13 Lessons I Learned From 31 Days of Yoga

People always ask me “how much yoga should I do?” as though yoga is obviously this super important part of a balanced fitness diet. I always work really hard not to roll my eyes, but the truth is I feel like doing yoga is about as important as making your bed, or brushing your hair. Some people absolutely swear by it, but the rest of us do just fine without, thankyouverymuch.

Full disclosure, I’ve probably taken a dozen yoga classes in my whole life, and I hated every miserable second of them. My list of grievances was so long that I managed to leave each class significantly more angry and depressed than I started it. Once (after briefly deciding that I wanted this holy Mecca of peace and flexibility to be a part of my life), I called my yoga-loving friend at the end of a yoga class furious. “This sucks! WHAT THE FUCK AM I MISSING?!” She was baffled.

Any time I mentioned my miserable experiences to yoga-lovers, they all seemed to just dreamily croon the same useless rhetoric, implying that if I just kept trying, my Mecca would come.

“It’s really about finding the right teacher…”

“You just have to keep going, it gets sooo much better!”

“Oooh I bet you’d love xyz class, it’s so hard, I’m sore for days!”

Well guess what, you peaceful motherfuckers? If I wanted to be sore and sweaty, I would just go lift weights. I don’t even care about getting flexible! I just wanted access to that allegedly zen, peaceful happy place that I kept hearing about. I’m a high-strung NYC workaholic, and I wanted dem dreamy, peaceful, namaste vibes.

But yoga did not feel good or peaceful or even fun to me, not once, not ever, not for even one second. I fucking hated it. In fairness of course, it wasn’t really “yoga” I hated. I mean, yeah the poses made me mad, but it wasn’t really the poses, right?

I mostly just hated feeling like an idiot, or a failure. After all, I spend all day every day knowing the exact precise purpose of every movement I use with clients, or in my own training. I’m not used to feeling lost, or confused, or bad at stuff. And I really did not enjoy the imprecise process of trying to copy a bunch of vague shapes with my body, without understanding why.

I also hated hearing body-negative language disguised as “motivation.” I didn’t come to class to tone up, and I do not want to be told that a certain pose is “important for flat abs.” Plus, aside from being morally opposed to the idea that anyone should ever exercise to burn off or “earn” their calories, hearing language like that also feels incredibly patronizing. I mean, even if was trying to “earn dinner” (barf), I sure as hell wouldn’t do it with 42 sun salutations. I would go do something that’s actually effective.

Lastly, I have to admit that I have never done well with someone telling me what to do. Even having a spotter or training partner causes me to get all defensive and mean. I trust myself, and push myself for internal reasons. The moment it becomes external I shut down hard and become a monster.

*shrug* Whatever, we all have our stuff. Anyway, the moral of this story is: being told what to do in a yoga class brought out the absolute worst in me. Like… worst, as in:

“Don’t tell me when to inhale, bitch. I do what I fucking want.

So, yeah. Crazy and irrational, I know. I KNOW. But I have this lifelong policy to let my anger/fear/resistance guide me. Irrational anger has always been a big red flag telling me that something needs to get examined and handled. Underneath every chip on my shoulder has been a huge opportunity for releasing and growth.

When the chip on my shoulder was about society’s standards of femininity, I wore dresses every day for 3 months. When I was mad about the automatic assumption that love had to equal monogamy or marriage, I asked every single partnered person I knew to justify their relationship.

I decided in light of my resistance to yoga, I should do a more fucking yoga. Yay. I saw a daily backbends challenge on instagram- one yoga pose every day, for all of July. I committed to it on my Remodel Fitness Instagram and Facebook pages, and got started.

Each day, I spent a few minutes browsing through videos and photos of different bodies and different levels doing the assigned pose, so I could get a sense of what part of the pose was critical, and what was open to interpretation. Then I took my phone outside and caught my attempts on video. Often I would re-watch my first attempt and go… wow, I thought I was doing something completely different. Take two. Sometimes three. Then I’d post a screengrab of the moment I liked best, with whatever thoughts I had laying around my skull, and move on. I learned 31 poses in 31 days this way.

Sometimes I would hate how a pose felt but loved how it looked, or vice versa. Some poses I ended up very proud of, and some I straight up despised. It was very hit or miss, but I learned a ton. A little about yoga and a lot about myself. In sharing my experience, I hope to inspire you to address any chips that have taken up residence on your own shoulders. Maybe it’s yoga, maybe it’s something else, but we all have stuff that needs examining and unblocking, and there is so much growth and joy on the other side.

13 Lessons I Learned From 31 Days of Yoga

  1. Mental engagement is important. I love to learn and solve puzzles, not follow along mindlessly. I’m happiest when I’m mentally engaged, and in a yoga classroom setting, I always felt like I was always “following,” not “learning.” Doing the poses in my backyard gave me the time and space to be fully engaged, and that felt great. 

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  1. I have to honor my independence. I hate being told what to do. It robs me of my most valued possession: my autonomy. I need freedom and independence to be happy; I always have. I like to work at my own pace and figure shit out myself, and when someone else is telling me what to do, or even waiting on me in any way, I feel pressure. Pressure makes me stressed and frustrated. So if I wanna “get into” yoga, I’m probably gonna have to be self-taught for a while.

  2. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Classes made me automatically compare myself to others. There’s a reason I talk a lot about not comparing yourself to others: comparison literally sucks all the joy out of everything. I didn’t realize I had even been comparing myself during yoga classes, until I started this challenge. Lesson learned. Stay at home until I can stay focused on me and my journey, even when I’m downward-dogging next to some tall blonde yoga goddess Gumby.

