The Results of My 30-day Bikram Yoga Challenge

At the Sackler Museum Yoga exhibit, October 2013.

My son’s shadow at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Museum exhibit: Yoga~The Art of Transformation, October 2013.

A week ago, I completed a 30-day Bikram yoga challenge. The challenge began October 21 and ran until November 19. I actually started on October 23 because I hadn’t been to the studio in a while and didn’t know a challenge was happening. Needless to say, I was at a disadvantage from the beginning in more ways that one.

At the beginning of October, my day job responsibilities were taken away from me, which is a nice way of saying I was out of a job. Unfortunately for me, this coincided with the government shutdown.

Living in the DC metro area, even if you don’t work as a government employee, your life is directly affected by the government’s business. So for the first two weeks of my job search in October, I didn’t hear a word or a sound from any potential employers. Heck, I didn’t even hear crickets!

But I persisted. I was determined to stay positive, but it wasn’t easy. I was struggling. In all honesty, when I walked into Bikram Yoga Rockville’s studio two days into their first Turkey Trot Challenge, I was in a deep slump emotionally, mentally and physically.

However, instead of saying, “Damn! Another opportunity lost because I wasn’t paying attention,” I took it as a sign. I saw it as an alternate chance to move myself in a better direction. So I asked the owner of the studio if it was okay to sign up late. She said, “No problem!” and had me sign my name to the top of the challenge board where she drew in more grid lines to accommodate my late participation.

(I’m happy to also report that a few others joined me as late comers, so to say. I wasn’t alone. Hehe!)

But enough about why I started, most of you are probably more interested in what I learned as a result of doing the challenge, right. Well, here goes:

1. I don’t mind ending up in a hot spot.

Bikram Yoga is hot and sweaty. REALLY hot (105 degrees Fahrenheit) and sweaty. Many teachers of Bikram Yoga refer to their studios as “The Hot Room” and/or “The Torture Chamber.” Personally, I don’t find it torturous, but I have, in the past, found myself consciously avoiding the hottest parts of the room.

You see, not every spot is the same. Some spots are hotter and some spots are much “cooler” (if that’s even possible to say). I discovered that the hotter and more uncomfortable I was, the more focused and determined I was. My mind wondered to places outside the room far less when I was in a hot spot and when sweat was running down my face, than if I were in a “cooler” spot in the room.

The hotter my spot, the better my practice. Who knew!!

2. I learned that I can trust my body when it tells me when to eat and when not to eat.

During the challenge, I ate what I wanted when I wanted it. I don’t eat a lot, but I did during the challenge. My body just needed it. I even ate Halloween candy, including chocolate, which I try to avoid because it has been known to cause me headaches in the past.

According to the calorie calculator over at everydayhealth.com, it’s estimated that I burn between 850 calories during a 90-minutes Bikram Yoga practice. Before the challenge, I wasn’t so sure that was true. But now I am convinced it must be true considering all of the food I ate without gaining or losing weight.

I am the type of person who eats to live, rather than lives to eat. (I haven’t always been that way.) So my body was telling me it needed food, so I helped myself!

3. I realized that what I learn about myself while on the mat translates into how I should be off the mat.

I like to be challenged. But whereas in the past I would become frustrated and upset if I didn’t meet my standards, I’m more inclined now to brush myself off and try again.

One of the yoga teachers at the studio mentioned in the early part of the challenge that if we can remain patient and non-judgmental in a 105 degree room as we try to balance on one leg while trying to touch our head to the knee of our other leg, we can remain patient and non-judgmental anywhere.

In the yoga room, when I fall out of a posture, I just try again. Not because I am competing with anyone else in the room or even because I’m competing with myself. But because I have a desire to honor my practice. Not giving up is honoring the time I invest in my yoga practice. I am patient with my physical limitations and know it takes time to build muscle strength and balance.

