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

 

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Posture of the Month: Spine Time – June 2017

Happy June!

This month we have another awesome posture for you to work on.

 The Spine Twisting Pose
ARDHA-MATSYENDRASANA

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What is it??

  • 150-degree rotation of the spine,
  • all vertebra rotating 1-5 degrees from top to bottom.

The spine twisting pose has some great benefits for your body:

  • Increases circulation and nutrition to spinal nerves, veins, and tissues
  • Improves spinal elasticity and flexibility
  • Helps cure lumbago and rheumatism of the spine
  • Improves digestion
  • Firms abdomen, thighs, and buttocks
  • Strengthens back and abdominal muscles
  • Increases flexibility of the hip and shoulder joints
  • Prevents and heals herniated disc
  • Detoxifying
  • Helps arthritis of the knee and sciatica

Running Clean

Monday, April 29th, 2013. I’ll never forget that morning. I woke up hungover from the weekend’s drinking that always seemed to extend itself through Sunday night. I was defeated, broken, out of shape, and needed a change.

I wouldn’t find sobriety for another two years, but this day was the start of my path to positive change. I wasn’t ready to admit yet that I struggled with alcohol addiction, but I was ready to start taking better care of myself. I decided that morning to start eating better with the help of Weight Watchers and get in a more regular exercise routine. I chose the only exercise I really knew: running.

I immediately fell in love with running and, combined with a more health conscious diet, my drinking reduced to just a couple of times a week. I didn’t have enough “points” to drink the way I wanted. That, unfortunately, would change once I hit my goal weight which amounted to over 50 pounds of weight lost.

As the drinking increased, so did the running. I think I used it to sort of “justify” my habit. The two couldn’t harmonize forever and after a few short stints of sobriety, I finally was able to put down drinking on March 2nd, 2015. Now nothing could hold me back from running…or so I thought.

I ran so much that I started racking up marathons in different states and set a goal to run a marathon in every state. Everything was going great, but eventually all of the “pounding” caught up with me and I suffered a severe iliotibial band injury. When I went to physical therapy, the therapist told me I had the tightest IT band he had ever seen. I was completely sidelined and couldn’t even run a mile. I felt fine on an exercise bike, in the pool and even doing light strength training, but running was out. I was devastated.

Eventually, after months of therapy, I was able to get back to running, but it was never quite right. I had to completely cancel a race in Austin, Texas and the next couple of marathons after that were a real struggle. My times were high and the pain I felt in the last six to eight miles of each race was excruciating. I thought many times that I was running my last marathon.

After running through pain and enduring the best I could, one day my friend Elissa suggested I try this thing called Bikram Yoga. I’ll be honest, I knew nothing about yoga let alone this Bikram Yoga of which she spoke so highly. My vision of yoga was a group of people sitting around, stretching their pinky toes and lying on their backs for most of the class (ha ha). I had no clue just how amazing it actually is.

As it turned out, Bikram Yoga is one of the most challenging workouts I’ve ever done both mentally and physically. It was exactly what I needed.

I started out doing Bikram once a week as a stretch day. I felt absolutely amazing after every class. My body was healing, my mind was clear and I felt…longer. That’s the only way I can describe it!

One class a week soon turned into two and before I knew it, I was hooked. I now go to three to five classes each week. My body feels younger, cleansed, refreshed.

I just completed my eleventh marathon in eleven states two weeks ago. Not only did I complete it, but I broke my personal record by over two full minutes. That IT band injury? I don’t even notice it.

That Austin marathon I had to back out of? I ran it in February. It was #10. I even found a Bikram studio in Texas. And sobriety?

As I write this I am 811 days sober. I am so grateful for the life I have today.

Each and every day is a gift, and if I get to go to Bikram it’s even sweeter.

Before yoga, recovery from a marathon was a one to two week process. Now, I just go to class the next day and I’m pain free. It’s that simple.

Finally, I can’t say enough about Bikram Yoga Portsmouth. I absolutely love each and every teacher there. They all have an amazing gift for making me feel confident as I grow as a yoga student, yet making sure I continue to be challenged, pushing me just a little further at just the right time.

Each teacher is unique in their own way. I truly, honestly, don’t have a favorite. They all get a perfect ten in my book. Thank you Bikram Yoga Portsmouth for not only restoring me on this quest to run 50 marathons, but for giving me just one more reason to stay sober each and every day. For that, I am forever grateful.

PJ Donahue is a musician and drum teacher who lives in Seacoast New Hampshire with his wife and daughter, Molly. You can hear more of his sound here: sometimes there are moments that can inspire an entirely new artistic direction. That is the story of River Sister.

Thirty Days, Thirty Different Classes

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We just finished another 30-day challenge here at BYP. Every year, I keep saying, “Every challenge is different.” If I am really get down to the meat of it, every day is what is actually different.

