Archive for January 2008

30-Day Bikram Yoga Challenge – Day 11

January 31, 2008

Wednesday January 30, 2008 – Day 11; Class 12

5:30 p.m. I couldn’t wait to get in the hot room tonight. I have been coming down with a head cold – one of those annoying, long-lasting, congested colds that always lingers for longer than it should. I had had a chill all day, so the heat of the yoga studio definitely was comforting. Right when we began the first breating exercising – six seconds in through the nose and six seconds out through the mouth – I thought I might have a problem. Breathing out through the mouth felt as normal as always, but in through the nose, well, my nose was pretty clogged. I did my best, and then realized if I’m not breathing as deeply as I would be on “healthy” days, that I should just honor that feeling and go with it. I’ve come to appreciate how each day of Bikram Yoga is very different, even though we do the same 26 postures every class.

Despite the head cold, I felt my flexibility increasing; today was definitely a turning point for improvements in my flexibility. In fixed firm pose, my butt touched the ground almost effortlessly when I sat down. My knees were closer together than they ever have been, although not completely touching. When I got fully into the posture, I felt so relaxed, and the stretch down my quads, into my knees and extending to my ankles and feet was incredibly rewarding. It took me about six months to even get my butt to touch the ground since I began practicing, so to sit down so easily with my knees close together – I was thrilled!

This entire class felt very positive. The room – crowded but not packed – had a great energy about it. When I was driving home my body was tired but my mind felt very awake. I had a strange feeling of just wanting to practice again. I wished I was driving to class, rather than home from class. I asked myself if I had enough energy to complete another 90-minute series and honestly answered myself “yes.” Too bad I had to wait 14 hours until class the next morning…

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30-Day Bikram Yoga Challenge – Day 10

January 29, 2008

Tuesday January 29, 2008 – Day 10; Class 11

6:30 a.m. Waking up for these early morning classes is basically challenge-free at this point. I know that I’m unable to go to the evening class today, so there was virtually no discussion with myself (should I go, shouldn’t I go) due to the 30-Day Challenge. I’ve come to appreciate practing in the morning despite the extra tightness and a bit of grogginess in the first breathing exercise, for the feeling I have after class and throughout the day is invaluable.

The biggest challenge this morning was the temperature of the room. When compared to last night, it felt like an ice box. After class, my shorts and sports bra were not even drenched (and yes, normally they are). I was still able to complete all of the postures, but I had trouble getting some deep stretches, especially on the final few postures.

In regards to the postures as a whole and any physicaly improvement I have felt, there have been some notable changes throughout the past 10 days. For one, I am able to put my forehead on the ground first, before my pinkies touch the floor, in tortoise pose. I feel my hips staying down on my heels as well so I really feel great spine lengthening. Also, I attempt toe stand in the second set of tree pose every class now. While I have been unable to get both hands into prayer and balance consistently, I feel myself growing taller and my spine straightening more and more every class. Oftentimes the tips of my middle fingers still graze the floor, but I have been working to balance with my hands in prayer. The past few classes I also have been balancing consistently with my forehead on my knee in standing head to knee pose. Before the 30-Day Challenge, if I was able to balance here it was more sporadic, and more often than not I would fall out of the pose before the time was up. Physicaly improvements should be expected for practice this often!

After 10 days of this challege I feel amazing, especially outside of class. I just feel happy. Peaceful. Light, and not in a weight realted sense, more in a smooth, effortless, peaceful way. If I don’t practice in the morning, I find myself craving to get back into that hot room hours before class starts. I hope to maintain this enthusiasm and energy throughout the next 20 days.

30-Day Bikram Yoga Challenge – Day 9

January 29, 2008

Monday January 28, 2008 – Day 9; Class 10

5:30 p.m. I am almost certain that this class was one of the hottest of the 30-Day Challenge. The room was packed with three full rows; even when I thought another body would not fit in the studio, Kelly managed to squeeze three more in. I was able to arrive early and secured a spot in the front right corner of the room. I love a big class. The energy among yogis is contagious, and although each person works individually, we are all performing the same postures. In the first set of half moon pose, I saw the beauty of a large class. In my peripheral vision, right at the beginning of the posture when Kelly told us to bend left and right to loosen up, I noticed every person in that room swaying ever so gracefully as if we were a large school of sea horses moving harmoniously.

