Seavasana (Road Trip Part III)

When the alarm went off at 7 this morning, my mom and I both groaned and rolled over in our cozy little four-poster bed. Usually we’re early risers, but we were up late talking with our marvelous friend and host, Mary. Mary usually lives in Seattle, but has moved back to Cape Cod for the summer. Her house is a gorgeous blend of new and old, antique and crafty; every time I walk into a room I discover an eccentric trinket or fascinating piece of art that I hadn’t noticed before. And she has a deck with lounge chairs, so my mom and I are enamored.

We eventually crawled out of bed, hopped into our yoga clothes, and made fun of each others’ hair for a few minutes. (Hers was sticking out in matted, wavy chunks, while mine had frizzed up in every direction in some kind of psychotic halo; I swear I looked like Kramer from Seinfeld. Humidity is not our friend.) If Mary noticed our ridiculous ‘dos, she politely pretended otherwise.

We hit the road by 7:30AM, in what I have come to believe is the only way to travel around Cape Cod in a heat wave: via convertible.

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Top down, hands up, fingers playing in the warm breeze, cruising to a private club to practice yoga on the beach. If it weren’t for our accidental afros, I’d have thought we were celebrities.

We arrived at the fancy little beach club just before 8 and met our instructor, Nancy, who explained that we would be practicing Yin yoga. She told us to grab a mat, a blanket, and a block, and that we could take a spot anywhere on the beach.

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The spot was so beautiful, she probably could’ve told us to start chopping wood and I would’ve found a way to be happy about it. But when I asked Nancy to explain the basics of Yin yoga to me before class, I had a feeling I’d be in for a challenge.

“Are you familiar with the ideas of Yin and Yang?” she asked.

“Oh yes, I think so,” I nodded enthusiastically. (I probably should’ve known that having jammed to Get Low by Lil Jhon featuring the Ying Yang Twins at high school dances didn’t really count, but I had a feeling she was going to explain things anyways.)

“Yin and Yang are the opposing forces of the universe; they’re in everything and they’re in each other,” she explained. “But our culture- our lives- are very much dominated by Yang. Yang is the force of doing, while Yin is the act of observing. Today we’ll be exploring this Yin energy, holding gentle poses for 3-5 minutes, focusing more on just being rather than doing.” She ended her explanation with a friendly smile, truly excited by the 90 minute meditation that lay ahead of us.

“Thank you,” I smiled back, “I’m looking forward to the practice! I’ll see you out on the beach.” I gathered my items, turning to my mom as we descended the wooden steps to the sand, “just a warning. This is a very meditative form of yoga.” She groaned.

Meditation is not our strong suit.

Mary, however, let out a cheer when she heard we had chosen a more gentle form of practice. (She’s biked across Martha’s Vineyard, windsurfed on Cape Cod, and once learned how to snowboard on a whim, but for some reason she feels her yoga skills are lacking.) We set up our towels, found a comfortable position, and waited for class to start.

For the next hour and a half, we practiced the most gentle, kind, unassuming form of yoga on the planet. Short of laying in shavasana for an hour and a half, I’m really not sure how it could’ve been any more relaxed. In each position we were encouraged to support ourselves with either a blanket or a block, to make ourselves comfortable and let go further into the ground with each exhale. The goal was to stay present and relaxed.

“In almost every aspect of our lives, we’re encouraged to reach more, do more, stretch more. In Yin yoga, we are just trying to let go. Don’t push yourself like you would in a regular yoga class. Find your edge, where you’re present but comfortable, where you feel a little bit of that delicious relaxation.” She used the word delicious several times. I’ll admit it was an unexpected choice of adjective for a yoga practice on the beach, but every time she said it I couldn’t help but smile a little. Delicious. Like a fresh nectarine, or Daniel Craig’s jawline.

Relax. Breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Western culture is packed with Yang energy- the need to strive, to judge, to have more, to do better. (Mary observed that the abrasive yet lovable Grey’s Anatomy character Christina Yang was probably named with this energy in mind, and also admitted that she had been thinking about Christina for a good portion of the meditation time.) Yin energy, the ability to simply be, seems to us a totally foreign concept.

