Tag Archives: yoga

When Looks are Deceiving

Several months ago I bought a Groupon (or maybe it was a LivingSocial…when you get fifteen of those emails a day they do tend to blur) for five classes at a local barre studio.  I’d heard barre was incredibly difficult, but when I pictured ballet mixed with yoga all I could see was a lot of stretching, and obviously, spandex.

My gal pal Lindsay was also picking up on the trend, so we agreed to meet for a barre class the following week.  First I thought I’d try one solo to get myself acquainted with this newfangled exercise, but I didn’t realize joining this class would be like breaking into Fort Knox.

To begin with, the studio is in an office building, one which looks identical to every building in downtown Bellevue.  There isn’t a sign on the building’s exterior, so I missed the driveway only to see a tiny sandwich board at the end of it pointing to the parking. 

After parking, I got off the elevator and walked into the studio a responsible ten minutes early.  The receptionist stared at me blankly as I gave her my best “greet me and ask if I need help” face.  Left to the introductions myself, I said, “Hi.  I’m here for the 5:45 class?  I have a Groupon-LivingSocial for five classes.” 

She stifled a laugh.  “This class?  Today?  Did you sign up online?”  I paused before responding, as dozens of women poured into the room behind me. 

“Um, no,” I replied.  “I wasn’t aware I had to pre-book.”  What was this?  The Olympic trials?

I looked over at the children’s play area and realized I’d stumbled down the rabbit hole into Bellevue Mom territory.  In a flash, I could see the well-coiffed women arriving for their 11AM class each day, dressed in head-to-toe Lululemon, pushing baby Victoria in a Bugaboo stroller.  I shivered and returned my attention to the principal of Sass Elementary in front of me.

“Today’s class is completely full, with a waiting list,” she told me coolly.  “The best I can offer you is for you to wait over there until after class starts, and if someone doesn’t show I can give you their spot.” 

If I hadn’t just driven across town, searched for the building, and parked in a garage, I would have told her that it wasn’t worth my time.  But I was standing there in yoga-wear, and we both knew I wanted in that class.   So I sat.

After ten minutes of pretending to flip through magazines, she told me the class was full, as expected.  She gave me instructions on signing up for future classes online, and recommended I do so several days before my desired class.  I barely made eye contact as I left.

Days later, I told Lindsay that this class was designed to make us feel unwanted and unattractive, two qualities we both despised.  She told me it couldn’t possibly be that bad, and to meet me there the following week (provided we both signed up, of course).

By the day of the class, the bitter taste in my mouth had dissipated, and we joked about showing up in tights and legwarmers.  We were convinced this was nothing more than a vanity excercise designed to make Bellevue Moms feel like they were working out without actually doing so. 

We lined up dutifully at the barre, giggling and nonchalant about the work in front of us.  Everyone grabbed half-pound weights, but we chose three-pound weights because seriously, half a pound? Why grab a weight at all? 

The class started innocently enough with a standard warm-up, and then the instructor told us how to move our arms with those measly weights.

Within a minute and a half Linds and I were looking at each other with the slightest hint of panic.  Our arms were trembling and every time we thought the instructor would relent, she’d just make us hold it longer.  Each move was harder than the last and we started to grimace to get through it. 

Without a pause she lead us right into leg work and thirty seconds hardly passed before we looked at each other doubled over in laughter.  We couldn’t function because it was so, so hard and the pain wasn’t nearly as horrifying as the embarrassment of our underestimation. 

“Drop an inch lower, and HOLD.  You can do this, ladies, your legs should be shaking right now,” she yelled cheerfully. 

There was no time to account for time at all, because our minds were lost in the pain.  We were thrown face-first into submission and found ourselves loving every humiliating second. 

Lindsay turned toward me from a deep plie, “We’re doing this twice a week,” she gasped between gritted teeth.

“Forget yoga,” I grunted back.  “I need this woman’s legs.”

So we did.  Every week we showed up and sweated and giggled until extended travel took my partner away from me.  Refusing to quit, I called Kelly, who I knew could take the pain.

“You’re making me nervous,” she confessed over email.  “What if I can’t do it???”

Realizing I might lose her before class had even started, I lied, “You’ll be fine!”

Without realizing it, I’d lied to myself as well, because instead of our usual chipper instructor,  we were led by a drill sergeant disguised as a barre instructor.  Before we’d even finished the warm-up, she’d zeroed in on us as the rookies and pointed out our many mistakes.

