Meet Satya. He was born just a few weeks ago, in our dining room!
He's my third child, and his birth was something else.
With my first two babes, I woke up at my usual time in the morning and felt an inexplicable new feeling in my body. A couple hours later both times, my contractions began, and both times by 8pm there was a new kid in our house!
I'd been reminded throughout this pregnancy by my midwives and friends that third babies can come really fast. "Make sure you call us right away" they said. "Have a backup in case we can't get the tub filled in time," they said.
So while consciously I knew that every birth is different, the truth is I fully expected this labor to be straightforward and speedy like my others (or even-- I hoped-- faster!)
Which is why when I began having mild contractions on Saturday, I scrapped our weekend plans. But... by Sunday morning they hadn't gotten any stronger, longer or closer together (that's how you know it's really happening.)
I let the midwives know what I was feeling, made some raspberry leaf tea, ate my 6 daily dates and settled in to wait.
I'll skip the details of my next 2 days and just tell you there's a thing called prodromal labor. It's like... the purgatory of birthing. It's like the myth of Sisiphus, where he keeps pushing that boulder up the hill and it always rolls back down.
Prodromal contractions can be uncomfortable enough that you can't concentrate on doing other things while they're happening, but unlike "real" labor, they can continue without progressing in intensity or frequency for days or even (gulp) weeks.
Except that sometimes they stop completely and then start again. Oof.
Despite it not being my first rodeo, I was unprepared for this.
Or was I?
The thing is, I'd been sweating it up in our in-home hot room at least 5 days a week throughout this pregnancy. (Not to mention the other 17 years-ish since I found Bikram Yoga!)
So I actually had everything I needed.
Here are just some of the skills I've honed through my yoga practice, which helped me cope with feelings of frustration, impatience and exhaustion during the 60 hours or so from my first contraction until I finally met my son:
Just like in yoga class, I use nose breathing during labor to keep my nervous system calm and conserve energy. Here's more about how that works.
Interoceptive awareness is the ability to identify, understand, and respond appropriately to the body's internal cues. It's knowing what is going on inside my body, what it means, and what to do about it.
Pregnancy Yoga emphasizes this skill, encouraging us to constantly monitor the sensations in the body brought on by each posture, and adjust the intensity as needed. I mean, you should really be doing this in any yoga class! You just might get more reminders from the teacher during Pregnancy Yoga. Practicing with an injury will also train this especially well: you constantly have to listen to your body's messages to know if you need to do less or rest.
Interoception helped me pace myself even during a labor that seemed to go on and on. I could feel what my body was doing and respond to its needs in each moment with movement, sounds or rest.
I had to tap into my faith a lot during my weekend of waiting for Satya. Faith in the natural process of birth, faith in my body, faith in myself. With labor starting and stopping I began to doubt myself: maybe it was wishful thinking? Did I will myself into having contractions before it was really the time? What if I got too tired and couldn't see this through to the finish line?
There was a moment just before I needed to push, where I said to my husband "I don't know if I can do this." As soon as I said it, I knew that I could.
What we practice in Bikram Yoga class and in Pregnancy Yoga is repeatedly putting ourselves in this position. We're struggling, thinking "I don't know if I can do it" and then we prove to ourselves: we can.
Hatha (physical) yoga is about using our bodies to cultivate a relationship of faith (trust) with ourselves. And it goes so far beyond the physical realm.
In yoga, you might associate determination with "pushing through" or holding the pose no matter what until the end. But in fact, determination in yoga can often mean, NOT pushing through.
I mean, if your breathing is all over the place and your pose is misaligned because you're too tired to use your muscles correctly, pushing through or "no matter what" isn't determination: it's just ego!
So determination can also mean the commitment to doing what is truly best for you, and not letting ego get in the way.
During Satya's birth I used my determination in the "pushing through" sense. But I also had to stay determined to allow the process to unfold, without me (ego) trying to control it.
By focusing your mind on what your body is doing in the present moment, even with potential distractions like the heat, sweat in your eye, or that housefly that somehow snuck into the room, yoga helps you hone your concentration powers until they become superpowers!
