Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Yoga-licious Life

Is it a bird?  A plane?  No, it's a Divine Painter!
Yoga has enabled me to be more flexible and given
me better balance for work... and play.
On March 8th I celebrated my one year anniversary as a Yogi.  This is a re-print of a Testimony I wrote and had published in Bikram Yoga Bay Ridge's Hot Times newsletter in August of 2010.  It's worth sharing again 6 months later, as I truly believe devotion to this practice has altered my destiny.  

"One often learns more from ten days of agony than from ten years of contentment." 
- Merle Shain

Sometime during the Winter of '08 I was walking on 83rd Street and happened to run into a friend of mine, Jeff, a contractor who was building out a new store on the corner Fifth Avenue. He took me in for a tour and explained to me what the space was intended for. He told me all about this new exercise craze... people doing yoga in intense heat. I thought he was pulling my leg. People intentionally enduring high temperatures while doing yoga poses? To sweat? In an orange and purple room? This felt wrong on so many levels. Bay Ridge wasn't ready for this, I thought cynically. In 6 months this will be just another nail salon! But strangely, this non-distinct little brick corner studio must have had some sort of staying power.

For two years, as I did my errands or circled around looking for parking on Fifth Avenue, I would curiously notice the sweaty people leaving... or milling about inside... and I would shake my head and wonder why. But I have to admit I was intrigued. Not enough to actually walk into the studio and inquire... but enough that it stayed within my peripheral vision. What brings people here, I often wondered, and what do they take away with them? I just couldn't figure it out.

Besides fast-walking I never really exercised. I was in pretty decent shape because of my active lifestyle. I am an artist, an entrepreneur and a single mother. Not an easy combination by any stretch of the imagination. I own and operate a decorative painting company that specializes in faux finishes, Divine Rooms. My life and my work largely rely on my physical strength, stamina, skill and agility. Just living my life is a "work out." It's not easy to maintain a home, raise an active young boy and haul paint cans or climb up and down ladders all day.

For years I took my health and my youth for granted. I smoked cigarettes. I drank lots of wine. I ate whatever I wanted. It was nothing to coast on 5 or 6 hours sleep, a few coffees and the sheer will to succeed. Then, last winter, life woke me up with a thump and said in oh so many ways: that's over! And my body chimed in and said: you'd take better care of me... because I'm all you got! I turned 40 and almost like clockwork things started to wilt. My complextion changed. My back hurt. Somehow, I was making it through each day. But I was tired of pushing myself and I have to admit, I was depressed.

A fellow artist friend began chirping in my ear about how wonderful her life had become since starting a yoga routine, at, you guessed it, a Bikram Yoga studio in Williamsburg. She was in great physical shape and I noticed her posture had improved. At the risk of sounding too poetic, I must say she looked almost metamorphisized. I wanted what she had. That peace. The glow. An exercise that gives you energy? Keeps you youthful? Works all your organs, muscles and tendons? Cleanses and detoxes? Improves your emotional balance? I thought of the non-distinct little brick corner studio just 5 blocks from my home... and I knew in my heart I had to try it.

Bow Pose or Dhanurasana (Sanskrit)
One of my favorites of the 26 postures.

The very next day I found myself nervously sitting on my brand new yoga mat, in this very, very hot room, anxiously surveying the crowd, wishing I had brought a bigger towel and more water, barely able to breathe. I silently prayed I wouldn't get sick, or worse die, and wondered why it was so quiet. I told (warned) the two people next to me this is my first class... and I'm really clumsy... They smiled and assured me I was going to be OK. 

Suddenly, the flourescent lights flip on and a near-naked man in tight, tiny yoga pants welcomes the group. We stand up for Prana Yama Breathing and I am already sweating... oh dear... I have no idea what is in store for me.. but I let it all go and decide to just flow with the experience... and simultaneously, at that moment, I cross a threshold. At that moment I am at my most naive and my most brave. I take the proverbial leap of faith. I have no idea how profoundly that 90 minutes is going to change my life.

I somehow make it though this class without dying. The next morning I wake up sore all over and feel a strange sensation, like a tiny current of positive electrical energy is running throughout my body. I feel something I haven't felt in a really long time: alive.

