This is me!

Love.Life.Yoga.

Last week, Carol suffered a bout of illness. Now, she’s back to share her experiences in the hot room.

Here are some excerpts from her journal notes:

Monday

Having been sick and having hardly eaten anything the last five days, I had trepidations about class this evening.

I made a deal with myself that I would take it easy and not push and just focus on my breath, and it was all fine. I certainly didn’t push in Standing Series; I sat out Spine Strengthening because I did have a wave of tiredness and I felt I was trying to drink loads. I thought I should concentrate on oxygen instead of water, to avoid having a full belly for floor series. I did all of the Floor Series except Head to Knee pose with Stretching Pose ‘cos I literally was seeing stars!

It wasn’t humid in class, not really a…

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Inbetween Days

At this point – today – it’s crazy to think about going to class as I’m so weakened I’d be wiped out in minutes – like not as in “never too sick” but possibly under fed. But I can explain what’s happened to my challenge.

So, starting on day 33:

Thursday 19 July. Judiciously decided to skip class and bank a double cos it was my Egyptian friends’ last day in town

Friday. I got a cold and went straight home to bed after work

Saturday. In bed all day with cold

Sunday. All day interview prep

Monday. After work interview prep

Tuesday. Interview. Didn’t get the job, thankfully. After that my friend had free tickets to a jazz thing which was amazing. I could absolutely have said no and gone to class instead but I badly needed to see this particular friend.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Four days house-bound with stomach bug.

So the days I had thought were banks were Egyptian and jazz. But first day and a half in bed lost me interview prep time which in turn lost me class time. So the number of doubles in the bank now is top heavy, I think – and even tho doing 100 classes in 100 days is possible it’d be meaningless i.e., totally forsaking the idea of daily practice.

So today is day 43. I should be celebrating being almost half way through but instead I’m going to have to go back to day 1! I’m pretty fed up about it. No appetite, last few days I’ve had a chicken sandwich, an apple and some toast and that’s it. Water, milk, Lucozade, cranberry juice. It’d be madness to attempt class, even if I could manage the bus ride there.

I’m sure a person could make an argument around resistance to change and I would absolutely listen to that, I think it’s valid, but not 100% convincing in this run of bad luck and bad timing. I’m absolutely open to admitting a couple of those days were definitely resistance (tho’ in my defence class is a 4 hour commitment for me, including travel time) and I have thought about that a lot. But the illness and the not eating? Not sure.

Something I do resist and I’m aware of it, is taking medicines but I’m going to the pharmacy today. I would love to be strong enough to go to class tomorrow, I’m getting really frustrated.

Anyway, that’s the story!

In what ways is Bikram* sexy?

I was invited to write for my home studio @hotbikramyoga, and this is what they got:

In what way is bikram* sexy?
(*the practice, not the man)

When I first moved to London to be with my boyfriend, some time very late in the last century, I started seeing an acupuncturist about my skin and within a few sessions (or less) I was quite in love with him. I mean in the sense that I would get a little tongue tied, giggle like an 11 year old and at times sweat a little too visibly. It was a totally animal-chemical reaction. After a while it calmed down. Oh, I don’t know, call it eight years? And now I can safely see him without the breathing into a paper bag beforehand. Anyway, when I first started to go to class several years ago (loooooong before I committed to practice) I told him I liked bikram yoga because you really felt the stretch, you felt like you had moved – and I think that is different from feeling like you’ve worked out – and that it was very sexy. And he said “You find that sexy? You find stretching sexy?” And all I could say was yes.

Recently embracing daily practice I have been thinking about this again and have compiled this list of similarities a person might consider between sex and bikram yoga.

– With bikram, like with sex, the more you do it the more you want it; it is its own reward
– The experience is utterly universal and profoundly personal at the same time
– You don’t truly understand it until you try it (and then only maybe), and equally no one can explain it to you
– It’s not a competition, but sometimes it can feel like it.
– It’s really easy to get a little OCD about wiping your hands.
– It’s doing something your body was designed to do, but doing it before you are ready can be bad, and you might not even like it at first
– Some people advocate a strong home practice
– It can be confusing, confrontational, surprising
– It’s kind of the same moves over and over and over again but at the same time it’s totally not
– Be respectful of your neighbours
– I once said to a friend about a teacher “He helped me with my rabbit and told me I had a beautiful triangle.” Costa got suddenly very quiet.
– A teacher recently said to me “Your technique is perfect but you give up far too soon.” I thought, I’ve been singing that song for years, love.
– 90 minutes three times a week can change your life
– Sometimes what you’re aiming for is to see your feet coming up over the top of your head.