Labor can actually slow or even stop as a result of distractions, like someone new entering the room. I used my concentration superpower during Satya's birth to keep me on track... even as my other children woke up and started eating their breakfast cereal beside me while asking questions about where babies come from!
In hatha yoga patience is developed in many ways. One is simply the patience to hold your body in an uncomfortable position until you hear the word "change!" Another is patience over the longer term: accepting your current level of ability/ flexibility/ strength/ balance and allowing that to improve over time, on a timeline that may be slower than you'd prefer.
This one was huge for me with this birth. I'd been ready to meet Satya for days, and there were moments it seemed like he would never show up! I tapped into my yoga-patience and reminded myself that he would arrive exactly when he was ready.
The good news about prodromal contractions is that they help the body prepare for active labor and may even help dilate the cervix a bit. By the time my baby was finally ready to join us, I only had to push 5 times to get him out.
Satya was born just after 8am that Tuesday morning, with one arm raised up next to his head like he was setting up for Standing Bow Pulling Pose! It's called a nuchal hand presentation. And maybe that was part of the delay, my body trying to nudge him into an easier position before he began his descent.
Besides longer labors, other nuchal hand birth stories I've read often involve tearing, pain and long hours of pushing.
I can't say for sure if my yoga practice is completely responsible for my smoother experience, but I can tell you that besides walking the kids to school and a bit of swimming, it's the only exercise I've done for over a year.
Here's how my pregnancy went:
Here's how I felt after Satya's birth:
I was talking with my doula a few days later, and she said: "Every baby has something to teach you with their birth." I think Satya's lesson for me was that life is (still) full of surprises.
Every birth is different, even for the same mom!
I'm in no way claiming that if you practice this yoga our experiences will be the same.
What I do know though, and what any birth professional will tell you, is that having a healthy body and mind can only have positive effects on the kind of pregnancy and birth you have! There's so much in life that is beyond our control, but to a huge extent your health is up to you.
Pregnancy Yoga ticks all the boxes for a safe and effective exercise regimen that will help you prepare for the birth of your dreams: It's zero-impact, moderate to low intensity, emphasizes breathing, tones the pelvic floor, strengthens joints, prevents back pain, builds stamina, improves balance and relieves stress.
I felt so good during and after yoga that I practiced almost every day throughout this pregnancy. But you don't have to hit your mat daily to enjoy the benefits!
Even 2 to 3 sessions a week can have a huge impact.
So if you're expecting (or plan to be) find out more about Pregnancy Yoga here. We've got several classes and downloadable resources for you in our library here. And feel free to email me if you have any questions! I love helping out new moms and moms-to-be.
Always consult your medical provider before starting a new exercise routine.
Our psychic powers tell us you may be wondering: is wearing a mask in hot yoga even safe?
Are you prepared to take excellent care of yourself during class?
That means breathe through your nose, and rest when necessary (Hint: if you find it hard to keep breathing through your nose, you need a rest:
When you first return Home, you will probably need to take more breaks than you are accustomed to. It's true that a mask will be in the way of air headed into your nose, but also don't forget that you haven't been in a hot room for 7 months!
Everyone is going to be out of "hot yoga shape" at Homecoming, masks or no masks. We all get to re-acclimate together.
If you think about it, that's kind of awesome.
Never in the history of the studio have we ever had a class where everyone was still getting used to the heat!
What a gift that we all get to support and inspire each other in this way.
Look, if you have any concern (and especially if you have any respiratory issues) you should definitely ask your doctor if wearing a mask in hot yoga is for you.
Having said that, there may even be some benefit to exercising while wearing a mask!
For years, athletes have used "elevation training masks" which decrease levels of oxygen to simulate working out at high elevations. The idea is training the lungs to perform with less oxygen, will make performing with normal oxygen levels that much easier.
It's important to note that wearing a regular (non-ETM) mask does not actually decrease oxygen levels (though it may feel like it sometimes)
Bottom line: athletes have been training in masks for years. The word "training" is the key: it's a practice. Like yoga.
Doing your yoga in a mask is going to take practice.
So are you prepared?
If you're prepared to try- mindfully and patiently, practicing in a mask will be way less lame.
