Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Yoga for the Type A Personality

Growing up my mother practiced yoga twice a week (she still does to this day). While I was exposed to yoga at a young age, I never really got it. I'd watch my mom stretching on the floor or doing a headstand in our living room and think she was a bit out there. My dad thought so too, as he chose more conventional forms of exercise -- running and weight lifting.

When I was in university, I became a huge gym buff. There was a period during grad school where I exercised for two solid years without missing a single day -- 730 days in a row! And I followed in my dad's footsteps -- opting for a daily regimen of cardio and weights. One spring I decided to sign up for a Hatha Yoga intro series. The classes were okay, but I never felt like I was working out, so I'd squeeze in some cardio before or after to compensate.

I continued to do yoga on and off (mostly off) during the next six years. I'd choose Ashtanga classes, which I found more vigorous -- all those sun salutations would elevate my heart rate and sometimes I'd even sweat. But I never had a consistent practice because I always left feeling like I hadn't done much.

Then I found Bikram Yoga and everything changed. It was by accident really. I moved downtown and was looking for a yoga studio in my neighbourhood. The Bikram Yoga Centre was the closest. It took me a while to actually get there. A few times I called to find out how long the classes were (I didn't know they were all 90 minutes) and no one ever answered, so I'd use that as an excuse not to go. When I did finally make it to my first class, I had no clue of what I was getting into. Everyone had beautifully sculpted bodies and were wearing next to nothing. I felt really out of place.

I made it through that first class and even managed to do all the poses. At the end, I felt like I'd just run a marathon. I was physically and emotionally spent. It was exhilarating! Completely different from any other yoga class I’d ever done. I could barely walk the next day -- awkward pose had given my thighs the workout of a lifetime. I went back a couple days later and bought a 20 class pass, which I went through in less than a month. Right after that, I bought a year membership and haven't looked back. I was hooked from day one.

So why am I recounting this story? Well, the reason why other forms of yoga never appealed to me is because they didn't mesh well with my personality. You see, I'm Type A -- I am competitive, achievement-oriented, and always looking for my next challenge. I don't want to waste my time performing actions that aren't going to produce results. And with Bikram Yoga, the results were immediate. Within weeks my body started to look and feel different. And no matter how many times I practice, the yoga is always challenging. Plus it demands a high-level of athleticism. Perfect for my personality.

I don’t think I’m alone. Many of the teachers at my studio have an intensity about them that is characteristic of a Type A personality. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you drawn to Bikram Yoga for similar reasons?

Wondering if you're a Type A? Take this short quiz to find out.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pretty in pink

Something bizarre has happened to me. It's occurred to me before, but it was blatantly obvious in this morning's Bikram yoga class. I was standing on my tippy toes in the second part of awkward when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. There I was, ballerina like, wearing my pink sunrise shorts and standing on my pink towel. Pink?

Let's go back a bit.

Growing up I was a bona fide tomboy. I spent my days digging in the backyard and making mud pies (much to my father's horror). While my younger sister only wanted to wear pink dresses and play princess, I wanted to wear my brown overalls and play cops and robbers. My mother tried to get me into dresses and would often give them to me for birthdays or Christmas. I refused to put them on and they'd hang in my closet until my sister was big enough to wear them.

When I was a teenager, I decided that black was the only colour I'd wear. Everyday -- head to toe -- in black. You'd open my closet and not a single garment of any other hue could be spotted. I even dyed my hair black and wore a dark shade of lipstick that looked almost black. This went on for years and years. And when I finally did introduce colour into my wardrobe, I stuck to browns, greys, blues, and greens.

This tradition of sporting dark colours continued until only recently. Most of my early yoga wear is black. Then I got a bit braver and added some blues -- dark at first, but eventually lighter shades. And then last summer, I bought my first pair of pink leopard print shorts and picked up a pink sports bra to go with them. I felt hugely self-conscious the first time I wore this outfit, but I got a lot of compliments and came to like the way I looked in it. So at Christmas, I bought myself a couple more pairs of pink shorts and eventually added pink towels and a pink mat to the mix. Pink has even started to pervade my attire outside the hot room.

