Image credit: Pixabay
Last January, I had the clarity and relief that comes with complete failure – rung out like a wet dish rag after failing at something I poured every last drop of myself into.
Instead of rushing into the next thing, though, I carved out a few months to recover and think. For the first time in my life, I really tried to answer the question,
“What do I want to do?”
I was 36 years old.
I had been asked the question countless times, but had answered, instead, the question,
“What do you think I should do?”
“What are people telling me to do?”
And I take complete responsibility for that mistake. It took me some time to have any answer at all. Frankly, I still don’t have a big, magical quest-like answer. The first thought that rose to mind was,
“I want to do Bikram yoga 3 days per week.”
Image credit: Pixabay
Once I stopped questioning it and got my butt to class, I started to realize why. Now, nearly a year after hearing my Self answer, I know the reasons why.
- Power Posing
- You are who you surround yourself with.
- It is physical, spiritual, hormonal, mental and weight loss therapy all in one.
- I am a mother.
- No more hiding.
- It is a lifestyle.
“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
Image credit: Harvard Business School
Have you seen Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk? Click here to watch it. What struck me most about this talk was (3:30):
“There is another audience that is influenced by our nonverbals. And that is ourselves. Our thoughts and our feelings and our physiology [are influenced by our nonverbal communication].”
Later (7:24), Cuddy says,
“Do our nonverbals govern how we think and act about ourselves?”
“We know that our minds change our bodies, but is it also true that our bodies change our minds?”
Cuddy then goes onto describe a study she did that tested how people perceive themselves when asked to pose in dominant or submissive positions. In a nutshell, her study found that power posing in private for two minutes significantly increased testosterone (dominance) levels and decreased cortisol (stress) levels. Just posing one’s body for a matter of minutes changes their biochemistry.
Image credit: Morethananexpat.com adapted from Pixabay.com
The concept of power poses made me think of yoga poses – specifically poses known for opening up the chest and shoulders. Could it counteract the passive body language of folding in on oneself with slumped shoulders and wrapped arms? And I wondered how this related to the ancient idea of chakras – in particular, the third, fourth and fifth – the throat, heart, and solar plexus, respectively. You can learn more about them here. Maybe Cuddy’s study was (indirectly) proving the science behind chakras and yoga poses.
Cuddy does indeed dig into the yoga connection in her book, “Presence”, and it is from the eyes of a long time skeptic of yoga so it makes for an interesting read.
But, getting back to Bikram yoga. I realized that the Bikram sequence of 26 poses includes many that open the heart, chest and shoulders – the Bow, Standing Bow, Camel, Cobra, Half Moon, Awkward, Full Locust, Fixed Firm. Could Bikram improve my posture – not just my chest and shoulders, but overall? Could that make me appear more dominant and confident? And, finally, could that make me internalize a belief of dominance and more self-confidence?
Simply put, yes. It is not a 100%, overnight change, but I would say at least a 10% increase. This based purely on the science of my gut feeling. So it is the most successful thing to date for me.
You are who you surround yourself with.
Business tycoon Jim Rohe said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Who you surround yourself with matters. Literally.
Have you been to a Bikram yoga class? If not, check out the video here from the studio I attend. This is what a typical class looks like. Don’t you want to look like these people; be these people? Yes, it is intimidating as hell at first to be surrounded by so many svelte people, but, stick with it. It is very motivating.
You will notice people of all ages in the class. And they all looked so balanced physically. There are no men with huge pecs and bird legs. The women do not look like body builders.
It is physical, spiritual, hormonal, mental and weight loss therapy all in one.
Maria McBride did a great job of explaining this on her blog RatherbeSweating.com.
Excuse #1 for not going to Bikram: 90 minutes + shower = too much time. I am too busy. It was a major mind shift when I realized that Bikram yoga could be my workout, physical therapy, weight loss coach, psychiatrist, hormone balancer, and meditation all in one.
No, I am not kidding. Bikram is just as mental as it is physical. It exercises your organs & glands as much as your muscles. Over the years, I have experienced it working its way through my body’s history of injuries – from my high school sprained ankles from basketball to my two pregnancies to yesterday’s work day spent hunched over a computer.