By the way, just like trying ONE class in a mask is not really enough.
Because, imagine if you only tried Standing Bow Pulling pose ONCE, and then decided you couldn't do it?? You've got to give this (and yourself!) an honest chance. Just like when you first began practicing in the heat: 2 or 3 classes in your first week will help you adjust the quickest.
Who knows, your respiratory system may actually get stronger from the experience! Your ability to tune in to your body's signals and manage intensity accordingly definitely will.
And that's a bonus worth training for!
Check out this post for more thoughts and tips on wearing masks in class.
I have been practicing Bikram yoga for 1.5 years. My beautiful wife Sophia has been doing it for years, and seeing the difference it makes in her life made me want to try it.
I have gotten numerous benefits from Bikram, starting with the common, increased strength, stamina, pain relief and flexibility. More surprisingly, I have developed a better sense of listening, contemplation and patience. With all the physical improvements, I am most proud of conquering my mind.
Everything in my life has improved since I started Bikram yoga. Love, sex, relationships, work, even my tolerance of society. My skateboarding and surfing are more focused and I can target my aggression in productive ways. My Bikram yoga practice has helped me to improve my agility and recovery time, which has left me feeling like I have a long, long time to keep doing all the activities I enjoy. I think Bikram yoga is the key to longevity in all areas!
The thought I have in the room that keeps me going is: solace.
I want to thank Kay for this great honor of asking me to share my story, my wife for enhancing my life and the East Coast for making me strong. Love, Strength and Peace.
As Bikram yoga teachers, so many students tell us this one is their "nemesis!" And we get it. SHTK not only requires you to use a ton of physical strength and stamina to develop your own flexibility, it also calls upon 110% of your will power, integrity and mental fortitude to stick with it, try the right way and not give up. The good news is, by using those aspects of your body and of your character you are building them up, and they (like this posture) will only get better with practice.
Health benefits include:
How to do:
Standing Head to Knee can be best understood by dividing it into a progression of stages or steps. Keep in mind that while we identify 4 main "steps" in the posture, there are a bazillion mini-steps along the way, and any one of the steps may take you weeks, months or years to master. For example, between grabbing your foot and locking both knees, you may find your maximum expression of the posture somewhere in-between for quite some time. No worries: as long as you try the right way and you don't give up, that's the ultimate destination!
*You want me to lock my knee??
Yes. But let's make sure you understand what we mean by that. In Bikram yoga, to "lock the knee" means 3 things: Straight leg (full extension of the knee joint) + thigh muscles (including quads) contracted + body weight even on the foot. Check out our post on the subject for more!
Eyes and abs!
Balancing on one foot is a big challenge for many beginners. Remember that your 2 best friends on your "balance team" are your abs and your eyes. So always keep your abdominal muscles pulled in firmly, and maintain your one point of focus on your standing knee throughout the posture.
Breathing properly is key. If you’re working on Step 1, simply breath normally with an engaged core. If you are kicking out into Step 2, inhale slowly by the nose while you kick your leg forward. Take another deep inhale when your both knees are locked and exhale as you bend your elbows down for Step 3. Take another deep breath and slowly exhale again as you tuck your chin to your chest for Step 4. This focused breathing keeps you calm and maintains oxygen moving through your body to feed your muscles. It also assists with the stretching and rounding of your spine and ribs.
Finally, the real secret to mastery of Standing Head to Knee is: attitude. Relish every step of the magical journey, because every step has something to offer your body, mind and soul. And more than anything, this posture demands that you activate and cultivate the connection between those! That's part of what makes it so tough, and that's also what makes it so... yoga.
"I signed up for Bikram yoga after seeing BYSJ's booth at the Farmer's Market in spring of 2016, and the timing could not have been more serendipitous. Deep down I knew I needed to do something to get back into a consistent exercise routine. The very first big difference thing that I noticed after a few weeks of practicing regular Bikram Yoga was the skin on the back of my upper arms/tricep was no longer bumpy (a very common skin thing)- - it was smooth!
