The best thing about a personal exercise regime is you don’t have to be accountable to anyone; the worst thing about a personal exercise regime is—you don’t have to be accountable to anyone. Which often means that the lazy bugs in your brain can wreck havoc on all your good intentions. Or maybe I should say the lazy bugs in MY brain often want to wreck havoc on all MY good intentions.
I don’t really have this problem with my daily walk because I’ve been doing it for so long I’ve silenced the will not to do it, but I also go to Bikram yoga once a week. Bikram yoga consists of 26 poses, each one performed twice, in a room heated to about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. My stepdaughter told me about it and said that she thought I would like it. And she was right. I like the fact that we do the same thing each time because I can switch my brain off and do them in a semi-meditative state; I like the heat because it makes me sweat; and I like the fact that yoga is a non-judgmental, non-competitive form of exercise.
But – it’s hard. So often not only do I have to will myself to actually make it into the yoga studio, I really have to will myself to push when I’m in there. Fortunately I have my nieces in my head – my yogini nieces – inspiring me, encouraging me, commending me and cajoling me in their own special ways to keep pushing. They don’t know they’re in there with me but every time I come out of the yoga studio, knowing that one more time I did it, I thank them.
The first to accompany me was my niece, Jessica.
Jessica is a rock-star speech pathologist who lives in Houston, TX, and for a while there, she was going to hot yoga 3 times a week. Okay, so one more time; she lives in Houston, TX, and 3 times a week would go from the oppressively hot, sticky climate outside into a room heated to over 105 degrees…..to twist her way through 26 mind-defying poses in 90 minutes. How could I not find that inspiring? How could I not, when lying face down on my mat in a heated studio in the much more temperate climate of the Pacific Northwest, being asked to lift all parts of my anatomy, except my midriff, up – backwards! – and whining in my head, “Do I have to? Can’t you see how heavy some parts of me are?” – how could I not think of Jessica and tell myself that if she can do this 3 times a week – in Houston of all places – then I can at least try harder the once a week I do it. Just thinking that has helped me over and over again to heft my legs up into the air behind me and attempt to make a rocking horse of my body.
Then I have a niece, Sarah, who works as a lactation counselor and registered obstetrics nurse in New York, and who actually teaches yoga.
She also writes a blog about yoga, which I read. http://blissbabyyogi.com. She wrote one post about overcoming fear (you can read it here) where she describes using the mantra, “I am strong, I am strong enough” to achieve what you want to achieve. I can’t tell you how many times, since reading that post, I have found myself in balancing stick pose,
or eagle pose,
begging the teacher in my mind to count faster before I topple over, when I’ve heard Sarah whispering, “I am strong; I am strong enough” into my ear, helping me make it to the end of the pose without losing my balance.
For almost 3 years I had these two, inspiring young women in my mind when I went once a week to Bikram Yoga and then, sadly, the studio that I practiced in, closed. The months rolled by without me finding another studio, and my back started twinging too often and my knees reminded me for the first time ever that I wasn’t that young anymore. So I was pleased when I discovered, just before going back to England for my nephew’s wedding, that another yoga studio within a tolerable driving distance was offering Bikram. Well maybe pleased isn’t the right word because as soon as I learned this, I began that should I/shouldn’t I, sucking air through my teeth debate that we get into when we know we want something but we know the challenges of that thing it is that we want. Fortunately I sat next to my beautiful niece, Gemma, at the wedding reception.
Gemma is an archaeologist in Scotland and we got talking yoga (she enjoys it when she does it too) and I confessed my dichotomy of wanting to go back to it but not wanting to because what if I weren’t in good enough shape anymore (which in itself should have been all the reason I needed to start up again) and Gemma said, in her lilting English accent, “Oh, go on, Auntie Nicola, you can do it.”
And because she told me I could, I did. Because who wouldn’t be inspired by a niece that encourages you to do what’s good for you? And then, because she told me I could, I found myself trying to go further in my practice. Like with standing bow pose.
Ever since I started Bikram, I’ve found myself getting to a certain place in this pose and then….just…hanging out. Because….well….I’ve got my foot in the air, haven’t I?! But now, now I have Gemma in my head, saying, “Go on, Auntie Nicola, you can do it,” so recently, when I heard the teacher say, “Kick, kick, kick up,” I found myself trying it with my right leg and the next thing I knew, muscles in my left buttock that had been dormant for years said, he-llo, and sprang into action. And do you know what? It felt great.
I have other nieces, all of whom inspire me to keep reaching in different ways.
But the thing is, and this is the cherry on top, it’s not just the physical benefits that make me go back to Bikram again and again; it’s the wonderful feeling of calm and peace and contentment I get, a feeling that lets me float for hours, sometimes days, after going. Every time I feel that soul-sustaining serenity, I think to myself – thank goodness for nieces.
Disclaimer: this is not me in any of the above photos. