UN-Podcast 037: UNwound

Here we go. Starting today—and for the next few weeks—Apple is going to see a spike in productivity app downloads, the internet marketers are going to make a killing on cleanses, and it will become impossible to get a parking spot at the gym after 5 pm.

Over the next few weeks, we’re all going to resolve work a little harder, look a little better, and be much healthier people—and we’re going to base our resolutions on uncontrollable expectations: 6 pack abs, higher salaries, lower cholesterol numbers* (etc.). And these uncontrollable goals, my friends, are precisely why New Year’s resolutions suck.

What makes these goals “uncontrollable?” After all, aren’t these goals quantifiable? I can see my abs, I’ll know when I get a raise, and I can take a blood test to tell me what’s up with my health. I’d like to argue (and I don’t think anyone would disagree with me) that just because something can be quantified, doesn’t mean that it can be controlled.

When I first took on the Muscle and Fitness Hers 12-week transformation challenge that kicked off my third relapse with EDNOS (and finally earned me the classification of “anorectic”) in 2010, I had a (mostly) quantifiable end goal in mind: I was going to lose 10 pounds, have a six pack, and be muscular enough/at a low enough body fat to compete in an NPC body building competition. For 12 weeks, I ate clean, limited calories, lifted heavy, did extra cardio, and controlled and controlled and controlled** everything—from meal timing to supplementation—until I reached the end of the 12 weeks.

Yet, though I had lost a lot of weight, I wouldn’t have even gotten an honorable mention in a bodybuilding competition. Though I could quantify the variables to the best of my ability, my end goal was out of my control.

This is how we make resolutions: I have an end goal that I cannot control, but I want it badly enough that I will convince myself that I can control it. I can micromanage the variables, but the variables themselves are not my focus; I care only about whether or not I reach my goal. And if and when that goal doesn’t turn out the way I’d planned—because I have no way of controlling the outcome—I either punish myself by going further (as I did, which is how I ended up without a period) or swinging back in the opposite direction.

One of the most important things that Bikram yoga has taught me is how to set healthy, achievable goals. When I was bodybuilding the end goal—the unquantifiable possibility—was the focus, and I mindlessly went through the little every day steps (the journey) while focused on the uncontrollable outcome.

yoga-teacher-training

[image source]

In Bikram, I have uncontrollable goals too—I want to touch my head to my knee. I want to balance with both hands in namaskar while in toe stand. I want to touch my full spine to the ground in wind removing pose. I want to strive for full expression of each of the 26 postures—but they are merely the ideals I keep in the back of my mind while I focus on the little steps (the journey) as I take them each day in class.

For example, in one class, when I was struggling with balance, Mike Mayle, the owner of Balance Yoga Center in San Jose, CA, told me to focus on my big toe. Instead of worrying about how beautiful my standing bow looked (how high was my foot over my head? how level were my hips? how low could I bring my body down?) I just thought about my big toe. For the rest of the class, in all of the standing postures that required balance, I focused my energy on my big toe, and I stayed standing. And because I wasn’t focused on the big goal (full expression of the posture), but on the microstep it took to get there, I was actually able to go deeper into my practice.

I wanted to write about this today, of all days, because on Day 1 of the new year, we’re focused on the “full expression” of our resolutions—the uncontrollable possibilities (bikini bodies, higher salaries, better health, etc.) instead of the the little steps that it takes to get there (showing up every day and [metaphorically] focusing on the big toe).

As Mike has said before, “You never forget your first Bikram yoga class.”

And he’s right: I remember that first class and many many many of the classes in between, because each class was a milestone on the way to achieving a different goal.

On day one of my Bikram practice, my goal was just to stay in the room. On day two, it was to come back. On day three it was to start memorizing the sequence. Two years in, it was to complete a 30 day challenge. A few months ago it was to focus on my big toe.

There is no start date, there is no end date; every day is another chance to set a small goal and meet it.

So, instead of focusing on your “New Year’s resolution,” here’s instead to 365 days of learning how to focus on the big toe.

In today’s podcast, we talk with Mike about goal-setting, yoga, and finding your authentic self. I think you’re REALLY going to like this one:

Go Listen Now!

finding-our-hunger-podcast

Stay hungry,

@MissSkinnyGenes

*Not advocating this one, necessarily. See Cholesterol Clarity by Jimmy Moore for reasons why.

