Private Bikram Coaching Sessions

Private Bikram Lessons

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Courtesy of Pixabay

Have you ever asked yourself these questions during a Bikram class?

  • What did the teacher mean with that instruction?
  • How on earth do you manage more than one class per week?
  • What adaptations should I do for an old injury?
  • Why does it feel like I am sometimes making an old injury flare up?
  • How will I ever do the camel pose without feeling like my last meal is coming up?
  • Why are my ankles weaker than everyone else’s?
  • How on God’s green earth do these people get so flexible? Do I have a shot in hell in getting that way?
  • Why can’t we talk or fidget during class?
  • Why do I have to keep my elbows locked & triceps flexed so much?
  • How can I possibly relax my shoulders & steady my breathing during a pose?
  • What should it feel like when you are doing a certain pose correctly?
  • Why does Bikram teach some of the poses differently than other types of yoga?

 

Check Your Brain at the Door

I think the first thing I learned was to check my brain at the door. After one class, I had so many insights and ideas that I was bursting to share several with the owner of the studio. I just could not get the ideas out of my mind so I emailed her about them. That is what led to my taking four private coaching sessions.

At our first meeting, she laughed and said her brother had a similar experience of getting lots of inspiration during Bikram classes. But that was not the goal of class. Bikram yoga is an active meditation. The goal of class is to not use your mind during class. Leave your mind at the door. Like a puppet, use the words of the teacher to guide your body. Nothing else. No internal dialogue.

When your body or your mind is revolting, use the teacher’s voice to block out all the internal noise. Her voice is this thread I grab onto to pull me through. In a world where we are constantly looking at a screen or listening to something through ear buds, it is a very foreign concept. Think of it as SatNav yoga.

 

How it Worked

 

Intake – Mama’s Back

We started by my explaining my current and past injuries or relevant health issues. I have had a weak back that began in university after years of high impact sports. Yoga is the only thing that really worked to take away the pain in my lower back, hip and leg pain. And then, after two child births, my core was just shot. I of course wanted to lose some weight, but mostly I wanted to be able to keep up with my kids. I hated telling them that I couldn’t lift them or run with them because “Mama’s back hurt today”.

But Bikram seemed to trigger a shoulder injury I had from softball. So my back felt better than ever, but my right shoulder pain was worse than ever. Everything is connected. So it turns out that I was overusing my shoulder to compensate for my back. It wasn’t Bikram. She watched me do a few poses, suggested some changes, and the pain started to subside as the weeks went by. This was an issue I had even been to a physical therapist for months to help with. Five minutes of instruction and in a matter of weeks, the pain was gone.

I also had the goal of attending Bikram yoga three times per week. For more on that, read this.

 

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Courtesy of Pixabay

Slinky Lessons

Once a month, I would meet with the studio owner after class. I had emailed her about five poses with my questions or difficulties. And, gradually, I got answers to all the questions above and many more.

In the coaching session, we would first talk through a pose and my questions. She would say,

“If your spine were a Slinky, what should it be doing during this pose? Why?”

Umm. What? I had never thought of yoga like this. You usually hear yoga teachers say, “Breathe into the pose. Feel the energy of your life force. Observe how your body is feeling.” And other some such vaguery.

“When you hear this instruction, show me what you do.”

She’d watch me do the pose and take a picture of me in the pose. That was quite intimidating for me. But she seemed to consciously and effortlessly give feedback in a non-judgmental way.

She’d usually tell me a funny anecdote about her learning the pose or what she sees as a teacher. This was key for me for remembering what to do in class. She’d also do the pose herself, talk me through the mental prompts she gives herself, and show me the right and wrong ways to do a pose.

 

Practice in a Plastic Bag

She would draw stick people to demonstrate the mechanics of what my body should do in a pose and write key words. I kept these notes in a plastic envelope in my yoga bag and looked at them before each class.

Example

“If your lower back hurts or you feel yourself collapsing into your lower back, lift everything above your lower back.”

Prior to each class, in the yoga studio I would try to stand on my mat with my body in perfect alignment, pelvis tucked in, shoulders relaxed and arms straight over my head with elbows locked next to my ears. I would look in the side mirror at how that looked and focus on how my body felt in this position. Then I would take deep breaths and try to raise my ribs higher as if I were a Slinky trying to stretch myself vertically. It is essentially a spine stretching and strengthening exercise. During class, I then try to do this before each pose. It feels like it makes more space or lightens up the load on my lower back. In turn, that gives me more comfort in each pose and I can go deeper into a pose or hold it longer.

