Bikram 30 Day Challenge – Day 16

Day 16

I almost didn’t make it to class today. My friend Jules was back in town from her grand European adventures and we had lunch plans. In the best of times we can spend 4 hours at a meal so with a 3 o’clock class, everything looked iffy.

Our lunch plans started at 11, then the restaurant wasn’t open until 1130 and then we didn’t eat until 1230ish, which is definitely into the No Fly zone before a 3pm class. But I figured I’d be safe with Vietnamese food, which is about as light and vegetable based as you can get.

I scooted into class with about 10 minutes to spare and even though I got a chance to calm down and breathe before we started, I think the food still affected my class. I’m used to practicing with at least a 5 hour window after I’ve eaten. I’ve found that my best classes happen if I’m hungry when I show up to class. This was not one of those days…

Even though I didn’t get nauseous or dizzy, class was very strenuously difficult for me. I barely got through Standing Bow pose and was already breathing heavily when I went into Balancing Stick. So Hard. It’s never been that hard to just breathe, keep my arms straight and keep my balance. I felt like I was working to full capacity and it still wasn’t enough.

Is this because my body was spending energy trying to digest food too? I don’t know. But I know that I’ll not eat that close to class again, just in case.

That said, it was an incredibly hot class but I’m really glad I made it. The more so because I won’t be able to complete 30 days in a row this time around. I have to leave town for work starting tomorrow and I know that my schedule will be too demanding to get to Bikram every day.

I’m bummed but I want this to be an ongoing part of my life so I’ll just start over when I can. That’s why it’s called a practice.

Bikram 30 Day Challenge – Day 15

Day 15

I went to a pumpkin carving party where two of my friends had teemed up with one pumpkin and a very complicated pattern that they were super excited about. When I asked them how it was going, one said “If this is a competition, we’re winning!” It wasn’t a competition but we let them win anyway.

There was a woman in Bikram who was also determined to win the nonexistent competition in class today. She got into each pose before anyone else, fell out of each one just seconds into it and finished each pose before anyone else. She also drank more water, breathed more heavily and had to take more breaks than anyone. I wanted to tell her she won just so she would calm down.

But I get it. I’m competitive and I too want to win even if it’s not a competition. I hear the instructor say “It’s not about Perfect. It’s about personal.” And I say “bah! Of course it’s about ‘perfect!’ And of course I’m going to get it!” It’s very hard for me to get the yoga part of Bikram yoga. I think Bikram and I would get along fine because I assume he’s a finger pointer and a whip cracker, which just makes me want to do better.

But the yoga part, the Breathe and Be and Let Go part? Yeah, I have fundamental trouble with that. So I’m working on “Tom Sawyering” myself. I say that I already won when I walked in the door. Just getting to the studio is a win.

And when if I still want a curvier half moon, a steadier tree and a more perfect sit-up than anyone in the class I remind myself that even if get those things, I still haven’t won because I’m kind of missing the point of being at yoga.

Sometimes that helps. And sometimes I still want to win so I go play Words with Friends.

Bikram 30 Day Challenge – Days 13 and 14

Day 13

“When you come in here, let go of your preconceived ideas of what going to be hard for you. It’s a new day and a new class. Be open and see what you find.”

That was Shelby’s advice today and it coincided with conversations I’ve had with two different friends lately about how hard it is to make major life changes. How it feels like you’re walking off the easy flat road into the dark woods and following a trail that appears to dead end in a giant un-passable hedge. Who would go in there? Take the easy flat road. Seriously.

Ok, it’s possible I read too many fairy tales as a kid.

Point being, I still hate Triangle pose – SO HARD! My feet slide all over the carpet! Look up? Whatever! But I’m trying every class not to dread it. Not to assume I know how hard it will be. Maybe some day in the very very distant future, I’ll come in and it won’t be the hardest pose of the day. How great would that be?

(The other bon mot of the day related to camel pose was “Dizzy is good. Vomiting is bad. Stay on the dizzy side.” I think that’s life advice I can really get behind.)

Day 14

“No babe, you aren’t dying. You’re living! That’s life you feel!”

Those were Jodi’s words of wisdom to a suffering newbie today. Made me laugh even as I sympathized.

