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.

Why Do I Love to Shop?

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Why Do I Love to Shop? Morethananexpat

Red,  white & blue sweatsuit. Phone books. Reward. Annual Shopping Trips. $100 Budget. Coupons.

I have been taking one question with me to the yoga mat for each of my Bikram yoga classes. It is the closest I get to meditation these days. My monkey mind focuses on one question. These are the words that rose to the surface in my mind’s eye.

Red,  white & blue sweatsuit. Phone books. Reward. Annual Shopping Trip. $100 Budget. Coupons.

Red, white & blue sweatsuit. I don’t know how old I was. It was before junior high so I was maybe 11 or 12 years old. It was a surely a boy’s sweatsuit. It has red, white and blue color block horizontal stripes across the sweatshirt. I probably thought it looked fancy because of the white collar with three buttons. It looked like one of those rugby shirts that were so popular in the 80’s. I had matching red sweatpants with pockets. Pockets made them fancy. Pockets made them day wear. My European husband will laugh out loud when he reads this.

“I looked like Alvin, from “Alvin & The Chipmunks”, with a perm.”

And I had essentially a mullet perm hairdo with pink tortoise-shell round glasses perched atop chubby cheeks and buck teeth. I looked like Alvin, from “Alvin & The Chipmunks”, with a perm.

I loved it. I wore it with turquoise high top Chuck Taylor Converse that flipped down at the top to reveal a yellow lining. I loved those shoes.

I know this was before junior high because I vividly remember the playground and four square. Recess was basically the only time we were allowed to socialize at school. I was so proud of that outfit. Oh, my classmates let me have it. Playing four square, I remember the other players and other standing around laughing at me and my outfit.

That perm, those thick horizontal stripes, baggy pockets, circular eyeglasses. They did not help my chubby little body one bit. Oh, I was comfortable wearing them, but after my classmates got done with me at recess, my skin felt like it was on fire. I’m sure I cried. Which is like gasoline on a fire for tween girls’ laughter. It is a wonder I made it out of those years.

Phone Books. My twin sister and I used to deliver phone books. This was before the term “Side Hustle”. I think we spent one or two weekends delivering phone books in the biggest town in our area. Thank God we were not doing this in our hometown. The shame could have consumed me. We delivered phone books to earn money to spend on school clothes. It taught us the value of money. What it also taught me was to hate phone books. There were stack after stack of these things shrink wrapped and sitting in our garage. That plastic smell. The ink turning my finger tips black. The paper cuts. The value of money.

My mother made it work. She found a means to an end. I associate those phone books with shame and with being too poor to just buy school clothes like everyone else, but she was actually the first entrepreneur in my life. I tell myself I don’t know how to be an entrepreneur, but the seeds are all right there. I have been telling myself the wrong stories.

Reward. I associate shopping with a reward. I see shopping as a reward. Small wonder. Delivering these phone books was rewarded with a trip to the Chicago suburbs to go shopping for next fall’s school clothes. It was a big deal. The Chicago suburbs might as well have been the runways of Paris or Milan compared to my small town options. There was no internet shopping. There was no internet period. Sears catalog. Phone books, people.

Now I know why I snuck out of the office all those times to go shopping. In London when I worked 14 hour days, in Amsterdam when everyone hated bankers, in Wisconsin when I felt alone, on business trips when I felt so stressed, I went shopping. Whether it was stopping into an outlet mall in Wisconsin or meandering through Liverpool Street Station or buying too many souvenirs at a market in Istanbul or nipping into Marks & Spencer’s. It was all a reward. And if there was a sale, oh, there was no stopping me.

Annual Shopping Trip. My mother turned Fall School Shopping into a destination vacation. We stayed in a mid-range hotel (which seemed very posh to me). We ate out for dinner (at a place with cloth napkins). Sometimes we got to bring a friend along. We went to shopping malls with a population probably as large as our town. It was a cultural event.

We went for clothes, but it was an entire experience. Maybe that is what I crave when I walk into a store. I crave that excitement and experience. Maybe I miss my mother and my sisters.

And how I felt so cool walking into school in clothes I knew no one else had. This back fired big time. See red, white and blue sweatsuit above. Yep, that was definitely before high school. Blending in was crucial to my high school experience. I think that is a question for another yoga class, though.

$100 Budget. For some reason, I think we each had a budget of $100. That seems like a lot of money back then. We came back with a pile of clothes and shoes. I remember meticulously tallying the receipts. Being even is crucial for twins. Down to the cent, we had to be even. We definitely knew how much each of our pieces of clothing cost. If not immediately, it definitely now instilled a value of taking care of my belongings. I know this because I find myself saying it to my daughters and husbands.

