These were last week’s carrot cake muffins, as I have not baked any cakes at all this week. I am slowly coming to the painful realisation that I am a sugar addict, even if I never actually add the stuff to my own cup of tea. Sugar is hidden in all sorts of comestibles, cheeky or otherwise and much wiser and better informed people than me have written reams about the dangers of excessive sugar in our diets. As I come into possession of more knowledge about this issue, I am cutting down the amount of sugar I consume, although not without difficulty. The first difficulty is to do with energy levels and being honest about them. I tend to eat healthily until about mid afternoon onwards then stuff my face with whatever sweet things I can get my hands on (often in secret), eat a decent evening meal then repeat the face-stuffing later on. It is just dawning on me that perhaps I’m using sugar when actually what I need is a 20 minute nap – or a good night’s sleep. When I’ve practised yoga, I am better at avoiding the sweet stuff for more of the day, but rarely pass a sweet-free 24 hours. After a particularly amazing yoga class with Simi at Hot Bikram Yoga Balham on Wednesday I managed this particular miracle since all was well with the world. It was so good that I found another part of my being, so light and refined, that I’d only ever dreamed of.
This leads me to the second difficulty. When something is good, I want to repeat the experience, be it the taste of chocolate, the feel-good factor of yoga or the second cup of uber-strong coffee. So, on Thursday, off I trotted to Paul’s class at the aforementioned yoga studios, full of too much caffeine and expectation of brilliance. It was hot, I was tired, heart pounding from the extra coffee and the class took it right out of me. Back home I consoled myself with a bar of Lidl’s finest milk chocolate and lo and behold along came a sugar roller-coaster rush of epic proportions after my nearly 48 hour choco-abstention. Sugar gives me mood swings, and I’d never noticed before to what extent I used those mood swings to gain momentum during the low-energy parts of the day.
So, my difficulties hinge around dealing with my physical addiction to the energy burst and emotional buzz I get from sugar. Ok, now I know this there is something to get traction against. High on my list of priorities, being time-rich right now, are practising midday naps and plenty of yoga in between writing (blog and job applications), eating lots of leafy green vegetables. Hopefully I can set myself and my family up for a healthier way of being one day at a time. And perhaps in the near future I can get back in touch with that light, refined part of my self that I met in savasana the other day, you know, the one who may just be able to make and enjoy a cake in moderation.
I’ve been struggling with direction lately, and last week a few things came together to make this whole life thing seem more coherent.
Firstly, after a bumpy return to Bikram yoga following a 6ish month break, my practice got back into some sort of a groove. It’s a physically demanding sequence, and in my typical impatience I’d expected to go back to where I’d left off all that time ago when I’d done a year of consistent practice three times a week. My frustration is evaporating now as my fitness is improving, and old levels of flexibility are returning despite a few niggles (backbends are harder, my right hip is grumbling). The bulk of my angst with the Bikram practice was, as ever, mental, and to do with focus. Last week, I took 3 classes, the same 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, on 3 different days with 3 different teachers. It’s funny how just a change in tone of voice, emphasis or humour can make a small detail stand out from something you’ve heard a hundred times or more before, and consequently a small adjustment to a familiar pose makes a huge difference for the better. Example: in triangle, let the weight drop into the heel of the turned out foot, giving more balance, less strain but more flex in the hips and more stretch in the arms. So, lately in class, I’ve been REALLY LISTENING to the dialogue, avoiding complacency and practising with an open mind.
The second strand came along via this freshly pressed WordPress blog, thank you very much: http://aviatrixkim.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/on-working/
This reminds me that the very work I’ve put into particular things makes them inherently valuable, and therefore worth continuing with in good heart for now. Even if I don’t understand the satisfaction or return from those things right now, suddenly changing or direction right now may be destabilizing.
The third strand is contentedness. I find contentedness has to be practised, much like yoga, or speaking a language, or else I lose it! Contentedness is not as exciting as it’s upbeat sibling, joy, but is an excellent family connection nonetheless. Fostering a contented state of mind is the antidote to angst and dissatisfaction; it helps me to experience the everyday as the temporary manifestation of a longer scheme, to focus on the quality of the moment with gratitude. Contentedness helps me see what novelty there is in the same walk everyday, just like our dog who, after years of only paddling in water, has just discovered the joys of swimming.
