I've been doing yoga for about 1.5 years now. This last week I've been tweaking my practice a little bit in an effort to spur some improvement in the poses. My practice usually runs about 40 minutes, and over the last year and a half I've shown definite improvement. My goal about a year ago was to be able to do One-Legged King Pigeon Pose, and I'm just about there. I can't backbend fully to meet my foot, but I can bring the foot up without a strap and bring it almost to my back. For a girl built like me, I don't think that's too bad, so I feel pretty happy with my progress.
But I feel like I'm still lagging in some areas with basic poses. For instance, I have trouble getting my front leg into a nice 90 degree bend in Warrior II. I feel like that's something I should have been able to accomplish by now. I'm also still not able to move in and out of Four-Limbed Staff Pose very well yet; my hips sink right down to the floor before I can get from point A to point B.
So I've decided to do something a bit different: I'm doing fewer poses now in my asana practice. My asana practice has consisted up to now of some prep stretching poses (Potted Palm series), then the entire vinyasa flow series from the Yoga Step-by-Step DVD, then some balance and standing poses, followed by Bridge, Bound Angle, a leg stretch, and finally Savasana.
My new goal is do fewer poses, for now, so I can do them better. Instead of doing the entire vinyasa flow sequence, I now do only the sun salutations followed by the first third of the flow sequence, which involves the chaturanga-cobra-downward dog-Warrior II poses. This way I can concentrate on really getting Warrior II right. I feel like I've been concentrating more up to this point on holding an asana slightly improperly for longer when I should have been working on holding it correctly to start with, and then increasing my endurance in the pose.
And you know what? What an improvement. This weekend I began really focusing on Warrior II. I take the time to get into the pose and I stay in it properly, even if I can only do that for a couple of breaths. My leg is properly bent at 90 degrees, my back baby toe and edge of my foot is pushing against the mat to really stretch my back leg out and to give me support. I can only hold the pose for a couple of breaths, but it's amazing how I felt after I got out of it. Suddenly muscles in my inner thighs I didn't even know were there were feeling strong and worked out after my practice.
I think part of the reason that I haven't been very diligent about my form up to now is because I've been cutting myself some slack. I'm not a thin, lithe person; I'm carrying about 20 or so extra pounds right now (but about five fewer than a couple of months ago thanks to Yourself! Fitness) and given my large frame I can't snake myself into some poses, despite my almost unreasonable flexibility (I can put my feet behind my head without a problem, and have always been able to do that even before yoga).
But this month in Yoga Journal I saw a photo in their article about how yoga can help to lose weight. The photo was of a woman who looked a lot like me: curvy and full-bodied without looking like she was grossly overweight. She was blonde and had that same large Nordic frame that I have. And she was doing a perfect Warrior II, and she looked awesome doing it. And I thought, if she can do a perfect Warrior II, then I can do a perfect Warrior II. I know yoga isn't a competition or about being perfect (you're supposed to do what you can do and be with that), but the point of doing the asanas the way they're supposed to be done, with the right form and alignment, is to reap the maximum benefits from them.
Plus it's the only way I'm going to get that legendary yoga butt I keep reading so much about.
Next month it'll be just about a year ago that I started doing yoga. I don't remember what prompted me to start it; I only remember that it was like a switch had turned on in my head. "Yoga! Yes, I must do yoga now." It was a topic I'd never had any interest in before, and still can't explain why I suddenly felt the need to start doing yoga.
But it was one of the best decisions of my life. I do it nearly every day — there's usually a couple of days a week where my schedule will keep me from doing it, but on those days when I know I'm going to be swamped, I get up an extra hour earlier to make sure I get time to do it.
Originally I thought I was just doing yoga for the physical benefits. In fact, I never had any idea, really, that yoga was actually an entire philosophical system similar to Buddhism, which I'd always felt drawn to. Only after I started learning about it did I learn this, and suddenly it all clicked into place. The asanas and the 8-limbed holistic path just make sense for me.
I'm certainly not as toned and muscular as some of the yogis and yoginis I've seen, but it's definitely toned things up for me. Friends have noticed that I look trimmer. I've gone down a size or two when I shop now, even though I weigh the same.
