Shameless Self-Promotion (and some animals)

When asked what he wanted for his birthday, the yogi replied, “I wish no gifts, only presence.” -website with a lot of yoga puns

This week, I have something a little different for you guys. As you may already know, I’ve been blogging and researching and yoga-ing all summer, all in the name of bettering my writing skills (and the flexibility of my knee ligaments). In addition to the blog posts you may have already read (or not have read, in which case please scroll down and enjoy), I’ve also written an extended piece on my Bikram 30-day challenge. This piece is exclusively available to you readers, all twelve of you, under the tab above labeled A Grand Yoga Adventure. Please peruse the piece at your leisure, and don’t hesitate to let me know what you think!

As promised last week, I’d also like to share some of my more serious Internet research findings. Behold, animals doing yoga:

down dog


This one is rather irrelephant, wouldn’t you say?

Longleat Safari Park, Britain - Sep 2006


Downward facing… cat






Ode to Pumpa

When I first told Pumpa, my 88 year old grandfather, about my yoga plans for the summer, his old hazel eyes widened in surprise. “Yoga?” he asked, thick Russian accent adding several additional layers of incredulity, “I can tell you all you need to know about yoga. Just lift a leg and fart.”

Pumpa has never done yoga, he never plans on doing yoga, and he sure as hell doesn’t like the idea of yoga. But as his only granddaughter with a yoga blog, I think it is my duty to share with you all the colorful opinions he has on the topic.

Now before I continue, let me supply a little bit of background on the man himself. Pumpa is an avid tennis player, a seasoned skier, and a proud mediocre singer of dirty Russian songs. (What he lacks in musical talent he makes up for in enthusiasm.) A few weeks ago, he bought a bike because he hasn’t ridden one in a few decades and was really starting to miss the feeling.


Did I mention he’s 88?

When he was just fourteen, Pumpa began fighting Nazis with a guerilla Russian army in the forests of Eastern Europe. He slept in snow banks. He beheaded unlucky German officers on motorcycles with piano strings. He built bombs to blow up trains carrying precious cargo to Nazi soldiers. To say the least, Pumpa is a certified badass.

He and my Nana live only five minutes away from our house, so my sister and I go over to their condo for dinner at least once a week. Over the course of the summer, these dinner dates have sparked some rather unorthodox yoga-related conversation.

At the very beginning of this project, I found myself trying to explain the concept of my blog to a very skeptical Pumpa. (Being a retired mechanical engineer, he has difficulty accepting terms like creative research or English major.) “I’ll write something new every week, about how the yoga’s going or how I’m feeling and stuff like that. I even thought of a title today!”

“What’s the title?” Nana asked politely. (She’s one of the most patient, honest, and admirable people I know. She’ll get her own ode soon enough.)

“Your Forehead Should Touch Your Toes, and other yoga adventures,” I announced.

Pumpa chuckled and took a large swig of his drink. “You know, I think my forehead will touch my toes just before I’m cremated.” He then proceeded to ask if I had found myself a boyfriend yet, and that was the end of that.

Most days, our conversation would follow a pattern that looked something like this.
Pumpa: How’s all the yoga going, sweetheart?
Me: Pretty well! Really sweaty, but really fun.
Pumpa: Good. Glad to see you haven’t gained any weight, honey.

But then last week, Pumpa had an especially interesting story for us. A woman had approached him at the health club that he and Nana exercise at every morning, with the intention of recruiting him for a senior health class. Pumpa was furious. “That really turns me off, you know, I don’t like to be called a senior. Old fart I don’t mind, but senior just pisses me off. Elderly too.” As he spoke, I noticed the large sign that hung behind him on their dining room wall, proudly baring three letters: EEB. I’d been his granddaughter long enough to know that this stood for Eastern European Bastard, a nickname he would gladly tell you about if you asked. But remember, those E’s do not stand for Elderly.

And as if to add insult to injury, he went on to explain that the class the woman was trying to recruit him for was actually a yoga practice. A yoga class for the elderly. As you may have guessed, Pumpa declined the offer.

