Thursday, June 11, 2015

Go Back and Look Again

Believe it or not, a flourishing yoga studio does not just spring into existence overnight. It takes time and care, some trial and error, and a bit of improvisation. Before I opened my studio, I heard lots of comments from other studio owners along the lines of, "you just have to get through the first three years" or "I've had my studio for five years and now I know what I'm doing."

These comments are both reassuring and alarming. I like it better when I know what I'm doing, but at least I'm in good company when I feel like I'm just winging it!

I did my best to plan ahead. I put together a 34-page official business plan, which the loan officer at the bank said was the best he'd ever seen and that I "should give other people lessons on how to do this!" I did the mission statement, the statement of purpose, the projected financials, and the market demographics. I did my homework.

Then I signed the lease, and everything went out the window. I signed my lease on June 16th of last year, we started demolition on the 17th, and we had our first class on August 17th. For a full-service Bikram studio, that has got to be the fastest build-out in history! The best-case scenario I'd ever heard was an 8-week buildout, the worst-case was 4-5 months. Our build-out was 95% complete after only 6 weeks, and then at that point I was begging friends for rides to Ikea, spending entire days assembling furniture, running to the hardware store 5 times a day, and crying in the laundry room. Everything came together beautifully in the end, but it happened much faster than I expected!

Once the studio is open, you enter a whole new phase, which is actually running the damn thing! Which initially, I did mostly on my own - there were a couple of weeks when I had to teach 12-14 classes a week AND do the laundry, clean the mirrors, and pick up every single piece of lint off the floor (because God forbid that someone should lie down on their mat in savasana and see a little piece of towel lint on the floor next to them).

Of course now I have staff, and life is easier, but it doesn't seem to have slowed down very much. I can write more later about the process of operating the studio, but to make a long story short, the past year has been maybe 50% according to plan and 50% just playing it by ear.

Then last month, right on schedule, the summer slow-down hit. And boy did it hit HARD. I mean, the place just cleaned out. So I started to get a little anxious about things like "cash flow" and "paying rent" and decided to seek help from a specialist - namely, from the Rhode Island Small Business Development Center, which very graciously provides free counseling to local small business owners.

I had my first meeting with my business advisor last week, and it went something like this:

Him: "I'm surprised to hear you say you need help with marketing, because I did research on you and looked at your website and everything looks very good!"

Me: "Thanks, but this is slow season for us and I want to get better at managing my cash flow for next year."

Him: "Well you are smart, you are educated, you are the perfect candidate for.... a business plan!" (pulls out stack of handouts on writing a business plan)

Me: "Oh yes! I did write a business plan! I did that already!"

Him: "You need to update it. You are also a perfect candidate for writing.... a mission statement!"

Me: "I definitely wrote a mission statement.... it's around here somewhere...." (mission statement is nowhere to be found)

Soooooo, I got some homework to do. Apparently you're NOT supposed to just write a business plan, give a copy to the bank, stuff it into a drawer, and say "thank god that's over." You have to KEEP updating that shit, like, all the time! Bad news for me, since business writing is not my favorite chore and mostly makes me want to stab myself with a fork.

I pulled out my old business plans and mission statements, and right away I found out that they were badly in need of updating. I found an old mission statement worksheet that said, "Our target market is the population of East Greenwich and southern Rhode Island." My actual studio is in a completely different part of the state. And it turns out that "averaging out" rent and utilities is fine for back-of-the-envelope calculations, but it is NOT a great way to predict your monthly expenses, since fees and utilities over the winter can fluctuate by over 100%.

Turns out that revisiting the business plan was an excellent suggestion, even though I was a little resistant and would rather do a third set of triangle pose. Now that I have the numbers and data from my first year of business, I can use that information to make more realistic predictions for the next few years. And now that I've been behind the wheel for a while, I have a much better idea of where the studio is headed. I did the best I could last year with the time and information that I have, but now I can do much better.

 So this is a post about revising and growing - about updating or getting rid of old ideas or attitudes that aren't working for you anymore. Just because you made a good plan, that doesn't mean it's going to work for you forever. You have to go back and look again. What's still working for you and what's not? Which ideas still serve you, and which ones don't? Which of your habits are helpful, and which ones do you want to change?

