I was thinking the other day about my mental trajectory during a 90 minute Bikram’s yoga class. In the beginning, I am usually feeling a bit distracted, my mind wanders; this is the time when it is most difficult to focus on myself and my practice. It is hard to stay completely present. Inevitably though, as I continue to physically struggle in the postures, pushing myself to put forth my best effort, I get tired. As I get physically tired, my mind gets into gear, and I am able to really stay in a state of moving meditation.

Some days (especially Mondays) when I am really tired, I choose to skip my yoga class. In discovering this phenomenon, I may have to change that bad habit. Clearly being tired can improve my practice in some ways.

I have mentioned before that a major thing I have learned through practicing Bikram’s is how and when to push myself. One of my favorite Bikramisms is “if you can, you must.” I need to remind myself that even when I’m tired, I can make it through a class. I think this is another place where I can learn to push myself a little harder, and receive a lot of benefit in return.

Exhaustedly yours,
-C

Hi Yogis,

I have some exciting news to report: Sometime in the last 6-8 weeks, my back stopped hurting.

I have been babying my back for many years now. I have been careful about forward bending and posture and lifting heavy things. I have been afraid to fall down, afraid to sleep without a pillow under my knees, and afraid to even sit for too long because I never knew what might start it hurting again, and when it decides to start hurting, it can be pretty debilitating.

That all changed one day recently, as I was talking to a physical therapist friend of mine. I mentioned to her that my back hurt all the time and that I was frustrated by my tight hamstrings. I was sure that stretching them made my back hurt worse. “No!,” she exclaimed, “tight hamstrings are probably making your back hurt!” Wow. So all this time I have been treating my back like an acute injury, and never moving into a phase of rehabilitation.

A lot of times in class, we are reminded to just listen to the words of the dialogue and follow them exactly. As students of yoga, we are encouraged to have faith in the practice, trust it, and the more I do that, the better my practice becomes. I decided to do exactly that, especially for the postures, such as rabbit and hands to feet pose. My hamstring flexibility has increased tremendously (although they are still pretty tight!) and I think that is the number one thing that has lead to my decrease in pain.

I will admit, that at first my back hurt much worse. I used a little ibuprofen at work, and some heat and ice, but I continued to really push myself in class, especially in these postures that are so challenging to me. I simultaneously tried to work extremely hard in the spine strengthening series, and consistently keep my core engaged throughout class.

My back pain, miraculously, began to subside. I can’t pinpoint the exact day it went away, and there are still days when I have some pain, but I realized recently while I was at work that I felt fine. In fact, I felt great.

I am beginning to feel more balanced and more comfortable. I am slowly losing that off-kilter in my body feeling that I really think was contributing to my back pain. My posture has also improved quite a lot since early November, and I’m sure that helps too! I guess this is just another lesson in learning to trust the practice.

Bikram’s really does heal all!

-C

Disclaimer: I’m obviously not a doctor. Always consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on 30dayyogi.wordpress.com.

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

Via aliveinthefire.blogspot.com 🙂

Tonight I considered publishing a post called “I’m itchy, I’m smelly, and I have a preschool song stuck in my head,” but I decided that sounded too whiny, so instead I decided to give some kudos to an amazing Bikram Yoga instructor. Gary Smith, at Sweat Box Yoga on Capitol Hill in Seattle WA.

Sweat Box Yoga, is a cozy, unassuming little studio in the heart of Seattle’s Capitol Hill Neighborhood. The two most recent classes I’ve attended there have both been taught by Gary, and they have been two of the best Bikram’s classes I have ever taken. Anywhere. Period.

Gary is the kind of teacher I would want to be if I taught yoga. As Gary guides his students through the postures, he shares knowledge, tips, mantras, and personal anecdotes. His story tonight about his pride at getting fully into the Fixed Firm posture reminded me that even teachers and skilled practitioners have postures they struggle with. He has the rare gift of being able to at once command the class, and bring lightness and humor to the practice. His high expectations of his students are infectious, making for a rigorous, but extremely rewarding experience.

As Eric Grandy quoted in an article in The Stranger last year, Gary Says “My class, it’s not just word for word, ‘do this, do that,’ I make jokes […] I kind of push the limits a little bit, but I make it fun. ‘Cause the class is freaking hard, man – 90 minutes, 105-degree heat? If it’s not fun, It’s gonna suck. Like, today, I taught the class as myself and as a robot; I quoted Tupac and scarface. Plus I just bought a bunch of little speedos, so that helps” (March 2, 2010).

It isn’t enough, though, that he leads the postures so superbly, and adds humor to make the class more interesting. If you go to his class for no other reason, go for his guided relaxation at the end. He draws attention to every part of the body, from the backs of the knees, to the top of the head, urging his students to relax, let go, and breathe.