After Nana and I cleared the dishes, Pumpa clasped his hands atop the wooden dining table and looked at me. “You know, Hannah,” he began, “I saw your… blog.” (He said the word blog the way some people might say income tax or irritable bowel syndrome.) “I think your English is good, but the rest I don’t really give a shit about.”

“Oh, why thank you!” I laughed, but the gratitude was genuine. It’s not often that Pumpa will tell you your English is good.

As I slipped on my shoes to leave their condo a little while later, Pumpa patted my shoulder. “You look good, honey.” I kissed him on the cheek.

“Thanks, Pumpa.”

He may not always agree with what I do, but he always finds a way to support me; for that, I am grateful. Maybe someday I’ll be able to drag him to a yoga class. I have to imagine lifting a leg and farting could become his new specialty.


(Love you, Pumps.)

The End of the Beginning

The practice itself, done consistently and accurately, is the real teacher. -Tim Miller

As my friend Julie and I walked into the foreign studio for my 30th Bikram class in 30 days, I was surprised by how calm I felt. This was supposed to be a landmark, a momentous occasion, a practice to be forever remembered. I thought my hands would feel jittery as I laid out my mat, at least. But I only felt steady and serene as I told the instructor at the front desk that this was the last day of my 30-day challenge. (Humble anonymity just isn’t really my thing.)

The instructor, a kind-faced woman named Louise, recognized my name as I wrote it down on the sign-in list. I recognized her as well, and she quickly explained that she had taught my mom for years. Louise was one of my mom’s favorite instructors of all time! Even if I wasn’t finishing out my challenge at my home studio, it was comforting to know that I was still in good hands. And as I looked around, I realized that I recognized a fair number of yogis from my home studio in and around the hot room. Suddenly the foreign studio didn’t feel so foreign. This could be a good place to cross the finish line after all.

Julie and I set up our mats and then headed towards the bathroom. Her long auburn hair was in a loose braid down her back; mine was tangled in what could’ve been an abandoned ostrich nest on top of my head. (The last time Julie had come to practice with me, she noted that the whole shebang would’ve been much easier if we were bald. I heartily agreed.) The bathroom line was unusually long, but I have to imagine everyone was thinking the same thing we were: the only thing harder than doing a Bikram yoga class would be doing a Bikram yoga class whilst having to pee.

And then, something miraculous happened.

“Excuse me, are you Hannah?” A woman with dark hair asked from behind us in line. I’d definitely seen her in class before.

“Yes, I’m Hannah,” I answered in surprise.

“Oh, I was just reading your blog!” the woman exclaimed, “I absolutely love it, it is so funny.”

My jaw actually dropped. Could this be? I have a fan? I’m getting recognized now?!

“Thank you!” I answered, sputtering like I’d just been dunked in ice water. “Thank you so much, you have no idea how much that means to me.” My hands were clammy. My heart rate was through the roof. Julie and I just beamed at each other. If it was possible to be starstruck by my own sense of stardom, then I was. But the wonderful woman wasn’t finished yet.

“This is Hannah,” she turned to her friends, “she has a blog about her 30-day challenge. It’s hilarious and smart and insightful; you guys should really check it out.” The women behind her in line smiled at me and nodded, muttering things like oh yes, of course and well that sounds awesome, we’ll have to look it up. It felt like one of those moments I’d talk about on a radio show with Ryan Seacrest ten years from now, when one of my books tops the New York Times Bestseller List. (“Hannah, when did you first know that you had hit it big?” “Well, Ryan, it all began in the bathroom line at a Bikram yoga studio…”)

Was this real life? Had I died and gone to blogger heaven? Julie, a fellow writer and one of my best editors, looked just as excited as I felt. As soon as the women rounded the corner to enter the bathroom, we turned to each other and high-fived with such enthusiasm, we could’ve been third graders on the playground who just won a round of partner tag. We took our turns in the bathroom, smiled some more, and entered the hot room with our heads held high.