So naturally, my first instinct was to fight it. I wanted to flow, to move, to sprint, to do something besides lay on my side and breathe. It was truly one of the harder yoga practices I’ve ever done. I found meditation for a few minutes at a time. I tried to match my breathing with the crashes of the nearby waves. I wished death upon every fly that took a bite out of my legs. (There were several.) Overall, I think Nancy would agree that my Yin could use a little practice. But at the end of class, there came something spectacular enough to give Yin yoga a special place in my heart forever.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present, “seavasana.”

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I really can’t decide which is better, the posture or the pun. Floating like the most relaxed of buoys, rocking with each wave, listening to your own breath as ocean water fills your ears. It was magical.

And of course we couldn’t leave without a beach photoshoot.

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cheesin’ with Nancy

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I surrendered to my body’s plea for physical activity and went on a run through Mary’s neighborhood after class. This was an undeniably Yang-like thing of me to do, but working up a sweat after all that relaxation just felt so good. And really, I’m not sure that Yang-ing all the time is such a terrible thing; after all, Christina has become one of the best cardiac surgeons at Seattle Grace. (That’s what I’d guess, anyways. I more or less boycotted Grey’s after they started killing off everyone and their mothers.) I think everyone needs a little Yang- the motivation to strive and to act. But I think everyone might need to step back every once in a while and find their Yin too. Especially if it includes a shot at seavasana. (Seriously, next time you’re at the beach, seavasana your heart out. You won’t be sorry.)

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Somehow we’re already coming up on our last day of the trip, but I hope it’ll be something of a grand finale. Tomorrow morning, 7AM, dreams will be coming true. Two words: paddleboard yoga. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow night. If you want a preview, we’ll be looking something like this:

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Namaste,
Hannah

The Colors of the Wind (Road Trip Part II)

Yes, I did manage to haul my ass out of bed at 5:45 this morning and back to Bristol Yoga Studio for a second Kripalu class. I left a few minutes later than planned and walked into the studio at 6:32 AM, after class had already started. There was a friendly-looking young woman at the front of the serene room with the wooden floors, and only three other students in the room. I discreetly joined them (or as discreetly as one can join a quiet room when she accidentally drops her water bottle upon entry) and jumped right into my practice.

I didn’t think it was possible, but this class was even slower and more meditative than the practice we did last night. The postures weren’t designed to challenge our muscles, but rather to stretch and relax them. Our instructor’s voice was soft and gentle, telling us to let go of our thoughts, to allow ourselves to release any tension or preoccupation we may have held coming into class. There was no right way to perform this yoga; she emphasized over and over again that this was our practice, offering several different modifications for each posture that we should choose depending on what felt best for our bodies.

A different experience from Bikram, to say the least.

The instructor told me after class that the word Kripalu actually means “compassion,” which would explain the gentle nature of the practice. But the practice in meditation is just as hard, if not harder, than the physical challenges that Bikram hurled at my sweaty body for thirty days. I feel like I’m reaching a little further into my zone with every class.

After practice, I drove back to Sarah and Brian’s house blasting music louder than most neighborhoods probably wanted to hear before 8AM on a Wednesday, but I was on a yoga high. Relaxed muscles, clear mind, positive energy- and the day had just begun.

After a quick breakfast, we headed to the beach for the morning.

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From the beach, we stopped back at the house for a lunch even quicker than breakfast, and then headed off to the day’s main event: sailing with Sarah and Brian.

Sailing itself would’ve been exciting enough, as I’d never been on a sailboat before, but this was no ordinary sailing experience. Sarah, an OT professor at Tufts University, badass ski instructor at Loon Mountain, and one of my favorite human beings on the planet, also happens to be paralyzed from the waist down. She was hit by a car when she was twenty three years old, and has been taking the world by storm on wheels ever since.