Why this sudden change?

My theory is that Bikram yoga has opened up my mind to new possibilities. If someone were to have told me two years ago that I’d consider becoming a yoga teacher, I would have laughed. Me? A yoga teacher? It was so far removed from my reality at the time – I didn’t even work out let alone do yoga. But now it is my reality. It’s funny how something can enter your life that completely changes your perspective and trajectory. Bikram yoga has done that for me. It has forced me to step outside my comfort zone and look at my life in an entirely new way. It is redefining who I am, influencing my likes and dislikes, and evolving how I interact with and experience the world around me.

So the tomboy of yesterday now sees the world in colour. And the future has never looked brighter!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The 60-day versus 60-class debate

I'm currently doing a 60-day Bikram Yoga challenge. Over the weekend, I did a double and when one of the other students at the studio asked me why, I said so that I'd finish the challenge sooner. A teacher overheard and reminded me that it's called a 60-day challenge, not a 60-class challenge. And part of the challenge is to carve out 90 minutes each day during those 60 days to practice. According to Paul Askew, "If you do a double or triple one day, then good for you. Makes you stronger, but it does not count for 2 or 3 days." (See Oh My Bikram for more on this topic.) I'm a purist at heart, so I've had to recalibrate.

I started this challenge on February 14 (for reasons related to the day that I won't get into here), which makes today day 40. I've done four doubles during this time. Because of all these doubles, I actually went back to count a couple classes I'd done before February 14. I realize now this is cheating. So using February 14 as my starting point, tonight's class will bring me to 44 classes. But I still have 20 more days ahead of me. And because I'll have to add one extra day for good measure, I'll officially finish my challenge on April 15 with 65 or so classes under my belt.

Can you believe I was late for work yesterday morning figuring all of this out?

Truth be told, I'm glad I still have another 20 days to go. I'm enjoying this challenge immensely and the journey's been incredible. While I struggled to get to class in the first 20 days, the 20 days since then have been a real joy. Practicing yoga is the highlight of my day. Friends and family have commented that I look happy and healthy. And it's true. My eyes seem brighter and my skin is glowing. My body feels amazing, my outlook is positive, and I'm sleeping like a baby.

It's also done wonders for my practice, as everyday I try to focus on something new. I've seen improvements in my standing bow and believe I'll be able to touch my forehead to my knee in standing head to knee for longer than two seconds by the end of this challenge. It's also given me confidence that I'll be able to survive teacher training, where you practice 96 classes in nine weeks. And hey, now I can check that box on the application that asks if you've ever practiced Bikram Yoga for 30 continuous days -- not once but twice!

Two-thirds of the way through my 60-day challenge and all is well. I look forward to what the next 20 days will bring!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Signs of Bikram devotion

The Bikram Yoga Centre always draws a large crowd on Monday evenings. It seems that everyone wants to detox after a weekend of transgressions. As the week progresses, fewer and fewer people come to the evening classes. By Thursday, I can actually stretch out my arms in Poorna - Salabhasana without hitting my neighbours. And by Friday, well, I have no neighbours!

Last night the studio was packed as usual and there was virtually no space in the change room before class. Jen, one of the regulars (who does come to the Friday class), was spotted amongst the crowd putting lotion on her knees. When asked, she said it was because she had developed sores on various parts of her body from the yoga. "Bikram Stigmata!" I exclaimed.

Bikram stigmata? Well, it's a term I only learned myself a few months ago (from Twitter no less). Apparently, those of us who practice the yoga a lot, develop calluses where our skin regularly comes into contact with our mats. I have them on the tops of my feet from fixed firm, my knees from camel, my chin from locust, and the middle of my back from... I don't know where exactly. Lying in savasana?

While they're not pretty, I am very fond of my Bikram stigmata and wear them proudly. In fact, you'll often find lifting up my pants or pulling off my socks to show them to people – my very own battle wounds from the yoga I love so much. A sign of my devotion to my practice.

