Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bikram Yoga and Dissertation Writing

The Bikram Yoga challenge kicked off the next nine months of me focusing on writing and completing my dissertation. While I did the challenge first and foremost for health and exercise reasons, I learned a lot about writing while on the yoga mat and thought that I would share some of these reflections here.
First, Bikram is a highly regimented form of yoga. Thirty-six postures each done two times over the ninety minute class. The same thirty-six postures every class, in the same order. Once I learned the poses, I found the format and repetition comforting. In addition, the instructors deliver what is called a dialogue, telling you exactly what to do every step of the way. You job as a student of Bikram is to shop up and tune into the dialogue. I think that this process parallels writing. My job as a writer is to show up, tune in to what needs to be written, breathe, and stay in the room.
Even though Bikram is a repetitious practice, new things happen on the mat every day. Some days, poses are easier, some days poses that were easy are difficult. I'll never forget the day I had trouble with the opening breathing practice. This is easy, breathe in through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Six counts. In and out. One day, I just couldn't do it. Couldn't get with the pattern, couldn't take long breaths. This happens while writing. Stay with it. The next posture is coming up and this one will end shortly.
Progress is both incremental and happens in leaps and bounds. Some days, I feel as weak and out of shape as I did before Bikram. Other days, I slide into a strong camel pose and thing wow! I am really getting good at this. Some days, while it is still hard to hold the awkward pose, it feels a smidge easier than yesterday. I still can't get out of the one bent legged tree pose. I fall every day. I hope someday to have the strength to come out of it gracefully. Writing is the same way. Some days, things flow and come together. Other days, it's a lot about moving commas around, fixing footnotes, or rereading a passage for the umpteenth time. What is important is that I'm there, putting in the time, on the mat, in front of the computer.
Complaining about things doesn't help. Yes, the room is hot, yes, sometimes teachers keep you in a pose too long or too short. Sometimes there are other things I'd rather be doing. Water doesn't help. Moving the mat or adjusting the towel doesn't help. Being present, tuning into the breath, being still, those things help. Just like at the computer. Checking email? Not helpful. Looking at Facebook? Not helpful. Getting another diet coke? Not helpful. Being present, being still, tuning into the words and the argument, those things help.
In yoga, no one is perfect. We all have good days and bad days. Just like in writing. What is important is the intention. Breathe deeper. Hold the standing bow pose longer. Balance. Stretch. Breathe. Write the next sentence, make the next connection, sharpen the argument a wee bit.
Writing is a practice. Writing big projects is a long practice. Tune in. Spend time on the mat.
30-Day Bikram Yoga Challenge

In late June I completed a thirty day Bikram yoga challenge. It was exhilarating. Now before you think I am a crazy exercise person, let me be plain: I'm not. In fact when I started the challenge in late May, my first class of the thirty day challenge was only my third class of Bikram yoga. My previous two classes had been eleven months earlier and twenty-five months earlier. So, I jumped in the deep end with no preparation. The first ten days, I thought I would die in the heat and humidity of the class, or at least when I realized I wasn't going to die, I wanted to die. Yet, I persisted, in large part because I had schedule the classes into my calendar and I am loathe to not fulfill my commitments. Around day eleven, I started enjoying the classes, though my hips and back protested that it wasn't pleasurable. Around day sixteen, I started having orgasms every time I slept. Daytime naps, long nights of sleep. It was fantastic. Unfortunately, it has waned since I have scaled back my practice. So having completed the Bikram yoga 30-day challenge, I have some advice for folks considering it. In short, do it. I loved it and recommend it. I was able to do it because I had the time to devote to the classes. Each class is 90 minutes. Yup, 90 minutes in a 105 degree room at about 40% humidity. The reality is though it takes up about three hours a day by the time you get to the studio and get home ands showered. Sometimes, an extra hour to recuperate, especially at the beginning. For the first ten days, I was exhausted. I can't imagine doing it full time with a stressful job. There are a few other things you'll need besides time and energy to do the challenge:
Washer and dryer. I know people probably do it without home laundry, but it is a lot of laundry with the daily costume and towel. I can't imagine schlepping it all to the laundromat every few days. I did laundry every other day during the challenge.
Good deodorant soap. During the challenge, I used a lot of soap, strong, dry your skin soap. My skin was so soft and moisturizer from all of the sweating that a good deodorant soap in the shower was a blessing.
Water, water, water. Coconut water, vitamin water, tap water. I drank about 96 ounces every day of the challenge.
I feel healthier, happier, stronger, more focused and calmer since my challenge. Now I am trying to do Bikram three times a week and balance it with running and an occasional trip to the gym. Oh, and doing some writing, too!