The heat that had once felt so oppressive and evil now seemed to greet me with a familiar, sweaty embrace. Since Day 1, my body has been changing. I don’t mind the sweat much anymore; in fact, sometimes it feel like I’m not sweating enough. I can stand on a locked knee for more than just a few seconds. I can latch my fingers onto my big toes when the instructor tells us to bring our foreheads to our feet. I can see my foot start to drift over my head as I kick back into standing bow.


My butt still isn’t anywhere close to the ground when I sit on my knees. Nearly every instructor I’ve had seems perplexed by this particular inflexibility, Louise included. But rather than be embarrassed by my arrestingly tight ligaments, I’ve come to think of them as a distinguished characteristic. You know, like a wooden cane or a monocle. I’m just that girl with the tight knees. (Not to say that I’m going to stop working at stretching them out. Rome wasn’t built in a day.)

Louise’s enthusiasm during practice was infectious and her cues were fantastic. Focusing would’ve been easier if my mind hadn’t been so busy singing its excitement to the tune of 50 Cent (go Hannah, it’s Day 30, we gonna party like it’s day 30), but I was able to shut her up after the first couple of poses. I drifted in and out of the zone. I breathed through my nose. I let the sweat run freely down my face.

Every practice is exactly the same, but also completely different. I’ve come to love that about Bikram yoga. The heat might be stifling, the practice might seem endless, and the sweat might actually go up your nose, but the dialogue never changes. The only thing that changes is you.

Just before Louise told us to lie down for the final shavasana of the class, another miracle happened.

“Congratulations, Hannah, on completing your 30-day challenge!” she announced. And, as if on cue, the room erupted in claps and cheers. A full, boisterous round of applause. I could only look at Julie in ecstatic awe. All I need now is a picture with the Pope, and all my wildest yoga dreams will have come true.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, my Bikram yoga 30-day challenge has been completed. I feel happy, healthy, and fully qualified in claiming sweat to be a very close friend. It wasn’t always fun, and it was almost never easy. But in the words of Kelly Clarkson, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (because your muscles will adapt to the poses eventually), stand a little taller (because the spine strengthening series really helps with lower back pain), doesn’t mean you’ll smell good when you get home. Or something.

I’ve received buckets upon buckets of fan mail begging me not to stop blogging, and I’ve had to change my phone number due to an overwhelming number of teary calls from readers who knew my 30-day challenge was coming to an end. But please don’t fret, my devoted fan base-


I repeat, the blogging will continue. My big challenge finish wasn’t the end of my yoga adventure, but rather an extended beginning. I’ve become something of a yoga addict. There’s a very real possibility that if I stopped now, I’d start to look a lot like Christian Bale in The Fighter. Not to mention I’ve had a pretty awesome time describing my sweat in painstaking detail and cracking cheesy jokes for you guys, so I hope you’ll join me in weeks to come for more yoga adventures.

This week I’ll be trying some Vinyasa yoga. Upward facing dog, downward dog, sideways dog, hot dog, you name it- I’ll be all up in that business. Check in next Monday to see how it goes. (I have to imagine my Vinyasa skills can’t be any worse than my Bikram skills, right? Right?!)


P.S. I know I promised pictures of the Pope, but for some reason he never responded to my invitation. Feel free to enjoy celebratory sweaty pictures of Julie and me instead.


“Don’t put this on the Internet.” -Julie


High School Musical levels of excited






(impromptu sweaty dance party)




Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of joy you must have somebody to divide it with.” -Mark Twain


I Dodged a Hornet

On Day 24, a hornet found its way into the hot room. I noticed it about fifteen minutes into class, crawling along the glass of a far window and looking devious. But it was far enough away that I managed to convince myself we were living in different dimensions. I figured that the chances of a lethal sting to one of my major arteries was low. (I’m not even sure if that’s medically possible, but it’s always been one of my most bizarre nightmares.)