The day before the challenge I got really serious with myself. If I can go to yoga, then I should. Don’t skip class just because the challenge starts tomorrow. So I practice Sunday and Monday before we started.

Day One: Man, I am strong.

Day Two: Ugh. I am so glad I know that I can do this. That I’ve done this before. That I will get through this month.

Day Three: Gahd! Why do I do these every year?

Day Four: I usually take six classes a week. Why am I sore after just five days?

Day Five: I’m fine. I’ve got this.

Day Six: I don’t like to do yoga on Sundays. I want to sit in bed drinking tea. Wow. This Sunday morning class has great energy. No wonder people take the Sunday classes.

Day Seven: Holy heavens, I am SORE.

Day Eight: I mean, I’m really sore. Like my joints hurt. Tender to the touch.

Day Nine: Is this yoga even good for you? Maybe this challenge is damaging my joints.

Day Ten: EVERYTHING HURTS.

Day Eleven: Worst class I have had in years. YEARS. More tired and sore than when I had morning sickness.

Day Twelve: Come on. Is this a joke? Yesterday was my worst class in nine years and today, it was breeze. Everything felt 100% do-able. I guess that quote, “Don’t give up before the miracle” is true.

Day Thirteen: I think this yoga is killing me. Or maybe it is my kids who are trying to kill me. Why don’t they ever sleep? Don’t they like sleeping? Feeling rested?

Day Fourteen: As I drove in to the parking lot to the first tender rays of sunlight, I thought to myself, “If I weren’t on the challenge, I would honestly turn around and drive home right now. I don’t even care that I dragged myself out of bed at 5 am and drove all of the way in to town.” After class, I felt like a million bucks.

Day Fifteen: Why are there so many people here at six am? It is dark and cold.

Day Sixteen: Hey, my hip doesn’t hurt anymore. I can actually kick in Standing Bow.

Day Seventeen: Standing Bow feels great, but my Hands-to-Feet has gone backwards a couple of years. I haven’t locked my knees in weeks.

Day Eighteen: I think the yoga is the only reason I am surviving right now. Seriously, could someone sleep past 2 am?

Day Nineteen: I started this morning at -10, by Half Moon, I was back to zero. I am at least a +10 now.

Day Twenty: We have reached cruising altitude. I must say, I also learned a big lesson this week. During the challenge, I’ve had to take and teach a lot of the early bird classes. I usually stay up until about 11 pm each night and am exhausted and miserable the next day. Last night, I took a melatonin at eight o’clock, was asleep by nine and, get ready for this, was refreshed in the morning! I guess I’ve been creating my own personal hell. Not sure why it took my three weeks to figure it out, but I’m grateful for the lesson.

Day Twenty-One: Single digits, baby. By now, it’s gotten easy. It’s just what we’re all doing. #everydamnday It also helps that I’m getting more than five hours of sleep at night.

Day Twenty-two: I floated through today’s class. I wasn’t always 100% present, I know that, but we started breathing and the next thing I knew, we were doing Stretching and laying down for final Savasana.

Day Twenty-three: I worked 63 hours this week and was still able to make it to class every single day. I think coming to class is how I survived this week with grace.

Day Twenty-four: Full-on space case today. I started Standing Bow while the whole class was setting up the second set of Standing Head-to-knee. I set up Floor Bow instead of Full Locust. I kept hearing people laughing and wondering what the joke was about. Whatever it was, I didn’t have the mental grit to stay present today.

Day Twenty-five: I felt so strong today. From the first breath, I could feel how strong my abdominal and chest muscles were. I worked so hard in each set up to nail my alignment and depth that I spent most of each posture just holding it in stillness and listening to my breath. What an incredible feeling!

Day Twenty-six: I’m sleeping, I’m eating well, I’m stretching. Life is freakin’ grand.

Day Twenty-seven: I woke up and had a long conversation with my husband about how we could take today off and just do a double Tuesday. Thankfully, we came to our senses and got up off the couch after the Pats game and took the Sunday Sermon.

Day Twenty-eight: Right on time, two days before the start of my cycle, I walked into class with one of my normal outfits on. It didn’t fit right. The top was rolling down. I felt like I had a wedgie. “What makes you think this is a good outfit? It looks awful.” My stomach was sticking out. I felt terrible.

As we started the breathing, all I could think of was how uncomfortable my clothes were. And then we started Half Moon. As my body created those familiar shapes, I could see myself in the midst of all of my hormonal discomfort. It reminds me of this scene from Hook. “There you are, Peter.”

Day Twenty-nine: She-ra, Princess of Power is back! I worked so hard in this class I was high for hours after. My legs locked immediately in Hands-to-feet. I felt like Standing Bow was finally getting higher. I was rock-solid in Standing Head-to-knee. Yoga is SO FUN!