Ways in which sex does not compare to bikram: if sex for you involves you being on your back with a half naked fanatic in front of a mirror at the front of the room shouting “don’t lose the grip” at you through a Cher headset, I respectfully suggest you’re on the wrong website. Also it’s totally acceptable to tweet “yoga kicked my ass, nearly killed me” but not … well, you can finish that one off yourself. Matron. (By the way, speaking of, I’m on twitter @bikramyocaz.)

Well, crass the-sap-is-rising gags aside, my point is that it’s a joy to focus on doing something that your body was designed to do. I feel that as Westerners many of us take little joy in our bodies. Sure, we celebrate athletes and fawn over celebrity bikini bodies but a body is just as much for feeling and living in as it is for looking at. I would argue much more so.

Do you remember the sheer, unfettered elation of being 7 or 8 years old, somewhere soft and grassy and reaching your arms out and tilting your head back and just simply spinning and spinning and spinning until you fell over? Your heart racing and your thoughts scattered? Didn’t it make you smile? Deep belly laughing. Do you ever notice how little kids who haven’t learned to be self-conscious and appropriate yet will hear music and just start dancing, no matter where they are or what the music is? Aren’t they often smiling as they do it? Your body is designed to move, to make shapes, to grow, to change, to charge and to rest and to take gratification in all those modes. As grown-ups it’s too easy to forget the joy of doing something challenging in a safe space surrounded by heat and energy. But when we remember, it can be exhilarating. So: go back, fall back, way back. And if you get dizzy pretend it’s because you have been spinning on the grass.

And “do your practice, all is coming.”

Love.Life.Yoga.

The more I practice yoga in stillness, the more intrinsic my practice becomes.

Achieving meditation through movement in Bikram Yoga is a challenge, especially when the hot room brings about a host of distractions: heat, sweat, thoughts about work stresses, the fear of falling out of a pose, or a mish-mash of all of the above that may inevitably lead to… Monkey Mind.

What is Monkey Mind? This is a Buddhist term which describes the persistent churn of thoughts in the undisciplined mind. As Bikram puts it, “The human mind is like a drunken monkey… that’s been stung by a bee…”

For some good advice, I sought the insight of 5 Bikram teachers on How to Tame Your Monkey Mind  – my current article on MindBodyGreen. I believe that ease is achieved through stillness, and it is this that can take postures to the next level. I also believe…

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On the point of giving up.

It’s my distinct impression that it’s not the done thing to be thoroughly negative about bikram unless you have a tidy little punchline to wrap it all up and affirm your choice to be a yogi. I’m not being snide, it’s how venting with humour works – it’s its function and its purpose. Whole careers are based on a clever turn of phrase and the ability to do that. That is not what this is.

In class this past fortnight I’ve been thinking very seriously about giving up. Throughout yesterday’s class I was just plain angry, I certainly wasn’t doing any yoga. There was some of it today, too, but mostly today I was wondering about why I was in class at all. I’m so sick of it – sick of working so hard and getting nowhere. Sick and tired and fed up that I can’t get my forehead to my knee; I can only reach my heels in floor bow half the time and I can’t do spine twist with my feet in the right place. Mostly I’m sick and tired of being convulsed by floods of tears every time I go into a forward bend. I’m all for confrontation and release but if there’s no resolution to it then why am I putting myself through it?

I’m basically angry and fed up and frustrated that my body isn’t changing fast enough and the yoga is pretty much only theoretical for most of the time.

I guess all I have going for me at the moment is that I’m really stubborn and I don’t actually plan on giving up. But if I had known it would be this miserable I wouldn’t have started. I’m sorry that this isn’t more upbeat but I promised myself when I started this blog that it would be brutally honest because anything else would be meaningless.

New Rule

I wrote this a few days ago; today was actually day 13.

Today was Day 8 of 100. I completed my 30 day challenge on 6th June, and proclaiming with the fervour of the recent convert that the first rule of a 30 day challenge is that you go to class on Day 31, I went to class on 7th June.

I had to juggle slightly financially to get it done, which meant waiting a few days, but I bought an upfront 12 month bundle to continue and commit to my practice. This has raised a few eyebrows but it’s been a long, long time since I made a decision so unquestioningly. And this kind of brings me to my first point. People are so amazed and impressed by the 30 day challenge and I have to say I’m so, so grateful for all the support and kind words from all kinds of people – many who barely know me – I’m pretty positive I wouldn’t have lasted without them. But I’m revising my First Rule. From this vantage I think the first rule of any challenge is: you have to want it. You have to want it. It’s that simple. Not easy, but simple. Why over complicate it? If you decide this is what you want then everything else kind of falls into place behind that.

