Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Blissful Bikram

Ok...as you may have read, I hated Bikram yoga when I did it last Thursday. But today I was feeling the love of my love-hate relationship with it. That love was followed by a sense of achievement and feelings of clarity and calm that I normally only experience after a day of fasting. Yay!

What a difference this day was! - not as much dizziness, no bitchiness, a sense of control and ease at the same time, and I was able to hold the poses longer and really get into them more fully...It helped that I hydrated more throughout the day (and resisted an urge for coffee), that Heath force-fed me watermelon before class (typically, you're not supposed to eat several hours before class...but I figured watermelon was probably one of the only foods that would count as an exception), and it also made a difference that I warmed up with a quick lymph brushing (with a warm washcloth) and a bikeride to class.

And did I mention that, this time around, I had the best instructor ever? Megan at Bikram Yoga of Philadelphia was kind and encouraging, with just the right amount of strictness to keep me honest. I actually worked better and harder in this atmosphere. She was very good at explaining how to have correct posture and how to properly get in and out of poses. And Megan also made a point of telling us what each pose was doing to our organs, spine, muscles, and systems. She'd say, "this pose is good for the pancreas...that pose is good for the intestine"...etc. This motivated me to really work the poses. She scored big points for reminding us to get out of our minds and to use them only for positive thoughts related to our practice - "Stretch." "I am strong." "I'm going to rock this pose."

I made it to the end feeling so much stronger than I did at Thursday's class. I have to remember that some days will just not go as well as others. According to Bikram Choudhury, when you are feeling less like being at yoga, that's when you need it the most.

And as we laid on our mats, soaking up all the benefits, Megan asked us to reflect on why we come to Bikram. Her reason? To move her body; it feels better after movement. My reason? To engage not only my muscles in a workout but all organs and systems as well...to detoxify....to get out of my mind...to get out of my comfort zone and focus on my breath.

There are only three things you can control in life:

*Your Breath
*Your Mind
*Your Body

What activities help you in attending to these parts of you?

P.S. Another brownie point for this Bikram studio, aside from an awesome instructor, is the kick-ass vegan snacks they gave out for FREE. When you don't eat as preparation for a class, it's possible you'll be starving afterwards. The snack was a godsend.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Macro Monday ~ Miso Soup

I used to think miso soup was weird, gross even, mainly because I tried a soup-in-a-box once that had an over-powering fishy taste. I assumed all miso soup had this quality...and tofu, of which I'm not a big fan. But my friend recently made me miso soup and it was delicious. It's a common dish within a macrobiotic diet and is often consumed for breakfast. You heard right...soup for breakfast!

My friend practices macrobiotics and has miso every morning alongside a grain (like amaranth) with veggies (like corn and cauliflower), a green (like blanched kale or watercress) and a sea vegetable (in the miso soup and/or in the form of dulse flakes on the cooked grain). I've tried this several times with great results...feeling grounded, calm, centered, and ready to start my day. It's also very hydrating (the best diet is one where you are hydrated by your food and don't need to down lots of water, which is taxing on the kidneys).

Here's my variation on the morning stew:

Me-So-Happy Miso Soup

1/4 cup yellow onion, diced
1/4 cup carrots, match-stick slices
Several slices of lotus root
1/4 cup daikon, half-moon slices
2 tsp brown rice miso
2-inch piece of wakame, sliced into small pieces
3 cups filtered water

Soak wakame for 10 minutes in some filtered water. Heat onion, carrots, daikon, lotus root and 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add wakame and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove some of the water and mix the miso in it. Add the dissolved miso into the pot. Don't boil once miso is in the pot; it will destroy the digestive enzymes.

Note: Miso soups typically include a sea vegetable for their high mineral content but I have made several soups without them. I just started using wakame, which can be purchased at a natural food store or Whole Foods. Nori is also commonly used.

Dry Wakame

Soaked/Cooked Wakame

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bickering at Bikram

On Thursday night I got to hang out with my friend Katie. We planned to catch up and sweat our asses off...courtesy of Bikram yoga. It wasn't my first time doing it but I was nonetheless nervous. Bikram yoga calls for its participants to engage in an hour-and-one-half session of 26 poses, done twice, in a room heated to 105 degrees. Each time I do Bikram I wonder if I'll make it through. Will I faint? Will I hurl? My mind races a bit too. What have I gotten myself into? And why the hell am I doing this...again?

My interest in trying Bikram started with Oprah. I was flipping through a friend's old O Magazine at the beach, reading about some chickadee who was using Bikram as the jumpstart to her life makeover. I don't remember what about that article made me look into it. Perhaps it was an interest in seeing what all the hype was about or pushing myself to the extreme. Mark my words. It doesn't really get more extreme than Bikram.

Normally when I do yoga it's as chill as can be. My favorite yogini was sweet and soft-spoken, encouraging her students to "play" on their mats. It was a great feeling...like I was in kindergarten. We were only to focus on ourselves and not compare our skill set or poses with those next to us. The room was dimly lit with candles and gentle music and the temperature was comfortable. In fact, when this particular yoga studio started heating up their rooms, even to 70 degrees, I stopped going. It made me nauseous.

So why on earth would I try doing yoga in 105 degrees? Why would I pursue a yoga practice without music, with stern instructors, in a bright room that makes me feel like I'm melting and a room that reeks of people's sweat? I still don't know the answer to that. And yet I go back.

Bikram Choudhury founded this style of yoga on the principle of health; the hot temperatures are meant to increase flexibility throughout the various poses, which engage all of the muscles, veins, glands (you name it) in the body. One of the Bikram teachers I've experienced said it best: "Suffer for 90 minutes, live for 90 years." And trust me, it is a full 90 minutes of suffering. I go to Bikram on occasion, thinking that eventually it will get easier. But it doesn't. And I find myself bitching about it in my head. Why am I here? Why does the instructor seem so mean?

I think about running out the door within 10 minutes to the start of each class (I've confirmed that other people think this too). I pray the instructor hasn't noticed that she left the window opened...or that I've gotten out of some of the poses before she has said the magic word "change." I get bummed when the instructor has noticed that the window is indeed opened...and promptly closes it. When all this has passed (30 minutes into the session) I hear select words in my head. "Breathe" and "focus." "Breathe" and "focus." And "I'd kill for an iced tea right now." Part survival mode, part what I'm going to do if I survive (minus the killing).

But despite the attempts to settle my thoughts and focus and breathe, my bitchy feelings have not quite dissipated. I'm frustrated with the person at the front of the room, the person keeping me here. Still sweating...still a little dizzy. I'm ready to be done. The instructor jokes about the clock being 10 minutes fast. She tells us not to worry...she'll make sure we don't miss those 10 minutes. I'm not amused at this or her feigned attempts at soothing us, telling us to look up at the soft periwinkle ceiling. "You're almost done."

And then it's done. Amen.

I immediately down 32 ounces of water as fast as I can, spray the mat, peel off the clothes, and bada bing, bada boom. My skin and lungs are clear. I feel like a new person. I entered the studio in the midst of a heat wave and left that studio feeling like I was in air conditioning. And I slept like a baby. I will have to remember all the positives (including those unseen) the next time I venture into the desert. It might be a while before I want to feel the heat again. But one thing is certain. I will feel the heat again.