Pushing 200lbs, I remember once struggling to run 8 minutes without stopping in Iroquois Park. At the time I was a caregiver to my parents: mom with cancer and dad with Alzheimer’s. The stress of this situation wasn’t helping my own health – I was eating my way into a size 18.
Then, my niece, Emilie Dyer, invited me to a free class at 502 Power Yoga. In the past I had used yoga successfully to stop smoking, so I figured it could also improve my overall health. At one point in my first class, I remember the instructor said to “kiss your knees;” I couldn’t do it. It really hit home then how big I had gotten. I’m going to have to work to get this off, I thought.
Rather than feeling intimidated by others at 502 Power Yoga, I was empowered by this community. I decided to take on the Sunrise Challenge in 2014, and also completed the 40 Days to a Personal Revolution program. Through these experiences, I gained insight into my emotional eating. I learned to be aware of what I was putting into my body and why. I gave up sodas and coffee, and today I only drink green tea, water and sometimes black tea. I have sweets as an occasional treat, and not with every meal as I had in the past. I witnessed these physical and emotional transformations slowly change my body. Over time, I saw cellulite on my knees diminish. I was able to do my first Flip Dog with Mimi’s instruction. I was inspired, and I fell in love with the community.
After some time, it seemed like my daddy was doing fairly well, or maybe it was me. Maybe I had learned to move with the universe instead of work against it. Yoga had become my retreat from all the drama of hospitals and doctors with my parents. I truly believe my yoga practice helped me stay calm throughout every situation and provided me the opportunity for self-care.
I can see how life has come full circle for me. The beginning of my transformation was the Sunrise Challenge in 2014, and more than a year later, after the 2015 Sunrise Challenge, I’m a size 8. My faith in God, my program of recovery and daily asana helped me physically and emotionally through those trying times. I feel those previous limitations fading behind me and conquering Iroquois Park is next on my list!
My first class at 502 Power Yoga was a Karma class. The room was packed beyond capacity, and the energy was high; you could feel the love when you walked in—which, when you’re new to this style of yoga, like I was, can feel overwhelming. My friend and I were the last two people to lay our mats down and I was ready to get my zen on and tune the world out — which is my default.
When class started and the instructor asked us all to generate hellos/give hugs/shake hands, I freaked out. She wanted me to what? No. I had come to do some yoga and stay in my own secluded world, not to meet new people or hug strangers. Not to mention, I was already sweating, as was most everyone I was asked to hug. Instinctively, I went directly to my friend and hugged her, but soon found I couldn’t avoid contact with other yogis any longer. I hesitantly shook hands and hugged two other already-sweaty people. I felt self-conscious for the entirety of my practice, worrying that the people I hugged were judging me for sweating before class had even started.
Coming into a class at a new yoga studio can be intimidating. However, when I started to meet new people at 502 Power Yoga, I realized that I was NOT alone. Instead, I was in this together with every other yogi in the room. I was connected to a room full of 30+ people—talk about powerful! Side note: The room is hot, full of badass yogis, and everyone is sweating. Nobody is judging!
In that same class, the instructor had us support our neighbors in Airplane Pose. I remember internally having a strong “Nope, nopeity, nope, nope” reaction to this; there was no way I was throwing off my balance to put my sweaty hands on someone else’s sweaty body. And then I felt another yogi’s hand on my shoulder supporting me, which gave me the nudge I needed, and I reached out to support my other neighbor.
Where can you go in your practice once you’ve moved past what is blocking you? For me, letting go of insecurities led me to become more consistent in my practice and made me fall in love with the Baptiste Methodology, which led me to taking the BIG leap to sign up for teacher training with 502 Power Yoga. Removing my rocks opened me up to following my passion and creating some pretty amazing friendships in a community that thrives off of supporting others.
It works that way; the support and community. You may come in feeling nervous, scared, or vulnerable, and then you realize we are here for each other. That support can move mountains (or fly airplanes in my case.) From that, strength in your practice happens. Growth in your life off your mat happens. Big things happen. The sweaty hugs are actually something I look forward to now.
Embrace the sweaty hugs and handshakes—it’s the beginning of something spectacular.
“The inner fire is the most important thing mankind possesses.” Edith Södergran
As we begin the new year, you may consider using Heat on and off your mat to kick start your resolutions and fuel your inner fire. Heat is one of the Pillars of the Baptiste Yoga practice; in the studio, the most obvious source of heat is the room itself. Power Yoga uses the warmth of the room to allow muscles to loosen up quickly, and your skin to detoxify itself through sweat.
But this isn’t just “hot yoga” it’spower yogabecause, with each movement of your muscles into the poses, you are generating heat within your body. This internal fire is encouraged byujjayi breath. Ujjayi breath is created by breathing in and out through your nose with the back of your throat constricted. This friction of the breath and the throat actually warms the air entering your body; if you’re like me and remember little else from grade school science, you might, at least, remember that friction creates heat.
In his book Journey Into Power, Baron Baptiste says, “The strong flow of power yoga fuels the inner furnace, and the breath fans that fire throughout your practice.” We are responsible for creating heat in our own bodies, and though 502 keeps the studio at about 90 degrees, generating our own heat is crucial in our practice.
