Thirty Days

I thought I’d at least give it a try for the camera–bow pulling pose, my favorite of the series. Which is funny, because when I look at this picture, I can see all of the things that I need to adjust in the posture. My body needs to come down more, parallel to the floor. My raised toe needs to be pointed. But of course, this is one of those deceptive postures that looks much easier than it actually, physically is to execute. Try it, sometime–and be sure to lock that standing knee. Oh, and ignore my sweaty Bikram shorts and towel that are conveniently dumped in the hallway in this photo.

I have executed that posture at least 60 times in the last 30 days. Twice per class.

When I started the 30-day Bikram yoga challenge that was going on at my studio, I did so as a challenge to myself. Going to class 3-5 times a week had produced noticeable, measurable results in my body, and I read Bikram’s book and he advocates a 30 or 60 day initial sequence. So, okay, I thought. If the person who invented this sequence of yoga says do it daily for awhile, I’ll do it.

At my studio, they’re offering a free t-shirt if you complete the Challenge, but let’s just be frank–a t-shirt just isn’t enough motivation to go into a 105-degree room every single day. When I first began Bikram a few months ago, just getting through the class itself was the challenge. The next challenge was going regularly–confronting my resistance that didn’t wannnnna do it, didn’t feeeeel like it. I’ve never had this regular of a yoga practice. I have always been a wannabe yogini, and have taken various and sundry classes since my freshman year of college. One of the things I was most excited to do once I began working for myself was to start practicing regularly; it’s something I’ve said I wanted for years and have felt really challenged by as my schedule shifted and changed every few months depending on the classes I was contracted to teach.

Bikram was an accident. I searched high and low and could not find any yoga studio near me that had affordable classes on a regular schedule, one that was the same every day. This regular schedule thing was important to me, because I know that when I am starting something new, I need to have a rhythm to it or else I get discouraged easily. My mornings quickly became: Pop into yoga, shower, eat breakfast, scoop the kitty litter box, check email, work. Very easy, a nice routine, a lovely way to start off a day that would entail a lot of sitting.

The Challenge has been hard for all the reasons that you already know it would be hard. It’s physically hard. It’s emotionally hard. And I have this pissy thing about people setting up their mats right in front of me, which happens a lot.  The hardest days were 15-20. I had thought that once I hit the halfway mark, I’d just sort of soar easily from there, but no–the Resistance stepped it up a notch and I so thoroughly resented going that I didn’t even enjoy class with my favorite teachers. Get me in, get me out, I said. I gave myself a lot of treats on those days–indulging in getting a Zico (sooo tasty!) even if it conflicted with my other newfound practice of not using packaging on products. Skipping postures I hate was another treat I gave myself. I believe in building in treats.

Also, at the eleventh hour–Day 28!–our hero encountered that One Last Obstacle. I rocked out in Sunday’s class in bow pulling pose. I mean, I ROCKED OUT. My body was down. I was parallel. Stomach sucked in. Stretching and kicking equal and opposite. That wonderful floating feeling. And most importantly: KNEE LOCKED (which is to say, leg straight, no bend, thigh contracted). This was the longest I’d ever stayed in the posture!

Suddenly, I felt it: I was falling out. No. No! Noooo! But I held in! I stayed in! My standing knee stopped locking, but I was holding myself up! It was beautiful! It was fantastic! The teacher ended the pose! My leg went down! I ROCKED IT! SHE SHOOTS, SHE SCORES! No, wait! This is bow-pulling pose–SHE SHOOTS, SHE SOARS!!!!!

And a few hours after class: Shit. They really do mean it when they say to lock that knee and contract that thigh. My IT band and knee really started to hurt, probably from those last few delicious yet ridiculous moments when I pushed it past the point of no return without stabilizing my leg.

I iced and alternated heat and stayed off of my leg for the entire rest of that day, but by bedtime that night it was obvious that I had really strained my right thigh. Dammit.

If I hadn’t been in the midst of a challenge, I would have given up right there. I would have simply taken a few days off and let my leg have some time. But, no. I was not going to quit at Day 28.

So on Day 29, I headed back into the studio. I let the teacher know what was going on. I didn’t do any pose that involved contracting my right thigh muscle. I determined that dammit, if the only pose I could do was savasana, I was going to finish this Challenge.

