“You’re never too old, you’re never too sick, it’s never too late to start from scratch once again.”

This is something Bikram tells his students, and this is something Shavon reminded us as we lay in savasana yesterday morning.  “If you’re struggling right now, if your mind is racing, it’s ok.  Just take a deep breath and start again.”  Take a deep breath.  This is something that many of us at times struggle to do, or take for granted, and it’s something we all need to do all the time.  When we practice yoga, we are reminded how important breathing is.  It can make the difference between a great class and one you’re barely able to complete.

 Yoga has a way of reducing us to our most raw and basic functions: drink water, breathe, move, sweat.  We are muscle and tissue, a working system, a well-tuned machine. The practice can be so beautiful when these things work together, but take one away and it wouldn’t work at all.  So much of what is true in yoga, is true in life.

 I have a friend who got her chance to take a deep breath and start again last night.  She has cystic fibrosis, and she received her new set of lungs.  Thanks to the sacrifice of an organ donor, this beautiful, smart, inspiring woman will be able to continue to laugh, smile, make an enormous impact on everyone she touches, and all because she is most importantly able to breathe.

 If you are not already an organ donor, please register here (in the U.S.).  You could potentially give someone the chance to start from scratch once again.

 Don’t take your breath for granted. 

 Sincerely,

 Claire

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The treadmills:

there they were, all lined up along the front wall of the gym; they stood there like an army of robots made of metal and rubber. Vicious, evil monsters, who like to revel in my humiliation.

I decided to forfeit a Saturday night out so that I could go to the gym while it was relatively empty. Between the Apple Cup and Husky Basketball, I figured most Seattleites would be snuggled on their couches, or slurping a beer at the bar. Thankfully, I was right.

I was being melodramatic before. It really wasn’t that bad, in fact, I kind of liked it. A lot. I learned a lot about myself, like, for example, I can run a ten and a half-minute mile. More precisely, I can run a 10 minute and 36 second minute mile. That is a lot better than I thought I could do. So I warmed up with 5 minutes of speed walking, ran for 20, and cooled down with another 5 minutes of speed walking. I ran for 20 minutes straight, and it felt incredible. My heart rate stayed right about 180 – which is the target for athletic conditioning, and I didn’t feel horribly out of breath, nor did I get achy lungs or a sore throat.

I feel like I could have actually run for longer, but my shins were hurting awfully badly. It appears this pain might be my biggest hurdle. It isn’t like muscle soreness either, if I’m not careful I’m afraid I will really get hurt. I must look into having someone critique my form, and give me techniques to deal with this. In the meantime, I’ll be sure to ice my shins after a run, and stretch appropriately.

While on the treadmill, I learned that I tend to list to the right while running. I also learned (as mentioned above) that I’m in a lot better cardiovascular shape than I thought I was. I really feel accomplished right now.

I’m going to sit back and revel in that for a while. More to come later.

-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

Inside the yoga studio; outside the yoga studio; don’t panic.

I don’t know if you remember my earlier post about the class I took in Seattle at The Sweatbox, Let’s Get Personal, but in it I referenced the fact that “I knew it was going to be a tough class from the start” because I was breathless during the first few breaths of the first breathing exercise. This is true and it’s something that I still deal with regularly during class. It is one of my most persistent challenges.

The feeling reminds me of what I hated about swim team as a kid (and why I quit). That feeling of having a lack of oxygen, wanting to hyperventilate, getting dizzy and trying to gasp for air. This was what was happening to me in class the other day, when the teacher said “Don’t Panic.” Immediately I tried to rationalize my thoughts. I was getting enough oxygen (in fact the reason for dizziness is the increased amount of oxygen flowing to the brain). The only way to slow down my racing, panicked, heart was to slow my breathing. I concentrated on timing the movements and breathing so that the flow was constant and unbroken; so I never had to hold my breath. I attempted to clear my mind of everything and simply breathe.

I won’t tell you that I magically calmed down and found this incredible meditative space. That isn’t what happened. I was able to slow my heartbeat down a bit, and I was able to free myself from the grasp of terror to some extent, but I still felt scared. I still had moments of lung burning panic, but I continued to struggle through them to try to find a more calm space for myself. I believe that this will continue to get better.

In this fantastic article, by a woman who did a 60 day challenge (!!) she refers to some of her thinking as “all-or-nothing” thinking. This is really what it all comes down to, because it’s about not letting one thought overwhelm your whole thinking. In a challenging class, for example, you can have an internal monologue that says something like “I did poorly on the last posture, and so this whole class is going to go badly.” Alternately, you can have an more positive dialogue with yourself that encourages a clean slate for each posture. Every moment you spend in class is an opportunity to change, grow, learn, and try your very best. Every posture has the potential to be the best you’ve ever done. You can do this in life too: every moment is an opportunity to start over. If you make a mistake, so what? The next moment is a fresh start.

Positivity is about being able to gain perspective, and allow yourself to accept the fact that you are in control of your thoughts and actions. Positivity is about learning how to forgive yourself, and try again.

That’s a lot of power when you really think about it.

-C

Although I haven’t been writing a lot lately, I have done a lot of yoga. I go to class, think about something to write about, and then can’t find time to write, so I currently have a backlog that I could discharge onto this page, however; it would be overwhelming for both of us. Instead I will focus on the most simple thing I have learned lately, and it is thanks to my mother.