  3. Restriction sucks. Less clothes = happier Jessi. I wore less and less clothing as the month went on, and the less I wore, the more I felt I was honoring myself. I’ve always loved being naked, and the closer I came to my natural state, the more the whole experience felt like an act of self-care. There is something about covering up (even a bare-minimum “appropriate” amount) to go into public that feels fraudulent to me. Posing alone in my backyard, in my undies, made me feel free. I also now have every intention of posing naked someday, but most people still believe in “wearing clothes,” so… baby steps. 

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  1. I am gorgeous, and I love myself. My body is capable of some elegant shit, and I was really surprised at how well I was able to land some poses. I thought seeing myself do yoga would be so ugly. But seeing a photo of that one moment when a pose locked in perfectly allowed me to see with new eyes how gorgeous my body can be. I felt this way when I first starting filming myself lifting weights in the gym, too. I had no idea how beautiful and strong I looked!  My experience inside a pose might have been torture, but seeing a photo that captured a split second of grace and elegance made me want to keep going. 

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  1. I am ugly, and I love myself. My body is capable of some really cringe-worthy stuff too, and I was equally surprised by how awful some poses looked on my body. Sometimes my spine looked broken, or my feathers got all ruffled. Sometimes I got frustrated, or irritated. But embracing only the “beautiful” aspects of yourself is no way to live a joyful life. I always aim to love and embrace all parts of myself, and doing this challenge helped me embrace those supposedly “ugly” sides of myself with a little bit more compassion, gratitude, and love.

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  1. Through awareness comes change. Seeing video feedback of your body makes you better. A few years ago, when I first started filming myself lifting weights and doing challenges in the gym, my training and body improved tenfold. The same thing happened during this challenge. Objective awareness of what your body is doing is a big key to getting better, and enjoying the process more.

  2. Just be you. There is no “right” way to do yoga. Some practices are very traditional and strict, and some are far more creative and interpretive. You get to choose. When I first realized that some of my favorite Instagram yogis were just fucking around and making shapes for fun, I was so relieved. I had always thought yoga needed to be this serious zen thing, but it’s really just another way to move. It doesn’t have to be peaceful, or masterful, or even serious. It doesn’t have to be anything. Which is such a relief, because that means I don’t have to fake anything! I can just show up and be me, and see what happens.

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  1. Let go of expectation. I always hear about people having these amazing chakra-opening experiences. Everyone else seems to feel so open and lovey and just sooo gooooood during and after yoga. I expected to feel that way too, and I really wanted to! Maybe someday I will, but right now I got nothin. I don’t get good feelings from yoga, and that’s ok. Luckily, I can feel all those feelings when I lift weights, hike, write, have sex, or practice mindfulness. So honestly… who the hell cares?

  2. Let go of perfectionism. You don’t need to practice for 90 minutes to get something out of yoga. Which is good, because I would never had made that much time for a hobby I didn’t even like. I mean… I adore lifting weights, and I still only dedicate around 40 minutes to that! I only practiced yoga for about 3 minutes every day this month, but look how much I learned and grew! Plus that’s still 90 more minutes than I did the month before. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking that’s not “enough,” but the truth is it worked for me and it’s awesome. 

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  1. Always align new habits align with your priorities. It was easy to stick to my goal of posing and posting everyday, because it perfectly aligned with what’s important to me. A top priority for me right now is building my business. Frequent posts and content help increase my reach on social media. More reach means my message can spread to help more people, so making time to film a daily pose meant potentially better business! But if this challenge had somehow gone against my business, I would never have found time every day to stick to it. It’s extremely important when undertaking a new habit that it aligns with your current values and priorities. 

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  1. Trying new stuff helps you get you unstuck. At first I would put off filming the pose until the end of the day, because I hadn’t thought of something to say about it yet. Then I realized that the experience of trying it always stirred stuff up. I often knew exactly what I wanted to say as soon as I tried the pose. Trying new stuff makes you think about things differently, which leads to creativity and growth. Growth is the opposite of feeling stuck. So if you’re ever feeling stuck, go try some new shit. (Especially new shit that scares you, or makes you mad!) 

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  1. Yoga can help you love yourself. It’s so easy to hyper-focus on how you look: your weight, body fat percentage, muscle definition, abs, thighs, face, whatever. But by doing so, you are inviting a constant stream of stress and criticism by the one person who is supposed to love you unconditionally- you. If I wanted to, I could easily find a dozen things that are “imperfect” about my body. But I don’t do that, because that feels awful and gets me absolutely nowhere. I’ve trained myself to focus on what I can do, rather than what I look like. This is one of the most important principles I teach for learning to love and accept your body. Anything that helps you focus on what you can do instead of how you look is going to boost body-positivity and acceptance. So while yoga might not be my ticket to peaceful, dreamy namaste vibes, it is one more tool in my toolbox for loving myself. And that’s pretty cool.

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I am passionate about helping women learn to love their bodies. That includes unlearning what a woman “should” be, feeling empowered and confident in yourself, embracing your authentic power, and creating a life so kick-ass and beautiful that you hardly have any time or energy left over to think about how your body looks. 😉

That’s why I created 

The Empowered Women Project

— for women like you, who are sick of being judged for what you look like, and want to focus instead on all the amazing things you can do and be. Click here to know more

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