Thursday, February 3, 2011

Forward Thinking: Beyond the 30 Day Challenge

I've decided that I'm going to maintain my blog beyond just the documentation of my 30 day challenge. This is officially my yoga blog. Discovering that Bikram yoga has many more applications in my life outside of just a 30 day challenge I think it is important to continue to document my experiences in this practice. It's always good to see where you've come from and where you are going and I think the same is true for my new found love of Bikram yoga. Since everyday is different, the blog will give me motivation to continue and revisit challenges overcome or breakthrough's achieved. A prime example is my experience with class over the past few days.

There is no doubt this yoga practice is difficult to fit into the schedule every day but it is true that your body craves yoga when you miss even one class. After a day of rest on Sunday, I was excited to get back to class Monday to start of the month of February. Well, unexpectedly I had to cover something at work and couldn't get to class by 4. Tuesday I worked from home due to the "ice storm" that had been forecast but didn't really materialize, so I was determined to get to 4pm class. I left the house feeling like I really really needed yoga for my mental health that day. I arrived at 4:05pm, I could see the class just starting the breathing exercise...sweet just in time! Or so I thought, the door was locked as anyone working the studio had gone into the class. I found out from Megan it was not more than a split second before I got there (she saw walking up through the window) that Insel locked the door and came in. Feeling so in need of class and so upset that I had not made it and now wasted a 2 hour round trip effort to get there...I cried. A lot. So I went home and worked into the night to distract myself from my woes.

Wednesday, no way anything was going to get in the way of yoga. Today was my day. Then I had something that has never happened thus own personal worst yoga class. Maybe I was not mentally prepared or had been too stressed the days before, but I did not have the physical or mental strength for this class once we got started. My body could not seem to regulate its temperature and midway through standing pose I was so hot that the temperature was the only thing I could focus on. My clothes felt like I was standing directly in the sun, offering no relief. I began to wonder if the room was abnormally hot. The instructor, Max, a fairly new teacher was sweating much more than teachers usually do and he made zero adjustments to the thermostat during class...which I always notice the other instructors monitoring. The sounds in class seemed to be of amplified struggle, as if all of our bodies were screaming out "Check the thermostat!!!" Oddly enough, I gathered some unknown strength in triangle pose, but lost it from there. As soon as we hit the floor series I could not take it any longer. I debated walking out of the room, my clothes were on fire and my energy was zapped. How can I make it, I need to leave. Why is this happening? Then I succumbed to my despair and total meltdown, I began to cry laying on my back looking at the ceiling. I kept crying and sat out half of the floor series unable to muster the strength and mental capacity to do what normally comes so easy. Finally, I let the tears dry up and put in a half effort to finish the second half of floor series. There was no real intent or focus in any of my postures. There was no joy in movement, just basic movement...get me through this class and allow me to at least stay in the hot room the full 90 minutes. I noticed though that there was a lopsided number of others in the room struggling as well. Many sitting out posture after posture and one person did get up and leave with only two postures left. I've never felt a collective class energy like this, just biding our time to get to the end. I felt like this class and especially myself were so in need of an instructor that could provide strong words of encouragement, but none came. I never realized how much those encouraging words from more seasoned instructors really made a difference until they did not exist when I needed them most. I don't want to be negative about Max because I think this was a combination of "perfect storm" factors. I have had a class with Max before and it was the complete opposite, although his instruction was the same. Today was just a day that I would have benefited from my favorite cheerleader rather than relying on myself to pull myself together. In the end I finished class but could not believe how awful my performance had been. Surprisingly, I was upbeat after class despite how bad it was. I reminded myself that everyday is different and the next practice can only be better. Still that class was my personal awful!!!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Day 30: Challenge Wrap Up

The last official day of the 30 day challenge I did not actually go to yoga. Having done a double the day before I made up my mind that night that I was not going to try to go to a morning class before picking up Ella Sunday afternoon. So what did I learn in my 30 day Bikram yoga challenge?