Usually when the floor series begins the room starts to cool down a bit. Not this class. The room felt to have stayed above 100 Degrees F throughout the entire 90 minutes. I prefer this better than it cooling down too much. Even if a cooler temperature momentarily provides a bit of relief, I find that the workout is not nearly as challenging. My cardiovascular system doesn’t feel like it works as hard as when the room is swealtering, and I of course cannot stretch with such ease. The heat’s power amazes me when I consider the effect it has on my performance.

30-Day Bikram Yoga Challenge – Day 8

January 28, 2008

Sunday January 27, 2008 – Day 8; Class 9

9:30 a.m. What an improvement from yesterday! On this surprisingly snowy Sunday morning I felt strong, flexible, and balanced. I tried to keep my mindset into today’s class – and only today’s class. Looking back on the past months I have been practicing Bikram Yoga, I know that I have had “better” classes than today; however, I felt that I was able to keep my mind in today’s class, focusing on my body today and how far I could push it today.

What constitutes a “better” class, anyway? My first reaction is to answer that a physically beautiful, improved, elegant practice on any given day is a success. If I can pull a little deeper, kick a little further, stretch a little longer than I did the class before, well, than that would just be “better.” But would it? Even if the form was flawless, the physical aspects of yoga cannot solely determine the level or improvement of one’s practice. In her book Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert talks about feeling the presence of God after she has been meditating in India for several months. Her mind, meditation, and determination takes her to this place, and she knows that in those precious moments she felt God. This feeling Gilbert experienced took extreme mental concentration, one of the very things we practice in every Bikram Yoga class. Afterall, savasana is not meant for a snooze but rather deep focus, concentration, meditation, and not letting the mind drift. Whether one hopes her Bikram Yoga meditation takes her to the place of feeling God or a spiritual being is completely left up to that individual, but I believe that one class, or even one’s posture within that class, is not necessarily “better” even if it is more aesthetically pleasing. Not only do the best classes come when the mind and body is working together as one, but also when the mind and body is working together as one in that present state, with no comparison to any other day of practice. When I find myself comparing a pose to the same pose in a previous class, often negativity creeps into my thoughts: It wasn’t as good as last time; Last class I kicked higher; A week ago I locked out my legs. All of these thoughts take away from the present meditation and therefore disconnect the mind from the body. What I appreciated about class today is that I practiced with the body I had in that very 90 minutes. Not yesterday’s body. Not 30-Day Challenge Day 1’s body. Not a week ago’s body. After class, I realized that on other days I may have been physically stronger, more sound; however, maybe the best classes are the ones where we forget about yesterday and focus only on today.

30-Day Bikram Yoga Challenge – Day 7

January 26, 2008

Saturday January 26, 2008 – Day 7; Class 8

9:30 a.m. Do not drink alcohol the night before a Bikram class. I repeat: Do NOT drink alcohol the night before a Bikram class. This morning rivals my first ever Bikram Yoga experience in Ithaca, New York as the worst practice I have ever had. Now that I think about it, today actually takes the cake as my most unsuccessful Bikram Yoga class. At least when I first began practicing, I was engaged, focused, for the most part pain free, and certainly sans hangover. Last night I worked late and went out for a few drinks with some co-workers; voda cranberries, aka “cape-codders” were my poison of choice. I’m simply amazed at the effects that two, yes, two cocktails had on my practice this morning. Everytime I leaned my head back I felt as though I would vomit, and I had to leave the room to re-fill my water bottle before the standing series was finished because I felt so dehydrated. The strange part of this whole feeling was that if I chose to skip a posture, for example, part of standing head to knee pose, I actually felt worse and more nauseaus than when I performed the pose. I skipped the first set of standing head to knee thinking that would make me feel better and when it didn’t, I reasoned that I may as well give it a shot in the second set. To my surprise, my nausea subsided and I was able to balance with my head on my left knee. Amazing! In the next pose – standing bow pulling – I held it for the entire time…both sets! By no means am I saying I felt great through every posture; camel pose I could barely hold for two seconds and toe stand pushed me out of the room to rehydrate.

After leaving class, I felt filled with guilt and stupidity for my actions the previous night. When I expressed this concern to one of my instructors she said, “at least you got here!” And that’s true. I firmly believe that focusing on the negatives will stunt improvement in this practice tremedously, giving way to doubt, hesitation, and insecurity. I got myself to class. I sweated out all that alcohol. I completed Day 7 of my 30 Day Challenge. I’m focusing on the positives and letting everything else melt away for the next 23 days.