I was home for the fourth of July this year, and it was wonderful being back in Seattle for a bit, and to show E around there. We had a great time, but it was absolutely exhausting, and on the last night I felt like I was fading a bit. I was standing in the kitchen, and my mom took one look at me, and she laughed. Not a guffaw, but a giggle, and it was most definitely directed at me. I pestered her about why she was laughing and she said “oh nothing it’s just that your little toes are clenching the floor. I can tell you’re tired. It’s a mom thing.”

I didn’t think too much of this exchange until today, when I was in class. Since I’ve gotten back in to yoga, I have noticed two things.

1. My balance has been off, and
2. my ankles are killing me!!!

I was in the standing head to knee pose, and my ankles hurt and I noticed it again: I was clenching my toes. I slowly started to adjust my weight so it was more evenly distributed, and I tried to relax my toes so I didn’t rely on them to balance my entire body weight. That made a huge difference, and I found I started to rely on other muscles more to hep keep me balanced. Specifically I engaged my quads a bit more and my glutes a LOT more. I found this improved my balance, and it took all that strain right off my ankle as well! What a break through. (Thanks, Mom!)

It’s so true that the details make the biggest difference. Breathing through my nose, keeping my face calm, keeping my abs tight, and not clenching my toes all contribute to my endurance, balance, and form in a huge way.

One of the things I always talk about, and something I really believe, is you can bring things that you learn in class outside of the studio, and they can help you immensely in many aspects of your life. Something I don’t talk (or think) about a lot, is the things that you learn outside the studio that can help you in class. Getting new perspectives, and learning about yourself in any capacity can really help your practice improve. Looking in the mirror and listening to your body and yourself is important, but listening to your friends, instructors, and parents can be an equally valuable perspective.

Think about the things you have learned outside the studio, and how they can help you within it.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow will be: “Don’t Panic.”

-C

Today’s class was a good class.  It didn’t look pretty but it was good nonetheless.  I definitely worked really hard.

I went places I hadn’t gone before during half moon pose in the back bend.  I can definitely tell that my middle and upper spine are getting more flexible since I’m not letting myself collapse into my lower back flexibility anymore, and along with that my core is getting stronger, which allows me to support a deeper backward bend.  Also having Katie demonstrate the back band in the last class she taught helped because I could really see just how far you had to push your arms back and your stomach, chest, and hips forward.

I spoke last day of wanting to kick out during standing head to knee pose, and I did a little bit, but it is very hard for me to keep my standing knee locked and kick out simultaneously so I may not be completely ready to kick out yet.  I can kick out a tiny bit but remember:  a millimeter today a millimeter tomorrow.  Eventually I’ll get there.  One of the reasons the one leg balancing postures were so difficult for me today was that my ankles were really hurting.  I was talking to Jessica afterward and she was asking about  soreness and if it gets better.  I feel like the soreness for me has been really odd.  It has kind of moved upwards on my spine and down my legs.  So my lower back used to hurt, then my middle back hurt, now my shoulders, neck, and upper back hurt.  Similarly my knees were hurting, and now my calves and ankles hurt!  I’m hoping the soreness will eventually disappear mostly.  I do think most of the pain is good pain, strengthening pain, but today when I was doing one of the sit ups that we do between postures my back tugged a little bit and now my lower back hurts still.  I think I still can’t quite fully do the sit ups.  It’s just too risky for my back still and I think I need to build up some more core strength before doing the sit ups.

So in terms of breathing, I kept forgetting to breathe into the postures for the first part of the class!  It was like when I stopped thinking about breathing and started focusing on other things I forgot to breathe.  Then when I noticed myself having to release a gasp of air as I came out of postures, I realized I wasn’t breathing and I was able to correct it for the remainder of the series.

All in all I am feeling a little sore tonight but I think the class went well.  I came out of some postures a little early, and some of them I fell out of accidentally, but the time I did spend in the postures was very intense.  It was the type of intense where your muscles are shaking because you are working so hard, so I felt that even though I didn’t spend the full minute in a posture, the time I did spend in it was very well spent with 100% effort put in and that makes me feel successful.

I feel amazing right now despite the aches.  I have never felt better in my life.

-Claire

When I began attending this class my nose used to run a lot.  It was pretty disgusting.  I think the body does some pretty disgusting things when it is adjusting to this activity and nose running is definitely one of them.  For those of you that aren’t quite sure what I’m talking about think of when you are eating hot soup and your nose runs from all the steam.  Now think about your face hovering over hot soup for 90 minutes.  Youre nose would run a lot right?

So anyway my nose ran a lot and I had to blow my nose like every other posture and it was gross and loud and annoying.  Since I’ve been taking class I still have to blow my nose but less and less often  and outside of class I am noticing some major differences.  My lungs are clearer than they have ever been before.  They are so open and accommodating of oxygen!  The only way I can really describe it is in this analogy:  when you come out of a really stuffy room into a cool comfortable open atmosphere, you breathe in, and you feel the cool air sliding down your throat – almost like drinking water when you are parched.  That is how every breath feels to me now all the time.  It’s a truly amazing feeling.

It is funny how practicing Bikram’s yoga, and getting so much out of it, makes you realize how much we are fighting against our own bodies every day.  I guess I didn’t know what I was missing until I found it again, but I can’t exactly describe in words just how much I’ve found so far.  You just have to try it yourself : )

-Claire