Ten minutes into the class, Kelly looked over at me with a look of desperation.  I felt validated, so instead of saying something supportive, I said “I TOLD you!” which she found helpful, I’m sure.

She also found the brutality to be addictive, and has since gone to several more classes.  She takes those beatings like a champ.

What makes the class so difficult, one might wonder?  It doesn’t look difficult, after all.  I always look around the room and marvel at how easy the poses look.  I suppose it’s the micro-movement; instead of doing full repetitions with weights, you hold your arms straight in front of you and move them up and down a mere inch.  Oddly, it’s much harder than doing a full repetition.  Same with the legs — instead of a full squat, you squat down and then move up and down an inch until the fire in your legs is spreading over your entire body.

Torture is really the best way I can explain it.  Beautiful, effective torture.  The major bummer is that it’s twenty bucks per class, so I’ve stolen classes by way of memorization so I can do it for free at our home gym.  This is sort of pathetic, but I’m OK with it.

At the end of my first class, sitting exhausted across the room from me was my old nemesis, the receptionist.  She gave me a nod of approval, which made me realize her initial hostility had more to do with assuming I was a lightweight Bellevue Mom than anything else.  Having survived the class, I gave her the smile of a comrade who’s been through the same battle and come out alive. 

Needing to be wheeled out of class on a stretcher, but alive.

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Filed under AwkWORD (Humor)

Rephs 1, Carbs 0

As cliché as it is to write this in the month of January, I am on a diet.

Mike and I decided to eat healthier and lose a little weight in the process, and we just happen to have a trip to Cabo on the horizon for that extra hit of motivation.  Nothing like exposed flesh to make you reach for that proverbial carrot (or in this case, a literal carrot).

We have always been very active, running about three times a week and doing yoga once a week.  But the more we researched, the more we realized that food and exercise fall into that most classic of rules: 80/20.  It turns out that working out like a fiend while eating whatever one wants isn’t as effective as eating really well and working out moderately. 

And let’s face it: any excuse to work out less is music to one’s ears, am I right?

So, after a few Bing searches for easy-to-follow diets, we decided on the 4 Hour Body.  It’s written by the same man who wrote 4 Hour Workweek, which is a major bestseller, but from what I’ve heard infuriates a lot of people (the concept is so simple, yet almost impossible to apply).

We didn’t even bother to buy the book, since all of the rules were listed online.  It really is quite simple:

1.  No white carbs (we had to resist hosting a funeral to pay our respects to our favorite foods: rice, pasta, and bread).

2.  No fruit (ouch.  I usually eat two pieces of fruit a day).

3.  Don’t drink your calories (sayanara, beer.  Though you are allowed two glasses of red wine per day…clearly this is the life raft we cling to).

4.  Eat the same meals over and over (well, when you can only have certain foods, you tend to repeat them).

5.  Take one day off a week  (sweet Moses Saturdays!! Sign me up!!).

We started on Jan 3, so it’s been three weeks.  We’ve each lost a pound per week, which supposedly is the healthiest way to lose.   We haven’t changed our exercise routine, though if we miss a workout we feel far less guilt, because we can easily turn to each other and say, “Who cares?  We’re eating so well!”

Not that eating well is easy. 

The two of us at a restaurant is not a pretty sight.  A mere three seconds after opening the menu one of us says, “But, OK, like what if we traded this meal for one meal on our day off?  That would work, right?  I mean, really, what’s the difference?” 

That’s when the other one of us has to turn into a drill sergeant and yell, “Pull yourself together, Reph!  You’ll order a salad and YOU’LL LIKE IT.”

But honestly, it wasn’t until this diet that we realized how carb-heavy restaurants really are.  If we’re looking for anything more interesting than a salad, we may be looking for a very long time.

Last week we ate out with another couple at a Thai restaurant (read: noodle universe) and Mike found the only way he could be satisfied is if he ordered half of a chicken.  Nothing else.  It was the strangest looking plate. 

I ordered stir fry.

Waiter:  And white or brown rice?

Me:  (Gritting teeth, barely able to get the words out) Ahhhhhh, no rice.

Waiter:  (Eyebrows raised higher than the ceiling) Um, Okaaaaaaay.

It’s reactions like this that motivate us to invite people to our house rather than accept their invitations to eat out.  If we plan ahead, it’s really easy to cook according to this diet at home.   

And even though it’s gotten easier (I no longer fantasize about a French baguette dipped in olive oil), it’s still not something I could continue indefinitely.  We’re only planning on doing it for a month, and that’s because life without pasta, rice and bread is not a life I want to live forever.