Just a few minutes later as I lay in the first shavasana of the class, I heard a buzz to my left, and I slowly turned my eyes towards the source of the noise. The hornet itself, enormous, red hanging stinger and all, was making a violent beeline (pun definitely intended) towards my face. I gave a little yelp and barrel rolled James Bond-style off my mat and onto the carpet, nearly flattening the kind woman to my right in the process. I rolled back onto my mat quickly and (I hoped) subtly, but when you yell and tumble in a quiet yoga studio, people tend to take notice. I assured our instructor, Victoria, and the class at large that I was indeed okay. But if that hornet thought I was relaxing long enough to give him another chance to strike, he was dead wrong.

While my bee-avoiding theatrics had done a lot to draw attention towards the damned creature, there was still an impressive number of people in the room who remained calm and absorbed in their practice. A few other students expressed their fears of bees (I assumed my fear didn’t really need to be expressed vocally at this point) and soon Victoria was simultaneously cueing our postures and chasing the hornet around, which I have to imagine was like an extreme version of trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time. But somehow she managed to not only stay on track with the yoga dialogue, but to also catch the hornet with her sweatshirt and release him back out into the wild. Or at least, the parking lot behind the studio.

The whole thing could’ve been a scene out of “The Three Stooges: Bikram Yoga Edition.” We laughed when anyone yelped or rolled, and we cheered when the enemy was finally captured and removed from our midst. As I sat in an anxious hornet-fearing ball, not even pretending to try and keep up with the postures, I looked around and realized that I had found something of a home in my little Bikram studio. That hot room and the people in it had gotten me through 24 wonderful, sweaty days. Despite the hornet, I  suddenly felt deliriously happy.

But after class I received some bad news. My beloved home studio would be closed on the 29th and 30th days of my challenge for carpet renovations. I was told I could either finish out my final two classes at a different studio a few towns over, or extend the challenge by 2 days and finish when the carpeting in my home studio was successfully installed.

I was heartbroken. There was no way I could extend my challenge, not after all the hard work I’d put in already. But the people in the other studio didn’t even know me! They hadn’t seen me dodge a hornet or fall out of triangle pose and hit the side wall. They wouldn’t know that my knees are inflexible from years of mogul skiing or that sometimes my neck hurts when I come up in back bends. The instructors in my home studio- my instructors, as I’ve started to referring to them in my head- have seen my journey. Sometimes they’ve even quoted my blog during class (which jumped right over “hot shower on a cold day” to take the #1 spot on my list of best feelings ever). Having to finish my challenge at a different studio felt like a terrible, lonely fate. Not to mention it completely threw off my plans for Day 30 celebrations.

(At the end of my 30th class, the instructor- it would probably be Laura, she usually teaches on Tuesdays- would announce my astounding success to the class. The proclamation would be met with impressed looks and guffaws from everyone in the room, perhaps a spontaneous round of applause. After shavasana we’d pose in the front lobby for a picture- instructors, friends I’ve made in class, maybe the city mayor, all crowded around me in a jubilant tableau that would have undoubtedly earned a record number of likes on Facebook. Laura would declare me an official yogini. The mayor would invite me out to lunch.)

It seemed like all my sweaty yoga dreams had been shattered.

I whined. I worried. I seriously contemplated crying, but decided against it when I realized that crying in yoga had to be about a million times worse than crying in baseball. (And there’s just no crying in baseball.) As I mindlessly skimmed through yoga blogs looking for any kind of inspiration, I came upon this quote:

“When you catch yourself slipping into a pool of negativity, notice how it derives from nothing other than resistance to the current situation.” -Donna Quesada

Holy crap.

I was resisting the situation. I was resisting the situation like a belligerent frat boy might resist campus police. I wasn’t just slipping into my own pool of negativity, I was bathing in it. But it wasn’t until I found the quote that I realized I had a choice.

Yes, it’s unfortunate that I won’t be able to finish my challenge in my home studio, but all my negativity had made me lose sight of what this challenge is actually about. I didn’t commit myself to 30 days of Bikram for Facebook pictures or a round of applause. I did this for the sweat, the spirit, the strength. The adventure.

So, as the heroine of my very own yoga adventure, I’ve chosen to accept the current situation. Rejoice in it. Love it. Stop resisting that which I cannot control. One of my best friends is coming with me to my 30th practice at the foreign studio tomorrow, and even if the practice is miserable, we’re going to eat a lot of chocolate when it’s over. Life is grand.

