Oh it hurts! Lessons from the yoga mat

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I’m 25 days into the Bikram 30 day challenge. My butt literally hurts – there’s a tightness in my glutes that I’ve never – not in all the years of running and cross-fit training – experienced before. My lower back aches from the constant flexing and I’ve lost about three inches from my waist. I walk with a constant level of discomfort but (what makes it all oh so worth it) a total sense of well-being. Here are my 7 realisations so far:

  1. BREATHING. IT’S PRETTY USEFUL: Pushing yourself to the limit in a sauna-like setting, at some point or another, will make you panic. Inevitably there’s a point where it gets so hot, it feels like a used sock has been stuffed in your mouth and you can’t breath through the hot stench. The only thing you can feel is your heart hammering through your chest and the same recurring thought “oh, god, I can’t breath! I need to get the fuck out of here before I pass out in a pool of my own sweat and faeces!” The moment those thoughts enter, it’s gameover. The anxiety kicks into overdrive and you walk out hyperventilating, despite the instructor yelling NOT to leave the room in the middle the session. (Scrawny sadist. Does she not see our plight?!)
    It’s unfortunate because the truth is, we can always catch our breath. Its just a battle to maintain control over our thoughts and actions – to force ourself to breath in and out through the nose instead of taking desperate gasps. Breathing through the nose stops us from going into fight or flight mode. We regain composure by exercising the one thing in the world we do have control over: our breath. By mastering our breath, we master our thoughts and ability to control our actions.
  2. GOOD LISTENERS ARE REWARDED WITH THE BEST LESSONS: Bikram is all about listening to the instructor and applying their words, moment by moment. When to breathe, when to hold, when to relax and how to adjust the body in just the right way to send a wave of blood pumping energy to the core, joints and muscles in unison. Then later that day when you’re home, you steal a glimpse of your protruding bicep in the mirror (with a shriek because it’s the first time you’ve ever seen the little fella) and you realise, “Awesome! That dude knew what he was talking about when he said to tug harder and pull from the hips!” and it all becomes oh-so worth it.
  3. THERE’S CLARITY IN PAIN: Bikram hurts. I mean it really hurts. There are certain postures where my limbs shake under the exertion… where my ligaments threaten to either buckle or snap completely.. but it’s right at that moment, that moment where I resist despite every part of me wanting to give up, that a wave of euphoria hits. Fighting through the exhaustion, I feel my full potential as a human being. I recognize in that wordless moment, the power that lies in perseverance. No jokidy joke.
  4. WE EAT WAY TOO MUCH: You can’t eat three hours before Bikram unless you want to be doubled over in cramps for the whole session, or worse, vomit right there in the middle of eagle pose as the cute instructor glances over in his tight Speedos. It’s bad enough everyone else is trimmer and fitter than you are, do you really wanna be that person doubled over? After Bikram you notice you’re so hyped up on endorphins you can’t eat for another few hours. So within those hours of the day of not eating, your body metabolises and re-hydrates. You don’t miss the food. Then, when actual hunger kicks in, you reward myself yourself with a big, nutritious meal (or a pizza and five Heinekens, but hey, who’s counting). You  hadn’t noticed you gave yourself re-generative mini-fast. Not eating never felt so good.
  5. EVERYTHING’S A CHOICE: Physical mastery is mental – not genetic or even by engineering. It’s about the choice within the present moment. When yoga gets hard and too much to bear, to the point  we collapse on the mat, it comes down to one thing – the choice of whether or not to be tired. It may seem like the most impossible choice in the world as we lay slumped and pathetic, head spinning with legs that might as well belong to someone else because they quit taking commands ten minutes ago. Nonetheless, it’s still a choice; a choice as to whether or not to be conquered by self-imposed limits. We are designed to endure. We just have to dig deep for that mind-body connection and tell our bodies with conviction “this feels fantastic! I am alive! I am full of energy and ready to rock and roll!” and pick ourselves back up with renewed energy. Or of course we can just say screw it and tell our inner cheerleader to shove her pom poms up her A**. The choice is there.
  6. SOMETIMES NOT THINKING IS THE BEST TYPE OF THINKING: I’m prone to overthinking. There’s a circus in my head and it’s very active. There are jugglers, jesters, acrobats and tigers.. (oh my!) If only my body was as flexible as the performers in my head. The beautiful thing about Bikram is that requires singular focus and is too exhausting to allow you think about the project you’re working on or that boy you’re fixated with. The poses knock it out of you. For an hour and a half of the day, the inner circus takes a break. And once the yoga session is over, everything seems more apparent. That problem you were obsessing about has suddenly been put into perspective. The clowns are calmer, but just as charming. The circus is able to perform, for the first time all day, without any tightrope accidents.
  7. YOU HAVE GOOD AND BAD DAYS, BUT THE LATTER DOESN’T MATTER SO LONG AS YOU’RE IN THE ARENA: And lord, did I have some bad days. Five times I went to Bikram hungover! I don’t think it needs further explanation about how nauseating and challenging that was. How it looked like my eyeballs were about to bleed rivers they were so bloodshot. About how the voices in my head were protesting the whole time, calling me all sorts of juvenile names, demanding why I had to drink all eight beers when I knew I was on the 30 day Bikram challenge. But you just have to tell those voices to fuck off. That you’re in the damned room and you’re giving it all you got even if you’re crying through the sweat. The good thing is, noone can see you bawling because you’re so heavily drenched with alcohol fueled perspiration that it looks like you’ve been wresting in a pool of baby oil. Like that wild college party you went to all those years ago, only way less sexy.
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