Archive for the 'On the Mat' Category

Yoga Retreat in Tulum

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For five days, I did four hours of yoga a day on the beach in a chilled-out, charming beachtown in Mexico. I ate well and drank different kinds of juices at every meal. My arms got pumped (or at least they got sore) and I loved every second of it! Ladycation, you do me right.

I’ve traveled quite a bit in Mexico, both in highly touristy areas and in more off-the-beaten path places. And I have always loved it — the starkly beautiful landscapes, the food, the ruins, the beaches, the mezcal.

Tulum is still unmarred by large, Spring-break-type resorts and is far enough away from Cancun to feel like a totally different world. Apparently, they are planning to build an airport for Tulum — something that, according to my sources, or the guy who sits across from me at work and is also obsessed with Tulum, the locals are not happy about. It’s only an hour and forty drive from Cancun, and the distance ensures it remains as it is — a lovely town that is, yes, touristy but intimate and infused with an artsy, bohemian flavor. Yes, I just want Tulum to stay as is for my own personal pleasure, I admit it. But it will hurt to see yet another off-the-beaten-track place lost to the Spring Breakers.

Here’s a photo of the view from the little yoga studio on the beach — Ok, so this is going to sound annoyingly bougey — but if you’re into yoga and you’ve never taken a class with views of the beach as your point of focus and the sound of the ocean in the background regulating your breath, you’ve got to try it.

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Because I was doing so much yoga each day, I didn’t get to explore Tulum as much as I would’ve liked. I promise myself to rectify that soon! We spent one day at the COBA ruins, took a quick dip in the Grand Cenotes and we spent one afternoon attempting to bird-watch while kayaking through the mangroves at the nature preserve just north of Tulum. (Just in case anyone is clueless to the habits of birds — as I was — they really don’t like to be watched in the afternoon. So really it was more like an afternoon of straight-up kayaking the mangroves.) If and when I go back, I’d like to sample more of the cuisine in Tulum town and along the beach. I heard tell of a cinnamon margarita, which sounds amazing.

headstand

The retreat also gave me a chance to rediscover yoga in a way that I hadn’t expected. Bikram will always be my first yoga love, but our teachers showed me how challenging, engaging, intellectual and rewarding a vigorous Vinyasa flow practice can be. I’m still some months away from getting up into forearm stand and for some reason I have a very hard time with the Vinyasa-version of half-moon pose / ardha chandrasana and always fall out; but I’ve gotten my headstand and shoulder stand strong and I’m getting close to holding handstand for a few moments without the use of the wall.

Done!

For anyone out there just begging to know whether I finished the 30-day Challenge, ummmm, Of Course I did. Did you ever doubt me? In fact it was a bit anticlimactic, hence my nonchalance about posting an update to this blog.

But it’s almost the New Year and I figured it would be best to wrap this whole thing up.

So how did it go? Upon reflection, I struggled around Day 15 — boredom with the routine, feeling tired, etc. But around Day 18 or so, I pulled ahead of that and the race to the finish line felt great. I began to feel shifts in my practice — a small shift in my posture here, a slight increase in flexibility there. Little things that made the class as a whole feel fresher and more invigorating.

I’m back to five/six days a week now, and I’ve noticed those shifts slipping away. But every month can’t be a 30-Day Challenge and as many of my instructors would no doubt say, practicing balance in life is just as important as practicing dedication.

And I got my T-shirt. Boo-ya:

30 Days, 30 Classes

Things That Make You Go Ewww

Lots of people want to know about the health benefits of Bikram Yoga or how it compares to other yoga paths, or why Bikram Choudhrey is so crazy. But mostly, people want to know about the gross stuff. You put some twenty yogis in a 105-degree room, tell them to wear virtually no clothing and have them finagle their bodies into compromising positions and, yeah, you’ve got a situation ripe with potential for gross stuff. Here’s my take on some of the questions I’ve been asked over the years. And, yes, this is going to be a serious overshare.

How Much Is Too Much Sweat?

No such thing as too much sweat to a Bikram yogi. On most days, I’ll sweat through all my yoga clothing and walk out with a totally soaked-through head of hair. We lay down towels on top of our mats to prevent slippage and keep it all a little more clean, and on a good day — when the temperature and humidity is just right and the teacher has been consistent but not overly leniant with letting in fresh air — those are usually about 75% soaked.

Yes, It Smells

The smell is one of the first things that turn people off of Bikram. As soon as you step in the studio, it hits you and some people, well, they can’t take it. Me, I think it really just smells like a musty, poorly ventilated room but I have heard it described as a cross between moldy carpet and B.O. I’ll admit that’s not entirely inaccurate, particularly in an older studio that hasn’t replaced its rug in forever. But you know, you just get used to it.

