I can’t believe I’m back here. After moving to Vancouver for UBC, finishing UBC last year, and moving back to Seattle (I thought it was for good – but only lasted for a month or so), and getting a job in Vancouver and moving back there, and working in 3 different positions, I have arrived back, full circle, in Seattle. With a job.

I’m not sure how I feel about this… I haven’t been to a yoga class here yet. It’s been over a week since I’ve been in the studio, but I’m looking for something different. I went to a metal show and loved how loud it was, it drowned everything else inside out. I want a workout that drowns everything else out. I know at some point I will go back to Bikram, but right now I don’t want to deal with the introspection yoga has to offer.

I know this is so unlike me. I’ve been accused of being in a yoga cult, I am a yoga devotee, I am a yoga enthusiast of the greatest extreme. Maybe I should head back and follow my own advice. Yoga can fix everything, it allows me room to experience my emotions within the safety of my practice. As Bikram says, the hardest poses are the ones you need most. Maybe the hardest time to go to a class is when you need it the most too.

I think I’ll go to spin class instead. They play loud music there, right?

-C

It has occurred to me recently how quickly things can change. I experienced something I have not experienced before in a yoga class today, and that was anger.

As I went through my postures, I felt exasperated by the repetition of the practice. I have always believed in two things regarding Bikrams: 1. that it really can in some way cure all ills, and 2. that it is important to let all feelings flow freely through you, but anger is not a feeling I ever expected to feel.

I was angry because I feel helpless in so many ways. I feel like life can change in an instant, and the monotony of Bikrams, the meditative repetition, did not prepare me for that. Things life brings at us — death, a new job, a move, a break up — don’t come in repetitive waves. These things come at you suddenly, leaving you to handle them however you can; leaving you to struggle to make the best of them, or just live through them.

What about one day when you can’t do Bikram’s anymore? What about one day when you can’t get out of bed anymore? Do you struggle on? Find new things to live for, new people to count on? Someone once told me that I was so strong, but when things changed around me, or happened suddenly, I became paralyzed. “I don’t know why you do this,” he told me, “but it scares me.” Bikrams has taught me how to move through a series of steps, how to follow along a path when I already know the way. I don’t know how to make a new one.

-C

This post is a little different than usual. It was inspired by a quote on a friend’s facebook, and a conversation I had with a cousin of mine. I think it is so important that we take time in our lives to care for ourselves. It is easy to get caught up in other people, and assign value to ourselves based on others’ reactions to us. It is so valuable to remember that at the end of the day, we have to be our own personal advocates. In every area of life we have to advocate and care for ourselves.

One of the things one learns during the practice of yoga, is that with every moment comes a clean slate. Each second of your practice, and each second of your life, awards you the opportunity to start anew. The opportunity is always there, and it is within each of our power to grasp it whenever we so choose.

It’s easy to let decisions be made for you, it’s easy in life to be passive, but the truth is, if you want something you have to decide that you want it and then work for it. There is a quote that says something like “getting what you want is easy once you decide what that is.” Like deciding to hold a posture through to the end before you start it, you can’t do something unless you decide to do it.

Deciding to make a change in life is never easy, but it is important not to let others hold you back. Every moment is an opportunity to change your life for the better. The moment I decided to start doing Bikram Yoga I changed my life for the better. The moment I made the decision to attend UBC I made my life better. The moment of my initiation into Delta Gamma changed my life for the better. There are, of course, moments I regret, but ultimately I’ve made myself my priority in my life. If you aren’t your own priority, how can you expect to be anyone else’s?

Don’t make someone your priority, when you are only an option. Yoga is how I take care of myself, how do you make yourself a priority in your life?

-C

On Thursday I went to a studio in Seattle, WA, while I was visiting my family. Bikram Yoga Seattle is a beautiful studio in the Fremont area. It has wonderful facilities, including a water faucet in the class, so if you run out of water you can get more without leaving the room and disrupting your body’s temperature.