You're constantly evolving - mentally and physically - and so is the world around you. Something that worked perfectly for you a few years ago might be holding you back today. Something that you absolutely hated doing in the past might have the answer that you've been looking for. It doesn't mean that you were wrong or bad or you made a mistake - it just means that you're changing. Hooray! You're a human! Change is good!

I just keep learning that it's ok to go back to basics and start from scratch. Practice makes perfect, right? So you'll never do something perfectly on your first try, no matter how good you are! Nothing wrong with that. Practice, practice, practice. You can always do better the second time around, if you just give yourself the chance to try again.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a class to teach and a studio to run!

With love,

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Before and After

Hello world! Bet you weren't expecting to see any activity on this blog ever again, but here I am! Still alive. I have survived my first nine months of studio ownership and I definitely have a lot of stories to tell. I just haven't had the chance to tell them yet. But I've had a little encouragement - thanks dear - so I am sitting down at the keyboard again tonight, for the first time in a VERY long time!

Before I write about all the excitement of opening a studio, and adventures of being a studio owner, and the stress of running a business, and the crazy state of the Bikram yoga world in general, I want to talk about something completely different.

What up with all these "Before and After" pictures that have taken over my news feed lately?!

Look I get it, I really do. It's so awesome and exciting to see changes in your body, whether it's loosing some weight or nailing a new position or getting deeper into your yoga postures. But I worry that we, the yoga teachers and fitness instructors and industry leaders, are selling a big fat lie. Here is the story that we are telling, in the form of a graph:

Or as the incomparable Allie Brosh puts it:

The lie that we are telling ourselves (and each other), is that "before" and "after" are two completely separate stages of your life. The caterpillar becomes a butterfly and stays that way forever. You start yoga and you have no flexibility, but after you do yoga for 6 months, your postures become fantastic and they stay that way forever. You eat crappy food for a while, but then you become enlightened in your diet and never touch Ben and Jerry's again.

Wrong! Of course we know this is wrong, but we trick ourselves anyway! There is no "before" and there is no "after," there's only "during." Life is a constant practice. Some days you're on the top of the wave, some days you're not. Some days that butterfly is gonna wake up, look back at the chrysalis, and think, "Damn, that looks cozy, maybe I'll crawl back in there and take a little nap."

If we are being honest with ourselves, the chart should look a little more like this (for example):

There ain't no straight path! It's up, it's down, it's all around. One year you'll be totally killing it, the next year you might barely practice at all, and then you might come back stronger than ever. Or you might come back and struggle for a while. That's fine! Guess what? Everyone else has the same struggle, too! If I had a dollar for every time a student has told me, "Oh, but I used to be able to do XYZ," I could sell my studio and retire to Costa Rica and drink coconuts all day. 

The truth is that getting to a certain level is easy, but maintaining is very hard. I've seen beautiful, talented students literally in tears because they had an injury that forced them to back off for a couple of months, and they never saw it coming. 

Just for the record, and as an example, here's the general shape that my Bikram yoga practice has taken over the years:

2004: First Bikram yoga class, age 19. Loved it! Went a few times a week over the summer, for a couple of months, then forgot all about it.

2005: Maybe 6 months later, got dragged to class by a schoolmate. Loved it again! Was motivated enough to get up at 5am in the morning and take the subway to the 6am class, only to get locked out anyway because the train didn't get there early enough. Better luck next time.

2007? Skipping ahead a little bit... practiced off and on during college and in between ballet classes. Quit ballet in 2007 and figured I'd better give myself something else to do or else I would go stark raving nuts. Went to yoga approximately every day for the next 2 years. Got pretty good at it too! The picture below was taken in 2008. (I was 23. Is that really seven years ago?!)

2009: Grad school! Boy was that a rough time for my yoga practice, not to mention my mental health. I can't believe it but I actually found a photo from this time period and it's hilarious. I'm trying so hard and I just can't get it together.

2010: Dropped out of school and went to teacher training! Managed to pull my shit back together, just in time to get my butt kicked by teacher training. Two classes a day for 9 weeks with very inconsistent heating. Took my hamstrings months to recover! I actually didn't mind at all - I was sooooo happy to just be doing yoga all the time.

