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’40 Days Of Fitness,’ pt. 2: Lessons From The Warrior

The sensation began in my hip and went screaming up my side, wrapping around my rib cage before finally plunging into oblivion somewhere below my shoulder.

My left leg shook below my body, while my right foot dangled in the air behind me. The stance is called "Warrior 3" in yoga circles, and with the slightest adjustment from the instructor, it brought me face-to-face with the neglect and disregard I've shown my body. The hours sitting at a desk. The occasional bursts of exercise with almost no stretching before or after. I was suddenly atoning for it all in a single, intense moment.

It had only been five days since I'd resolved to start taking better care of myself during the last part of this year with the "40 Days Of Fitness" challenge. After months of letting my job, work on a new house, and the busyness of everyday life take priority over my own fitness, I'd committed to doing something healthy every day from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve - the time of year when an average American puts on a pound to a pound and a half of extra body weight. Weight that, too often, we never lose.

I'd gone on a great (but tough) Thanksgiving run, put myself through gasp-inducing circuit workouts, and fit in other bouts of activity whenever I could. I'd also tried to focus on the non-exercise elements of wellness. (Which if you think about it, makes up the vast majority of health. After all, a very active person might work out for eight to 10 hours a week. There are 168 hours in a week.) So I tried to get more sleep, eat better, and pay closer attention to my body's signals.

Back in that hot yoga classroom, I could read those bodily signals loud and clear. They said:

1) Ow.

2) Holy cow you are a rigid, inflexible desk jockey.

3) Do you really need to be sweating this much? I mean, sure, the room is warm. But, really?

4) See signal #1.

The class had started easily enough, with a few breathing exercises, some Cat and Cow poses, and a few side-to-side stretches. It was a perfect stress reliever. But then things got tough.

The instructor - a lithe, petit woman much like the lithe, petit yoginis who filled the room -gracefully floated around the room, quietly giving commands. About 15 minutes into the 75-minute class, we started the first round of challenging contortions, doing long, slow holds that showed me the rigidities I'd built in my body: Fingers that struggled to reach the ground in forward folds (from hamstring and low back stiffness), shoulders that seemed intent on becoming earrings (a classic affliction of deskbound keyboard tappers).

We finished one circuit, then went through the moves a second time - and worked at a faster pace for most of it. We only paused occasionally, usually for a modification designed to take us "deeper" into a pose. It was during one of these modifications that I had the most intense experience of the day. I've since called it the "Warrior 3 Enlightenment."

Warrior 3 is basically a forward fold performed while standing on one leg. Skilled yoga practitioners can do this with both of their hands held in the air in front of them. Me? My hand clung to a nine-inch tall block I'd placed on the ground for support - and I was still wobbling a bit. Still, I'd thought I was performing the pose fairly okay when the instructor approached me from behind and grabbed ahold of my hip.

Did I look like I was going to fall over that much? I thought to myself, just before she tilted the hip back and slightly up towards the sky.

You'd have thought she'd just performed a chiropractic adjustment. I felt a rush of sensation-not quite pain, but it certainly wasn't pleasurable at first--flow upward out of my glute. The feeling crawled its way up my torso and towards my shoulders and neck. Not wanting to panic, I breathed as deeply as I could. And suddenly, the sensation turned to relief.

I felt more open, lighter, free. It was as if there'd been bungee cords pulling my shoulders towards my kneecaps, and she'd just taken them off of me. We repeated the pose on opposite side, and the effect was similar. When the class was finished, I stood up and felt taller. Almost like a different person.

I thought to myself: Oh, so this is how my body is supposed to be.

That's why the pose was an enlightenment: I realized just how much of ourselves we lose to our daily lives. Sure, the holidays cause us to gain unwanted weight - and we have to fight back against it. But there's a battle for our own bodies that's going on every day. And the easiest way to lose it is to forget that it's happening.

So that's one thing I learned during my first week of the "40 Days" challenge. What have you discovered so far?

Another thing I've seen is just how many amazing and inspiring people there are in the audience. If you haven't checked out the #40DaysOfFitness hashtag on Twitter, or the reader comments on the first "40 Days" blog, please do - you'll see dozens of reasons to be motivated to kick butt today, tomorrow, and throughout the rest of 2012.

If you're a new reader, please join us. And if you have a question I (or one of the experts) can help with, hit me up at @briandsabin on Twitter.

I'm not where I want to be yet, but with your help, I'm closer than I was a week ago. Let's keep it up.

Brian D. Sabin is a writer and editor for Follow him on Twitter and Google+.


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