Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day 35: Inspiration

First watch this all the way through (seriously, the two final poses will blow your mind):

Joseph Encinia, international yoga champion for 2011.

Amazing, right?

Now, read this:

Born and raised here in Dallas, TX. I started practicing Bikram Yoga in May 2005. Bikram Yoga is one the best things I have ever done for myself. It has truly changed my life. Mentally, it has given me more peace with myself and the world around me; physically, it has taught me my body could do things I never dreamed it could do.

I haven't always been very healthy; now, in large part due to Bikram Yoga, I am in the best shape I have ever been. Diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis at a young age (which affected the majority of the left side of my body), I spent years in and out of Scottish Rite and Children's Hospital trying to rehabilitate and strengthen my joints and muscles. After a major knee surgery, I taught myself how to deal with the discomfort and move on. As a result, my physical activities were limited and I was consistently taking pain medication. Then, at the age of thirteen, quite unexpectedly, I had a heart attack. I was not the only one surprised--family and friends were caught off guard as well. The causes are unknown, but most likely hereditary; regardless, it made a tremendous impact, and I've explored many forms of exercise since to regain control of my health.

One day I decided to explore forms of exercise to regain control of my health. After a long journey, I discovered Bikram Yoga. I simply expected a physical workout. I found much more than that. I have transformed. I no longer suffer constant pain. I've lost weight and developed lean muscle mass. I can contort my body into positions I never thought possible. I have gained a peace of mind I previously never knew existed. I have transcended many limitations within myself – mentally, physically and emotionally. I am accomplishing things I once thought impossible.

I've learned to accept responsibility for making changes in my life. Bikram Yoga has taught me to look at challenges in front of me, smile and meet them head on. I have learned to focus on the tasks at hand and live in peace with myself and the world around me. To me this is the gift of yoga. The gift which I have the responsibility to share for the rest of my life.

(From Encinia's Facebook bio)

Certainly keeps me going.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 34: Balancing

Let's go back to Mary Jarvis, shall we?

" Day 31-60, we start to get into the emotional “stuff”.  As in the first 30 days, where we readjust the entire physical body, the next 30 days we readjust the entire emotional body while simultaneously regenerating and rebuilding every single cell in the body.  We also begin to get into some serious realignment of the spine and the entire central nervous system.  These next 30 days, you really begin to feel mentally fatigued, even in spite of the fact that you physically feel better than you ever have in your entire life!!!!  This is the emotional readjustment." (click here for more/great info)

In short, yes.

My body feels awesome right now. I'm working deeper into the poses and starting to balance out my spine a lot. I used to have no problem back bending but tons of issues with any forward bend. Forward bending is improving immensely (which in turn really helps my back bending). Knees are starting to lock out stronger. It's great.

But my mind feels like I'm two years old again. I actually have a desire to start thrashing around and crying and screaming. Today's class was fine physically, but my mind was all over the place. It improved over time (turns out the end of "Hey, Jude" is a great mind filler. Just the na-na-na part. It's awesome) but still a struggle. It's not that I'm even frustrated about anything. I'm just pissed off.

Trying to remember to listen to the voice that says yes from now on. Should be an interesting 26 days!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Day 30: Halfway There

Woo halfway point!

I took my sister for her first class today! Bought her first ten days as a birthday present (because, yes, I'm that person. I will buy you yoga classes as birthday presents and will also probably send you "This really interesting article in The New Yorker/Huffington Post/The Nation about the Freedom Riders/movies/immigration reform that I found so illuminating and thought you might like.") As she put it, "Well, I definitely thought I was going to throw up at least twice." Slowly, though, it was fun to watch her feel better. We were getting lunch after class when she just walked over with a big smile to tell me, "I feel so good right now!"

Gonna drag her back for 10 days, make sure she gives it a fair shot. I felt guilty, though. I gave her the rundown of all the rules and what to expect and what not to eat, but I did sort of forget to mention that, yes, this is actually really hard. I looked over at the beginning of class, and she definitely looked a little shell shocked. I think she knew, and I knew she knew, but it hits you hard first class. Some of the postures are just uncomfortable.

But she hung in there and did great. I was happy. I would feel terrible if I sent my sister screaming from the room.