Instead of thinking during a pose, “Oh shit! I am stuck! This hurts my lower back.” Or, “Oh, my hamstrings!”

I began thinking, “Suck in my gut. Flex my quads. Flex my triceps.”

Results

  1. I was able to do more of the instructions the teacher was giving.
  2. I enjoyed class more.
  3. It felt like that 90 minutes without my thoughts had been like a hard reset on the mother board of my brain.
  4. I saw real results in muscle tone in my stomach, arms, and thighs.
  5. I became more conscious of my posture throughout the day.
  6.  I feel more balanced physically.

For more about Bikram yoga in The Netherlands, click here.

2016 Resolution in Review: Bikram 3 Days per Week

So it has been a year since my 2016 resolution to go to Bikram yoga three times per week.

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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?”

Or

“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.”

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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.

  1. Power Posing
  2. You are who you surround yourself with.
  3. It is physical, spiritual, hormonal, mental and weight loss therapy all in one.
  4. I am a mother.
  5. No more hiding.
  6. It is a lifestyle.

 

Power Posing

“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 

 

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Image credit: Harvard Business School

 

Amy Cuddy

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].”

Whoa. What?!

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

Join Me: One Month Gluten Free Challenge

Exactly one month ago, I wrote about the tipping point in my life with my health that got me to start eating gluten free. It also caused me to make a major pivot in my career. As I have written about here, I became an entrepreneur this year. Like many, that opened a flood gate of creativity in my brain. I have so many ideas for new businesses.

Like a river running through my subconscious, all of my ideas have an underlying theme – community. I like to connect with people. I like to help people.

So, where better to start than with eating gluten free? If you are interested in knowing more, come on over to my blog at Gluten Vrije Vrouw. Don’t be scared by the Dutch name. I am blogging in English. Or find me on Facebook at the same name. I am trying my hand at videos so it gets pretty interesting on my Facebook page.

My first endeavour is to launch a One Month Gluten Free Challenge for The Netherlands. I will provide all you need – recipes, meal plans and even do all of the shopping for you to try eating gluten free for one month. And that’s not all. We will have a private Facebook page and weekly video calls with special guest experts joining in to answer your questions.

Thank you in advance for your support!

Gluten Free 30 Opt in

My Tipping Point: Health


Major life changes can typically be linked back to one specific trigger, a tipping point so to speak. There are many minor and even some major events leading up to this, but there is usually one moment when the flip switches.

My tipping point was waking up in the middle of the night to blood on my pillow. A lung specialist had prescribed a new medication to me to help with my nearly constant allergy problems and increasing issues with asthma and migraines. The medicine triggered a middle of the night, gushing nose bleed. The night before, it had put me into such a deep sleep, my husband could not wake me. And after both nights, I awoke to a pounding headache.

The medicine scared me. So I stopped taking it.

The lung specialist was the latest in a series of doctors I’d seen over the last two years. I won’t bore you with the rest of the symptoms, but I came to think of it as being sick and tired of being sick and tired. Doctors – female and male – told me it was because I was a working mother with two young children. I was just too busy.

After myriads of tests and exams came back inconclusive, they told me it was in my head. No really, in characteristic Dutch bluntness, a doctor told me I had a ‘mind issue’. He prescribed, with a half laugh, that I get more ‘me time’.

My sister has a gluten free and dairy free lifestyle. That planted the seed.

It was time I start evaluating very closely not only the medicine entering my system, but also all of the food.

Dropping a Ball

Fortunately, I had a much needed day of downtime. My goal was to do as little as possible, but I just could not help myself. I still got in some shopping and sorted out some baby clothes to try to sell online.

I did treat myself to an early lunch, though. It tasted as good as it looked. This is a toasted spelt bagel with sliced banana, cinnamon and maple syrup.

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Life right now is a bit too chaotic. We have all the typical demands of a household with two working parents and two children under the age of four. I am grateful for the health and security we enjoy.

Nonetheless, I need to do a little less. I need to drop one of the many balls I am juggling. I need to create the space to give myself a little more rest. Sometimes it feels like I need more rest and downtime than others. Sometimes I feel more sensitive, more susceptible to life’s typically daily sensory onslaught.

But which thing should go undone? Which activity could go undone? Which activity can this stingy, control freak offload or at least outsource? Food? Namely, grocery shopping and dinner preparation. I am looking into hiring someone to make semi-healthy dinners for our family. Surprisingly, I have a few choices here locally.