I think the biggest realization was that life does not always go as planned, but when that feels like a negative within the moment there really is a positive waiting to be discovered around the corner. My challenge was completely derailed by my illness less than halfway through the 30 days...but in the end I finished strong and even completed a double just to do so for me and not because I was trying to cram in some extra classes to make 30 classes in 30 days. The derailing of the challenge did lend itself to my allowing a more casual approach to the remaining days, if something was not going to work out for childcare or work interrupted, I let it go and did not beat myself up about it. Although I really wanted to in the end say I had completed at least 25 classes, life did not work out that way and I had to be proud and satisfied with what I did accomplish. 15 classes in 30 days with a lengthy bout with bronchitis and a sinus infection, competing priorities as a single mom and a full time working professional...Pretty damn good!

Awesome side benefits of taking on this challenge have been the change in my diet. Most notably, the absence of soda in my daily life. In the last 30 days I can count on less than one hand the number of sodas I have drank. That's right, 4 cokes the entire month. Before starting yoga I had definitely cut back my soda intake (which was at one time 1-2 large cokes per day) to maybe 3 per week, depending on the week. Once I started yoga I was too scared to drink anything caffeinated for fear of not making it through class or getting a killer headache after class from the dehydration. Instead I have become a water drinking machine, throw in a couple vitamin waters and coconut waters (2 of each to be exact) and that was the path. Even on my last day of the challenge, in which I did no yoga, I went to brunch and ordered a water without thinking about it. I don't crave caffeine or soda which is actually very liberating, not to mention what this must be doing to create a healthier body. Funny story, about six months ago Megan gave me a bottle of SmartWater to try. I opened it, took a few sips and done. About a week later she was in my car and noticed the full water bottle. It was a running joke about how little water I drank and how much she always was drinking. On Day 30, Megan got into my car and as I was apologizing for the mess, the first thing she said was "I'm glad to see so many empty water bottles in here!" Indeed, the mess in the front seat area is all empty or close to empty SmartWater bottles! Now the back seat, that's all Ella :) As with the soda, for the most part my daily food intake has also changed. During the work week, I have focused on what will make my body feel good for yoga class, which has been a lot of salad, veggies, fruit and sushi rolls (we have a pretty decent buffet at work). Of course, I probably ate some rice, pasta and a little bit of chicken but primarily as dinner meals after yoga. I think I have done well in this arena but can certainly improve more. I have also noticed I am cooking more despite being tired and having to shower and do laundry almost daily to keep up with the yoga routine.

The emotional element is definitely noteworthy as well. I have definitely experienced a full range of emotion from this 30 day journey. Excitement, happiness, frustration, anger, jealousy, elation, sadness, joy and even the absence of emotion in the calmness of breath. More than anything though, I felt happy. Yoga brought me to a place of happiness even in the midst of great stress. It was a calming force and one that brought so many smiles to my daily life. Tied into the emotional is obviously the mental. This practice has given me greater mental strength to take on the challenges in my life and although I definitely had days where I let the opposite happen, again more often I expanded my mental toughness and pushed through any of the "shit."

The physical results. I really did not focus too much energy on the external physical changes during this challenge. Mainly because although it would be great to immediately shed 20 pounds, I knew it was just not realistic. I set out instead to find out what the practice could do for me in the non physical and would let the physical fall into place from there. I have not seen dramatic shifts in my physical appearance, but there have been some. Maybe a few pounds of weight loss (I really haven't checked the scale since I lost 5 pounds just due to illness), and I definitely lost inches in my thighs and legs. Other than that, I think the changes are too minimal for even me to see on the outside. I imagine in terms of the physical on the inside, I have received great benefits not only from practicing for 90 minutes but also from the restful sleep I have been getting and earlier bedtimes (for the most part--I am a nightowl by habit). Increased flexibility has been by far the most obvious benefit physically. Starting yoga, I could not touch my toes at all and was probably about 4-5 inches away from doing so. Now I touch my toes with ease, with straight legs. Overall, I am less stiff and more flexible to stretch and twist in ways I thought for sure would take me much longer to conquer.