I’ve also decided that a picture with the mayor is a rather small-minded aspiration for an accomplishment of this caliber, so I’ve invited the Pope for a photo op instead. My completion of this challenge will be a miracle I’m sure he’d want to celebrate. Expect to see those party pictures around this time next week.


The (Danger) Zone

I participated in a hypnotist show in my senior year of high school. If you’ve never seen a hypnotist show, it looks something like a charismatic zookeeper directing a slapstick improv show with a loyal cast of obedient monkeys. Except the zookeeper is a certified professional, and the monkeys are high school students who have actually volunteered to publicly humiliate themselves. Believe me, there aren’t a lot of things funnier than one of your good friends threatening to pull his pants down in front of a packed auditorium. (Sorry, Mike.)

But what does this have to do with yoga, you may ask? Well, a state of hypnosis and a state of meditation are more or less the same state of mind. One may lead you to believe you can dance like Shakira, while the other may lead you to personal discovery and peace, but they both start off with the same goal: complete mental stillness.

Mental stillness has never really been my forte. You see, my mind is a bit of a spitfire. She never shuts up, she sounds like the rejected bits of a subpar comedy routine most of the time, and she really, really likes fart jokes. But I’ve always welcomed her comments because after all, she is me, and I’m pretty awesome.

So when the hypnotist told all the girls onstage, magnificently slumped across our chairs in a state of hypnotic sleep, that we would find our first names hysterically funny when he snapped his fingers, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that my mind rebelled. A familiar voice broke through the fog of hypnotic tranquility. What the hell? My name isn’t funny at all. Maybe if I were named Eugene, or Beatrice, or Olga. Heh heh, Olga.

And just like that I was back in my own busy head, all hope of properly disgracing myself in front of a crowd of my peers totally gone. I quickly exited the stage to join my friends in the audience and figured complete mental stillness probably just wasn’t for me.

In the Bikram studio, the instructors are kind of like our hypnotists- the charismatic zookeeper to our crazed monkeys, if you will. In a perfect yoga world, we would hear the teacher’s words, moving only when we are cued to do so. We would find stillness in each posture at the deepest point we could possibly reach, breathing steadily in and out through our noses. We would think of nothing besides those words, our movement, and our breath. In the real world, I’m usually either swearing to myself or trying to decide what to eat for lunch.

But there have been moments, gloriously magical moments, where I’ve glimpsed the universe beyond my mind’s persistent (and usually wiseass) personality. It’s like a peaceful field of lilies swaying beside an infinite blue ocean of serenity. It’s a place where a Bikram practice doesn’t feel like three years in a wormhole, but 90 satisfying minutes in a hot room. It’s a present, relaxed, aware state of being that my good friend and fellow blogger Mandy likes to call “the zone.”

(I understand if the Top Gun theme song just started playing in your head, and if it didn’t, you’re welcome for the reminder that this cheesy-awesome 80’s masterpiece still exists.)
In the zone, there are no complaints, no anxieties, no judgments. There aren’t even any fart jokes. There’s just you, your breath, and your body. It’s a hard place to find, and it’s an even harder place to stay. But when you’re in the zone, you’re free.

Class on Day 21 started with a lot of complaining. I had woken up before 7 AM, worked in the (unbelievably hot and humid) sun all day, and eaten a lot of junk food while pondering my own sticky misery. By the time I got to the studio at 4:30 that afternoon, I was anticipating Bikram Armageddon. There was no way class could go well with all the shit I’d just eaten. It’d be a wonder if I could stay awake for 90 minutes after baking in the sun for so long, let alone partake in strenuous sweaty exercise. The humidity levels in the hot room would probably be something approaching a scene from Dante’s Inferno. But I trudged into that studio anyway, dragging my mat, towel, and mother along with me because that’s what I do now. I go to yoga.

