Yoga Vida Tucson

Yoga Vida Tucson

It’s strange to come back to Tucson because I have a lot of history here. I moved here in the mid 90’s on a whim and stayed for a decade, which was slightly longer than was good for me. In hindsight I only stayed long enough to do everything I needed to do, it just took longer than I thought. By the time I left I practically ran out of town.

Since 2006, I’ve been back to Tucson (usually reluctantly) every year or so to visit my friends and my storage shed. Normally I only stay for a brief few days but for one period of time in 2011, I moved back to Tucson temporarily to write a book and during that time I started going to this yoga studio regularly.

Being on the road all the time, I enjoy the familiarity of Bikram studios all across the nation. I know what I’m getting into and yet I have a different experience in each class. Bonnie and Yoga Vida are directly responsible for my love of yoga studios that teach the Bikram method without the dialogue. I can appreciate the need for dialogue and the emphasis on certain Bikram-specific practices (LOCK YOUR KNEE!)  but there’s a yoga spirit that can be lost in a Bikram class because of the stridency of the speech. What I really enjoy is doing a familiar sequence of poses with instructors that extemporize verbally, correct postures, tell stories and don’t talk about Japanese ham sandwiches. Plus I always come away with something to think about.

In class this weekend Bonnie started by saying “Let’s go into this slow. Work as hard as you want, but let’s start slow.”

That is pretty much the exact opposite of everything I hear in my normal life. Everything around me (including the drill sergeant in my head) says move fast, hit the ground running, catch up, you’re getting left behind. Nothing says “Go slow. Think about the work before you do the work. Easing in is ok…”

She followed this by saying “Let’s pretend we don’t know what these poses look like and focus on what they feel like.” In other words, lifting out of the arch of my foot doesn’t look like much but it feels gigantic. Shifting my gaze from my knee to my navel might not change anything about my posture but it changes everything about my intent. If I’m always depending on some exterior source, like a mirror, for corrections, I won’t ever know what it feels like to do it correctly because sometimes the changes are too small to be seen.

Interestingly, both of these sentiments can be flipped around. Some days are about starting fast, moving more and visually correcting myself. Pushing harder than I want to but getting further than I expect.

The trick is knowing what day it is.

 

Bikram Yoga in New England

It’s been awhile since I’ve taken a Bikram class but I’ve thought about it often in the last couple of months. I injured my ankle last Christmas and it’s taken a long time to heal during which time I’ve been lifting weights and doing Crossfit. I was good about rehabbing my ankle and didn’t push it hard for several weeks but after just one Bikram class, I wished I’d been doing yoga in addition to Crossfit.

Crossfit is great for muscle building and I’ll talk more about it later but yoga, especially Bikram with the heat and extended pose holding, gets more deeply into my joints. My ankle HURT during poses like fixed firm and bow pose but the pain feels stretchy and elongating instead of impactful.

There’s no Bikram in Kennebunkport, Maine. You either have to go north to Portland, Maine or south to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. So, in the course of the last few days, I did both.

Maine Hatha Yoga

Maine Hatha Yoga in Portland offers a Bikram method class without the dialogue that they call the Hot 26. My favorite yoga studio in the country also offers Bikram method classes without the Bikram dialogue and I really love it. It’s Bikram with yoga talk. Fantastic.

The Maine Hatha Yoga studio is small, low ceilinged and carpeted and they run the heaters and humidifiers to get the space SUPER HOT. I went to the community class on Saturday where you pay what you can afford, a lovely offering to a yoga community given how pricey Bikram can be, and the class was pretty full and REALLY INCREDIBLY HOT. My best guesstimation is somewhere around 120-130 degrees. I spent most of the class just enduring the heat and telling myself it would be over soon. Which it was. I’ve gotten better at leaning into the discomfort of heat, reminding myself that I won’t be burning up in this humid hell for all of eternity (even if it feels like it) and pushing myself to do all the poses and breathing, breathing, breathing.

Non-Bikram people are right now asking themselves why I bother if it’s so awful and to them I say “because a really hot Bikram class that takes it all out of you produces an endorphin rush afterwards like no other.” It’s the most satisfying, wrung out, high flying feeling in the world. Like I climbed Everest or finished a marathon. Delicious. I feel like I’ve done something impossible that was also good for me. Deeply satisfying.

