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

Hi Readers,

I did something a little different today.  

As some of you may know, I haven’t snow boarded in a long time.  A long time as in about 5 years.  In fact, last time I was on a board I was in high school and I broke my wrist and hurt my back, and I have been uncharacteristically terrified to go back ever since. Today, when my parents left for their instructor training clinic (I happen to be part of a family of snow-sport instructors!), I thought to myself, f**** it.  I’m going too. Of course when I got to the mountain I realized I couldn’t even remember how to lace my boots right, much less consider riding down the hill, so I swallowed my pride and decided to take a private lesson, and my instructor was Zach Reifert from the Summit Learning Center at Snoqualmie Pass. (Note: pretty sure that’s his last name! Great instructor, not so great handwriting)

Usually I just write about my challenges, but since I have been a terrible blogger this year, and since I don’t currently have a formal 30-day-challenge in the works, and since Zach was such a great instructor, I thought I’d write about my experience today.

I was apprehensive about signing up for a lesson. I always think those situations where you’re hanging out with someone who is being paid to be nice to you tend to be awkward, but Zach wasn’t awkward, and more than that he was an excellent teacher. He has an almost scientific understanding of the physicality of snowboarding, and he’ll explain it to you, with his somehow humble seeming disclaimer: “let me know if this is getting too technical!”

I appreciated the fact that he seemed to understand where I was coming from, having had an injury, and he was the perfect balance of encouraging, and respectful of my limits. I have always said that what makes a a person a great teacher, is being able to read and respond to a student’s needs. That is definitely what makes Gary my favorite teacher at the Sweat Box, and it is what I strive to do as a teacher. Zach has that gift.

A good instructor is something valuable beyond measure, so when I find one, I obviously have to share the wealth! Hopefully some of you yogis also happen to like snow sports, and if that is so, I have to recommend Zach as my top pick for a private lesson. He’ll have you doing 180s on your first day!

-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

I woke up this morning and the first thing I wanted to do, after seeing I had no phone-calls and no e-mails, was check Facebook. Especially now, I am dying to know what my friends are up to. I went out for the morning, leaving my phone behind as well, and when I came back… still nothing! It is taking a lot of willpower to stay away from Facebook right now. Blogging helps a bit.

Am I really that dependent on Facebook that I would have needed to look at it twice today already? Better question: would I have gotten anything from it? Well the person I am interested in, I already know what he is doing, so it is doubtful I would have read anything other than a vague insight into maybe what he did last night, or something else that I would consider equally frustrating and likely misleading.

This makes me think how shallow that form of communication truly is. Even with someone I know quite well, I’m granted a cursory look into their psyche at best. At worst, the friend has a manufactured list of interests, hobbies, and well-liked literature or music to try to fit into a character. The internet really affords people the ability to become someone who they are not.

It reminds me of the old days, think my seventh grade (1999-2000) when AOL came out with instant messenger, AIM, and my girlfriends and I thought it was terribly exciting to talk to teenage boys in other states, and pretend to be people we weren’t. The truth is, for all we knew (and our parents loved to caution us), those “teenage boys” could have been middle-aged women.

The internet makes for a very believable mask.

-C

My 8k is coming up and I am nervous, plain and simple. I ran my first practice 8k last week, and it went horribly awry: my allergies acted up, my shins hurt like crazy, my clothing was uncomfortable, and I felt discouraged and let down. I kept thinking to myself I’ve been working at this for nearly 6 months, and 5 miles is still challenging. Why am I even doing this? I want to quit. I’m going to finish the last out of everyone and feel terrible about myself. But I finished my run (if you could call it that), and I felt like I knew my worst case scenario.

Feeling sorry for myself, unmotivated, and disappointed, I sauntered into my house to check out facebook (where better to seek comfort?) when low and behold, an update from Jamie: a picture with the caption “Nat on her 40th km today in the BMO.” Ok I’m sitting here feeling bad about running an 8k and Natalie is on her 40th km of her marathon? I am in awe of this woman. All my negativity instantly went away, and was replaced with inspiration and motivation. I could get there one day too! But how? Well, ladies and gentelman, without further ado, I present to you my Q and A with the amazing, inspirational, and very very fast, Natalie Chomin herself.


Claire: How did you start running and why do you love it so much?

Natalie: I started running in elementary school and realized I loved to race, so that’s when I decided to try Cross Country and Track. I competed until I graduated High School [and did] other sports at the same time. When my High School days of running were over, I found myself craving that racing experience and decided to do my first half marathon. I really enjoyed it, and decided to start racing in triathlon, which I did for the past 5 years along with running shorter races. Last year I decided to take it up a notch and sign up for a full marathon and the rest is history!

