Headstand and pigeon pose can make a weekly yoga class seem as challenging as rock climbing. However, no matter your proficiency, you can set yourself a yoga challenge to deepen your practice and prepare yourself to handle those tough asanas as if they were child's pose. Challenges are solo or group commitments to meet personal or philanthropic goals on the mat.
Yoga -- Chill or Challenge
The basic structure of a yoga challenge is the same no matter how or why you tackle it. But there are different goals for yoga challenges, from personal improvement to fundraising for a worthy cause. Whichever you choose, you will commit to a set series of yoga asanas for a set period.
- That might be a beginner yoga sequence to start your day for 21 or 30 days, a good way to develop a daily yoga habit and improve your own health and flexibility -- or an increasingly demanding sequence that builds to mastery of an advanced pose.
- You could gather a group of friends and sign up for a fundraising challenge, much like a charity race, where you find sponsors and dedicate your daily milestone earnings to a selected nonprofit organization. Perform your asanas together or post them on social media, like Instagram, for group accountability and inspiration.
- Some yoga organizations and individual teachers or studios offer subscriptions that provide access to challenges prerecorded on videos or reserved for designated in-studio classes.
Whether you're working on getting your firefly pose to take flight, raising money for diabetes research, or looking for external motivation to keep yourself on-track, a challenge is a you-on-you competition to up your yoga level.
Find your best yoga challenge from the wide variety of offerings on-site or online, such as sampling a web offering, signing on to a one-off event, or dropping into your hometown studio for an annual or regular challenge series.
Yoga Challenge posts regular challenges that rely heavily on social media to spread the word and share accountability snaps. The asana sequence for the challenge is posted on Instagram, and daily participation includes posting a photo of yourself in a pose for likes, shares, and comments from other participants; it's interactive but virtual. The challenge community works for those who can't get to a physical site, or who can't adjust their schedules for a fixed class. Yoga International reminds you to download a camera timer app for your phone to make getting those daily snaps of you in pretzel pose a snap.
Streaming Asanas - Any Device
A challenge can be more portable than your yoga mat when you opt for a livestream that works on computers, phones, tablets, or any device with an internet connection. Typically, you pay a one-time fee for a specific challenge sequence that you can use indefinitely or a low monthly access fee for a library of online challenge videos that guide you to your goals. Some companies, such as Movement for Modern Life, offer a subscription that opens the door to new challenges all the time. Jump in where you feel comfortable and follow a challenge sequence to achieve new mastery.
Do Yoga - Do Good
Get your game on with friends and raise money for a good cause when you commit to a yoga challenge such as Free to Breathe, sponsored by the Lung Cancer Research Foundation. You commit to a group fundraising goal, sign up sponsors, train for the event in a partner studio, and then assemble at the event site to participate in the live challenge. It works much like a charity race-walk does, only this one is barefoot, on a yoga mat.
Poses on Page or Screen
September is yoga month, so hunt for a local studio or check reliable resources such as Yoga Journal to find a month-long yoga challenge. You get daily practice plans each week to deepen your practice or expand your mastery of poses. Yoga Journal offers free video sequences by renowned teachers, such as "Yoga for Inner Peace with Colleen Saidman Yee," and you can find some of those sequences online even after the month-long live challenge is over. Yoga International has a paid subscription plan with a variety of 21- and 30-day yoga challenges you can sweat through year-round in the privacy of your own home.
Coming to a Studio Near You
The one-month studio challenge is a local opportunity to sample yoga instruction in a studio setting and ratchet up your flexibility and agility at the same time. You sign on for a month, committing to a class a day or a set number of classes within the 30-day period (usually no less than 21). The deals may be discounted, and studios typically offer a discount rate for new student sign-ups once the challenge is over. Studio challenges also motivate you with prizes from free classes, to future class discounts, to a party for all challenge finishers. This could be the year you finally rock that New Year's resolution and get in shape.
Challenge yourself to open and align your chakras in two weeks with yoga poses. Each day, work through an opening sequence of three consecutive sets of salute to the sun (surya namaskar) at a comfortable pace. (One sequence is: mountain pose, upward salute, standing forward bend, half standing forward bend, chaturanga, up dog, down dog, half standing forward bend, standing forward bend, upward salute, mountain.) A faster pace is more aerobic; start slower to loosen stiff muscles. Then add a simple chakra-focused asana, a different one every two days, staying mindful of the area of the body you are working and your intention for the quality attached to that chakra or energy center.
Days 1 - 2: Root Chakra
Muladhara is the chakra at the base of spine, and it supports survival and grounding. Shift from your sun salutation to challenge mode with renewed attention to your form as you conclude the sequence standing tall.
