Hey everyone, it's Stacy and I'm thrilled to be writing this post. I appreciate the little pockets of "creative outlet" I can find in this whole new normal we're living in.
Let me share a little about myself so you can catch my perspective. I'm a wife, a mom of 3 kids, we have a bunch of little animals at our house (7 chicks, a dog, and a bunny! - and yes, you can come to our urban petting zoo when this is all over!)
We are one of the families impacted by the astounding lay-off statistics which happened to account for 95% of our family's income. We have 2 school aged children and are navigating distance learning for the long haul, our other child is in the medically vulnerable population, and we're just doing our best to live life and be happy and make this whole crazy thing work.
We're happy, worried, soaking in all the family time and utterly exhausted by the end of each day all at once.
On top of that, I'm also trying to make sure I am taking care of myself by doing things that fuel my soul and make my body happy - one of those being Bikram Yoga.
I am no expert... at, well, any of this. I am not a long-seasoned yogi. I am certainly no expert at managing a life and a household during a global pandemic. I mean, is anyone? But I do want to offer a couple ideas that have been extremely helpful in finding peace, balance, and time to practice yoga.
First, let’s chat about peace.
It almost seems like a taboo topic right now. Peace? In the middle of all this?? Isn’t that completely neglecting the reality of the world right now which feels pretty full of unrest? Are you actually being a toxic-positive person?? Yikes. No, definitely not. I don’t know about you - but I cannot just sit and soak in sadness and despair. It’s already here, I don’t have to do anything else to help it exist.
Don’t get me wrong, I could get completely caught up in the endless amount of news floating around, but my peace would suffer. Right now I must keep my peace for my own sake and also for my family’s sake, since we are cooped up together 24/7. So how do you do this when you’re busy and being pulled in a thousand directions from your kids, spouse, life, etc.
You must decide you are deserving and worth it and peace is as essential as water and air to live and thrive and you must must must make it happen.
Finding peace looks different for every single one of us. It could mean dedicated quiet time, exercise, laughing, reading, napping, fresh air, praying, meditating, journaling, painting, creating, the list is endless. Whatever it looks like for you, do it. Do it as often as you can. I'd love to say I carve out pockets of peace every single day, but I don't... I wish!! But I do the majority of the time. And in my life, majority rules.
After peace, I try to create a little balance in our day.
Ah, the great "balancing act." I can’t possibly fit in everything I want and need to do every single day in our busy household, but I can find a sense of balance that makes me feel like I’ve got a (small) sense of control to what’s going on around here.
Even though we are not going out as much, I notice feeling just as busy (if not more) at home! Kid's school work, house projects, Zoom meetings, the endless amounts of cooking and cleaning, getting in some exercise, carving out time for yourself and/or your partner, and each kid, and walking the dog... did I mention cooking and cleaning yet? Don’t forget you need to rest! And and and… am I right? It’s a lot!
And it’s totally ok to feel like it is, because hey: IT IS. I mean, there have been multiple days where I had planned all the things, and then just sat around, re-dried the same load of laundry 3 times and ate snacks all day.
Well, I quickly learned that was not going to work for me, and just as quickly realized balance is possible. Thank goodness, too!
Here’s what works for me, and if you’re struggling to “fit it all in,” maybe this can help you feel less overwhelmed with it all:
1. Make a list of "non-negotiables"
These are things that are absolute musts for yourself and your family. Family dinner, time outside, breakfast together, quiet time… what are they in your life? This list doesn’t have to be long, but I encourage you to evaluate all the things you are busy doing, and pull out those key things that keep your household functioning and moving forward.
2. Set a schedule
Don’t you feel better when you know what is coming next? This schedule doesn’t have to be strict or even down to the minute, but more so a guideline to what and how you will move through your day. A rhythm. The rest, listen closely: IS OPTIONAL. I know… I know! Give yourself, your family, and your day the grace it needs and deserves to be fluid enough to feel good. It's called balance
3. Do yoga
Ahhhhh... yes, the yoga. My brain already feels a sense of calm coming over it just thinking about it. How do I fit this in? Like seriously, I can barely take a 10-minute shower without interruption let alone dedicate 90 whole minutes to myself, inside my house, with all these people and animals.
Before, I could go to the studio, I could shut off all the things, the hot room was a sweet and sweaty escape, I could "hide" away and just... do something for myself. Yoga looks pretty much the opposite of that right now in every way, except that it is still yoga - and it's for me - practiced by me - and the benefits are all mine.
Having to practice at home has uprooted all the "feel good" things I love about yoga and has forced me to a realization that yoga is so valuable to my life, even without all the frills of the studio environment.
Is my space hot? No. It's a little hot with chaos some days. Do I have a mirror? Also, no, not really. Does my toddler mimicking me count? Can I get it humid enough? Not nearly. But sometimes, I have a couple kids or a dog breathing right in front of my face and it feels a little humid... (kidding. not kidding.)
