own your practice

It’s difficult for me to be a yoga practitioner. Have you ever done a google search for yoga? Or taken a look at the covers of yoga magazines? Here. Let me help you out. When I googled “Bikram yoga students” this is the first image that popped up:

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Here’s the second image I found:

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All the other images are not that different. There is definitely a lack of diversity in yoga. That is not a secret. Confession: I, a fat brown woman in her 40s does not feel comfortable in a yoga room. I don’t like being surrounded by people who I can throw across the room by simply sneezing. It irks me to be surrounded by people who shop at lululemon so much that they likely own stock in the company. It’s not just yoga, though. It’s gym culture in general that makes me squirm. If there were more inclusive spaces to practice, I’d go. Sadly, such spaces are not readily available. Those that do exist are under attack. So what’s a bad-ass queen to do? Own your practice.

When I first started at BYT, I was skeptical. However, I was going to make sure I made the most of my one-month trial. Charles was the instructor that day. After signing me in and walking me through basic etiquette, he said that practitioners are very diverse. In the room, I’d see every age, every race, every body type. He assured me that no one would judge me once the practice got started. This is typical intro-to-yoga speak. I half bought it.

Turns out, he was right. BYT is as diverse as one can get for Arizona (sorry, I’m a California snob). Plus, I was so busy battling the heat that frankly, I just didn’t care about any other excess noise in the room. Don’t get me wrong. Every yoga place as the stereotypical yoga folks practicing. As someone who doesn’t have the luxury of finding safe, welcoming spaces to work out in, I’ve learned that you just have to buckle down and create your own safe space. Note: It takes a village to do this.

Owning your practice means creating a space that’s carved out just for you. For me, it means finding an ally or two (usually an instructor) and let them know what you need from the practice. It also means being honest about your insecurities and your strengths. Everyone has something to offer the practice, and everyone has something to work on. Honesty and perseverance are the best way to establish ownership.

I learned this YEARS ago when I did kickboxing in Goleta, CA. Most of the women in class were sorority-pageant-beauty queen types. My roomies and I were the anomalies. We were all brown. I was the only fat one. It sucked. However, when everyone dropped out of the practice, I stuck with it until I left Goleta. This is largely because I found an ally in my instructor Abel.  He helped me own my practice by seeing my strengths (and wiping my sweat puddles… sorority-pageant-beauty queen types don’t sweat in kickboxing). An ally can make or break your practice.

When I started yoga years ago, it had nothing to do with an actual interest in yoga. It was that the instructor, Dolian, was unlike any Filipina I had ever met. That she reminded me of my mom and aunts (sans the damaging fat girl comments) drew me in. What made me stay, was how she helped me own my yoga practice. In owning my practice, I was reclaiming and cherishing my body – something that took me nearly thirty years to figure out.

A good ally can help you navigate your practice. In the end, it’s you and your desire to stick it through – regardless of the excess noise – is what will help you own your practice.

Celebrating every BODY,

the fierce fathlete

 

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never say never

As promised, here are pix from finishing the challenge. Don’t worry. I always bite the medal.

If you told me a year ago that I would re-visit the 30-Day Bikram Yoga challenge, I likely would have laughed in your face. As I have mentioned previously, I did it because I was half way there and I was ready to do it. When the glass is half full, you may as well go for broke, right? I did the challenge because I happened to fall into the opportunity to finish. Not to diminish the accomplishment, but I want to be demistify the magnitude of  doing something like this. In fact, I would have never considered conquering a 30-day challenge if I did not fail last year.

In order to suceed, I needed to fail first.

There you have it: the secret ingredient to every success story known to humankind. No one knows failure like I do. I have been rejected by over one hundred jobs (and counting). Yes, I KNOW FAILURE. For people that know me, and know my work ethic, this is hard to believe. But this is a truth that I am always haunted by.

Having said that, I also know what it’s like to bounce back from failure. Sometimes it takes a concerted effort to get back on your feet. Other times, it’s a matter of an opportunity presenting itself, and you just striking while the iron is hot. Either way, failure has a purpose. Sometimes, it means that you pick up pieces you never thought you’d run into again. I don’t like to think of my life as a series of successes and failures. Instead, I like to think of it as a series of events that I have survived.

Yes, I finished (and survived). That road is never easy, nor is it paved in gold. It rarely ever is. Regardless, it’s good to take a moment and celebrate the victories.

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I found this somewhere on Facebook…. Call me crazy, but I think it’s great advice. 