Standing on a locked knee some time later, trying to extend my other leg toward the front mirror while holding my foot, I could have been miserable. There was a small and familiar voice telling me how hard this pose was, how tight my hamstrings were, how I’d probably never be able to extend my leg even if I practiced for years. The voice was tired, and she was complaining, and she had made a joke about how frizzy my hair had gotten in the humidity. But she didn’t have to be there. I took a deep breath, exhaled, and shoved her aside. All my energy went into my focused gaze at my locked knee in the mirror. I grabbed my foot, extended my leg, shook a little, and breathed through my nose. Sweat dripped onto my towel. My eyes didn’t blink. Push. Breathe.

I stood with one leg locked and the other almost fully extended for exactly three seconds. I was in the zone, and it was incredible.

(I know it’s not technically the danger zone, but how awesome would that be if next time I was in the zone Tom Cruise was hanging out in there too? And Goose? And maybe Iceman?)

So whether you’re sweating in a hot yoga studio or prancing around like a hypnotized chimpanzee onstage, it’s nice to take some time every now and then to really check in with yourself. Maybe you call it the zone, or mindfulness, or meditation, or even voluntary hypnosis. But no matter the name, I would recommend giving it a try. You might be surprised at what you can do when your mind isn’t being a huge asshole.


You’re Going to Live Through This

A student went to his meditation teacher and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel so distracted, or my legs ache, or I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s just horrible!”

”It will pass,” the teacher said matter-of-factly.

A week later, the student came back to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It’s just wonderful!”

”It will pass,” the teacher replied matter-of-factly.


Things had been going so well. I had been practicing with the elites in the front row. I had started embracing the sweat. I had even been wearing my super tiny Bikram jungle get-up outside of the house, and nobody had arrested me for public indecency.

But then came Day 10.

For starters, I had procrastinated doing my laundry (which, with the pile of sweaty clothes I accumulate on a daily basis, requires doing every three days or so) and was forced to delve into my sister’s closet to find a pair of spandex shorts. The shorts that I grabbed were just a smidgen too small and created a most unbecoming layer of belly fat overhang that I was forced to stare at for the entirety of the 90 minute practice. So confidence wasn’t at an all-time high.

I hadn’t slept very well the night before. A lethal combination of M&Ms and Gossip Girl had kept me up far later than I had anticipated (I’m too addicted to be ashamed), and my alarm that morning had been greeted with a mumbled string of expletives. So energy levels weren’t exactly optimal either.

I guess it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that practice felt longer than usual, but it was more than just longer than usual. The class was endless. It’s possible that the room doubled as a wormhole and held us sweaty hostages for 3-4 years while normal time-goers only noticed the passing of an hour and a half. It’s also possible that the studio was actually an Inception-esque dream layer where five minutes in the outside world translated to an hour in the heated yoga room. There is just no way in hell that practice only lasted 90 minutes.

Every posture felt like a scene out of a sweaty nightmare. My thoughts were miserable and panicked, racing between get me the hell out of here and ohmygodI’mgonnathrowup. I tried to breathe and remember something a Bikram instructor had told my friend Meg during her first practice: “Good news, new students, no one has ever died doing Bikram yoga, so rest when you have to, but you’re going to live through this.”

After consistently reminding myself that puking in the studio was frowned upon, letting out several embarrassing groans, and successfully blinking sweat into my right eye, I collapsed into the practice’s final resting pose. I had survived the 90 minutes (or several years, depending on which of my theories you choose to believe) and did somehow manage to leave class feeling better than I had at the beginning. I could see more clearly, breathe more deeply. The lead in my limbs had turned to a relaxed tingle. Nausea had given way to serenity.

That Bikram is an evil genius.

So I guess it’s all part of the process. Some days will be glorious, some days will be miserable, all days will be unbelievably sweaty, but it’s all in the interest of making peace with yourself. My mom has always described yoga as the few precious hours a week she can truly focus, clear her mind of to-do lists and anxieties, and I’m finally starting to see what she means. There’s something spiritual to be found underneath all this sweat.