Why not translate that kind of thinking off the mat and apply it to my emotional and mental needs for strength and balance? So I did. After about day 15 or so, I repeatedly reminded myself of my yoga teacher’s message.

Today, I actively practice mental patience off the mat more than I had been doing before the challenge. When I start to feel myself becoming agitated with myself or with someone or some situation, I stop myself from diving into negative thought patterns. I step back and say, “Hey! This kind of thinking isn’t going to make the situation better. It’s only going to make it more difficult. Stop. Rewind. Start over.”

There is no shame in admitting defeat and trying again.

4. I love yoga!

After completing the challenge, I realize now more than ever how much I love yoga. I love the smell of the mat and sweaty room; I love the collective sound of the pranas (breathing exercises); I love how the mat feels between my toes; I love the taste of my ice cold water after eagle pose; I love the feeling I get coming out of camel pose (sometimes it’s relief, other times it’s nausea); I love meeting fellow yogis and learning more about why and how they got started on their yoga journey.

On the final day of the challenge just before my 30th consecutive practice began, one of my fellow yogis approached me and handed me a small, rolled up piece of yellow cloth. She stepped back to her mat, and I opened it.

30-day challenge banner

Vera’s gift to me

I immediately got emotional and walked over to her mat and hugged and thanked her. She just said, “You inspire me, Paula.” I cried some more, returned to my mat and finished out my challenge with my last moving meditation.

Her generous and thoughtful act truly humbled me. I couldn’t believe she had taken the time to create something so special just for me. As I walked to my car after practice, I thought about where to hang it in my home to honor her and to honor my challenge. I couldn’t wait to show my husband and my son, who were my biggest supporters and cheerleaders, not to mention they put up with my stinky yoga laundry every single day for 30 days!

Once inside my car, I reached for my phone to call my husband. But before I could call him, I noticed I had missed several messages from a staffing agency I had been working with over the previous three weeks. It seems I had gotten a job offer while I was in yoga!

5. I owe a lot to my yoga practice.

Without it, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Most of all, I appreciate all of my family and friends who don’t tell me to shut up when I start talking about yoga. It’s been too much of a good thing to keep to myself. I can’t stop myself from sharing.

Namaste!
~Paula

© 2013 Paula Carrasquillo and A Yogini Transformed.


Paula Carrasquillo is an active yogi, author, and advocate who has lived in numerous watersheds throughout the United States, including Colorado, Maine, Maryland and New Mexico. She currently lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Paula is passionate about her family, friends and the motivational and brave people she meets daily through her online writing and social media exchanges. To Paula, every person, place, thing, idea and feeling she encounters is significant and meaningful, even those which she most wants to forget. Follow Paula on Twitter and check out her other blog.

Practice Yoga, Gain Confidence in Your Mind and Body, and Eat Whatever You Want

Marilyn Monroe eating a sundae

Marilyn Monroe practiced yoga…and ate dessert!

Don’t you just hate those people who never seem to gain weight and never look out of shape yet claim to eat whatever they want? Well, I’m sad to say that I am one of those people.

Before you start hating me, please know that I haven’t always been one of those people, not by a long shot. It’s taken me over 40 years and a regular yoga practice to transform me into one of those people.

To be completely honest, I have never had a weight problem, but I did have an eating problem: I couldn’t eat everything and everything I wanted to eat, and it pissed me off!

Before practicing yoga, my appetite was huge! But because I feared gaining weight (intricately related to my lack of confidence) and knew myself well enough to know that gaining weight would not make me happy, I pushed away my cravings often. I refused cakes and muffins and pies and donuts. Even though I’d look at these types of foods with eyes and mouth drooling, I rarely, if ever indulged. And when I did indulge, I’d feel guilty afterwards and force myself to run on the treadmill the next day for an extra hour or deprive myself of food even more than usual to make up for “being a pig” for a day.

Most days, I just really felt deprived when it came to food, which made me irritable, which made my body and mind toxic in many ways, which resulted in a perpetual anxiety around food.

