Like about half the people I know, it seems, I’m doing the Yoga with Adriene 30 day January yoga series. It’s my third or fourth time doing it, and so far I’ve been badge-worthily consistent.
This year’s theme is breath. Which means there’s a lot of, you know, breathing.
Ujjayi breathing, alternating nostril breathing, just plain breathing. Breathing and feeling our bellies. Breathing and listening to our stillness. Lots of breathing.
There’s yoga too, but there sure is a lot of breathing.
With my brain, I understand why she’s focused on breathing — for all the reasons I’ve struggled over the year of covid to still myself, for the very reason I wrote about last spring in a post called “my empty yoga mat.” When the world around you is a swirl, it can be very hard to slow down and experience it, calm yourself, be with it. For all the reasons I made my word of the year “steadfast.” I know it’s the right theme.
And yet. And yet! I do not love it.
More to the point, sometimes it actively irks me.
I’m not alone in this. Many of the people in my 221 in 2021 workout group are also doing this series, and how we feel about this slower, breath-heavy series is the subject of some serious discussion in the chat. Some people appreciate it — “I’m really liking the quiet inwardness of the focus on breath.” “Me too! I was surprised to discover it’s exactly what I need right now!“, others find it irritating — “I have to really work on not checking my email” — and others acknowledge that they find it challenging but that probably means that’s what they need — “the slow pace help me accommodate some movements. Also, I am so bad at the breath stuff that I can definitely do with some practice.”
I have developed a habit of light-hearted complaining about the breathing when I log the sessions in my workout group, and I noticed some people hear my comments as more negative or snarky than I intended. It prompted someone to start a discussion the other day about “why do you do it if you don’t enjoy it?”
That took me aback — I do so many movement things that I don’t actively “enjoy”! Interval workouts on the bike, hill workouts when I’m running, the first 15 minutes of any run, rehab exercises from my chiropractor, animal flow and kickboxing in Alex’s Virtual Superhero classes, burpees, stretching, the latter part of any endurance ride, hiking or riding in the rain…. There are so many aspects of movement that I grumble about but do, or cheerfully describe as “I hate this!”
This made me think about how so often, things I don’t “enjoy” — or actively dislike — are an integral part of the overall experience of movement. And of so many things that are important to me, like travel, or writing.
With Adriene’s breathing, specifically, what I don’t “enjoy” is feeling slowed down when I’ve ramped myself up to get motivated to get on the map. It’s a tension, especially when I’m trying to slot movement into a narrow window of time. I’m sure I can benefit from more meditative moments, but I tend to really be able to inhabit them either when I am deliberately choosing meditation, or when they come after movement, not at the beginning. I love a good shivasana; I don’t love a lot of sitting at the beginning of practice.
So why do I continue with this series when it’s called “Breath”? Instead of repeating last year’s series (“Home” — I blame her for invoking a year when we all had to stay home!), or some other yoga series?
It’s not even a question for me!
First, I’m ridiculously motivated by completism and badge-acquisition. I started this series, I’ll finish it. Just like I’ll finish my quest to do every route in Zwift, even the one that will take me about six hours. I get pleasure from crossing things off lists, filling out habit trackers, using a bullet journal approach to my work tasks, getting the dopamine hit when I get an electronic notification of a new meaningless badge, like riding the “virtual height” of everest in zwift or walking the length of Africa in fitbit. It gives me joy to cross each day off the calendar, fulfills something important about the kind of person I like to be. I finish things I start. Finishing it faaaar supercedes elements I don’t care for.
Second, following a series creates a container for me to do a daily yoga practice. Of course I could just make it myself, but I never do. I don’t follow her rigidly — I take her “find what feels good” mantra seriously. Sometimes I make myself do the quiet breathing, and sometimes I fill in the slower pace with other movements. I throw in extra vinyasas when we’re staying still in tadasana listening to our breath, or I use some of the sitting time to practice bakasana (crow) and headstand, which I’ve been working on for a while. I stretch my much beleaguered hips when she gets chatty. And I feel my strength, mobility and calm improving every day.
Third, I do it because I like being part of a bigger community all doing the same thing – the abstract community out there in the world, and my actual workout community, all logging our workouts every day. I like that light, virtual tether to connection, the camaraderie. The same reason I do the animal flow practice in Alex’ classes. I don’t like animal flow because I’m bad at it and find it confusing and hard. But I do it partly because I know it’s good for me — both the mobility and the cognitive challenge — and partly because I like doing it with other people — some of whom are also falling over.
Finally — and most importantly — I do it because I like Adriene. This particular series isn’t my favourite thing she’s ever put out into the world, but I love that she brings her authentic voice, that she explores, that she makes something I really value accessible. I like that she tries new things, and all these things come from a deeply committed, deeply caring place. I appreciate that, and I value it. As I wrote in our 221 workout group, “It’s like if a friend I really like has taken up cooking something completely new, like, say, eastern european food. I don’t love all the meaty things but I like the perogies and I really love the friend, so I go for dinner. I don’t love the food but I like the experience of doing it. It’s like that.”
And, as Sam said, I keep doing it because I want to know where she’s going with this. I trust her. For whatever reasons — my monkey mind, my overstuffed calendar, avoidance of stillness — right now, I’m getting impatient with slow, breathing heavy yoga practice. But that doesn’t mean something more might not be revealed. It doesn’t mean it won’t click for me. And it doesn’t mean I want to leave my friend Adriene breathing there alone on her mat.
What about you? Are you doing YWA Breath? How are you finding it? And how do you feel about doing movement you don’t “enjoy”?
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is locked down in Toronto, where she is still trying to get comfortable in wheel after 25 years of yoga practice.