Crash Tests

Crash Test: Bikram Yoga 30 Day Challenge (Part 3) – The Results cont.

What I Felt

In My Spine/Back/Nerves

I’ve had issues with sciatica since my last two years of gymnastics training, in fact my back and leg pain was the main reason I gave gymnastics away. Years of strategically strengthening some muscle groups while over-stretching others, plus multiple crash landings in every possible position (including a nasty fall right on the top of my head…can you say crunch?) had left my back tight and twisted. There were days at the beginning of my practice that simply lying flat on my back in savasana was a painful achievement and the first day that I lay down before class and felt the back of my legs and the small of my back touch the ground at the same time was one of great excitement.

I was determined to soothe, and not encourage, my sciatica during the challenge. I was going to lift from my lower and mid spine, especially in each standing posture, and each backbend was concentrated on stretching upwards and not just falling backwards. I also thought constantly about relaxing my tailbone down and long – I have a wonderful habit of standing with “gymnast posture” or what I like to call “duck butt”, again from years of sticking out my booty and standing with a slouch during gym training. (You’ve seen duck-butt during the Olympics, particularly exaggerated when a gymnast stands and presents to signal the completion of a routine or skill. But duck-butt now equals cripple later and is definitely not an advised posture).

Happily, my back felt better and better during the challenge. I could visualise my lower vertebrae separating and stretching back into a straight line and in rabbit I could even hear the popping of that happening (don’t worry, it felt great). I could see my matt and towel, then sometimes even my heels in back bends. Camel was, at last, my friend.

With all the stuff it's responsible for, looking after your spine is very important!

With all the stuff it’s responsible for, looking after your spine is very important!

And after the challenge? Well, I took a well-earned two days off and went home to visit my family. Then I came back to the studio for my first 6pm class and I couldn’t lie down. Pain radiated from my lower back, around my hips and down my legs. It was like I had jumped right back to the beginning again. But that sciatica pain was pain I was used to. It was the feeling in my upper middle back, like my vertebrae were bruised, and badly, that had me concerned. I looked after class but nope, there was no visible bruising. The area was painful to touch, and while it didn’t necessarily hurt during postures, savasana became unbearable. I was concerned.

So, I consulted Dr. Google – a bad, bad idea. If it wasn’t a herniated disc, it was a nerve attacking virus or cancer. I hastily left Dr. Google behind.

I asked my teacher – a much better idea! The answer? Congratulations, you’re opening something new in your body. And, dude, you just did a month in a row – take a break!

So, I decided to trust that everything was ok, and then I went on holidays to Sydney and got busy doing cool stuff and took nearly a fortnight off. When I came back to yoga I felt great. Three months on and my back feels awesomer than awesome. Sciatica is a distant memory, or at least a distant memory that only very rarely, on cold days or days when I’ve slept on someone else’s couch (always a mistake), comes to visit.

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Flexibility

Flexibility was my improvement marker for the challenge, the thing, apart from getting through the thirty days, which I really wanted to work on. Well, there’s nothing like a hot room and ninety minutes of concentrated stretching to improve flexibility, and as expected I became gradually more bendy as the month wore on.

 I’m not always good at using my strength to help me stretch; during class I’m constantly realising that I’m using the wrong muscles to pull or twist. It’s comical, really, the number of times I’ll hear a teacher say to pull with my biceps only to realise I have to concentrate hard on relaxing my bunched up shoulders and telling my pesky arms to do the job instead. Coming to class every day allowed me to remember the little things more easily, reminding myself each consecutive class what I had learnt in the class before and becoming more aware of what I was supposed to do versus what I had a habit of doing. This awareness has been a far bigger benefit to my practice than the overall improvement in my flexibility, and was probably the leading contributor to my gains in stretchiness as well.

Which posture do you have?

Which posture are you? I’m number two for sure (ergh) but I’m working on it!

Mind

Despite spending far more time at the yoga studio, I was super productive during June. The time spent focusing in the studio helped me focus at work and at home and all that back bending gave me a huge boost in creative energy. I also saved a lot of time that I previously devoted to deciding if I would go to class by knowing that I had no choice but to go to class.

Normally, not during the Challenge, I would wake up in the morning reconsidering my decision to go or not to go to yoga. I would think about whether my clothes were dry, what I’d eaten, what else I needed to do during the day, whether or not I wanted to wash my hair, what the weather was like…I’d let almost any factor sway my decision to practice. Usually I’d still end up going, but not after wasting fifteen minutes at the start of the day thinking about it. During the Challenge, I didn’t do any of this thinking because I had to go to yoga, regardless of the state of my hair or the weather. You guys, I saved so much time.

This change, while small and seemingly insignificant, had a great effect on my day and my approach to class. Yoga wasn’t something I was trying to get out of anymore. Sure, class was and will always be hard, but that’s the point. And I still had to go. I began to enjoy class a lot more during the Challenge; not just the good classes but the really hard ones as well; the ones when my legs felt like lead and my stomach churned and I saw stars. Every day I moved closer to the achievement of completing the challenge which meant that every class, no matter how it felt, was good.

Heading into class with this new attitude has been the biggest change to my practice since the Challenge, and each week I now plan which classes I will attend in advance and then don’t give them a second thought until I’m there. Bikram yoga is much more enjoyable when you’ve decided to enjoy it and you’re not looking for loopholes.

And that’s it. Thirty classes, thirty days. Forty-five hours of yoga in a month. Simple, difficult, sweaty and, in the end, enjoyable. Would I do it again? Yes. Would I recommend trying a challenge? Absolutely.

