and she leads the twice daily yoga sessions, which is
really the only yoga I’ve done.  A couple
of times in these sessions, she’s led us through a traditional routine of yoga
poses called sun salutations, or Surya Namaskara in its Sanskrit name, normally
only for 2-3 rounds.  I always found I
had a real resistance to doing these, that bubbled up as soon as she announced
it and continued throughout the routine.
On reflection, this was probably because I was finding it hard as my
body wasn’t used to it. Voicing this resistance over lunch on retreat one day
(backed by another retreat participant who felt similar,) Lindsey decided in
that evening’s yoga session that we would do a round of 10 sun salutations to
break through our resistance……

It didn’t. By the end, I still hated doing them, and hated
myself even more for how unfit and inflexible I was.

The thing that changed was the next morning, at 7am. Again,
Lindsey suggested that we do a round of 10 sun salutations, met with load
groans from the both of us. However, Lindsey then suggested that we do them
outside, on the grass, facing the sunrise.

Wow……that’s all I can say! Being outside made a world of
difference. Instead of feeling unfit and sweaty in the yoga studio, the gentle
breeze meant it was good to be moving as it warmed you up in the early morning
freshness. Instead of watching Lindsey leading the moves in front of me (and
comparing myself unfavourably) I could watch the glow of warmth as the sunlight
spread across green fields and caught the colours of autumn on the trees. And
just as we reached sun salutation number 8, the sun itself burst above the
skyline, rising from behind the mountain side with majestic splendour. This was
truly something I could salute; a magical start to the day that made me feel
grateful to be alive and inspired by the wonders of the natural beauty all
around me. 10 rounds went by with no sign of resistance……even Lindsey’s
suggestion of an 11th round to dedicate to someone in need was done
willingly.

In that moment, I finally ‘got’ what yoga was all about. I
understood how people could fall in love with it, and dedicate themselves to a
practice every day. And, egged on my retreat mates, I decided to challenge
myself to doing 10 sun salutations a day for 30 days.

Now, having completed 30 consecutive
days (36 day in total), here’s something things I have learnt:

1. I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t challenged myself –
there’s been a few occasions where I made it through to bed time without doing
them, and could have easily just fallen into bed, but the yoga mat was staring
accusingly at me. Particularly once I decided that I wanted to do it as 30
consecutive days, the self-pressure increased day-by-day not to throw away X
many days previously.

Learning: Setting a
clear goal, and being disciplined about achieving it, really helps your
motivation and chances of success.

2. My flexibility has improved quite considerably in just 30
days. At the beginning of the challenge, there were some movements (coming out
of downward dog into my forward fold for example)  were I had to help my leg into the correct
position with my hands. Now, I can do a full 10 rounds without needing to
adjust my position with my hands.

Learning: Doing
something consistently for a relatively short amount of time, allows
incremental improvements that can only be noticed over time.

3. Your left and right side can be quite different from each
other. In the above example, my left leg progressed to unaided movement after
about a week, whereas my right leg took over two weeks to get to the same
point. I have no idea why, and channelling one of Lindsey’s yoga mantras to
just accept where you’re at, I just accepted each side for what it was each
day.

Learning: Accept
where you are at each day. It may be different from yesterday, it may be
different from other people and it may be different from where you want to be,
but it’s where you are.

4. My strength has improved. Part of the sequence is to do a
plank, lowering it towards the floor. At the beginning, I had to drop to my
knees as my arms were not strong enough to support me (i.e. could not even hold
up my weight when stationary, let alone when trying to do a slow controlled lower
towards the floor.) Now, I can hold the plank for some time (and sometimes hold
it for a count of 10 before continuing the sequence) and can just about make it
to the floor in a controlled manner without using my knees or faceplanting into
the mat. There’s still a way to go until I could do a press-up, but this is
still significant progress in just 30 days.

Learning: Doing
something and making just a small improvement is better than doing nothing at
all.

5. I’m overall fitter. I used to get really out of breath
doing a round of 10. I am now just slightly out of breath at the end. Not a
huge change, but definitely a noticeable one, and one I didn’t expect from
doing yoga. I always associate this type of fitness with things like running
and cycling and hadn’t considered how a dynamic yoga routine could have the
same effect.

Learning: Sometimes,
positive consequences come in ways you don’t expect when you set about making a
change.

6. You can do sun salutations at any time. Although
traditionally done at sunrise, I am not traditionally a ‘morning person.’ On
occasion, my busy schedule for the day meant that first thing in the morning
was the most sensible time to fit them in, but on these occasions, I found my
body felt extra stiff and I found myself frustrated that my flexibility was not
as good as the previous day. Throughout the 30 days, I have done them at
varying times of day, from first thing, to after being up for a few hours in my
PJs, just before a shower, in the afternoon, in the evening before dinner, and
sometimes at midnight before bed when I’ve forgotten. I have found my
flexibility is at its best mid-afternoon.

Learning: It doesn’t
matter when you do something, as long as you do it. Doing a little something
every day towards goal keeps momentum going.

7. You can do sun salutations anywhere. Through the course
of my work, I have spent several nights camping or away staying in bunkhouses,
and have done them in the middle of the campsite, on the floor of a campsite
toilet block (when it was raining really hard to prevent me being outside),
sandwiched between 2 twin beds in a bunkhouse in a space literally just wide
enough for my mat, and also on a beautiful pebble beach at St. Mary’s Loch on a
stunningly still day, overlooking the reflections of the mountains. While the
location looked great, I quickly discovered that pebbles were not the most
comfortable thing to have under my mat!

Learning: Stop making
excuses about not having enough time or enough space, or the right environment.
Make time and make space.

8. Sun Salutations have a calming, meditative effect on me.
It’s not surprising really – you’re concentrating on your movements and your
breathing all the way through the routine. While I struggle to find time (or
motivation) for 10 minutes of stationary, seated meditation, you can actually
be mindful and meditative while doing Surya Namaskara.

Learning: Find the
way that works for you. Just because there’s a ‘traditional’ or ‘accepted’ way,
it doesn’t mean it’s the only way.

9. I have favourite numbers. Getting to number 4 always
prompts a reaction of ‘ooh, good, I’m at number 4 – nearly half way.’ Number 7
also feels good – I’ve broken the back of the routine and know I’m going to
finish. Numbers 9 and 10 always seem to go really quickly. On occasion, I’ve
probably done a number 11 due to losing count part way through and doing an
extra one just to make sure.

Learning: Breaking a
hard task into small pieces and celebrating achievements part way through helps
keep motivation to get to the end. Give yourself some credit!

So these are just some of the things that I’ve learnt from
doing 30 days of sun salutations. Sometimes the things we find the hardest are
the things with the biggest benefit. The next time you feel yourself having a
resistance to something, don’t ask yourself why. Find a way to break through
that resistance.

If you’d like to explore the benefits
of yoga, work towards a goal in your life or simply enjoy a relaxing
weekend away, join us on our next Wellbeing Retreat on 24th – 27th March
2017.  Our retreat combines a unique mix of yoga, walking and NLP
coaching, set in the beautiful Scottish Highlands.

Here’s  recent, short testimonial from one of our September guests:
“Yoga and Bonnie Scotland! What more could you ask for?!”

Visit www.reachthepeak.co.uk/wellbeing-retreat for more information,  or
contact me by email: cat@reachthepeak.co.uk or phone: 07757 542956.

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