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

 

A New Era: The End of Breastfeeding

After four years and seven months of breastfeeding, my days as a milch cow are over.  In one week, I lost four pounds and one cup size.

I can’t believe the clothes that I fit in now that I’m no longer a D-cup. Medium tops would always be a belly-shirt or I’d be exploding out the top like Pam Anderson. Dozens of people keep asking me: What are you doing? Are you on a diet?  You’re melting away!

Nope. Just stopped the nursing. Its amazing how much smaller your body looks without the extra flesh on top. And I’ve missed these clothes! I remember looking through a box last fall and thinking, “Why am I holding on to this stuff?” It had been five years since I’d worn any of it (pregnant or nursing or pregnant AND nursing).  Hello again, little fitted tees and dresses with spaghetti straps!

Other moms told me my energy would be through the roof. I certainly feel much more productive now that I’m not nourishing another person with my body. It takes that weight-of-the-world off your shoulders. Not there there aren’t a million things to be done, it just doesn’t feel like that much more than I can handle.

More than it feeling like I had more energy, stopping breastfeeding felt like someone stopped stepping on me all day long.

And I’m cleaning out my closets. And the basement. Who needs a crib? A changing table?  Six pairs of adorable little sneakers?

So long, SI pain!

Good god, Jim! The last time I felt like this, Cynthia and Ky had come to do Advanced with us after winning the International Championship in 2007. It was the first class I felt like I was making progress in my body, not just surviving or recovering. Not only can I pick up my foot in Standing Head-to-Knee, but I can put my head on my knee at 6:30 am.

Bella was about 18 months old at the time. We have some really cute pictures of her in class with us and her soggy diaper. It was the first time I felt like I could actually try in Guillotine without dislodging my sacrum on the left.

My strength is back. I have control over my abdominal muscles. I can actually hold Peacock and Cock and Lifting Lotus. I really never anticipated that I would take so long to get back to those places. The first time I tried Peacock postpartum it was like I had never done it before.

Cock? Postpartum, I was back to being able to lift my Lotus up only a half an inch! I remember sitting down the day after Bella was born and leaning forward. My rectus abdominus actually folded in half! My only consolation was that I knew I had done it before, so I knew I would get there again.

My flexibility is progressing. I can finally push in Hands-to-Feet, Tortoise, Rabbit and Frog. For nearly five years, every time I would try to go deeper, it would cause that horrifying sacroiliac pain. The chiropractor helped me to get my sacrum level again in 2007, but tight psoas and piriformus kept straining the joint.

I have to credit Emmy Cleaves with resolving my SI and hip problems. When I saw her in November 2010 at the Women’s Retreat in Orlando, she helped every woman in the room with hip pain. “If you have a chronic pain in the hip, it can generally be traced to Triangle.” She corrected each and every one of us. She sat right on me. Rode me like a donkey.

The only correction Bikram has ever given me was to push my hips more forward in Triangle. Laura always corrects me to get my hip forward, but I never got it until she showed us all of the pit falls. I’d get my hip forward, but my whole torso would come with it. I’d get low enough, but I’d have tilted my hips in the set up. More often than not, I just wasn’t pushing my left hip forward because my psoas was too tight.

Since then, my pain has been slowly diminishing. I stretch my hip flexors and piriformus every single day. Now that I bring my attention to them, I can feel how tight they are in Half Moon back bend and Camel. My hips have been sore for about three months. In a great way. Like I’m doing double sessions for rugby. Triangle is hard as hell every single time.

I’ve also been seeing Paul Caswell at Performance Muscular Therapy in Portsmouth. Absolutely amazing. My first visit, I thought I was going to jump up off the table and punch him. Or maybe just bawl my baby blues out.

I knew I had tight hips, but I had no idea I had so much garbage in my hamstrings and quadriceps. By the third session, the massage to my legs and hips just felt like a deep massage. I was shocked by the absence of pain. Gives me hope for the future. I conquered the back pain in 2004 and the hip pain in 2011. Namaste, BABY!

Pregnancy Blog 2: Sweet Sleep at Last!

“Nine months on, nine months off,” my arse!
They must not be talking about those of us whose bodies are still worried there might be another potato famine. I got a call last week from a woman out West who was concerned that she was six months postpartum and hadn’t lost the baby weight.

“I’m practicing five days a week and eating really well,” she told me. And being a busy, stressed-out, tired, nursing mom. For some women, breastfeeding burns fat like no tomorrow. For others, it seems like a constant reminder to store-store-store for the lean times. Gotta be able to make that milk!