30 down, 30 to go. I feel very strong right now, very content. I really wanted to make 30 in 30, and I have. Now, onto the next challenge, but it's also a celebration to me. We'll see what happens!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Day 27: The Day Off

I did a double yesterday because today's work schedule was weird and, as much as I love yoga class, it's been great to have a day off. I have bruises on the front of my hips from full locust. My back is sort of knotted and weird in general. Usually, it feels all right once I get started in class and moving around, but especially yesterday felt kinda gnarly and tight.

So, am I getting stronger and tighter or just tighter? I like to think it's stronger. It's weird to think that I'm reaching the halfway point. Sometimes it's hard to wrap my head around the fact that I'm going to keep doing this, that it's not all over after 60 days. I guess I'm just really used to short term thinking. Kind of nice to have something that's long term, something I'll keep doing probably until something stops me.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Day 25: Logistics

Getting my work schedule is always such a pain in the ass moment because it means scheduling classes around those times. With this week, it looks like I'll be pulling a few doubles to make sure I at least make it to 30 in 30. That's the goal. 60 in 60 is the challenge.

The great thing, though, is that now that it's as hot outside as it is in a bikram studio, I'm not nearly as annoyed as others! It feels great, actually. In general, I really do. I'm still sort of falling over...all the time...but it's a lot easier to take. Which is a start.

Even though I still have a long time to figure it out, I do think I'll go to teacher training. I don't know if I believe there's a path, but if I did, I would say that TT is on it. That'll be a whole nother annoying blog!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Day 23: Teacher Training

I've been giving it a lot of though recently, vacillating between, "Absolutely, sign me up" to "Only the truly insane would even consider it."

Technically, it's all moot anyway because I have to finish NYU first. But then what? Teaching yoga to me wouldn't be any kind of fall back as much as a parallel type deal. It's something I love, something I want to share, something I want to do. It's also a job with relatively flexible hours and the ability to work almost anywhere in the world.

Millions of questions, not a lot of answers. And, I guess there's still a big part of me that feels, "You can only do one, and you must choose." Which I don't think is entirely true but it feels that way.

Essentially, as most of you know, I'm a neurotic mess.

But, onto the teacher training. It would be incredible to have 9 weeks devoted to yoga, provided that I can survive them. The tent apparently reaches temperatures close to 120 and above. Two classes a day, 6 days a week, late nights and early mornings. but we're always physical. Also, it's pretty expensive (though not nearly what a semester at NYU is)

Two halves of my brain. One's convinced I'll go at the first opportunity and the other thinks I'll never make it. Only time will tell.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Day 22: Heat Wave

Technically, the room is always the same temperature. But, reading other blogs and in my own limited experience, the room changes just like the practice does. Today was one of those, "Oh my GOD I'm being burned alive type mornings."

Humidity outside+temp outside+temp inside+humidity inside=one hot class

Walking out of there, the word that came to mind was crucible. (So that I don't sound like a total douche, I've had to read/discuss that play so many times, usually resulting in an argument with a good friend of mine about a random exchange, and the meaning of the title comes up at least once. No, I don't walk around all day going, "I hope I can use the word 'crucible' today.") Always taking issue with the words "Torture Chamber," I like it when new terms occur. I think crucible was pretty apt for this morning. My body felt so heated that it washed away and melted some of the bullshit, opened up a new plane. I walked out of the room and felt sort of dazed, but also really excellent.

Yoga almost always brings stress relief, but this was something different. It felt very precious. I didn't want it to stop. Whatever the case may be, the rest of my day proceeded very positively, and I'd like to believe that yoga had something to do with it.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Day 21: Killing Yourself

I've been reading both of Bikram's books today and finally reached the passage about "killing yourself," or breaking down the surface "self" to get to the "Self." I like the idea. Mostly because of what's been happening the past few days. A lot of really rough classes followed by two really wonderful experiences yesterday.  Felt very secure in a lot of the postures and locked my knee long enough to actually try kicking forward.

Who knows? Maybe I'm on to something, or not. I've enjoyed not worrying so much.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Day 20: Middle of a Double Day

Doing two classes today, just because I don't think I can make it in tomorrow with my work schedule/taking a day away from things might feel nice.