Back to the packed change room last night. When the conversation of the stigmata came up, all the women present (and there were a lot) started comparing their marks and lesions. And those who didn't sport them, looked upon those of us who did in awe. Carol, who completed a 365-day challenge last October, told us she had to resort to wearing capris half-way through, as her knees were just too raw. Others talked about applying shea butter to help reduce the irritation or removing the towel over the mat during the offending poses to prevent the stigmata from worsening. We compared and we shared. It was a real Bikram bonding experience.

So the next time you're taking a class or in the change room, check out those around you to see if you can spot the signs of true Bikram devotion. If nothing else, it makes for great conversation.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

One of these things is not like the other

I did another double today, and even though the two classes had the exact same 26 asanas and two breathing exercises, they were very different. Not only was my body different, but so too were the teachers. This got me thinking about the teachers who have guided my Bikram practice over the last year and a half. While they were all trained by Bikram himself and were required to learn and deliver the dialogue in the same way, they bring something unique to their classes once they get home. Let's look at the teachers who led my classes in the last 24 hours:

Paul McQuillan (Friday, March 19 at 6:30 pm) -- Paul is an actor and brings a fair deal of theatrics to his teaching style. He's a great teacher to have if you're a first timer, as he's very encouraging and will demonstrate the poses. He's got some classic lines, and even though he says them every class, they never lose their entertainment value. For instance, he likes to point out all the sexual benefits of eagle pose and when rabbit pose comes around, he tells us how before he started doing yoga, he was only 5 foot 2. The absolute best thing about Paul's classes is the yoga chant he sings while we're lying in final savasana. It helps me meditate and absorb all the benefits of my practice, and brings the class to a peaceful end. I've never had another Bikram teacher do this before, so it definitely makes Paul's classes unique.

Richard Browne (Saturday, March 20 at 10:30 am) -- Richard is the newest teacher at my studio, having just come back from Las Vegas in December. He's a Bikram purist; his dialogue is verbatim what you learn while in teacher training. In fact, as I've started to learn the dialogue myself, I find his classes to be particularly helpful. Richard jumped into teaching full force and quickly established himself as one of the toughest teachers at the studio. He likes his classes to be hot and when his students complain about the heat, he responds with "there's no such thing as too hot!" I have a usual spot when I practice, which is in the hot part of the room. But when Richard's teaching, I move to the cool spot, by the windows. And so does everyone else! It's the only way we can make it through. Richard's passion for the yoga is unlike anything I've seen before. He delivers the dialogue in a strong and confident manner. If only he could turn on the air!

Carmen Diaz Pollak (Saturday, March 20 at 12:30 pm) -- Carmen hails from Chile and she's been at the studio for about a year. While I don't speak a word of Spanish, you'll often find me in her Spanglish class on Saturdays, where she teaches the first set of each pose in English and the second in Spanish. If you've never taken a Bikram class in another language, I highly recommend it. Not understanding the words can help you focus more on your practice. For a bit of Spanish flair, Carmen changes up the dialogue for the set up of hands to feet pose. She likes to say "move your hips right and left like rumba, salsa, cha cha cha..." And in balancing stick, instead of saying "your body looks like a T as in Tom," she says, "T like Tremendous!" Carmen has a warmth and energy about her that is very inspiring, and I find her classes to be calm and peaceful.

Each of these teachers (and all teachers for that matter) injects their own personality into their classes, making them their own. I often get asked if I ever get bored of Bikram Yoga, given that each class is exactly the same. My response is that each class isn't the same at all. When you combine the differences in my body and mood each day with the different approaches of each teacher, you realize that no two classes are ever the same. And that's what keeps the yoga interesting!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The cat's out of the bag!

I guess this blog is more widely read than I thought. When I arrived at the Bikram Yoga Centre last night, one of the studio's newest teachers (fall '09 graduate) berated me for having to find out about my plans to attend Teacher Training via my blog. Of course he did this in front of the other students and teachers -- so the cat's officially out of the bag: I'm going to be a Bikram Yoga teacher! This being public knowledge is both good and bad.

