May 09, 2013

Bikram challenge - an update

Today is Day 10 of my 32-day Bikram challenge. I opted for 32 days because I wanted to devote the month of May to this. Of course May has 31 days. And I did not want to miss practice on April 30, as a competitive swim meet had left no room for classes in the previous four days. Hence the 32.

Incidentally, today it is also six months ago that I began practicing Bikram regularly.

Day 1 of the challenge had felt extra difficult. My body was tired from competing in six freestyle events (1500m on Friday evening, 400m and 100m on Saturday, followed by the 800m, 200m and 50m on Sunday) at the MSABC provincial championships.

I had to (chose to) lie down a couple of times to fend off dizziness during triangle and tree, and ran out of water well before the end of practice. So, I was glad I had told Bikram Yoga Sea to Sky owner and teacher Jena about my 32-day plan before class because otherwise it just might have gone out the window.   

I was apprehensive on Day 2, feeling overwhelmed with the month ahead. Teacher Kirsten offered advice that immediately struck a chord.

"Just take it one pose at a time," she recommended.

One step at a time is how I run marathons, ultras and have finished Ironman triathlons. One pose at a time, or one breath at a time as teacher Jena later added, will be the mantra for May.

And Day 2 turned out to be one of the happiest classes I have done. My doubts about the challenge completely washed away during the savasanas. It was not a conscious thought, but a simple observation that arose, a deep sense that the challenge was what I needed to do.

Practice was not easy, easy is not the point after all, but I felt light and focused. Happy and content to be there. And my bottle even had water left at the end of the class. 

"Perfect is the best you can do today," Kirsten quoted Bikram.

On Day 3, I stuck the 30-day-challenge note on the studio's Wall of Fame, and added two stickers across Days 1 & 2. I waited until after practice to mark completion of the third one. I did not yet write my "Intention" on the note. It had to be short, and initially I thought of "release, strengthen, run."

Practice on Day 3 was easier than on Day 1, but harder than Day 2. My training journal says, "Good class. Definitely feel that stuff is happening in my body."

Perhaps "stuff" sounds vague but I do not want to over-analyze or prejudge what is going on, neither physically nor mentally. I trust that whatever needs to happen is happening as long as I show up for practice and give it the best effort I can that day. 

After Day 4 I had formulated my Intention for this challenge and wrote it on the note in the studio: "Set my body free so I can run!"

It was a good class.

Day 5 was an emotional one. I was physically off balance -- despite my best efforts I kept falling out of eagle. I appreciated the teacher's comment that on some days we simply can not seem to balance, a great reminder to let go of my irritation about it.

Emotionally, I was off kilter too. After triangle, I felt weepy and this persisted until camel, when the second set made me cry. I did not notice, nor tried to analyze, a specific reason behind this wave of emotion that finally disappeared and left me with a sense of relief after camel. This is becoming one of my favourite poses exactly for the mysterious sensations that follow -- as the teacher advised, I watch them float by and take another deep breath.

Day 6 was so different. "Felt calm and strong and focused," the notes in my journal say.

Day 7 was called into question when I strained my neck in the morning. It might have happened as I warmed up in swim training, or I might have slept funny, or it might have been the long phone call I made the previous day. Regardless, I cut short swim training because my neck/shoulder was sore with every stroke, and I did not want to risk injury.

Surprisingly, the stiffness that made turning my head to the left very difficult barely affected my practice that evening. Keeping my left arm straight up in the air in triangle was hard, and I avoided leaning on my left arm when turning to get into savasana. But everything else was fine, and practice felt good.

Day 8 was almost as great as Day 2. I felt strong and focused, and I could really notice an increased mobility in the hips in certain poses. A quarter of the challenge done! 

Yesterday, Day 9, was harder. I did not have as much energy, and my body felt tighter to begin with, especially in the right glute/piriformis area in the first sets of some poses such as the standing forward bend, or forward fold, in the half moon pose. However, in the second sets my body released.

Overall, I had a good class and felt much better for it.

There is so much happening in my body from daily Bikram practice, even after only nine days.

I have also noticed recently that practice leaves me less smashed -- I am still tired afterward, but no longer so deeply exhausted as I was in previous months.

I have physically and mentally relaxed into the notion of the 32-day challenge. There is a peacefulness from knowing that I have committed to going daily; I do not need to think about whether I “should” go or perhaps wait a day, I simply go once a day every day this month. 