…though since I do want to live as long as possible, I’m going to scale back the consumption of carbs even after the middle of February.  I’m going to try to see them as treats, rather than the incomparable force of nature that they are.

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Filed under UpWORD (Beauty)

The Liturgy of Yoga

I think it would be fair to say that my experience with yoga has been somewhat of a stretch.  Pun most definitely intended.

It simply isn’t in my nature to submit myself to quiet focus, non-vigorous exercise, or anything that can be perceived as wishy-washy.  That’s the technical term, clearly.

As it turns out, yoga has been none of those things and sometimes all of those things.  I usually go through a range of emotion and physical exertion so broad that its like I’m standing on the stage at The Price is Right spinning the giant wheel to see how I’ll feel next.

One element of yoga that has remained slipperier than a wet fish has been its connection to God.  Initially I believed all of the stereotypes about this “Eastern practice” — that it was all Buddha, breathing and channeling my chi.  And it may be that for some people.  But largely the studio where I practice is void of any spirituality.  It’s much more focused on exercise, peace and doing whatever works for you.

On my first day in January, I walked across the hardwood floors of the serene room with my walls up, however.  I was determined not to let anything other than Christ be the focus of my practice.  I decided that I would do my breathing and my movements out of worship and discipline.

But it was hard.  I had a difficult time reminding myself to pray, to focus, to move in mindfulness.  It was easier to think about my day at work or an argument with a friend; or really, nothing at all.

Which is why when the studio offered a three-part series called “Practicing Yoga with Jesus” I nearly did a hand-spring across my mat.

It promised to teach how to incorporate Jesus into a practice that has traditionally left Him out of it.  I couldn’t wait.

Last Friday I walked across those same hardwood floors with my walls lowered, a bit.  I still felt apprehensive that the instructor might weaken the Lord into a nice “teacher” with flowers and sunshine and smiles for everyone; in technical terms, wishy-washy.

Imagine my surprise then, when the instructor announced that he was a very serious Catholic.

My jaw did a very limber stretch when he said that.   Then two of the four students said they were also Catholic, and I was elated.  Even though I am not Catholic, I honestly thought this class would be filled with people who had little regard for solid truth about Jesus, and here was a group from one of the most doctrine-focused churches on the planet.  Surely this wasn’t going to be wish-washy!

The instructor introduced himself and told a bit of his journey to incorporate Christian faith into a non-Christian practice.  He used the Psalms as an illustration to show that we are supposed to use our bodies, not just our lips, to worship God.  Sharing with us that his mother was dying, he pointed out that as her range of motion decreases, he is ever more aware that our ability to move is part of what makes us alive.  Not to use that ability is akin to rejecting the life He gave us.

This made perfect sense to me.  I honor God when I run.  I honor Him when I bike.  I show Him gratitude when I hike, or swim or walk a mile.  Yoga is another extension of that.

As we went through the motions of exalting God through yoga, I couldn’t help but smile at the fact that a Catholic Chinese man was teaching an Eastern practice to a group of Christians in the most atheistic city in the US.  I took this as further proof that only in the Kingdom do these gatherings have any chance of occurring.

About halfway through I hit a snag.  We were supposed to do 12 sets of a motion that reflected the Doxology (see?  Liturgy in yoga!) and while I loved the concept, I just couldn’t break through.

“How is this going for you, Abby?” the instructor asked me, in a thick Chinese accent.

“Um, I’m having a little perfectionist’s problem,” I replied.  “I know I’m supposed to be thinking about God but all I can think about is my posture.”

“Ah, yes, we all do that,” he replied reassuringly.  “What you need to remember is that ‘Always, we begin again.'”  His twinkling eyes smiled at me behind circular, wire-frame glasses.

I stared back at him with a small smile.  Of course.  The phrase meant as much to yoga as it does to anyone who knows God.  As far as I think I have moved toward Him, as close as I think I am to Him, every single day I have to begin again.  I have to choose Him again.  That is why it is so hard.  But the fact that He promises always to choose us is what makes it so easy.

Normally at the end of every class the instructor bows, hands palms-together and says, “namaste” which is a term of respect and gratitude for having practiced together.  I have always withheld this word out of the fear of tip-toeing into non-Biblical territory.  I usually whisper “thank you” which is directed at both God and my teacher for instructing me.  On this Jesus Yoga night, however, I was lead to recite the Lord’s Prayer, complete with movement to represent each petition in the prayer:

Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever.