This morning's class was really wonderful. Lots of new people, lots of people PERIOD, and just a good energy in the room. I was in front of a couple who were both 63 and practicing for the first time. Fucking awesome. And, for the first time in a good week or so, I actually felt like I was on solid footing. I still wobbled and weebled, but it wasn't a total train wreck (see: every other day this week). Standing Bow especially felt really great. Not the pose itself, but what happened after. Also, I did both sets of Rabbit for the first time ever.

Rabbit is supposed to be the post-Camel reward. After the most intense backbend in class, you drop into the most forward bend, filling your body with all sorts of warm feelings. For whatever reason, Camel has always been pretty OK by me. But Rabbit literally causes spasms of fear and confusion. I nearly always pop out of it because I just get too flustered. So, both sets for the first time is a big deal for me. And, I gotta say, it felt fantastic. Whole back side of my body was warm and open.

Headed into class two in a few hours. It may be great, it may be terrible, I've stopped worrying about it. I also got a note from a friend that says she's embarked on her own 30-day yoga challenge, which just makes me so happy. Thank you, Clara, if you're reading this. It helps me get back to class this afternoon.

Let's do this

Friday, July 15, 2011

Day 19: Zig Zag

I'm grateful that a teacher warned me that the 60 day challenge wouldn't all be joy and skipping through roses and feeling great. Cause I have had a shitty last few days. Classes have just felt weird, I'm sort of irritable and annoyed a lot of the time, and though I see growth, I think I'm expecting too much of myself (or something).

So, it's a journey, a good long journey and all that. But it's definitely not linear. I'm holding out faith/hope that things will turn around soon, and remembering the rough patches have to happen.

Day 18: Quick

Not a long post. Started a second job on Monday, so some full days ahead and behind me. But, it's going well.

Better class today than yesterday. Maybe it really is a sort of break down before a build up. In any case, I felt encouraged after feeling so shitty yesterday.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day 17: One of Those Classes

It was a yoga truck kind of day. I just ended up laying there for a the whole camel set and some other poses. I feel better now, but I think I came into the class with a lot of shit dragging behind me, so that definitely didn't help.

True facts though: there was actually a moment where I heard this like mother voice in my head go, "But, you LOVE camel! Just try it!" I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it's a thing, right?

Just gotta keep going, I think. It's only the beginning of a lifelong journey, after all!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Day 16: Break It Down

Today, I feel exhausted, sore, and tight. Hopefully, this is a sign of something dying for something else to reborn.

Otherwise, I'm just being bitchy for no reason (as is my usual state).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Day 15: Stretching the Body, Inside Out, Bones to Skin

According to Mary Jarvis, first 30 days are exclusively changes to the physical body.

At the half way point, I agree with her completely.

What I love, though, is that I don't necessarily feel "more flexible" or "more skilled" then when I started. Actually, some muscles are tighter. Some poses are harder. Some are easier. Par example:
  • Sometimes, for some fractions of seconds, my knee is actually locked in standing head to knee.
  • My left hip is starting to swivel forward to a proper alignment. I never noticed it until about a week ago, but my left hip has spent some amount of time actually behind where my right hip lives.
  • My spine is getting steadily stronger. However, my shoulders are tight enough to really prevent a well formed backbend. Trying to work on that as best I can while still improving range of spine motion.
  • I have issues with forward bending. Which is...different. A lot of people can't back bend. I'm like, "WHEE GO." But forward bends are rough. My spine still has a lot of downward stretching to do.
What I love is that these are all things I didn't know fifteen days ago. I feel like I've stripped away some superficial muscles and gotten into the deeper factors at work, discovering things that I've hidden somehow for years. I'm excited to see where I'll be in another 15 days, let alone 45.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Day 14: New Energy

This morning's class had a couple new people, people even newer than me. I always enjoy it. I feel like the whole class is more conscious of new energy, better alignment, and following the practice.