From this perspective, two hours total and 15 euros per class is a bargain.
Image credit: Pexels.com
I am a mother.
Motherhood is life’s greatest reward and greatest responsibility. It is partly my personality and partly the ages of my children – 2 and 5. As primary caregiver, I am thinking about their needs more than they are. I am the first person they reach for when they are delighted, injured, scared or tired. It is my lap they want to crawl into. I get to smell the crowns of their heads as they rest their ear against my chest and calm to the sound of my heartbeat. That much attention is a wonderful, exhausting gift.
All humans have a finite amount of daily energy. Sleep, diet, exercise, and stress add or subtract from that holy abacus. For me, touch is also a factor. As a mother, there is this ethereal balance of physical contact with my girls. Some evenings, I just cannot stand to have one of them crawl into my lap during dinner time. Other mornings, I crave pulling my daughter into my lap for a wake up cuddle.
For me, exercise is also tactile.
Bikram yoga gives me the quiet and lack of stimulus I crave. No one needing my help or my attention. My needs are first.
No loud dance music fueled Zumba or equipment dense skiing for me. No treadmill, no shoes even. I used to do that. Nowadays, I need to get out of my brain and into my body. I need to feel my bare feet touching the ground. I need one point of focus. And Bikram yoga gives me one external voice to focus on while the heat burns my ego away. By ego I mean my monkey brain that can run wild chasing after the latest stimulus or repeating a single thought over and over much like my five-year old.
I am a mother. Which means that I housed and birthed two baby humans. One’s body does not go back to whence it came without some hard work. When I realized that most of the women in my class had multiple children and could easily rock a bikini, I knew I had come to the right place.
No more hiding.
The Bikram studio has floor to ceiling mirrors on two sides. I put my mat in the back corner so that I couldn’t see myself in the mirror. I liked crowded classes for this reason. I looked at the heating pipes running along the ceiling so I would not have to see myself in the mirror. I hated it when the teacher said my name. I just wanted to be ignored and ignore my reflection until I got good enough, skinny enough….until I was enough. One day, I caught my own reflection in the mirror and thought, “There you are.” No cringe. No smile. No judgement.
I later asked the teacher how many classes I had taken. More than 100.
I only now realize that I could not begin to answer the question, “What do I want to do?” until I started from a place of feeling “Enough”.
It began to take shape tangibly on my yoga mat. It began when I could greet my own gaze in the mirror. It continued when I saw myself in a tank top and yoga capris and thought, “Not bad!” And then later thinking, “Is that muscular arm mine?”
Just that one thing- holding my own gaze in the mirror- was the real beginning. There is something very powerful about sharing your own eye gaze without any other distractions. It is an active meditation. If you suffer from perfectionism as I do, it is a break from the critic. A break from the criticism I yield on myself and others. And then that mental pattern starts to change. The criticism is 10% less. I can see him as an amusing little toddler having a tantrum or a yapping frightened little dog. And, outside of class, he shuts up sometimes. Not often, 10% less. But I notice it.
My mat is still in the back of the class, but I position myself so I can see myself in the mirror.
It is a lifestyle.
I am no yogi. I burn no incense.
But getting to a 90-minute class three days per week takes some planning. Feeling well during that 90-minute class also takes some planning. No big breakfasts. No overdoing it on drinks or dinner the night before. Getting my sweaty towel and clothes cleaned changed my laundry routine. It changed what I bought at the grocery store. It changed when I planned meetings and social events.
I don’t say this as a deterrent. People center their lives around all sorts of things.
I say this because people will naturally wonder if they will get in great shape by going to Bikram yoga classes. Yes…And. I think the changes I made to my life outside of class that enable me to get to class are a huge factor in my weight loss and health improvements. It is a package deal. It is a lifestyle.
I mention 10% a lot in this blog. If that does not seem like much. Read this book.
In full disclosure, in 2016, I did not manage to get to class 3 days per week. I averaged closer to 2 or 2.5 times. That is still more than twice the amount I attended class in 2015. The physical, spiritual and mental results were still great. 2017 – same goal. So far, so good.