Tuesday, March 19, 2019

That Time I Took a Spin Class

On a good day, after a particularly debilitating depressive episode, I went to the rec centre and signed up for spin class 3 days a week for 6 weeks. I had been inactive for months, and was carrying around stiffness and pain beyond my years. The feeling reminded me of how down I had been and I desperately wanted to move past it. I was still teaching yoga twice a week, but I needed an opportunity to get my heart rate up and burn off some of what I was referring to as my sad pounds. A few months ago I had been feeling strong, and flexible, and healthy. I couldn’t find that place, but I thought if I could breathe through the fear and trust myself I may be able to recover that feeling with this class.

The class was a huge stretch for me. First off, I don’t know how to ride a bike. That’s not totally true. I understand the mechanics of riding a bike, but I can’t seem to peddle and stay centered and balanced in any consistent or reliable way. I got a bike for my birthday and took it out a little last summer. Half the battle is the paralyzing anxiety that seems to always get on the bike with me. The other half is getting my hips to stop belly dancing when I peddle. (Metaphor courtesy of my boyfriend). At the gym, the bike is my least favourite cardio. My legs tire out fast and the seat is painful at best and violently abusive at worst.

The first class was delightfully better than expected. The rest of the class were clearly experienced. They all had those shoes that clip into the pedals on the bike. They were mostly pretty fit, and definitely all older than me. Some looked older than, or at least as old as my parents. So there was that. I felt like the most out of shape one there, but I doubt anyone but me was assigning judgement.

The instructor lets call her Tammy, was great. Spoke to me quietly about it being my first class, asked about injuries and previous experience. She helped me adjust my bike so it was comfortable. She explained the pacing of the class that she would offer a range of gears and I was welcome to find my own outside of that range. She invited me to pedal at my own pace in a gear of my choosing, offering to me that it was a win to simply stay pedaling for the whole hour. I felt like she got it. Feeling supported and at ease, I managed to pedal through the whole class a few gears lighter than the easiest option. It felt like a win.

The next class I experimented with keeping the pace of the class though several gears lighter than the bottom option. I think it was the fourth class where I entered into the lightest gear in the offered range. That felt like a huge win.

In about the third week I was having an off day. I don’t remember if there was a specific thing on my mind but I didn’t feel like going to spin that day. I wrestled with myself all morning. I was tired and just wanted to go home and sit on the couch. I knew I would feel better if I went, exercise is a great tonic for the edges of depression. I somehow managed to get myself there despite splitting into two people on very opposite sides of the issue.

Things were off when I arrived as well. Someone was on the bike I normally used. I went two to the right and began adjusting the bike to the specifications I had worked out with Tammy. 4 for the handle bars, “F” for the height and 5 for the seat. As I was doing this the lady next to me leaned over remarked how brave I was. Instantly triggered, I kept my calm and asked her why. She informed the bike I was moving into was the worst one, the gears were all messed up or something. Then my neighbour to the left leaned in, confirming it was indeed the worst bike, and had even been christened “the bad bike”. I looked down at the bike as though I had missed some obvious cue like rust or peeling paint, or a snake tattoo. Neighbour to the left then suggested I use Penny’s bike. She knew for sure Penny was not coming today.

Penny sits right up front, right in the middle. She has clip in shoes, is always in head to toe Lululemon, and will pedal so fast the rpm gauge disappears entirely from her display. I know this because I normally sit behind and to the left of her and check her gears and rpm to make sure I serve myself a regular dose of self loathing disguised as inspiration throughout.

I grabbed my water and towel and moved front and centre. I adjusted the bike, 4 for the handle bars, F for the height and 5 for the seat. I climbed up and began slowly moving my legs around as they creaked and popped in protest. I set a goal to just get through the class. I looked down at the bike and silently assured it that today would be a much lighter day than it was used to.

Enter substitute teacher. She moved through to the front of the class. She put her stuff on the bike, looked around and seemed to get herself oriented. I continued to pedal slowly trying not to make eye contact as I suddenly felt ten times more exposed at the front of the class. It was like the first class all over. Was she going to single me out? Or would she be great like Tammy? Or would she just lead the class and not interact with us as individuals.

She made a beeline for me. As she approached she asked me if I had taken spin before. I told her we were three weeks in… so yes. Then she told me that my handlebars were in the wrong place. As I was explaining to her that I was comfortable with my configuration as the other instructor had helped me with it, she moved my handle bars down. Then she started moving the seat down while I was sitting on it. I moved to the side feeling stunned and intruded upon. She talked over my feeble protests, insisted she knew better than me and offered to change it back half way through the class. Y feeble protests that it was not comfortable went completely unheard.