For such a long time now – years – I’ve been telling people I am working towards daily practice. “Daily practice is my ultimate aspiration” I would tell my friends and count the seconds til their eyes started to glaze over. And a few would ask “Why?” And I would grapple for an answer “I know it sounds extreme but it’s really good for you, and I’ll lose weight, and eventually I could train to become a teacher, and you pick up a lot about anatomy, it’s actually really fascinating/spritual/challenging/fun/whatever”. And what I’ve realised just over the last couple of days is that that is all bull – it’s simply that I want it. You know what else is simple? Screw you if you can’t get behind that.

Anyway, now I more or less am doing it – I more or less have a daily practice and that is what blows me away. This is the realisation that floors me: If you want it, it’s really not all that challenging. If I wanted and managed 30, why not 100? Why not 365?

Now, as I say, this is an expression of this vantage point. A somewhat philosophical expression which may not last through to Day 20. But knowing myself as I do, I will say this: if I stop it will be because I no longer want it, not because it beat me.

I love you, be well, see you in 12 days.

Thanks to Marina’s open handed friendship and enquiring heart, I’ve another place to drone on and bore people about Bikram yoga. Lucky!

Love.Life.Yoga.

Nothing beats practicing alongside fellow Bikram yogis; there’s such a strong and unified energy in the room when everybody is moving together through the posture series. During a 30 day challenge, the group energy is even tighter knit. I remember the first time I tackled such a month of consecutive Bikram classes; a bunch of us would see one another in class near daily, so we were never alone in going through the highs and lows of the challenge.  Reflecting back on it, the experience was nothing short of uplifting, and being supported by those fellow yogis spoke volumes.

Off the mat, connecting with Bikram yogis and studios over social media, mainly Twitter, has been fascinating. Outside the yoga room, the conversation and information received via a tweet-feed has added another dimension to the world of yoga – well, for me anyway. Being able to discuss the trials and tribulations…

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There’s nothing wrong with you.

A thought struck me on the way home tonight; that since I moved to London in late 1999 the most constant and consistent relationship I’ve had has been with my acupuncturist. He’s also an osteopath and I’ve recently started calling him my osteo or (Sexy Osteo on twitter) ‘cos it’s easier to say and doesn’t invite lots of questions about needles, but when I first went to him 13 years ago – when he was a young man and I was little more than a child – it was because he was an acupuncturist and I wasn’t even aware that he practiced osteopathy also. My point is, he knows me as well as anybody and a lot better than some. He gets paid to know me but I choose to believe that this doesn’t cheapen the bond we share. Also, he’s quite sexy so there’s that.

Anyway, I saw him last week and he suggested that my lower back pain has been partially down to over compensation for immobility in my thoracic spine. Which is totally news to me, which was a little annoying but I went with it. And I started thinking about it a lot and it seemed to me that the couple postures I have real trouble with could be to do with the thoracic spine rather than the lower spine, especially as I have hardly any pain any more. So I went through my big white Bikram book and bookmarked those postures (and a few others) to show him and when I saw him today I said
“I have brought a visual aid”
‘I’m trying to think what that means”
“A book”
“Yes, a book, but you’ve never needed a book before. Why can’t you just show me?”
“I guess I wanted to be absolutely clear so that you can help me understand how to adjust my focus in class”
“OK. Show me the book”

He didn’t roll his eyes ‘cos profoundly gifted healers don’t do that. But I felt it.

Turns out not being able to get your finger tips below your nose in eagle is not to do with your thoracic spice so much as your shoulders. “Also your voluptuosity could be a hindrance.” I must’ve looked at him a certain way because he said “your breasts”. Thanks, I got it.

We looked through the photos:
“So what do you mean you can’t do the posture?”
“I can’t get my head to my knee”
“So what do you do?”
“Well, everything else but I can’t get my head on my knee so the posture hasn’t started yet”
“But you have this leg straight, and this leg straight, and your hands here on the floor”
“Just in front of my foot”
“But your head not on your knee”
“So I bend the front leg up to meet my forehead but it never meets”
“And does everyone else have their head on their knee?”
“I wouldn’t know, I don’t look around, I’m too busy trying to get my head on my knee”
[Pause]
“Do you know how hard this is to do”
“I’m telling you I can’t do it, so, yes”
“No, I mean, really, do you realise how hard this is? I think you think there is something wrong with you because you can’t get your head on your knee”
“A little, perhaps”
“You mustn’t think that, this is really hard to do. And this one – this is even harder, don’t worry if you can’t do this one. This is the last posture?”
“Yes”
“Because it’s really hard, you have to be very free here and here and here. Don’t worry. There is nothing wrong with you”
“Ok”
“Say it”
“Ok”
“No. Say it. There is nothing wrong with you”
“There is nothing wrong with me”
“Ok then. Take your top off”