The only way to increase your metabolic rate is to increase your heart rate and/or muscle mass. That’s why fidgeters are generally so thin. I guess that’s one of the downfalls of that incredible 44 beats per minute Italian heart rate…

I hate to talk too much about weight because I really don’t think it’s that important. It’s not easy to forget about it, though, when you wear Spandex to work in front of a 1,200 square foot mirror…

It took me about 18 months with Bella to get back to my norm, and I mean my abdominal strength, to get my hips back to normal and my flexibility, too. By then, I was pregnant with Judah. I haven’t stopped nursing in 3.5 years, so it will be interesting to see what happens to my body once they’re both done.

I hate to beat a dead horse, but I have to get back to the sleep. We recently moved. New house, Judah has his own room and is sleeping in it. He’s still waking up and crying every night, but usually only once or twice and only for a few minutes. The first week we did it, he slept from 7pm to 5am twice.

I can’t even tell you. Incredible. The first morning, I didn’t feel like I was crazy for the first time in a long time. Years. I didn’t feel depressed, or like I couldn’t handle life, jacked up or anxious or anything. Just normal. Sure, I’ll have a cup of coffee. Let me get this soup on the stove. I’m going to throw a load of laundry in before I make lunches. And, yes, I’d LOVE to cover that class for you.

This is really the craziest part of it. In just a couple of days, I started to look forward to bedtime because I expected to be able to sleep for more than an hour at a time. No big explosion or fireworks or major event or anything. He just goes to bed and it’s not in mine.

I’ve been sleeping about five or six hours a night for a month now. A week ago, Judah wasn’t feeling well and was up all night off and on and the next morning I was slaughtered by it. So dead and beat up. It’s just so crazy how you can go without noticing it from, I-never-sleep to sleeping-fairly-well-is-normal-and-expected in a flash.

You enter this world that most people are in and it feels like a fairy wonderland.

I saw a friend with similar sleep woes and two small kids the other day. She was glowing at 8 am. She was smiling like I haven’t seen…um….ever. I met her after her first was born. She looked so, well, she looked how I FELT when I started sleeping.

I had to ask and the answer was YES! She’d slept for the first time in three years the night before. Her husband took the kids and she went to the far end of the house with the door shut. No nursing all night. No mommy on duty. She’d only slept for about five hours, but let me tell you, compared to two, five hours is paradise. Rejuvenating. Fountain of youth good.

A few people have asked me what’s new and I’ve mentioned the sleeping. “Awesome, what else?” they ask. I want to jump up and down. Did they not hear me? I’m sleeping! I’m sleeping! MY KID IS SLEEPING MOST OF THE NIGHT!!!! Not only is that new, it’s novel, it’s amazing, its incredible, its…..I thought it was unattainable.

So, yeah, that’s what’s new.

Pregnancy Blog 2: Six Months Postpartum

I spoke too soon.  One month after the last post, Judah started teething and has been up all night ever since. And spring? It’s July and we’re still having spring.  Just got a first taste of summer this week.  B.S.

I just re-read my caution to people with SI issues to wait until nine months to push it. Wish I’d listened to my own advice. I keep feeling better, then pushing it again and then I can’t get my foot the next day in Standing Head-to-knee. I don’t know, really, though if that is the SI stuff or the not sleeping. The more I nurse at night in bed, the more my hip hurts. I’m sure it’s all connected. Tired, run down, no time/energy to cook, no sleep, cranky baby, its a vicious cycle.

The yoga helps. I feel better, more energized, like I can face the day. Vitamin D and fish oil have helped, too.  I’ve also been seeing Ning Ling Zhou in Kennebunk once a month.  She’s a massage therapist and acupuncturist and is AWESOME.  The first time I went in, she massaged and pricked my left glute and sacrum for most of the time and I got off her table without pain for the first time in months. Very cool. (207) 985-5177.  Worth the drive.

I do have to say, though, Bella was a nightmare with her sleeping for 2 years. We co-slept. She night-nursed. I nursed her to sleep. Now, she is a comfortable, confident little girl. She goes to sleep easily in her own bed and sleeps through the night. I really feel like all of that nighttime parenting time that we put in with her paid off. She has no issues with sleep. We don’t fight her to go to bed. She does rise at the crack of dawn, but she’s out every night by seven. We’ll get there one day, Jude.

Kudos to all of the parents out there doing the hardest job in the world. I heard people say that before I had kids and thought they were exaggerating. Ha! I thought a lot of things before I had kids…

Pregnancy Blog 2: Three Months Post Partum

Sacroiliac Sprain

At least this time I know what it is. That pain I suffered with for six months after the birth of my daughter, I was able to identify at six weeks this time. I again have a sprain of the sacroiliac ligaments on the left hand side. Painful, but manageable. The hard part is my ego.