Coupons. What is it with the American culture and coupons? Dutch people ask me this especially now that TLC starting running “Extreme Couponing” in The Netherlands. Scarcity. Marketing 101. It is ingrained in the American culture. Get it while it is cheaper. If you wait, you will have to pay more. Full price is for suckers. That is why coupons have expiration dates.

These shopping trips taught me to never pay full price for anything. It is a great lesson on the surface. Somehow, being on sale made something more valuable. How backward is that? Why doesn’t ‘being on sale’ mean “It is ugly and no one wants it”?

Coupons should have taught me to game the system. They should have taught me a bigger lesson that there is a system and it can be gamed. It taught me to how to consume the most possible. It also eventually made me realize that there is a huge margin built into most sticker prices.

I still find myself compulsively confessing to people that I bought something on sale or second-hand. Why do I do that? Another question for another yoga session. So many questions…

30 Day Meditation Challenge: Day 16

Core Power Yoga Sculpt by soaring bird
Core Power Yoga Sculpt by soaring bird

Method:

Simply Being App – 15 minutes, guided meditation, music

Thoughts:

Today I did a 15-minute guided meditation after trying out a new yoga dvd, Jillian Michaels’ Yoga Meltdown. Michaels really packs a workout into just 30 minutes. I found the workout more intense than the hour long Les Mills Body Balance class I take at our local fitness club. Yoga Meltdown is more of a cardio workout than a relaxation practice, but I am finding it easier to meditate if I have just done something physically active. The focusing required for keeping up with the movements in a class (or on a dvd) sweeps clean my thoughts. It is then easier for me to get in to a meditative mindset.

Meditation is the most difficult for me if I have just been sedentary in front of a computer or television. I found that out during this past week. Meditation has been difficult the past few days. My thoughts were really whirling at times. I spent a lot of time consciously bringing my focus back to my breath. It reminded me of chasing down my toddler over and over again when she does not want to get dressed.

I also signed-up for another meditation challenge beginning on August 5th. Oprah and Deepak Chopra are leading a 21-Day Challenge through Oprah’s Lifeclass Series & The Chopra Center. It has been a few years since I followed a program of Oprah’s like this. This topic, though, is timed perfectly with my current interests so why not give it a try? It is online and free.

Meditation Challenge: Week #1

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I decided to join another blogger, Mummy Flying Solo, in a 30-day Meditation Challenge. I am going to try to meditate for a total of at least 10 minutes per day and blog about it every now and then.

Why?

Do you ever feel like your thoughts get away from you? I feel like I am getting spacier and spacier mainly because I have a series of internal dialogues continuosly and simultaneously streaming through my mind. It is the “To Do” lists for the various aspects of my life; the taking in of media while trying to block out other things; my ego commentating on the last email I read or conversation I had; the translating between Dutch and English; the list goes on.

Mummy Flying Solo referenced a TED Talk by Andy Puddicombe about meditating. The one thing that stuck with me is using meditation to give your mind a break. I had never really thought about my mind needing a break. Sometimes I feel like I need a break from my mind. And I think of giving other parts of my body a break – my aching back, my tired eyes, sore muscles. But I never thought about my mind needing a little TLC.    

How?

I started this challenge on Friday. For the most part, I have been meditating using guided meditation. I downloaded the app “Simply Being” that I saw mention in the the notes of one of Mummy Flying Solo’s blogs. I have tried that once so far for 5 minutes and it was really helpful. I think I am going to use that during the week and up the time of the guided meditation to 10 minute sessions. You can choose the duration of the meditation, what type of music to listen to and whether or not you want someone to speak and guide you through the meditation.

On Friday night and again today, I did guided meditations for about 10-20 minutes at the end of a yoga class with the instructor. On Saturday, I tried meditating in silence alone. I woke up about 30 minutes later. I prefer to lay down to meditate. Maybe that is part of the problem. But, for me, it helps to lay down and feel my body getting heavier as I relax. When I sit up, I tend to focus on the mechanics of my posture or direct my attention to a part of my body that is uncomfortable. 

How is it going?

To be honest, I am not sure how it is going so far. My thoughts slow down while I meditate and seem to decrease in volume. That is a start, I guess. I wrote down my thoughts about Friday and Saturday’s meditations, but I cannot find the notebook right now. I think I was trying to hide the notebook (and pen) from my one and a half year old daughter so she would stop scribbling in it and, as a result, hid it from myself as well.

All I can really remember thinking about during today’s meditation is that I needed to write a blog post today about the meditation session. I know there is no finish line per se with meditating,but I do have a long way to go. 

So far I have learned:

  • It easiest to quiet my mind after I have physically exerted myself – with yoga, an exercise class, or even a long walk.
  • I do not enjoy constant talking during a guided meditation.
  • Music or sounds are nice, but it is better for me if there are no words sung. It is just one more thing for my mind to get distracted by and fly off on a tangent.

Namaste!