I would definitely recommend this Portland studio. Good teachers and good prices. The bathroom/shower area is communal for men and women with some curtained off changing areas but everyone using all the same facilities. I thought it was very yoga spirited but if stripping in public is a deterrent for you, be warned.

The Portsmouth studio is a certified Bikram Studio

Portsmouth Bikram Studio

The studio is on the small side of average but in both classes I attended there were 50+ people in the class (!) definitely the most crowded classes I’ve ever been in. Despite that crowd the heat level was tolerable, the thermometer said 108, and there was a nice range of people from beginners to yoga competitors. The teacher, Sara, was easy on the dialogue, told lots of stories and had a lot of wise things to say. Here are a few that I’m still thinking about.

1. What kind of tone does the voice in your head have? Not what does it say, but what kind of tone does it use?

WHAT KIND OF QUESTION IS THIS FOR A YOGA CLASS??

And yet, I’ve thought about it a lot. The voice in my particular head is a drill instructor. Lots of yelling and commands and very little mercy. For anything. I have to continually remind myself to be patient because I can get wrapped up in the internal yelling… I don’t think I’ve ever realized before how judgey and bossy my internal voice is.

2. Unless you’re dying, don’t skip camel. Calm in camel, calm in life.

I usually skip camel the first class (or two) back to Bikram. I hate the nauseous feeling and by that point in class everything else has been so hard that I give myself a break on the last really hard thing. But this time back, I didn’t have trouble with camel. Even in the really hot Portland studio. I don’t know why this might be but I’m hoping for the “calm in life” part.

3. The kidneys can only process 24oz of liquid in 90 minutes. If you need to drink more than that, you’re just using water to make yourself feel better mentally. Trying breathing instead.

4. Challenge yourself to do hard things. That’s how you grow.

Isn’t that last one the truest statement ever? So there you have it, a little science, a little encouragement and a little food for thought. The perfect Bikram happy meal.

A Day in Washington DC

A few suggestions:

Start with Bikram at Bikram Tysons in McLean Virginia.  They have a large lovely studio that’s just hot enough and big bathroom facilities with 3 showers. Carol led class with just enough fuerza and vigor but without some of the stridency that can accompany the Bikram dialogue. We got icy lavender scented towels during the final savasana and they had a $20/first week special for new students. It was my first class back in about 5 months and I loved it.

Locolat Cafe for Breakfast
Locolat is a Belgian cafe in Adams Morgan specializing in waffles and beer and things you might put on waffles (like smoked salmon and asparagus) or eat while you drink beer (like chocolate). It’s a cute little place with a big glass case of luscious pastries and a very decent Belgian beer list. I’d recommend avoiding the “red hot mimosas,” which were overpriced and badly mixed with cheap champagne but the waffles were stellar and the portion sizes perfect. The service was a bit absent minded but we weren’t in a hurry so it wasn’t an issue. They’re closed on Mondays.

National Postal Museum
When I said “Let’s go to the National Postal Museum!”, 2 friends said “Why?” That’s probably the reaction most of you had . However, you should go anyway and here are the reasons why:

1. It’s free.
2. It’s interesting. Mail has been shockingly important to the building of American communities.
3. The mail trebuchet. Yes, it’s a mail flinging device. No, I won’t describe it. You have to go see it.
4. Washington DC has A LOT of museums. Most of them are focused on art. This one isn’t. It’s worth a visit for that reason alone.
5. It’s small so it won’t take long and you’ll feel interestingly educated afterwards. Plus, stamps are beautiful.

Busboys and Poets for Lunch
Classic Washington DC establishment with a couple different locations. Hipstery, organic, good with the vegetarian/vegan/gluten free selections and also an art gallery/homage to political revolutions. If this is your kind of place, you’ll love it. Come for the paninis, stay for the poetry slam.