Kicking the Sh!@ Out of Your Body **

Part of what brings about so many of the health benefits associated with yoga in general is the “release of toxins.” The bad stuff that builds up in your body gets jostled out of its hiding places and sweated out… or released in some other way that does not happen in the room. Now I’m not a doctor so don’t get all medical on me. The exact physiology of this escapes me. But it does make sense that as you twist and contort your body, you are contorting and stretching your organs and damming and releasing the flow of blood. And this helps with better circulation and better digestion. And That, my friends, is what keeps the doctor away.

Getting Out the Way of Other People’s Sh!@

All of that releasing of toxins feels great. But what isn’t so great is that the other people around you are also releasing their toxins. In less-crowded classes, you can cop a whole swatch of rug to yourself and go an entire class undisturbed by other people’s smells and sweating. But come on this is New York not [fill in a middle of America city here, I don't want to offend any one constituency] and Bikram Yoga — despite all this gross stuff! — is really popular. Most classes are crowded and the thing is, there’s much better energy when we’re packed in like sardines:

Sardines

Anyway, crowded classes can mean that there’s only a few inches of space between your mat and the dude next to you. And the dude next to you might be A Smelly One.

To be honest, at this point nothing really bothers me anymore, but I have learned to spot A Smelly One from across the room. The usual suspects: old men in loose-fitting, bathing-suit material shorts (the shorts get bunchy and don’t flick off sweat the way more spandexy things do; nothing against old men doing yoga, they’re just the ones who typically sport those kinds of trunks); men or women with especially thick hair and/or dreadlocks; and women in makeup (if you’re wearing makeup to yoga, you’re generally wearing perfume, too, and pefume can be just as bad as other smells).

It’s Just Sweat

And this leads me to the Number One Ick Factor for a lot of people, which is that when you take Bikram Yoga, the likelihood is that you will get sweated on by someone else. Guy next to you does a particularly vigorous sit-up, and you get a sweat spray. Teacher walks by and adjusts your posture, with his or her sweaty hands. Class ends and people start filing out while you’re trying to chill in savasana, and drip, drip drip. The class is intended to be a 90-minute moving meditation, and the sweat — yours and not-yours — is simply a discomfort you learn to overcome.

So there’s my basic take on the gross stuff about Bikram. The amazing thing is that you come to love all of these things about the practice. When I was at Bikram headquarters in Los Angeles, I read this on a poster there: “You have to go through hell to get to heaven.” In Bikram-speak that just means: “Suck it up you wuss. This is worth it.”

30 Day Challenge

30-Day Challenge Status: 10 classes down, 20 to go.

** A note on my non-use of the s-word. I don’t know why. New York Magazine uses it. But the Journal doesn’t, of course, and I guess Paul Martin really has gotten that far into my head.

Thirty Days of Sweat

Everyone loves a good challenge. I’m nothing if not goal-oriented, and since I graduated from journalism school, found a job and, more recently, settled down from moving uptown and traveling half-way around the world, I’ve found myself searching for the next, well, goal. It’s finally come time for the 30-Day Challenge.

About two-and-a-half years ago I found my own personal version of faith, which is to say Yoga. Specifically, Bikram Yoga, a series of 26 postures done in a heated room. I started going once a week, then two to three times a week. Within six months I was going four times a week and these days I try to take five to six classes a week. At that level of practice, it sometimes feels that the yoga has taken over my life. I don’t have time for other hobbies. I have to carefully schedule lunches. And as annoyingly New Agey as it may sound, the yoga begins to seep into your consciousness. Your life outside of the room begins to reflect class inside the room. The room becomes like home. As a teacher once told me, you begin to realize that who you are on the mat is who you are off the mat. All that kinda crap starts to take on real meaning. Some of my friends say it’s like I joined a cult. I prefer to think of it as having joined a community.

And the first major rite of passage in this community is to complete the 30-Day Challenge — 30 classes in 30 days. You can skip a day, but must make up for it by doing a double (two classes in one day) and you can only do this twice. Given I’m already accustomed to a six-day practice, stepping it up a notch to seven days seems like a downright attainable goal.

I’m pretty darned excited about finally carving out the time to do this. No doubt many people out there are wondering: good god, why? Why spend 90 minutes a day sweating profusely in a 105-degree room with a teacher yelling at you to lock out your leg? First, because it feels amazing, and only those who have tried can understand that part. Second, it changes your body. The idea is that pretty soon I’ll look like this:

Standing Bow Pose

Oh, and also: When I finish the 30-Day Challenge, I get a t-shirt.

Today was my first class. Only 29 more to go. I was going to download a countdown plugin to my blog, but technical difficulties are preventing me from doing so. So while I work on that, this will have to do:

30 Day Challenge
29 classes remain.