Celebrating EVERY body,

the fierce fathlete

30 days of Bikram Yoga

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Tricked you! This photo is from when I finished BYT’s 26 in 2 challenge. An updated pic with my shiny new medal will be on its way soon.

Remember when I said I would never do a 30 Day Bikram Yoga challenge? Yeah. I lied. In case you missed it, I wrote all about it here.

Right now, I’m happy to say that I actually finished. Maraming salamat to the folks at Bikram Yoga Tempe for helping me push through. When I attempted this challenge last year, I hated the 2.5 weeks I stayed in. It was exhausting and counter-productive. That’s largely why I opted out and switched to the anniversary challenge.

So why put myself through the same torture?!

In truth, a lot has happened in this last year. Some things that factored in my second attempt at conquering a 30 Day Bikram Yoga challenge:

  1. I was already halfway there. To complete the Bikram Yoga Tempe Anniversary Challenge, I had to complete fourteen classes in the last eighteen days. After doing the calculations, I realized that the 30th day landed on the day that I would have to fly out to San Francisco for the holiday break. Luckily, the nice folks at BYT allowed me to deposit those last eighteen days into the 30 Day Bikram Yoga challenge.
  2. I have a much better sense of my practice. Last year, I only went to the 5:30am classes. Waking up at 4:30am every morning, coupled with my heavy teaching load, and extra long days left me exhausted. It came to a point where I felt I was actually hurting my practice more than I was helping it. This time around, I now know that taking some classes in the afternoon or evening is actually good for me.
  3. Unlike many other yoga places, BYT actually factors in one rest day per week. This is a total godsend!
  4. I was ready for the challenge.

To celebrate finishing two challenges in a row (and to turning the big 4-0 in the next few weeks), I’ll share a series of posts that address the various lessons I have learned in going full tilt boogie in my practice. These posts will be tagged under: The Fathlete’s Guide to Surviving a Bikram Yoga Challenge. Hopefully, you will enjoy the talk story. For those of you who are already engaging in some type of yoga practice, I hope my stories help you with your processes. For those of you who hesitate to even start, I hope my stories can assist you in re-considering.

See you soon!

Celebrating EVERY body,

the fierce fathlete

the entitlement is real

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Today was one of those days.

As usual, I got to the yoga studio at least 15 minutes early. It’s all part of my routine because I need to sign in, settle my things in the locker room, and then head over to the hot room to set up my mat. I’m really particular with how I set up my mat. I believe that in most classes, there is room for everyone to indulge in her or his practice. Most people forget that when you lay our mat down, you need to look at the mirror, not the floor. Each person needs just a sliver of their body in the mirror to check form and alignment. My biggest pet peeve is when someone (especilly when said person arrives to the practice late) lays their mat directly in front of me, thus blocking my access to the mirror. It seems like a little thing, but it’s such a sign of entitlement.

How you lay your yoga mat tells me who you are in life. It tells me if you’re aware of those around you and care enough to share space with them. It tells me if you’re privileged, selfish, and have zero awareness of anyone but yourself.

Yes, a woman arrived late. There was plenty of space in class, yet she laid her mat directly in front of me. This happened when I was in the midst of the breathing exercise and didn’t realize how blatant her rudeness was until I looked in the mirror and was nowhere to be found.

Therein lies the problem. In one breath, I was rendered invisible by this woman.

I have my days when I hate my practice. Today was one of those days.

I am, among many things, a scholar who specializes in issues of race, class, gender, culture, etc. My research is always on my mind. As I get older, I constantly confront questions about the body (more specifically, my body) and the ways in which it has to experience colonial legacies of subjugation, and exploitation.

So WTF does this have to do with this overprivileged lady hogging my spot in the mirror?!

Let me repeat what I just wrote earlier: In one breath, I was rendered invisible by this woman. (Since it’s now in a BOLD and PRETTY color, I hope you caught that.)

As Susanna Barkataki eloquently explains in her blog post “How to Decolonize Your Yoga Practice”:

The current state of yoga in the United States and elsewhere in the Western world highlights the power imbalance that remains between those who have access to wealth, an audience and privilege in contrast to those who have been historically marginalized…. By remaining unaware of the history, roots, complexity and challenges of the heritage from which yoga springs and the challenges it has faced under Western culture, they perpetuate a re-colonization of it by stripping its essence away.

