It’s an unseasonably warm Monday evening, and even warmer inside the studio at DIG Yoga in Queen Village. I’m hiding in the back near the door. Sweat drips from my forehead, staining my new Lululemon yoga mat, as I struggle in downward-facing dog. I glance at the girl next to me—she looks totally Zen—and begin contemplating a fast, early exit. This is only day one of my 30-day yoga challenge, and I’m starting to think I’ve made a terrible mistake.
I always assumed I would hate yoga: the snail-like pace, the lack of competitiveness, the hippie-dippy ommmms. But for the sake of New Year’s—fresh starts! Personal challenges!—I decided to give it a fair shake: 30 days of yoga classes, at 30 different studios in the Philadelphia area. If I didn’t like yoga after this experiment, I figured I’d officially be a lost cause.
The first week was hell. I’m a fairly decent runner, but I wasn’t used to stretching and bending. “Listen to your body, and don’t push past what it’s able to do,” instructor Johnathan Raiss told me after a particularly grueling class at Fishtown’s Amrita Yoga. It was a nugget of advice I would hear again and again: Not only does forcing your body into yogic submission invite injury; it won’t help you become stronger, bendier or more confident on the mat.
When I focused on doing the poses in ways that worked for my body, something started to happen: By week two, I could easily touch my fingers to the floor. My arms and shoulders were getting noticeably stronger; my abs were tighter. I could keep pace with the rest of the class. I was able to focus and stopped comparing myself to the people around me. And oddly enough, I was enjoying it.
Nearly halfway through the challenge, I attended an evening class at Yoga on the Ridge in Roxborough. By the time I got there, only one spot was left: front row, dead center. Without batting an eye, I rolled out my now-well-used yoga mat. I wasn’t hiding in the back corner, and for the first time, I didn’t care. After 30 days, I still can’t do a headstand, but I’m getting there—front row, dead center.
Curious about where I did all those down-dogs during the challenge? Here's my day-by-day diary of all the studios and classes I attended.
Day 1: DIG Yoga
Location: Queen Village
Class: DIG Hour
Instructor: Nikki Robinson
This is what I would consider my "home" studio (in that I've taken a half dozen classes here in the past, which is approximately a half dozen more than I've taken at any other studio), so I thought it was the right place to start. This particular DIG Hour turned out to be all about abs. A fun class to start this challenge with. I have to admit that I felt a bit sheepish and sort of hid in the back, but I think this is something all newbies go through. Being able to watch the more advanced yogis around me was helpful, in terms of knowing what the heck I'm supposed to be doing, but it was a bit of an ego blow. I just need to embrace my beginner status and learn to be okay with it (something that's a bit of a challenge for a person who's as competitive as I am.) But hey, it's Day 1 and I'm already learning a lesson. The class itself was a sweaty, steady pace, and the perfect way to burn some steam before bed. I felt strong and confident. Bonus: I slept like a total baby.
Day 2: Maha Yoga and Healing Arts
Location: Center City
Instructor: Justicia DeClue
So THIS is where all the yogis in Center City go for happy hour. We were packed in there like sardines, which made this moderate-to-fast-paced class sweaty, sweaty, sweaty. Very fun, relaxed community vibe.