Take my mat and towels (one for the session, and another for the shower after, since the first gets absolutely soaked), my one Bikram outfit, a bottle of water, and get to the studio on time. 

Like in running, or any type of training, the knowledge that you have a manageable schedule you want to stick to is mentally relaxing. Commitment can set you free from throwing obstacles into your own way. It stops you from thinking, “It is so hard, maybe I should rest” or "I am too tired today", or "Too busy today"—you simply go.  

I have also found that it allows me to relax in the practice itself. Taking class once or twice a week, I felt I had to make them count, whereas now I am conscious of sustaining the effort for 32 days in a row. That does not mean I am taking it easy; it means that I am extra careful with technique and listen better to where my body is that day.

I know that there are still another 23 days to go, so I am reluctant to say that it has been easier than I expected. The challenge is no doubt ahead. 

But I am focused, I know exactly why I am doing this. I need it, my body needs it, not just to run, but to live a good life, to live a full life.

We miss out on so much when we do not use our body, cannot use our body, hate it as so many women do, as I used to do in my early 20s, focusing on the things it is not, can not do -- and assuming that it simply is the way it is. 

We can change so much about our body if we learn to use it by giving it the time it needs, the effort it deserves. It will give us so much in return. I have experienced it as a runner and as a triathlete. Earlier this year I noticed it in the pool -- beliefs we have about our ability change if we challenge them. 

Heel pain has prevented me from running for 10 months now. I have not been diagnosed with a medical reason for this problem. To me, that means there is no reason, none whatsoever, that I should not be able to return to running. I just need to listen carefully to what my body is trying to tell me.

Right now it is clearly saying that daily Bikram -- stretching and strengthening -- is what it needs.

A huge thanks to the enthusiasm from Bikram Yoga Sea to Sky for my challenge, your energy lifts me every practice.

May 01, 2013

Bikram yoga challenge -- 32 days

Last week, with 17 weeks to go until Ironman Whistler, my body made clear that it was not ready to run. In fact it made clear it was not ready for much riding either, especially in the aero position.

While that was far from good news, it also confirmed that the pain in my heel was merely a symptom, not the cause. The real problem lies in my hips, glutes and piriformis. Unless I fix that soon, I will only be able to do the 3.8K swim on August 25.

From the outset, my registration was about helping me cope with the injury. It was about helping me overcome the reluctance to resume swimming and cycling as it became clear run training was off the menu for a while. As an athlete I am new to dealing with a long layoff from running; I have never had to do that before.

For me, registering for Ironman was also about not losing hope that one day I will be running again, training and racing freely. And in the last few months my optimism about my future as a runner has strengthened. But I have also realized it is going to take a lot more effort and work. And Ironman might arrive too soon.

Bikram yoga will form a key part of my new plan of action to help restore my body's ability to run, to increase my chances to do Ironman, as planned.

Yesterday I began a 32-day challenge of practicing daily. I feel that my body needs it -- my hips, glutes, piriformis, my spine need more flexibility and strength. I have no doubt that these 32 days will be extremely hard but I believe that the benefits and rewards will far outweigh the effort.

Last night, before practice, I told Bikram Yoga Sea to Sky owner and teacher Jena about my intention because I wanted to commit myself to it. Accountability is also part of the reason I am writing this post. In the past three months I have done 21 Bikram classes, so an average of seven per month, less than two a week, compared with the 31 I did the prior six weeks, as I have easily found reasons to "go tomorrow".

Life is busy, so if I want to add something to the schedule I have to commit wholeheartedly and create the time. Reserve the space in my day and mind to practice those 90 minutes every day for one month.

Yesterday's practice was challenging, as my body was tired from the three-day swim meet over the weekend. I probably had not rehydrated well enough either. It confirmed that it had been a good decision to tell Jena about the plan because otherwise I might have skipped today, and the next day, thinking the challenge could wait until "later".

But I know that my body needs it now. How do I know that? Ten days ago, Jena read a quote during practice, which went something like: When you come to the end of what you know, you arrive at the beginning of what you sense. And I sense that Bikram holds the key to my recovery. I certainly sense it is worth trying and seeing what happens.

So I am planning on today's 5:30pm class for day 2 of my 32-day challenge. Namaste.