Renwick Gallery – Best 40 Under 40 exhibit
2 museums, Kaitlyn? Yeah, I know. But it is DC and there are SO many museums, most of which are worth visiting. I always enjoy the Renwick because it’s the perfect size and can well experienced in under an hour. Their permanent collection is on the top floor and I particularly like the giant salon with pictures hung in groups. If you’re in DC sometime soon, go see this temporary exhibit of the top 40 Craftsman in America under 40 years old for a glimpse into the past and future of American Craftsmanship. Pieces range from a meditation room (definitely go in) to a room covered in knitted pieces called “Knitting is for Pus****” and a set of fierce sculpted metal talon gloves. If this is America’s craft future, I think technology will only become more involved in the artistic process but it won’t replace the need for real artistic technique. That makes me hopeful.

Georgetown Cupcakes for a late afternoon sugar jolt
Is the cupcake craze ever going away? I keep thinking it might but then nothing arises to take it’s place. I’m waiting for the cake pop revolution. Until then, these are the best cupcakes in DC. No question.

The Hamilton for pre dinner drinks
Upscale, classy joint with well mixed drinks and late night food. Makes you feel like maybe you might want to get involved in politics or have an affair with a politician. Very DC.

Firefly for dinner
Part of the GussiedUpComfortFood movement. In a good way. The restaurant interior is charmingly wooded, literally, with a nice tree swing for photo ops. The menu has a great selection of small plates they call Urban Picnic. The deviled eggs were spicy creamy bites of heaven, as were the pimento cheese fritters. I cleansed my palate with a chopped kale salad with smoked pumpkin seeds that was flavorful and with a bright vinaigrette to offset the kale’s natural bitterness. The vegetable risotto with goat cheese might have been the best risotto I’ve ever tasted and I also liked the shrimp and grits, which made up in flavor what it lacked in photogenic appeal. The firefly/outdoor theme was consistent but not overwhelming and they gave us our  check in a little mason jar with a light in it. Cute, right? We got there early and had no trouble getting a table but it filled up quickly so I’d recommend reservations.

For dinner you could also try Burger, Tap and Shake where they serve a Southern Comfort burger with pimento cheese on it and adult ice cream shakes with booze in them. Order the sides to share though, everything’s big here. Or District Commons, which is right next door and has an amazing (though expensive) seafood cobb salad.

Or perhaps EatBar in Arlington for dinner (if you want to get out of the city)
EatBar is the best kind of Gastropub because they have a nice selection of vegetable dishes and over 40 bottles of wine on tap. On tap! The Bang Bang Broccoli was fantastic as were the fried green tomatoes. I’d take a pass on the roasted cauliflower, were I you but definitely try the Cheasapeake Clam Roll (that’s how they spell it. Don’t ask me.) This is a cozy little bar with great food and killer atmosphere. They have movie nights too.

51st State Tavern for post dinner drinks
We watched the election returns here. Can you tell? Foggy Bottom has a fair number of great neighborhood bars and 51st State is one of them. Late night food. Good drink prices. Upstairs/downstairs. Fun times.

I’d also recommend Lindy’s Red Lion home of the beer helmets and sandwiches and chips served on paper plates, Froggy Bottom Pub with it’s sticky floors, basement bar and $6 doubles (more like quadruples…), and Old Ebbitt Grill with the half off raw bar after 11pm.

Now go back to your hotel and get some sleep. You’ve had a busy day!

Being Seen

I wrote here about how I feel like most of the yoga work I’m doing is internal and no one sees it or feels it but me. I assume most people feel this way, especially when our efforts are so small and focused.

Yoga is full of small focused efforts towards things that feel impossible. Daily (yogic) success seems to rest in some as yet unquantifiable combination of fine muscle movements, mental focus and weight shifts, the process of which varies in any given day and goes mostly unseen. Except when it doesn’t.

In the past week, Greg has talked a lot about changing the way we think and thus the way we behave in tree pose. Perhaps in that pose particularly it’s easy to focus on length exclusively and so he’s instructed us to focus on expanding our bodies side to side and front to back as well as up and down. It’s a weird instruction, as if you could unhinge yourself from the inside and expand in all directions.

But something about the instruction worked for me the other day while I balanced in tree pose and I felt something somewhere loosen. I let go, microscopically it seemed. But at the same time from across the room, Greg said “Good, Kaitlyn.”

He saw it. Whatever it was, it was visible to him. No matter how small and imperceptible that internal shift seemed, someone else witnessed it.

This feels important somehow.