2010 - 2013 is a normal up and down period. Some championship training, some jogging, some yoga, some being lazy and eating cake. I DO want to share these two photos that were taken in almost the same spot, about 1 year apart from each other (I think it's spring 2012 and spring 2013).

What you'll notice, if you have a good eye for that kind of thing, is that I lost a BUNCH of weight in the second picture. This is not because I went on a new diet or a new exercise technique. It is because I was mega stressed out over some personal matters. You'll also notice that I look a lot happier in the first picture! Hilariously (to me), I got sooooooo many compliments on my body when I was super skinny, cause my abs looked killer. Everyone was like, "Wow, what are you doing?!" and I was like ".... meh." I WAS actually practicing a whole lot... because that is how I deal with stress. I really couldn't have cared less about the postures.

2014: I opened my yoga studio!! Here is my glorious standing bow photo, that was taken by my sister on my iPhone (my camera had died), on the bike path behind the Sip-n-Dip, while I was working on signing the lease for my new space. This is the picture that's been put on our marketing materials and plastered around town. It's not NEARLY my deepest posture - I mean, I'm not 23 anymore - but damn am I having fun and I can hold it forever!

2015: Er.... file not found? No photos exist, as I have not had such a "model" practice since opening the studio. I am surprisingly ok with this. If you had told me ten years ago that I wouldn't be able to do my perfect standing splits anymore, I would have been totally devastated. But guess what? I've got a yoga studio, a great boyfriend, a sweet dog, a cute apartment in a wonderful town, lovely friends.... I can't complain. Life is good. (Not always easy or simple or perfect - that's a different story.)

I feel like I've been writing all night and I'm still just scratching the surface. What I really want to say is this: It's okay if you're not constantly improving. It's okay if you run into setbacks and injuries and roadblocks. It's okay if you look at other people's lovely before-and-after pictures and it makes you feel like a crummy little caterpillar sometimes. A photo is just a carefully selected two-dimensional snapshot that tells you almost nothing about someone's life. Great abs alone don't make a happy person - that reflection in the mirror is not going to keep you warm at night. Don't worry about what other people are doing, and don't stress about the stuff that you can't change at the moment. Just keep taking little baby steps and putting one foot in front of the other. 

Change is constant. That's the bad news AND the good news. If you wish you could stay just like this forever... tough luck, you can't take it with you. You're gonna get older some day, and that's the best case scenario! If you're not happy now and you wish you could make a change.... well that's great! Like it or not, you're changing every day. Relax, go easy on yourself, enjoy what you have, stop chasing perfection. There are no perfect people - trust me - we're all faking it and screwing up and figuring it out just like you. 

This post has probably gone on long enough, so I will leave it here for now. All mistakes and typos are completely intentional. Thanks in advance for your support and encouragement. I have a million other things to talk about and will try to write again soon....

Friday, June 13, 2014

Big News!

I realize that it's been over a year since I updated this blog. But I have been busy! Still loving yoga, still teaching Bikram, still practicing as much as I can. And last fall I started planning a new adventure, which I am finally ready to unveil:

I am opening my own studio!!

In fact I was supposed to sign the lease TODAY, but the landlord couldn't make it so we had to push it back to Monday. It's Friday the 13th, it's a full moon, so what did I really expect?! But contracts have been signed, applications have been accepted, loans have been approved, legal fees have been paid, and plans have been submitted to the zoning office. This thing is happening!

Quick rundown of the details:

WHERE - Bristol, Rhode Island.

WHERE?! - Ha, ha. Bristol is a sweet little Rhode Island town located about 30 minutes from downtown Providence, without traffic. It's surrounded by water on 3 sides, and its claim to fame is its Fourth of July parade, which is the oldest in America and has been held every year since 1785! Great little spot, home to a university (Roger Williams University), lots of local business, a ridiculous amount of shoreline, and NO hot yoga studios... yet!

WHEN? - If all goes well, we will start building in the next week or so and open our doors by the end of the summer! I've been saying "August" a lot, which might be optimistic, but technically summer lasts until September 21st...

GOT A WEBSITE? - Sure, though of course everything is still under construction! I got my Facebook page up and running this week, I'll add Twitter and Instagram soon (since apparently Instagram is a lot cooler than Facebook these days), and I have a home page up where you can join the mailing list.

