I thought that the 40 Day Revolution was going to be about yoga. The intensive program, offered by yoga studio/whole living haven All That Matters, gives students 20 days to break old patterns about fitness, nutrition and mindfulness, and 20 to make better ones. During the 40 Days, the website says, students will “Work with specific tools to change old habits into new healthy choices for lasting change, learn how to meditate with weekly lessons and group sessions, understand the best way to practice yoga for your body and gain new insights into your eating patterns.” But mostly, I thought, it was about trying to squeeze as much time on the yoga mat as possible.
The program, based on Baron Baptiste’s book 40 Days to Personal Revolution, was taught by ATM owner Joan Dwyer at their newly opened Providence studio. (The Wakefield location of All That Matters just marked its 20th anniversary. There’s also a new East Greenwich location.) As part of the 40 days of “living with intention,” as Joan called it, there were weekly support meetings where we gathered to talk about our progress and learn new techniques.
The theme for the first meeting, and the first week of the program, was Intelligence: being aware and present, not just in our lives, but in our “inner worlds,” and using the innate intelligence around us to guide our yoga practice.
It sounds intimidating, but it wasn’t. We talked about little lifestyle changes that work towards a larger goal. As the meeting wound down, Joan passed out circles of paper to everyone. “Write your intention for this program on here,” she said. “Whatever you want to get out of this.” I looked down at my paper, and thinking about all of the changes I had been considering in my life, and all of the doubt that came with them, scribbled “trust myself.”
I’m a “say yes and figure it out later,” person. I have a very hard time letting any opportunity pass. It leads to great experiences, but it’s a life of sensory overload. I’ve taken yoga classes over the last couple of years, and loved the quiet of the practice: no phones, no talking, nothing so much as even paying attention to the people around you. You’re there to stretch out your body, clear your mind and replenish your spirit. But even though I love it, I struggle to maintain a real yoga schedule amid all of life’s distractions.
What appealed to me about the 40 Days was that I would have a good reason to get there, and the external motivation would help me become more disciplined about my yoga practice and my overall physical fitness. What terrified me about the 40 Days is that it was going to take up all of my time, that I would struggle to work all of the classes into my overbooked schedule. During the first week, I tried to schedule yoga around my other obligations, penciling in 7am classes. I quickly figured out that when you’re stretched to your limit already, getting two hours less sleep isn’t really an option. During the first meeting, Joan told us that three weekly yoga classes was a good goal, but we could do as many as we wanted. I only made it to yoga twice that week, but since Joan made it clear that nobody would be checking my attendance, I didn’t feel like I was failing. I just felt like I needed a better balance – because when I was on the mat, I wanted to find more time to be on the mat.
In the second week, the theme was Breath, and focusing on the vitality that it brings to your body and mind. I cleared my evenings, and filled them up with yoga classes. My friends were more than happy to swap out cocktails for yoga, with the added bonus that they called me “inspiring” over Saturday morning brunch after our 10am Relax and Restore class.
The theme for week three was Roots, “connecting to our sense of inner knowing and feeling more firmly rooted in who we truly are.” I was at the studio for a class, and I happened to look at my intention on the intention tree. “Trust yourself,” it said. I had meant to write “trust myself,” but I was so mentally disconnected, so distracted by details and to-do lists that I wasn’t even present inside my own mind. I had been talking to myself like my soul was a separate entity from my person. Trust yourself, I had written. I was shocked to read it, but even more to feel how far I had come in reconnecting to my innermost self.
Before this program I don’t even know if I would have realized that mental distance – meaning to say “myself” and saying “yourself” – is a problem. But after observing how much more connected I feel to myself, to my life, to my relationship, I knew this is something I want to keep working on.
During week four, Flexibility, our meeting (and our written materials) put this query to us: “we found our innate intelligence, our roots, and we know how to breathe into a situation. How do we take this purified self to the streets?” Once I started to think about that question, I realized I was already taking my new self into the streets. I noticed changes within myself – how much quicker I could release stress and anxiety, how I was taking time to appreciate small moments of beauty all around me, how I felt more present in my own life.
In the middle of week five, Union, I found myself on a short trip to New York, with the last minute problem of not having a place to stay. We were exhausted and cold, sitting on a bench on the High Line, making phone call after phone call to Airbnb to get them to fix the situation. I hung up the phone and my boyfriend and I started walking again, when I spotted a little alcove. It turned out to be a sitting area over the street, with a sunset view all the way across lower Manhattan. We sat down, which is not something I take the time to do, even on a good day. “This is gorgeous,” I said to him. “This is what this whole program is about. When there’s all this stress and difficulty around you, there are still moments of beauty. This 40 days is teaching me to be mindful enough to see them.” We were still stranded in New York, but that moment was perfect.
In the final week of the program, I found myself looking back on what I thought it was going to be about, and comparing it to what I had experienced. Yes, I did yoga. A lot of yoga. But the journey I took on my mat wasn’t leading to a better downward-facing dog, or nicer calf muscles (though I did get both of those). It was leading to a better mental place, one where I care about taking care of myself as much as I care about taking care of the people I love, or as much as I care about meeting my deadlines, or checking off items on the never-ending to-do list. The time on my yoga mat created space for stillness and reflection in my life, and I carry that with me all the time, not just in the studio. The end of the program wasn’t really the end: it was the groundwork for a fresh perspective on my life.