Probably the best benefit, though, is the completely involuntary change in my eating habits. I'm not on a diet anymore, but I eat so much better than I did before I started yoga, and it's had a profound effect on how I feel, probably moreso than how I actually look. A year ago you had to make me eat a salad by pouring ranch dressing and cheese all over it so I couldn't taste the vegetables; now, I actually crave bowls of salad made up of spinach leaves, mandarin orange slices, some pine nuts, and a light red wine vinegar dressing. As a carryover from my low-carb days, I still don't eat pasta, white rice, or bread except maybe a serving every couple of weeks (usually if we go out to dinner, for example). When I crave something with a bit more substance to it, I eat brown rice. And all my meals have become lighter and healthier naturally. I don't feel like I'm dieting...I just feel like my body has finally gotten into line on its own nutritionally. This doesn't mean I don't indulge in the occasional "oops, did I really just eat a half a pint of Ben & Jerry's?!" But those indulgences are far more rare than they used to be. And hoo boy, they weren't very rare before. And when they do happen, I get a far greater sense of having been satiated for a particular craving and a much smaller sense of the need to repeat it for a long while.
There is one thing I wish for. I wish that yoga classes weren't so damn expensive. I practice at home but have been looking at studios in the area. There are schools-a-plenty around SoCal and there are three within a few miles of my place. But they're prohibitively expensive, which is sad because I really would like to have a place I could go, say, once a week, just often enough to get the benefits of having an instructor check my alignment and my progress, feel the group dynamic of a yoga class, but continue practicing at home for the quiet, solitary, introspective benefits that I really enjoy. There's a hot yoga studio just down the street that has a drop-in class for $16. I'd really love to try hot yoga — I've stepped up my routine to an ashtanga vinyasa sequence that is a bit more physically challenging than what I'd been doing, though I'm still a beginner at it, and hot yoga uses those sequences in a really hot room to get you sweating. I may give the class a try.
And what I'd really like to do is find a place that has some kind of day-long intensive. There are many yoga retreats that take you off for a week or so to some exotic location to practice yoga against the backdrop of a rainforest or something. I don't want that. What I want is to take my mat, strap, and blocks somewhere for, say, 7am, and spend an entire day doing yoga, doing meditation, studying the Yoga Sutras, learning how to do inversions, getting good instruction on backbends, and things like that, and come home that night. Like a yoga retreat in single-day-form. Why is there nothing like that in this area? I'd pay decent money to spend a whole Saturday for one of those.
The closest I'll get is the Yoga Journal San Francisco Conference, which I'm not certain I can go to since it's nearly $300 to attend, not including airfare and hotel. Which is unfortunate, because they have a Beginner's Conference this year that has everything I listed above.
I need to find some $300+ extra writing work, that's what I need to do...
If someone had ever asked me to choose a few words to describe myself throughout my childhood and into my adult life, "graceful" would never have been one of them. I'm the kind of girl who gets unexplained bruises on her extremities. It's not unusual, for instance, for me to be toweling off and find a bruise roughly the same size as the state of Rhode Island on my shin. All nice and purply and bluey and yellowy. Eyyechk. I'm the kind of girl who trips over nonexistent lips in seamless floors.
It's been over six months now since I started doing yoga and it's amazing how much of a change there's been in this regard. I'm not exactly a ballet dancer these days, but yoga has instilled a muted sense of grace and calculated movement that has really changed how I feel about my body. Well, not so much about my body -- I have a fairly normal level of self-esteem about that, with a healthy dash of neurosis -- but more about how I feel in my body.
Part of this is how I look at my feet. You see, I wear a size 11. For you men reading this, it means I probably have bigger feet than you do (a women's size 11 is rougly a men's size 9.5). My size 11 boats have always been a source of embarrassment, albeit a small one, but enough to make me feel like I'm constantly tripping over my own body. As if the whole frame is too big for the person trying to maneuver it.
But I now have a new outlook on my body, and it all started with my feet. When I'm in Uttanasana now, my head nearly touches my feet. My feet feel thoroughly rooted to my mat, like I'm standing on a solid pedestal. And when I'm off the mat and walking through the apartment, I feel like I'm actually stepping, not just falling forward in perpetual anticipation. I find myself standing in the kitchen waiting for hot water to heat or folding laundry or reading on the couch and looking down at my feet, wiggling my toes, and feeling them squish into the floor. My whole body moves more slowly now when I'm just moving around, more calculating. I feel more graceful.
And I've lost an inch off my hips in the last couple of months, which was a total surprise to me!