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

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

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

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

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

 Don’t take your breath for granted. 

 Sincerely,

 Claire

My hamstrings have finally finally been getting more flexible.  Mostly I’m super stoked about this.  In the not-so-distant past I thought I would literally never be able to lock my knees in any of the stretching postures, and now I may not be locking my knees, but my legs are straight in the seated stretching pose at the end, and even in the stretching part of half moon with stretching, there is a glimmer of hope that one day I’ll get my knees locked and magically morph into a japanese ham sandwich.

What I didn’t realize, was that this added flexibility would really effect the amount of strength I need in my legs to sustain a locked knee posture.  Standing Head to Knee, for example.  Wow.  My knee does not want to stay locked in this one!  And standing bow… again.  Seriously knees? I am trying to see it as progress.  Two steps forward one step back and all that jazz.

What I’m realizing is that this yoga is really truly an exercise in patience. It isn’t about how far I’m going in class each day.  It is about taking each day, each moment, each posture as it comes.  Danny, at my old studio in Vancouver, used to say: “a millimeter today, a millimeter tomorrow, and eventually you’ll get there.”  When I really think about it, my long term goals in fact have nothing at all to do with depth of posture.  They have to do with mental well being, physical well being, self esteem, letting go of ego, and developing patience, compassion, and respect.  For myself and for everyone else.

I have been having a terrible time at work with my little kiddos.  I don’t know if it’s me or them… maybe we all have spring fever and are super wonky due to the Super Moon astrological phenomena currently taking place.  I have really been trying to take the time in my classes, especially in my morning classes before the day begins, to meditate on patience, respect, and compassion.  That is really the key combination that can make all of our lives easier.  It is amazing how focusing on those three components in the morning can help my day go more smoothly.

I still have days where I come home and cry a little bit though.  I am going to try tomorrow to leave my expectations outside on the way to get the babies off the school bus.  I am going to try to stay present.  I am going to try to stay comfortable in uncomfortable situations.  I am going to try – very very very hard – to bring my yoga with me to work. Because the kids, my coworkers, and I all deserve that effort.

Sullenly (but hopefully) yours,

C

Hi readers!

Today in school we had a professional development day, which in half day preschool means we didn’t have any students. My coworker and I went to observe another general education preschool in the district this morning.

As we arrived in the classroom, we heard a tiny bell chime, and then absolute silence. When we entered the classroom, the students noticed us, but none of them said anything, and we all sat in silence for exactly 3 minutes. Another tiny chime, and the teacher calmly directed the class’s attention to the board as the day began. Every student in the school had just begun his day with 3 minutes of silent meditation.

It is amazing to see a group of 4-5 year olds attending so perfectly to themselves. This is something that I know I and many other students of yoga struggle with when we are practicing savasana.

Savasana is one of the poses I am focusing on throughout this challenge. Focus, in general has been something I have tried to work on lately, and I have found it has effected my whole practice in a very positive way. When my internal monologue is limited to “breathe in, breathe out, don’t be afraid,” the teacher dialogue still has a way of seeping through my brain and into my body. I am finding my postures are improving, and that I am able to go much deeper into them than before. Most importantly, I am learning how to stay more present, that makes me happier in class, and happier in my life.

Practicing these mental skills in savasana makes them easier to access in the rest of the postures. Practicing this meditation in the other postures, helps me to use it in my life. At work, at home, with my friends. As thoughts and feelings come to me, I am more easily able to feel them and then move on without getting caught up in the meaning or the drama of a situation.

Watching those preschoolers practice meditation this morning, I was struck by the notion of how much it could improve their ability to think, learn, problem solve, make friends. There was an element of calm that was very pervasive throughout the school. It was beautiful to see these children and adults using the practice of meditation to improve their lives. It made me realize how important it is to practice being calm, centered, and relaxed.

Mindfully yours,

-C

This is a continuation of the series of posts I have been writing on pain. Emotional pain, physical pain, spiritual pain. Pain.

Yoga is painful. There is no way around the fact, that one of the goals of practicing yoga, is learning how to be comfortable in uncomfortable physical situations. I have already written about how that is applicable both within and outside the studio, but there is another aspect of pain that I have not discussed.

A question I have been playing with in my mind is why people do things that they know have the potential to cause them pain. For me, in my specific situation, going to a place of pain tells me where I am on my way to healing my heart. I know it’s stupid, because I don’t want to be brought to my knees by something that is really nothing, and I don’t want to hurt. At the same time, I want to feel something, because so much of what has passed feels like a dream, or a vision from another world. I want to know that it was real, and I want to know how I feel.

Pain is one of the most acute sensations. Emotional immediately centers you. It can take over your world in an instant. For me, pain can bring clarity to my life. It can help me place myself in this crazy mixed up world of ours.

Going to yoga can have that same effect. If you make your body hurt, there is no question that it is real, and it is there. Your body is reacting in a normal healthy way to certain stimuli. Health, life, and vitality are all confirmed by pain.

-C

I am going back to yoga. If peace is the baseline of the spirit, the measuring stick that we can use to assess where we are emotionally, then both pain and happiness are impermanent.

