Equal and Spontaneous
There may not be a stiffer person than I at Funky Door Yoga in Berkeley, California. I used to do yoga back east when I was 16 years old. Back then, the class met each morning in the center of a green pasture. I vividly remember meditating upon a yellow dandelion before Salute to the Sun, and the immense pleasure I received that summer from my limber body. Now, many years later, I have returned to yoga. This time I can be found two to three times a week in a steaming hot, brightly lit and fully mirrored Bikram yoga studio.
However supple I was as a teenager, all signs of human elasticity vanished after my twenties. By the time I turned 45, my inflexibility was in fact a source of concern for my husband and daughters. They felt sorry when they saw what a severe challenge it was for me to bend forward and only reach my knees while aiming for the toes. Even though we have teased and laughed about it for years, I have always felt slightly embarrassed and defended myself with the excuse that ‘I was born one of those people who couldn’t bend or stretch.’
As a pre-teen, I was a serious springboard diver. As the #1 competitor on the team, I was, ironically, the only one unable to touch my hands to the ground. For a diver, stretching is absolutely basic. This inadequacy drove the coaches crazy for fear of injury, and they actually discouraged me from continuing on to higher level competition. Throughout high school, college, the twenties and thirties, I continued to be extremely athletic as well as negligent about stretching. For twenty years I raced mountain bikes and never once got off the bike to stretch. The last four years have been dedicated to Xterra triathlons and with hundreds of miles of cross country cycling, rugged trail running, and aging into the late forties, the flexibility issue became acute. I still believe that bending, stretching and twisting is easier for some people than others. Nonetheless, just after my 45th birthday, I made a vow that I would find a way to elasticity, physical balance and wholeness. The journey began on the island of Kauai in April, 2002, in my first Bikram yoga class.
Attending yoga class two to three times a week is for me a major physical challenge and emotional triumph. When each class begins, I summon every ounce of will to endure posture #1. I position my arms accordingly and point my elbows upward. With everyone, I begin breathing deeply for six counts. All around me, focused yogis stretch their pointed elbows high toward the ceiling while their entwined hands press the chin for steady deep breathing. I reach my elbows high but they marginally stretch above the ears. My arms feel heavy and extend just slightly higher than parallel to the floor. My tightly clasped hands shake while I try to stabilize the posture and my breath. When each class ends, and my stamina survived the 90-minute Bikram challenge, I am spiritually charged from knowing this is good. I am finally taking care of my whole being.
Now, at 48 years old, I cannot live without yoga as part of my commitment towards competitive endurance athletics. I just completed my fourth Xterra season (18 Xterras), accomplishing the best results of my athletic career. I competed in 8 Xterra triathlons this last season, winning champion titles in the Masters Women’s Division at the USA, Canada, Euro and World Championships. On the morning of the Xterra World Championships, an island phenomenon known as the “Kona Wind” swept over Maui creating an unprecedented heat wave with ironically no wind. That day, over 20% of the competitors including the best pros, dropped like flies and the medical tent experienced an oppressive overflow of serious heat related problems. My day was different. Sweat poured from my brow climbing the flanks of Haleakala, passing people I never usually see because they are miles ahead. When my pace quickened on the soft deep sand of Makenna Beach, and my legs churned quickly passing others to the final stretch of this epic race, I smiled and turned my thoughts to Bikram at Funky Door Yoga in Berkeley. I knew right then the powerful source at the heart of my advantage. Bikram prepared me to dig deep to endure, to breath into discipline, to finish strong despite the intensity of the heat.
The respect I have for Bikram Yoga grows each time I practice. It is a well-designed discipline that indeed delivers an attractive promise: to invigorate my internal organs, support my skeletal structure, and enliven my spirit. I love Bikram for sport, spirit and life.