Hi Yogis and others,

Yoga and writing to me have been inextricably linked from day one. Bikram’s teaches me so many things, and I get excited about them and feel like I need to share my insights. Blogging is my way to document my mental growth.

Yoga is most certainly a form of exercise (especially Bikram’s) but, what I’m sure is already abundantly clear to you all, is that yoga is also an exercise for the mind. Learning how to overcome pain, and push through drama and difficulty to attain success; to build up your sense of self efficacy, boosting your confidence and driving you to become mentally healthier. Yoga helps you practice being in the moment, not getting caught up in the transitive phenomena we are confronted with daily, and hourly. Yoga is an incredible workout for the brain. But I don’t have to tell you that.

Do you know who I have to tell that to? The teachers at Bikram Yoga Seattle in Fremont. I’m not linking to their page, I’m not trying to slander them. I know I have discussed before the reasons why I dislike that studio (and the reasons why some people might prefer it!), but that is where Kaleesha and I ended up doing our 30-day challenge. Just to recap: there was a groupon sale that got us an incredible deal on unlimited yoga for a month at the Fremont studio. I decided to go for it, even though I knew I hadn’t particularly liked that studio in the past, and that was a huge mistake. I didn’t particularly enjoy the classes there, I didn’t get that same incredible spirit lift there that I do going to the Sweat Box. I didn’t know why that was for a while, but I soon realized that it is because the Fremont studio completely ignores the mental aspect of the practice.

I will admit I did an awful job of documenting my most recent 30-day challenge, but it’s because a massive part of my practice was missing. I didn’t have anything to say, because my landscape of epiphanies was stark. My hopes for that strength of mind, and greater wisdom that comes with a challenge like that were sadly unfulfilled.

Right after I finished my month at Bikram Yoga Seattle, I went directly to the Sweat Box and began taking classes there. I finished my challenge at the sweat box in October, and since then I have been attending classes at the sweat box about 3-4 times a week. I feel so grounded, and so comfortable in my own body right now, and I am definitely in better shape than I was in over the summer. Most importantly, despite the fact that I have been working in a preschool, my back is in wonderful shape (that’ll be a topic for another post!).

I am so happy to report that unlike my 30-day challenge three years ago, I have been able to continue to work my yoga into my life post-challenge.

Here’s hoping you all have a wonderful holiday, filled with friends and family and love.

Namaste!

-C

It all started when Kaleesha and I were looking at pictures on Facebook. “You look so good in these pictures!” She said. “That was right after my Bikram Yoga Challenge,” I explained. “We have to do a yoga challenge,” she decided. That was that.

We set a tentative date of september 15th to start our challenge. My boyfriend left for Washington DC for a few months on the 7th, so I figured I’d have one week to cry on the couch and eat ice cream, and then be forced to actually do something. What ended up happening, though, was quite fateful. Kaleesha and I get e-mails from Groupon, and one morning, the daily deal happened to be one month of unlimited Bikrams yoga at Bikram Yoga Seattle for $30. We had to do it.

This time around I am structuring my challenge a little differently. Reading over my blog posts about my previous 30 day challenge, I gave myself some advice for if I did this again, and I’m going to follow it. First of all, I am going 5 days a week. This extends the challenge by 2 weeks, making it more of a 6-week challenge than a 30-day challenge, I guess. I’m doing this to decrease burn out, and to give my body time to rest and reap the benefits of the practice. The next thing I am doing, is I have photographed myself in several postures (camel, standing bow, standing head to knee pose), and I am going to photograph myself again in 6 weeks to gauge my improvement, and to see if my body has changed. I am excited to find out, because it is something I was really curious about during my last challenge.

It’s always interesting starting back into Bikram’s. I haven’t practiced regularly for about a year, but my body fell pretty naturally back into it. I did start to feel pretty nauseous when it was time to get into camel pose, and I could hardly bend back at all the first day, but by the second day, my intense nausea was quite diminished, so I was able to participate more. I feel like the first day was kind of a “get through the class” kind of day, but by the second day, I was getting used to making those minor mental and physical adjustments, and improving my postures. I kept thinking about Katie’s advice, (she is one of my favourite teachers from Vancouver BC) “it’s yoga practice, not yoga perfect,” and it made me unafraid to try things. I’ll never forget the class I took from her during my last 30 day challenges. It was me and five other students, and it was far and wide the best yoga experience I have ever had. Katie was an amazing teacher, and I miss learning from her. I am lucky to have her voice in my head when I do yoga elsewhere.

