The Pose You Hate is Probably the One You Need

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Tools for class

The pose you hate is probably the one you need. This is also true for entire classes. I had to make up a third chakra-focused class because I had to miss that day in my yoga teacher training program last month. I was…well, let’s just say I wasn’t looking forward to it, because third chakra means abs. Lots and lots of ab work. The third chakra, located roughly around the belly button/solar plexus is where the energy of will and decision comes from, so in order to help balance that area it’s best to do ab exercises that target that area of the body. This means a lot of plank, a lot of side plank, and many many bridges.

So yeah…I wasn’t looking forward to it, but it had to be done, so I fired up YogaGlo on my phone, mirrored it to my tv, spread out my mat and got down to business. I’ll start by saying the things I didn’t like and get them out of the way. The class was taught by Jo Tastula, who did not make me a fan by the end of class. Tastula’s cuing left something to be desired- she often did not cleanly move people from pose to pose, rarely offered modifications, and the pace was highly irregular in such a way that it was disorienting. I know that I’m probably pickier because I’m in the midst of my teacher training program, but it was a tough class to follow and I plan to use it as an example of what *not* to do.

Now to be fair, this was a Level 2 class, so I understand that the cuing might be a little brief because you only get to Level 2 if you’ve been doing yoga for quite some time and already know the poses. I still think you should still provide modifications, but that’s just me. Tastula was very strong in her conveying the focus of the class, connecting the poses to the third chakra, and providing ample time at the start and end of class in savasana for centering and some breath work. I found it interesting that she included kapalabhati breathing during some poses, as well as lion’s breath, and it was a novel tactic for me.

I find side plank extremely difficult. Plank is also not my friend, as my shoulders, elbows, and wrists are weak (though improving!). This class was hard for me, and I know that at least part of my ire above is because of being baldly faced with my own weaknesses and faults. This is ultimately when the yoga really starts. This class forced me to look at my weaknesses and see them as they are- parts of me that I need to accept and recognize that they are parts of me TODAY. I can get stronger and I am working toward that, but today it is all about working to the edge and being comfortable with that. As much as I would love to avoid plank and side plank, I’ll never get better if I just continue to avoid it, no matter how much I hate plank.

And ultimately, I really don’t hate the poses, I hate how the poses makes me feel weak and incapable. By the time I was done with the class today and lying in savasana, I had finally gotten around to all of this. It’s ok to not be perfect, but it’s not ok to avoid what’s hard because it’s hard. The hard place is where the best work happens. The hard place is where you need to be. It’s where the best parts of you are formed.
~Namaste

Doing a Whole30, Channeling Saucha

The Hubs and I had to go grocery shopping today- something you do a lot of when you are doing a Whole30. We had both decided around the holidays that we really needed to change our eating habits. We had both put on a ton of weight, were super unhappy with how our bodies felt and looked, but also recognized that our skin and our sleep habits would probably improve if we got our shit together and started eating better.

Since we’re all-or-nothing kind of people, we decided to start a Whole30 eating program (with the rest of the world) on January 1st. New year, new us. It was a tough sell at first to The Hubs. He’d have to give up beer for the month and bread, and those are two staples of his diet. I would desperately miss my glass of wine at night and cheese…and sugar…and everything else (legumes, dairy, added sugar of any sort, grains, and alcohol are all off limits for the month), but if not now, when?

One of the Niyamas in yoga is Saucha, which roughly translates to purity. Purity can mean a lot of things, but I definitely think it applies to your body and how you treat it. All of those glasses of wine and nachos are not exactly what I would call “purifying” for the body, so it was about time I took this Niyama more seriously and worked on purifying this ol’ vessel of mine!

The first week was freaking HARD. You feel terrible, all you can think about is food, and planning food, and all of the food you can’t have, and on and on into infinity. You’re cranky because you’re depriving yourself of your easy, normal foods, and your body is going through detox/withdrawal from all of things you’ve unknowingly (or knowingly) become addicted to over the years: sugar, alcohol, carbs, etc. Your body is fighting you tooth and nail and using cravings, headaches, irritability, and upset stomach to try to get you to come back to the dark side and eat those candy bars taunting you at the checkout line.

Once you get through that first week, things do start to slowly get better. The headaches go away for the most part, the cravings start to dull, and the GI issues abate. You’re feeling less like hell and much more human and sociable. If The Hubs and I hadn’t done it together, I couldn’t have done it on my own. At least we could be miserable together through the first week.

We did have to make some adjustments for The Hubs’ eating. He’s a truck driver for his day job, so he needs to be able to eat on the road. We lifted the ban on bread, legumes and sugar just for his lunch meal so he could have a PB&J for lunch, and not make a mess of his truck in the process of eating it (unlike the tuna salad wraps I made him the first day…sorry, honey). He also had four beers over the course of our Whole30 (thus far, but we only have two days left, so I think it’s fair to say that). He only had it on the weekends and it was his treat for being good during the week. You’ve gotta start somewhere, so I was not going to be a brat about it.