Being in the military (at the Oregon Air National Guard in Portland - our F-15 airplanes share the runway with PDX) we have a PT (physical training) test each year. I had found recent years that I 'crammed' for it-- going into 'beast mode' about 6 weeks or so before the test (which comprises of timed situps & pushups-- 1 minute allotted for each-- not to mention waist measurement and a mile & a half run.
In June 2016 (about a month or so of getting into Bikram yoga) I scored the highest PT (physical training) score ever (in my 20+ yrs in the military) with a 96.9 (out of 100). To score Excellent, one must get 90 or above. Fortunately because of my regular yoga practice, i don't have to worry about not passing.
"Cramming at anything in life does not help anybody! I wanted a regular exercise practice that I liked and that give me great benefit and to also be a role model to my kids for a picture of health. Many career military folks lose their dedication to their health and I think it's so important to set the example but, more importantly, to live my best life (like Oprah says.) I was looking primarily for physical benefits; toning & flexibility appealed to me. My high school and college days of track and volleyball are far behind me, and now I have fallen in love w/ Bikram Yoga particularly. It's easy on the joints, non-competitive, and the benefits, as I've learned, are far more than physical: my practice has increased my patience and motivation in other areas of my life.
"The greatest benefits in the last year in particular are: 1) healing a fresh back injury! With physical therapy, I took a short break right after the injury and then got back into it right on time for January 2017's 30-day challenge! I took it very easy and did very little in some postures and it healed me 98%! The other 2% was just time. Today I am 100%. 2) I credit Bikram Yoga for the remarkable healing following an ovarian cyst removal surgery in early October 2017; after 3 days I felt restless and was ready to drive to my doctor's appointment. In each class when it's mentioned that we receive 100% of the benefit for every attempt we do, that really speaks to me. I have learned to really listen to my body since regularly practicing (I aim for 3x/week.)
"I love putting my energy into Bikram yoga. The 5:30am class is great for my work-life balance. When I get home after the early morning class, my husband and 2 kids are just getting up (so I don't miss family time) and I'm still able to get to work on time. I LOVE that our cozy St. Johns neighborhood has its own Bikram Yoga studio and I am proud to be part of it! "
Fixed Firm pose is the first in our series of kneeling postures. From the beginning you will feel a stretching or extension in your ankles, knees and quadriceps- and as you move deeper into the posture you will also stretch the spleen, lymph glands in your armpits. This posture employs the tourniquet effect right off the bat by compressing the knee joints, and as you move deeper you'll also compress the lower back and adrenal glands.
Physical benefits of Fixed Firm include: improved circulation to kidneys, liver, pancreas and bowels for improved digestion; increased flexibility of knees and ankles; boosted immune system through stimulation of the spleen and lymphatic system; improved adrenal funtion by compression in the lower back, stretching muscles of the thighs, abdomen and pelvis; flushing knees and ankles with fresh high speed blood to loosen scar tissue and relieve arthritic symptoms; improved menstrual symptoms; relief of sciatica, gout and varicose veins.
One major psychological or spiritual benefit of this one (especially when dealing with knee injury or tightness) is... Patience! Keep in mind it could take you weeks, months or even years to even sit your hips down between the heels. Remember that as long as you try the right way one step at a time you are getting 100% of the benefit.
Fixed Firm can be challenging for athletes with tight quads and anyone experiencing knee injuries, chronic tightness or knee pain. The key to success is: take it easy, honey. This is an anatomically correct pose! It helps rebuild a natural range of motion for the knee, which is mainly a hinge joint but also does have a bit of rotation. Only go so far in the posture as you feel discomfort- but never pain- in the knees.
For this one it will help you to always remember one of our favorite Bikram quotes: “Do not mess with the knees. You can mess with the gods, but you cannot mess with the knees.” – Bikram Choudhury
Our building has no roof access. For months now, I've been trying to coordinate a really tall ladder- or a really tall guy with strong shoulders- to get us on the roof of Bikram Yoga St. Johns and hang our temporary banner signs. For various reasons, my original plan wasn't looking promising, so my husband and I decided to do it on our own instead. If we couldn't get on the roof, we'd hang it from the balcony! That's how Orlo ended up spending yesterday afternoon scrambling all over the building facade, string held in his teeth and balancing precariously in compromising positions while all the high schoolers at the bus stop across Lombard pointed and giggled.
