806 postures and 62 breathing exercises later, I have completed my challenge.

What I learned this month:
– how to engage my neck during backward bends, especially in bow and cobra.
– how to kick out in standing head to knee.
– how to push through the heel and bring my kicking out leg down and forward from the hip in standing head to knee.
– how to bring my weight forward in standing bow, and just how far down my body needs to be in order to get my leg up. How far forward I have to reach. When they say to reach like you’re going to touch the mirror, they mean it.
– where to place my feet in both triangle and standing separate leg head to knee pose.
– how to not collapse onto my heel in toe stand.
– what angle my hands should be at in cobra.
– where my arms should be in full locust.
– how gosh darn forward I need to roll in bow pose.
– how to keep my heels down during the sit ups.
– how to come out of fixed firm.
– how to tuck my chin to my chest in rabbit.
– how to roll my weight in towards the center in head to knee pose, dropping my inner shoulder down too.
– how to engage my quads in order to stretch my hamstrings.

– how to know when to push myself and when to take a break.
– exactly how much water it takes to stay hydrated.
– that I like morning classes a lot – and that they don’t make me feel tired during the day.

I’ve learned so much this month! I did do the daily double on Friday, but it was hard. I had a rough first class, so for the second class I moved my mat back into a cooler area, and just did as much as I could. As usual, when I stopped thinking about the class as a whole, and began to really go posture by posture, I was much more capable.

I rocked in standing bow, and by the time we got to trikanasana I hit my stride. I finished the class – and the challenge – strong.

In our last savasana, Frani (the teacher) congratulated me and another girl in the class on completing the challenge, and double congratulated me for doing my two classes in a row, and then drew the name for the challenger that would win a month of yoga for free. It was me! I won!

In my previous challenges, I have felt like their culminations have been rather uneventful. This did not. I felt a deep sense of accomplishment. I relished putting that last gold star up on the challenge chart.

It has felt strange not having to go to yoga today. I actually already feel inclined to go back. The amount of progress I have made has been really inspiring. I want to go back and improve. Push my postures farther and deeper, make my body healthy and strong.

I spent a wonderful day today with friends and family and my dog, Lilly, and having so much time to just give to the people I care about has made me feel grateful. I’m grateful for the people I have in my life who support me and make me a better person. I’m grateful that I can support and make myself a better person too. I’m grateful that I have this body that works so well.

Gratefully yours,

-C

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It’s hard to believe that in exactly 24 hours I’ll be starting pranayama and the 26 postures of the Bikram yoga series. It’s pretty amazing actually that I’ve made it this far in the challenge avoiding the 6AM class, but sleeping in as late as I can is definitely a priority. I’ll rearrange my schedule into such a blur of activity in the afternoon that it practically requires an event planner to execute before I will take an AM class. Tomorrow, though, my hands are tied. I have no choice. I also have no doubt in my ability to do it.

A friend recently published a little gif on her Facebook wall. It said “stop for a second and consider this: you can literally do whatever the fuck you want.” after doing my first ever Bikram challenge a few years ago, I began to understand what this meant. Now I understand it on a deep, personal, visceral level. I understand that it means I can go to a 6AM yoga class if i decide to, but I also understand it applies to a whole lifetime of decisions I can and will make for myself.

Last night as I fell asleep, I was thinking about my karma yoga, what I am here in this life to do. I was palpating my feelings about things in my life, choices I’ve made, people I spend my time with. It occurred to me that discovering my karma yoga has everything to do with the original intent I set for myself when I started his challenge. I read it every day on the poster we wrote all over in the change room, in my awkward scrawl: I will stop being afraid.

When you realize that you are singularly responsible for the path your life takes, and furthermore that you have control over that life, it is scary. That seems like a lot of responsibility for a gal like me. Yoga also teaches us, however, to take things one teeny tiny step at a time. To forgive ourselves when we’re not ready for something yet, and that if you go to your maximum, and continue to apply pressure to that point every day, one day, without fail, you will blossom.

Buddingly yours,

-C

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Readers,

I am officially finished with day 12 as of 6:30 pm this evening. I feel really great! There were a few days in there around seven and eight that I was just really feeling exhausted, but over the weekend things kind of started to turn around for me.

Overall I have found that since I have been doing so much yoga this year, I am noticing fewer monumental physical changes and breakthroughs, and instead this challenge has been much more of a mental journey for me. I have been having these moments of intense, all consuming clarity, especially after camel. It’s like I can almost see all these doors opening up in front of me, showing me which path to take in my life. In those moments the choices I should make are so obvious. Having the wherewithal to carry them out in real life, however, is a different thing.

