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

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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

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

February. The month of love, and romance, and chocolate truffles. The month of chicken wings, and bbq, and Superbowl Sunday. The month of… another fitness challenge?

Well kiddos, it’s true. I was invited by my friend Kaleesha to participate in a little Facebook event called The February Challenge, and I encourage all of you to participate as well. I’m not a health nut, I’m not a gym monkey, but I do love a challenge, especially a group challenge.

**click on the link now and check out the challenge, otherwise this will simply not make sense beginning now**

I haven’t entirely decided what my challenge options will be yet. As most of you know, I like to set goals that are challenging, but not unattainable. I like the idea of doing 7 hours of cardio a week, for example, but I’m pretty sure it won’t happen. Five, on the other hand, I could probably do.

I’m joining in with Kaleesha on my bad habits: eating at night and chewing my nails. Even just those things alone will do wonders for my health. I’ll keep you updated on my other picks!

I like the idea that you can do anything for 28 days (yep it’s a short month, remember?). I love the mentality of one day at a time, one step at a time, one millimeter at a time, if you’re walking in the right direction eventually you will get there. Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of what you can do.

Competently yours,

-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

I have skipped runs. I have never been a person who believes in excuses, but I witnessed something really scary two weeks ago Tuesday, and I am afraid to run in the dark. My recent slew of days where I am leaving my house before 8, and getting home 12 hours later, have made it nearly impossible for me to find daylight to run in.

I’m disappointed, because I don’t like feeling like I haven’t met my goals. I was supposed to increase my distance this week. I am curious about the amount of progress I would have made by now, had I run more in the past two weeks.

I can’t change where I am now, but I can change my behaviour starting tomorrow. First of all, I’m going to look at my schedule, and see how I can fit runs in during the day. If that means packing running clothes and bringing a back pack, and jogging all over West Seattle every day after work, I’ll do that. If I must, I’ll even consider joining a gym, although you all know how I feel about gyms (see this post).

This is the first time that I have shared a failure here. I love to share my successes, but I want to iterate to all of you, and to try to convince myself, that sometimes it’s ok to fail. When I was working at Lululemon last year, a bit of wisdom they imparted upon me, was that when you’re setting goals, you should set them so high, that you don’t reach about 50% of them. That’s a tough bit of info to digest. My jerk reaction to that is that it’s crazy, but maybe that reaction is really just a reflection of my fear of failure. Maybe the possibility of failure is something I have to open myself up to.

Running has put me out of my comfort zone in so many ways. My yoga challenge was difficult, but for me the yoga studio has always been a safe, comfortable place to be. I’m good at it, and I like it, and it relaxes me. Running is not something I feel good at, it isn’t particularly relaxing, and I don’t get as much instant gratification from it. Writing this down, and realizing I have so far to go in this endeavor, is making me feel frustrated and kind of sad. I want to be confident in my ability to do this, and I want to believe I have the discipline to make myself continue this challenge, but I am not feeling very positive about any of it at the moment.

Hopefully this week will bring about some positive changes. Send me good energy everyone… I am sending it right back.

-C

I had about 3 1/2 hours of sleep last night… off to a great start. I was thinking, as I started my day sans planned AM run, that I could start tomorrow instead, but then, at 9:38 AM, Amanda Marcus texted me. “Just got back from the first 2 miles…” it read. That was that, I knew I had to stick to my guns.

Tonight I learned that, like yoga, the hardest part of running is making the time, and getting out the door. If you can manage to get yourself changed into your workout clothes, and on the pavement, you’re not going to turn back; so with my iPod charged, and my puppy companion in hand, I set off down the driveway.

I ran about half the way, which probably isn’t much to all you marathon runners out there, but I’m proud of myself. I actually did better ,and felt stronger than I anticipated I would. I’m going to try to keep this short and sweet, so I will leave you with a few observations.

First of all, my ability to tune out pain amazes me. Yoga gave me the mental strength necessary to push my physical limits, and trust that my body can do the things I want it to. Even though my lungs were burning, my calves were aching, and my lower jaw was throbbing (is this normal??) I did not stop. The only time I stopped running and walked instead, was going up and down the big hills, and that was mostly because I was afraid of falling.

On that note, the hills are a huge problem. I am all for running hills, but the route I chose (using http://www.mapmyrun.com) happened to be exactly half composed of enormous hills. I think I will do my other route next time, and hopefully I will be able to run more of it.

Tomorrow is my cross training day, and I’m planning on doing 30 minutes of biking, walking, or swimming. Swimming would be a nice change of pace to try sometime, but probably not tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will bike for 30 minutes.

Wish me luck!

-C