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In her free time, Sarah sails. And by sails, I mean she skillfully races sailboats and wins international competitions. She’ll be traveling to Ireland in a few weeks with Brian and Ellie to compete. (But keep in mind, this is just a hobby.)

As we set sail on the beautiful blue water of Narraganset Bay, I was given the responsibility of manning the rope connected to the main sail, the technical name of which I’ve already forgotten. Within about three minutes I proved my inability to do anything that would benefit the boat at large (i.e. pulled when I should’ve eased up, admired the arms of a handsome man on a nearby boat instead of actively following Sarah’s directions) and my mom politely took over main sail duties. She pulled that rope with more muscle and confidence than Johnny Depp in a Captain Jack Sparrow costume, and I have to admit, I was impressed. She’s just so beautiful and strong, you know?

(After she read yesterday’s wedgie comment, my mom told me that she thought any readers who don’t know her personally will probably think she’s some sort of unsophisticated lunatic. To which I responded, “but what about the ones who do know you personally?”)

(Just kidding, I totally didn’t say that, that would’ve been rude. She is, at the very least, an incredibly sophisticated lunatic. The world’s most kindhearted, most giving, most sophisticated lunatic. And I meant what I said about those sailing skills. She gave that boat the business.)

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Once we found our rhythm, the five of us had quite a lovely afternoon on the water. After about an hour or two of smooth sailing (puns!), Sarah made a happy observation.

“We always say you don’t have time to come out and sail, but you just have to make time. It’s so peaceful out here, and quiet, away from everything that’s happening on land.” She looked over at me. “Hannah, this is definitely some kind of yoga.”

“Oh totally, it’s meditation,” my mom agreed. “Hann, that can be your post for tonight! Active meditation!”

And so, here we are. After a few hours out on the sailboat, watching the blue water pass beneath us and enjoying the wind’s salty spray, I could easily see a connection between sailing and yoga. A calm place, a tranquil escape, a focus on something outside of yourself. Or maybe a focus on something inside of yourself. Even in the intense atmosphere of a race, Sarah has to remain calm and clear-headed to make decisions and lead her crew. She must stay in the present moment and avoid panic. She has to let go and see where the wind takes her.

And isn’t that all we strive for in yoga? The ability to let go and follow the wind?

Well, that’s what I’m striving for anyways. To let go, to calm my mind, to be the best that I can. And hey, if I learn to paint with all the colors of the wind, that’s just an added bonus. So Sarah and Brian, if you get around to reading this, thank you so much for an incredible two days. I’m sure we’ll be back for more adventures.

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(I promise I’m far less competent than these pictures might lead you to believe.)

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Sarah, in her happy place.

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The whole gang!

My eyelids are starting to droop, so I should probably head to sleep. More yoga, beaching, and exploring to be done tomorrow! Look out Cape Cod, here we come.

Namaste,
Hannah

Pick Your Wedgies With Pride (Road Trip Part I)

My apologies for the late post, we’re just getting in from our first day of yoga adventuring. It started with several hours in the car as we dropped my marvelous sister off at a 4-day scholar athlete leadership camp, and we hit some heinous traffic on a Massachusetts highway (totally unheard of, right?). My mom swore far more than necessary and received several middle fingers through closed car windows as we swerved into Panera for lunch, but other than that, our journey to Rhode Island went relatively smoothly.

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Tonight we practiced at Bristol Yoga Studio, an adorable hole-in-the-wall kind of place on a cozy street corner in the town of Bristol, RI. The studio had wooden floors, offered a modest view of neighboring street shops outside its front windows, and smelled faintly of incense; the atmosphere was more serene than any studio I’ve visited thus far. We quickly introduced ourselves to Tracy, the studio owner, and explained that this was our first stop on a most heroic yoga quest. Obviously, she was impressed.

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(My mom should’ve taken a photography class in high school, but Tracy rocks!)

The class we were attending was simply labeled “All Levels Yoga,” so my mom and I had no idea what kind of practice we were walking into. I figured there would quite a few dogs involved (at least upward and downward facing), and probably a couple warriors (namely, one and two). When I asked, Tracy told me that her yoga teachings had been heavily influenced by the Kripalu and Anusara practices. I nodded like I knew what that meant and followed my mom into the studio to set up our mats.