In the end, I have made new goals for my yoga. I have found something that has a way of changing my everyday perspective, allows me to grow physically and mentally, and challenges me every time. It is a place to spend time and connect with my best friends and to make new friends. I am hooked, most definitely. Thus, I am continuing and will challenge myself to see just how many classes I can do in 60 days. I know I am not talking about 60 classes in 60 days, I am just too far behind. However, my goal is to practice at least 4-5 times per week and if I can make it more then I will. I definitely plan to schedule more double days and work hard on my eating habits because I really do want to lose some weight and maybe one day look like those skinny minis, maybe buy a pair of teeny shorts and a teeny top...or two. I feel like yoga helps me to balance all of the moving parts of my life, gives me extra patience with my 4 year old and helps me push through and accept the tough moments. Things are far from idyllic in my life and I certainly breakdown from time to time, but I'll take the bad moments in exchange for all the good any day...same goes with for my yoga practice.

Now I'm going to pat myself on the back for all my hard work and a job well done!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day 29: My First Double!

Saturday was the day of my first double, two classes in one day and back to back as well. The ladies and I had planned to complete the double together, the goal to go to 8am and 10am class. Well as Saturday morning rolled around, the idea of 8am yoga was much less appealing. Texting the girls at 6:30am, I found Elizabeth was sicker than sick and Megan was up for going to 10am and postponing the double for another time. So I headed to 10am class, debating whether I would brave a double solo and go to the noon class to kill time before my hair appointment. I decided to go for it!

Class 1:
Class 1 was taught by Carrie, upbeat and chipper as usual. Starting out in our first breathing exercise, looking in the mirror I noticed that my body has definitely changed in certain areas. A good way to kick things off! Things moved forward well from there in terms of the postures, until we turned to face the side mirrors during our standing series. Suddenly I found myself staring at two of the "skinny mini" girls in teeny tiny yoga costumes. Not an ounce of fat, perfectly toned. That positive feeling about my body at the beginning of class...gone. Replaced by a feeling of defeat and heaviness. More than anything total distraction. Through the three postures facing the mirror I was removed from my practice, doing exactly what they tell us not to do all the time...comparing myself to other people in the room. Instead of comparing my postures to theirs though, I was comparing my appearance. I wondered how long they had been doing yoga and then ran through a few explanations to make myself feel better...these girls are obviously still in their early 20's, with those tiny hips no way they've had kids, and of course they seem very advanced in their yoga practice...certainly not still within the first 30 days of class. I could not wait to get back to the front mirror and then down to the floor poses, please someone remove this negative distraction! Once we did turn around my practice was definitely back on track. Hotter than hot, I was still contemplating whether I would go to the noon class, so tried not to completely overdo it but also did not want to short myself on this class either. The most notable moment of the floor series was in bow pose (see pic). I have struggled with pose since day one, there has to be a trick. I focused on Carrie's instructions, kick, kick, kick higher, relax your shoulders, look higher up at the ceiling. Feeling like I might have finally found the "magic" trick to the pose, I had to peek in the mirror to see exactly how high my feet were coming up over my head and how high my knees were. I was amazed at just how high my feet and knees were, I had indeed started to understand just how to get my body into this posture...awesome! Towards the end of class I was beat, it was so hot! How was I ever going to go right back into this room when all I could think of was getting out into the cool air again???

