BBL Gets a Makeover!

In 2012, we started a program at Bikram Yoga Portsmouth called Bikram’s Biggest Loser. This program was motivated by my older sister’s inspiring story. Read it here.

In a nutshell, my sister, Gina, found her way to the yoga on a regular basis nine years after taking her first class and hating it/herself. She battled self-hatred and obesity most of her life and found love and respect for herself on her yoga mat.

In the world of yoga, fat people are greatly underrepresented. Did you notice I said fat? I said it on purpose. “Overweight” implies that there’s “right” weight and, frankly, I’m done with that dogma.

While more than a third of Americans are categorized as “obese“, the percentage of practicing yoga students who fit those characteristics hover near the single digits. I wanted to change that.

Around the country, “Fat Yoga” studios have opened catering to obese yogis. Studios added “Curvy Yoga” or “Yoga for Round Bodies” and that never sat well with me. At our studio, we never differentiated between kids and adults. We don’t offer special classes for athletes or the elderly. Why would we exclude people from our regular schedule based on their weight?

How would it serve anyone to isolate fat people to a single class once a week?

A beautiful thing happens when all yogis practice together. It promotes the understanding that we are all the same on the deepest levels. I wanted something different for BYP. I wanted inclusion.

I wanted people to know that BYP was a safe place to practice yoga for anyone. I wanted students who had a BMI over 30 to know they wouldn’t be the only fat person in the room. I wanted to spread the word that my teachers knew how help people get into poses if there were big breasts or big bellies in the way, or how to approach a pose if thick thighs made the traditional execution impossible. I wanted people to understand that no matter who you are and what struggles you face, we were not going to judge you.

We modeled the program, at first, after the popular TV show The Biggest Loser. Not for the rapid (and reportedly dangerous) weight loss, but for the trainers’ intense belief in the participants’ abilities to achieve that which they did not yet believe in themselves. On TBL people’s ideas of themselves as quitters and losers transformed to that of achievers and athletes. We saw that happen in our students every day at yoga.

We knew the tantalizing draw of weight loss would bring in lots of clients. We were featured on the morning news and 43 people registered for our first challenge. Nationally, most people report that they try their first yoga class for either weight loss or fitness goals.

And people did lose weight. A lot of it. Our first winner lost 71 pounds and cut his cholesterol in half. One woman dropped eight dress sizes, four inches off her thighs. In five years, participants have lost nearly a collective ton of weight.

Some people didn’t lose weight. Not a pound. A few students even gained weight, but something else important was happening. People’s lives were changing. They were standing up for themselves at work. They were lowering dosages of blood pressure medication or going off anxiety meds. BBL participants found community, made friends, and felt a part of something. They rallied each other when they wanted to quit. They quieted that evil critic in their own heads. They learned to look in the mirror with pride, not shame.

I have a secret to share. I never cared if anyone lost any weight.  

I only cared that people found health and wellness and happiness. I knew that the potential for weight loss would draw people to the program because that is the song of our culture. Lose weight and be worth something! My vision was that if I could get them to show up, people would learn to love and respect themselves on the mat and the rest would fall away.

My vision came true. It worked.

Everything I thought the program could be, it was and even more. Last year, we added the Fueled and Fit program with nutritionist Erin Holt. Erin’s life goal is to get everyone in the world to stop dieting forever and learn to eat and listen to their bodies so they can fuel themselves and feel good. She strives to help people heal their convoluted relationships with food.

With Erin’s work, the program dug even further into our deep-seated beliefs about food, body image, and self-worth. Last year’s program pushed us to make a big change in how we structure and name the program to better represent the power and efficacy of dedicating three months of your life to healing your self and setting your life on a new path for good.

Last season, we had optional EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) sessions with Cheri Keirstead. This year, we’ll offer these tapping sessions as a criteria of the challenge. EFT is a psychological acupressure tool that allows you to practice calming your limbic system while simultaneously talking through issues and thought patterns that underlie your biggest challenges. Some participants worried that the tapping was a little too woo-woo-weirdo for them, but the folks who actually attended the sessions saw amazing results. Hey, sometimes the crazy hippie stuff works.

In this blog post, Erin Holt addresses the intersection between woo-woo weirdo and science. Tapping works because you calm unconscious stress responses to emotionally-charged thoughts and memories while allowing yourself to put words to your feelings. Studies clearly show a naming emotions reduces neurological and biochemical response to them.

We made the choice to model the program after our successful Sober Yogis program as a challenge, no longer a competition. The challenge is to commit to yourself for 90 days. To dig deep into the parts of your life that are holding you back. To look at food as your fuel, not your enemy. To stop dieting forever. To heal your body and your mind. To gain control of chronic illness. To let go of patterns that no longer serve you. To create habits that will drive the rest of your life.