My mom, the experienced yogini herself, actually came to class with me quite a few times this week. We shared some sentimental moments. A few highlights:

  • She called me a “wuss” to peer pressure me into setting my mat up on the side of the studio closest to the heater. (It worked. We sweated like UFC fighters.)
  • I fell out of triangle pose and smacked into the side wall. The thwack of my flailing elbow making contact with plaster was graciously ignored by everyone but my mom, who laughed so hard I’m pretty sure she farted.
  • We practiced next to an impressively slim and gorgeous pregnant woman; she was far better at pregnant yoga than we are at normal yoga. My mom, who describes both of her pregnancies as the most swollen and miserable times of her life, compensated for her jealousy on the car ride home with a long list of things she could beat the beautiful pregnant woman at. (Bike race, heavy lifting competition, fight to the death, etc.)
  • We finished out the week with a glamorous post-practice photoshoot, the results of which you are welcome to admire below.


Camel Pose, voted “Most Likely to Make You Wanna Vomit” in its high school yearbook.


Floor Bow Pose: “Your butt should be a pillow for your head.” Gettin’ close.


Shavasana, or Corpse Pose. Impeccable form.


Setting up for Triangle Pose (I’m excited though I swear)


Full expression of Triangle Pose, more commonly known by its street name:
yup, this is where I’m gonna die


My forehead will, eventually, touch my toes. Or elephants will fly, either one.

My goal for week 3 is to start adding running workouts to my challenge schedule; as much as I love my heart for keeping me alive 90 sweaty minutes a day, I think it needs a little more exercise. And if there’s one thing I’m more impressively bad at than touching my toes, it’s running. So this should be interesting.

Until next Monday, my darling yogis and yoginis.


Something Adventurous

“That is perfection in Yoga, the best you can honestly do on any given day.” -Bikram Choudhury

I did something adventurous in the studio this week. Something daring. Something even the wingsuit base jumpers of the world would’ve been proud of.

I set up my yoga mat in the front row.

I’ve climbed Mt. Washington, flown a small airplane, and danced to Ke$ha in front of my entire high school, but this might have been the boldest thing I’ve ever done. The front row is reserved for the experienced and the flexible. Instructors will tell new students, “just look to the people in the front row if you’re having trouble, they’ll show you what to do.” It’s the inner sanctum. The créme de la créme. So naturally I got into the habit of setting up my mat as far away from the front row as possible. I imagined someday receiving a prestigious invitation in the mail from the deities of yoga themselves, their words handsomely engraved in a bar of gleaming gold: WELCOME TO THE FRONT ROW, HANNAH, YOU’VE MADE IT! But as it turns out, the admission process isn’t quite that elaborate.

I walked into the studio, looked around like a bank robber about to commit a poorly-planned heist, and laid my mat down in the front row next to my mom’s.

That was it. No alarms sounded; no yoga deities appeared to curse me. I half expected someone to spot me and shout, “HEY! She can’t even sit on her knees! Haul her away from there!” But miraculously, that didn’t happen either. I just did what I always do before class: sat with my legs crossed, discreetly admired myself in the mirror, and waited for practice to begin.

Being so close to my own sweaty reflection for 90 minutes was both exhilarating and horrifying. I noticed that the redness in my face made my eyes look greener than usual. I could count the beads of sweat on my own shoulders. I came to terms with the fact that no matter what exercise regimen I employ, a friendly layer of stomach flub will always fold in on itself when I sit down. But superficiality aside, I also found that the physical closeness to myself actually brought me closer to my practice. It’s difficult to avoid your flaws when they’re staring you straight in the face, and the front row made me focus longer and push harder to try and correct them. (I still struggled to touch my toes in that last stretching posture, but hey, they tell me it’s a process.)

My thoughts still wandered to a world where yoga includes nap time. I still made lists in my head of possible sweat-related deaths. When the instructor announced that it was time for wind-removing pose, I still thought to myself, “oh, she means fart pose.” But overall, I felt stronger and calmer in the front than I ever had cowering in the back corners of the studio. From now on, I’ll have a front row seat to the sweat show, no golden ticket necessary.