Running is a funny thing. Sometimes I wonder “why do I do this every single day?”….especially when I am losing toenails, chaffing, blistering, missing out on social events, watching my diet and alcohol consumption and giving up my days off so I can run, and recover from, my weekly long runs which got up to 35 kms. But that’s what I love the most about running–the challenge and the high I get from achieving my goals. Nothing is comparable for me, and many people wonder why, but it’s become my escape.

C: What was your very first race like? How far was it and How did you feel after?

N: My first race outside of High School was the Victoria Half Marathon. It was 21.1 km, and it was a bit of a letdown. I had trained extremely hard and enjoyed that aspect immensely, but race day was a thumbs down. The weather was terrible, and I went out too fast with the built up adrenaline and hit a wall around 15km. After, I was happy I finished and overall it was a good first race, but I learned a lot from it.

C: What is the last week before a marathon like? In the days before the BMO marathon, what did you do to prepare?

N: The last week of training before a marathon includes tapering. You hit your highest weekly mileage around 2-3 weeks before the race then all your runs get shorter and less intense. In the days before the race, I focused on making sure my diet was getting a lot of simple carbohydrate for immediate glycogen stores, getting a lot of sleep and mentally preparing. I was extremely nervous, barely able to think/talk about anything else.

C: What types of cross training do you incorporate into your workout routine?

N: I like to do yoga 1-2 time a week, as well as biking or hiking; in the summer I do the Grouse Grind as one of my cross training days. I also do a core circuit twice a week, as having a strong core really improves your running performance.

C: What is normal running pain like? Where do you feel it most when you run for long distances? Shorter distances?

N: Pain is one of the biggest topics in marathon training. I thought I knew what it was like to experience pain from running before marathon training….but I was wrong. In long runs, one of my biggest issues was chaffing. I would literally be bleeding in the shower from the rubbing of my heart rate monitor, sports bra and sometime shorts/long spandex. Long runs also bring on cramping in the calves, and hamstrings, not to mention lactic acid build up occurring in the upper body. Tempo and speed workouts were just painful because they were tough cardiovascular workouts and I would get some acute muscle soreness afterwards.

C: What gets you through the tough times? When you are training what motivates you? When you are actually racing what pushes you to go faster and keep moving?

N: I go through some tough runs and tough stretches of time while training, which all runners definitely experience. On one of my long runs I was seriously questioning my decision to run a marathon. Why am I doing this? Why do I go through all this pain? Will I be able to finish the race? Maybe I should just do a half…..but I always am motivated by the one fact that never changes, I love a challenge, and achieving that goal is one of the best feelings in the world. Hands down. In a race, the adrenaline and the pounding of footsteps by the other runners around me drive me forward–knowing that pain is temporary, and pride is forever. I had a cross country coach tell me “run until there is literally no gas left in the tank”. Lots of times I have to dig extremely deep to find that bit of energy, but it’s there, and sometimes you have to get through times like that mentally when physically, there is nothing left.

C: Any final words of advice or encouragement for newbies like me?

N: I love it when I hear that someone is picking up running. Having confidence is very important when beginning a new sport. You have to know that YOU can do it, and no one else can tell you otherwise. I never thought I’d do a marathon…it was just too long of a distance, I used to think. But when I realized that the only thing holding me back is myself, I went for it. I would suggest signing up for a 5k, or whatever distance you feel would be a challenge and start training. I love having a race in mind, it motivates my workouts every single day. And when I am finished that race, knowing I achieved something that I set out to do, is an amazing feeling!

Happy Running!

Thanks for the interview, Natalie! You are phenomenal and I can’t wait to hear about what you do next!

Happy training to all my readers, whether you are a runner, a yogi, a swimmer, or a bob sledder.

Motivationally yours,

C

There was an interesting editorial piece in the Seattle Times today, by Vicky Hailett, about the difference between men and women when it comes to exercise. The article claims that men exercise for the sake of exercising; “for guys to sweat is a badge of honor,” writes Hailett. Women, on the other hand “[look] at being active as a means to have wine with dinner.” EXCUSE ME???

As you can probably tell already, I don’t agree with this. I have never worked out in order to eat more. I have never worked out to be social. I have never been afraid of sweat; and I have never been unwilling to “hoist a dumbbell.”

As you probably have gathered from reading this blog, I actually love to sweat. I love to work out not because it allows me to indulge in sweets and wine, but because it makes me feel good, inherently.

