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.

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.

Gift Idea for Mom & Grammy

I’m a big believer that mothers – new, established, and grand – should get nice tokens of gratitude from time to time. Whether you pamper yourself or another, the recognition is nice. Many mothers receive a gift from their partners after the birth of a child. With the birth of our second, I decided I wanted to have something that incorporated motherhood and also the memory of my father whom died early into my second pregnancy.

So I went hunting on Etsy. I had received a gift certificate for Etsy and that emboldened me to make an investment in a nice necklace that I could wear everyday. It did not need to scream its sentiment to all who saw me. It was just my reminder. And I wanted to be able to wear it for work and while with the little ones.

I chose this from a Canadian shop named The Silver Wing. It has Swarovski crystals with the birthstones of my parents, children, husband and I. They are between two silver discs. One disc has a nice woven/flowery design that allows you to view the crystals inside. The back disc can be stamped with almost anything you request. Inside mine is stamped the first verse of “You are My Sunshine”.

Both of my daughters love to play with it. My youngest jingles the pieces as she stands on my lap and coos in my face. She used to play with my necklace while I nursed her. My oldest plays with it as she is settling in for a nap. I sway her in my arms and sing her our own private version of the “A,B,C’s” (the alphabet sang to the rhythm of “Frere Jacques”). She notices if I am not wearing it. “Mama, where is your neck-a-lace?”

Our own special bond. It turned out to be the perfect gift.

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Worn Out

I am just worn out. I keep telling myself how good our life is and how lucky we are, but I am just pooped. So I am truly sorry that it has been so long in between posts.

Wiglet is nearly five months old and her big sister E just turned three last month. It is all I can do to keep the moving parts clean and the refrigerator stocked. I went back to work part-time. It is very stressful in general at the office, but I find it oddly relaxing. I could fall asleep sitting at my desk with a warm cup of tea and a screen glowing in front of me. I hate pumping, but find myself looking forward to my 20 minutes of solitude in a broom closet listening to an audiobook trying to drown out the sound of my electric breast pump. I am listening to Ken Follett’s “Winter of the World”. It’s depiction of life through World War II will put your life in perspective in a heartbeat. It has given me a kick in the pants during more than one marathon nursing sessions with Wiglet or solo pity party.

Theme song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want….But if you try real hard, you might just get what you need.”

Life is full.

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Tale of Two Births

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She is finally here! Our little I was born on Tuesday. We know have an E and I. It is a bit like Old McDonald’s farm, but no plans for an O to complete the song. E,I,E,I,O…

They were both healthy and strong and I escaped the ordeal relatively unscathed. This time around has been different in almost every other way, though.

For starters, I had an epidural this time and I was au natural last time. I recognized the building pain from a mile away this time and was so grateful for the epidural that I gladly accepted the side effects like all the wires and monitoring, body temp regulation extremes, and itchy skin. My first labor, I dilated from 1 to 10 cm in about two hours. This time, I was dilated at 1 cm for weeks then went from 3 to 10 cm in 45 minutes. Most women suffer through that pain in bite sized pieces over an 8-24 hour period. I do not know if one is better or worse than the other, but my first labor I literally thought I was going to die. The second time around, I ate lunch reclining in my hospital bed and texted friends while I dilated.

Pregnancy, labor and recovery are truly miracles, but Mother Nature is one wicked, sadistic bitch sometimes. No one really talks about the days immediately following giving birth. My uterus has already nearly contracted back to its normal size. So what took nine months to stretch from my pelvis to up by my rib cage has contracted back in 3 days. Contractions are Mother Nature’s way of doing this. And who is the driver? Your baby and her insatiable sucking urge. It felt like being in labor and nursing simultaneously. I could only take two paracetamol every seven hours. It felt like peeing on a house fire.

Yesterday marked the beginning of my hormone roller coaster ride. Let the tears flow. It must correspond to the uterus contraction completing and the filling of my milk jug sized, well, jugs. A sign should be posted on the door, “Beware of hormones.” They are so real and so controlling and overwhelming yet unrecognizable to most people.

For our recovery, last time I walked the four blocks home from the hospital just hours after giving birth. This time I am staying in the hospital’s birth hotel. Along with my mom staying with us for six weeks, staying at the birth clinic were the best decisions we could have made.