It’s so hard not to be able to do the postures normally. Now that I’m not pregnant or immediately postpartum, I just want to be able to do the class. I was set up in front of a new student yesterday and all I could think was, “Don’t copy me!”

Since puberty, I’ve always had issues with my left hip. Apparently the hormones and weight changes of pregnancy cause a sprain for me in the ligaments in the SI joint. Since the sacroiliac joint is a load-bearing joint that is not intended to move much (outside of pregnancy) any time it does move, it is incredibly, searingly painful.

For any of my lovies out there with postpartum SI issues, the main goal in practicing is stabilization of the joint. You can’t push it in any postures that flex the hip deeply, or that rotate or extend the spine deeply, particularly when the hips are fixed (floor bow, camel, spine twist). Pushing through the pain there, will only aggravate the sprain. The only thing to do is go easy in those types of movement, but keep the buttocks and hamstrings strong and flexible and give the area time to heal.

Stretches to the iliopsoas muscles and piriformus can help. Certain supplements are supposed to aid in healing ligaments. They take a while. That’s why sports therapists always say a broken bone is better than a sprained ankle. Remember, too, that there will still be some relaxin in your body for nine months postpartum, making your ligaments softer than normal.  It is wise to wait the entire nine months (even if it starts feeling better) before looking for more depth in those particular postures.

Judah is still sleeping better than Bella did for the first two years of her life, so I’m feeling pretty good otherwise. Spring is coming and who can’t be happy about that in New England?

Breastfeeding and Bikram Yoga: Postpartum Concerns

I’ve had a lot of questions from students lately about postpartum recovery, breastfeeding, and Bikram Yoga. This pose will address a lot of those questions.

When can I return to yoga?

Most physicians recommend you wait at least three weeks postpartum before resuming yoga to allow your pregnancy hormone levels to drop, as they do dramatically at two weeks postpartum, and stabilize.  Some want you to wait six weeks until the placental scar is fully healed. With that said, who wants to look at their postpartum body in the mirror with a pad stuffed in their spandex? You may want to wait until your flow is reduced to panty-liner levels.

You’ll also need to take into consideration how you are feeling, sleeping, and recovering.  If what you’re doing causes your flow to increase that is a sure sign you are doing too much, so slow down. Personally, I returned to classes five and four weeks postpartum with my two pregnancies, but had been doing some yoga in my living room since three weeks PP to help alleviate the Hunchback of Breastfeeding. As long as you are practicing with mindfulness, yoga is an adaptive practice you can make safe at any time.

Benefits

Your yoga practice is a wonderful tool to return you to your body. Not just your pre-pregnancy weight, but to help your spine, joints, hips, rib cage, and abdominal organs return to their normal places, sizes, and alignment. Your practice will help straighten your posture as you strengthen your back and abdominal muscles against the common pregnancy kyphosis (hunchback) and lordosis (sway-back).

Pregnancy is hard on your body, but so is having an infant. It is difficult to find time for yourself and you spend most of your day in ergonomically-compromised positions.  When you’re not hunched over changing diapers and cute little onesies covered in the latest blow-out, you’re hunched over breastfeeding. If you’re not hunched over, you’re probably lugging a car seat over one arm or wearing baby strapped to your body in a wrap or a sling. When you’re not doing that, then you’re probably on the toilet trying to pee and simultaneously breastfeeding and talking on the phone while contemplating what you can stuff into your gob because, Damn!, this breastfeeding makes you hungry. If you formula feed, then kudos to you because you have to wash bottles in the middle of all of this. Your yoga can help to keep you strong so you don’t suffer the aching back, sore neck, and headaches that plague a lot of new moms.

In addition, the practice gives you an incredible endorphin rush that helps to improve your mood. Simply being able to take a couple of hours to yourself, for yourself, by yourself, when no one needs something from you is critical to make Mommy a happy, loving, productive mommy. After my son was born, I remember thinking one day, “Do I have postpartum depression?” The next day I took my first class back and was on top of the world. It’s amazing what a little time to yourself and some exercise can do for you.

Loose Joints

The hormone relaxin that helped your body get ready to open and stretch your pelvis during delivery remains in your body for nine months postpartum. The levels reduce significantly in the first six weeks, and continue to diminish over the first nine months. Relaxin softens the ligaments in your body. Ligaments hold your joints together. Looser ligaments means looser joints.

To be clear, this looseness means your joints are not held together as well as they used to be. It does not mean you will be more flexible.