It's been six months now, and I guess you can say I am hooked. I feel stronger. I am more disciplined. My balance is better. My skin glows. I am more emotionally stable. I feel purified from the inside out. Gone are the blues, gone are the restless, sleepless nights. There is an incredible sense of satisfaction and accomplishment after each and every class. I enjoy the friendly, familiar faces at the studio. I feel like I am a part of a meaningful movement, like I'm part of something important. When I am practicing I feel connected to something. The edge is now gone from daily life. I feel softer, lighter, happier and healthier than ever. My work has improved and my stamina for physical labor has increased. I swear I feel younger than I did 10 years ago. My body has become a finely tuned instrument.

My arms are raised about 50% of the time I am working.
Practicing Yoga has helped further strengthen my
muscles and build more stamina.

Nothing good in life comes easy, and this is no exception. It's a big work out and a huge commitment. I still hate to sweat. And some days I am so tired from working so hard... but I come anyway. It's a love/hate relationship. I hate it while I'm there but I love it after I leave! I guess there is a beautiful duality about Bikram Yoga. For example, you are alone in your practice and yet you are in a room of people. It's a pretty "loud" experience: the heat, the sweat, the pain... but it's also a place that forces you to hear your own silence. You will fight to find your peace. For 90 minutes you put 100% of your head and heart into a practice that somehow manages to reveal your soul. Tense, stretch and release... and get ready to sweat out all of the tears you can't cry.

I saw a t-shirt recently that to me sums up the essence of Bikram Yoga perfectly, it said: "Pain is weakness leaving your body." How true! My entire relationship with myself and my life is truly evolving. And this is totally and directly proportionate to my new relationship with pain. In the human experience pain is unavoidable. I have learned that pain is not something to fear. It is simply something to move through. As soon as you make the decision that pain is temporary and you are brave enough to feel it, it's over. Gone. That's it. I am devoted to pursuing Bikram Yoga because this practice has replaced my weakness with strength of mind, body and spirit. Every day I tell myself what I learned in class: keep bending and you will never break!

Bikram Yoga (a form of Hot Yoga) is a set series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises ideally practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees with 40% humidity over a 90 minute duration.  The postures systematically move fresh, oxygenated blood to one hundred percent of your body, to each organ and fiber, restoring all systems to healthy working order, just as Nature intended. Proper weight, muscle tone, vibrant good health, and a sense of well being will automatically follow.

"Come every day for the next three months and I will give you a new body, a new life!" - Bikram Choudhury, Founder



  1. What a beautiful, inspiring post, I'm so glad that I stopped by to read it!! There is such poetry to so much that you said, so much truth, I love the sweating the tears you can't cry idea, and keep bending and you will not break! Love that!!

  2. How wonderful that you noticed the changes within and out. Very inspirational. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Hi Faith... so nice to see you visiting me here. I hope they have a Bikram Yoga in Charleston awaiting your arrival! Hi Julie... When I come to Buffalo to paint for you, we will seek out a yoga joint together. It's always more fun getting started with a buddy. :)

  4. congrats on a year fellow yogi!

  5. Why I practice:
    “Change is not something that we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they're meant to be. ”

  6. Ahhh... nice quote Cousin Ellen! xo... Hi Kaet! So excited for your conquest tomorrow. Happy to see you both paying me a visit, dear and wise Kindred Spirits.

  7. Wow, you are an inspiration! I have been contemplating taking a yoga class. I am over weight, but my friends assured me it doesn't matter. That's what has been holding me back. But now, I think I'll give it a whirl. I'd love to feel more at "peace". This was a great post!

    Thank you so much for coming by my blog on my SITS day! I really appreciate it :)

  8. I enjoy reading about other people's experiences and see how similar they are to my own. From the first day when you sheepishly walk in and can't help but notice the silence in a room filled with people, to the moment when the practice resonates with you in a way that you realize you can't live without it. Its done wonders for me as well.

    I haven't tried Bikram. I'm more of a Strong Flow guy. Curious though to see how the heat plays a role in the overall experience. One of these days.......

  9. @ Matt: the Bikram experience (ie, high heat) allows you to go deeper into the stretch. It also causes you to sweat (profusely) and the stretching and sweating combination gives you the intense sensation of "wringing out" all of the impurities in your body. I'm pretty good at describing things... but first-hand experience is truly the only way you will ever fully comprehend the amazing process. TRY IT!