In terms of where I am physically: I’m pretty tender. I especially am feeling soreness in the base of my neck, and in my shoulders. It doesn’t feel like a dangerous pain though, more like stiffness from working out. My lower back is hurting again. I’m struggling a little bit to know when to push through it and when to ease off. Last time it hurt like this I pushed through it and it was better than ever for some time.

I’ll leave you now with an a few bullet points:

1. I did toe stand!!!!!

2. Did you know there is a formula for how much water to drink? Divide you body weight in kilograms in half, and that is the number of ounces of water per day you should be drinking. I learned that at the Eating for Beginners lecture that I went to through The Sweatbox. It was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to the next one, Detox: how and why?

Purely yours,

-C

Hi readers!

Today in school we had a professional development day, which in half day preschool means we didn’t have any students. My coworker and I went to observe another general education preschool in the district this morning.

As we arrived in the classroom, we heard a tiny bell chime, and then absolute silence. When we entered the classroom, the students noticed us, but none of them said anything, and we all sat in silence for exactly 3 minutes. Another tiny chime, and the teacher calmly directed the class’s attention to the board as the day began. Every student in the school had just begun his day with 3 minutes of silent meditation.

It is amazing to see a group of 4-5 year olds attending so perfectly to themselves. This is something that I know I and many other students of yoga struggle with when we are practicing savasana.

Savasana is one of the poses I am focusing on throughout this challenge. Focus, in general has been something I have tried to work on lately, and I have found it has effected my whole practice in a very positive way. When my internal monologue is limited to “breathe in, breathe out, don’t be afraid,” the teacher dialogue still has a way of seeping through my brain and into my body. I am finding my postures are improving, and that I am able to go much deeper into them than before. Most importantly, I am learning how to stay more present, that makes me happier in class, and happier in my life.

Practicing these mental skills in savasana makes them easier to access in the rest of the postures. Practicing this meditation in the other postures, helps me to use it in my life. At work, at home, with my friends. As thoughts and feelings come to me, I am more easily able to feel them and then move on without getting caught up in the meaning or the drama of a situation.

Watching those preschoolers practice meditation this morning, I was struck by the notion of how much it could improve their ability to think, learn, problem solve, make friends. There was an element of calm that was very pervasive throughout the school. It was beautiful to see these children and adults using the practice of meditation to improve their lives. It made me realize how important it is to practice being calm, centered, and relaxed.

Mindfully yours,

-C

Wow what a whirlwind!

This morning I got up bright and early to head to an 8 AM class.  For those of you who know me, I don’t have to tell you how amazing it is that I got up in the morning on a weekend.  I’m more of a 13 hour sleep kind of gal most of the time, so being out last night and then still getting up in the morning felt great to me.  I was already proud!  What could go wrong?  I tested my blood sugar and it was low low low.  I looked at the clock… already 7:25.  I took some glucose tabs and waited.  I tested my blood sugar again.  Still low!  Darn it.  I missed the 8 AM class.  That was ok though because I could just eat something, feel a bit better, and get to the 10 AM class.  No big deal.

When 9:15 rolled around, I decided to leave really early.  I was determined to make it to that 10 AM class.  At about 9:20, I headed out to my car, only to realize that the seatbelt buckle was broken!  I like to live life on the edge sometimes, but I just could not justify driving all the way to Capitol Hill without a seatbelt on.  It’s the kind of thing where I would probably be totally fine…. but…. I could also die.

Luckily for me, I was able to find myself a ride at the last minute (thanks, Mom!) and I ran into the studio at 9:56 AM.

It was crowded.  The only space I could fit in was the very front row… more on that later!

1/10th of the way!  Yippee! 

-C

Hi Readers,

As I embark on this new 30-day Bikram challenge, I enter into new challenge territory: the group challenge.  Doing a 30-day challenge with a group of people will be very different for me, because (as you know) I always do challenges by myself.  Kaleesha and I did my last 30-day yoga challenge together, and it definitely changed things a bit, but we were still doing it kind of individually together.

At The Sweat Box, the rules of their challenge are as follows: do Bikram yoga at The Sweatbox for 30 days in a row.  2-a-days don’t count.  If you’re out of town, you can practice at a different studio.  The rules are basic, and black and white.  Just like in my first ever 30-day challenge, I will succeed or I wont.  This time, however; my name is on a wall in the studio and I will mark off the days of the challenge with a little shiny star sticker.  If there’s a sticker missing, I’m not just accountable to myself, I’m accountable to everyone who is working towards that 30-day goal.

