Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bikram Yoga 30 Day Challenge Recap

"Give me 30 days, I'll change your body.  
Give me 60 days, I'll change your life." - Bikram Choudhury

My yoga practice has been virtually non-existent very sporadic this past year.  I'd string together a couple weeks of consistent practice and then I'd disappear for a couple weeks.  The main problem with this was that every time I returned I'd have to acclimate to the heat all over again.  It was frustrating.  I felt horribly out of shape, heavy, and kind of blah overall.

One day after finals, I was once again re-starting my yoga practice when one of the instructors and owners of the studio, Karen, said something that would forever change how I practice yoga.  I was having a particularly difficult class.  It was shortly after finals and the excessive amounts of coffee and minimal amounts of sleep were wrecking revenge.  I felt terrible.  Second worse class ever; my first day back after blood poisoning will probably go down as the worst ever.  I'm laying there miserable and frustrated with myself and Karen was talking to the class, although she may as well have been speaking directly to me, about finding the time to fit in yoga.  She acknowledged that life is busy, but she encouraged us to find a time that works and schedule that time for you.  Do something for you.  Take the time for you.  And in that moment I realized she was right.  I have time during the day to fit in a yoga class, but my long absences were due in part to me putting everything and everyone ahead of myself.  That's not always a bad thing, but you deserve to make some time for just yourself.  And so I made a pact with myself to do just that.

Conveniently, my yoga studio starts a studio wide "Bikram Yoga Challenge" around the first of the year.  And this year, I decided to complete it.  This post is a recap of that challenge.  The things I learned.  The things I experienced.  The struggle.  The success.  If I had to sum up the challenge in one word it would be this:  doable.  So if you're on the fence, go for it.  You'll be amazed when you cross that finish line.

Acclimation: Days 1-10
I firmly maintain that the first 10ish days of the challenge are the hardest.  Depending on the consistency of your practice, the ramp up was pretty difficult, both physically and mentally.  The first couple days I felt like I'd been run over by a bus and making the commitment to go every day felt foreign.  Most of these issues go away after those first 10 days.  And best of all, the commitment to go doesn't feel like a commitment at all.  It's simply part of my day.  Of course there are days when I'd rather not go, but it's not an option.  It's just something I do.

Bikram Yoga is different every single day.  I'd have one of my best classes and the next day I'm struggling through every posture.  Some of it's weather (the room isn't hermetically sealed so humidity can play a factor) and some of it's what's going on internally that day.  Did you eat?  Are you hydrated enough?  Slept enough?  The list of variables is endless.  When I finally accepted that every day is different and there really isn't a need to judge one day from another, my overall stress with the class itself drastically decreased.  Instead of focusing on the comparison I started to focus on what my body was trying to tell me that day.

Needs v. Wants
One of my instructors encouraged us to figure out the difference between "needs vs. wants."  "You want to wipe the sweat off; you don't need to."  I try to keep this in mind during each class.  Do I really need to sit a posture out or do I just find it frustrating?  Do I really need water or is it just a distraction?  You'd be surprise how much less miserable class is when you learn to ignore the "wants."

Random Observations
I really do have more energy, even immediately after class.  I'm still having a hard time waking up in the mornings, but I think that's more attributable to my erratic schedule in general.  My coffee consumption has drastically decreased.  I still make myself a travel cup of coffee every morning, but I can't remember the last time I actually drank the entire cup.  For some reason I just do not want it.  For a self proclaimed coffee nut, this has been really strange.

Clearly I am infinitely more toned today than I was 30 days ago.  I knew that I'd tone up, but I really didn't expect the change to be so drastic.

In terms of postures, I have drastically improved as well.  I was already fairly decent at most of the postures, but after 30 straight days I can go deeper in each posture, for longer periods of time.  One day I held standing head to knee for the entire minute, touched my forehead to my knee, held it there until "change", and came out of the posture in a completely controlled manner.  I seriously wanted to shout for joy.

Standing Head to Knee Progression.  Source: Bikram Yoga Dallas

It was little moments like that that really made the challenge worth the effort.  Meeting new people and becoming friends with the other students was also something I really enjoyed.  There's such an awesome camaraderie between everyone doing a challenge.

Favorite quotes I heard during the 30 days:

On the Challenge, "You just have to take it one day at a time; hell, sometimes you have to take it one posture at a time."

On Looking in the Mirror at Yourself, "It's not enough to suffer for 90 minutes; you have to watch yourself suffer."

On Camel,
Instructor: "Camel stimulates the nervous system, so whatever you're feeling right now..."
Random guy: "DEATH"
Instructor: ."...is perfectly normal."

On Bad Class Days, "I've seen better days, been the star of many plays, Ive seen better days...and the bottom drops out."   I may or may not sing that to myself after bad classes.  And by "may" I mean I absolutely do.

So where does one go after completing the 30 Day Challenge?  The 60 Day Challenge, of course.  Bring it on Bikram Yoga.


Abby said...

Holy moly, you look amazing!!!

I've only been to one Bikram class and didn't enjoy it that much, but that was a few years ago. You've convinced me to give it another try. I'm going to google local Bikram studios now!

SummerBreeze said...

Thanks you so much!!!