Mentally defeated, my body seemed to follow suit. I was distracted by the configuration of the bike and it was almost impossible to straighten my back given the short distance between the seat and the handlebars. About 20 minutes in my lower back was screaming in protest. I was barely listening to the instructor and trying not to even look at her as the mixture of emotions was a boiling inferno that seemed to be manifesting in my lower back. About halfway through I got off, and moved the seat and the height back but it was too late.

At the 40 minute mark we would finish the bike portion of the class and do some some stretching and core exercises for the remainder of the hour. When we finished spinning, I grabbed my stuff and slipped out the door. In my weakened state I didn’t trust what might come out of my mouth.

I went back a couple more times and tried to keep going but I had done some damage to my lower back and right hip that still haunts me so many months later. I’m not dumping on spin class either, it was fun, the people were nice. On the days I was in tune with my body I felt amazing after class. My body felt great, and the endorphins were great medicine.

The lesson for me here is to stand up for my body better. I could have put the bike right back to where I had it, but instead I let someone who doesn’t live in my body make decisions for it. Because I was in a fitness class scenario and I am a yoga teacher I trusted this woman to have the same level of care that I or Tammy or every yoga teacher I know would have.

Your body is your best friend, and you will need to take care of it for all the wonderful things you want to do.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Kitchari Cleanse

When Winter surrenders and the first whiffs of Spring on the breeze coax out the new shoots, and when Summer starts to fade into the icy bite of fall, I do an ayurvedic cleanse with kitchari.

This is not a cleanse of ambiguous pills, juice, maple syrup or any other severely restrictive eating plan that robs you of your executive functioning, or is really little more than eating disorder support loosely packaged as "wellness".

That sounds harsh but I am deliberately being judgemental. I have done the pills twice a day, the juice cleanse, the lemon/maple syrup/cayenne one (which was especially "cleansing" on the third day). I have starved and tortured my body in order to make it "healthier". The misguided philosophy that starving and punishing your body is going to somehow lead to wellness is crazy and dangerous. We all know it is if we are honest with ourselves.

This bi-yearly ritual is of a different philosophy. I found this a few years ago and have faithfully come back to it each change of season because it makes my body feel so good. It feels like I clean out all the summer energy and prepare for the cool weather, similarly at this time of year I sweep out all the winter energy and get ready for the new growth of Spring.

This is not a system with guaranteed results that demands obedience, or strict adherence to an impossible regimen. My boyfriend and I do this together but while I eat almost exclusively kitchari, he maintains some other snacking habits. The great thing about this is we both get the benefits, and we can do what works for us individually.

Kitchari means mixture. This one is made of mung dahl, basmati rice, and a specific blend of spices and ghee. The rice and the dahl form a complete protein so you're not starving yourself nutritionally. Because it's really easy to digest, it gives your system a break and allows your organs to do what they're designed to do, which is filter and remove toxins from your body. I eat kitchari for all meals for a few days. I add vegetables like yams and onions and brocolli, whatever my body wants. I really like to refry the leftovers with some scrambled egg for breakfast. With some plain greek yogurt and a piece of naan bread it is ultimate comfort food.

I honestly feel really calm on the inside during these days. I find my cravings for other foods subside after the first day or two, and it seems to reset my body to crave nourishment instead of sensation. I get into this head space late at night where I wander into the kitchen over and over because I want something. I never know what, but something. I can snack on every carb in the house and still not satisfy the unnamed want. Committing to kitchari for a week or so (3 to 5 days to start) seems to interrupt the pattern of want creating more want.

I'm selling this pretty hard because I do it myself and I love it, and I think you might love it too.

Here's the recipe I stole from the ayurvedic institute website if your into it:

1/2 cup basmati rice 
1 cup mung dal (split yellow) 
6 cups (approx.) water 
1/2 to 1 inch ginger root, chopped or grated 
A bit of mineral salt (1/4 tsp. or so) 
2 tsp. ghee 
1/2 tsp. coriander powder 
1/2 tsp. cumin powder 
1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds 
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds 
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder  
Handful of fresh cilantro leaves 
1 and 1/2 cups assorted vegetables (optional)

I buy the green mung beans from Bulk Barn and soak them overnight. Then use one cup soaked beans, one cup rice and six cups of water. I also boil without the lid on, it tends to make a mess of the stovetop with the lid on.

I use a frying pan to cook the spices in the ghee. There's some great tutorials on youtube that will walk you through refining butter to make your own ghee, (it's a bit expensive to buy and a little scarce in the Comox Valley right now). When you cook the spices have a lid handy as the mustard seeds will pop when the oil is hot enough. (That part is pretty fun). I also use way more ghee than 2 tsp. Ghee is great, no need to hold back.