So yeah, I've been pretty focused on this project and not had much of a chance to write about it yet. Now that the cat is out of the bag, I might sit down and write a little bit about the fascinating process of starting a new business. Or I might take the little spare time I can get to watch Netflix, cuddle with the boyfriend and the dog, and drink a glass of wine. It's a toss-up!

The funniest thing, to me, is that I'm opening a Bikram yoga studio right at this moment when lots of studios are closing or rebranding. What's a Bikram yogi to do?

Part of me just wanted to call my studio YOGA, but the name "Bristol Yoga" was already taken! But here, like in many places, many people already know what Bikram yoga is and have strong feelings about it. It's always been that kind of thing where you love it or you hate it. People going to a "regular" yoga class don't want to be tricked into taking a Bikram class - and vice versa, people who are looking specifically for a Bikram class would be totally bummed out if they wandered into a cold yoga class instead. So "Bikram" has to go in the name. I'm pretty convinced that 90% of marketing is just attracting the right students. I don't want to attract students who hate hot yoga who will bash me all over Yelp, I want to bring in the students who LOVE it!

I've done Bikram yoga for 10 years this summer, and it is still my favorite out of all the yoga classes that I've taken. I've done my fair share of vinyasa yoga, forrest yoga, iyengar yoga, hatha yoga, along with plenty of other things like dance, ballet, running, kickboxing, and aerials. They're all great, and different things work for different people, for sure. But the Bikram yoga is my jam, my special sauce, and the only one that I'm really interested in teaching. I did ballet for over 10 years, and I was never interested in becoming a ballet teacher. But after doing Bikram for a few years, I desperately wanted to be a Bikram teacher, because it's such an amazing methodology that can be applied to so many different people and bodies, with amazing results. Old, young, stiff, bendy, fat, skinny, male, female, black, white - it doesn't matter, I get to work with all of them. I've spent so much time working with amazing yoga teachers, learning to read bodies and apply the postures step-by-step in all different situations, and it just never gets old. After 4 years of teaching full-time, it's still my favorite thing that I've ever done.

The great thing about my market in Rhode Island is that (a) lots people have some idea of what Bikram yoga is and (b) people really want to try it. Two studios have opened in the Providence area in the last few years, and people love them! There's a good vibe gong on! So the folks over in Bristol county are bummed that they are missing out, and they are ready to get on board. It's all so fresh and fun, and it's made so many people feel good. Bikram yoga might have the world's worst P.R. sometimes, but here in New England I'm still proud to call myself a Bikram yoga teacher!

I have no idea when I'll be posting on this blog again, but I will be updating my Facebook and my mailing list, and I hope to start a studio blog at some point, so check those out. And thanks for still following my little yoga blog, even after all this time....

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Run, Yogi, Run!

So I started a new running program about 6 weeks ago and it has been surprisingly great!

I've been doing the Couch to 5k program, which is designed for raw beginners, total couch potatoes, to ease into running a 5k rase (or about 3 miles). Now I am no couch potato, but the last time I did any sort of running was in high school and it was a moderate disaster, so I figured that this program might be a good idea.

Here is a visual depiction of the program which I've found super helpful:

You basically start off by alternating short intervals of jogging (60 sec) with short intervals of walking (90 sec), and then every week you run a little bit longer and a little bit more. It is a 9 week program designed to ease you into running.

I've always suspected that running was something people only did because they wanted to lose weight or they hated themselves, because those were always my reasons for getting on a treadmill! But I tested out the Day One workout in early March (just before I went to Baltimore), and I was surprised... I thought it would be easy and boring, but it was fun! Like, really fun! I enjoy being outdoors, I enjoy going fast, I enjoyed how the running got so much easier as I went along. I also like having a well-defined program to follow (hello, I've done the same yoga sequence every week for years now), and I like setting goals. So I decided that this program would be a fun and healthy thing for me to do.

It's been interesting to see the changes in my body as I go through the program. Running is notorious for wrecking bodies. As a yoga teacher, I have seen a lot of people who have virtually destroyed their bodies and joints after years of pounding the pavement. After years of running marathons, people have no choice but to start a yoga program and heal their bodies. A lot of Bikram yoga teachers are former runners and marathoners who turned to yoga when their bodies refused to run anymore.