You see, it’s not just the mat that I’m so angry about. It’s the colonial entitlement that is carried on and perpetuated in yoga (yes, ALL forms and practices are implicated here). My yoga practice is deeply connected my sense of social justice and my commitment to education. How I engage in my practice and how I share space with my fellow yogis, are all connected to some of my core fundamental beliefs. Granted, I’m not a gold-star yogi all the time. However, I am mindful in my practice. I am aware that yoga has been co-opted by the capitalist world and transformed into a vegan-when-convenient, chai tea drinking, Whole Foods shopping, lululemon wearing monstrosity. I am aware that a once deeply spiritual practice has become a co-opted space for the elite. Yes. I’m am absolutely aware of how ironic it is that I still manage to show up to class. However, grappling with decolonization needs to start somewhere.

So it’s not just about the mat. It’s what erasing a fellow yogi from her practice means to someone like me.

While I still have fantasies of gouging this woman’s eyes out, I will not end this post on a sour note. Instead, I would like to thank the kind gentleman who was practicing in the row behind me. When this over-entitled woman erased me from the practice, I hesitated to move to my right because I would end up blocking him (sorry, I’m not in the business of erasing a fellow yogi). In a gesture of solidarity, he actually moved his mat over, and then tapped me on the shoulder and gave me the thumbs up to move, so that we would all have enough space.

Just like that. My faith in the people who practice has been restored.

Celebrating EVERY body,

the fierce fathlete

challenge accomplished.

… and I managed to post this within the year that I actually completed the challenge!

To re-cap from my last post, I signed up for and officially finished this challenge:

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YES! I gotta send some love and thanks to the folks at Bikram Yoga Tempe. Every year, they organize an anniversary challenge to celebrate another year of running a successful business. It is a well-deserved celebration because they run an AMAZING studio. (Ahem, all you other BY places really need to take note!)

When I first signed up, I thought this challenge was going to be easy peasy. 26 classes in 2 months (9 weeks) is no big deal for me, since I average 3-4 classes per week anyway. However, this semester I was traveling a lot more than I did last year. Therefore, I had to go full tilt boogie during the last part of the challenge. Just to give you a sense of how hard I had to push, I went to 14 classes during the last 18 days of the challenge. IMG_7761

Though I had to push at the end, I’m glad that I put another challenge in the books. In fact, because I had to go so often toward the end, I decided to continue and put those last 18 days toward a 30 Day Challenge. Yup. I’m doing what I had declared I wouldn’t do: complete 26 classes in 30 days. However, after doing some calculations, the 30 Day Challenge would end on the day that I have to fly out for the Thanksgiving holiday. Therefore, it would be a great way to bring in the holiday break. As of this writing, I am seven classes (and eight days) away from finishing my second Bikram Yoga challenge of the year. Once the challenge is done, I’ll give a full report, including why I decided that things would be different this time around. Until then….

Celebrating EVERY body,

the fierce fathlete

remember that time…

…when I signed up for the yoga challenge? Remember when I posted my update? No?

Well, there’s a reason for that. I just never got around to it… until now… almost a year later. To recap, last fall, I joined BYT’s yoga challenge. Yes, I finished. Though I nearly faltered in the end, I actually finished. I have a cute little BYT tote to prove it, too! Yay me! Finishing was a miracle. Last fall, I was teaching FIVE courses, and working on a bunch of other stuff which caught up to me mid-semester. The last two weeks of the challenge was really tough for me. I was homesick, my work schedule was full, and I ended up doing stuff I told myself I’d never do. Am I glad I did the challenge? Hell yes. Would I do something like that? Um. It depends. Here are my two cents on challenges.

Originally, I wanted to a 30-day Bikram Yoga challenge. At BYT, it’s 26 classes in 30 days. After 2.5 weeks, I was done.  I resented going to class and when you don’t love what you’re doing, then the whole thing is pointless. For me, the 30-day and 60-day (52 classes in 60 days) challenges aren’t productive. There’s too much prep and my body just craved rest. Kudos to people who can do the 30 and 60-day challenges. I’m just not one of them.

Some people double up in order to meet their goal. However, I learned the hard way that two classes in the same day es no bueno para mi. Having at least twelve hours in between classes is essential for me. Also, when you practice that much, it’s natural to resort to taking a super LONG break when the challenge is done. Personally, I have a hard time bouncing back from long breaks. In the process, I learned that while doing the 30 and 60-day challenges, I’m basically binge-practicing. Again, this isn’t good for me. I prefer consistency over bulk quantity.

