When I wrote just over a week ago about trying something new I was just over half way through the Yoganuary 31 day challenge of yoga every day in January. I promised to come back and let you know how I got on, how I found willpower, how I feel yoga has impacted me and anything else I realised along the way.

So, you’ll know from my original post I missed a couple of days of the challenge. Why? Definitely not because I didn’t want to ‘flow’ every day but because on some days, life just took over and the reason for missing those three sessions was it was yoga or the dog got walked. Half an hour was just a little bit too much some days and the puppy dog eyes won every time. But I think that’s ok. I don’t feel like I failed or let myself down. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve taken away from the challenge. To do what is right for you. If you feel like your yoga journey should involve you practicing every day then good. If you feel like it involves you practicing when your body and mind are working well together and you can be present in your practice then that’s also good.

So how has yoga affected me? It has 100% improved me. It’s proved that I have will power; I’ll come back to that. It’s absolutely improved my core strength and proven that I can always find time for myself (unless of course I need to walk the dog – although I actually really enjoy that time getting fresh air, listening to a podcast and still getting some gentle exercise). It’s pointed out my impatience and my inability to meditate for longer than about five minutes at a time but those are things that I think continued practice can help me to improve on as well. Mentally, it has given me some self confidence that I can achieve my goals and that I can stick to something if I set my mind to it. And it’s taught me how to refocus. When things are getting out of hand, five minutes breathing and focusing on my breath helps bring everything back into focus.

And physically? My core was in tatters; weak from two pregnancies followed by zero exercise. Exhaustion was my excuse for not exercising. But having told myself I was going to follow this 31 day challenge I could no longer use it as an excuse. I think yoga is possibly perceived by some as being a bit wishy washy and a chance to have a good lie down but actually, more often than not I built up a good sweat. Making sure I held myself properly throughout the practice, engaging my core and really focusing on that has made a dramatic improvement to the strength and physical appearance of my stomach. This in turn has had a dramatic effect on my lower back.

I suffer with, at times, really awful lower back pain to the point of finding it painful to walk. I was considering seeing a physiotherapist but it seems that the stretching and opening out of the back during these flows has eased the pain. Unbelievably so. As a by-product of my core improving by back has as well. I’m pretty glad I missed a couple of sessions because it became really apparent that after not flowing for two days in a row, my back pain was back but after one session on the mat, boom. It felt so much better again.

So with that in mind, going forward I am going to continue my yoga practice. My aim is to do it every other day. Sure I’ll do it every day if I ‘feel’ like I can but I’m removing that little bit of pressure by leaving my new challenge a little freer.

A few people have asked me ‘how’ I’ve done it in terms of maintaining the consistency and sticking to the plan. How do you maintain willpower? I think the simple answer is by setting a goal. At the very start of January there was a goal setting task. Tell yourself what you want to achieve by completing this challenge. Write it down (any excuse for a new notebook right?). Put it somewhere you can see it. My goal? ‘To sit on my mat every day and fulfil that days challenge to the best of my ability’. Even those days where the half hour was a little too much and I was desperate for sleep I still got my mat out and sat. And just took five minutes. I took that time to decide if half an hour flow was more important that half an hours sleep. At least I’d got to my mat and made a conscious decision to do what felt right for me at that particular point.

I now believe that if you can do something for 31 days, you could probably do it forever. I think that’s a long enough amount of time to break or create a habit. It’s long enough to learn new things – I can do a sun salutation without needing to be told how now so it’s something I can take everywhere with me. I’ve learnt I can dedicate half an hour to myself every day – although going forward I’m likely to be doing sessions that are between 20 minutes and half an hour depending on my schedule for the day. I know that Cat is going to hold some weekly challenges throughout the year so I’m definitely going to be following those.

So what’s next for me? I’m currently midway through my Chocolate Digestive detox and it’s going well. Cravings are pretty bad but I’m starting to see an improvement in my skin so that’s keeping me motivated to carry on. But the next challenge? I’m happy to take suggestions. I’m thinking maybe a ‘do two miles of walking a day’ or maybe ‘listen to a business related podcast every day’… Maybe I could kill two birds with one stone and listen to a podcast a day whilst walking the dog for two miles.

And how about you? Have you managed to stick to your goals throughout January? How do you find the willpower to maintain them and how do you get back on track if you you’ve fallen off track?