30-Day Bikram Yoga Challenge – Day 6

January 25, 2008

Friday January 25, 2008 – Day 6; Class 7

9:15 a.m. At the beginning of every class, the instructors at Yoga Crossing tell us that the one mandatory part of the practice is to breathe. Since breathing is something we do without even trying, without even thinking about it, I just assumed I would continue to breathe regularly in my Bikram classes. This, however, is not always the case. A few days ago in class, I was in the middle of camel pose – the deepest backbend we do in the entire series of postures – and I had to come out of it early due to extreme dizziness and a bit of nausea. I didn’t know what was wrong with me; sometimes I can stay in camel almost effortlessly for the entire time while other days, like this particular class, I have to come out of it before the time is up. As if knowing exactly what I was doing incorrectly, my instructor told us to remember to breathe through any discomfort throughout the posture, and that by breathing we enable ourselves to perform camel pose fully. Then it hit me – I hadn’t been inhaling or exhaling. In the second set I made sure to concentrate on breathing, just taking “small sips of air,” as the instructors tell us. Making sure I breathe is strange, for I never have had to focus on that when running, talking, eating…even sleeping. It came as no surprise that I had been forgetting to breathe in the previous camel pose when I stayed in the second set until the instructor told us to come up. Breathing allowed me to challenge myself and push my hips further forward to feel a deeper backbend as well. 

During today’s 9:15 a.m. Bikram class, I paid close attention to which postures felt more difficult – and why. Was I simply inflexible? Sore? Tight? Or was I not breathing, letting my mind wander, or worst of all: letting my mind wander while holding my breath. I made sure to breathe during camel, and with little difficulty stayed in the pose for the whole time. (Breathing really is such a powerful tool!) Despite the satisfying camel pose, the class as a whole was somewhat mediocre for me. I felt tired from the previous six classes over the past five days, and while I improved in some postures it just wasn’t a stellar 90 minutes. Classes like these happen, at least for me. Rather than discouraging me, they make me want to come back to tomorrow and have an absolutely fantastic, connected, flexible, strong practice to shake off the mediocrity of today.

 

30-Day Bikram Yoga Challenge – Day 5

January 24, 2008

Thursday January 24, 2008 – Day 5; Class 6

6:30 a.m. Waking up early is becoming easier and easier for me. Getting to at least one yoga class per day is a must, so I don’t have the typical internal battle with myself about getting out of bed in the morning. I set my alarm clock to ring five minutes before I have to get up, it rings, I let it snooze once (five minutes), and after it rings for the second time I am awake and out of bed. The most challenging aspect of the early morning yoga classes is to get my mind and my body to wake up. Throughout the warm up, I physically feel stiff, tight, inflexible – all the things one feels after just waking up. Because I am feeling this way – stiff, tight, inflexible – I have trouble waking up my mind as well. At the beginning of today’s class, my mind was focusing on how tired my body felt rather than concentrating on each posture and honoring that every day’s practice is different. After a disappointing standing head to knee pose (I couldn’t balance my head on my knee for more than a millisecond) I felt as through the next posture – standing bow pulling pose – would be a turning point in the class. I looked at myself in the mirror and made a silent promise to focus every particle of my mind into the posture. The particular pose is the last 60 second posture of the class and takes tremendous mental toughness to maintain throughout the entire 60 seconds. I doubt that my kicking leg went as high as it did yesterday, but I balanced through about 45 seconds on the first set. The final 10 seconds or so felt great, and almost instantly I felt my mindset change. I got to class and I was practicing, so I may as well make the most of it. Through the second half of class my mind was more in tune with what my body was doing. I doubt I was as flexible as yesterday, but if we improved every single day, getting better and better, more flexible and less sore, where would the challenge be?

Today the mental toughness and determination of sports and physical activity was so aparent. Our bodies will do amazing things if our minds tell them to, yet we can prohibit our bodies from accomplishing athletic achievement if we don’t believe we can. I’ve noticed a great need for mental strength in the sport of running, and in the same way that a runner needs to push herself to maintain pace, catch the competitor a few strides in front of her, and finish the race strong, yogis depend on a strong mind to push their bodies through practice. Without the mind, I would not be able to balance, and I would be scared to test my flexibility. The key is to push just hard enough so that my body feels the posture, but not so hard that an injury occurs. What a delicate balance!