Food was not my friend; it seemed to control me. For years, I wished and wished to have a better relationship with food one day. But that day always seemed elusive probably because a better relationship with myself was what I needed to establish first before attempting to improve any other relationships I sought with food, people or otherwise.

I started practicing yoga in October 2011 just a few months shy of my 40th birthday. My relationships with my family, myself and with food didn’t change immediately, but within 6 months of my first practice, food was becoming less and less of an issue with me. My previous and persistent unsatisfied cravings were fewer and fewer, and I actually started looking forward to meals and snacks.

Why and how did this happen?

Well, I am not a nutritionist nor am I a biologist or a neuroscientist. But based on what I am learning about the benefits of yoga as I go through yoga teacher training (YTT) this fall, yoga really has become the “magic pill” that changed the way my body and mind processes and thinks about food and my entire being.

1. If you don’t love it, it won’t work.

First, it definitely doesn’t hurt that I absolutely love the immediate results I feel physically and emotionally following a 90-minute yoga session. This “high” keeps me going back 3 to 4 times each week. Between now and Thanksgiving, I’m doing a 30-day Bikram yoga challenge, so my motivation and determination is currently elevated.

Yet, even without an official challenge to maintain my interest, just the memory of how I felt the day before or two days before pushes me to pick up my mat and water bottle and head to the studio. It’s important to note that before my car accident in 2002 that left my right knee in bad shape, I was a distance runner. I ran cross-country in college and continued running throughout my 20s. After the accident when I was 30, I tried other forms of exercise like elliptical training and swimming and other low-impact aerobic workouts. Outside of swimming, nothing captured my attention or interest. But finding pool access year-round was a challenge for me and just not convenient.

Exercise needs to be convenient and accessible. Yoga is both.

2. I see food differently.

Like any regular exercise routine provides, yoga has naturally boosted my metabolism and regulated my bowels, digestive system and urinary system. Eating has become an activity I love, because what follows my meals today is a sense of satisfaction and an actual physical release. I feel no guilt around food and sometimes even over indulge. (Like last weekend when I went to a “foodie” wedding and ate four, yes four, pieces of pie!)

I get a sense that I need to eat so the cycle of my life can continue seamlessly from day to day. I ingest one meal and the previous meal’s waste is flushed. (Sounds a little too personal? I have no other way of explaining it. Too bad I can’t attach a camera to the food I ingest and record its journey. That would be interesting but even more personal. Hehe!)

Specifically, the following poses offer the most benefit to my digestion:

>>Garurasana (eagle pose) – increase fresh blood supply to the kidneys.
Our kidneys are responsible for filtering and flushing out toxins and unnecessary waste from food and water. Our kidneys also release three important hormones into our blood stream to keep us healthy: erythropoietin, renin and calcitriol. If not working properly, waste builds up in our blood supply causing damage and disease to our bodies. The most common diseases related to compromised kidney function are high blood pressure and diabetes. (source: NIH NIDDK)

>>Dandyayamana-Bibhaktapada-Paschimotthanasana (standing separate leg stretching pose) – increases the functioning of the large and small intestine.
“The intestine is a winding muscular tube extending from the stomach to the anus. Its main purpose is to digest food. But the intestine is not only there for digestion: it also produces various substances that carry messages to other parts of the body, and plays an important role in fighting germs and regulating the body’s water balance. For some people, the intestine reflects how they are feeling: for instance, they might get a stomach ache, diarrhoea or constipation when they are stressed or upset about something.” (source: PubMed Health)

>>Pavanamuktasana (wind removing pose) – cures and prevents flatulence (which is the source of abdominal discomfort) by massaging the ascending, descending and transverse colons (aka the large intestine).