It was a busy class (4PM) and it was full of people of many different body types and many different levels – more diverse that the studio I usually go to in Vancouver. At the beginning of the class, it was clear to me that the teacher was going to do nothing to challenge me, but in it’s own way that was a challenge. I think I have mentioned it here before, that Katie (one of my favourite teachers I have had) likes to remind us “I don’t have to make the class hard for you, it is hard enough on it’s own.”

During the class, I pushed myself as hard as I could. This is a different experience than having a teacher who makes the class difficult. A teacher can make a class more difficult by being strict with timing, and encouraging the students to push themselves, lock their knees, and “stretch back, fall back, lean back, way back” in the backward bending poses. A less demanding teacher can still be just as valuable in her own way.

It is so important to know how to challenge yourself and push yourself, because most of the time in life you don’t get a teacher telling you to study harder, wake up earlier, and do the other real-life equivalents of locking the knee. Ideally you come to a place where you can set your own challenges in life, and force yourself to do the things that will help you achieve your goals.

This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes by Bikram: “you want the key to success in life? Lock the f****ing knee.”

This week I’ll hopefully get to give a studio in Newport a try. This is the only Bikram studio I have been able to locate in RI at all… the whole state. So we will see if I can make it there, and what kind of class the beautiful state of Rhode Island has to offer.

In the meantime, I will be tanning on the beach, eating good food, and relaxing with my family.

Lock the knee!

-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

Hello friends,

Yesterday, my good friend Hilary suggested we head to Bikrams, so off we went.  I was a little nervous, because I still haven’t been going as regularly as I’d like, and I was anticipating a difficult class.  Attitude is everything, however; so I steeled my nerves and went for it.

Point 1:  We went to the West End studio, which is very, very different from the Kits one.  It is much smaller, which is both good and bad.  The bad part is the facilities aren’t nearly as nice, and since the room is small, it was really crowded, which made it quite stuffy in there.  This wouldn’t have been a huge problem, had the teacher been more aware and in control of the temperature and climate of the room, but she wasn’t.  The bright side of the closer quarters, is that the mirrors are closer.  There were only three rows of students, so even if one was in the back, she would be able to have a clear view of herself.  Being able to watch yourself do the poses is so important in Bikrams for focus and in order to improve, and especially to gain a deeper understanding of your own body and the way it moves.  This can be difficult in a large class.  Other people are distracting, the mirrors are far away, and it is easy to get lost in the crowd.

Point 2:  The class was taught by a teacher I hadn’t had often before.  I had trouble finding a single focus for the class, and I find I usually do best when I have something in mind to work on.  One focus the teacher seemed to be encouraging, was finding a stillness in the practice.

Unlike other types of yoga I have done, where I feel there is a stillness to the postures, Bikrams for me is often about adjustment.  As I am getting into the pose, I am constantly scanning my body, adjusting for balance, trying to move deeper into the posture.  There is a lot of movement that happens in each pose, save for the last 5 seconds of so.  In addition to that movement, I find that because I’m sweaty, when we are taking our standing savasana, I want to wipe my face, drink water, adjust my hair, or scratch and itch instead of appreciating the opportunity for stillness and reflection and calm.

As I focused on remaining still during these standing savasanas, I noticed my body started to feel better and better.  The stillness not only improved my focus, but it actually helped physically as it slowed my heart rate and breathing.  It helped me prepare both physically and mentally for the next posture.

So much of exercise these days and so much of life in general seems to be driven by movement.  We have endless errands to run, we want to get on the treadmill for a straight 30 minutes so we can go to our meeting or drive to our date etc etc etc.  It is refreshing to be able to take a true moment of calm once in a while.  I think I will strive to find those moments in my life outside the yoga studio.

Yeah.  I said it.  This blog has been about…. the physical and mental challenge of yoga so far.  I have avoided talking about personal things.  I have avoided discussion of the emotional impact of yoga.  Now it’s time to get personal, because that is a big part of how this class tonight went for me.