The Break
In the break between 10 am and noon class, I walked out and officially decided I would do the double. To further solidify the decision, I walked up to Carrie and told her I was going to stay for noon and grabbed a coconut water. I asked who was teaching noon class...Insel! My first class with Insel and it was going to me my double class and there he was smiling at me asking me if I was going to stay for the 4pm class as well! Gotta love Insel. Nevertheless, I was intimidated. Insel's classes I'm told are tough and in high demand because of it. Well, why not have my first double finish out with a class from the owner of the studio himself?! Bravely, I told Megan as well as she was heading out. She wished me luck and told me to be careful too. A quick change into fresh yoga clothes and a fresh water bottle and I was back in the hot room.

Class 2
Starting class two I felt the most focused and connected than I think I ever have. The breathing exercise was fluid but I could feel my legs were shaky and a bit like jello. Oh no, should I have stayed? I tried to focus on making my legs strong again as well. From there, to be honest, class was almost a blur. I couldn't tell if it was just the fact that I was in my second class in a row or if Insel keeps us in the postures a bit longer than the instructors I've become accustomed too. It has to be Insel, maybe I was finally experiencing an "Insel" class...tough and utterly challenging. I pushed in each posture, but was essentially on auto pilot just following the commands of Insel's voice. I could tell my body was so warmed up allowing me to go farther in most postures, like standing bow left foot actually visible over my head in the mirror. I peeked again in the floor bow pose, again pulling my knees and feet higher than ever. My two camel poses felt awesome, backward bending my deepest. In the last few postures Insel kept reminding us "don't leave anything in the tank!" I dug deeper to find that last bit of energy left in my body and at the same time felt a complete sense of accomplishment that I was about to finish my first double.

The After
After class I felt totally expended. I was moving at a snail's pace, showering and dressing to go to my hair appointment. A headache slowly started to creep in, all I wanted to do was go to sleep. Then the headache advil required. My hair appointment was relaxing, much needed as I had about zero energy left and need to recoup some. Although I walked in there a hot mess, I walked out feeling great...but starved! I had yet to eat all day and the fuel from my coconut water and regular water was gone. Off to Megan's for girls night and Thai food. Surprisingly, I did not pass out the second I walked in Megan's door and felt tired but awake until we went to sleep after 11pm. A long, but incredible day!

Day 27 & 28: No Yoga

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day 26: A "Nooner"

As I wrote in my blog last night, I had no intention of going to yoga today. I had planned to have my hair done today and skip yoga to do so. Then the weather intervened. This morning working from home as I had planned, I heard that all the schools were closed due to the sleet/ice/snow mix we had overnight and the snow anticipated later today. Then I got the call from the salon that my appointment needed to be rescheduled, stylist has kids and was at home since the schools were closed. Rescheduled for Saturday. The thought hit me...I should go to noon yoga. I've been working all morning and can still bring Ella to daycare, hit up yoga, and be home before the snow and work the rest of the afternoon and evening from home again. Beautiful! I had to share this with the girls, come to noon yoga and get out of Tyson's Corner early before the storm hits!

Unfortunately, Megan couldn't swing it but I was excited when Elizabeth said she'd come. Then she told me Sywann was teaching, ah this was meant to be. Finally, a positive interference, an unexpected chance to get another class in before the end of the excited was I the whole way to class!? So excited!!

Practice was great. Sywann challenged us to work on our focus today, to maintain stillness between the postures. This is definitely one of the harder things to do. There's always the urge to wipe the sweat, adjust clothes, wiggle, etc. They call your savasanas your body's gas station, the place to recover between postures. The stillness and focus on your breath is what brings that recovery, the calm and the energy to push through whatever is next. I think I did pretty good with Sywann's challenge today, not perfect, but good. I have to say that this definitely helped my practice today.