Use mountain pose for strength and grounding:
- Stand erect, lengthening the spine with your feet hip-distance apart, arms hanging relaxed at your sides, head centered, shoulders down, eyes closed.
- Breathe deeply and slowly for five inhalations and exhalations.
- Shake it out and repeat once or twice.
Days 3 - 4: Sacral Chakra
Svadhistana is the chakra below the navel. It supports abundance and pleasure.
Complete seated butterfly pose for hip opening.
- Sit comfortably, spine tall, on your mat, using a folded towel or small cushion under your sits bones.
- Bring the soles of your feet together and lower your knees to the sides as far as you safely can. Reach your feet with your hands and bend forward from the hips to lower your head towards your feet.
- Use a yoga block under your forehead or rest on your elbows if you can't bend your head all the way down.
Days 5 - 6: Solar Plexus Chakra
Manipura is upper abdomen chakra that supports self confidence and self-esteem.
Perform belly twists, which really stretch your abdomen and release tension in your lower spine.
- Lie back on your mat, arms perpendicular to your torso, palms flat on the floor.
- Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the floor.
- Keeping your knees together and pressing your spine into the mat, bring the knees toward your chest.
- Lower both knees to the right as far as you can, keeping them close to your right arm and looking to the left hand.
- Relax and breathe in the twist. Roll your hips back to flat on the mat as your bent knees come up and swing slowly and gently to the left.
- Repeat the slow, easy twist on the left side.
- Take your time and repeat, alternating sides three times, breathing deeply as you feel the energizing stretch.
Days 7 - 8: Heart Chakra
Anahata is the chakra in your chest, and it supports love and inner peace.
Use bow pose, which opens your whole chest - you can feel your heart open in the stretch.
- Lie face down on your mat, bend your knees, raise your feet and grasp your ankles with both hands.
- Inhale and lift your head, torso and feet towards the sky.
- Take three slow breaths, gently lower to the mat, rest for five breaths and repeat two more times.
Days 9 - 10: Throat Chakra
Vishudda is the chakra of the throat, and it supports communication and truth.
Fish pose gives the best stretch to your front chest and throat.
- For the gentlest version, roll a towel or blanket into a fat cigar and place it lengthwise on your mat under your back.
- Lie face-up on the padded mat, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, hands palms-down at your sides. Lift your pelvis slightly to slide your hands under your buttocks.
- As you inhale, press your forearms into the mat and your shoulder blades together, lift your upper torso and your head into a strong arch, and gently release your head so the back of the head rests on the mat.
- Do not rest your weight on your head. Breathe evenly for about 15 seconds, lower your head and torso to the mat, remove your hands from under you and relax.
Days 11 - 12: Third Eye Chakra
Ajna is the chakra between the eyebrows, and it supports intuition and wisdom.
Child's pose is a restful asana that allows you to concentrate attention on the spot between your eyebrows.
- From all-fours on your mat, sit back on your calves and lower your torso easily to the mat. Your arms may be extended, palms up, along your sides or extended long over your head on the floor - go for comfort.
- Rest your forehead softly on the mat, just at the center spot.
- Breathe deeply and evenly - 10 inhales and 10 exhales - while you focus on your third eye.
Days 13 - 14: Crown Chakra
Sahasrara is the chakra just above the head, and it supports bliss and enlightenment.
In enlightenment there is no effort, so relax into corpse pose to savor the success of your yoga challenge.
- Lie supine on your mat, legs extended and relaxed, arms loose at your sides. Use a small folded towel under your head or neck if you need one. You may cover yourself with a light blanket for warmth.
- Breathe slowly and deeply for five minutes in the pose and try not to think of anything.
- You can skip the closing corpse pose for your chakra sequence on days 13 and 14.
Finish each challenge session, one through twelve, with five minutes of meditation in savasana, consciously relaxing your body from the toes to the top of your head and emptying your mind of all concerns and cares. Just breathe and be. If possible, set your alarm to a soft bell or chime to signal when the five minutes are up. Your 14-day challenge will perfect your sun salutations and energize your chakras with asanas and meditative concentration.
Stretch for Success
Win your yoga challenge by making it easy on yourself. Try practicing at the same time every day, in a quiet, undisturbed space, in comfortable clothes. Don't eat right before you hit the mat. Choose a difficulty level you can manage; a time challenge is not the moment to set yourself an advanced pose challenge and increase your stress level. The idea is to develop a healthy practice, not flirt with an injury that will sideline you. Friends are golden in challenges. You'll need them for a charity challenge and you'll want them for accountability partners to cheer you on in a studio or streaming challenge. Get to goal in your mind. Mind is powerful in yoga -- if you see yourself rocking this challenge, you'll perform like a champ.