I’ve been suffering weird aches and pains that I thought yoga was supposed to cure, particularly in my left knee which has taken an intense dislike to fixed firm pose and tree pose. So, today I thought I’d try something different since yoga wisdom is all about dealing with the body you have today.

I realized that my house is really cold and I spend several hours sitting in front of my computer before class so I think my body is taking longer to warm up. I took it really easy during the first several poses today, instead of muscling through and pushing hard the way I usually do. I also took advantage of the double set of postures and relaxed into the first set and pushed harder in the second.

Result: I held standing bow pose for the entirety of the time without falling out. That might be the first time that’s ever happened.

I think I’m at the point where I need to go deeper into some poses and figure out how to widen others. That probably makes sense only to me.

Bikram 30 Day Challenge – Days 11 and 12

Day 11

We had a new guy in class today who set up right next to me. Of course. I must have a magnet that attracts the newbies to my mat. He didn’t look like a typical Bikram newbie in that he wasn’t young or flexible and hadn’t done much yoga. He had a tough class but he hung in there, though I’m pretty sure I heard “you… must… be…kidding!” at one point when he tried to reach forward and grab his feet.

But I was in the zone today. Even having a gasping writhing new person next to me didn’t rock me. I can’t seem to predict when or how I’ll be distracted. I’ve been in classes with veterans where everything annoys me and then classes like this where I drift above the nearby chaos and draw from some pool of calm and balance that normally evades me.

Bonnie said yesterday that as we work harder as individuals, the people around us feel it and they begin to work harder and the class acquires a vibrational energy that everyone can draw from. She calls it the Law of Attraction. It sounds a little out there but I think it was happening in class today.

I wish I could bottle this energy and uncork it in classes where everything’s going sideways.

Day 12

“What are you doing with your face?? With a face like that your mother is going to think you’re doing something dangerous!”

That was Bonnie’s way of saying “Calm your face” to someone today. Sometimes it’s good to laugh in Bikram.

I actually thought of the effect of calm faces yesterday as I was watching the new guy look around the class. I could almost hear him thinking “Why is this so easy for everyone??” I wanted to tell him that it isn’t easy, but we’re learning to take the effort off our faces.

I’ve noticed that it makes a difference to have a calm face when I look in the mirror during a difficult pose. Bonnie’s term for this is “Tom Sawyering,” tricking yourself into thinking that something is fun and easy. I know that when I hear the grunting and panting and scrabbling around me AND I see my twisted face in the mirror, things don’t go well. But if I catch a glimpse of my calm face, and I see someone in front of me that looks positively elevated into ecstasy by their awkward pose, then I have a chance of taking a deep breath and focusing.

It’s sorta like watching those Olympic ice skaters after they try some kind of triple jump and fall. The first thing they do is smile. Then they get up.

Bikram 30 Day Challenge – Days 9 and 10

Day 9

It feels like the hardest work I’m doing in yoga right now doesn’t look like much from the outside. All the most important shifts in my practice are internal: releasing the tension in my jaw, isolating muscles, shifting my weight, drawing up my belly to support my spine, etc. It feels big to me and it takes all my attention but I know that I’m often the only one who notices.

Today my instructor, Shelby, reminded us that the way we enter and leave a pose is just as important as what we do while we’re in it. That feels important to me right now. It feels important to make the whole 90 minutes a constant fluid event instead of a series of grueling experiences broken by the glorious relief of savasana.

Perhaps the sentiment appeals because I’m working on it in my life as well. I’m working to make my life something interesting as a whole instead of breaking my days into sections of work/play/exercise/etc. This desire has required that I play a long game to change my life and my career and give up some short term gratifications. I think it’s worth it but I’m not sure how it will play out.

Again, it feels like hard internal work that no one sees but me. I have to remind myself that I don’t need two pairs of eyes to acknowledge the truth of something. I can know it’s true, I can know I’m working, I can know I’m shifting internally and it’s ok if it isn’t immediately obvious to the outside world.

Day 10

When I did martial arts, we worked on combinations of blocks, kicks, punches, rolls etc. that we called storms. One day our instructor put the class of 13 people into a 10 x 10 foot space and gave us these instructions. 1. Do a storm. 2. Don’t go out of this space. 3. Don’t kick anyone.