Amen.

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Filed under The WORD (Faith)

Downward-Facing Dog?

I’m staring face-down at a yoga mat, willing my hamstrings to stretch to new lengths.  The hypnotizing chants of Eastern music have done nothing to ease my strain.  I’m trying.  I’m trying very hard.

And that is exactly the problem.  “Abby,” the instructor says in the middle of my pose. “Relax your neck.”

Against my instincts, I drop my head down to within an inch of the mat.  Suddenly my back is stretching instead of my head, and I’m feeling better.

I hate when yoga instructors are right.

In fact, I thought I hated yoga instructors and the yoga they teach.  I have only done yoga one other time, and it was because I wanted to see what all the women from work were getting so excited about as the clock neared 5PM every day.  Unfortunately, it was hot yoga.  So what?  I thought.   I’ll sweat a little.

Not only did I sweat more than Niagara Falls in springtime, I also received the yoga blessing of watching others’ sweat fling over onto my mat.  I smelled acidic perspiration that no human should ever have to inhale.  And when I committed the yoga-sin of reaching for my water bottle after enduring a horrific pose, the instructor actually yelled at me.  A scary, tiny, female, Asian instructor with the fiercest six-pack I have ever seen in my life yelled at me in the middle of class.  I found it ironic that I was paying money to relax while being harassed.

I vowed never to return.

And yet, here I am in the middle of a non-hot yoga class, feeling the stretch.  How did I get here?

In case you haven’t noticed (like here, here, and here), I am an intense individual.  I am a control-freak, and I tend to carry all of my problems between my shoulder blades — right at the base of my neck.  I take nearly everything seriously, usually to my own detriment.

For example, during one of our pre-marriage counseling sessions in 2007, we took a personality test and I rated off the charts in self-discipline.  Guess what I felt when the therapist told me this?  Blushing pride.  I felt like the valedictorian of pre-marriage counseling.  You can imagine my surprise when she looked at Mike with total sincerity and said, “This is going to cause many problems for you.”

What?  Don’t you mean, This is going to solve many problems for him as I take over his life?…oh.  I get it.

It’s been two years since that counseling session and I haven’t made much progress in the way of stress.  And since I never want to be the lady who can only relax after two martinis, I decided to take control.  Wait, there it is again.  Do you see my language?  Amendment:  I decided to release control.

“Abby,” the instructor said quietly again. “Let your head hang.”

Shoot — I’m in a completely different position and yet I’m tense again.  I start to laugh this time, because it is exactly my personality that I would be focusing so hard on doing the yoga correctly that I tense up from the effort and miss the point entirely.

I’m here with my sister-in-law, Rachel, who agreed to give this new excerise a try with me.  We are both long-distance runners, and neither of us has the ability to calm ourselves and sit in peace for five minutes.  So, as skeptical as we were that this had anything to offer athletes like us, we went.

I tend to be of the opinion that yoga is pseudo-excercise, that it’s for people who refuse to admit that they’re not really working out.  All of the breathing and moving of the arms can’t possibly be doing anything except tricking people into believing that they’re burning calories and achieving inner peace.  Plus, as someone who loves the Lord, I’m not into the “emptying of the mind” that so often accompanies this practice.  I’ve learned to fill up with the Spirit, not empty everything out.

It’s about an hour into the class when I realize some of the motions are making my muscles burn like warm embers, the kind of burn where I know I’m building strength.  Then we move into a stretch that I don’t have to think very hard about, and I realize I can make this my own and just pray.  Who needs to empty their mind when there is so much of God to fill it?

Thirty minutes later the instructor tells us to lay on our mats for “everyone’s favorite position.”  She walks around to all five of us and places a bolster under our knees for back support.  As soon as my back hits the mat, I feel the most intense vibrations moving through my body.  It’s the most drug-like state I can imagine, and I cannot explain why I’m feeling this way.

In my mind I am suddenly transferred back to being four years old, and it’s nap time at my preschool.  The only reason any of us kids looked forward to nap time was because all of the nannies would come around and lightly rub our backs to help us fall asleep.  That was the exact feeling I felt as I lay on the mat in yoga, like someone was sitting with me, giving me a tiny massage or playing with my hair.  If you’ve ever let someone play with your hair, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  It’s sublime.

In that moment I had to face the humiliating truth, the admission I never thought I’d make as long as I live: I’m doing yoga — and I like it.

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Filed under UpWORD (Beauty)