Abby and I had just met on a Costa Rica yoga retreat and she would introduce me to something that would change my life. We practiced Sun Salutations against a sea-foam backdrop, that turned white as it crashed against powder browned with volcanic ash. We were cheered on by the high-pitched chirp of exotic birds, their cries so emphatic that they could be mistaken for competitive parents at their child’s little league game. We laughed as our bodies untangled sloppily out of Eagle Poses. We drank Coronas in hammocks, the rope leaving lines in our muscle memory. We did Dancer Poses under a sky fading into blue and pink. The sun covered our bodies like blankets as we slowly retreated into Śavāsana. Sounds like a dream, right?
Yogis Staying Connected
We spent a glorious week amongst palm trees and long stretches of sand, where smiles were emblazoned on our faces. However, like all great things, our yoga retreat had to come to an end. I went back to the rush of traffic and tourists in New York City and Abby flew back to her tranquil home in England. Abby and I continued to casually connect on Instagram until the day she tagged me in a picture of a yoga challenge she was joining. She posted a picture of 30 poses, each to be completed on a different day during the month of June. I stared at the green hashtag #ZenMonkeyAsanaChallenge. I was intrigued. What would these words mean to me?
I asked her about the challenge and she sent me to the Zen Monkey website, where I read the steps involved. This was my mission, should I choose to accept it:
1) Repost the image from one of the host’s profiles (by taking a screenshot with your phone) and description and tag your friends to sign up with you!
2) Post a photo of yourself sometime between now and June 1st with the tag #ZMParticipant, and see your photo show up below! (Please make sure your account isn’t private!)
3) Follow and tag your five hosts: @bodysamantix, @indieyogalife, @sylviasyoga, @jersey_yogini, @yogijessica, and @zenmonkeylondon. Also, add the hashtag #ZenMonkeyAsanaChallenge
4) Next, follow and tag the following sponsors: @yoga_london, @carde_blanche, @hotchakrasyoga, @nomad.design, @movementformodernlife.
5) Beginning June 1st, share your own photo (or video) of the pose for the day.
6) In order for your photo to appear on our website, tag the appropriate #ZM tag with the pose name (e.g. #ZMCobraPose).
7) Be creative, have fun and enjoy this with your friends!
I just have to post photos, tag hosts and sponsors and use hashtags? That seems easy enough. I’m in!
The Excuse Monster
“Not so fast,” I heard my mind say, “let me count my excuses!”
First Excuse: I doubted I could find time to complete a yoga pose on a daily basis, in addition to my other daily activities. However, I realized my daily activities consisted of working, eating, sleeping, doing yoga, reading on the train, and occasionally going for drinks. Perhaps I could make time for this.
Second Excuse: I was not sure I could remember the hashtags and the Instagram names. I also doubted whether I would want to spend the time writing out these posts each day. However, I learned that the hashtags and host names could easily be copied to the notepad on my smartphone. I did not know it yet but by the end of the month, the names and hashtags would be used so much that they would be conveniently burned into my brain.
Third Excuse: I hate to admit it, but the aspect that worried me the most was finding someone to take a picture of me completing these poses. While I am a social person, I can be introverted. I am also a single woman in a fast-paced city who has been programmed to take care of myself. It would be a new feat to have to ask others for help.
Then came six more excuses. What if I’m home alone? What if I’m in a room of strangers? What if I’m not in yoga clothes? What if the setting is not ideal? What if I’m not wearing makeup? What if I don’t have the space to complete a pose?
What Was On The Other Side?
In spite of all my excuses, I did it! I completed the Zen Monkey Āsana Challenge. Ironically, after all the roadblocks I threw in the way of my own path, this challenge became very important to me. The most difficult aspects of this experience is actually what made it the most fun and worthwhile: I met strangers who I was forced to ask for help. I also asked friends, family members, roommates, and coworkers to capture my daily poses, and you know what? It was alright!
Not only did they not get annoyed by my request for a picture, but they were often intrigued and sometimes joined me in my poses. I took pictures at the beach, on the city streets, in my office, on the subway and everywhere else you can imagine. I also took “selfies” of myself in hopes I could capture my desired pose in a way that did not look awkward. I believe the forced spontaneity involved in meeting the challenge each day made it that much more rewarding.
I was also surprised to discover how much I would connect with others around the world, with all levels of yoga expertise, varied personalities, different body types, diverse careers, and so on. It was thrilling to bond with people who got the same satisfaction from doing yoga and sharing their practice with others. I learned new variations of poses. I saw balances that I felt I had ‘mastered’, executed more spectacularly by other yogis. On the other hand, I was able to encourage less experienced yogis. I was thrilled when my Chair Pose was selected to be featured on a host’s Instagram page. The skills, effort, focus and dedication of everyone involved was extremely motivating. Although we were posing alone, we were a team.
Over To You
Now I ask you to do the following: imagine it is nearing 12am and the only picture you are able to take is one where you look disheveled. Envision that your bed is not made and your picture reveals that you should be on the reality show Hoarders. Visualise yourself on a first date where you have to casually ask him or her to take a picture of you in a contorted position. Picture yourself on a train where others are staring as you are forced to strike a pose. Would you meet the challenge head on or would you timidly refrain?
Before the Zen Monkey Āsana Challenge, I might have taken the cowardly path. However, I can now confidently practice and share my yoga with a support system of individuals who share my same passion. I have also found the voice to empower others to accomplish similar goals. This is your mission should you choose to accept it: try something you are afraid of and you will reap tremendous benefits.