And glad you're going to try again. Just remember to BREATHE! Learning how to breathe in that room is the hardest part. Once you can control you're breathing the heat becomes much more tolerable. Good luck!!!

| c o s e d a s a p e r e | said...

Wow, amazing. I'm doing a sort of 30day challenge myself, I'm at a point now where an old knee injury is giving me a bit of trouble, talking to the teacher today she said it could be that my muscles are just a bit tired and to focus on really pulling the knee cap up.
I just have a quick question, were you following a precise diet during the challenge?

SummerBreeze said...

Thank you! I think your teacher is probably right about your knee pain. I think we subconsciously tend to favor parts that have had an injury. I'm sure as you build more muscle in the knee that it will bother you less.

As far as diet, I really didn't stick to any particular plan. I try to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and I've really been concentrating on limiting refined carbs and meat (I'm from Texas; we tend to eat excessive quantities of meat). From a challenge standpoint, the days that I limited those were usually the days that I felt the best.

One other quick thing, make sure you are replacing your electrolytes! That more than anything will help!

Hope this helps! Thanks for the comment and good luck finishing! :)

Chelsea said...

So inspiring! xo

Anonymous said...

Hi, I just started bikram and randomly stumbled upon your blog. Your before/after pics have inspired me to try going every single day. One thing I've noticed is that I have actually gained a few pounds since starting bikram; did you experience any weight loss or gain? Thank you!

Divine Doctor said...

I have to ask as I just started Bikram myself and I'm also doing the 30 day challenge - is this dramatic change the result of only doing Bikram Yoga + good diet or did you do any other type of exercise on the side? I was really inspired by this post actually!

SummerBreeze said...

Thank you both for your comments!

To anonymous - I actually gained a couple pounds during my challenge and weight more in the "after" picture than I do in the "before." I think it goes back to the old adage of muscle weighs more than fat. Stick with it and I'm sure you'll start to see results soon! Good luck!

To Divine Doctor - I did not do any other exercise during the challenge. The before and after is attributable purely to Bikram and eating healthy! Bikram truly is a total body workout!

Thanks again and best of luck to you both in your practice!

Shade said...

"I'm still having a hard time waking up in the mornings [...]" Try eating Paleo or Primal, once I eliminated grains from my diet my idiopathic hypersomnia really let up; I don't have the trouble I used to dragging myself out of bed, literally. Just a thought! By the way, great job and congratulations on your progress! I'm too chicken and too poor to even think about trying Bikram Yoga for 30 days, not until I can at least master the basics.

Mathias said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mathias said...

Hmm... it looks like you really got the good result, Summerbreeze. You looked great after the challenge. It's true that when you worked hard for something, the reward will taste sweet!


Kim said...

Wow! Your before and after pictures are amazing! Not only are you more toned but your skin looks better and you are glowing in the afters! I will definitely give the 30 day challenge a try next time I get the chance (:

SummerBreeze said...

Thank you so much Kim! Those are such sweet words! Let me know if you start a challenge! I'd love to follow your progress!

Rodney Cook said...

Wicked stuff, thanks so much for sharing!!, im going to try this challenge :-)

SummerBreeze said...

Thank you Rodney!! Best of luck on your challenge! I know you can do it and I'd love to know when you finish to say congratulations!

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. I am not doing the challenge but I am trying to go everyday. The thing with me is that I have one baby, one teenager and a husband. They are helping me in my objective of going everyday but sometimes it is just not possible. Anyway, you have reinforced my passion for Bikram and I am fascinated by the idea of focusing of what the body is trying to say and at the same time ignoring the wants. Any additional tip about these two aspects would be most welcomed. Cheers.

Unknown said...

I meant focusing on...

SummerBreeze said...

Hi! Congratulations on your Bikram journey! I completely understand how going every single day is sometimes not possible, but having the mindset to go as often as possible is half the battle, so congratulations!

As to your other question, you will find that Bikram is an inherently mental practice. In the beginning, you'll (or at least I) mainly focused on getting through the postures correctly and capably. But as your practice developes and you become comfortable with the postures (to the best of your ability) and the sequence you'll find that you think less about the physical aspect of the yoga. It was at this point that I started paying attention to the slightly differences in my practice from day to day. Why did camel kill me one day and was tolerable the next? Why did I fall out of standing head to knee after getting my head down when yesterday I held it for the full minute. If you listen to the teacher explanations or read Bikram's book you'll start to learn about what postures target what. And often, the pose I was having trouble with targeted that particular area. For example, camel is often one of my most challenging poses; it is designed to target stress, amongst other things. I recently finished law school and to say I was stressed during it would be an understatement. Camel helps limit stress hormones and it makes sense that my body was acutely aware of the change. Oftentimes the postures that you're having the hardest time with are helping in the biggest ways. Paying attention to the changes in our practice can help identify areas we need to work on.

As to your questions about "wants vs. needs," they vary from person to person. But I suspect the largest "want" culprits are wiping the sweat, excessive water drinking, and getting distracted. Serious Bikram practicers can avoid all of these habits. I'm not suggesting that you give up water during class, but perhaps try to consider whether you are actually thirsty or are looking for it help make you less miserable. The next time you think about something other than the postures challenge yourself to find the true meaning behind the thought.

Hope these help and I'd be more than happy to try to explain any more. Best of luck!!

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