We have a cleaner that comes once a week for three hours. Don’t judge me, but I am also considering expanding on that. Does anyone else have any other ideas?

Fitbit Fan

Fitbit by Factoryjoe

Add me to the list of Fitbit fans. I finally received my Fitbit Flex this week. I am using it in combination with MyFitnessPal.com to track my diet and exercise- or calories in/calories out. I also want to use it to track my sleep as well, but I seem to be doing something wrong with activating that functionality.

Overall, I really like it. I hardly notice that I am wearing the thing. It is motivating me like nothing else has before to stop making excuses, get more active, and be more mindful of what I am eating.

To be honest, I think the step count is overly optimistic and, as a result, the calories burned is a bit inaccurate. For instance, this morning I walked to our gym (30 minute round trip walk) and took a Body Combat class. It said I took more than 10,000 steps before noon. According to MyFitnessPal, I should burn about 500 calories during the hour class. Fitbit.com says I burned over 2,000 calories today. Other than the class, I walked for about an hour and a half in total. According to MyFitness Pal, I should have burned about 900 calories in total. I need to dig around online to see if I need to change the settings on my Fitbit or something.

Another weird surprise is that it lit up at random times the past few nights. It could be because I did not set the sleep mode correctly. My daughter woke me up a few nights ago. While I was rocking her back to sleep, the Fitbit lit up. And is it bright! So my daughter immediately perks up and starts trying to play with this new-found toy on my wrist. Not good!

The Fitbit (and MyFitnessPal) is motivating me to get moving and eat healthier, though. And that is the point, right? They are both really easy to use and the statistical output is addictive. Both websites have easy to understand dashboard. I hate the Fitbit app, though. It is disappointingly low tech to the point that I do not think I will use it.

Tomorrow I head to Antwerp, Belgium for two days of Me Time (i.e. a mini vacation alone). I am really looking forward to sightseeing on foot and seeing how the Fitbit keeps up. This will be my first stay in Antwerp so I am also looking forward to seeing a new city and meandering like I used to pre-parenthood. Oh…and the sleeping in…I have been daydreaming about that every morning for weeks.

My New Buddy

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This summer, I am getting more fit and trying to drop a few pounds. I am working out 3 days per week and make it a priority to get moving more every day. I am gradually getting more toned, but the pounds are not budging.

To stay motivated, I listen to Jillian Michaels’ podcast and read a few fitness blogs – mainly Roni’s Weigh. Jillian and her guests are really motivating and tell it like it is. I finally took her advice and am getting serious about monitoring my calories in and out. I am sure I eat more than I think and burn off less than I give myself credit for. She also gives great tips on going organic as well as the latest kit out there to keep exercise easy and interesting.

I am not a gadget girl, but the fitness tools out there have sure come a long way in the past few years. In the past, I quickly got bored of using an online calculator to guesstimate my workouts and keep a food diary. But I have heard some good things about Fitbit and the MyFitnessPal app so I am giving them a try.

On a whim, I ordered the Fitbit Flex today from Amazon. I can’t wait for it to arrive! I went with the Fitbit Flex because it looks like nothing more than a thick rubber band to wear on my wrist. I can see myself wearing to work and no one noticing it. Reviews say it is not as completely reliable as the monitors you clip to your belt or bra, but I see myself sticking more with something I can keep on my wrist than something I have clipped to my clothes. I would rather get regular use out of a wrist band type tracker than forget to use or lose a belt clip version. And, besides, I am not an Olympic athlete. How precise does it really have to be?

I logged my first day with MyFitnessPal today. It has a great feature of being able to enter in a recipe and it will calculate the calories, protein, fat, etc. per serving. I just entered in the ingredients from my recipe for zucchini bread and save it to my profile. Since I eat it every morning, I just select one portion of zucchini bread from my recipes and I am done.

Another great feature for me is that I selected the country I am living in and the database actually has most of the foods from my local grocery store here in The Netherlands. They have the brands of food we eat in both their English and Dutch names. That will save me SO much time in updating my food diary.

Until my Fitbit arrives, I am estimating my exercise on MyFitnessPal. When I do that, it automatically calculate how many calories I will burn and, as a result, adjusts how many calories I can eat to reach my goal of losing a pound per week. This may be old news to most of you, but I have not tried tracking my calories and exercise online in over five years and a lot has changed (for the better) since then.

As expected, the tool opened my eyes to how much I am overeating (about 250 calories today). It also motivated me to get out for a short walk over lunch and after work.