Me Time

Antwerp Central Station by morethanexpat

What does a busy mother of a toddler ask for Christmas? A day and a half alone in a new and beautiful city. My present was a night away in Antwerp, Belgium. I just cashed it in yesterday. It was great and much-needed.

I had actually planned to go to London, but it was much more relaxing (and cheaper) to choose a city I could get to by train. Antwerp is less than an hour and a half away from us. Antwerp Central Station is one of most beautiful train station I have ever seen. It opens on one side to the zoo and on the other to the start of a huge shopping boulevard that leads down to the historical town center. The shopping boulevard is as wide as anything you’d see in Paris and has basically any store you can imagine. It was a great city to meander around. The weather was perfect – warm enough to sit outside at a pub with a local draft beer and people watch, but cool enough that I did not break a sweat in my jeans.

Leisurely Lunch in Antwerp by morethanexpat

I used to visit new cities. Meandering was a favorite thing of my husband and mine to do along narrow, winding streets in Paris, Italy or Spain. Nowadays, with a toddler, our holidays are more and more centered around stroller friendly streets preferably lined with a shallow swimming pool, playground, petting zoo, and reasonably priced vacation house or apartment.

Yesterday, I had a long lunch and then wandered in and out of stores all afternoon. I ate a steak dinner with fries, a glass of red wine, and read some chick lit. And capped the night off with a bath. Today, I spent the morning at the Antwerp Zoo. I loved having the time to myself, but watching all the kiddies run around squealing made me miss my little monkey. I bought her animal crackers and magnets at the gift shop. Instead of having another long leisurely lunch, I hopped on the next direct train back home.

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Antwerp Zoo by morethanexpat

Parenting: Separation Anxiety

11 mos sucking thumb by morethanexpat
11 mos sucking thumb by morethanexpat

 

I have re-entered the rat race. I am working again…but I have decided to try only working four days a week. Ironically, it does not feel like only four days a week. It is about all I can handle now. Once again I wonder how those mothers do it that work full-time. I work Monday through Thursday and, by Thursday morning, I feel the toll the week has taken on me as every bone in my body aches to crawl back under the covers when I begrudgingly turn off the singing alarm and my feet hit the cold hardwood floor. Usually on Wednesday and Thursday nights, it is all I can do not to run home and pick up E from daycare. I ache to have her in my arms and see her face smiling with recognition.

It should have come as no surprise then when E started showing signs of separation anxiety this Thursday. And her searing, hot fears seem directed wholly at me. To see her face light up and the world around her stop as she knows it every time her father walks in the room, I thought for sure she would feel separation anxiety from Papa too, but it does not seem to be as much so. Part of me is deeply relieved that E misses me as much or more than I miss her. It is a selfish thing and I really should know better, but what can I say? Poor E just cannot wrap her mind around it all yet, though.

E crawls after me when I exit the room, starting to whimper reflexively until it quickly escalates into a howl complete with huge tears. Last night, it reared its ugly head too. I think she woke up five times. We’d wake to disconsolate screams of pain. When my husband or I would pick her up, she immediately stopped. To further frustrate us, E would seem to want to start to play. I would sway her and pat her back. Her head quickly thudded against my breastbone, her thumb found her mouth, her eyes closed, and her breathing quieted. The minute I laid her down, though, she’d begin howling. Eventually, she would get herself to sleep until the next bout.

My first inclination is to sleep with her body cradled against my chest, but my husband assures me that will only start an unshakeable habit. I was ready to rock her to sleep in the glider in her bedroom and probably would have accidentally had I not forgotten to put on a sweatshirt as I rushed from my dreams to take my turn tending to E’s crying across the hall.

It feels a little overwhelming to have signed on to be this little person’s home base for the rest of my life, but more than that I love to feel so needed. And, at the end of a particularly stressful or mind numbing day, E and my husband are that comfort for me.

As I am patting her back and lulling myself to sleep as I stand with E in my arms swaying from side to side, I remember my twin sister saying that she wishes for the days when her son (now six years old) would cuddle. E melts into my body as she sinks back to sleep. I read somewhere that separation anxiety can last until a child is two years old. My first reaction to reading this was to dread all the long nights I had before me. My second thought was that I only had one more year of E’s late night cuddling so I better enjoy each one.