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To restore my sanity, I transitioned into the 12-year anniversary challenge, which required four classes per week for eight weeks. This was much more doable, even with my heavy schedule. Plus, it got me the cool bag you see above.

Currently, I’m learning that going to Bikram yoga three to five times a week suits me best. I need the flexibility.

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While I’m not into OD-ing on yoga, I’m definitely open to trying another challenge. To celebrate their 13-year anniversary, BYT is holding another challenge: complete 26 classes in 2 months. This means you need to complete at least three classes per week. Personally, I think this is perfect! I’m traveling monthly this semester, so it helps me get into the good habit of practicing regularly, while giving me some flexibility with my travel schedule. BYT, I love you folks!

To end, I’d like to share some yoga news (that has absolutely NOTHING to do with me). These days, I’m totally obsessed with Big Gal Yoga.  I found out about Valerie when I read this article. From there, I started following her IG account. She’s incredible, and inspires my own practice. Valerie recently decided to take her practice to the next level by going to teacher training. Check out her GO FUND ME page! As soon as the funds are available, you know I’m gonna support her! It would be great if you did too!

Photo stolen from Big Gal Yoga's Go Fund Me page: http://www.gofundme.com/gb3mvqm4.

Photo stolen from Big Gal Yoga’s Go Fund Me page: http://www.gofundme.com/gb3mvqm4.

Celebrating EVERY body,

the fierce fathlete

yoga challenge

It’s been a while. I know. Though it’s been a while, I’ll keep this one short and sweet:) I’m still doing yoga at Bikram Yoga Tempe. Currently, I’m participating in the BYT 12 Year Anniversary Challenge. It’s an eight week commitment where you practice at least four times a week. Admittedly, I started with a BANG because I started off doing the 30 Day Challenge (26 classes in 30 days). However, this is a huge semester for me (which explains the absence). After the first two weeks of the challenge, I was on fire, going to class six days a week. After that, coordinating going to yoga while teaching five courses, re-designing our core courses, getting a jumpstart on job applications, writing my book proposal, working on an article, and just maintaining basic sanity, I kinda’ lost it! Luckily, when that happened, the studio announced the BYT 12 Year Anniversary Challenge. I just switched over and have a start date that’s a few weeks earlier than most. Going four times a weeks is still challenging because the work keeps on piling on. I go to campus everyday and stay for at least eight hours a day, often coming home after 7pm. When I’m home, I have dinner and then just conk out. Even with the yoga, I’m not sure how healthy this is. I have days where I feel like I can barely breathe. Personally, I think I’m using the yoga as insurance to do so.

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This is the wall of participants. I’m towards the bottom.

The nice thing about the challenge is that there are a ton of people doing it. I like feeling that I’m in good company. These last two weeks have been really challenging and while I have a few sessions to spare, I’m afraid that I may fall behind – especially since I’m out of town during my last week of the challenge.

For now, the best thing I can do is dig my heels in and do my best to simply show up.

There’s a lot I can say about my practice. At some point, I’ll share when I have time. For now, I’ll say that I’m surprised that I can put up with the mundane nature of Bikram Yoga. It’s the same sequence and the same script. Day in and day out, the difference is you and your body. The instructors always say that it’s called yoga practice, not yoga perfect. This is true. My body does something different everyday. Sometimes I’m really flexible and sometimes I’m sore and stiff as all heck. The practice never lies. I can always feel the pangs of my life during class. Sometimes it’s pleasurable, other times, it’s uncomfortable. For me, yoga is the “me” time that forces me to confront the pleasure and discomfort.

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There are complicated poses I can’t bare to do, but the one pose I have the hardest time with is the camel pose.I can’t say camel pose gets me weepy and emotional, but it does suffocate me. Technically, it’s not a difficult pose and physically, I’m capable of doing it. For some reason, transitioning into this pose is really difficult, because I always feel this odd choking sensation – like someone is pulling me from behind. I transition as best as I can, but usually, I collapse forward. I’m working on it….

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It is my firm belief that no matter how sane and peppy I am, by the time we get to fixed firm pose, all I hear is “BIG SPERM pose.” There. I admitted it. It’s a terrible dirty secret that I harbor during each and every class. I can never take this pose seriously because I can’t get over the whole BIG SPERM thing. (hahaha)

Anyhoo… the challenge is become a more difficult because the work is piling on. Let’s hope this all ends well.

Celebrating EVERY body,

the fierce fathlete