Is bikram yoga: Part 2

Someone commented on my Why bikram isn’t yoga post and as I replied, I realized I wanted to clarify a few things about my response.

I realize that picking on bikram yoga for it’s lack of spiritual drive seems kind of disingenuous because there are yoga classes with a reduced dose of spirituality all over the world. By the logic of my post, they also wouldn’t be yoga. Plus I’ve come to really appreciate bikram and I find it very meditative, so writing about its lack of intrinsic spirituality seems like a weird point to make that counteracts my own experience.

Perhaps I can say it better this way: Many physical practices are meditative and most of them are highly repetitive and unvaried in nature, like swimming, long distance running and mountain climbing. However, the intent of these practices isn’t spiritual and meditation is a byproduct that only some people acknowledge or care about. By contrast, certain practices like yoga and tai chi are intended to be spiritual and meditative. The physicality of the practice is specifically structured as a path to enter a meditative/spiritual state. Stripping yoga and tai chi of their spiritual intent reduces the practice. Without meditation, some of the reason for the practice is lost and the practitioner doesn’t gain the benefits.

Yoga practitioners don’t have to commune with God/the gods/spirituality in yoga in the same way that they can attend any church/temple/holy place of their choice and never open their spirits. But when they do either of these things, they’re just getting part of the practice because focusing on the only the physical rituals reduces the whole experience.

Bikram Choudhury should get credit for revamping and focusing 26 yoga asanas and creating a difficult physical practice with a lot of health benefits. Because he used a long-standing spiritual practice as a base, people assume there’s a spiritual nature to the bikram practice; and as with so many things, they’ll find what they’re looking for. But by removing spirituality from his dialogue, Bikram Choudhury potentially reduced the benefits for his practitioners because he’s taken away their teacher’s ability to guide and mentor them and allowed his students to practice with no spiritual intent.

Bikram practitioners have to bring their own spiritual questing to bikram yoga classes where they are likely to find all manner of meditative paths to explore but Bikram Choudhury should get no credit for their efforts.

Stuck

All yoga teachers say “work with the body you have today,” which I think is intended to encourage us to be in the present moment.

Today in class Bonnie talked about the ways in which we respond to Bikram differently from day to day. Some days the poses come easily and depth and relaxation follow. Other days, it’s all work. She said that when it’s work, it’s easy to get mentally stuck remembering that it was easier yesterday or last week or when we weren’t injured or tired or over it.

Then she said, “Let yourself be stuck but not miserable.”

So you’re stuck. The poses used to be easier, you used to be more flexible, you felt better yesterday and had more focus and walked out of class feeling like a yoga superstar. Good for you.

Today is different. So what.

Be stuck. It’s where you are. You don’t have control over the elements and the tides and the moons aligning or the sick kids, cranky boss, terrible traffic or whatever else piled up to contribute to your lack of focus and flexibility in class. But don’t be miserable about it because you do have control over that, even if it’s just for 90 minutes in a hot room.

And if you’re miserable, find a way to back off so you’re stuck but not miserable. As Bonnie also points out, it’s just yoga.

Breathe.

Futzing

Greg told a story in Bikram today about a man dithering at a buffet. He couldn’t figure out what he wanted, what might taste good, maybe he wasn’t hungry, he couldn’t tell. He stood there so long that his wife finally said “Good grief, just eat something!”

Then Greg paused and said “and you’re probably wondering why this is relevant…”

We laughed and he said that a lot of us do Bikram like that man. We think too much, consider too many options and dither around. Greg said, “When you go into the pose, don’t futz, pant, stretch and press. Instead, go in and hold it. Wherever you are.”

Jules called Bikram a moving meditation and I think that’s the best description of it, when it’s at its best. When Bikram is hard for me is when I’m trying too hard and my mind won’t shut down. I futz. I’m in each pose thinking of all the ways I could or should be doing it better. I can’t be still, inside or out and I don’t have a single second where I relax into the pose and let go of all the futzing.

Letting go isn’t my forte. I’m a World Champion holder on-er, in Bikram and in life. But I want to practice going into a pose and holding it, leaning into the knowledge that I could go deeper or harder or stronger but that I might gain something from stillness.

I wonder what could happen if I stopped futzing.