When I started this blog, one of my reasons was to keep myself accountable for the goals I set.  I think it has been a strong source of motivation for me, but my readers, you, the people who I feel hold me to my word are all remote.  I don’t really know who reads this blog, so I do feel accountable but I don’t have to look you in the face if I fail.  My teachers and fellow students are people that I am familiar with in person.  In this challenge there will be a very different kind of accountability.

On a more positive note, I am anticipating that there will be a comfortable sense of community, and I hope that people will help each other stay motivated and stay positive.  I’m looking forward to experiencing this with my fellow yogis and yoginis.  It’s really nice to shake things up sometimes.

Communally yours,

-C

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So this was dinner tonight.  I feel like I’ve definitely gotten better at whipping things together, which is way more my style (for better or for worse) than undertaking elaborate cooking projects.  I’ve been reading some fantastic blogs written by fantastic vegans lately, and while all of their cooking projects seem like the best idea in the world when I’m reading them on Sunday morning, in practice I’ve been getting home from work and really been too tired to attempt a culinary masterpiece.

That is most certainly not to say that I won’t be doing a lot of cooking this month, but it is nice to know that when I feel like something easy, I can get there without my default chicken breast and salad.

I bought some organic sprouted tofu last week, and I wanted to try it in something.  I happened to have tomatoes and kalamata olives (a fave ingredient of mine) in the fridge, and I picked up some spinach and pita bread (turns out my usual pita brand contains honey!  Surprising!).

First I sauteed the spinach just until it got soft in a little olive oil and garlic, then I added the chopped olives and tomatoes.  

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Then I diced the tofu and I added that.

ImageI toasted the pita bread, spread the inside with just a smidge of hummus, and filled the pocket up with this delicious little greek inspired stir fry.

It was good, if a little salty.  Both my sous chef and I agreed that it could use a little textural variation.  Maybe some flax seeds sprinkled in there or some other sort of crunchy grain.  I don’t really know, because my culinary repertoire is fairly limited.  If you have any ideas then throw them at me!

It’s a work in progress, but I was satisfied with my efforts for the evening!

-C

Happy new year, yogis!!

As most of you know I don’t believe in new years resolutions, but I still wanted to kick off 2012 with something special. I’ve covered a lot of territory this year: the no Facebook challenge, the 8k, a second 30-day Bikram challenge. I wanted to try something a little different, something both personally challenging, as well as something that challenges social norms and explores cultural trends. Enter the 30-day vegan challenge. My first challenge of 2012.

I’ll be the first to admit that veganism isn’t exactly unheard of, especially in a city like Seattle, but I think it is an interesting way to begin exploring cultural attitudes towards diet, trends in food marketing, and it will be lots of fun too! I have already compiled a variety of recipes, done some research on nutrition, and come out to my friends as a temporary vegan (my announcement garnered mixed reactions). I have grocery shopped for the necessary supplies (almond milk, vegan cereal, earth balance, Annie’s lentil soup, and massive amounts of fruit and veggies), and I’m actually already on day two! So go me.

Meatlessly yours,
-C

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Hi Yogis and others,

Yoga and writing to me have been inextricably linked from day one. Bikram’s teaches me so many things, and I get excited about them and feel like I need to share my insights. Blogging is my way to document my mental growth.

Yoga is most certainly a form of exercise (especially Bikram’s) but, what I’m sure is already abundantly clear to you all, is that yoga is also an exercise for the mind. Learning how to overcome pain, and push through drama and difficulty to attain success; to build up your sense of self efficacy, boosting your confidence and driving you to become mentally healthier. Yoga helps you practice being in the moment, not getting caught up in the transitive phenomena we are confronted with daily, and hourly. Yoga is an incredible workout for the brain. But I don’t have to tell you that.

Do you know who I have to tell that to? The teachers at Bikram Yoga Seattle in Fremont. I’m not linking to their page, I’m not trying to slander them. I know I have discussed before the reasons why I dislike that studio (and the reasons why some people might prefer it!), but that is where Kaleesha and I ended up doing our 30-day challenge. Just to recap: there was a groupon sale that got us an incredible deal on unlimited yoga for a month at the Fremont studio. I decided to go for it, even though I knew I hadn’t particularly liked that studio in the past, and that was a huge mistake. I didn’t particularly enjoy the classes there, I didn’t get that same incredible spirit lift there that I do going to the Sweat Box. I didn’t know why that was for a while, but I soon realized that it is because the Fremont studio completely ignores the mental aspect of the practice.