First and foremost, this yoga was not sweaty. The studio was a mere 78 degrees (I snuck a peek at the thermostat on our way in) which seemed downright chilly in comparison to the oppressively hot air outside. I barely broke a sweat once throughout the practice, which was equal parts refreshing and off-putting. It was similar to Bikram in the sense that we held difficult positions for long amounts of time, but also similar to Vinyasa in the sense that we flowed through series of movements. Very, very slowly.

“This practice isn’t about what you think, it’s about what you feel. Stop thinking, and just feel where your body is, what it needs, right now.” Tracy’s voice was gentle and encouraging. Maybe it was her insightful dialogue, or maybe it was the ultra-soothing shade of blue they had chosen to paint the walls, but the whole thing had a meditative quality that I’d never before experienced in a yoga practice. The sun was setting outside and casting fire-orange shadows across the studio floor. My breath sounded like the ocean waves that I knew were crashing just a few blocks from where we stood. Feel, don’t think; feel, don’t think. My muscles felt strong as we settled into Warrior Two. I am inhaling, I am exhaling. I am inhaling, I am ex-

I snuck a glance to the left at my mom just in time to see her covertly pick a wedgie. She might kill me for posting this, which would kind of put a damper on our whole little trip here, but seeing that wedgie-adjustment was an integral part of my practice. An integral part of my growth as a human being, really. A perfect juxtaposition of the poetic and the priceless. I mean, everybody’s gotta adjust their underwear every now and again, especially in the middle of a challenging yoga position that requires extended lunging. But it felt like the divine yoga gods were sending me a message: even in your most spectacular, beautiful, lyrical moments, you must never forget that somewhere, someone is picking their wedgie.

Life is mysterious, life is silly. All you can do is try to take it all in.

And so we finished practice, feeling refreshed and balanced and inspired and hungry. Our friends who are so graciously providing us with shelter on this fine night, Sarah, Brian, and their daughter Ellie, met us for dinner at a spectacular seaside grill.

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Ellie and I hammin’ it up on the restaurant pier

We finished the night with a trip to the ice cream stand, and all seems right in the world. For now, anyways. I told myself I’m going back to Bristol Yoga (a 20 minute drive away) for 6:30AM tomorrow, and things may not feel so sparkly and wonderful when my alarm goes off at 5:45. But I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. Approximately six hours from now.

So mom, when you read this, I’m sorry for the wedgie comment, but you really led me to a little epiphany there. You’re the best, I love you a lot, and I promise I’ll come to bed in like ten minutes.

To all my other readers, I’ll talk to you tomorrow night. Pick your wedgies with pride, my friends.

Namaste,
Hannah

The Moderately Warm Room

Vinyasa yoga was supposed to be easy. The room is only heated to 85 degrees and the class is a mere 75 minutes, as compared to the 105 degree, 90 minute Bikram practice that I’ve become accustomed to. I wore tiny little Bikram clothes even though I was fully aware that in the Vinyasa world it’s more customary to don a capri legging or a yoga pant. (As a post 30-day challenge yoga aficionado, I’ve decided that I should give those around me ample opportunity to admire my spectacular yoga physique.) I brought a towel, but only as a formality really. I figured the Vinyasa practice would be a leisurely walk in the park, a light jog in comparison to the miles of sprints I’d been doing for the past month. And so I entered the hot room (or as I referred to it in my head, the moderately warm room) with far more confidence than I deserved to have.

You see, before this whole project, I dabbled in the art of Vinyasa yoga. More than dabbled, actually, I bought a 3-month membership at the yoga studio just down the street from my dorm ($25 a month for students, hello steal). I went 3-4 times a week for the better part of those three months, and by the end, I felt pretty confident in my yoga skills. (If I had known the term “yogini” then, I definitely would have worked it into casual conversation with new people I met at parties.) But then of course I took a month off, ran a lot so that my hips tightened up like nobody’s business, and threw myself into a Bikram hot room for thirty days in a row.