As my readers know, I don’t love Bikram Yoga Seattle. I prefer The Sweatbox, and unfortunately, that has been very much confirmed for me over the past two classes, and I have also figured out why. Bikram Yoga Seattle is completely missing the mind part of the mind-body aspect of yoga. I prefer teachers that share Bikram’s knowledge and words of wisdom, are encouraging, and help take their students to a mental place where our physical boundaries can be challenged. Since I have done a lot of this kind of yoga, I have certain things that teachers have told me that I can keep in my mind as I practice. Things like “one millimeter today, one millimeter tomorrow, and eventually you’ll get there.” or “move with the class, don’t think, let the teacher be the mind and you be the body.” These words, among others, float around in my mind and guide my practice, but I imagine for someone who has never done Bikram’s anywhere else, it must be less fulfilling. The sad part is, those students don’t even know how much their practice could be improved with better teaching.

Anyway, since I am doing 30 days, 5 days a week, I have six weeks of yoga to do, and Kaleesha and I decided that for our last ten classes we will go to The Sweat Box. I can’t wait to take more classes from Gary!!

I am kind of sore this weekend, but I think I will be ready to go on monday again (I almost wish I was going today!). I am relaxing, icing my back to prevent injury, and going to the baseball game tonight.

Motivationally yours,

-C

I heard the tinkling music box sound of the ice-cream truck today, and reflexively began composing a status update about how happy I was to be experiencing the first signs of summer. Then I stopped, remembered I would be doing nothing of the sort for 27 more days, and just enjoyed. I enjoyed the sounds of the ice-cream truck bringing back memories from childhood, I enjoyed the snoring of my dog next to me on my bed, the slight breeze coming through the open window, and the sunlight glinting off a frame on the wall. Drawing myself out of the virtual world, and allowing myself to be in the moment was delicious.

It is definitely getting easier to avoid. I did go on Facebook momentarily to correct my last update – I had written the wrong url for my blog!! But I only went on for a moment, fixed that little thing, and got right back off. I know it’s technically cheating. I’m forgiving myself this one mess up.

Today, I really haven’t even wanted Facebook time. I spent my day with my dog, then helping a friend with his grad school application, and that was nice. My one problem is that I need to message another friend about an issue she is having – and I don’t have her e-mail! How frustrating to have relied on Facebook, which really seems so flimsy, to the point where I don’t even have an actual e-mail!

Oh well – my strategy is to try to get it from another mutual friend.

Non-technically 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

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

It’s a shame that I actually am having to force myself onto my blog today after nearly a month of utter internet silence. It’s a shame because this past month I have made such major progress towards becoming a runner.

Briefly, I’ll give you a running update, and after that I’ll get to the more interesting stuff:

1. My 10:36 minute miles has dropped to a 9:56 minute mile – that is a :40 second difference in just a month! A lot of that was made possible because I am learning how and when to push myself in running (which, for the record, is SO different from in yoga).

2. I have gone from thinking of the treadmills as “vicious, evil, monsters who like to revel in my humiliation” to being able to go into the gym and jump up on one like he’s my favourite pony and I’ve ridden since I was born.

3. The shins. Ohhhh the shins. ouch. They aren’t really getting better, but I do find that with a 30 minute warm up on the elliptical the pain is significantly reduced. I also find alternating between running a mile, walking for 2-3 minutes, and running another mile helps immensely.

4. I can finally say I am at a place where I know if I had to run Beat The Bridge tomorrow, I could do it. I probably wouldn’t be particularly thrilled with my performance, but I know I could finish it, and even probably run the whole way.

Now to the juicy stuff. It’s a new year (2011! Yeah!) and since this blog so much focuses on setting goals, and achieving them, you are probably expecting some epic resolutions for the coming 12 months. The fact is, that is simply not the kind of goal setter I am. As you may have noticed, I set my big goals kind of randomly, when the timing feels right, and when the right challenge comes along. This very seldom coincides with December 31st (actually, it tends more to coincide with November, for whatever reason). One of the mantras I do live by, however; is “keep setting goals and achieving them.” This mantra is what drives the rhythm in my life. I set goals, small ones and bigger ones, every single day. Take a look in my day planner, and you’ll see what look like mini to do lists on almost every page. I am a goal setter, that is who I am, and the beginning of a new year does nothing to encourage that or discourage it in any way. Goal setting gives my life meaning.