Turns out, some of the stretching I did on Day 29 totally helped, such that I left that day with my thigh feeling better. And I walked into today’s class, Day 30, with only minimal soreness and was able to complete most postures.

And now, what I notice from 30 days straight of Bikram yoga. First, I’m proud. I did it! This is huge, to me! Shifts have happened around control. I can tolerate people putting their mats in front of me far better than I did, as well as the more tangible things such as sweat running into my eyes. I feel now like I could start something new–something that might take time over the long haul–and trust that I wouldn’t give up, even when it felt difficult. My arms. look. awesome. As does my butt. My thighs. All of it. I feel genuine pride in how much my body has responded to the practice. As I said in a previous entry, I feel great about my body not in an “I’m so thin” way, because I wouldn’t actually call myself thin, but more from a “rocking out in my own strong skin” kind of way. Physically, I feel different. A few weeks ago, I went to a class where I had a splitting headache, and the headache dissipated by the end of class. My posture is more upright. I notice my abdomen flexing if I bend over to pick something up. I can’t remember the last time I had lower back pain. I have more energy. I’m still breaking out more than I would like, but even that has eased at least a little bit. I’m sleeping more deeply and waking up more naturally, 20-30 minutes before my alarm clock goes off.

So there it is. Thirty days of stepping into something that seemed monumentally difficult when I began, and at various points, but I saw it all the way through. This thrills me and excites me and makes me want to do a little happy dance.

To complete the process, I’ll be doing a few things. One: a haircut and dye job are desperately in order, as is a little shaping of the eyebrows. Two: Tattoo time. I wanted to complete this challenge before getting my next tat, because I knew that I would need to give my skin ample time to heal up without any sweat. But I’ve been thinking about these (yes, two, plural) for awhile, and had planned to get them done months ago but then when I decided to do this Challenge, I thought “Hey, why not make them coincide?” It would be kind of cool to remember, for the rest of my life, meeting this Challenge, even though the tattoos will be symbolizing other things, as well.

So now I’m curious: What in your life seems, right now, like an insurmountable challenge? And what might be awaiting you on the other side?

Your Wisdom

What’s Your Wisdom? from Kate Swoboda on Vimeo.

(!!!!)

I just really loved the way this project turned out. I see it as seven minutes of sitting back and getting centered, remembering and re-remembering that we are so much more alike than we tend to believe. Getting connected with love. With a big world. With what we know. Such beautiful images and words…

Enjoy!

what else is there?

Rich & Yvonne Dutra-St.John of Challenge Day

I had the honor and privilege of interviewing these two wonderful souls for The Courageous Living Program, Rich & Yvonne of Challenge Day. The Challenge Day organization primarily works with youth in schools–and their work, which I’ve witnessed live with young people–is just so fantastically amazing–but the primary way that I’ve worked with them is in their adult Next Step workshops.

Rich and Yvonne spend a lot of time asking people about their dreams, challenging the notion that this is a flimsy place to start. They stand for living big because there are so many opportunities to play a small game, to tell oneself that living the life of your dreams is really an impossibility, and they aren’t people who will validate that kind of thinking. So I was excited to get this opportunity to turn things around and ask: “What are YOUR dreams?”

There is this moment that was so beautifully captured on camera during our interview. Yvonne was sharing that she wanted to sink more and more into being present–to herself, her feelings, the world, the people, all of it. She looked right at me, down into me it seemed, with tears running down her cheeks.

“To just BE,” she said. And then she whispered: “What else is there?”

I felt tears coming to my own eyes, in the midst of this interview. It was this incredibly intimate moment that, when I watch the interview again, I feel as if it was its own small gift. Rich looking at Yvonne, Yvonne looking at me, then Yvonne and I looking over at Rich, acknowledging the BIGness of just BEing, not running the Stories about not enough money or time or not enough good within or not enough good in others or life is hard. Just BEing right in that moment and sinking down into it.

So often we think that to “be in the moment” we need to meditate for a long time, or have this really esoteric practice. I realized during this interview that to “simply BE” in a moment could also happen through the channel of really honest connection with another human being. I felt completely “inside” that moment.

We are so much more alike than any of us can imagine. All of us want simply to be heard, to feel safe, to feel loved, to be accepted and celebrated as we are, to be gently guided.

Experiencing moments like this makes me feel such an immense gratitude swelling through my body, simply for this gift of being alive.