By the time he called me to come by and check his work, he had the whole thing rigged. It wasn't what I'd imagined. I'd pictured a precisely hung banner attached to the building by some magical invisible method in such a perfect way that passersby wouldn't notice the vinyl or grommets or string or nails but would simply think immediately "Oh! Let's do yoga there!"
I frowned and looked at my feet and softly kicked the ground. I didn't want to ask him to take down what he'd done- he had worked so hard and pretty much risked his life crawling around up there. But it just wasn't exactly right. It looked messy. There were no convenient places to attach the sign, so string criss-crossed the facade at odd angles. A corner had torn from the banner when Orlo pulled it taut (using his yoga-chops to balance on one foot atop the 8-foot tall entry gate) and he had repaired it with a green tarp clip he found in our shed at home. There was a lightbox in the way, so the banner had to be folded up at the bottom instead of hanging flat. One corner was a few inches higher than the other. You get the idea.
I was concerned that this banner would give the wrong impression of our business. I worried that potential students would see it and think we were sloppy, we were unprofessional, we were imperfect. I thought some of them might even decide, seeing our fumbled attempt at banner-mounting, not to give us a try. I told Orlo all of this.
By the way, Orlo is the best. He said he was going to finish tightening some of the strings, and calmly assured me we could cut it all down if I still wasn't happy when he was done.
I am so glad I had a few minutes to reconsider. Because here's the thing: that banner gives exactly the right impression of who we are. And no, we're not sloppy or unprofessional. We're the kind of people- and ours will be the kind of studio- I think any prospective student would be pleased to get their yoga from.
We are people who see a problem and use the tools and skills at our disposal to fix it. We are people who are not afraid to take things on. We build businesses in the same year we get married and birth our first baby. We get stuff done. We clamber up and down building facades to hang banners, and when they tear we repair them with the best thing we've got. We are not sleek or streamlined. We're not putting in granite counter tops. We are scrappy and tenacious and we work. We throw our bodies into everything we do. We couldn't wait for a ladder to tell you we are here, because we know we have something to offer you which will change your life, as it has ours.
We don't mind if things get a little messy. That's something the yoga lets us practice: what's important is showing up and doing your darnedest. As one of my teachers says, "The perfection is in your effort." I almost forgot. But now I have a banner to remind me.
A recent conversation with my husband, uploading stories onto our Testimonials page, teaching several classes this weekend full of super-motivated students, and watching my 1-month-old daughter's efforts on her movement mat have all got me thinking about: perseverance, drive, dedication. What great feats we are capable of when we pour in everything we have! Here's one of my favorite poems on the subject.
If you want a thing bad enough
To go out and fight for it,
Work day and night for it,
Give up your time and your peace and your sleep for it,
If only desire of it
Makes you quite mad enough
Never to tire of it,
Makes you hold other things tawdry and cheap for it;
If life seems all empty and useless without it
And all that you scheme and you dream is about it,
If gladly you'll sweat for it,
Fret for it,
Plan for it,
Lose all your terror of God or of man for it,
If you'll simply go after that thing that you want,
With all your capacity,
Strength and sagacity,
Faith, hope and confidence, stern pertinacity,
If neither cold poverty, famished and gaunt,
Nor sickness and pain
Of body or brain
Can turn you away from the thing that you want,
If dogged and grim you besiege and beset it,
You'll get it!
- Berton Braley
Even if you've never taken a Bikram yoga class, you can probably imagine a few ways sweating your guts out for 90 minutes a day might change your body. (Weight loss, lower blood pressure, increased stamina, improved digestion, anyone?) After all, Bikram yoga is a hatha yoga practice, meaning a practice of physical postures, called asanas, and breathing techniques, called pranayama. And hatha yoga offers tremendous health benefits for all the systems of your body. But that's not all, folks! By attending to your physical practice, you also cultivate certain qualities of mind which have the power to absolutely transform the way you see the world and the way you live your life:
How has Bikram yoga changed your mind? Leave a comment. We love to hear from you!
HHY Founder, Yoga Business Coach, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay Afif!