The good news is that I got lots of positive encouragement from the teachers, who said I'm totally ready and that my practice is very strong. One teacher, who actually taught me my first class a year and a half ago, said she was thinking about me the other day and how I'd make a good teacher. Funny thing is that they all agreed I'd be a really tough teacher, which I've always thought myself. I'm very focused and disciplined as a student, so I'd expect this to carry over to my teaching. No half-assing it in my class!

The bad news is that so many things still need to fall into place before I can pack my bags. For starters, time off from work is required. I don't have intentions to teach full-time, so I need to come back to something. Then there's the matter of location -- "Bikram Yoga Teacher Training in Las Vegas" sounds like an oxymoron to me. I'm hoping it will move somewhere tropical -- like Hawaii or Mexico or Costa Rica! I’ve been told it doesn't matter where you do the training; you'll be so engrossed in it that there's little time to explore your surroundings. Still, when I tell the story for years to come, I want to say it was somewhere other than Vegas.

Deep down I did want to share the news with a broader audience, so I'm glad it’s out in the open. I'm so grateful for the support I received from everyone last night. I left the studio feeling on top of the world! Fingers crossed that it works out!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The 10,000-hour rule

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is required to reach the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert -- in anything. I was thinking about this while lying in savasana last night (my mind was wandering) and started to do the calculations. I've been practicing Bikram Yoga about five times a week since August 1, 2008. That translates into 585 hours, a far cry from the 10,000 needed for true expertise. At this rate, I won't be a Bikram Yoga master for another 25 years!

Part of the reason I want to attend Teacher Training this fall is to help me evolve my practice. What better way to do this then to practice 16 hours a day, six days a week, for nine weeks? It'll be a once in a lifetime opportunity to focus solely on my yoga, without the other demands of life getting in the way.

From the stories I've heard, Teacher Training is no cakewalk. A typical day starts at 8 a.m. and goes until at least midnight, and includes two Bikram Yoga classes. Some days don't end until dawn, and you get only a few hours to sleep before it all starts again. I'd be lying if I said that the whole thing doesn't scare me. But I also know that my passion for this yoga surpasses almost everything else in my life and becoming a teacher may be the most important thing I do. If I can help inspire others the way my teachers have inspired me, I will be happy.

While Teacher Training will give me another 500 hours of practice under my belt, I’ll be in my late 50s by the time I become an expert if I’m bound by the 10,000-hour rule. Truth be told, I’m more interested in the journey than the destination. Practicing Bikram Yoga is something I enjoy and the rewards are inherent in the practice itself. Over the next 25 years, I look forward to sharing my passion for the yoga with others. Achieving mastery is gravy!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Notes from today's posture clinic

This morning's Bikram class was especially quiet for a Sunday, probably due to Daylight Savings Time and people not wanting to get out of bed an hour earlier to do yoga. The fewer number of yogis in the room meant that the teacher had greater opportunity to focus on each of us individually. And lucky for me, she was willing to break away from the dialogue and give us some tips to help us take our practice to the next level.

There were four poses in particular that she helped me with today:

Standing Head to Knee (Dandayamana - JanuShirasana)
This is definitely one of the toughest postures in the series. In fact, it took me an entire year before I could kick out my leg.

The advice that the teacher gave me is not to use my hands to hold up my leg. Instead, I need to fully contract my thigh to keep my leg outstretched. As a test, she suggested letting go of my foot while in the pose to ensure that my leg is doing all the work. If it moves at all, my hands are helping to hold it up.

Standing Separate Leg Stretching (Dandayamana - Bibhaktapada - Paschimottanasana)
I'm a ro
ck star in this pose! I can easily touch my forehead to the floor, and my spine is perfectly straight from the coccyx to the neck. But, as the teacher pointed out, it's too easy for me to touch my forehead, which means I need to take a narrower stance. Instead of four feet, she suggested I step out two and a half feet. I tried this in the second set and it was impossible to touch my forehead to the floor. As she explained, touching your forehead is a goal you need to constantly work towards. To get maximum benefit, it should always feel challenging. I guess I'm no longer going to be a rock star in this one!

