Saturday, January 14, 2012

Day Six of the Yoga Journal 21-day challenge!

I can't believe it. We're already into Day Six of the Yoga Journal 21-Day Challenge -- almost a third of the way there! And while that seems like a relatively short period of time, I'm amazed by how much I'm learning and challenging myself, as well as how difficult it has proven to actually get the practices and meditation in each day. I'm also starting to feel some physical changes in my body, particularly in my spine.

This week has been a remarkably busy one, so it's been tough finding the time to practice (and sometimes, the energy). A couple of days ago on Day 3, I ended up doing the practice in my home office late at night, after a long day at work, and I was glad to have done it - it was a nice way to round out the day, although my mind perhaps wasn't in it as much as I'd have liked to.

Then on Day 4, I only got to do about half of the practice first thing in the morning before having to get ready to go to work. But I figured I'd made the space in my day to at least try and get to it, which was a good thing.

And yesterday, although I missed yoga practice (another hectic day that left me burnt out at the end), I did have an amazing meditation session. I decided to simply meditate on my own rather than use the recommended recording, because I find when Beryl Bender says "thinking" in the middle of nowhere and when she talks about bringing my mind to stillness, it just jars me and makes me start thinking how much I wish she would just not say "thinking." Then, I start wondering whether I'll ever get to a point where I can meditate in the middle of someone's conversation, and my mind is lost.

So yesterday, I turned off the recording. I started out with a mind that was jumbled from sleep and swimming in all directions, but I focused on my breathing and let my thoughts bubble to the surface, including some of my dreams. I tried not to judge the fact that my mind was distracted, but instead, to watch the thoughts float by like leaves on a stream (as Beryl suggests). And it kind of worked.

Then, I focused on my breath - on the inhalation and exhalation. And while Beryl suggests not forcing it, I adopted more of an Ujai breath and the sound of my breath. I soon focused on a spot of bright light in my third eye, and imagined my inhalations filling me with light, and my exalations sending out the darkness. Soon, the light began to grow, and I could feel it filling my entire body.

And then I sat there, conscious but not thinking, aware of my surroundings but not engaging with them or my thoughts. I felt like I was on some kind of tightwire, balancing gently between consciousness and meditation. I almost felt like I was sitting watching myself in this moment, and it was truly amazing...No other word for it.

When I opened my eyes, I'd meditated for 15 minutes by myself. It felt like quite the accomplishment. I tried explaining it to my husband but truly there is no way to explain this to someone unless they have tried it.

Sadly, before long the craziness of a hectic work day made that moment feel like eons ago, but in my mind I believed that I'll be able to return there again.

As for practice, I missed yesterday's session but did Day 5 (side stretches - amazing - so often in yoga we stretch forward and back but I've never done an entire session of side stretching. It felt great) and Day 6 (backbends - not my fave because I have scoliosis, but I can feel my spine begin to loosen up, so I persevered).

I'm also starting to realize that there is a big difference between practising at home and in a studio (other than not having props available - so I used a ribbon as my strap and my Oxford Companion to English Literature as my block). There's less of a sense of performance, and there is also much more of a sense of opening yourself up to the experience of a new teacher, a new practice every day, and new experiences. With Ashtanga or even with Baptiste yoga, I feel as though I can almost always anticipate the next move. But with this challenge, every day seems to be different and to focus on a different theme, so I never know what to expect, even if the basics are always the same.

The challenge also encourages people to try and eat at least one vegetarian meal a day and eat healthier. I've been averaging 1-2 a day. The other change this week is that my husband is on a new healthy eating kick, and we've both been focusing on cooking healthier and more nutritious foods. It just so happens it started at the same time as the challenge, which is great!
As for running - do I think doing yoga and meditation almost every day will help my running? Well, it's too early to tell, and quite honestly this week has been so nuts that beyond a 12k on Monday and a 5k on Wednesday in the middle of a snowstorm (an entirely different experience), I haven't had much time to get out there and test out my new yogi legs. But I plan to perhaps go for a short run tonight and see how that goes. And there's always tomorrow's 18k LSD (I think, finally, I'm back on the proper Hypo Half schedule!). I imagine that I'll find I'm stronger in my core and more flexible, which is always a good thing.

No matter: it's said often by many people, and I believe it to be true: yoga makes everything better!


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I'm taking the Yoga Journal 21-day chalenge!

We are into the final stretches of training for the Halifax Hypothermic Marathon. Things have been going fairly well, despite me getting a little confused with the schedule over the holidays and doing my 18ks two weeks early. But I'm finding that now that I've done these distances more than once, the learning curve isn't as steep.

What I have learned, however, is that training with a group is way, way more motivating that running alone.

Take my last two 18ks, for instance: two weeks ago, I ran it on my own in 2:06. I knew that was slow, for me -- my average pace was way slower than I'd run it in the past (a good argument for tracking your runs -- I use the Running Room's tool, but there are others out there).

Then, a week later, after a particuarly festive New Year's Eve and a day to recover, I ran the same distance with my friend Carol. We shaved 14 minutes off that time! Crazy! I could definitely feel the difference in my legs - with that run, I felt I was working, but it was manageable. With the previous run, it just felt like I was plodding along. Of course, it helped that we were chatting the entire time, thus keeping my mind off the run.

So one of my intentions (I don't make resolutions- they're too easy to break) for the New Year is to try and get back into group running. That run with Carol made me feel vindicated as a runner and helped me gain back my trust in my legs. I haven't gotten slow - I've just been running alone!

We'll see how the Hypo Half goes in a few weeks' time, but my goal ultimately will be to run it and have fun, as a prep for a spring half or full.

Another of my intentions since the New Year has been to sign up for the Yoga Journal 21-day challenge. Why? Because healthy minds + a healthy body = a healthy runner! I also love yoga - perhaps even more than running (though the rush you feel while running a good tempo or race is nothing like the calm you feel when you're in the zone in the middle of a good yoga class).

The challenge for this week is to do one yoga practice each day, plus one 15-minute meditation and eat one vegetarian meal. And yesterday, I did all three: a practice in the morning, followed by a vegetarian brekkie and meditation at lunch. It was nice waking up and starting the day with a nice stretch, and taking some time during a hectic day to close my eyes and simply focus on my breath.

Today was day two of the challenge. Things I learned today:

- this takes time, and effort. I had a busy day, so I didn't get to the challenge until the end of the day, after work and Zumba. I haven't even had a chance to meditate yet;
- each day in the challenge seems to be a different instructor, and a different series of poses. You kind of have to trust the process and learn to give yourself up to it, because you don't know what's coming up next. For someone who is used to practising a regular series, this can be a little frustrating at first, but also a learning experience; and
- practising yoga at home is also different from going out to a studio. You need to find the physical space to do it, as well as the equipment. I practised on my carpet the last two days, which eliminates the need for a mat but also works different muscles than normal. I also improvised a strap by using a ribbon I had in my sewing kit, and figure I could use a dictionary as a block if need be.

Trusting the process, and looking forward to seeing what tomorrow brings. I also look forward to seeing if this makes any difference in my running!