For me, it's so cool, because I'm coming at it from the opposite end of the spectrum. I've been practicing yoga as my primary (often only) form of exercise for almost 6 years now, and I am just gradually easing into running. After every run, I go back and do a yoga class! I am only running a few days a week. After each run, my legs and hips are a little bit stiffer - I see the biggest effect in my hamstring, calves, and IT bands. But after a couple of yoga classes, everything is set back to normal, just in time for my next run! So I am doing this as a little experiment - I want to build up to running 3 miles non-stop at a good pace and still be able to touch my head to my toes. So far, so good. Last Saturday was my first non-stop run - 20 minutes with no walking - and I finished pretty easily, went to yoga immediately after, and had my head almost on my toes again by the end of class.

The main differences I've seen from running are that I feel stronger, it's improved my appetite, it tends to give me a ridiculous amount of energy (as if I needed it), it's a quick way to work out any stress, and I am going to get nice runner's tan. Running with a friend is fun because you can talk the whole time - my running buddy is basically my therapist. And wow, compared to a 90 minute yoga class, a 30 minute run fits into my schedule super easily. I can go in the morning before class, in the afternoon between classes, or at whatever random time I roll out of bed in the mid-morning. Even if I drive 10 or 15 minutes to get to one of my favorite running spots, it's still ridiculously convenient.

And just like yoga, running will knock you on your ass if you get too cocky or eat the wrong foods before a workout. My last couple of runs were especially awesome, so today I was feeling really good. I got a new app for my phone so that I could log my time and see how fast I am running - you know, because after 6 weeks I'm probably running like a 5 minute mile (I imagined). I also ate a bunch of cheese and crackers right before I went out. Naturally I died - I got a very unpleasant cramp in my stomach and had to take an extra long walking break in the middle. First time I've had to stray from the program. Whoops. I timed my last mile anyways, and went for speed. It wasn't my fastest running pace (being chased by a bear), but it was a lot faster than my usual jogging pace (still hauling ass), and I finished a mile in 8:47. This was not easy!! And there is no way I could sustain that pace over 3 consecutive miles! So I am not yet the speed demon that I thought I was, but I have a good baseline.

The biggest thing I've started to understand through this running program is pacing. I thought I understood pacing before, but not really. Most of the exercise I've done in my life - yoga and dancing - is essentially interval training. You work really hard, but never for more than a couple minutes at a time. The longest yoga pose we do in the Bikram class is only 60 seconds at most. Even that damn snow scene in the Nutcracker is only a few minutes long (although it always felt like an hour). So you're getting your heart rate up, but then you bring it back down. Running any kind of distance is totally different - it's endurance training. I keep comparing it to biking in my head because that's the only activity I've done that's comparable, where you measure effort in miles instead of minutes. It's not about giving 100% at all once. It's about giving maybe 60% and then sustaining that effort for a longer period of time. It's a completely different feeling, and it's something that running teaches you right away - if you start off running as fast as possible, you can't keep it up! So you have to slooooow dooooown. Very unexpected, than running is teaching me how to slow down, think long term, and be more patient.

There's a rule that I read about (when I was reading various training articles online) called the Rule of Ten Percent. It's a rule of thumb for increasing mileage. This rule says that you should never try to increase your mileage by more than 10% in one week. Even if you can, you shouldn't, because it doesn't give your body a chance to catch up. They emphasize this idea all over the Couch to 5k website.  Quote: "Too many people have been turned off of running simply by trying to start off too fast. Their bodies rebel, and they wind up miserable, wondering why anyone would possibly want to run in the first place."

I loooove this because you can apply it directly back into yoga! So many people want to do everything right away, and it's a mistake. After a week they overdo it, they're exhausted, they get discouraged, and they give up on the whole thing. This doesn't work! You have to start from your personal baseline, whatever that is, and then build up sloooowly, step by step, trying the right way, so that your body has a chance to adapt and you get maximum benefit. It's not a race. (Haha see what I did there?) Or more accurately - it's not a sprint. It's a marathon. You have to be patient and take your time.

Now that I have gotten you guys all excited about running, I need to clean up, eat some food, water my plants, and go to yoga! Hope everyone is enjoying the first day of May. Over here, it's finally looking like spring...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

April Showers

I planted a whole bunch of seeds on Monday. Basil, cilantro, parsley, chives, tomatoes, radishes, peppers, peas. I've never grown from seed before. I usually just get the little pre-grown plants from the grocery store. But I've got a nice big south-facing porch that gets tons of sunlight, and I am trying to make the most of it this year.