**Or should I say “quantified, quantified, quantified?”

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Some Like It Hot

After a week of crazy hospital visits and surgical interruptions, I’m sure you have quite forgotten where we were with our story. And so, a brief recap: August hit, my ankle remained a mess but life started to come back together. I became a vegan and started doing Bikram yoga. And so: 

Why, you must be asking, would anyone in his or her right mind do Bikram yoga?

Why, I must ask you, do you assume that anyone who does Bikram yoga is in his or her right mind?+

I got caught up in Bikram by accident. In December of 2009, while I was home deciding whether or not to finish my MFA, I ran into a major conflict with my ED: ED wanted me to work out, and I couldn’t, because I had injured my back at the gym (something I did often) and needed to rest and recuperate.

Resting and recuperating were not a part of ED’s bodybuilding dreams, but I was afraid to go back to the gym and injure myself further. ED insisted, however: days off were not an option. Days off are days when fat turns on.*

So I turned to the internet for help. (Rarely a good idea, although Google actually came through for me on this one.)

In my area, there were about four or five different yoga studios, all specializing in different practices. Hatha. Iyengar, Ashtanga. Bikram. I made my choice not based on style or benefits but on proximity to my house. (And, you know, estimated calories burned.)

Bikram it was.

Bikram yoga

The 26 Postures of Bikram Yoga

I called ahead, and was instructed to bring two towels (one large, one small) and a yoga mat, to eat very little or nothing beforehand, and to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

The studio smelled overwhelmingly of wet feet**, and I could see both men and women in various stages of undress already sweltering near humidifiers on the floor.

The first class was one of the most intense experiences I have ever had. I walked out of the studio looking as though I had been thrown in a swimming pool, but I felt so clean and light on the inside that I thought I might float away.

That night, I ate an extra tablespoon of peanut butter for dinner and ED didn’t even say a word.

I started doing Bikram every other day, and my back pain quickly cleared up. I returned to the gym in the mornings (doing my hour-and-a-half-long lifting and cardio routines) and then went to Bikram at night. I felt euphoric, light, and even hopeful. It was strange. I even felt less anxiety after doing yoga, so I started going every day.

The peace and clarity of mind I felt when practicing Bikram was a large factor in my decision to return to New York to finish my degree. In the city, I found an amazing little studio on 145th street, and I incorporated Bikram into my already crazy gym-and-school schedule.

Now, don’t get me wrong: Bikram was not a complete panacea for my problems. If it were, I would not be writing this particular blog right now. But Bikram was an invitation to begin healing. It was a way to soften the rough edges of my depression and to calm the chronic anxiety I felt. It was a way to connect, if only for 90 minutes, with the inner voice that ED had long suppressed. It was a way to appease ED by taking some time for myself, because I was still burning a massive number of calories through each session.

Due to the issues of time, money, and general reality, however, constant Bikram sessions were not in my cards for the long term. First and foremost, I was overdoing it, as is generally my M.O. I pulled my hamstrings on more than one occasion, and threw out my back whenever I combined too much yoga with my ever more intense gym sessions. As the months dragged on, I went to yoga less and less frequently. By the time I reached my summer transformation challenge, I was pretty much yoga-free. (And, not unexpectedly, stewing in a pot of my own anxiety and depression.)

Bikram Yoga, Sweat, Delray Beach

Bikram Yoga Delray Beach became my 30-day haven.

When I returned to Bikram for the 30-day challenge in August 2011, I was not a different person. I was still a mental prisoner of ED. I was still prone to extreme behaviors surrounding my exercise and calorie restriction. I was also injured.

The good news is that, at least for the month of my challenge, many of the symptoms in my ankle started to clear up. While I was still weak, I felt less pain. If I missed a day of yoga, I would dissolve into anxiety attacks until I was able to make up the transgression on a double day. (I even started doing preemptive doubles, just in case.)

Combined with my raw, vegan, mostly-juice diet, Bikram made me feel lighter than air. I threw myself into the practice, and the practice rewarded me with health and wellbeing.

With Bikram, I saw myself on a path to healing, and maybe even finally escaping from the clutches of ED.

-K.

+I’m kidding.++

++Sort of.

*I know now that this is a lie that ED told me. Days off are days in which muscles repair themselves and grow stronger. Please make sure you’re getting sufficient rest in whatever fitness program you’re following!!!

**Every Bikram studio smells of wet feet. You get used to it.