Thanks for being great at what you do, Gary!

-C

Once upon a time, there was running, and there was yoga. Running sucked, yoga was mostly awesome. I never thought they would work together; then they met and fell in love.

Bodies change. Bodies change a lot faster than you think they’re going to. I have been running (trying to run? Jogging? Limping??) for exactly 1 month, 12 days, and 4 hours. You wouldn’t think that this would have had a chance to change me yet, but I’m finding myself morphing both outside and in.

I really haven’t done a lot of yoga since I’ve been running, so during my class today, it was very interesting to notice how different everything feels.

Right off the bat I noticed my legs have gotten significantly stronger. During Utkatasana (awkward pose), I noticed I could go deeper into the posture, and I could hold it much more comfortably. Additionally I was able to get much more of my weight onto my heels, improving my technique. In all the one-legged poses, I could both see and feel how much stronger my legs are.

I also noticed that my cardiovascular endurance and aerobic ability has gotten a lot better. I didn’t find myself gasping for breath as much as I used to. I definitely still got my heart rate up, but the head pounding, dizzy, I’m-going-to-die feeling was mercifully absent. This allowed me to really improve the depth of my Ustrasana (camel pose), which felt amazing, as well as improve the form on Trikanasana (Triangle Pose), among others.

The last place I noticed a stark increase in strength was especially surprising to me: I noticed it in my core. I have always felt that if anything, the yoga would be the thing to increase my core strength, but the running has improved it so much in such a short time. It felt amazing, and so stabilizing, and it helped me to get a lot more benefit from many of the postures. I was able to do all but the last few sit ups between postures, and the forward bending.

Strengthening these areas allowed me to focus on smaller details of my form, and I really felt like some of the postures just clicked into place today. With Wind Removing Pose, the instructors always say to pull your leg back, completely avoiding the rib cage, and that you should feel a pinch in the hip-joint. I have never been able to feel that pinch, and it has always frustrated me because I felt I wasn’t getting the full benefit of the posture. Today, I realized the alignment of my leg was such that from the knee down, my leg was angled in. I focused on aligning my calf to my hamstring, and voilà! A glorious little pinch! I was so excited.

I just felt that I was doing these poses properly. They just, as I said, clicked.

Of course not all was perfect. My ankle strength is less than stellar. My calves, shins, and ankles cause me a lot of pain when I run, and now they cause me a lot of pain in many of the yoga poses. Additionally, my hamstrings and quads have gotten even tighter than they were before. Stretching out before an after running is definitely going to be something I need to focus on.

When anyone starts doing a new physical activity, there are obviously changes in strength and ability to be expected, they just usually aren’t noticed or appreciated until much later in their development. Doing an activity which requires me to be so in tune with the nuances of my body, has allowed me to benefit from the running I’ve been doing so quickly! I have already noticed so many exciting things happening. What a great motivator to keep on running.

All the best in running and in yoga,

-C

So the title of this blog is “30 days of yoga…1 day at a time.” What you may not have noticed, is the subtitle, “Addicted to self improvement.”

Some of you may read this blog because you love yoga, more of you probably read this blog because you love (or at least tolerate) me. My goal in writing what I do is three fold:

1. Help people become inspired to challenge themselves in their own lives,

2. Help people feel like they are not alone in their struggles, whatever those struggles may be, and,

3. encourage people to find healthy and productive ways of working through the aforementioned struggles.

Since these things are not yoga-specific topics, this blog is about to seriously evolve.

I have recently begun to deal with a struggle of my own in my life, and that is Type 1 Diabetes. For those of you who are unfamiliar, type one diabetes is a genetically based, incurable, auto-immune disease. In brief, when a person has diabetes, the body is unable to produce insulin, and the cells of the body are unable to use food for energy, resulting in starvation. In order to counteract that, people with Type 1 Diabetes take insulin injections.

I hate these videos, but if you want a little illustration, here you go:

So in dealing with the fact that I have Type 1 Diabetes, I have begun to get involved in some of the Juveneille Diabetes Research Foundation’s (JDRF) events, and one of them is Beat the Bridge, an 8K race to raise money for JDRF.

So here it is, my new goal for self improvement: I’m going to run the 8K Beat the Bridge race to beat Diabetes.

Don’t worry, yogi’s, I will still blog about yoga too, but I am comfortable doing yoga. Yoga is part of my life, it is part of who I am, and this blog is supposed to be about stretching my boundaries, and expanding my capabilities, and that is what I’m going to start doing. Right now.

-C

I am blind as a bat.

Ok so maybe that is an exaggeration, but I am certainly blind enough that I cannot see people more than 6-8 feet away from me. I can recognize them, I know they aren’t a statue, but really see them? Not a chance. To be honest, this usually doesn’t bother me. I go through life waving at strangers like it’s my job.