What this article seems to profile is in fact two types of people who work out in unproductive ways. First there are the people (the women, according to Hailett) who don’t like exercising; who exercise as a means of achieving better health, and so they can eat a little more without gaining weight, but who have not found the joy in exercising. Second are the people who over extend themselves because they are image conscious: these people want to be seen going to the gym, lifting the heaviest weights, and running the furthest, but they do it without regard for their health or capability. These are the people who end up injured.

Another aspect of the article that I take offense to is Hailett’s reasoning. She argues that women tend to not be able to find the joy in exercise, because most of them have been brought up to be inactive, and not to value fitness. The unfortunate thing is, that according to the Women’s Sports Foundation, 62% of all children ages 9-12 report that they engage in no physical activity after the school day ends. That’s not very many boys or girls who are regularly participating in physical activity as children. Girls who take part regularly in sports make up 32.4% whereas boys make up 49%, so yes, there are more boys participating in sports, but the girl’s reasons to participate include “having fun […], improving skills, and doing something they are good at (22).” Since only 10% of girls who are not active in this age group will become active by the age of 25, I would argue that most women who are active, have not been brought up devaluing sports and physical fitness. I would say they definitely have found joy in being active.

I know I am generalizing a lot here, but I really find it hard to believe that I am in the minority when it comes to women valuing exercise outside of its ability to give them a slimmer physique. I love to move my body, and sweat, and run, and cook healthy food, and eat a cookie sometimes, and brush my teeth and give myself downtime to decompress. These are all equally important ways I take care of myself, and I assure you that when I do eat that cookie, I’m not calculating how many miles I will have to run to work it off.

Am I alone here? How do you fit in to this? How do you view exercise in your life?

Contemplatively yours,

-C

All statistics taken from: http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/binary-data/WSF_ARTICLE/pdf_file/191.pdf


I write a lot about challenge. I write a lot about goals. I write a lot about pain, and struggle; I also write a lot about victory and overcoming obstacle. Without a doubt, the thing in my life that exemplifies all of this pain, struggle, obstacle, victory, and challenge is living with Type I Diabetes. Insulin dependant diabetes; juvenile diabetes; IDDM.

While out the other day, I heard a misunderstanding about diabetes I often hear: “my aunt has an insulin pump. She has to because her diabetes is so severe.” At this point in my life, my instinct is to just say “oh really? that’s too bad,” when really I should see it as an opportunity to educate. I should have said “Actually diabetes is kind of an all or nothing disease. Basically you have it or you don’t, it doesn’t vary in severity.” Sure there is a more complicated answer than that, but without saying anything at all, I’m not accomplishing anything. All silence does is contribute to ignorance. That is why I’d like to explain to my readers what it is actually like to live with this disease. I don’t intend to educate you about how diabetes works, if you want education go here. I just want you to know what it’s actually like to live with disease, every day.

When I went to the Seattle Sweden Diabetes Awareness Conference late in 2010, one of the speakers said something that really hit home: “imagine what it’s like to work really hard at something and fail. Now imagine what it’s like to work really hard at something you don’t want to work on, and there’s no end to it, and you always fail.” That is what trying to control blood sugars is like. It’s like working really hard at something, every second of every day, and still in the end feeling unsuccessful because it’s all about damage control. It’s balancing what you eat with how much insulin to take; it’s knowing that the amount of insulin you take affects your metabolism and your weight; it’s understanding that if you then decide to exercise later in the day, you probably have to eat more to balance out the calories burned with the amount of insulin you’ve taken. Type I Diabetes is living in terror of complications like kidney failure, and neuropathy. Type I Diabetes is having an immune system so compromised you have to go to a wounds nurse after you stub your toe and it bleeds.

It’s more than that. It’s also hoping and praying that it isn’t something you did or your parents did that made you get this disease. It’s not being able to visit your boyfriend for the weekend and change your eating and sleeping schedule without getting debilitating, exhausting, and nauseating low blood sugars. It’s not being able to sleep in even on a school or work holiday. Not being able to go on an impromptu vacation with your friend because you have to go home and get your medical supplies.

It’s also knowing my body extremely well. Being able to read my headaches, stomach-ache, dizziness or even moodiness like a book. Knowing how individual foods affect me for hours and hours after.

Having diabetes is an extremely personal struggle, but I’m trying to open up about it because I know I can’t do it all alone forever. I guess my point is, if you know someone who is struggling with anything, be there for them. Be present, don’t be pushy but be present. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to turn to a friend and say “this is hard.”

