Thursday, December 31, 2009

Almost time...

It's almost time to begin again!

I've ended my 2009 Bikram practice with a vacation--I ended up skipping Bikram class both yesterday and today. Hmmph. I had some other stuff going on, and I guess I'm seeing these two days as the equivalent of a binge right before rehab. I battle my tendency toward stagnation and a lack of motivating energy in many aspects of life. This is why I NEED this Bikram 101 challenge. I have seen so much change in my health, my body, my emotions, my spirit just with my half-assed Bikram practice; I truly have faith that this challenge can and will change my life for the better.

And lately, I feel like I can't throw a rock without hitting somebody who has an amazing testimonial to Bikram yoga. Somebody at our studio posted a copy of Paige Williams' excellent O Magazine article about her Bikram experience, and I've found all these 101 blogs as well. Old friends who live hundreds or thousands of miles away have found their way into Bikram classes--I read all about it on their facebook pages. I've got teachers who've healed surfing and skiing and snowboarding injuries, recovered from car accidents, alcoholism, and obesity. I have teachers who've straightened out debilitating severe scoliosis and turned around a debilitating connective tissue disorder. I don't understand how anyone could doubt it--Bikram yoga works. Whenever our studio has Community Day, after class I want to tell every red-faced, exhausted newbie, "Keep coming back, it works." And, "The more often you come back, the faster it will work, and the more it will do for you."

I slept in too late today, and I worry about getting to sleep tonight. I want to be awake and properly hydrated tomorrow morning. In my experience, very full classes are extra hot and sweaty. I don't want my first class of the challenge to be one where I get tired, depleted, dizzy and sit down.

No no no...gotta keep in mind that it's all in my mind.

The other evening, talking with my teacher after class, she gave me some great advice about how to get my hips and lower back in better alignment in several postures. I have a weird little lower back sway thing. It's pretty minor and common, but it can inhibit good full expression of many postures. Teacher said to tighten up the muscles of the pelvic floor, the perineum, your kegel muscles. Doing so will pull your hips into line. I tried it on Tuesday, and it really worked. I usually consider my cobra pose to be pretty good anyway, but I concentrated on contracting my pelvic floor muscles during cobra on Tues, and I swear to God, I felt as if I was doing it perfectly, like I was channeling Bikram, felt as if my posture was like a picture of him doing cobra. And the teacher (not the same one who'd given me the posture hint the night before) was saying, "til your arms are making a right angle, exactly as Sisya is doing right now." It made me so happy.

this is a ramble-y post! Just a little babble before the big day, before the big 101 days. Excited, nervous, and happy to be part of the challenge!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dark Side of the Half-moon

Last night, after class, I had an excellent talk with one of my teachers. She's a facebook friend, and she'd seen that I am participating in the Bikram 101 Challenge. Of course, she was very supportive and encouraging, and she's thinking about joining us in the challenge too.

There are at least 2 other people at my studio who are definitely participating. One of these yoginis is a newly minted Bikram teacher. Even before she left for TT, she did dozens of doubles, barely ever missed a day of yoga. This will be child's play for her. The other participant is a woman who's been coming to class 3-6X/wk for just over a year...kinda like me.

I am doing a rather unusual first class of the challenge. It's not a 'normal' Bikram class. We will be doing the Bikram series, and it will be a 90 minute class, but we will have one extra thing going on.

Um, we're doing the series to 'Dark Side of the Moon.'

Yeah, it's weird. I'm pretty sure that it is not Bikram-approved. But it's a long-standing New Year's Day tradition at my studio. Our studio has been a certified Bikram studio for a long time. The original owner of the studio is, I believe, one of Bikram's senior instructors. I've heard that he originated this tradition. It's very popular, and you have to reserve your spot. They cram more than twice the number of attendees in a regular class into DSOTM class, and there's still a good-sized waiting list. I have never been to the DSOTM class, but I look forward to it. It's kinda fun to have something crazy to kick off the Bikram 101 Challenge.

