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Michael and the Sunnies Challenge

I went to my first yoga class willingly in 2011, though I like to tell people I was brainwashed into it like Patty Hearst into the Symbionese Liberation Army. 2011 was a tough year. I had been through 4 months of chemotherapy, 9 months of heavy steroids and immune suppressing drugs. My greatest achievement that year was learning to swallow 18 pills at once without gagging. By the fall of that year, I was beat down and vulnerable and my pals Mindy and Julie spotted it and took advantage of me. They didn’t lock me in a closet and hand me a machine gun. No. Instead they bored me for 2 ½ hours of “yoga has changed my life; let me tell you all 406 ways” and “yes, chubby people can do yoga; let me tell you how” and “my favorite 48 poses are…”. Zzzzzzz. Being vulnerable, the brainwashing worked and a few weeks later I was taking yoga classes.

Two years later, I love yoga. It has changed my life in 406 ways. I was chubby and could do yoga just fine. I love most asanas except those that cause me to fall on to my ass(ana) every time. I love all the warriors, the twists, the inversions, the balance poses, the folds. But, the one thing I have really struggled with is the sun salutation sequences. During classes I’ve never liked them and can’t wait for them to be over. Why? The pacing is too fast or slow and rarely where I practice best. The sequence is different from instructor to instructor. I forget which leg I’m lunging with. So I get cranky about them. I know. I know. I should do my own practice, even in class. Reality is though that I’m competitive (shame, shame) and self-conscious and still have a strong desire to blend in class. And If I’m still like this two years in to my yoga journey, imagine how I was when I started. Eek. Progress.

So in late fall, I noticed my pal Mindy posting sweaty pictures of herself on Facebook with the hashtag #ganeshasunnieschallenge. I looked into it and discovered the Ganesha Sun Salutation Challenge- 24 sun salutations each day for 30 days. Initially horrified, I thought that sounded like a completely insane and miserable thing to do. Jane and Mindy’s excitement and encouragement is infectious though and I reluctantly joined in the fun a week later. I have always struggled with a home practice because I couldn’t figure out what to do. But here were my instructions- 24 sunnies a day for 30 days. Okay.

Making the challenge work for me was difficult at the beginning. It took lots of adjustment to the sequence in the first several days. I had to remove the lunges because I was getting too hung up about forgetting which leg I lunged on first. Next, I had to figure out the right pace. It turned out that one very long inhale or exhale per movement and not lingering beyond one breath in each pose was perfect for me. Doing that increased the speed of the sequence a bit, but I rarely end up getting lost in my breath/movement sequence. I then gave myself permission to modify the sequence to accommodate what my body was telling me it needed. For example, some days I need to do all up dogs after chaturanga and some days all cobras or a mix of both. I even gave myself permission to give up the chanty/gongy music I thought I should be listening to and put on some Fischerspooner and let loose. I also needed to overcome my bad attitude and just do the practice even on days when I didn’t want to. When I was done, I never regretted it.

Just over two weeks later, I feel a lot stronger. I have gradually added more asanas to the practice instead of just flopping in to savasana after my sun salutations. I feel more mindful and connected with what my body is telling me it wants during practice. I feel a muscle/breath memory developing that has allowed me to occasionally get lost in my sun salutations and find that several minutes have passed by without much awareness of my surroundings. What I’ve realized is that I have finally given myself permission to have MY practice. I don’t have to get a yoga stamp of approval on it from anyone. It is MINE and I can do with it what I please. For the first time, I feel like I have a strong foundation for an ongoing home practice. And that, friends, feels great. If you haven’t joined in the Ganesha Sun Salutations Challenge, it is never too late. You won’t regret it and your life may change in 406 ways that you can share with all your non-yoga friends.

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