This year, however, I would like to add a bit of a theme to the goals I will set, and that is I want each of them to make me a better person in a new way. My big goals I’ve blogged about so far have been athletic ones, but the new big goals I am going to tackle are not. I have a few ideas, but I haven’t quite fluffed them out yet. In this way, this new year will be different. I will continue to set goals and achieve them, I will continue to challenge myself both physically and mentally, and I will continue to let this add meaning and value to my life, but I will expand my ideas of what can be thought of as a goal.

As a quick refresher, remember to set goals that are SMART. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and have a Timeframe! Good luck with your own resolutions, and I wish you all the most productive, successful, SMART, New Year you have ever had!

-C

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

Hi Yogis!

So today is day 15 which means after my 4:15 class today I will be half done with my yoga challenge. I feel that today it would be a appropriate to make some reflections on my progress over the last two weeks, but I’m not really sure it is that interesting. I could make a million teeny tiny observations about little bits of progress I’ve made – ultimately they will add up to big progress – but I think the best change I have seen has been in my mental health.

Never have I felt so level headed, happy, and content. I was taking anti-depressants before I started this challenge, and something I noticed (even just doing yoga sporadically), is that after class I always felt super happy (endorphins, blood circulation? I don’t know…), and one of the things I was hoping is that through this challenge I would get more of that feeling. I slowly weaned myself off of the medication, and now I’m taking none. I know it’s only been a week off of them, but so far I feel better than I ever felt with them. I feel so much less manic; just super stable and happy. I’m not having awful mood swings, I’m not wanting to stay in bed all day. I’m really truly happy.

I think some of this is chemical. My body is producing endorphins, fresh blood high in oxygen and nutrients is flushing to my brain and reactivating my neurons, etc etc., but some of it comes from other things. You can get an incredible sense of self esteem, for example, knowing that you’re body is capable of doing things you didn’t know were possible. It gives you such an appreciation for your entire system. It puts much more of an emphasis on what your body can do than what it looks like, and while making your body look better too! I can’t wear my belt anymore because I have lost weight. That isn’t the point of this challenge at all for me, and I didn’t really want to even go into it, but I do think it is all a part of my body functioning more effectively, and my health improving overall.

In addition to this, yoga encourages me to make healthy choices in my diet, bedtime, everything I do contributes to the type of class I have. Ultimately, yoga trickles down to effect everything in my life in a positive way.

I can honestly say that I feel better than I ever have. I feel kind of like I did the first time I got glasses. Like before I started this challenge I was just ok. I was well enough to function, and I didn’t really realize I was missing anything. When I first put on my glasses I was amazed at what I had been missing. Street lamps, people, trees, my body, my dog… it all looked different. I was living in this crisp, clear world and it was incredible! Similarly, I didn’t know how my body was supposed to feel. I was functioning… but I was only just functioning. Now I feel so much more alert, so clear and comfortable with myself and my surroundings. I’m way happier in my relationships and I’m much more confident in myself.

Who here is familiar with Albert Banduras concept of self efficacy? It is different than just self esteem because it isn’t about measuring yourself up against others, or deciding if you are good enough, it is about believing in yourself and knowing that you have the ability to do whatever it is that you want to do. Bandura’s therapy that he provided was designed to improve a person’s self efficacy beliefs, and this combated anxiety, depression, and other cognitive disorders. Yoga for me has done that. It has improved my self efficacy, it has improved every area of my life.

I owe Kristine a pretty big thank you for dragging me to Bikrams six and a half months ago.

-Claire

P.S. Just a quick note before I forget to tell you this! So I was sitting in class on Friday, and I noticed that on the palms of my hands, my wrists, and my fingers, I could see all of my veins. Not in a gross sticking out way, just that I could see them under the skin full of richly oxygenated blue-black blood. This is so awesome because the thing I have been most worried about with diabetes is my circulation, and I’ve noticed so much that my hands and feet aren’t as cold all the time. It is so amazing!

P.P.S: On Joe’s birthday I chipped in with his brother and mom and sister in law to get him Guitar Hero World Tour. He got so excited that he ran over to kiss me, and in his drunkenness, he bent my back over the side of our couch and it cracked in like 5 places and it was soooo painful. I was pretty sure I was going to be paralyzed and I started crying, but of course I ended up being fine. The funny part of all this is that after that incident, my lower back pain has decreased by about 80%. It’s still there but wow do I feel better!

xoxo

Remember to always look on the bright side of life…

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