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Grocery shopping on the Whole30: you spend a lot of time in the produce section!

We are finally on Day 28. It feels good! We both feel good and we both can’t believe how much our lives have improved since starting this. Overall sleep is better, skin is better, hair is better, mood is more stable. We are much more aware of what we eat, and we don’t snack as often. We also both cheated and weighed ourselves and lost significant amounts (me, 7lbs; The Hubs, 15…damn male metabolism and muscle mass!). We feel so good and are so happy with the results that we plan to maintain this way of eating going forward, with small additions of pasta once a week and not making every single thing free of added sugar (which is amazingly hard to do!).

If you need to change your relationship with food, I highly recommend this eating plan. It’s only a month, so it’s something you can get your head around and commit to. It really helps you break from the foods you’ve been using as a crutch. I am an emotional and boredom eater. After going on this plan, I no longer feed my feelings or my periods of boredom with food. My meals are more filling so I am not hungry all the time and that also cuts down on all those extra calories from your between meal snacks.

I’m not saying it wasn’t hard, but is anything really worth it easily had? If purity was so easy, then everyone would have perfectly pure eating habits. The Niyamas are things to aspire to, and I think the Whole30 can help your aspirations toward a little more Saucha in your life.

~Namaste

Today: Bikram Class

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Bentley trying out my hot yoga towel

I remember the first time I went to a Bikram class. I hated everything about it. It was so damn HOT. There were too many people in the room. I was sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat. It was a free class over Thanksgiving, so the room was maxed out and we were literally mat-to-mat, three rows spanning the entire room. The teacher never stopped talking and he never left the podium. The entire experience felt oppressive. I swore I would never go back again.

Two years later in June, I was doing a dietbet and needed I change from the exercise programs I had been doing. Our local Bikram studio has a new student deal (30 days unlimited classes for $30) and I figured it was time to give it a chance, especially since the one and only time I had gone before it was a free class that was sure to have more students in it than normal.

So I tried it again. It was so HOT and it was so HARD, but the feeling I had afterward got me hooked. Now’s it January and I’m still going. My job sometimes keeps me from making it to the studio as often as I would like, but I try to go at least once a week at the absolute minimum.

Today’s class had me in the front right corner of the room- the very hottest spot with the way the air flows through the room. I hadn’t been to Bikram in two weeks, so I knew it would be a little tough. Bikram is one of those activities that proves the rule that the more you go, the easier it feels- particularly with the heat. You don’t serve yourself well in Bikram if you have overly aggressive modesty when it comes to showing skin. The tinier the shorts and tank top (or just sports bra for the ladies), the easier it is to combat the heat in the room. No one cares if you haven’t shaved your legs in two weeks, or if your belly is not as flat as you would like after having children, or if you’re covered in moles. No one is paying attention to you. Bikram only has mirrors in the front of the room so you can focus on yourself and your form. This practice gives you 90 minutes of complete and total “Me Time.”

The oppressive heat combined with the same set of postures every class almost forces you to go inward. You are so focused on your breath and getting into the pose that it becomes solely about your own body- you can’t focus on anyone else or judge yourself against another because you are in survival mode! Today’s class was a bit like that for me. I had a laser focus on my own body, breath, and heart rate. The sweat is so cleansing to the soul, at least it is to my soul. After class is done and I’m lying in final savasana, I feel sweetly wrung out and connected with my inner self, awed at what I am capable of. They say you never feel more alive than when you are close to dying, and I think that’s a bit extreme a comparison to Bikram, but there is a nugget of truth for this situation. You’re not dying, but you are definitely pushing yourself in a way outside of your norm and that’s GOOD sometimes. We so often sit in our desk chairs at work and let our bodies and minds simply ease along. Bikram takes you out of that and says, “Wake the fuck up! It’s fucking hot in here!”

Sure, there are some things I find problematic about Bikram yoga: the leader/founder of the style has an extremely skewed moral compass that I don’t agree with and is currently running from the law (I’m not joking); I’m not sure how I feel about locking your knee in certain poses (as a student of Vinyasa we are typically told NOT to lock the knee in poses); and there are often few adjustments provided by the teacher.

BUT, the benefits far outweigh the problematic aspects for me. I feel amazing after class. I’ve lost weight, gotten more toned, my anxiety has eased with consistent practice, and most importantly, my lower back doesn’t hurt anymore- something Vinyasa alone has never been able to do for me. I also love the studio I go to. The teachers are fantastic and friendly- they’ve worked to build an incredible community of practitioners.

I still practice Vinyasa and I am training to teach Vinyasa, as Bikram came into my life later and I’m not sure I can commit to the 500-hour at-a-shot training compared to my 200-hour weekend-module training. I highly recommend you give Bikram a try if you haven’t before. It has been amazing addition to my yoga practice and could be good for you too. As always, trust your intuition to keep you safe in ANY yoga class.

~Namaste