Do I get to focus and meditate completely? Ehh... not entirely. And by entirely, I mean not at all. Am I able to complete an entire 90 minutes, uninterrupted? Negative. I don't even always get a chance to complete 90 minutes at all.
I have learned that in order for me to have a successful home practice, I had to reconstruct what the word "successful" means.
I often practice in the middle of the living room floor, or when it's nice out, I throw a mat down outside. Always, I have a couple kids bopping in and out and lying down next to me, or on me, or trying to crawl through my legs, a dog rolling around on the floor thinking it's playtime, or kids taking their own sweet savasana on top of me while I'm in one too...
The commotion is endless.
But the yoga is timeless.
I've learned to let go of my idealistic perfect yoga experience, and realize that yoga IS the experience.
Some is better than none, and I've had to adjust my mindset from tolerating that, to celebrating that, and remarkably I can say that my body and mind are still reaping the benefits of a "not-so-perfect" yoga practice. My family and I are better for it, and I’m really glad I decided to just get over the fact that yoga is different now, and get to doing it for any amount of time, at any time of day.
The truth is, some of us haven't been in a good habit of practicing yoga since the stay-home orders have been in place. That's ok... kind of. If it's truly just not for you, not important to you, and yoga has not been a positive impact in your life, then sure, it's ok to not be practicing
But some of us need to check our yoga-egos (I know I did) at our own front door.
We need to realize that the benefits of practicing at home, an imperfect practice in a less-than-ideal environment, win out by far over the consequences of not practicing at all.
And here's the good news: it's a practice. This is quite possibly the only time we will be forced to practice peace, balance, and yoga in a world that looks like this, in a home space that exists like this, and in a mindset that feels like this.
I for one am optimistic for my future self - that I will have learned so much during this time in a way that I never would have before. I mean, can you even imagine how good my savasana will be when we get back into the hot room after all this practice with my kids jumping all over me? Ha!
So here's to you, and me, and all of us. Making an attempt for joy in our life, through the practice (and grace!) of peace, balance, and yoga.
See you at Home!
Last December, I bumped into Natalie (who I later found out is a longtime Karma Yogi at BYSJ) at a Garcia Birthday Band show. She stuck a buddy pass in my hand and told me I should go to yoga. It was a wild night and Natalie seemed like a cool lady, so I decided to check it out. I had no idea what I was getting into! At 65 I had never been to a yoga class. Now I do Bikram yoga every day...
In 7 months of daily practice, here is what Bikram yoga has done for me:
I wanted to share my story especially for other people with fibromyalgia who think there is no answer besides expensive medications with tons of terrible side effects. For me, Bikram yoga gives me relief of my symptoms without all of that other stuff, and it makes my life better in so many other ways too. You've got to give it a try!
Before I moved to Portland in June 2016, a friend in Albuquerque introduced me to hot yoga. It wasn’t Bikram yoga and I didn’t understand the postures, but I was determined to keep trying. When I got to Portland, I was pleased to find Bikram Yoga St. Johns in my neighborhood and, although I knew nothing about Bikram yoga, I bought a year membership.
I didn’t get my money’s worth that year. I didn’t attend class regularly, rarely drank enough water, and every pose was "awkward pose." Classes were hard because I would lose my balance and even fall sometimes. I would leave bewildered, embarrassed and dehydrated. But something kept me coming back, and I always felt welcomed with open arms no matter how long I had been away.
This New Year's Eve, I came to the studio for a late night yoga class. I rang in the New Year with Kay, Orlo and the rest of the Bikram St. Johns family, under the blacklight with kombucha. I decided to do the 30-day challenge shortly after that. I came up with a yoga schedule that fit around my work schedule, and I set a goal to do 20 classes in 30 days. I loved seeing the stars by my name accumulate.
I did 18 classes in 30 days and I began to see first-hand the benefits of regular Bikram practice: my balance and eye- hand coordination improved, my chronic back pain and stiffness lessened, and my mood improved. I've been practicing about 10-12 times a month ever since.
I am a Registered Nurse and my job is demanding physically, mentally and emotionally. I also have scoliosis and a leg length difference. I could barely move my shoulder at one point. With regular practice I can now move my shoulder without pain. I didn’t think that was going to be possible.
I didn’t think a lot of things were possible when first started my Bikram practice. I didn’t think I would ever get into Fixed Firm pose (check out my photo above!) or stand on one leg. Now Fixed Firm pose is a favorite of mine and I’m getting closer to Standing Head to Knee every day. I have conquered many challenges in my life and Bikram yoga is a very worthwhile challenge. And I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process.
In the Bikram yoga system, we do the Awkward Pose in three parts. Here's a quick rundown of what to do in each one, how to do it, and why you should even care...
