Yoga for beginners: the 3-week yoga challenge, as told by someone who’s really bad at yoga

Yoga for beginners: “Yoga terrifies me, but I tried this 3-week challenge and was stunned by the results”

Posted by for Health

Stylist’s Kayleigh Dray can barely cross her legs without grunting. Here’s what happened when she gave the 3-week yoga challenge a go.

Confession time: while I love the idea of yoga (who doesn’t want to be more zen and bendy, eh?), I’ve always hated the reality. And that’s largely because I’m so very bad at it.

Now, I know I can’t be the only yogi beginner in the world – or even in the UK. I know this. Logic dictates it. And yet, whenever I’ve wandered optimistically into a so-called ‘beginners’ yoga class, I’ve found myself surrounded by (what looks like, to my paranoid and hyper self-critical eye) a bevy of off-duty Sweaty Betty models, all of whom can fold their bodies up at a moment’s notice like it’s made of plasticine.

Reader, I can barely cross my legs without grunting. My butt always wobbles off my heels and up into the air when I adopt child’s pose. I lose my balance if I attempt to stand on one leg for longer than… ooh, let’s say 60 seconds. Max. And it’s not like I’m that unhealthy; I even clock in around 10,000 steps a day during lockdown, for crying out loud!  

Yoga for beginners: the face of someone who has no idea what they are meant to be doing.
Yoga for beginners: the face of someone who has no idea what they are meant to be doing.

You can imagine my reaction, then, when Meriam, Stylist’s lovely fitness editor, optimistically asked me if I’d take one for the team and have a go at a 3-week yoga challenge.

“I’m about as flexible as an oak plank,” I warned her. “I can barely get my head anywhere near my knee!”

Meriam reassured me that my lack of bendiness wouldn’t be a problem. “And I imagine you as someone who would be really into yoga,” she added with a smile. “I could see you getting into it because you’re so laidback.”

And so, utterly charmed by the idea that I give off chilled yogi vibes without even trying, I agreed to give it a whirl.

What are the benefits of the 3-week yoga challenge?

As per Ekhart Yoga, a study of over 700 people found that practising just 12 minutes of yoga poses either daily or every other day improved their bone health. Another small scale study found that 20 minutes of yoga improved focus and working memory. 

Other researchers, too, have found that yoga may help improve sleep quality, enhance spiritual wellbeing, improve flexibility, and reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.  

Essentially, yoga is very good for you. Go figure.

The 3-week yoga challenge: week 1

I’ve heard a lot about Yoga With Adriene, so I decide to have a bash at her 30-day Yoga Journey video series on YouTube. 

I don’t have a mat, so I use a towel (that’s fine, right?) and turn the living room into a yogi studio after dinner every evening. By which I mean, of course, that I whack an Adriene tutorial up on the TV, switch on my trusty Himalayan Salt Lamp, and (very occasionally) get an incense stick on the go, too. 

Adriene is a very kind and encouraging teacher, probably because she can’t see my wobbling attempts to mirror her own effortless yoga moves. She also has a very well-behaved dog named Benji, whom I love – even if he does make me more aware of my own badly-behaved dog’s frantic attempts to lick my face whenever I lie down.

Still, though, she adopts poses that feel incredibly alien to me. My downward-facing dog looks nothing like hers (hers is a prominent inverted V-shape, whereas mine is more of a… well, a rickety old table, I guess) – and I almost wobble over and do myself a massive mischief when she asks me to bend over, hug my ankles, and “bring my awareness to the soles of my feet.” 

I also keep forgetting to breathe, which is something I’ve always done in every exercise class I’ve ever attempted (also, during driving lessons. I guess I hold my breath when I’m concentrating?).

Yoga for beginners: try doing the 3-week yoga challenge with a dog in the room. We dare you.
Yoga for beginners: try doing the 3-week yoga challenge with a dog in the room. We dare you.

Unable to nail even the easier poses, let alone get anywhere near the headstands I sense are coming up, I get a bit disheartened with my incessant awkwardness. But then my partner, who is even more inflexible than I am, gets on the floor to join me one evening, and I suddenly feel like a pro.

Hmm. Clearly, all I’ve ever wanted is to be better than someone, anyone at yoga. What does that say about me, eh? 

The 3-week yoga challenge: week 2

After seven days of consistent yoga, I kind of expect to be the UK’s version of Adriene – but I’m not. At all. My knees still refuse to straighten, and I still find it really hard to sit cross-legged for a long time (especially when I’m asked to lift my arms up and tip over to the side – my core always crumples like a paper ball and I wind up bending in the middle). 

It’s also worth noting that I have yet to clear my mind and relax (sorry Meriam, my zen vibes sit on a throne of lies). One day, in fact, I find myself crying during the meditative part of the session because my head won’t stop whirling with all the things I’ve suddenly remembered that I’ve forgotten to do.

This, Meriam tells me, is completely normal. “I’ve cried in a yoga class before,” she says reassuringly. “In fact, it’s kind of typical during the end when people lie on the floor and meditate… we’ve all got so much baggage.” 

While I’m still huffing and puffing my way through each session, though, I have to admit that I’m feeling the benefits now. Every single bone in my body gets a good old click and stretch – which it very much needs after sitting hunched over a laptop all day long – and I find I’m sleeping a bit better at night, too.

The 3-week yoga challenge: week 3

Child’s pose is my new friend. Whenever I find myself aching at the moment, even when I’m not doing my prescribed yoga session, I adopt it and stretch like my life depends on it – and it usually always sees me right.

I feel less achy and decrepit as I go through each session, but still my body refuses to bend like Adriene’s. I find now, though, that I don’t care as much; I’m doing my best and I’m definitely feeling the benefits, so what does it matter what I look like?

This, I think, has always been my problem with yoga up until now; I worried incessantly that I looked all wrong for it. In fact, I can vividly remember wandering into a hot yoga class in east London, wearing leggings and a baggy long-sleeved top, only to find that everyone else was in patterned leggings and crop tops.

Watching myself in the big mirror at the front of that room was… it was not fun, let me tell you. Especially as my face slowly turned the colour of a tomato (I do not work well in hot weather) and everyone else just sort of glistened and glowed. I got really in my own head about it all, barely paid attention to what was going on, and rushed out at the end vowing I would never ever try yoga again. Ever.

Yoga for beginners: do it for yourself, not for anyone else.
Yoga for beginners: do it for yourself, not for anyone else.

Clearly, then, the trick with yoga is this: do it for yourself, not for anyone else. Don’t get frustrated. Don’t compare yourselves to others (even the magnificent Adriene!). And don’t get embarrassed, either.

While it may feel as if you’re the only beginner in the world, you’re absolutely not. Even the most advanced yogi will have started out on their wobbly journey to impossible bendiness via the same path as you – which is why there are so many helpful modification poses to adopt along the way. 

The results

If you came here thinking the 3-week yoga challenge would prove a quick fix, I’m sorry to report that it doesn’t. At all. There are no fast-track passes to yoga town.

What I can promise you, though, is this: giving yoga a go at home is an excellent way to see if you like the way it makes your body feel.

And doing it every day for three weeks? Well, 21 days is scientifically proven to be the length of time required to form a habit – which means it’ll be far easier to keep it up if you decide to carry on once you’re done.


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Images: author’s own (and all taken at once, because she failed to properly document her fitness challenge with daily photographs. Apologies!).

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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