We were already shoulder to shoulder and had trouble standing without touching each other so he gave us a minute to absorb the instructions and then said “I know this sounds impossible. Do it anyway.”

I’ve decided that “I know this sounds impossible, do it anyway” is the unofficial motto of Bikram. I feel like I’m always trying to absorb completely conflicting lists of instructions “Go forward while stretching back,” “Pull your heels up and push your head down,” “Lift your heart, look back, don’t collapse your lower back,” “do it with a happy smiling face!”

But somehow I know that it all feels impossible because my mind gets in the way. Most things are impossible until they’re done and then they become routine like personal computers and 4 minute miles.

I keep reminding myself that impossible is a state of mind.

In other news, cute football players in Bikram today. That inspired a lot of happy smiling faces…

Bikram 30 Day Challenge – Days 7 and 8

Day 7

I drove home from Bikram yesterday thinking about donuts but I didn’t let myself have one because I’m healthy! I’m doing Bikram and therefore I can’t eat donuts.

Cut to this morning when all my Words with Friends games had tile options like HGYWXPI, and my tiny Mac is in the hospital so I’m pecking away at my ancient PC laptop that has the processing speed of a chisel on a piece of limestone and a donut seemed like the only thing that would make me happy.

I thought about donuts all the way through my search for a flight to New Orleans that doesn’t cost $1000 and housing in New Orleans during Mardi Gras that doesn’t include some impossible equation like “1 Bedroom/Sleeps 6” and I still wanted donuts but I didn’t let myself go get one because by that point I had passed into the “3 hours and Counting” no eating zone before Bikram. So I wrote a facebook post about donuts. Turns out there are a lot of people out there who think donuts will solve their life’s problems today.

I went to Bikram class, laid on the ground and wondered why life is so hard and why I can’t just have donuts. Entitled white girl: party of one. I know.  And wouldn’t it be nice if I were the kind of beginning yogi that says “But then I got into tree pose and I stopped thinking about donuts! I dreamed of wheat grass, world peace and a colon cleanse!” But instead, I’m the kind of beginning yogi who blames the instructor for cutting into her donut time. So I suffered through the class, tried to sweat out my aggravation and resentment and gain some perspective and then came home and ate an apple.

It’s 25 hours and I haven’t had a donut but I’m still thinking about it. I figure I can go two ways with this: I can pat myself on the back and say “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” or I can go the Oscar Wilde route and get rid of temptation by yielding to it.

Jury’s still out. Tune in tomorrow.

Day 8

I went to Bikram today and realized I’m on the weird plateau where I’ve done these poses regularly enough this week that I don’t have to think about them. That’s not good. That means that I’m in danger of spending 90 minutes every day doing the same stuff over and over without getting better or worse at it, and what’s the point of that?

My friend Nate gave me this little jewel of wisdom from his Bikram teacher who said “Using 99% of your energy is much harder than using 100%.” Her point seemed to be that if you hold back, thinking that you’ll need the energy for later, part of you will always be wondering “Do I go full out now? How about now? Am I tired? How tired?” and you won’t ever be at 100% capacity anywhere.

I’m elaborating on what he said but that caveat has been in my mind today because I feel like I’ve been about 90% everywhere. I’m 90% in my writing when I leave my phone on and I check my email because I have so many other things going on this week. I’m 90% convinced I won’t eat donuts but 10% of me isn’t sure. I’m 90% doing that vicious pose with teeth known as Triangle but about 10% (or 50%…) of me is wondering when I can stop.

Basically 90% sucks. 90% is almost enough but not quite, it’s sort of in the door but not really, it’s committed except for that one thing…

So today in Bikram, about the point that we got into cobra, I made a decision to be 100% in the room and let go of everything that wasn’t in the room. I quieted my mind, I worked on the little stuff, made corrections, bent and rounded and lengthened and pushed and didn’t worry about anything else.

I’m one week in. My goal for next week is to actively leave my mental wranglings outside the door of the Bikram studio at the beginning of class. When I go in there, be 100% there. For better or worse.

Also, I didn’t have a donut. But I did have cake and it was delicious.