If you have any questions about the Challenge, do feel free to ask. If you’re at all interested in Bikram yoga I highly suggest you try it. And if you want to do a challenge, I hope I’ve encouraged you and not put you off! Do it, do it with a friend, or with a whole studio, or by yourself.

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I entered our Queensland Regional Asana Championship this year. For me, getting up in front of my friends and family to show them the yoga that I’d been working so hard at for the past year and a half was super rewarding, and definitely something I was inspired to do after completing the Challenge. Below is a video of my routine from the Championship in October, you might not be able to tell because I’m wearing my concentration face, but I had so much fun!

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Crash Tests

Crash Test: 30 Day Bikram Yoga Challenge (Part 2) – The Results

Each month at That Crash Test Girl, I conduct a quasi-scientific, “real life experiment” wherein I Crash Test one of the legends, myths or modern day rumours that purport to help me live a better, a more healthy and fulfilling, a more awesome life. I post the results, always honest and often unexpected, here so you can make up your own mind about these self-help and self-health techniques.

This month’s Crash Test is Bikram yoga, for which I completed a 30 Day Bikram Yoga Challenge. Read part one detailing the aims, hypotheses and methods to the madness here.

Observations and Results

What I Did:

Yoga

And yoga and yoga and yoga. And then some yoga. After that, I went back for more yoga. I also sweat, slept and washed a whole lot of towels.

Eat

I had one of those great, you’re-gonna-regret-this-conversation-and-try-to-pretend-it-never-ever-happened, moments at the studio in the first week of the Challenge when I was talking to one of my teachers about what to eat while completing the thirty days. See, a lot of people took the opportunity of doing the month of yoga to also clean up their diet, stop eating meat, slow down on the wine and cut out cigarettes. Smart people. I, on the other hand, figured that just completing the Challenge was enough of a good effort for the month. I clearly remember on that evening the moment that I said to my teacher, “No, no, no, not me. I’m going to listen to my body and I’m going to eat whatever I want, whenever I want and it’s going to be great!”

And, you know, it could have been. If I really had been able to tune in to my body and listen to the signs it was sending me about food, it could have been a great month for me and my body. Instead, I found myself deep in a dialogue with my sneaky mind, playing partners in a lot of conversations that went something like this:

MIND CAKEI’m not a weight-watching fiend, but it’s possible that I actually gained weight during the first part of the Challenge. I ate far more unhealthily than normal, using the Challenge as an excuse to really eat whatever and whenever I wanted. It’s fair to say that this is not exactly how you’re supposed to do it.

After the first week and a half I garnered a little self-control, possibly learnt in all my yoga classes, and went back to my normal healthy eating habits. Funnily enough, classes became easier and I was able to go to sleep at night. The rest of the Challenge flew by and my mind was put into conversation time-out.

Drink

I’m not a big nut for all the rehydrating drinks, powders and potions you can buy, purely because for the most part they’re really expensive. Plus I’m never quite sure what’s in them, especially the powdered ones, and the last thing I want to do is add a whole bunch of sugar and chemicals to my water. Usually I’ll hydrate and rehydrate pre and post Bikram with some water with added lemon juice and the odd crack of Himalayan sea salt, a combination which has always worked just fine for me.

I figured that the Challenge was going to be a whole other world of hydration needs, though, and I was correct. Without a special focus on rehydrating between daily classes I felt weak, tired and grumpy. So I bit the bullet and bought a couple of the big litre cartons of coconut water to be my liquid ally during the Challenge.

To put it frankly, plain coconut water disgusts me. While a lot of people love the stuff, the mix of salty and sweet tastes is just not for me. And that’s ok, I’m a renowned picky eater and coconut water was probably always going to test my limits. So, I did what I do best and devised a recipe which made the coconut water bearable and, dare I say it, even tasty. After a few days on the stuff my body would crave a drink after class, letting me know that all the natural electrolytes in the coconut water were appreciated.

That Crash Test Girl - Rehydrating Drink Recipe

Soda water is a big favourite of mine because somehow carbonation seems to make everything taste better. I have a soda stream at home, so I can easily carbonate bottles of my own water and I’d always have one bottle bubbly and ready to go in the fridge each day.

Lime juice was my favourite flavour with the coconut, but you could really go to town with different juices. A pot of iced tea, pre-brewed and chilled, would also make a nice additive to the coconut + soda water, an idea I saw used in this drink over at Wellness Mama.

Doubles

It took all my strength plus a few extra savasanas to get through the two doubles that I did during the Challenge.

Doubles are what we yogis call doing two classes in one day in order to make up for a missed day during the challenge, and what the rest of the world would probably rightly call pure crazy. During the Challenge I missed two days, one when I had to attend a day of auditions for a festival show I was directing and another on the second last day of the challenge when I decided to go to a birthday party instead of class.

There are people at my studio who will happily and voluntarily do doubles just because, even when they have no Challenge commitments to meet. I greatly admire these people. During my doubles I became familiar with a sensation I like to call insta-regret, a gnawing feeling that no birthday party will ever be worth three hours of Bikram in one day. By my eighth (yes, eighth!) triangle of the day my thighs were ready to give in and my head spinning. Perhaps my rehydrating techniques weren’t as great as I thought they were, or perhaps I just needed to stop being a baby about it (because I really like going to birthday parties and who ever gave me the impression that this Challenge was going to be easy?) but doubles were definitely one of the most challenging part of the Challenge and I’ve been glad to wave them goodbye!

Here’s a video of Bikram himself teaching the correct way to do triangle, or as I liked to call it on double days, posture of death.

Part 3 in the 30 Day Challenge Crash Test coming soon, including the results of completing the Challenge for both my mind and body.

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