3. I still crave food but healthier stuff.

No longer do overly processed foods like fatty meats, breads and cakes get me excited. When I get hungry, I think about a big bowl of rice or sautéed veggies and salads. I occasionally indulge in desserts (like at that wedding) but without the guilt associated with eating sweets like before. I have more trust and confidence in my body’s ability to take what it needs and flush the rest out. So when I say I can eat whatever I want, I can because the “whatever I want” list has dramatically changed. I want fruits and vegetables (and have even been contemplating going vegan thanks to a couple bloggers–Ivonne and Susan–whom I respect and are teaching me a lot about how food is processed and manufactured in this country and across the globe).

4. My entire attitude and trust in myself and others has been transformed.

My attitude toward food and life in general truly parallel and often intersect. Where I once had increased anxieties over being perceived as skilled and able, I have confidence. I attribute this to increased patience with myself and with others. My expectations are more realistic. Today, I understand, through deep reflection on my life experiences, that sometimes expectations can be completely shattered and that not all humans have human/humane interests at heart. I accept that more freely now, and I attribute my ability to maintain this philosophy and outlook to yoga. Again, not something that happened over night. I’d say building this confidence, patience and awareness took a lifetime, but the past two years of a consistent yoga practice definitely nurtured and provided the boost and momentum necessary for my confidence to grow uninterrupted.

Again, I am no medical doctor or counselor. However, as a testament to my own growth and development–mentally, physically and spiritually–in such a relatively short period of time, I invite everyone who hasn’t already tried yoga to please try it. If you don’t like it after a week of consecutive practice, come back and complain to me. However, I am confident (see, I really AM confident) that you will come back and thank me. If you have tried yoga in the past but didn’t feel like it did much for you, try it again. Sometimes it’s our attitudes that get in our way. Sometimes all we need to do is read a few positive testimonials surrounding something in order to release our negative first impressions and try something again.

It took me too long to get beyond my yoga phobia and let go of my preconceived idea of what I thought yoga was and what it wasn’t.

Yoga is what you make of it. Take what you need from it and leave the rest behind.

Don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself!

Namaste!
~Paula

© 2013 Paula Carrasquillo and A Yogini Transformed.


Paula Carrasquillo is an active yogi, author, and advocate who has lived in numerous watersheds throughout the United States, including Colorado, Maine, Maryland and New Mexico. She currently lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Paula is passionate about her family, friends and the motivational and brave people she meets daily through her online writing and social media exchanges. To Paula, every person, place, thing, idea and feeling she encounters is significant and meaningful, even those which she most wants to forget. Follow Paula on Twitter and check out her other blog.

Yoga May Have Taught Me Patience, but I Still Have Zero Tolerance for Abuse

buddhaI began practicing yoga 2 years ago in hopes of relieving myself of the pain associated with a knee injury. Who knew I would also be helping myself heal from a far more sinister pain that went much deeper than I ever imagined.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. I am a survivor of Domestic Violence and Intimate Partner Abuse.

Domestic Violence and Intimate Partner Abuse aren’t reserved for certain types of people. Anyone at any age of any gender from any demographic can find themselves a victim of abuse and control at the hands of someone they thought loved them and cared for them.

On my other blog, I write frequently about the abuse I endured in my late 30’s by a man I can only describe as a sociopath. However, I infrequently discuss the abuse I endured at 18, which although was physically more violent and horrific, didn’t compare to the psychological torment and emotional abuse the sociopath inflicted.

When we think of Domestic Violence and Intimate Partner Abuse, it’s important to get the full picture.

Domestic Violence isn’t always about fists flying, black eyes, broken ribs or objects being thrown.

More often than not, perpetrators of Domestic Violence are so evil, conscienceless and manipulative in their torment that being physical and “leaving a mark” would simply give them away too soon and cause their “fun” to end prematurely.

They enjoy wielding control and power. It’s their life’s blood. It’s gotta last.

Perpetrators of Domestic Violence slowly and insidiously chip away at their victims/targets rendering them defenseless in body, mind and spirit.

My abuser took on one of three roles at any given moment within the toxic relationship:

1.) Victim – “I’m so sorry I hurt you. I can’t help myself from doing X,Y and Z. I did it because I have been treated so poorly my entire life. Please have pity on me.”