Bikram is completely different from Vinyasa, in everything from temperature to dialogue to the direction you’re supposed to face when you lay in shavasana. Vinyasa wasn’t anything like the practice that I had just devoted myself to for the better part of a month. But that didn’t stop me from feeling like I was still going to be effing terrific at it.

As you may have already guessed, that feeling wasn’t exactly spot-on.

You know how six year old girls perform in ballet recitals? A lot of them have the moves down for the most part, but there’s always that one in the back who’s completely clueless. Every now and then she kicks her leg out to the side (in the opposite direction as everyone else is kicking) or spastically shoots an arm up in the air (while everyone else is reaching gracefully towards the audience), and she spends the whole damn dance whipping her head around so that she can look at her friends and see what she’s supposed to be doing.

That was me in the Vinyasa studio.

The movements felt so fast in comparison to the slow, calculated postures of Bikram. My quads screamed in protest with each warrior pose and my arms shook by the third half push-up (the wonderfully named chattaronga). And another thing- I was sweaty.

Not light-jog sweaty. I was Bikram, distance-sprints, lacrosse-game-in-July-with-no-subs sweaty. It dripped from my arms, ran down my legs, stung my eyes and found its way up my nose. This also surprised me, as the room was a solid 20 degrees cooler than the sauna I usually practice in. But as I looked around, I noticed something even more surprising- not everyone was sweating like I was. In fact, it didn’t seem like anybody was sweating like I was. Even my darling friend Annabelle, who has a summer membership at the Vinyasa yoga studio and attended class with me twice this week, told me she had noticed that the tops of my feet had been sweating while hers had not. It appeared I had become something of a sweat anomaly.

This fascinated me. I went home and told my family, called a few friends, and considered sending out a tweet about how very, very sweaty I had gotten at my first post-Bikram yoga class. I googled something along the lines of does Bikram make you sweat a lot in other activities? and discovered a few possible explanations for my overzealous sweat glands:

  • I have a condition called Hyperhidrosis. (Nothing like a good look at WebMD to make you remember that death is imminent.)
  • I was born with more sweat glands than the average woman.
  • I am morbidly obese.
  • I am in good shape.

I chose to ignore the first three explanations and skip straight to the fourth. I’m in good shape! Those who are physically fit usually sweat more! All that Bikram and supplementary cardio have finally begun to pay off!

Well, kind of. 75 minutes in the Vinyasa studio and it hurt to lift my arms for three days, but I’m a fighter. The soreness was gone by my third class. By the end of the week I was noticing a lot of other people in the studio who seemed to be sweating as profusely as I was. To my delight, I also found that most of these especially sweaty people looked to be in terrific shape. (I was probably seeking out observational evidence to confirm my own theory, but I really just don’t want to have Hyperhidrosis.)

So all in all, Vinyasa was sweatier than expected and is well on its way to giving me biceps like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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I forced my mom and Annabelle into a post-class photo op. (Very few people can look this good while this sweaty.)

In other news, we have a very special week coming up! Tomorrow morning my mom and I shall be embarking on a yoga road trip. Tuesday through Friday we’ll be driving from Rhode Island to Cape Cod, mooching off of friends, hitting the beach, and of course, practicing a lot of yoga along the way. Personally, I’m most excited for 7 am on Friday morning: paddleboard yoga. We’re going to be yoga-ing on a freaking paddleboard. There’s a good chance it’s just going to turn into a sophisticated swimming lesson, but still.

So feel free to check in tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, because I’ll be posting every night of the trip. This is going to be a yoga adventure for the books, my friends.

Namaste,
Hannah

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.

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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-

THE BLOGGING WILL CONTINUE!

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?!)

Namaste,
Hannah

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.

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

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High School Musical levels of excited

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“Hannahsana”

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(impromptu sweaty dance party)

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

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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.

Namaste,
Hannah

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.

Namaste,
Hannah

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