I'm debating with myself about whether or not to take a day off between now and then. I am definitely going to class this evening, but I am considering taking a day off tomorrow or Thursday. Hmm. I've been feeling lots stronger at class lately, pretty gung-ho about it. Christmas Day was the last time I missed a class. But if I'm not gonna have a big lazy day again until at least April 12, maybe I need to slack off while I can...dunno.

I DO know this: my main challenge in Bikram Yoga is mental. I have a long sweaty list of physical challenges: a history of thyroid problems, very low blood pressure, scoliosis, creaky old knee, a bunion on one foot, past bouts of sciatica & a slipped disc. I'm getting close to the age of menopause, so my hormone levels are changing a little. All of these physical issues pop up in class, but the only really difficult thing about coping with them is having the courage to soldier on and work through them. Yoga helps all of these physical issues. I have to work at not allowing the physical issues to be an excuse to cop out. Like, with my low blood pressure, I often experience a little dizziness in the standing series. However, every time I've decided to try to keep going, the dizziness passes. I used to take a lot of breaks when I got dizzy, but once I began slogging onward in spite of dizziness, the frequency and intensity of the dizzy spells has decreased. If I change my mind, I'll change my body.

I look forward to finding out what will change for me, physically and mentally during this challenge. Everything could change...

Monday, December 28, 2009

How Do I Look?

The Bikram 101 Challenge starts in just four days, so I'm getting all of my clothes, towels, mats, etc. in order. I've managed to assemble a weird little collection of stuff that will work for class. I have a couple of 'Breathe' mats & a couple of sticky mats; a big pile of towels; five pairs of shorts, a tennis skirt, a couple of pairs of capri-length pants (for laundry emergencies only); a drawer full of tanks, sports bras, and the occasional swimsuit top. I think I'm ready.

I used to be very concerned about how my yoga clothes looked, but now I'm all about how the "costume" feels. Like a lot of people, I dragged all sorts of negative body image stuff into the yoga studio. I thought that I'd have to wear capris or bermuda-length shorts to hide my lumpy thighs. I didn't want my tummy to show at all. I see new students all the time who seem to be trying to hide their bodies in big baggy T-shirts, long pants, or even layers of clothes.

Well, I started noticing that women in my classes, of all shapes and sizes and ages, wore shorts and sports bras and just seemed focused on their yoga. So I screwed up my courage and tried it myself. Sure, I felt awkward and self-conscious when I began to pare down my yoga wear, but whatever self-consciousness remained in me was dissolved by the heat. I just wanted to be comfortable, and short pants and a short top are just right. Besides, I get a better wrap in Eagle pose if my thighs aren't covered...the sweat helps slide my leg around. (Is that cheating?)

Damn, though, as a big-busted woman, I have to say, there's a definite lack of supportive/attractive sports bra-tops available. Who ever came up with the "shelf-bra" did not wear a D cup. And who came up with the idea that bathing suit tops, sports tops, and bras could just be sized Small, Med, and Large? It doesn't work for me...I have to improvise sometimes. I have some weird little combos of old bras inside a shelf-bra top.

Oh, but a bout the body image stuff--if you stop trying to hide your body, during Bikram class, you'll start to see how amazing your body is! Even if you're chubby and out-of-shape, or especially if you're chubby and out-of-shape, if you attend class regularly, you will see muscles working and becoming more defined. It's very gratifying to see the shape of your quadriceps emerging from what used to be some kind of cottage cheese zone. Or to see your abs become more defined. Or the lovely curve of your hardworking hamstrings as you bend your knee into triangle.

For me, being critical of my appearance and my body has never ever been helpful. Some people have this crazy notion that if they shame themselves enough, it'll be inspiration to whip themselves into shape. It seems a lot more productive and positive to instead focus on what's good about your body. Bikram yoga can really help with that. Most people start to glow when they're doing Bikram class regularly. The circulatory benefits are almost immediately visible, right there in your face. And almost everyone experiences a rapid improvement in at least one posture if they attend class 3X/week or more. It's so encouraging and satisfying to see yourself improve.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Here we go...