Participants who meet the requirements of the challenge win a month of unlimited yoga at their host studio. There’s no longer a BBL winner. With our new program, we all win. The goal is to take three months of your life to make changes to the way you move, eat, and think that will lay the groundwork for how you live the rest of your life.

We won’t be taking weights or body measurements. Instead, we’ll measure depression and anxiety scales, and social-connectedness.

This new format allows us to expand our reach with this program from obesity to a myriad of challenges like: PTSD, disordered eating, chronic illness, debilitating injury, depression, anxiety, self-hatred, trauma, addiction, anger management, stress-reduction, body dysmorphia and more.

It is with great pleasure that our team introduces to you the new and improved Commit to 90 program.

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Visit our website for more information and details on the challenge rules and resources.

We look forward to welcoming you to this supportive community,

Sara, Jaylon, Emily, Erin, Cherie and all of the teachers at Bikram Yoga Portsmouth and Epping

BBL 3.0 Yeah

 

#findthe44percent

In 2012, Yoga Journal published the findings of their yoga market study revealing that over 20 million Americans practice yoga. This number represents less than 9% of the US population.

An astonishing 44% of Americans consider themselves aspiring yogis, or people who want to try yoga.

9% of Americans practice yoga. 44% want to try.

From this information was born the #findthe44percent project. After watching Kim Kardashian try to #breaktheinternet with her derriere, yoga studios all over the country decided to put the same effort into bringing awareness of yoga.

Driven by the therapeutic potential of the practice, yogis all over the country are using social media to try to #findthe44percent who haven’t found the time, the location or the courage to give yoga a shot.

Studios are running #findthe44percent promotions and posting articles on the web targeting new students.

Individuals in other lines of business have questioned the logic of competing yoga businesses promoting in tandem. Proponents of the movement beg to differ.

One of the foundational principles of yoga is aparigraha or non-grasping. By not trying to hold on to ideas, materials, wealth or possessions, one brings abundance to their life. “I have always believed that more yoga anywhere means more yoga everywhere,” says #findthe44percent founder Sara Curry. “I don’t care if it is at my studio or another or what discipline speaks to someone, as long as people are finding a way to a practice that can help them feel better and enjoy life more.”

“Maybe it is a little selfish, too,” said Curry. “People are a lot nicer after a good class. Can you imagine what traffic would be like if it was 50% post-savasana yogis?”

You can help, too. Ask your local studio about their 2015 #findthe44percent promotion.

Bring a friend to yoga and check in with #findthe44percent at your favorite studio.

Post an article you found suitable for fledgling yogis and tag it #findthe44percent.

Talk your mom into finally trying a class. Maybe you could win a month of unlimited yoga. #findthe44percent.

Battling Diabetes through Bikram Yoga

Type 1 Diabetes also known as Juvenile Diabetes or Diabetes Melitus is a genetic condition usually affecting children.

Juvenile Diabetes has nothing to do with an unhealthy lifestyle, eating too much sugar, or lack of exercise. There is genetic abnormality on chromosome six that causes the white blood cells of the body to attack the insulin-producing portion of the pancreas killing the hormone which enables the body to metabolize carbohydrates. Without insulin a person will die because there is no way for the cells to get the nutrients they need for survival.

When I was 10 years old, I lost 30 pounds in one month. I was lethargic and unable to wake up for school.  My parents were convinced that I was depressed and did not want to attend school. When I went to the doctor a blood sugar test showed that my blood sugar levels were in the 600s (normal range is 80-120).  A blood sugar this high can lead to coma and eventually death.  It was determined that I had Juvenile Diabetes.

At New York University Hospital I learned the ropes of living with a chronic disease.  Insulin shots, carbohydrate counting, and blood sugar testing became my new way of life.  Hospital visits, scary lows and highs, and anxiety and depression inevitably came with the diabetes.

I once heard an analogy that having diabetes is like pushing a giant boulder up a hill all day long.

The next day it rolls back down and you do it all over again.  One never gets a day off. It is a full time job.  Fortunately, this has made me determined, with a willingness to try new things.

When I was 26, I underwent an experimental pancreas transplant. The surgery required a daily regimen of anti-rejection drugs and steroids.

After a very long and complicated surgery, I was no longer diabetic.

I could wake up in the morning and not push up the giant boulder.  I could take my son for a walk in his stroller and enjoy a cup of coffee without testing, shots, or worrying about the diabetes “grind”.   Most importantly, I was free of the fear of the complications that come with long-term diabetes; such as blindness, heart disease, nerve pain, kidney disease, and a shorter life expectancy.  I was cured!