Bikram 30 Day Challenge – Days 5 and 6

Day 5

When I did martial arts, we had an exercise that I hated. HATED. It was so hard and painful and I did it badly and with little grace. My instructor watched me once and then pulled me aside and told me that I was expending too much energy hating the exercise. I said, Ok, I’ll love it instead. I’ll love the hell out of it!

He said “Don’t to that either. Love takes just as much energy. Just do it. It is what it is. It’s just an exercise, it’s not the end of the world.”

 He said a lot of things that have stayed with me but I remember that one the best and I use that phrase the most often when something is hateful and I can’t do anything but put up with it. It is what it is. Move on. Spend your energy on something else.

 The owner (?) of Yoga Vida – Bonnie – ran the Bikram class today. She was great. And expressed a similar sentiment, only she said “I’m just your yoga teacher. Save your drama for your mama. Don’t come in here to prove how hard Bikram is and how hardcore you are for doing it. That’s not what yoga’s about. It’s about peace. That’s what you’re coming here to get.”

I feel like I crossed some kind of barrier and I don’t actively hate the thought of going to Bikram. Usually I hate the thought because I can think of so many other things I’d rather do – most of which involve sitting on my couch. But as of today, Bikram’s just another thing I’m doing. It’s still requiring me to schedule my day and make some sacrifices so that I can go, but I’m saving the drama. Not for my mama, but for something else. Anything else.

Day 6

Crazy guy came to yoga today and of course he set up right next to me and committed Bikram sin #1, which is pushing aside someone’s preset mat and taking their space. Presetting your mat in the Bikram room is like saying Shotgun! or Not it! The playground rules apply and that little part of the room belongs to you. Moving mats is verboten and no one does it, except for this guy.

Then he sat there and breathed noisily through his mouth in little gulpy “ha” sounds while he shifted around and cracked his neck, ignoring the irritated girl who came to retrieve her crumpled mat and had to find another space in a very crowded classroom. I laid next to him and tried to find rest inside myself because it looked like this was not the class to find rest elsewhere.

When we started the first round of breathing he stood up, ignored the instructor, continued to crack his neck, took a drink of water during the breathing exercise (Bikram sin #2), and then stood still and looked forward and did nothing until the instructor came over and said “are you going to participate today?”

Then he did kinda did some breathing but seemed to make no effort to follow the class (Bikram sin #3). Ok, clearly I don’t keep my eyes on my own paper so I’m breathing along with everyone else but keeping a side eye on this guy and wondering exactly why he’s here if he doesn’t want to play with the other kids.

Then he stopped and took another drink, at which point the instructor said “please wait to drink water until we aren’t in an active pose.” At this point we were about 1 minute into class. When we got to the end of the first breathing cycle, he grabbed his towel and took off. In other classes I’ve attended, the instructor tries to dissuade people from leaving but she said nothing to this guy and I think that little wrinkle in her calm yoga forehead said “good riddance.”

In other news, my balance continues to suck. Intensely. I think my feet are defective.

That is all…

Bikram 30 Day Challenge – Days 3 and 4

Day 3

Seriously didn’t want to go today. I was in a writing groove and didn’t want to stop. Normally when I feel this way, I tell myself to go but then I look ahead to the next time that I can take a break. It was disheartening to look forward to 27 more days after today before I get a full day without any commitments.

Note to self: no more looking ahead.

In that vein, my instructor, Jodi, gave us instructions I haven’t heard before when we were lying on our stomachs after the first set of mat poses. She said to focus our gaze on the edge of our towels because it will help keep our energy close to us. I feel like that’s a description of my whole life right now: keeping my eye on the part of my life that’s just two inches away so I can keep my energy close.

Writing full time is hard. And it’s tiring and solitary. And it’s really easy to stop doing it so I have to figure out how to keep my writing energy close, how to feed it, how to get away just long enough to come back refreshed but not long enough to lose the thread of I’m writing.

It’s tough. So I’m looking at the edge of my towel and I’m working on it.

Day 4

Holy crap, there were so many people in class today! The Yoga Vida studio is big. You could probably put 20 people doing snow angels in there and no one would touch each other. Today, we had twice that many people. Maybe even 50. It was crow-ded. And hot. The instructor advised us to “figure out a way to rest inside ourselves” because there wasn’t going to be a lot of restfulness in a class that big. And there were a lot of new people so the energy ran a bit to the wonky crazy side.