-C

The short answer is yes.

I was inspired to write this after looking at the stats on my blog, and finding that a lot of the search terms people were using to find this blog were things like:

“yoga too hard on lower back”

“Triangle pose with hip pain”

“Can you do yoga with sore knees?”

etc.

The truth is, that yoga will fix all of these things.  One of the wonderful things about this practice is that you can completely tailor it to your own personal needs.  One of the things the instructors like to remind us is that yoga is non-competitive.  A person who is coming on their first day is getting the same amount of benefit as a person coming on their 400th day.  It is all about how much effort you put into it.  In the midst of the pain and the struggle is where you get the benefit, and whether that struggle happens just trying to lock your standing knee in standing head to knee pose, or in actually touching your forehead to your knee, you’re getting the same amount of benefit.

Yoga’s job is to reform your body.  Sometimes in yoga my lower back does still hurt, but I can work around the pain by working really hard in the spine strengthening series, and skipping the sit ups.  Eventually that pain will heal, and I will be stronger for it.  I know I write about pain that I am struggling with a lot, but please don’t let that scare you away.  My favourite instructor, Julia, told me that when you begin practicing yoga sometimes old injuries you thought had healed flare up again.  Not because what you are doing is bad, but because they are finally after all this time getting healed.  It does hurt sometimes, but you have to trust your body.  Working through the difficulties is part of the discipline you learn practicing yoga.  And keep in mind, that while I may be a little bit obsessed with Bikrams, I am only a beginner really.  I am two weeks in to my 30 day challenge so of course I am going through the worst part right now.  My body is struggling to relearn and rediscover itself.  I am reopening old wounds, and finally allowing them to heal.  My body and my mind are learning to reinterpret each other.  So when I talk about experiencing pain or discomfort, I think it is a good thing.  It’s part of the process.

We live in an over medicated society.   If you have lower back pain, hip pain, knee pain, headaches… whatever, ignoring it will not make it better, taking an ibuprofen does not cure anything.  The only way to fix anything (your health or anything else) is to work really really hard at it.

Bikram says better to be in pain for 90 minutes than 90 years.

Use yoga as a tool to strengthen your body and reform those areas which are causing you pain.  Mental areas, physical areas, they will be fixed.  The hardest, most uncomfortable postures are the most important to work 120% harder at because that is where you need it most.  So just do it already.  I promise you will thank me when you are 90 and still fit as a fiddle and, as Katie said, you die of old age while skiing down a mountain.  Doing what you love forever.

Class today:

went really well.  I have been having balancing problems lately.  I just can’t seem to stay upright in the standing series, but in other areas I feel like I’m making lots of improvement.  I’m definitely feeling like I have more endurance, I’ve been breathing really well, and keeping my stomach contracted.  I feel like I am getting much stronger.  I do need to start focusing on my balance more though, I think learning how to balance is part of the meditation part of yoga, and it really teaches you to communicate with your body.  I have experienced this every day in toe stand.  This has been a very difficult posture for me to be able to balance in.  I can’t remember which teacher said this, but she said while we were in toe stand to just focus on our bodies and figure out what needed to change in order for us to get our balance.  Since then, I have just really focused on my body during that posture.  Trying to tease out what needs to be contracted, where my weight needs to shift.  I haven’t been able to be perfect in this posture, but I have made a lot of improvement in it and I can balance a bit now.

I think now that my body knows the series so well, it is time to focus on my mind, because I know (and I’ve written it before) that is where the practice really starts.  I know that any improvement I make from here until day 30 and beyond, will be because of my mental endurance.  If I really work on that the rest of the practice will follow.  I have the series totally memorized, and I have to stop counting down the postures to the end of class.  It just takes me out of it.  One thing that seems to help me do this, is making myself stay in the room and relax and meditate for a while before I leave.  If I know I will be doing that it helps me stay more focused.  I guess because it makes me feel in less of a rush to run out and do the next thing on my agenda.

Seeing the improvement in my circulation has really make me motivated to begin another challenge.  I’ve decided to take eight blood sugars a day for the last 15 days of my challenge.  Partly because I’m curious what the yoga is doing to my body.  Mostly because I feel so good right now, that I want to know how much better it can get.  I’m being greedy now I know… but I want this so badly.  I have come to realize in the past two weeks how precious my body is, and how important it is to take care of it.  When I take care of my body, it takes care of me.  I want to be taken care of.

Amazing that two weeks straight of yoga did what two years of therapy never could.

Go to a class today.  Do it for yourself… don’t even wait just go.  You will be so happy.