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!