Sywann said today that in coming to class we are changing ourselves. The idea of self induced change stuck with me. I've written about the daily interferences in life, the best laid plans that go awry, and life's little curve balls. All outside changes in our lives, external forces bringing change upon us that we then respond to in the ways we have learned. The idea of creating change for myself by the simple choice of coming to yoga is empowering. We don't always have to wait to react to the things outside of our control but can also choose to affect change within ourselves when we see fit. Over the last few years I've been reminded by others and also remind others myself that we can only control the things we can control and the rest we cannot worry ourselves sick over. What Sywann said was really an extension of that concept. I can control what change I want to make in my body to the extent that I show up for yoga class, from there my body will choose to respond in whatever way it wants, but change will occur. Self change, self control and the courage to find 90 minutes in a day to choose to be selfish and do something for yourself. That is the empowerment of this yoga for me.

I definitely enjoyed my "nooner" today!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day 25: Interference

Being that my challenge was basically shot after my lengthy illness, I noticed that I am less inclined to make alternative arrangements to ensure I make it to class. I still want to finish strong and plan on doing a double this weekend, but when I knew I had a work training that would prevent me from making 4pm class today I didn't want to inconvenience anyone else trying to coordinate a babysitter for Ella so that I could go to 6pm. If I had felt like I wasn't asking a favor of someone to do so I definitely would have been at 6pm, especially knowing that tomorrow I have chosen to get my hair done rather than make 4pm class. So I have elected to take today and tomorrow off and return to yoga on Thursday.

Tonight I counted my total classes over the past 25 days, disheartening. 12 classes, that's it. What I am trying to keep sight of is that I will still get another 4-6 classes in before the end of the month, bringing me to a grand total of 16-18 classes in 30 days...with a bout of bronchitis in the middle. That sounds a little better. Challenges are tough for a reason, if it was easy it wouldn't be called a "challenge." There is absolutely a million various interferences that can come up in our daily lives. I think as long as I keep sight of my overall goal: continued yoga practice at least 4 times per week, the lifestyle change and acknowledging my accomplishment and the health benefits...the total numbers for this challenge become less significant. What does provide meaning in my life is the experience of this challenge and how each practice has had practical application in my life outside of the hot room. Keep up the good work Lex (self-encouragement is a good thing) :)

Day 24: Nothing to Fear Except Fear Itself

Back on the mat Monday at 4pm with both my ladies at the same class. Feeling some slight improvement in my health but antibiotics have not exactly been the immediate fix I had expected. Class with Sywann is always great, she is so calming with the even tone of her voice. Practice was one smooth flow of postures after another and my focus was strong. I did slightly allow my focus to shift for a moment when I noticed Elizabeth kicking butt next to me in her standing head to knee pose...I got so excited I wanted to give her a high five right then and there...yeah I saw you locking out both knees. Seeing my friend getting into her practice is simply extra motivation for me. I think I smiled the entire practice, whether it was because of my awesome yogini friend next to me or the comments Sywann was making in class...I felt happy throughout class.

A few notes on my own practice. At the start I could feel the tightness of my body from the three day gap since my last class. My lower back was especially tight and I immediately felt it in half-moon pose. I couldn't wait to get warmed up and loosen up my body. I don't think I noticed the heat much at all today, those are the best days of all! Once I warmed up it was on in the standing series. I finally reached the outside of my feet in Standing Separate Leg stretching pose and then my favorite breakthrough in class...I actually made it into a Toe Stand! It was great to finally feel the stretch of that pose and also understand the difficulty of the balance once fully into it. My floor series also went well with those subtle improvements noticeable only to me.

What I've found with myself is that once I have a "breakthrough" in a posture, the next time I go to class I go right back to the farthest point I have made it to thus far. Once I get past my fear or doubt about my ability to go to certain points in each posture, I realize that I can immediately go there next round. I think much of the improvement I've made has had a lot to do with overcoming those self made obstacles. This is oh so true in life as well. It is easy for me to let self doubt or my own obstacles, usually a result of fear, to get in the way of living at my fullest ability. Facing fear is one of the harder things to do, but overcoming it is usually easier than expected and the results more rewarding than continuing to hold back. If only I could always remember this and apply it across the board in my life...something to work on I suppose.