A few other tidbits I learned in my first week of the 30-day challenge:

  •  The word “yoga” actually means yoking, or “connecting.”
  • “Namaste,” the sentiment used to close every yoga practice, means “the light in me honors the light in you.”
  • A male yoga enthusiast is called a yogi, while a female yoga enthusiast is called a yogini. (Ladies, we’re only two letters away from Voldemort’s killer pet snake. If that’s not badass, I don’t know what is.)
  • The Sanskrit names for yoga poses are formed by adding a deity’s name to the word “asana,” which means a kind of prayer. (Of course I immediately began brainstorming ideas for the “Hannahsana” pose, which I’ve decided would look something like the way your body recoils after you accidentally walk into a door.)


The Bikram outfit my mom got me for my birthday scares me a little bit, but I told myself I’d be allowed to wear it in public after at least one week of the challenge. It’s been 7 days, so maybe I’ll unveil this baby tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.



A Snort in the Studio

Before I first experienced Bikram yoga, I thought I knew sweat pretty well. Sure, I don’t run marathons or throw boulders in my spare time, but when I’m not devouring M&Ms or living in my Netflix queue, I like to consider myself an athlete. I can ski moguls until my knees beg for mercy. I’m pretty feisty with a tennis racket. I once biked 84 miles in a day. So with athletic prowess as stunning as mine, you’d think I’d be something of a sweat connoisseur. That’s what my pre-Bikram self thought anyway. But less than five minutes into my first Bikram yoga experience, I realized that my pre-Bikram self could not have been more wrong.

I didn’t know sweat. I didn’t know sweat at all.

My shins, my elbows, my knees, the tops of my feet… no nook or cranny was safe from the sweat tsunami. My mom had warned me that the class would be hot, 105 degrees to be exact, and that it would be long, 90 minutes on the dot. But no warning could have prepared me for this kind of perspiration. It poured out in buckets, rained upon my towel as I contorted myself into repetitive, painful positions. And that was just the first breathing exercise.

Half-moon pose. Eagle pose. Tree pose. Camel pose. I gasped for air, completely ignoring the instructor’s cues to breathe in and out through our noses. My muscles powerfully protested the unfamiliar pain of each new posture, but I tried to keep my sweaty self composed. This proved incredibly difficult when, on top of holding each new excruciating position, I had to start dodging the rogue sweat bullets being launched from the hairy chest of the man to my right. Once or twice I desperately contemplated the consequences of a fart in the studio. (Which would be worse, the humiliation or the smell?)

I somehow managed to maintain an illusion of graceful composure until one of the very last poses of the class. We sat on our mats with our legs extended as the instructor told us to grab our big toes with our thumb and index fingers. While most of the sweaty people around me latched onto their sweaty toes with ease, I could only reach my sweaty fingers towards my sweaty toes with an air of sweaty desperation. I clenched my teeth, trembled from head to toe, felt another wave of sweat slide down my back. My hands just barely began to graze my feet. Pull, pull, pull, the instructor chanted, lock the knees, lock the knees, lock the knees. And before she finally told us to release, the instructor uttered this beauty:

“Your forehead should, eventually, touch your toes.”

I couldn’t help myself. I snorted. I actually snorted, completely abandoning any appearance of composure that I had managed to feign for 85 sweaty minutes. My neighbors didn’t seem to mind, but I figured they were just too sweaty to acknowledge me.

After such an endless and painful ordeal, you might have expected me to leave the studio with some sort of bodily injury, or a defeated limp at the very least. But as I walked out of that first class, sweaty and miserable as I may have been just minutes before, my entire being felt inexplicably awesome. My mind had cleared. My body had relaxed. And despite all life-preserving instincts advising me to the contrary, a part of me wanted to march right back into the studio and try it again.

So, ladies and gentleman, this month I am participating in a 30-day Bikram yoga challenge. It starts this week and continues until I complete 30 classes in 30 days, or melt wicked-witch style into a puddle of my own sweat, whichever comes first. If I survive the first week, you’ll hear from me again next Monday. I’m sure my forehead will be touching my toes by then.