About 8 years ago I herniated a disk in my lower back. I did it at the gym, I’m pretty sure - pushing myself too far beyond my body’s capabilities, not listening to my body, not respecting the need for recovery, and not fueling myself well (you know all those mistakes I talked about last week? Yeah, I’ve made them all).
I was in tons of pain, which was only made worse by my long commute and days spent sitting in a desk (I was a student at the time).
Once I got the diagnosis from the MRI, I set to work figuring out how I could get better. I jumped on google, and one of the first things I came across was something Sara Curry, the owner of Bikram Yoga Portsmouth, wrote about healing her back pain. (This isn’t the exact article I found, but it does chronicle her recovery experience).
I decided to give it a shot.
I was going to school in Framingham, MA, living in Brighton, MA, driving to Hampton, NH on the weekends, and visiting my mom in Nashua, NH often. I found studios everywhere, and practiced as much as I could. It helped. A LOT.Physically, it was the greatest thing I could do for myself. Mentally, well - that was another story.
I used Bikram as a way to heal my back, but also as another tool to beat myself up. If I was “bad” with food, I would go to 2 classes that day. I would pick myself apart in the mirror. I would hear critique in the teachers’ cues. I would feel judgement from other students.
Let me be clear: this had nothing to do with the practice. This had everything to do with me.
At the time, I was struggling with self doubt, self hate, disordered eating, and body image issues. Negative thought patterns consumed my mind, and I didn’t have any real self care practices in place. I let my ego command my experience.
A good lot of us find yoga for physical reasons. We don’t feel good in our bodies, yoga makes us feel better.
Slowly, over time, we start to feel calmer, less aggro, we have more patience, the world looks a little bit brighter, our lives feel a little easier, we are kinder to ourselves and others. It’s these things that keep us coming back to the practice. But that’s the thing: we have to keep coming back in order to experience these mental and emotional benefits.
Unfortunately, I didn’t stick around. Once my body felt better, I bailed on the practice. Classes were long and hard, I made excuses, life got in the way. You know the drill.
Cut to about 7 years later. At this point, I had done a lot of healing. I had recovered from my eating troubles, I took really good care of myself. I had found another yoga practice (vinysasa) that served me so well that I was teaching it to others.
And then I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called scleroderma. One of the manifestations of this disorder is arthritic pain and swelling of the joints. I feel it the worst in my hands, elbows and shoulders, and, unfortunately, vinyasa yoga asks a lot of the hands, elbows and shoulders. While this practice was doing fantastic things for my state of mind (because when a bomb of a diagnosis is dropped on you like that, it’s kinda hard to keep your shit together), it was exacerbating some of my pain and swelling. My doctors recommended I take a break. The thought of this devastated me. I can’t live without yoga. But then I thought back to the physical healing I underwent with Bikram years prior, and figured I would give it another go. My friend Emily had opened up a studio in Epping, NH and I went in with low expectations (I was feeling that crummy).
Ohhh but then! Almost immediately, my joints felt better. My swelling reduced. My circulation seemed to improve. And…drumroll…my mood elevated. Score. I added the practice to my healing protocol - I based my practice around my childcare and rarely missed a class.
My first few weeks back, I kept thinking how much the practice had changed. Teachers seemed nicer, classes felt more accessible, I enjoyed my experience more. Funny, right? It was the same exact 26 postures in the same 90 minutes that it was 7 years ago. The practice hadn’t changed at all. But I had.
Before, I felt like the teachers were telling me to push myself harder, faster, longer - because that was my own internal dialogue. When I came back, I heard: slow down, take your time, build the foundation first, back up a step.
I noticed this time around that I was using the mirrors as a tool to check my alignment, instead of as a way to berate myself.
I no longer felt nauseous or had to sit down for fear of passing out, because I was no longer restricting my food intake.
I found a really supportive, caring and welcoming community.
Here’s the thing: whatever you have going on inside will be mirrored right back to you in the hot room. Don’t blame the practice. Instead, use it as a tool to go deep and look inside. This is what yoga has you do. It’s hard work. It can be uncomfortable. It might be the toughest thing you do each day. Instructors might push you out of your comfort zone from time to time, but wouldn’t you agree the the best teachers in your life usually do?
Since my very first Bikram class close to a decade ago, I’ve done some deep, internal work.But I’m still on my journey. There’s still work to do (there’s always more work to do - welcome to the experience of being alive - Joseph Campbell what what!). While I didn’t initially use the Bikram practice that way, I do so now. I continue on with my work in the hot room and on my mat. I show up as a student, I understand there’s ALWAYS something to learn in EVERY situation. I listen to my body - I try to challenge myself, but also honor my limitations. I relax when rest is cued, I work when it’s time to work.
While I love my vinyasa through and through, I understand that there will be times in my life where the physical practice doesn’t love me back. So I am grateful to have something else that does.
People talk a lot of smack about Bikram, but I have found the practice to be a kind, loving, eye-opening and spiritual experience. Same with many of the teachers. I have found allies in like minded souls.
My experience with both Emily Bean and Sara Curry, respective owners of Bikram Yoga Epping and Bikram Yoga Portsmouth, has been this: we want the same thing for people. Many of our values and beliefs about our bodies, our food, our movement and self care are in line. Which is why we’ve teamed up for my Fueled+Fit program.
5 Things Fueled+Fit has in common with Bikram Yoga:
We want to empower people.
We want you to feel strong from within. We want you to feel capable to make your own choices, to trust yourself, to believe in yourself. We are here to serve as guides, but it’s up to you to make decisions FOR YOU. I’ve heard it said in a Bikram class: The teacher trumps your ego. Your body trumps the teacher.
We believe in doing the work.
Fueled+Fit isn’t a quick fix diet. (Read all my thoughts on that here and here and here.) My program requires you to look at how you respond to food - physically, mentally, emotionally. I don’t tell you what to eat all day, everyday. You determine that for yourself. My program asks you to evaluate your relationship to life. So does yoga. Yoga isn’t a quick fix. Yoga requires time and patience and dedication and curiosity…you gotta show up on your mat and do the work.
We challenge the status quo.
Yes, you’re busy. Yes, you’re stressed. NO, it’s not an excuse to not take care of yourself. We want to teach you how to respond to your own needs vs. societal norms. Make time to cook. Make time for yoga. Namaste.
We understand that feeling uncomfortable can be a good thing.
Sometimes the only way out of pain is through it. When you practice mindfulness (whether it be though paying attention to your food habits, or paying attention to your thoughts and your body during yoga), sometimes uncomfortable feelings bubble up to the surface. We want you to sit with those feelings instead of numbing them out. And then watch what happens.
We know that food and yoga are never ending, lifelong journeys.
We change. We change from day to day, and from year to year. Injuries, illness, age, pregnancy, stress, sleep, transition, life. We grow, we refine. Your practice and your diet will continue to evolve. We want you to be equipped with the tools to adapt - to meet yourself where you’re at and work with what you’ve got.
If you’re ready to feel empowered, to do some work - and maybe even feel a little bit uncomfortable - join us on this journey. It could be the start of something great!