Cobra (Bhujangasana)
Cobra is one of those poses that I can sometimes do really well, but it's hit or miss. Rather than keeping my toes and heels together, the teacher suggested I separate them. Then she stood on my feet as I lifted up my chest. Voila! I instantly achieved much greater height than I usually do. And I could really feel it in my lower back.

Locust (Salabhasana)
I'm able to achieve pretty good height with my legs in the third stage of Locust. I've never seen it myself, but teachers always comment that I'm very strong in this posture.

Today, the teacher suggested that I push my weight more forward onto my shoulders, which will allow me to get my legs up over my head (as in the picture to the left). It seems that I'm relying solely on my arm strength to lift my legs, and that my shoulders aren't touching the floor at all. She said that because I already have good height with my legs, getting my shoulders on the floor will enable me to reach the full expression of this pose.

Lots of great advice in today's class. Despite practicing this yoga consistently for almost two years, there's still so much more for me to learn. And I'm up for the challenge!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Double trouble

One of the most exhilarating experiences you can have in Bikram's torture chamber is sticking around after class to do a second one. This is known as a double, and the idea of it scares most yogis.

I try to do a double every second Saturday. I usually make the decision the night before. It means spending Friday night at home, with a bottle of water in place of a bottle of wine. My yoga bag is much heavier on double days, because I need to bring a fresh towel for the second class. I also bring a small snack to eat in between classes, to prevent my blood sugar from plummeting by the time triangle pose comes around again.

The first class of a double series is mentally challenging -- I keep thinking that I'm going to have to do this all over again. The second class, on the other hand, is mental bliss. All those random thoughts and worries that usually pop into my head completely disappear. My mind is quiet and I can focus 100% of my energy and concentration on my practice. Because of this, my second class is often stronger than the first and more fulfilling. I walk out of the hot room at the end of the 180 minutes feeling elated and with a great sense of accomplishment.

I'm a bit of a celebrity when it comes to doubles at my studio, because I do them with such regularity. One teacher calls me "Double Trouble," a moniker I quite enjoy. Doubles are also great preparation for Teacher Training, as they're part of the daily agenda.

Is a triple on my future horizon? You bet it is! It's something I'll set my sights on after my 60-day challenge is complete.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The art of perfection

You may have noticed that my blog has undergone a redesign since my last post. In fact, if you checked it last night, you'd have noticed that it went through six or seven redesigns! I was up well past my bedtime trying to find the perfect look for my blog. Which got me thinking about my approach to most things in life -- I'm a perfectionist.

Back in grade school, I'd rewrite my essays by hand over and over again if I made one mistake. As a graduate student, I'd stay up all hours of the night trying to craft the perfect sentence for my thesis. When I began my career, I’d work obscene hours to ensure the work I produced was flawless. I've eased up on myself since those days, but my perfectionist tendencies still exist and are definitely at play in my Bikram Yoga practice.

Last fall I started to think about Teacher Training, but I convinced myself I wasn't ready because I hadn't mastered all the poses yet. I fall out when I try to touch my forehead to my knee in Dandayamana - JanuShirasana and can't for the life of me hold Dandayamana - Dhanurasana for a full 60 seconds. When one of the teachers at my studio asked if I was considering Teacher Training, I explained that I didn't think I was good enough. She was surprised by my answer and told me I had one of the strongest practices she'd seen, much stronger than hers had been when she had ventured off to training. After hearing that, I started to look around at other people (even though you shouldn't compare yourself) and realized that I do have a great practice, which Teacher Training will only help me "perfect."

In the case of Bikram yoga, I see perfection as an art — it’s a process I’m going through to master the series. And even if I never am able to stay in standing bow for a full 60 seconds, the journey I’m on to get there is transforming me and making me a stronger person.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

It's Hump Day!

Hump Day on a Thursday? While the term usually refers to Wednesdays -- the middle of the week -- I'm using it to describe where I'm at in my current Bikram Yoga challenge. Later today I will practice my 30th consecutive class, officially marking the middle of my 60-day challenge!