Day Thirty: Wow. This was a hard one. Sore, stiff, tired at the crack of dawn. In a funny way, I can’t believe it is already over. Where did 30 days go so quickly?

Comfortable in My Skin

When I took my first Bikram Yoga Class, I was 22 years old. I was a landscaper by day and a heavy drinker by night. I paired my Budweisers each day with at least a dozen American Spirits, if not two. My job was hard on my body and my best friend and I relaxed at the end of the day with some well-deserved brews.

After my first class, I felt amazing. The class itself was hard and uncomfortable, but after I felt light and happy. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the “yoga high” or what was happening in my body.

I had the perfect excuse not to return. I was too young to need this type of yoga.  It was hard and I was uncomfortable for several hours out of the day.  Yes, it’s only a 90-minute class, but I suffered from severe anxiety. I was uncomfortable from the moment I agreed to go until I was leaving the parking lot.

I have lived my whole life uncomfortable in my own skin.

So I quit. It took me five years to get back on the mat again.  At this point in my life, was no longer drinking, but still smoked a pack a day.  I started out small, going to class a couple of times a week.  The classes were still as hard as I remembered, but I had lost the bloat that comes from drinking a six pack of tall boys a night and that made the classes more tolerable.  My lungs burned in class, but not enough to keep me from craving that all-too-welcoming post-yoga smoke.

When we got a positive pregnancy test, I finally gave up the smokes. My daughter wasn’t going to grow up in a house with a smoker. Unfortunately, I also gave up the yoga. I wish I had known then what I know now about how yoga eases the effects of withdrawals physiologically, emotionally, and mentally.

I spent six years without drinking before deciding when my second child was two that my earlier struggles with drinking were probably just from being young and immature. I couldn’t handle my drinking before, but now I’d be able to cope and limit myself and control the types of behaviors that led me to quit in my early twenties.

I was a social worker, stressed to the max. Within a year, I was back drinking another six  pack most days and taking my stress out on everyone around me. I was so stressed that I needed a beer to relax. The funny part is that the alcohol always made my anxiety worse.

I was right back to that old ingrained fight-or-flight behavior.  I knew something had to give. My wife had given up telling me that she knew something that really would help with my stress, but I wasn’t going to practice yoga when I couldn’t get to class every day.

I was miserable and the stakes only kept getting higher at my job. I made the choice to leave my high-stress, unpredictable job and attend yoga teacher training. This scared me to death. I couldn’t talk in front of two people, answer the phone at my house, or make an appointment for myself. Forget about standing on a podium and teaching yoga to a large group of people. Somewhere I found the courage to go anyway.

I went to training and the question that played in my mind over and over again throughout those 99 classes surprised me. The question wasn’t whether I’d be able to teach; it was whether I’d be strong enough to keep up the sobriety that I’d sustained for two months when I got out of yoga hell.  I had this underlying pull telling me it was time to give it all up, but I wasn’t ready.  I continued to drink for another two years after graduating from teacher training.

What would it take to give up my crutch that didn’t actually help me?  I’m ashamed to say it took getting drunk, acting belligerent, and having my little girl ask me over and over on a car ride home from a birthday party, “Daddy, are you okay?  What’s wrong, Daddy? Daddy, are you okay?”  I was scaring and confusing one of the most important people in my life.

I woke up the next morning and remembered everything that had happened the night before. I told her never ever would I act that way again. It has been my intention from that point forward that she would not grow up in a household where she was on edge, where life was unpredictable, where secrets were held, and shame was the underlying feeling for the person that was her role model.

I am sober. Sobriety has changed my life. 

I had gotten sober before, with the support of my wife. I thought I could do it on my own again and for the first year, I did.

When we started the Sober Yogis program, I had a nagging feeling that I was going to have to do it. As I listened to each person speak, I made the decision not just to be a teacher, but to be a participant. Sober Yogis was the support system I didn’t know I needed. It changed the way I view myself as a sober person.

My sobriety was enhanced by knowing that I’m not alone in this plight to be sober.  In fact, it doesn’t even feel like a plight any more. I’m sober. This is who I am and I’m so proud of it.  I have a life where I feel good in my skin. I’ve come to realize through yoga that life is lived when we can go through moments of discomfort great and small and not suppress them with drugs, food, or alcohol. I can feel extremely happy, down in the dumps, anxious as all hell and just ride the feeling through.

For me, being sober, just like being a drinker, it is a choice.  As a fellow sober yogi once said, “I can have that hell back any time I want it.” Sobriety is a choice to be strong, a choice to be okay with feeling uncomfortable, it’s a choice to be in control, and it’s a truly powerful decision.