So I started all the seeds inside (with help from my boyfriend, a more expert gardener than me), gave them some water, and put them in little planters on the windowsills around my apartment. I guess this is the proper way to do it - start them off inside, and then when they get bigger and stronger, you can plant them outside.

I went around yesterday to check on all my seeds, and none of them have sprouted yet. Where are they?! It's already been two whole days! So I checked the information on the packets, and of course most of seedlings are supposed to sprout up after a couple of weeks, not days. So much for my instant gratification. I have to be patient! Again!

It's the same lesson in yoga class. This comes up all the time. We don't want to wait around for all those slow changes to happen. We want to make them happen. Serenity now! The beatings will continue until morale improves!

Sometimes that mindset works fine. Sometimes you really can make a change in a single session. The mental stuff is like that sometimes - you can change your mind in half a second. But the physical changes usually take longer. You can't force your body open overnight. You have to give it the right environment - sunlight, air, water - and then allow it to open up, "like a flower petal blooming"!

Before class last night, some of the teachers were talking with a student at the front desk. She wanted to know, "How long is it going to take before I can get into all these postures?" We told her, "It depends. Maybe weeks, maybe months, maybe years." She said, "Oh, ok! That makes me feel better." Turns out she'd only done 3 classes so far and was worried that she might not be able to achieve the postures fully like everyone else. Her joints are full of arthritis and the class is difficult for her, so she needed a little encouragement. We told her not to worry - nobody "gets into" all the postures in only 3 classes! Give it 3 years and then we'll talk!

This same student had some great news for us. After her first 3 classes, she went home and painted her toenails. This was a big deal. Because of the arthritis in her hips and spine, it was very hard for her to reach her toes.... she hadn't been able to paint her toenails in years! Great progress already! Her postures might not look too different yet, but all the important changes are already happening internally, underground.

I had a teacher once who said, "It's easy to forget about the things that you can't see." But that's where the interesting work always begins. It's invisible to the eye, at least in the beginning, but it's all happening underground, underneath your skin.

We had a few glorious sunny days here in Providence, and then the clouds came back and it rained all night. But I planted some new flower seeds out on my porch yesterday, in the afternoon sun, so now I don't mind the rain. It's supposed to be good for my flowers. April showers bring May flowers, so they say. We will see! I'm just trying to practice patience and love in everything I do, tending the garden one day at a time.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

NYC Follow-Up - The Journey Continues!

Here it is, the post that I keep putting off writing because I am too busy being lazy and going on yoga strike!

If anybody has been keeping track, you'll know that the National Yoga Asana Championships happened less than two weeks ago in New York City! (In fact I know that quite a lot of you were there, some of you as competitors and some of you in the cheering section.) Since I came in first place for my region in January, I went to nationals as a competitor this year for the first time. Woohoo!

It was quite an experience, and I've decided that I liked it. I liked it more than I expected... because to be honest, I was kind of dreading it. I love doing the regional events because they're fun and friendly and all my friends are there and it's not too much pressure. The national competition is a whole different ball game, much higher level. And I didn't have that long to get ready - there was only about a month between the regionals and the nationals, so I felt like I was cramming a little bit to get ready for the big one.

But in the end, it was a good time. It was pretty nerve-wracking waiting for my turn to get up on stage, and I certainly didn't give my best performance - I wobbled all over the place in standing bow - but I had a lot of fun being on stage! I just smiled through the routine, thought of all my friends and family watching from home, and tried to show how much I loved the postures, even when they didn't come out perfectly. I nailed my optionals at least, including peacock pose, which I had been working on like crazy all month. My other optional was full cobra, one of my all-time favorites. I came off stage grinning, hugged my friend Teri (who was giving out flowers), and walked across the backstage with Esak Garcia, who was on "hug the competitors" duty. This was actually my first personal interaction with the famous Esak. He put his arm on my shoulders and said, "Wow, you seem really happy!" and I said, "Yeah that was crazy, I just learned 20 new things in 3 minutes!" and he gave me a high five. So that was a nice moment!