I'm also really inspired by people who come to yoga later in life or to help deal with an injury. I feel like I'm a lucky: I'm just an actor/dancer person who found a wonderful, spiritual component to my life. Some of these people do this yoga in order to try and really reshape their bodies and lives. Seeing them in the room reminds me that it's never too late to start.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day 13: Falling Out

Most of you probably know that I danced for a long time. Pretty much my whole life. I still like to, but I don't take class as much as I should. For years, though, it was just ballet and other forms of dance that kept me in shape. I've worked with great teachers who created great rooms, and other teachers who created...other rooms.

No matter how warm the classroom seems for a dance class, there's an unspoken rule of competition. Technically, it's with yourself, but I think every dancer is guilty of, "He has a triple. Why don't I have a triple? Dammit, I'm gonna do a triple. Right now."

Sometimes, that produces a thrilling result. Sometimes, you fall flat on your ass. To some people, it's OK either way. They keep mostly competing with themselves to become beautiful dancers and don't let the competition shit stress them out.

Personally, the competition always stressed me out. My thought immediately went to, "You have to do that and do it better and it has to happen right now." There was always an end result, an end goal. If it slipped farther away from me, I beat myself up about it until I almost hated going in the room at all just because of how I made myself feel.

There really isn't an end result in yoga. You keep going and trying to go deeper, express the pose fuller. But, you never really end. You're supposed to fall out. I love practicing in the room with teachers and competitors, people who have practiced this yoga every day for years. They still fall out. And they get right back in. The longer the dancer dances, he's expected not to fall out. You go to New York City Ballet, you expect a perfectly landed triple. Even watching an experienced yogi fall, the thought it, "What a wonderful moment before the fall!"

Don't get me wrong, I love seeing a dancer try and fall, sometimes more than seeing them land perfectly. But the expectation is not to fall. Sometimes, I feel like you're supposed to fall in yoga. Just go down hard and get back up. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Day 12: The Oasis

Last night, a good friend told me how my blog was helping inspire her (which was so touching. Thank you if you're reading this one!) to maintain a "slice of paradise in her heart."

Bikram calls his yoga room "The Torture Chamber," but I have to disagree. It's come to be the place where I feel most calm and safe. Today, I went to a morning class and then came back to the movie theater next to the studio. Actually was thinking, "You know, I could always do another class today..." I didn't because of other commitments, but this yoga has so quickly become a part of my life.

The class is described by Bikram as 90 minutes of "moving meditation." He also says something along the lines of his yoga is designed to help you relax under extreme circumstances (IE a crazy amount of heat, florescent lights, mirrors, no escape). Maybe that's why it took such a hold in LA and New York before branching out.

In any case,  the more often I go, the better I feel in and out of the room. Sometimes, I psyche myself out before heading in, but once I'm in the room, it's elation.

An Explanation

I thought I'd share a little bit more about the idea of the challenge, where it comes from, and what people have to say about it.

There are a couple different schools of thought. Mary Jarvis, one of the most (if not THE most) senior teacher of Bikram Yoga in the United States, insists that a 101 Day Challenge is the only way to go. Her explanation:

"Practicing 100 consecutive days of Bikram Yoga will change your life!!!  Buy why 100?  Why not 30 or even 60 days?  Isn’t that enough?  The answer, quite simply, is no.  While 30 or 60 days is a great start and no small feat, in and of itself, it is still not enough.  The first 30 days are basically a readjustment of the entire body’s cells, muscles, bones, and organs, setting the stage for the next 30 days.  Day 1-30 deals almost solely with the body. 

"Day 31-60, we start to get into the emotional “stuff”.  As in the first 30 days, where we readjust the entire physical body, the next 30 days we readjust the entire emotional body while simultaneously regenerating and rebuilding every single cell in the body.  We also begin to get into some serious realignment of the spine and the entire central nervous system.  These next 30 days, you really begin to feel mentally fatigued, even in spite of the fact that you physically feel better than you ever have in your entire life!!!!  This is the emotional readjustment. 

"Day 60 -90, your body shape seems to suddenly change at an exponential rate, though you may not notice.  These are the days when you start to hear all the “Wow, you look great!  What are you doing?” comments.  These 30 days are usually your best 30 days.  Then there’s the final 11 days where you look and feel absolutely amazing, like a brand new human being."