When I first began practising Bikram yoga, it was a magical part of my day or week. I went to each session full of enthusiasm for whatever would be thrown up by the class. Gradually, as my physical strength and flexibility increased, the progress I was making in each posture became more fascinating until I could accomplish most of them. After a time, when my stamina and focus became more developed I joined the front row. I loved it there, and appreciated the feedback from the teachers, whom I’d got to know quite well at the Bikram Yoga Leicester studio http://www.bikramyogaleicester.co.uk/. As my body and mind stopped wobbling, I felt a great sense of achievement and well-being from joining the yoga community.
My efforts in the sweat-pit helped me to plan, undertake and enjoy a 6 month sabbatical to India with my husband and kids, including some pretty adventurous stuff. I even kept up the practice in the Himalayas, via the Bikram audio mp3 on my phone, until it got far too cold! Then in Goa, some vinyasa flow and traditional hatha yoga kept me going.
Now back in the UK, I first felt relieved to be living near enough to a Hot Bikram Yoga http://hotbikramyoga.co.uk/ studio to make regular classes feasible (no accident, actually…), then felt frustrated when a month of ill-health prevented me from dashing back into 3 or 4 classes a week. This was probably no bad thing at all as in the meanwhile we have been bringing all our belongings out of storage, setting up a new home in a new area and getting into the rhythm of our life here in London. Managing the yoga too may just have been too much! Now the dust is beginning to settle, I’ve made it back to class.
In my absence from the hot room, something has changed. The part of me that used to crave the recognition and encouragement of the teacher seems to have moved into a back seat and is not even trying to drive. And what was once a magical time in the studio for me seems to be blending into my daily life, so that life outside the Bikram studio and the yoga I practise within it are increasingly becoming one and the same thing. Bizarrely too, my attitude towards my “performance” during a class is more equanimous – even if each day presents a new challenge – and I feel no desperate rush to become a gregarious member of this studio’s community.
So, the “toughie” of today’s title isn’t actually the class I attended (even if I fell out of postures, sat out others, flopped through a few more and scratched during savasana). The toughie is recognizing that the performance is not the point, the community is not the point, even if both bring satisfaction and support. The point is that having put so much work into this yoga, it is now working on me at an unsought-for level and I sense that this work must continue.
Every so often I get struck with inspiration for a new direction, challenge or dimension for my life, and being a generally impatient character I want that change to be activated NOW!
The last few years of yoga practice have taught me one thing (even if I haven’t acquired non-conceptual understanding of the lesson yet): change takes time, determination, and usually sweat. Sometimes, change requires a change in method too! In the Bikram sequence of yoga, I have always struggled with fixed firm pose, usually can’t get anywhere near to the posture and change has not been forthcoming. Recently, however, with some improved geographical understanding of where my hips and my heels are situated, things are improving little by little.
There are some parallels here, for me to learn from today. If I keep bashing my head against the wall of new directions, all I’ll get is a headache. Instead, I’ll calmly examine the nature of the wall, and work out which of the “over, under or through” approaches to take.
This is a wonderful explanation of the healing and growth I find in this yoga practice.
In one of my favorite articles of all time, Emmy Cleaves, a teacher of over 35 years breaks down why Bikram Yoga is so incredible. Enjoy.
January/February 2005 Volume 4/Number 1
By Emmy Cleaves
Bikram Yoga, sometimes also called “hot yoga,” is a system of a set 26 yoga posture sequence practiced in a room heated to 100+ degrees and lasting 90 minutes.
Bikram Choudhury, under his guru’s guidance and using modern medical measurement techniques, researched and arrived at this specific sequence of postures. The individual asanas are classical hatha yoga. Each classical yoga posture has a specific anatomical, neurological, physiological and psychological effect on the human body. The intelligence of any posture sequence determines the overall benefit of the practice.
Bikram introduced his unique style of yoga in the United States in 1971. During the first 20 years this style was taught only in his Beverly Hills studio…
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