Things, people, places, all can inject us with emotion. Being around someone makes you happy, being away from someone makes you sad, being in a certain location makes you sad, buying shoes makes you happy. Me happy anyway. These items are band aids. These items aren’t good for the spirit if peace is the goal.

The person who said this to me said that he strives to live by this mantra, and that the material items he does invest himself in, are vessels through which he can reach permanence. Of course I immediately am trying to define for myself what permanence is, and all I can come up with is that it could be a personal sense of peace.

I’m going back to yoga, because it gives me peace. It allows me to reach out to something greater than myself. I have talked before about the energy of a class, the seemingly ironic sense of intense introspection coupled with the distinct feeling of being a part of a greater, moving, entity. The class moving together, sweating together, experiencing sensation together, yet each person having a deeply personal experience at the same time.

I need this feeling that I am not alone. I need this feeling that I am part of something bigger, and I need something that brings me peace in the midst of uncertainty. I have forced myself back into a place of deep thinking, and it has brought with it sadness, but also a sense of hope that is flickering but bright.

-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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-C

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…

Today was day 4 of my yoga challenge. It was challenging.

I really did not want to go to class today. I was sore. I was tired. I had a headache. Oh right! Those aren’t excuses anymore! So off I went to class, albeit a little behind my usual schedule. I didn’t leave the house until 4:00.

I felt like the room had a weird vibe today. It was a bit uncomfortable for me, and I’m not sure why. Was it because I was running a little behind schedule? Was it because I had an instructor I hadn’t had before? Was it because there was a weird lady next to me and I wasn’t in my usual spot in the room? Whatever it was I thought I was going to have a bad class. I was sure of it. I was just doing the poses thinking about how I was going to blog about my various failures and how nothing went right. Then I thought I should probably make sure I have something positive to blog about, and as I focused on positivity, and on aspects of today’s practice that were successful, the class started to turn around for me. I noticed I was holding postures longer, going deeper into them. I truly wanted to be successful and as I started to focus on this, I started to notice I was doing well. We always hear the instructors say that the practice of Bikram’s is mostly mental, but I really found the truth in that during today’s class.

Yoga has helped me in other ways. Bikram says “no drama,” and what he means by this is that if you show no pain on your face, it will not escalate into something bigger. This is true when you are doing the postures – a calm face helps you control your body, and accept your feelings of discomfort without making them worse – as well as in life. I had an upsetting experience this evening, and I found that I was able to control my anger and my frustration with the person in question by simply walking away and coming back to my breath. Relaxed breathing leads to relaxed thinking and relaxed body.

I felt a lot more centered today than I have before. I felt really in control of my body and this displayed itself in a few ways. Locust pose with both legs, a position which has been difficult for me, I was able to bring my legs completely off the floor. It happened really abruptly for me. I just really focused on gripping with my hands, and trying to shift weight into my shoulders and it just sort of fell into place. Another posture which I really felt was indicative of my control was the toe stand, which I was able to fully balance in for about 3 seconds – a big deal for me! On top of that, I was able to rise slowly from toe stand into tree, hold tree, and then with control finish the posture.

Tree for me is a very spiritual posture that makes me feel happy and comfortable and connected to not just my body, but to the entire natural world. Partly it is the imagery I associate with it: strong, tall, leafy and green and natural. Just really a good symbol of the natural world and the cycle of life. That being said, being successful at this posture makes me feel wonderful, connected to myself and the outside world, strong, and comfortable.

My body is reacting very differently to the heat than it has in the past. Yesterday after class I mentioned to Hilary and Kristine that I had just sweat more than I had ever sweat in a Bikram’s class. Funnily enough, the same thing happened today. Maybe it is my body adjusting to the heat. I imagine that it is improving the detoxification process, or because I am drinking so much water my body is able to sweat that much, but I really don’t know what other reason there could be. I can’t really describe to you the amount of sweat my body is producing. I feel it streaming down my body in rivulets. It’s almost disturbing to know that my body can release that much water and still be hydrated. I guess I have to make sure that I am really getting enough water every day. Dehydration could maybe be behind my headaches… which I still have : (

One thing that yoga really does for me, is it makes me so aware of what I am putting into my body. I don’t eat lots of fatty foods because it makes it hard to participate in the class and get the full benefits; I can’t really drink because it dehydrates me and could make me feel sick which could potentially cause me to miss a day; I have to drink a lot of water in order to be comfortable during the class. I think that part of practicing yoga, and this form of yoga in particular, is that it makes you hyper aware of how your body feels, and how it reacts to certain things. I ate a large breakfast this morning with Joe and I really felt it. I especially felt it in camel, which made me really nauseous, and I generally don’t get nauseous any more in that posture (although that is a common feeling to experience).

I was disappointed to find that in standing head to knee pose I did fall out of it a few times. During the second set, I was able to hold it the whole time, and that made me feel better. In standing bow I had a hard time finding the strength and endurance to both lock my standing leg and push my other leg into my hand. I find that this pose is difficult to do following standing head to knee pose, because my ankles hurt so badly! Fortunately, I have discovered that pain will not kill me, and it is just a feeling. That is not the end of the world.

This is, however, the end of this post.

See you tomorrow for day 5! I get a reward at day 7!

-Claire