2.) Savior – “The life you lived before me was filled with sin and misdeeds. I can help you improve and be a better person. Just follow me and do as I say. You’ll be rewarded.”

3.) Persecutor – “You can’t leave me! You’re nothing! You’re a whore. You’re worthless. You disgust me!”

Inside this hell on earth, I wasn’t allowed to be anything other than the sociopath’s toy. I lost my identity. I WAS the relationship. By the time I escaped the sociopath, I was a shell of my former self.

Today, I am nearly 3 years out of the abusive relationship, and I am proud to say that I am able to define myself in many ways:

I am a mother, a wife, a friend, a learner, a skilled writer and most of all, I am a yogini transformed who reserves my patience for those who reciprocate patience, love and understanding.

If you or someone you know is in or has been involved in Domestic Violence or Intimate Partner Abuse, there is hope to escape and even greater hope for finding yourself and overcoming the trauma and abuse inflicted upon you.

Visit No More.org today to learn how you can help spread awareness in hopes of ending the abuse.

Namaste!
Paula

© 2013 Paula Carrasquillo and A Yogini Transformed.


Paula Carrasquillo is an active yogi, author, and advocate who has lived in numerous watersheds throughout the United States, including Colorado, Maine, Maryland and New Mexico. She currently lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Paula is passionate about her family, friends and the motivational and brave people she meets daily through her online writing and social media exchanges. To Paula, every person, place, thing, idea and feeling she encounters is significant and meaningful, even those which she most wants to forget. Follow Paula on Twitterand check out her other blog.

Put your yoga where your mouth is

big smile yoga

Source: Pinterest

“You’re never too old, never too bad, never too late, and never too sick to start from the scratch once again.”
~ Bikram Choudhury

I absolutely believe Bikram’s words to be true and repeat the above quote a lot on my social media status updates and with friends.

As a result of my wonderful yoga experiences, I tell everyone I know and meet about the healing and strengthening powers of yoga.

Most people seem genuinely interested in learning more, but few have actually taken me on my word and tried yoga for themselves. The few who have tried all agreed that their experience was positive and left an impression. They were thankful for all of my talk about yoga.

So last fall, when I learned that I would be laid off from my job, I put my talk to the test: could I persuade myself to not give up and “to start from the scratch again?”

There is absolutely nothing more humiliating than losing your job. I worked for a Federal contractor and knew the reality of contract work: nothing is guaranteed beyond the initial contract period. I was given a two-day notice that I would be losing my job; I was devastated.

I drove home that evening feeling like a complete failure and wondered if there was something I could have done that would have helped extend the contract. There was nothing. I did my job. I did my job well. The end of the contract was the end of the contract. It had nothing to do with my performance.

The worst part of that evening was breaking the news to my husband; we had just purchased and moved into a new home a month before, and the last thing I wanted to do was let my husband down at this early stage in our mortgage responsibilities.

Fortunately, he took it well and reassured me I will find a new job in record time. He said to me, “You’ve got skills, Baby. No worries.”

But I worried. I sat down and figured out a budget and what bills I needed to pay and which ones I could defer. On paper, things looked a bit bleak. I stepped away and decided to go to an eight p.m. yoga class—if there was one expense I didn’t mind paying, it was my monthly yoga membership.

Arriving at the studio, I decided to choose a spot in a corner of the room I normally avoided, because I always thought it looked too hot. (I know—it’s Bikram—every spot is too hot.) I did my pre-practice warm up and took a quick sip of water before the instructor entered.

Transitioning through the 26 postures, I thought a lot about being unemployed; I thought about how much of a loser I was and wondered how I was ever going to get a job fast enough in this economy and job market.

I was really beating myself up during this practice.

I took many savasanas and opted out of the second set for each of the balancing postures. I kept thinking that my practice was suffering along with my career; all of the self-esteem I had built and gained over the past 10 months was quickly dissipating in less than 10 hours! Where was my mind going? And how could it go there in the yoga room?

