Achieve balance - literally and figuratively

Take Expand Yoga's 30-day challenge

By Jennifer Johnson on January 15, 2012

Confession: I typically approach physical activity with the intention of using it to kick my own butt.

At the end of 2010 when I finished a month of boot camp at Elev8 Fitness, I had adopted the saying "If you don't feel like puking at the end, it wasn't a hard enough workout."

You see, I have no medium speed, no shades of gray, no kinda-sort of. When I am up, I am "turn it to 11 and refuse to quit." Once my motivation peaks, I am down with zero care, no interest, no drive.

Not a great way to live.

Nearing the end of 2011, I made a resolution to achieve balance, both literally and figuratively.

The purpose of resolutions is to do something different, to change. I signed up for the 30 Day "Change Your Life" Hot Yoga Challenge offered by Expand Yoga in downtown Tacoma, which ran Nov. 23-Dec. 23. The on-going challenge is simple; pick your start date, do 30 consecutive days of yoga and get a month of yoga free. Change your habits, change your body, change yourself, change your life.

Owned by partners Liz Houck and Matt Ottenbach, Expand Yoga is a small operation. The two certified instructors are very hands on, personable and offer advice on how to get the most from the practice of yoga. Houck takes time to do gentle adjustments for students struggling with form. During class, Ottenbach is famous for his direct words of encouragement: "It's called a practice for a reason," "Every person is different; you do what you can do today" and "We'll never be perfect, and that's okay."

The first week I poured 125 percent effort into each class making it a fierce cardio session. Week two I was on fire, felt amazing and super charged. I noticed progress in certain poses that I had not seen in all of my nine years of previous yoga experience. My flexibility grew by leaps and bounds. I was thrilled and pushed even harder. At the start of week three I severely strained a muscle in my left shoulder, crumpling to the floor. Though difficult, I lowered my intensity and looked at the remaining days of the challenge in a new light.

I resolved to be kind to my body and gentle with my practice. I aimed for soothing stretching. I held as still as I could in each pose, not by straining for muscle control, but by relaxing (yes, I relaxed while standing on one foot with the other over my head and both arms reaching for opposite ends of the room).  In exchange for the kindness I showed myself in week three, the fourth week was doubly kind to me. The pain in my shoulder had all but disappeared. My limbs felt longer, I stood straighter, I felt more alive. My mind was clear, I slept deeply and felt contentment. I was more patient with myself, with my practice and with those around me.

More than the physical demand of 30 consecutive classes, finding time daily was the real challenge. I had to decide what to axe from my already packed schedule to make time for classes. As more of the clutter in my life fell by the wayside, I realized how busy I'd become while accomplishing little and how grateful I was for the "slowing down" effect the challenge was having on my life.

I placed my health first, developed better time management and learned how to clear my mind and be still - inside and out. Most of all I gained the satisfaction of honoring a personal commitment. And a free month of yoga.

Hot vinyasa, original hot, and silent hot yoga are offered in 60 and 90 minute classes.

Visit Expand Yoga's website for more challenge information.

[Expand Yoga, 1015 Pacific Ave., Second Floor, Tacoma, 253.886.7820,]