Today is a real milestone for me. I've had a steady practice since I was first introduced to the yoga on August 1, 2008 (my Bikram birthday), doing 4 or 5 classes a week without missing a beat. But I've never completed a full 30 days in a row. It's not that I couldn't physically do it, it's just that life often got in the way.

Committing to this challenge has meant putting the yoga at the centre of my life. My evenings are devoted to my practice. I can't work late or go out with friends. I have to watch what I eat, and drink at least 2.5 litres of water throughout the day. I need to go to bed at a decent hour to ensure I get adequate sleep. And I've pretty much weaned myself off alcohol and coffee. These are pretty big sacrifices for me, but it's paying off. The yoga has become part of my daily routine now -- it's a habit -- so it's a lot easier to get there. In fact, it's the highlight of my day.

So today's Bikram class will get me over the proverbial hump... It's all downhill from here! I look forward to what the next 30 days will bring.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Is water essential for Bikram Yoga?

Last night's Bikram Yoga class wasn't without its share of excitement. I had a feeling the class was going to be different, which was confirmed when I approached the studio and saw two huge utility trucks parked outside and several workmen tearing up the road in front. And then I read the sign on the door: "The studio has no water today due to a water main break. Classes are running as scheduled, but there's no drinking water, showers or toilet facilities." For a half second I considered using this as an excuse to skip out on class #28, but of course my bulldog determination wouldn't let me.

My biggest concerns were drinking water (I usually gulp 40 oz during class) and washing the makeup off my face (the idea of having my mascara pour down my face by the time we hit the balancing series didn't exactly appeal). Both concerns were quickly alleviated -- the teacher was handing out free bottled water and a fellow yogi offered me a cleansing cloth.

The absence of water didn't dissuade people from practicing -- the class was packed. And since the water had been off since the noon class, the odour in the studio was especially pungent by the time the 7 pm class rolled around. So no water and a packed and smelly room. Despite these less than ideal conditions, I had a great start to the class. And when the drilling began during standing separate leg stretching, I breathed through the distraction and focused on my practice.

Overall, class 28 was solid. The only downside was walking home after class feeling especially dirty and dehydrated.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Facebook, Twitter, Blogging... have I become a social media junkie?

In 2007 I joined Facebook. I was admittedly one of the last of my friends to do so and only sucumbed after numerous invites from people I trusted (I was skeptical at best). Then last year, I began tweeting. It started off slow. My first tweet was in February 2009 ("I'm having breakfast for dinner") and then silence for four months, when I suddenly had a lot to say. Today I started this blog. I've been thinking about it for a while. I'm at a crossroads in my life and will make some important decisions over the next few months, which I need more than 140 characters to express. So here I am. Enter Chrissy D. into the blogosphere!

So why Japanese Ham Sandwich as the title of my blog? Well as anyone who knows me knows, Bikram Yoga is my greatest passion. And one of the poses I do exceptionally well is Pada-Hastasana, or hands to feet pose (it's part of the warm up series). The dialogue while you're in this pose goes something like this: “there is no air or light, from the side you look like a Japanese ham sandwich.” Now I've never had a Japanese ham sandwich, nor am I likely ever to have one (since I don't eat pork), but the phrase is catchy and since I'll likely be blogging a lot about Bikram yoga, it seems fitting (that and the first six names I tried were taken).

I'm currently doing a 60-day Bikram yoga challenge -- I've completed 27 classes, so I'm nearly at the halfway mark. The journey so far has been incredible and I've experienced a whole range of emotions. The first week and a half I felt happy, then came sadness, followed by anger. My body is also reacting -- I've become "sleek" in appearance (or so said the man practicing beside me last night), and I'm craving healthy foods. Over the weekend I stocked up on organic energy bars and fruit and nut snacks. Sure beats the full-fat muffins and chocolate that usually carry me through the morning. The healthy eating seems to be agreeing with me -- last night's class was one of my best in this challenge.

So there's my first-ever blog post! Check back to read about my Bikram challenge and other random things that I'm likely to share.