I'm a student and a teacher of yoga, and this blog is about my personal yoga practice, my search, my tentative steps toward teaching and sharing yoga in a meaningful way.

I'm preparing to take part in Bikram Challenge 101, and I'm planning to write about that as well. Bikram Challenge 101 is a great big bunch of Bikram Yoga students, worldwide, who've pledged to do a 90 minute Bikram's Beginning Yoga class every day for 101 days, starting on 1 January 2010. I've practiced Bikram yoga for a while, but I never done a class per day for more than about 20 consecutive days. This truly will be a challenge for me.

I'm going to be turning 47 years old about half-way through the challenge, and I am fairly new to yoga. Though I've dabbled at yoga over the years, I didn't have a very serious or consistent practice until October 2008. I've tried several kinds of yoga, but Bikram yoga is/was my first yoga love. I felt exhausted but exhilarated by my first Bikram yoga class. It made sense to me in a way that other yoga classes did not. About 3 years ago, I practiced Bikram yoga fairly regularly for several months, but my work schedule didn't mesh with the studio's, so I ended up taking a break for about 18 months. In Oct '08, I returned to Bikram yoga class with the hope of healing a back injury. I have gone to a Bikram class 3-7 times a week ever since. And my back healed in less than a month.

Also in October 2008, I attended a volunteer teacher's orientation for a non-profit that teaches yoga to the incarcerated, alcoholics and addicts in rehab, and to those living in shelters. My previous experience with yoga, and Bikram yoga in particular, made me want to share yoga's benefits with others. The volunteer orientation was my first clue to how intense the Bikram/non-Bikram divide can be (more about that topic later). That fall, I observed classes and acted as an assistant teacher for some of this non-profit's classes, but I wanted to learn more about teaching and other schools/styles of yoga, so in January 2009, I began a 200 hour yoga teacher training program for a style of Vinyasa Yoga. I graduated at the end of April 2009.

I taught some classes at a neighborhood non-profit yoga studio, but the studio was not doing well--no matter how low the cost of classes, no matter what sort of PR was done, attendance wasn't good. Many a morning, I waited in a cold room (there wasn't money to pay for heat) and did a little practice on my own, all bundled up in tights, sweat pants, an extra sweater, doing a bunch of sun salutations to try to warm up. Then, in the late afternoon, I'd go my Bikram studio and spend 90 minutes in the hot room, wishing I could cool down. Looking for more teaching experience, I signed up to lead exercise classes for the Arthritis Foundation. I was certified to teach their classes in the summer of 2009. I've been teaching AFE classes at a community center's senior program since early August. I also teach a "chair yoga" class at a low-income senior living facility.

I want to learn more about how to make my classes more effective. The seniors that I serve have all sorts of mobility issues and health concerns. Yoga and movement are SO beneficial for them. But I have to stick with gentle, evidence-based practice. Until I learn more, get more training, I'm afraid of teaching things that are too challenging or could lead to injury. On the other hand, without challenges, how do students improve, heal, grow? I'm trying to find a way to integrate more of what I've learned in Bikram yoga into the classes that I teach. I really hope to go to Bikram Yoga teacher training in a year or two, and if money were no object, I'd do other teacher trainings too.

I'm kinda blown away to find how much fun it is to hang out with senior citizens. I'm starting to believe that you just can't help but to become an interesting person by the time you've racked up 7 or 8 or 9 decades of living. My students are amazing people with varied and surprising life experiences. It's an honor to get to know these folks.

I believe strongly in the effectiveness of the Bikram series. I am really interested in the controversy and strong reactions surrounding Bikram and his yoga. I want to write about that stuff in some future posts.

Svadhyaya is one of those Sanskrit words that is translated a zillion different ways. It has more than one meaning, and more than one layer of meanings. But roughly, it means something like self-inquiry, self-observation, or self-study. I am fortunate to already have some excellent teachers and role-models in my life, and I'm grateful for that. Bikram says to focus on yourself in the mirror and to "look into the eyes of your own best teacher." So I am striving to learn from others but also to learn what I already know, to learn what's within me.

Now I have to run if I'm gonna make it to my 4:30 class.