My daughter says to me all of the time, “I saved your life, didn’t I, Daddy?”  She knows I quit smoking and drinking to be a better dad to her and Judah.  Yes, Bella did save my life, but Sara saved my soul by bringing Sober Yogis to me.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I could live a life of happiness in my skin. Yet here I am: living the dream.

jaylon and kidsJaylon Curry is the father of two, avid yogi, chicken farmer, and co-owner of Bikram Yoga Portsmouth in New Hampshire.

I am Not Good in the Heat and Other Excuses

“I’d try hot yoga, but I’m not good in the heat.” I’ve heard that at least a hundred times or variations on the theme.

“I hate heat.”

“I can’t handle heat.”

“No, really, I hate the heat.”

“I tried it and I couldn’t handle the heat.”

I am the bearer of both good and bad news.

These are not reasons. These are excuses.

The good news is that now that you understand it is an excuse, you can take action. The bad news is that this is just an excuse and not a reason not to go to class.

The human body has a tremendously efficient and responsive thermoregulation system. Except in cases of illness, it does a wonderful job of constantly adjusting to changing external and internal temperature changes.

Your body is no different than any of billions of humans on the planet.

All along the equator, humans live in climates with a heat index much higher than a Bikram Yoga class. People survive Texas in the summer. Just a few decades ago, most did it without air conditioning. You, too, could survive there.

“But I am a special case….”

My friend, John, has a spinal cord injury that severed communication with his sweat glands. He cannot sweat. He uses a spray bottle to mist his skin when he gets hot and the water causes evapotranspiration to cool his body, just like yours. John can do hot yoga. You can, too.

Being in a hot yoga class is uncomfortable.

It’s hard to do yoga. It’s hard to look at yourself. It is hard to feel a body you have been trying to ignore for decades. You are hot and you think you might suffocate. You think your body just can’t handle it. These are thoughts. That doesn’t make them reality.

The secret to it all is, you can do it. You can show up and learn to breathe and focus on your body and not your mind. You can acclimate to the heat and take it one breath at a time and become more comfortable in your body. You can learn to do what you can today and not what you think you should be able to do by now, goldangit! You can become more comfortable in this moment, even if this moment is uncomfortable.

“I am not good in the heat” is a phrase that means “I am not comfortable being uncomfortable,” and this is normal. The human brain is designed to avoid discomfort. Within a fraction of a second, your body can classify any sensation as one to avoid or to seek. Before you even have time to rationalize, your mind will lead you toward avoidance.

If you are chased by a tiger, Avoid! Avoid! Get away and get safe. If you don’t want to take out the trash, well, its time to learn to control the mind and get the job done.

Reason, logic and patience are all gifts of our higher brain function. We can use our brains to either help ourselves in the moment or to hurt ourselves. It is the self-awareness that yoga brings that helps us to experience the present moment and act from a place of understanding and reason.

This is one of the greatest gifts of a hot yoga practice. We train over and over, pose by pose, to pause and to breathe in conditions of challenge and discomfort. We learn to quiet the mind, control the breath and listen to the body. “Am I safe? Am I okay?” we ask our bodies over and over in class.

When the answer is yes, we induce neuro-plasticity and retrain our brains not to fidget, hold our breath, or increase our heart rate under stress. This is why, in scientific testing, yogis have shown significant reductions in the stress hormone cortisol. This is why so many yogis report that yoga “reduces stress” even though their lives are as stressful as others.

Here are some other excuses, parading as “reasons”:

  • I am too old.
  • I am inflexible.
  • I am too fat.
  • I can’t.
  • Yoga hurts people.
  • I have __fill in the blank__ injury.
  • I am tired.
  • I have __fill in the blank__ disease.
  • I don’t have time.
  • My family needs me.
  • I don’t know what I’m doing.
  • I can’t afford it.

These excuses are all of the exact reasons that you need to do yoga. These are all factors in your life that yoga will help you heal from or deal with. I have never met a yoga studio owner who wouldn’t accept work/study or trade for yoga. If you are truly too busy to do yoga, you had better get to class before you die.

If you have seen yourself in one of those excuses, it may have started a diatribe in your head against me and how I don’t know what I’m talking about or, worse, about you and what a loser you are to have made an excuse.

You are not a loser; you are a human. While I take responsibility for saying some things that may have made you uncomfortable, I am not sorry in the slightest. That’s my job. I have made a career of helping people find comfort in their lives through uncomfortable acts and facts. I paid for the mirrors, but you’ve gotta do the work.

The payoff of all of that work is big. Peace. Well-being. Freedom from pain. Health.

In the words of my teacher, “You deserve to have the best life. I feel cry when I say that.” I feel a little cry myself, now that you mention it….

sara headshotSara Curry is the Owner and Director of Bikram Yoga in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She is Vice President of Seacoast Area Teachers of Yoga in Action, a non-profit that improves accessibility of yoga to traditionally under-served populations. She is also one of the creators of the Sober Yogis yoga and recovery program.