In the yoga studio, the teacher often tells us to make eye contact with our reflections in the mirror, or focus deeply on a certain area of our bodies and, without my glasses on, I can’t do that. So today I decided to wear my glasses to class. I know this doesn’t seem like some monumental thing to those of you who haven’t experienced Bikram’s, but there are a few things which have stopped me from doing this in the past.

1. My glasses fog up: This both obscures my vision and makes me feel like a huge nerd. The nerdiness I can handle, but constantly having to take off and wipe down my frames… so inconvenient. Not to mention distracting.

2. Sweaty noses = glasses slippage: This is once again just inconvenient. I don’t want to come out of standing separate leg stretching pose or balancing stick only have to put my glasses back on.

3. Discomfort: The bottom line is, my glasses are incredibly distracting. One of the most annoying things in yoga is having to make adjustments physically, whether that is pulling my shirt up or down, fixing my hair, or adjusting my glasses so they aren’t hanging from one ear.

I will do a lot to avoid having to make adjustments in class, because it distracts me from the meditation of my practice. Unfortunately, without my glasses, I am left out of another aspect of class, and one that could potentially help me with my balance, form, and focus (ironically).

So wearing my glasses in class did everything I expected it to do for me.

Pros: It helped my balance and my form. In standing head to knee pose, I could actually see the dimples that formed above my standing leg, assuring me that my knee was locked. It gave me the confidence and ability to start really kicking out my other leg in the posture. In some other postures, eagle pose, tree pose, and standing bow (to name a few), being able to make eye contact with my reflection in the mirror really improved my focus and balance.

Cons: My glasses did slip down my nose a lot, but guess what? They didn’t fog up once, and they never ended up hanging from one ear. I guess I would put them in the same category of inconvenience as I do my bangs. My bangs get sweaty and I have to brush them out of my eyes occasionally, but am I growing them out? No. (well actually I am… but not because of yoga).

So in conclusion: Why in the world was I so opposed to even trying to wear my glasses in class? It was a better experience for me with them on. I guess I’ll be a glasses wearing yogini from now on.

Coming soon: Guest post from Travis, who was tough enough to brave the heat and come to his first Bikram’s Yoga class ever!!

-C

This is a continuation of the series of posts I have been writing on pain. Emotional pain, physical pain, spiritual pain. Pain.

Yoga is painful. There is no way around the fact, that one of the goals of practicing yoga, is learning how to be comfortable in uncomfortable physical situations. I have already written about how that is applicable both within and outside the studio, but there is another aspect of pain that I have not discussed.

A question I have been playing with in my mind is why people do things that they know have the potential to cause them pain. For me, in my specific situation, going to a place of pain tells me where I am on my way to healing my heart. I know it’s stupid, because I don’t want to be brought to my knees by something that is really nothing, and I don’t want to hurt. At the same time, I want to feel something, because so much of what has passed feels like a dream, or a vision from another world. I want to know that it was real, and I want to know how I feel.

Pain is one of the most acute sensations. Emotional immediately centers you. It can take over your world in an instant. For me, pain can bring clarity to my life. It can help me place myself in this crazy mixed up world of ours.

Going to yoga can have that same effect. If you make your body hurt, there is no question that it is real, and it is there. Your body is reacting in a normal healthy way to certain stimuli. Health, life, and vitality are all confirmed by pain.

-C

There is a moment in every yoga class where I am convinced that I am not going to make it.

It usually comes right before we hit the floor. At the end of the standing series my muscles are shaking, there is sweat dripping into my eyes, my feet slip on the mat, my lungs threaten to burst, and, if I’m doing it right, I don’t even know my own name. This is the crux of the class, and I always know if I get through that few minutes, that it will all be downhill from there. If I can handle those few minutes of pain and suffering and exhaustion, I can handle anything.

Life, like yoga, come’s in series. There is a crux of each episode, and if you can get through it chances are you will have a moment to breathe. You will finish the standing series, hit the floor, and take your two-minute savasana. The problem is, life isn’t a set. You don’t know what pose is coming next, you don’t know when you will finally get to lie down. You have to just plug along, and be satisfied knowing that eventually you will make it through the crux of the situation.

I feel like I’ve hit the crux of my current situation, struggled through it, and I’m starting to wind down. I might not be in savasana yet, but I’m getting close. I am happier than I have been in a long time, although that happiness is tinged with a distinct pain sensation. Remember not to assign value to sensation, simply feel it, and allow it to wash over you. Winston Churchill said, “when you’re going through Hell, keep going.” Has anyone read Dante’s Divine Comedy? Dante kept going, he travelled through the depths of hell, into purgatory, through that, and do you know what he found? True love. So anytime you think you can’t make it, relax. You’re savasana is on its way.

-C