I knew it was going to be a tough class from the start.  We began with the breathing exercises and 6 breaths in I was gasping for air already.  Partly I think it’s that I’m a little bit under the weather (with a cold no less and only allowed to nose breathe? ugh…), but partly it’s that yoga makes you release all the toxins out of your body.  Yoga makes you release all the toxins out of your body, but in order for that to happen, they have to flow through your body, which means you have to experience them and that can often be painful.  Bikram always says that the poses that are the most challenging, the ones that hurt the most are the ones that you need the most.  I have always kind of thought of this as being purely physical, but tonight it got very emotional.

Maybe I have been holding on to a lot more than I thought I was.  I actually made it through the standing series, but right after tree pose, lying in my savasana (dead body pose), it was all I could do to not burst out crying.  I am not a person who cries a lot, or who cries easily.  I am a person who distracts herself, moves forward, dislocates herself from her problems, but I found myself lying in my yoga class with tears in my eyes and I didn’t know why.  Then I started thinking.  I started accepting that this pain that I was feeling (and it was a deep, emotional pain) was just like the physical pain I was in during certain postures.  I thought to myself that in order to get stronger, I was going to have to be present and feel this pain… and do you know what?  I started realizing (really really realizing) that it was ok to be sad… because I have done a lot the past few months.  I am coming off of a broken engagement, moving away from everything I know and love, missing all of my best friends in the world, jobless (and other things but let’s not wallow too much)… and aside from all that, even if none of that was there, it would still be ok to cry.

So this class, tonight, for me, was about realizing the appropriateness of being sad sometimes, and crying sometimes.  I thought a lot about the importance of being present, and allowing one’s self to feel whatever is there.  My very first yoga instructor ever once told us to stop  categorizing our feelings.  She said there are feelings.  There are no bad or good feelings, just feelings.  She said if you are feeling pain, allow yourself to experience those sensations without categorizing them, and you will be suprised how much you can handle.  I’m allowing myself to be present now, and I think that will do a lot for my psyche.  I didn’t just expel physical toxins tonight, I expelled emotional toxins as well.

So why get personal now?  Why expose my innermost feelings to the world wide web?  I guess I hope that other yoga practitioners, and anyone else who is reading this, might realize that it’s ok to expel some toxins of their own.  Maybe I am looking to see whether or not I am alone in feeling this way.  Maybe I am running out of people who will listen and I am throwing my thoughts out into the ether in hopes that someone will catch them and say “I get it.”  Either way, it feels like the right thing to do tonight.

Sincerely,

-C

I completed my thirty day challenge.  I’m done.  Today was the last day.  And my last class was…. just like any and every other class.

I was kind of disappointed.  I thought for some reason this class would feel different.  But you know what?  Just because it felt the same… no major breakthroughs, no epiphanies… doesn’t mean I haven’t accomplished something.  Because I have definitely made an accomplishment.  I’ve challenged myself, I’ve met the challenge, I’ve changed my mind and my body, I’ve found strength within myself that I didn’t know was there.

I can honestly say now that I have done yoga.  I’ve done it in the rain, I’ve done it in the snow, and I’ve done it in the sun.  I’ve done it sick and healthy and everything in between.  I’ve done it on lazy days, and I’ve done it on the busiest days of the year.  I have definitely done some yoga.

People keep asking me what now?  Will I keep going a lot?  What will I do after my challenge?  Well of course I’m going to keep going!  I have found the best exercise in the whole world.  I’m going to keep going.  Maybe not every single day.  I actually think taking a day off here and there will be a good thing for me.  It will give me time to reflect and relax.  It will give my body time to recover and regain strength and stamina.  I think taking a day off here and there will be good.

But having done thirty days in a row has been an amazing experience and I really hope that some month you will give it a try.

I’ve learned so much about myself and so much about my body.  I feel like a different person now… and it only took a month.

You can keep reading, because I will keep writing.  I still have a lot more to say about yoga… and I still have a long way to go with my practice.

Thanks for reading along this past month!  And thanks for your support!

Now I’m gonna go get ready for my Christmas party.