101 Days sounds like an awesome, awesome experience. One that I hope to embark on someday. I plan to keep practicing consistently after this challenge ends, but another 41 classes in 41 days sounds a little difficult to organize with school beginning again.

However, I got the idea for 60 days from Bikram Choudhury himself. On his website, he suggests that new students "practice yoga religiously for 2 months 60 days" to experience a transformation of the mind, body, and spirit. Oprah actually chronicled one woman's 60-day challenge about a year ago, which you can read here. (Yes, it's two parts, but it's still a pretty quick read.)

From the perspective of a new student, it sounds like any amount of yoga will transform your life in some way. The 60/100 day challenges simply serve as a goal and a concentrated effort to do it in. With that in mind, I'm trying to just enjoy the challenge and get to class as much as I can. Maybe I won't make it to 60 classes in time. That's OK. Even if I don't complete "the challenge," my goal is just to keep going back and reaping the benefits.

As I continue with the practice, maybe I'll work toward a more strict challenge or longer ones. For now, this seems like a good place to start.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

DAy 11: 1+1

Today was double day. First double ever. Luckily, I talked to a teacher beforehand and split up the classes like they recommended.

First class, 9:30, can be summed up in one thought: "Just don't vomit."

No, but seriously, there were a good three or four moments where I thought, "Here it comes. OH GOD SORRY LISA." Luckily, I did not throw up on Lisa, especially since she taught the second class. I got through the damn thing, though. It became pretty clear that I need to start having some kind of fruit or juice something before class.

I figured the 6:00 class would either be a vast improvement, or that I would just spend the whole 90 minutes on my back, praying not to hit the ceiling with my vomit again.

Turned out to be a pretty wonderful class. I felt extremely synced up, like all the muscles, bone, mind, and joints were listening to my breath. Instead of sort of throwing myself into a lot of back bends and forcing my muscles to do the postures, I let myself sink into them easier. It really felt great.

I also really appreciated how the teachers handled it. They supported me through it without making a huge deal about it. It was just a polite, warm reception, and it helped. At about 5:40, I have to admit that all I could think was, "Just stay on the bench. No one will notice. Just stay on the bench." Got up the stairs, got into the room, and there's the victory.

Now, I'm all caught up. 11 classes in 11 days. Ain't no stopping us now.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Day 10: Small Victories

Without going into too much detail since I don't have anyone's permission to, my sister is struggling with some very serious stuff right now. As a result, my family is struggling with some really hard stuff right now. It becomes easy to become distracted by the feelings that come up, the sudden pangs of sadness, fear, anger, frustration, and even sudden bursts of overwhelming joy as we fight to help my sister.

Lie down on your mat and return to the breath.

In yoga, I'm learning to celebrate small, often fleeting victories. Today, I held the second set of standing bow for almost the entire set. In the pose, I actually feel moments of reaching forward and kicking back at the same time. I feel my legs slowly standing firmer beneath me, moving towards a locked knee. I feel more energetic in class, less like I'm fighting the heat to stay alive, more like my body is actually propelling itself through class. Small, small victories, but they keep me interested.

The most important part, though, is that these victories are often fleeting. I'm fully prepared to return to standing bow tomorrow to find that I can barely kick back or my legs wobble in a very unlamp-post like fashion. But, those too will be fleeting. Everyday, as much as you can, you gotta get back to the mat and return to the breathing.

If for no other reason than the breathing always wins.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Day 9: WOW and Thank You!!

This post will have almost nothing to do with tonight's practice or anything like that. Instead, I'm just going to send a huge thank you out to everyone right now. When I posted the Facebook status, I did not expect the outpouring of support from all sides. Every comment/like/text/wall post was so wonderful to see.

It helps me keep going. Knowing that people are cheering me on and reading the blog and seeing how this all turns out.

Hearing from all of you reminds me that this practice does touch and change lives. Thank you all for that.