Day 31 of 30 Day Challenge

On my way to class this evening I overheard (eavesdropped) these two girls on the tube. One was talking about her blog and said “I am always sincere; I always had the intention that the blog should be sincere” and went on to say that she has attempted to write humour but she had to assume a particular attitude and keep in the front of her thinking that she was being humourous. (I think the fact she said humourous and not funny actually tells us how funny her humourous blogs turned out.) And then she said that it felt really weird to write from a humourous place because she was used to writing from a sincere place. Now, remembering that I have no idea what she writes about or who she is or where she was going and not even pretending that if I bumped into her again I would know her from a can of paint, just this snippet of conversation absolutely fascinated me. Do we have to give up one to have the other? If we take her “sincere” to mean true, then to me very few things are funny unless they have at least a little truth in them. Sincerity without a little humour is just a bad Oscar speech. Without a little humour the weight of the truth would kill me dead. Most people, I think. Fascinating, and I was still thinking about it when I got to the studio.

I got a high five from my excellent friend on reception for completing my 30 days, and I also got my mystery shopper cover blown – he has used dark database arts to figure out it’s me that writes this blog – bumped into my new friend who struck up a conversation with me two nights ago (she’s now on her day 11, way to go Regina!) and also caught up with Cousin Alice as planned.

It was odd to be in class through choice and not because I was in a challenge, and it made for a very strong standing series but once more the heat was fairly overwhelming. I am going to have to adjust to this being the norm rather than a surprise every time. And I’m going to have to adjust sooner rather than later as I have set myself three intentions for the remainder of 2012:

  1. keep earning, and earn a little more if humanly possible
  2. spend Christmas and New Year with my boys and my family, and
  3. keep the high focus on daily practice

So, I’ve asked my parents if they can help me with a little money towards buying a 12 month bundle up front which is by far the cheapest way to practice daily and I’m keeping going. When I asked for the loan my Mum said “have you lost any weight in the last 30 days?” [thanks, Mum. None taken.] And I told her that I couldn’t vouch for weight but I’ve lost inches. And she said you can’t lose inches without losing weight. [And again, thanks for listening.] Hopefully that’s good enough for her! See, if it weren’t just a little funny, it would be a little heartbreaking.

Don’t feel sorry for me, though. Cousin Alice brought me an after class treat of Naked juice Green Machine – my FAVOURITE; I would take it intravenously if that didn’t mean bypassing my tastebuds – so that made it all ok again.

How did Caesar build Rome? Brick by brick.

Well, there we go. In an almost bewilderingly typical twist of fate, I left critical responsibilities to the last minute and had to do 4 classes in the final 48 hours to complete 30 classes in 30 days. What idiot does that?  Oh, hi; have we met?

But, like everything else today, that doesn’t matter because I completed my 30 day challenge. The best bit was that my two cousins surprised me with a card and a beautiful bouquet after class. It’s so moving to share an achievement like this with family who have known you your whole life and only want good things for you. I heartily recommend it. Plus fresh flowers: never a bad idea.

It was hard to concentrate at work today, I was so nervous. That part I didn’t expect, I thought I was being quite mellow about the whole thing. But it turns out – no! I was a bag of nerves, chattering away about Robbie Williams at the Jubilee concert at the weekend and goodness knows what else. Oh, I know what else. Brad Pitt turned up at my colleague’s husband’s motorcycle repair garage in Ruislip. So, there’s that.

Anyway, I haven’t got much else to say except I am exceptionally grateful to and for all the amazing teachers and other staff at Hot Bikram Yoga London Bridge and Fulham. The gifted and compassionate teachers who have folded their personalities into their classes without losing one iota of the dignity, integrity and passion of bikram yoga.

The dust is still settling. I feel elated, exhausted, incredulous, impressed, pleased, changed, grateful, light, wide-eyed, bullet proof. I feel like I have a secret; like I’ve earned my stripes. My only worry is now that I have completed the challenge I won’t have the drive to keep it up.

But hopefully I can keep reminding myself that for the last 30 days I have treated myself to concentrated care and attention – TLC – opening myself up to light, peace, stretching, healing and unity. And now maybe I am readier to take those things out into the world. Starting here and now. I love you. Spread love.