-Claire

Hello fellow yogis and non-participatory yoga enthusiasts,

I know I haven’t written in a while – it’s because of finals.  I can barely find and hour and a half to go to class and then writing about it afterward?  Forget about it.  But, well, here I am writing about it.

Last night I took the 11:15 class, which I haven’t done before.  Kristine and I came to the conclusion that a person who took the 11:15 class must either have no life (and thus nowhere to wake up and go the next day), or just be kind of dumb.  Actually, as it turns out, the class was amazing.  There were seven people including me in the room, we all got a front row space, Katie was teaching, and it was the best class I have had in a long time.

The past week or so I have really been struggling with a lot of different issues.  I think it started with my back hurting so much and I kind of lost faith in the yoga a bit.  Then I started losing my balance a lot, losing my focus on the class, and not finding the experience quite as rewarding.  Last night, being so close and really being able to connect to myself in the mirror and really see my body, I feel like I kind of found my yoga again.  I felt very focused on myself and on the poses.  I was so in the moment that when we had finished the floor series I was surprised, because I just wasn’t thinking that way last night.

In terms of Katie’s teaching style, I really appreciate it.  I think of all the teachers I have taken classes from, she is the best at reminding me that the yoga is all about me.  I’m not doing it for the teacher, for any of the other students in the class, for anyone but myself.  She said two things last night that I really liked.  The first was “I don’t have to make the class hard, it’s already hard enough.”  This just reminded me to push myself, work hard for myself, and not rely on others to do it for me.  A lot of the instructors will call you out, ask you to do things you haven’t done before, and sometimes I like the encouragement, but especially lately as I have been doing modified postures to reduce my back pain, I don’t like it when they ask me to do things without knowing where I’m coming from, or what’s going on with me.  Sometimes they do know about my back and they have their own opinion about what I can do in the class, how I can do the posture.  I appreciate Katie’s belief in me to pace myself, and her respect for the fact that I know my body better than anyone else.

The other thing she said that I really liked, which also kind of goes along the same lines, is that “yoga is the only activity where the goal is you.”  She explained how in soccer the goal is to get the ball in the net, for example, but in yoga the goal is to improve yourself, which is pretty unique in terms of physical activity.

Speaking of my back, it is feeling so much better.  I have basically stopped putting any pressure on my back during forward bending by keeping my hands on the floor supporting some of my weight (in separate leg stretching pose and in hands to feet pose), and completely avoiding rabbit pose altogether, modifying half tortoise by not pushing my knees together and focusing on keeping my head below my heart.  I think it helps really understanding the goal behind each posture, for example in standing separate leg head to knee pose, it can stretch your legs and back, but the point of it is compression of the neck and abdomen to improve the endocrine and adrenal systems (among other things).  So I can do that pose, and focus on the compression and just bend my knee a lot to take the pressure off my back, as well as helping myself back up into a standing position to take the strain off my lower back.  For rabbit pose, I just generally do a second and third set of camel instead.  Backward bending is good.  I also really work hard in the spine strengthening series.  I’m hoping to increase the flexibility of my hamstrings, without over-stretching my back, and increase my spinal strength a lot, and I think that will heal my back.

I’m almost done with my thirty days, and I have seen such a huge change in myself, not just in my body, which has changed a lot, but also in my lifestyle and  in my outlook on things in life.  Last night Katie said to take some pictures of ourselves doing poses now (camel, standing bow, standing head to knee), and then take more in a year and see what a huge improvement you’ve made and how much your body has changed.  I think that if I had done that at the beginning of the month and now I would already see an incredible difference.  I know my postures have improved a lot, and my body shape is changing.  I’m so much healthier than I was 4 weeks ago.

Happy holidays everyone!  I am so excited to go home and spend Christmas with my family.   Katie recommended The Sweat Box in Seattle, so I’m planning on giving that one a try.  She said there’s also a good one in fremont, so we’ll see!

here is some adorable-ness before I go.  Have a great end of the week!  I’m done with my challenge on Monday!

Lily

Lily

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.