So please, KEEP READING! (even my one reader in Germany. It's awesome to see your country light up on my stats map)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Day 8: Declaration Official

Finally told the teachers at my studio that I was indeed embarking on the 60 day challenge. And yes, I've decided to officially do 60. Mostly because time is on my side. The 60 day challenge will end right around when I'm supposed to go back to New York for my junior year at NYU. If there was any time to do the 60 day challenge, NOW is definitely the time. I try to practice as regularly as I can during the school year, but between funds and schedules and God knows what else, it's really hard to say, "I will do X number of classes in X number of days." Some weeks I may get to yoga every night; other weeks, I'm lucky if I go at all.

Also, I'd love to return to school feeling cleansed and ready. I've definitely felt myself sink into a little bit of cynicism as school wears on (I know, you're shocked right?), and I'd love to come to the year feeling like my body and mind are in the same place and at optimal working conditions.

It felt good to be back in the hot room tonight. Maybe because I took a little time yesterday to rest, I felt like I could get a little deeper into poses with more stamina. I'm also coming to appreciate how well the class dialogue does work (never thought I'd say that!). The first back bend of class especially. Seriously, just look back and keep pointing at what you see. Suddenly, I'm bending deeper than I've ever bent before, with the whole spine stretching, and not wobbling as much. I used to try and wrench back there and then get my arms to meet. But, I concede to the dialogue: that new way of bending feels so much better.

And, for a final sappy moment, I found another thing I love about yoga. It was post-camel, when everything always seems beautiful and sad and wonderful to me, and my heart was pounding. For some reason, I felt really blissful knowing I could hear my heartbeat. It's always there, but I never listen to it until I'm in yoga.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Listening to my Body?

My body decided it needed to sleep in more than go to yoga this morning. Fair enough. I was up until 3:00 AM Friday night and 2:00 AM last night, so I guess it deserved the break. I wait tables, so I was also on my feet and running around until those respective times.

I knew my challenge was official when I made it to the 9:30 AM class yesterday morning. This morning, though, it wasn't in the cards.

This also means: I have a double coming up! I don't know when or how that's gonna work out, but I'm sort of looking forward to it. I feel like the second class will be illuminating, terrifying, challenging, and rewarding. Already the muscles have opened up and settled down. What happens when the already opened muscles are stretched a 3rd and 4th time? Balance changes constantly, but I'm still curious to see what happens to it the second class.

However...Spine strengthening series? Not looking forward to two of those.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Beginning

All right, another yoga blog. Let's do this up right.

I guess my journey with yoga began in earnest last December. I'd dabbled before, tried a couple classes here, a couple classes there, but never really got what all the fuss was about. Last December, though, I returned to Yoga to the People on St. Mark's Pl, and something happened. Ever since then, I've been practicing pretty regularly and doing some reading/research on the history of hatha yoga and its benefits (If interested in some of the history of American Yoga, Stephanie Syman's The Subtle Body is a great place to start).

So, I'm clearly still really new at this, but I'm pretty sure it will be a part of the rest of my life. I plan on getting certified to teach yoga. There will probably be millions of posts detailing my struggle deciding this. RYS-200 or Bikram yoga? Where am I going to get it? How am I going to pay for it? Will it be something I do full time or something I do as well as attempt to live as an actor? 

After a couple months at Yoga to the People and with some great, great teachers in Pittsburgh, I became curious about Bikram Yoga (Lady Gaga may have had something to do with it, I'm not saying either way). A well timed Groupon, a close studio, a sort of need to do something, and I've decided to embark on a 30-day challenge (30 classes, 30 days). It may turn into a 60-day challenge, but I'll probably think of it as two 30-day challenges. Easier on my brain.

Also, I read stories like this one and can't help but feel moved. (And I defy anyone else not to as well)

Now, here's where the skeptical comes in: I still can't say what it is I feel about Bikram Yoga. On the one hand, I cannot deny that is has fascinated me. I've read stories of people transforming their lives through the practice and stockpiling blogs to read of dedicated Bikram teachers/yogis for inspiration and information. I've watched clips of competitions to see how the poses should be done on real moving bodies. Clearly, something has clicked in my brain somewhere. No use fighting it, better go with it.

Don't know if I should share just yet, feel like I could offend people and don't want to start out that way. We'll see where this goes.

Tomorrow marks day 7/class 7. Expect a report (provided I don't miss the bus/sleep in after the night shit and end up doubling up next week.)