What this means in your practice is that you’ll need to be aware of the limits of your joints for nine months postpartum. As women, we tend to be more flexible than men and can often skate by in class on our flexibility and put a lot of extra strain on our joints.  This is detrimental to the body (postpartum or not) and now is a good time to erase those bad habits. Instead, concentrate on developing the strength in the muscles that support the joints, especially the weight-bearing joints. This is particularly important in one-legged, standing balancing postures. You must equally contract the quadriceps and hamstrings muscles over a straight knee joint to “lock” the knee. They antagonize each other and result in a strong, stable knee.

It is common (but not normal) for women to experience discomfort in the sacrum and hips after pregnancy. Good chiropractic care can help with any misalignment caused or exacerbated by your pregnancy, but good practice in the yoga room can help to support this area as well. In backward bends, firmly contract the hip muscles to support the sacrum and stabilize the lower back. Don’t try to push through pain in the sacrum in deep back bends or forward bends that rely on strong flexion of the hip joint, and don’t over-do it in hip flexibility exercises like lotus and pigeon before nine months postpartum.

Weak Abdominals

Your abdominal muscles are not just weak from the activities and exercises you couldn’t do while pregnant, but also because they were just stretched over a huge watermelon for nine months. It takes time for them to contract and retract to their normal length, then they still have to strengthen from there. You may notice when you completely relax them that it looks like there’s still a grapefruit or a cantaloupe sitting in there. Be patient. They will tighten up. Concentrate in class on really pulling in on your abs in all of the poses. Picture your abdominal muscles pulling the four corners of your belly (top two hip crests and the bottom of your ribs) together toward your belly button and back toward your spine. This should get them to engage like you want.

It may not feel or look like much is happening, but it’s repeating the action that leads to strengthening and results whether you can see it today or not. The only posture you don’t use the abdominals in is wind-removing pose.

You may also notice that postures you didn’t realize your belly affected are significantly harder. The abdominals stabilize the lower back. When they are weak, this makes postures like balancing stick and locust much more difficult. They also flex the spine and rotate it. You may find your depth is limited or more challenging in the head-to-knee postures, rabbit, triangle, spine twist. Again, don’t worry. It’s hard, but its just what your body needs. Remember, you’ve got to have a strong belly to avoid the postpartum back pain that so many women suffer unnecessarily.

Breastfeeding

Once baby can go 2-3 hours between feedings or is taking a bottle, you can resume your practice (with the support of your care providers, of course). You’ve probably already learned how much more water your body needs when breastfeeding. The same applies in the hot room. This is not the time to test your mental strength to refuse water. You may not need it mentally, but your body is making milk the whole time and needs water to fuel the process. Make sure you’re drinking a minimum of 16 ounces of water in class and more before and afterward. This may require you to have certain points where you stop and remind yourself to take a drink.

But they’re sore! Your breasts, I mean. It takes six weeks for a breastfeeding mother’s fluid levels to stabilize (in the entire body, not just your breasts). That’s why pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel syndrome bothers women until then and why the bra you bought when your milk came in is a little too big when your baby is two months old. Your breast size increases due not just to milk production and mammary glands, but also because of inflammation in your breasts in the beginning of each new nursing experience. Even for mothers who nursed a toddler their entire pregnancy. As this recedes, the soreness in your breasts usually follows and you can return to normal execution of the postures.

If they’re sore and you can’t lie on them, do the pregnancy Savasana or even the pregnancy modifications for the belly-down series. Some women with recurrent blocked ducts, mastitis or supply issues may need to do the pregnancy Cobra series for the entire breastfeeding period. If you’re not bothered, you can try the Cobra series, but may want to start the postures on your elbows while the rest of the class sets it up. Continue like this until your breasts are no longer sore.

Losing Weight

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all want to lose the “maternal fat stores” from pregnancy. Madonna used a regimen of Bikram Yoga to lose the baby weight from her pregnancies.

It is a rigorous series and burns a lot of calories, so it makes sense to use it to aid you in your quest. Online calculators and testing done at Stanford University indicate a per-hour calorie consumption during Bikram Yoga of 350-650 calories for a 150 pound woman. More in-depth study done in 2013 at Colorado State University showed the level of metabolism during class is closer to 330 calories per class. If you are breastfeeding, please remember that it is not recommended that you consume less than 1800-2400 calories per day without adverse effect on your supply. On the days that you practice, you will need to supplement your food supply to reflect an additional 300 calories at a minimum.

With that said, for some women, the weight falls off them while breastfeeding. For others, they hold onto their fat stores the entire time they are nursing. This seems to be a genetic phenomenon. If you’re eating well, exercising and not losing please be easy on yourself. There’s not much you can do about it. You’ll be rewarded in long run by all of the benefits your children receive along with your sweet milk.