Monday, March 11, 2019

My Yoga Journey (Part One)

I signed my mum and I up for my first yoga class when I was about 21. The class was 10 or so weeks of gentle hatha at the local rec centre.

I had danced from before I could form memories until I was 13. Teenage self consciousness combined with my life long choreographer following other pursuits created an environment that was no longer compatible with Christmas concerts and an all 10 year old girl rendition of Oliver. 

I missed dance. In the back of my mind I was always going back, I didn't know when, but I was certain it was just a temporary hiatus. I got older and I got wider, and at the beginning of my twenties I was firm in the belief that I was too big to dance, I would get back when I looked like a dancer again. The dance world as I remembered it was not kind if you did not "look like a dancer."

So in an effort to spend time with my mom and maybe somehow start to get my body back to a place where I felt I could dance again, we took rec centre yoga.

The instructor was Indian, very short, much older than I had envisioned, she had a belly and walked a little slow. I had a picture in my head of some wellness poster, with a young skinny, very fit woman, and water trickling over stones or something. I don't really know what I thought but I remember being surprised. 

She lit some incense, dimmed the lights and had us all gather at one end of the expansive, gym-like room. Then she led us expertly through a series of basic hatha poses. It felt good to move my body again, and I took the direction easily. My body felt strong and intelligent. It knew what I was asking it to do and responding, and I was proud of my body for the first time in years. The strength and flexibility I thought had been buried under years of inactivity and late night binge eating was still there, still accessible when I asked for it. It calmed me so thoroughly, I always fell asleep during savasana.

My body was feeling good, and after a few weeks I began to notice my moods shift as well. Class was Tuesday night and by Monday I would feel anxious and scrunched up on the inside. After yoga I was calm and relaxed. I began to look at yoga and my body differently. The purpose of yoga was not to perform the poses just right, as it had been in dance. In fact it felt like as ongoing medicine as well as a physical goal to be mastered. 

When the class was over I didn't sign up again. I was 21, working at Starbucks, paying more than half my money to rent and bills and couldn't financially commit to anything non-essential. Instead I got a couple of DVD's and began cultivating a home practice. 

I worked hard at my form because I had no confidence in myself. Lacking a dance teacher to correct my posture I felt vulnerable and alone and like I wasn't doing it right. The medicine was still there though. I would stop practising for a while, then come back to it if I was feeling anxious or stressed. 

I wasn't entirely safe at home though. My boyfriend at the time took any excuse to sexualize my movements. Any movement my body made was fair game, if he found it arousing then I must be doing it on purpose. This fed my self consciousness and I would only practice when he was out. 

I went to a few classes here and there over the years. They all seemed to pan out the same. I was the biggest one in the room by an obvious margin. I would get stared at, deliberately not looked at, helped too much by the teacher with things I could clearly do, or not helped at all when I was struggling and told to just try the next pose. I went to gyms, yoga studios, and never found somewhere I belonged where I could grow my practice and my abilities. 

Eventually I stopped practising yoga. Working from a DVD became frustrating as there was no one to ask a question, and my fruitless search for a teacher to help, had me completely discouraged. I felt stagnated, and frustrated with the whole thing, maybe yoga wasn't for me. I was never going to have a yoga body, so I was never going to master yoga. 

Two years later I left a very bad marriage. I was broke, a single mom to a one year old, and completely shattered mentally. One night by myself, I got the yoga mat out. I fell in love with yoga again. I literally cried when I got on the mat knowing I had not nurtured myself for so long. The mat stayed in the living room and I practised almost every night. Just for me this time. Because it felt good on the inside. My body was bigger again after having a baby, but it didn't change my strength and my flexibility. In fact this time because I was focusing on the inner work I noticed changes in my body. Instead of pushing myself and aiming for goals and arbitrary lines, I did the movements and the breathing and met my body where it was. 

For the first time in my life I began to think about where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do for work that would allow me some flexibility being a single parent, and the time to take care of myself in this way. I thought maybe I could teach yoga. Then I thought I had to lose weight, then I thought about how I didn't think I fit into the culture of a studio, and all my thoughts cascaded over each other to convince me I did not belong. But I kept practising and I made a deal with myself that I would keep it up almost every day for a year and then I would sign up for yoga teacher school. 

And I did. 

The story of my transformation through school is a profound one, and deserves it's own space, so that will be another post. The conclusion here though is I began my yoga journey for one reason, and as I grew, the practice took on different meanings for me and I ended up somewhere I could not have imagined 15 years ago.