Gaining a new kind of access to stiff muscles, or finding a new range of motion and flexibility in them, can help to heal old injuries and teach your body new muscle memory. And, if on your mat you can stay grounded in a pose in the heat of the moment, just imagine where that can serve you off the mat.
It is the one-week countdown for Winter 2015-2016 Teacher Training (see Becca’s guide on what to bring) and I know I’m not the only one who has mixed feelings about it. Starting something new is always a little unnerving, even if it is a positive thing. Lately, life has been crazy and at times things have been packed so tight that it seems impossible to shove in one more responsibility. And yet starting next weekend, that’s exactly what is going to happen.
When I feel myself start to resist the process, I try and lean into that resistance. It makes me think about Frog Pose and how sometimes I just want to cry, or how I feel I can barely breathe but in a really weird way I kind of like it. It can still hurt, but taking it to that edge makes me better. I’ve learned these lessons already on my mat as a student. I think that through the training I’m going to start to see what it means to take that surrender off my mat.
For those who don’t know, Tina Guelda wrote all the incoming trainees a letter and she didn’t sugar coat anything. She suggests bringing Ibuprofen regularly because, “Your body and your brain will probably hurt at some point.” She concludes the letter by reminding us all that we are going to need support from family and friends even when we won’t be able to see them. When I first read Tina’s letter, I may have freaked out a little. What have I gotten myself into? But re-visiting it I realize that while it wasn’t coated with sugar, Tina instead dumped a whole lot of salty flavor all over the truth. And my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
What surprises me the most from all of this is how even though I’m a little nervous and I have definitely already held back a few melt-downs, I’m not doubting myself one bit. I’ve seen the support system 502PY has created already through its programs and when it comes down to it, I am not afraid. I have doubts about myself, my abilities, my schedule, my finances, and my mental will to carry on when things get tough, but I have zero doubt that when things get rough that I will have my support system to push me through it all.
As this new challenge sits in full Lotus Pose right on the strong, sturdy, and looming gate of Friday evening, I shudder to think of all the tears, frustrations, and emotional highs that wait for me right on the other side. But then I lean into the challenge, I read comments from my fellow trainees, and in a really weird way, I realize I’m going to like this.
by Chelsea Raff, written the day she went into labor with her first baby
It’s hard to believe, but this time last year I was participating in 502 Power Yoga’s Teacher Training program. I left that program with many things, and one of them was the strongest yoga practice of my life. I felt powerful and adventurous—truly up for anything! Fast forward a couple of months to when my husband and I found out I was pregnant. We were so very excited (and a little terrified)! One of the first things that crossed my mind was, “What will happen to my yoga practice?” I had worked so hard to build strength and flexibility, both in my physical body and my mind—did I have to give that up? Nine months later, I can answer unequivocally, “No!”
There is no one size fits all advice for continuing your practice while pregnant. The most important thing is that you listen to your body—I cannot stress that enough. Luckily, I was surrounded by wise yogis who gave me great advice. Here are some of the tips I found most useful for continuing my yoga practice through pregnancy:
Hold the heat?
Heat (tapas) is one of the pillars of Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga, and our studio is heated to between 85 and 90 degrees for most classes. I encourage you to speak with your doctor if you’re concerned about practicing in a heated environment, especially in early pregnancy. My doctor reassured me that 90 degrees was not dangerous. Of course, you must listen to your body and watch for signs you may be overheated. I always brought a full water bottle to class and drank from it liberally.
Take a step back
If you have a practice of jumping back and forth to chaturanga, it’s a good idea to take step back from that (literally). Take this opportunity to appreciate your sun salutations and vinyasas in a new way. Believe me, they will be just as powerful and challenging!
Ditch the deep twists
Deep, closed twists such as twisting crescent lunge and twisting chair can constrict blood flow to the uterus and should be avoided. Modify by twisting with your torso upright so that you still experience a rotation along your spine, while maintaining space in your abdomen.
To invert, or not?
As always, listen to your body. However, if you had a strong inversion practice before, then you should feel comfortable continuing as long as you feel steady. Personally, tripod headstand felt amazing to me throughout my pregnancy. What I may have lost in core strength I made up for by using my new belly as a counterweight!
Embrace the blocks!
Do not get discouraged by the need to modify as your pregnancy progresses. One of the many reasons I love Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga is that it encourages modifications and the use of blocks and straps for everyone, at every level of practice. These are powerful tools that have the ability to help you gain access to something new. I have come to love using a block in many places, especially extended side angle and triangle – I’m able to find length and expansion through my upper body that would have otherwise been lost during the last several months.
Give up what you must
Yes, there are poses to which you will have to temporarily bid adieu (we shall meet again one day soon, locust…) But that’s not what I mean here. For me, one of the most challenging aspects of my practice has been dropping ego. Maintaining my practice the last 9 months didn’t come easily. There were times when I walked off my mat frustrated and ready to give up. But I didn’t&emdash;and for that I am so grateful. My life, both on and off the mat, has been a constant practice in equanimity; between knowing my body and mind are strong (even during so much change) and knowing when to take a step back (and being okay with it!).
Regardless of whether you’re pregnant or just dealing with change in your life, I encourage you to show up on your mat, listen to your breath, listen to your body, and know that you’re capable of so much!