The whole time I was there, I kept thinking about all the people supporting me at home. My studio held a donation class and raised enough money to cover all my expenses, which was amazing - shout-out to Ocean State Bikram Yoga, the best ever! And I got like 5 text messages on my phone as soon as I got off stage, including a couple from my boyfriend saying, "Good job!" and "The whole family watched you and they all clapped!" (He was visiting with his family that weekend.) I called him like 2 minutes later and said, "Aaah, did they all see me fall?" He said, "No, we had a problem with the internet connection when you were balancing so I couldn't tell if it was you or just the connection." I told him, "Ok, perfect! Just show your family a picture of how I usually do the posture and tell them it looked exactly like that!"

In NYC, too, everyone was so supportive. The audience, the judges, the other competitors, the support staff, the champions - everyone was really cool to us. Rajashree sat there with a big happy smile on her face the whole time. And honestly, it's great how no one thinks less of you if you fuck up a little bit. Everyone understands that if you've made it this far, you can do the postures pretty well, and it's just the nerves that get in the way. I saw some amazing yogis fall out of postures, and it didn't make me think any less of them. I told my friend Lauren from California, "Aah, I fell out," and she said, "Oh yeah, I fell out every year for 5 years before I got it." (She nailed her routine this year and made it into the top ten.)

That was my biggest revelation for the weekend, which I've been sharing with my classes, is that competition is done with the same spirit as the regular class. If you mess up a posture in class, the teacher is never gonna be like, "Hey, what the fuck happened to you today?! Your balancing stick was a mess!" They just say, "Hey, great job today, so good to have you here, come back again tomorrow." And even at the national competitive level, it's the same way. No one says, "Geez, what happened to you up there?" They just say, "Hey, that was great, come back again next year." Doesn't matter if it's your first day of yoga or if you've been practicing for (in my case) almost 9 years. The spirit is still the same.

Oh, and I had a great time watching the finals and demonstrations on Sunday, once I was finished with my part on Saturday night. On Sunday they had the youth division, the top 10 men, the top 10 women, and then demonstrations from 4 previous international champions (Cynthia Wehr, Esak Garcia, Ky Ha, and Joseph Encinia). Those were awesome, and I totally geeked out. Videos are all up here: USA Yoga Finals. The "champion of champions" demonstrations were great because all the champions put together totally different routines that really showed who they were. I was playing around trying to choose one word to describe each champion, and I came up with "clarity" for Cynthia, "classical" for Esak, "fun" for Ky Ha, and "flow" for Joseph. You guys should watch and see what you think - those demos start around the 5:00 mark in the awards ceremony video.

As soon as I finished my routine, I decided to go on a "yoga strike" for the rest of the week to re-set my body, and I almost made it. I only did one class last week, and what a glorious class it was! Apart from that, I did a lot of napping and watching Parks and Rec, and I went on a massive cleaning/organizing spree and totally overhauled my bedroom. Today I skipped out on my usual advanced class (woke up feeling kind of groggy) and went on a run with my brand new running shoes - Couch to 5k, Week 1, Workout 1! I loved it! It was much more fun than I expected and I felt so energized after! I'm still going to take beginners class later today before I teach, and I'm excited about that too. It's definitely a nice time to ease up on the yoga and add some new things into the mix.... before coming back stronger than ever! I've gotta get ready for competition next year - it is on!

Next on the agenda: I'm heading down to Baltimore on Thursday to guest-teach some classes for a week and a half at my old studio in Hampden (while the owner is on vacation). So that will be nice. I'm excited to see some familiar faces. The boyfriend is coming down with me for the weekend and we're going to spend St. Patrick's Day in D.C. Probably at the zoo, looking at animals. Or drinking. Or getting drunk and looking at animals. Should be glorious. Will write more later!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ninety Seconds

I had a lovely visit with my chiropractor today. I am very stubborn about going to get adjusted, because I always think I can fix everything myself, but sometimes a professional touch is extremely helpful. Especially this month, since I've been working to get ready for Nationals (eek!), I've been trying to make good use of all the talented bodyworkers in my network...

So anyway, I was leaving the chiropractor feeling great - totally relaxed and de-stressed. As I got in my car, I was thinking about my plans for the rest of the afternoon. I thought, hmm, maybe I'll make that call to my car insurance company that I've been putting off. (I hate calling insurance companies.) Then I thought, nah, I don't want to put myself in a stressful situation and reverse all the good work that my chiropractor just did!