Unfortunately, three years later, I started to get very sick.  A biopsy revealed that my new pancreas was failing.  The pancreas had enlarged and adhered to many of my internal organs.  After a nine hour surgery the pancreas was removed.

I woke up in intensive care a diabetic again.

I grieved for a long time.  I was depressed, but knew that I had to brush myself off and keep going for the sake of my son.  Over time, I went back to work as a teacher and got back into running.  I have always been a runner and found that exercise has been a key to healthy blood sugars and emotional happiness.

A friend of mine watched me struggle with depression after the failed transplant. She recommended I try Bikram Yoga. She described the physical and emotional benefits.  I was hesitant because I was fearful that the extreme heat would affect my blood sugars in a negative way.  I asked my doctor and she told me to test before and after class to see how my body would react.

I  was very impressed at the physical intensity, but simultaneous meditative aspect of the yoga.  I continued to practice 3-4 times a week and noticed that, over-time, I was requiring less long-acting insulin and my blood sugars seemed to have less extreme fluctuations. Right after class, I noticed some high blood sugars, but this was an adrenaline spike that has dissipated over time.  After two years of steady practice, I decided to become a teacher to make this yoga an integral part of my life.

Teacher training was challenging, but inspiring.  I was able to make yoga and health the main focus of my life for 9 weeks.  Doctor Tracy, a physician from Colorado State, described a new study showing that elevated heat makes the body use insulin more effectively. This is important for non-diabetics, too, as elevated insulin levels can lead to Type II Diabetes.

He also described the circulatory benefits of the postures on many of the organs that can get destroyed by diabetes.  Improving circulation is extremely important to diabetics.  To learn about his study please read his research.

It took about four weeks to figure out the right insulin-carb-yoga combination, but I found that if I practiced 7 times a week, my blood sugars were always normal.  I was sitting in lecture one evening and burst into tears of joy because I was not on an ultimate road to diabetes complications.  I felt my first hope since my transplant.

One speaker at teacher training described how westerners love our “things”.   Not just our material possessions but also our ailments and our problems.  We say things like “my knee problem”, “my arthritis”, “my addictions”, “my diabetes”…I began to think differently about my diabetes, my childhood of illness, and my transplant rejection. I am not these things. They do not have to be mine. Diabetes is something that I have to deal with, but when I am not testing my blood sugar or taking my shot I do not have to let it define me.

Most importantly this yoga, allows me to be completely free of my diabetes in my mind for 90 minutes.

I am free of my disease in there. In the hot room, I am not a diabetic. I am one of many in the room who is overcoming an obstacle. As Sara says, I am simply doing the best I can with the body I have today. There are people in there who have faced and continue to face much bigger obstacles than I. We are allies in there working through our stuff. By focusing on our postures and our breath we are simply people trying to “lock our knees”.

Update: This year I experienced something called “diabetes burnout”.  

A great yogi I met at the studio, Charlene, once said “bad feelings don’t last forever, but the good ones don’t either. This yoga can help us get back to those good feelings again.”

The emotional feelings, as with any chronic illness, that come with type 1 Diabetes are complex, ranging through depression, exhaustion, resentment, anger, and sometimes forced acceptance.

I sat in my doctors office several months ago upset after hearing that, even with all of my work (testing blood sugars, taking shots, counting every carbohydrate), I have the very beginning stages of diabetes retinopathy.  This affects blood vessels in the light-sensitive tissue called the retina that lines the back of the eye. It is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes.

I turned to my doctor and just said, “I don’t feel like I can do this anymore”. He said, “I get it. Really I do. Tell me, what other options do you have?”

It is times like these that remind me of what Charlene said. This was definitely a bad time, but there was something that I knew could give me strength again–the hot room.

There is something that happens in that room.  It is not a loud or exciting event with fireworks and music, but rather a quiet voice that comes to me and to other students as well.  Every time I make it through a difficult posture or can lie still in savasana, this yoga tells me deep down in its quiet subtle way, “You’ve got this. Keep going.

Diabetics are prone to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease. In fact heart attacks and other cardiovascular complications cause the death of nearly three out of every four people with type 1 diabetes, compared with just one in four in the general population.

Yesterday, I went to the doctor. With a resting heart rate of 56 and a blood pressure of 100/50, the doctor told me that I am physically the same as a healthy 14-year old. I know this yoga keeps me healthy: physically and emotionally. I know it is responsible for my great numbers.  I know it is what helps me keep going. I know it has helped me get back to those “good feelings” again.

I’ve got this.

ImageErin Fleming is a Bikram Yoga instructor and Elementary School teacher from Lebanon, Maine. She would be happy to talk more with you at the studio or reach out to her here. Please note: Erin is not an endocrinologist. All individuals with diabetes or pre diabetic conditions should consult a specialist.