(This is week 4 of a 5-week series. Here are Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3)
I need to preface this post by saying that I am in Chicago and it is the end of a 4-day, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. plus 2-hour bus ride each way seminar, which was awesome and totally worth it, but I flew here overnight and pretty much haven't slept since last Tuesday, so if anything I say makes no sense, feel free to heckle me in the comments or email me and ask for clarification, whatever your style.
This week is important because it's the week your practice starts to become a habit. This is also an easy week to slack off, so you have to ask yourself whether a daily home practice is something you actually want to integrate into your life after this 5-week introduction. Incidentally, I didn't call it a "5-week yoga challenge," even though more people will participate if you use that kind of language, because more people will also finish the 5 weeks and then think "I achieved my goal, now I'm done." I am not challenging you to do yoga for 5 weeks. I don't care whether each "week" section takes you a month. My goal is for you to start seeing a home yoga practice as something that is possible for you. Many people are intimidated by the beginning of a new habit, especially one that they associate with a classroom-with-expert-teacher type setting, and I want to help you to not feel about yoga the way you felt about fifth grade math class. Having a teacher to guide you is fantastic and important, but I want you to see your yoga practice as something fundamentally yours that a good teacher can help you work on and improve for yourself.
Okay, so this is the week when the amount of time you've been spending on yoga each day is most likely to be the amount of time that will "stick" and fit well into your daily life. If you've been doing 20 minutes a day, great. An hour, great. (5 minutes a day, you should probably keep building for a few more weeks. 3 hours a day means you're not starting a new habit, you're doing a challenge, and that's fine, but scale it back to something you can maintain.)
This is where week 4 gets fun. Now you know the amount of time you can reasonably spend on yoga every day. You see that it is possible for you to do yoga without a teacher giving you directions, whether you're writing your flows in advance or just winging it, and by now your body knows that you are trying to build something new. Now think of a pose that you want to do but think you'll never be able to do. My pose is handstand. It's possible for my body to do a handstand, even with my current (embarrassingly low) level of upper-body strength. I know this because I took an inversion workshop at the NW Yoga Conference in Seattle last year and Kathryn Budig (who is awesome even though she's famous) actually physically put me in a handstand, as in helped me get my feet up in the air and then held them there, and my arms supported me and I did not fall and die. However, as soon as I got home, my brain completely forgot that experience, and I haven't been able to even kick up into handstand against the wall one time since. I either don't make it all the way to the wall or I freak out and my arms collapse and I fall on my head. Not graceful.
Okay, so handstand has been my unicorn for years now, and I decided that this is my year. I'm going to do a handstand, and not just that, I'm going to press up, not kick (which requires more core strength and is less likely to give me a concussion). I've broken down the pose into 3 areas of weakness: upper body strength, arm balances (which are less about upper body strength and more about not falling on your face), and core strength. I'm working on those things, and practicing lead-in poses to handstand, like walking up the wall into an inverted L shape.
Your homework is to write down at least one unicorn pose, and then all the things you think are preventing you from doing it. If you are in awesome shape and the only thing preventing you from doing the pose is fear, come talk to me. If you think there are physical reasons you can't currently do the pose, write them down. Then write down lists of poses that will improve that area of your ability. The key here is to write down at least 3 areas to work on, otherwise you risk un-balancing your practice. The other key is not to work on your unicorn every day. You don't want to make your entire practice about doing one pose. Whether or not you actually ever end up doing that pose doesn't really matter, some poses aren't available to some people for structural reasons, and that's fine. Doing a handstand (or whatever) is not the point of yoga. The point of working on a unicorn is to stretch your practice. To get you to think bigger and further into the future so you're more likely to challenge yourself. You want your practice to grow, and giving yourself a goal to work on is a good way to motivate that, but even if you "catch" your unicorn, you're not done practicing. Then you just incorporate it into your practice and move on to something else.
This week, work on your unicorn 3 or 4 days, and keep doing what you've been doing the other days. Particularly focus on breath and meditation on the "non-unicorn" days. Notice if you feel more motivated to challenge yourself. If you do, it's working. If you don't, there's always next week.