What's wrong with that picture?

Shouldn't I be able to deal with stressful situations and stay relaxed? What good is my relaxation and meditation if I can only stay calm when no one is bugging me? As Bikram says, let no one steal your peace, or you are the loser!

Now I have to give myself credit - I am an extremely level-headed person in most stressful situations. It's pretty hard to piss me off. I can usually just take a step back, take a breath, and be objective about things. But of course I still experience stress. And it got me thinking....

I just finished reading a book called My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. Very interesting book. It's Dr. Taylor's personal account of a massive stroke that she experienced in the left side of her brain, and the recovery she went through afterwards. As a brain scientist, she was able to learn a lot about her brain through the stroke and the recovery process. She basically lost the left side of her brain - which in meditation terms is the "monkey mind", the ego, the storyteller - and was left with just the right side of the brain, which lives in the present moment. As she recovered, she was able to choose which functions of the left brain she wanted to re-develop - such as talking, puzzling, analyzing - and which programs she could live without - anger, frustration, judgement, and so on.

That's a pretty hand-waving summary, scientifically speaking, but I hope you get the idea. The book has all the details, of course.

Here's one of the passages that I found the most intriguing. From chapter 17:
I define responsibility (response-ability) as the ability to choose how we respond to stimulation coming in through our sensory systems at any moment in time. Although there are certain limbic system (emotional) programs that can be triggered automatically, it takes less than ninety seconds for one of these programs to be triggered, surge through our body, and then be completely flushed out of our bloodstream. My anger response, for example, is a programmed response that can be set off automatically. Once triggered, the chemical released by my brain surges through my body and I have a physiological experience. Within ninety seconds from the initial trigger, the chemical component of my anger has completely dissipated from my blood and my automatic response is over. If, however, I remain angry after those ninety seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run.
That's so amazing. Only ninety seconds!

For me, this information helps to solve a classic problem that comes up again and again. We always talk about how the goal of yoga is to become still, to cease the fluctuations of the mind. Nothing should steal your peace. And then here's the question (which is a pretty good question): what does that actually look like, in practice? If nothing steals your peace, do you become a completely unfeeling person? Does that mean you can't have any emotional reactions? And then how do you interact with the world?

I love this answer, because it jives with my experience so well. If some unpleasant stimulus comes at you - you get a nasty email, you get cut off in traffic, somebody shouts at you - you're still going to have a physiological response. Your pulse shoots up, you feel hot, your mouth goes dry. Essentially you're feeling the flood of chemicals being released into your blood stream. This response happens automatically. But after ninety seconds, that response can be finished, if you're willing to let go of it. You still have to take that hit, but then you can bounce right back, shake it off, and let it go. It's like if someone tosses a pebble into a lake. The ripples will appear right away, but after a short time, the lake goes back to stillness... unless you keep tossing in more pebbles.

And I love this, because it goes along really well with how we practice and teach in Bikram yoga. We're always playing with that dynamic balance between stimulation and relaxation. Sometimes when you start it seems totally nuts - "kick back more, keep kicking, kick harder!" followed by "completely relax." But it makes a lot of sense. Especially in the floor series, where we alternate between active postures and relaxation in savasana, we're training you to go back to peaceful relaxation even when you've got a lot of stimulation coming in. During the posture, you might sometimes feel frustration, irritation, or anxiety. (It happens.) But when the posture is done, you have to let go of those feelings and just relax. You're learning to take the hit, and then move on. Do the best you can, and then go back to stillness.

It's amazing how quickly emotions can come and go during a yoga practice. For example, my friend always looks sad before triangle pose and happy when it's over - ha! It's just a matter of staying with the present moment. Those chemicals don't stay in your body for long - only ninety seconds. If you're still angry after that time goes by, it's because the left side of your brain picked up the feeling and is running with it.

I definitely recommend this book, and the related website (here). It seemed pretty simple when I first read through it, but it's got a lot of depth and insight. My thoughts keep going back to it.

I could probably say more (a lot more), but I'll leave it here for now.

By the way, I still have not called my car insurance company. (Sigh.) I was too busy writing this blog...