I will admit I did an awful job of documenting my most recent 30-day challenge, but it’s because a massive part of my practice was missing. I didn’t have anything to say, because my landscape of epiphanies was stark. My hopes for that strength of mind, and greater wisdom that comes with a challenge like that were sadly unfulfilled.

Right after I finished my month at Bikram Yoga Seattle, I went directly to the Sweat Box and began taking classes there. I finished my challenge at the sweat box in October, and since then I have been attending classes at the sweat box about 3-4 times a week. I feel so grounded, and so comfortable in my own body right now, and I am definitely in better shape than I was in over the summer. Most importantly, despite the fact that I have been working in a preschool, my back is in wonderful shape (that’ll be a topic for another post!).

I am so happy to report that unlike my 30-day challenge three years ago, I have been able to continue to work my yoga into my life post-challenge.

Here’s hoping you all have a wonderful holiday, filled with friends and family and love.

Namaste!

-C

It all started when Kaleesha and I were looking at pictures on Facebook. “You look so good in these pictures!” She said. “That was right after my Bikram Yoga Challenge,” I explained. “We have to do a yoga challenge,” she decided. That was that.

We set a tentative date of september 15th to start our challenge. My boyfriend left for Washington DC for a few months on the 7th, so I figured I’d have one week to cry on the couch and eat ice cream, and then be forced to actually do something. What ended up happening, though, was quite fateful. Kaleesha and I get e-mails from Groupon, and one morning, the daily deal happened to be one month of unlimited Bikrams yoga at Bikram Yoga Seattle for $30. We had to do it.

This time around I am structuring my challenge a little differently. Reading over my blog posts about my previous 30 day challenge, I gave myself some advice for if I did this again, and I’m going to follow it. First of all, I am going 5 days a week. This extends the challenge by 2 weeks, making it more of a 6-week challenge than a 30-day challenge, I guess. I’m doing this to decrease burn out, and to give my body time to rest and reap the benefits of the practice. The next thing I am doing, is I have photographed myself in several postures (camel, standing bow, standing head to knee pose), and I am going to photograph myself again in 6 weeks to gauge my improvement, and to see if my body has changed. I am excited to find out, because it is something I was really curious about during my last challenge.

It’s always interesting starting back into Bikram’s. I haven’t practiced regularly for about a year, but my body fell pretty naturally back into it. I did start to feel pretty nauseous when it was time to get into camel pose, and I could hardly bend back at all the first day, but by the second day, my intense nausea was quite diminished, so I was able to participate more. I feel like the first day was kind of a “get through the class” kind of day, but by the second day, I was getting used to making those minor mental and physical adjustments, and improving my postures. I kept thinking about Katie’s advice, (she is one of my favourite teachers from Vancouver BC) “it’s yoga practice, not yoga perfect,” and it made me unafraid to try things. I’ll never forget the class I took from her during my last 30 day challenges. It was me and five other students, and it was far and wide the best yoga experience I have ever had. Katie was an amazing teacher, and I miss learning from her. I am lucky to have her voice in my head when I do yoga elsewhere.

As my readers know, I don’t love Bikram Yoga Seattle. I prefer The Sweatbox, and unfortunately, that has been very much confirmed for me over the past two classes, and I have also figured out why. Bikram Yoga Seattle is completely missing the mind part of the mind-body aspect of yoga. I prefer teachers that share Bikram’s knowledge and words of wisdom, are encouraging, and help take their students to a mental place where our physical boundaries can be challenged. Since I have done a lot of this kind of yoga, I have certain things that teachers have told me that I can keep in my mind as I practice. Things like “one millimeter today, one millimeter tomorrow, and eventually you’ll get there.” or “move with the class, don’t think, let the teacher be the mind and you be the body.” These words, among others, float around in my mind and guide my practice, but I imagine for someone who has never done Bikram’s anywhere else, it must be less fulfilling. The sad part is, those students don’t even know how much their practice could be improved with better teaching.

Anyway, since I am doing 30 days, 5 days a week, I have six weeks of yoga to do, and Kaleesha and I decided that for our last ten classes we will go to The Sweat Box. I can’t wait to take more classes from Gary!!

I am kind of sore this weekend, but I think I will be ready to go on monday again (I almost wish I was going today!). I am relaxing, icing my back to prevent injury, and going to the baseball game tonight.

Motivationally yours,

-C