But it’s instructive to look around a class like that and see all of my assumptions go awry. The tiny dancer girl in the front that looked like Miss Yoga 2011, her half moon had no curve to it at all. The two chunky girls directly in front of me who looked like they might drop in seconds? They totally hung in there. But the guy on the other side, the one that was ripped and tattooed and looked like a Bikram veteran? Wow, he had a tough class and actually left in the middle to go cool off. You can’t ever tell.

It’s my fourth class and I find that I continually remind myself to listen and not assume that I know what to do. Instead, I should listen to the instructions and follow. The instructor said, “instead of pushing further, stay where you are and listen. See what your body needs, where it’s tight, what is working and what isn’t. Make small adjustments. Breathe.”

I find my posture is better when I do Bikram. That’s good.

Bikram 30 Day Challenge – Days 1 and 2

My brother is concerned that my blogging audience might assume I’m 300lb, given my obsession with food. To offset that assumption (and keep it from coming true…), I’ve decided to write about the 30 Day Bikram Challenge I started this weekend.

I’ve done Bikram before and written about it here. I have a love hate relationship with it (love having done it, occasionally hate the actual doing of it) that’s kept me from making it a full time practice. And BTW, it’s freaking expensive. However, I feel like I need to give Bikram a chance  before I kick him to the curb. I want to see if he’s right that a Bikram challenge will transform my life so I’m committing to 30 days of going every day. Of course, Bikram wants 60 days but I can’t commit to 60 uninterrupted days because I’m a busy girl, dontcha know. So I’m giving it 30 and let’s see how it goes.

Day 1:

I decided against the Tucson Bikram studio and picked Yoga Vida instead. It’s not a certified studio so Bikram doesn’t get an outrageous kickback but they do teach the Bikram method. Now I’ve done Bikram yoga in a certified studio, and I’ve done other forms of  yoga in heated rooms but I’ve never done Bikram method yoga in an uncertified studio where the instructors can teach however they want. And after my first class at Yoga Vida with instructor Stephanie – a sweet, kind soul –  I can say that it’s the whole system without the dialogue.

In Bikram the entire system is tightly regimented. Not only is it always 26 poses in 90 minutes but even the instructors have scripted dialogue. If you visit studios across the country, you’ll hear the same weird references to ham sandwiches, or exactly foreheads and you’ll be told several times to “LOCK YOUR KNEE.” Except at Yoga Vida where they gently and quietly ask you to engage your thighs and lift your ribcage and soften your gaze. You know, typical yoga stuff.

However, it turns out that having done Bikram for a while, I locked my knee anyway and said “just like a Japanese ham sandwich” to myself as I pressed my face into my locked knee. All of you who do Bikram know what I’m talking about and the rest of you are wondering what a Japanese ham sandwich is exactly. If you find out, let me know. It’s the big conundrum of the Bikram world.

The first class was not as brutal as I expected. I am stiff and un-flexible in ways I wasn’t 6 months ago, I definitely had to fight down nausea and dizziness on several occasions and I cut the last camel pose short by a few seconds but my body remembered the poses better than my conscious brain However, I did revisit the thing I love about Bikram the most – I got to turn my mind off and just follow directions for 90 minutes.

Here’s to 29 more days of saving my brain power for other things!

Day 2:

Ouch. Just… ouch. I’m sore from class yesterday and some of the poses hurt anyway, so… ouch. I tend to muscle through pain instead of taking it easy so I had to remember to listen to Janelle (another lovely gentle soul who didn’t yell or tell me to LOCK MY KNEE). Janelle reminded us all to make space in our bodies. Space to lengthen and space for breath. Space to let our muscles fill. Breathing and space are hard things to acquire when your spine is curled so your sweaty exactly forehead is pressed against your sweaty locked knee and every muscle is on fire, so it bears repeating.

I actually thought about not going today. I thought about pretending yesterday was a warm up and starting the 30 day challenge later. Some other time… But having already managed to go once, it feels like a serious loss to start over, even just one class. I have to regularly remind myself that I expend half my effort just getting started. Once I’ve started something, it’s much easier to keep going. Stopping and starting is the hard part. So, I’m keeping on keeping on.

Only 28 classes to go.