Even on its own, the first part of Awkward pose is an excellent all-around exercise, reminiscent of a squat you might have done at the gym (though Utkatasana has been keeping leg and butt muscles buff muuuuuch longer than the gym!)
How to do Part 1:
Step your right foot to the right about 6 inches, keeping your feet exactly parallel to one another so your heels stay invisible behind your toes. Keep in mind that in Bikram yoga "6 inches" varies from person to person! Basically, your heels should be directly underneath your hip joints. This alignment is important to make sure that when you sit down into the pose, pressure is distributed evenly in the hip, knee and ankle joints.
Bring your arms up parallel to the floor with palms facing down and all 5 fingers together. Stretch your arms forward toward the mirror, exhale and suck your stomach in, then hold it in while you sit your hips back like you're sitting into a chair that's a bit too far behind you. Keep your spine straight to begin with and maximum body weight on your heels.
It's normal if your upper body has to come forward a bit so you can sit your hips back. Once you're in the chair, lift your chest up and bend your total spine backward to bring your upper body back. (Tip: if you *can't* lift your chest up, you're probably sitting down too low- come up a little bit and try again.) Suck your stomach in and lean back into the heels even more, keep your chest up, lean back even more until you almost fall down backwards!
Get psyched for Part 2:
The second part of Awkward Pose is super challenging for a lot of people- so if your ankles are wobbling or your thighs are shaking, you are definitely not alone. The best tip for you is: don't skip it, and don't hold back from fear of falling or not being able to hold it the whole time. You have to start somewhere, and no one will laugh if you fall (most of us have been there!) Part 2 is great for increasing leg and foot strength as well as stretching out the feet, so give it all you've got and it will give you some nice-looking gams and great-feeling dogs in return!
How to do Part 2:
First stand up on your tippy toes and stretch your whole upper body up to the ceiling. Suck your stomach in and sit down as though you are sitting into a chair that's right underneath you. Be sure to sit down until your hips are in the chair, keeping your spine in a straight position. If you can only hold it that low for 2 seconds at first- be proud of your achievement! Little by little, you will build endurance- but only if you try the right way and you don't give up.
How to do Part 3:
By the 3rd part of Awkward pose, your legs are already well warmed up. Come up a little bit on your toes and bring your knees together, being sure to keep your heels behind your toes. Exhale breathing and sit down as slow as possible, keeping your knees together and your spine in a straight position. Sit down all the way onto your heels, then stretch your spine up towards the ceiling to make a half-inch gap between your hips and heels. Keep your knees together and forward, thighs parallel to the floor, arms parallel to the legs, spine straight so from the side you look like a 3-sided box.
Here's the hard part: inhale breathing and slowly come up while keeping your spine straight. This requires you to really concentrate and connect with your lower abdominal muscles (to keep your hips from going back and upper body tipping forward) as well as tremendous thigh strength (and determination!) to keep your knees together.
"But my knees!!"
If you are suffering from knee pain, have a recent knee injury or have limited range of motion in your knees, here are a couple special tips for you in Awkward:
Why to get Awkward:
All three parts of Utkatasana are excellent for improving blood circulation in the ankles, knees and hips. This pose strengthens the thighs, calves and hips muscles while improving flexibility of the hip, knee and ankle joints. Awkward helps relieve symptoms of rheumatism, arthritis and gout. It's also great for toning lower abdominal muscles, pelvic floor and the triceps muscles of the arms. Not to mention, it sure gets your heart rate up and is often the point in class where you'll really start sweating, making sure your limbs are nice and slippery for the next posture...
I will be 70 in January 2019, and I have had back issues most of my life. Last year I was in a lot of pain, almost to the point of not being able to walk. I would need to rest after walking only short distances with my little granddaughter. I was also feeling depressed a lot of the time.
My son and daughter-in-law encouraged me to try hot yoga, which I was sure was not for me. I tried it anyway, mostly so they would leave me alone!
I have now been practicing Bikram yoga 2-3 times per week for about a year. My back pain is nearly gone and my range of motion is incredible. I had a serious balance issue and now, nearly a year later I'm getting my balance back. I know my good balance is going to be even more important as I get older for avoiding slips and falls. As I gain strength and balance, my mood and confidence have also improved.
These days my energy level is very good, even though I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia years ago. I tell all my friends about yoga, and I’m trying to get the ones who could really use it to come to class with me! This little yoga community at Bikram Yoga St. Johns has brought me a new social life full of friendly and amazing people.
I also have osteoarthritis, plantar fasciitis (which is no longer bothering me) and scoliosis. I have spinal stenosis, which used to cause leg and foot pain as well as lower back pain and balance problems. I thought the only alternative was to have surgery, but I certainly don't need that now. Bikram Yoga was the answer.
I can feel my spine is so much better and stronger than before I started at BYSJ. I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to try Bikram yoga, and I look forward to many years of practice ahead!
Studio leader, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay D.