The final savasana arrived. I lay there on my back, with my body stretched out and my eyes closed. I may have looked relaxed, but I was anything but relaxed. The instructor sweetly repeated the words he always repeats at the end of his class:

“Feel free to take what you need and leave behind what you don’t need.”

In the instant those words hit my ears, I knew I had to let go of the negative thinking that had been consuming me; I needed to gain a positive attitude and leave behind the bad one. I had to start from “the scratch,” and “the scratch” just happened to be the last savasana of the evening.

I was okay with that.

I left the yoga feeling less stressed and renewed—I was ready to be jobless and do what needed to be done to land a new position.

I practiced yoga sporadically; I went during the morning and early afternoon, times I normally wouldn’t have practiced while working. If I had an interview scheduled, I went to class before the interview.

A few weeks later, I started a new job…I barely had an opportunity to collect unemployment!

During those weeks of job searching, I put my yoga practice where my mouth is, which allowed me to ease my stress and be reminded of what’s most important to my family and me—our health and happiness.

With those two things, anything can be accomplished.

Namaste!
Paula

© 2013 Paula Carrasquillo and A Yogini Transformed.


Paula Carrasquillo is an active yogi, author, and advocate who has lived in numerous watersheds throughout the United States, including Colorado, Maine, Maryland and New Mexico. She currently lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Paula is passionate about her family, friends and the motivational and brave people she meets daily through her online writing and social media exchanges. To Paula, every person, place, thing, idea and feeling she encounters is significant and meaningful, even those which she most wants to forget. Follow Paula on Twitter and check out her other blog.

Not just another yoga blog. ~ Paula Carrasquillo

Paula and son

Me and my biggest inspiration

Almost two years ago on October 14, 2011, I took my first yoga class. In a few short days on September 7, 2013, I will embark on my first yoga teacher training class!

Yoga was not a natural choice for me. I actually had an aversion to it after a brief encounter with a few yogis as a freshman in college many, many moons ago. Luckily for me and my body and my family and my friends, I let go of my negative first impressions and finally tried yoga at the ripe, young age of 39.

To say that I am happy with myself for taking that initial leap would be an understatement. I thank myself often for flushing my negativity about yoga down the proverbial toilet. If you’re interested in learning more about how and why I was able to do that, you can read my article online at Places to Yoga:

Overcoming Yoga Phobia by Paula Carrasquillo

In addition to writing in the past for Places to Yoga (above) and elephant journal (here), I currently contribute actively to my other blog and my column Living Inside Out Loud over at The Washington Times Communities.

(Needless to say, I like to write. It’s an outlet, and I’d like to think I’m good at it and won’t bore you.)

I specifically created this blog to chronicle the next chapter in my ever-changing life: my 200-hour, yoga teacher training journey which will hopefully take me deeper into my practice.

With my writing on this blog, I hope to motivate and influence someone (maybe many someones) out there to try yoga, continue practicing and maybe even consider becoming a yoga instructor, too, one day.

I am a very yoga-centric person. If you were to ask my close family and friends and even the followers of my other blog about me and yoga, they might start with something like, “Paula thinks yoga is the cure for everything.”

I can say that they are half right.

Yoga has definitely had a positive impact on my life and my faith and spirituality. By no means do I want to push my practice upon anyone. I must admit, however, that I do have a problem with asking everyone in ear shot Have you ever tried yoga? about as often as some people say hum and um when speaking in public.

(It’s a habit I don’t know if I’m capable of breaking.)

If you found my blog by accident (or if I succeeded in twisting your arm enough for you to follow the link I shoved on your news feed), I hope you consider “following” and contributing to the conversation. I look forward to sharing and learning with you all.

Class begins in three days. See you soon!

Namaste!
~Paula

© 2013 Paula Carrasquillo and A Yogini Transformed.

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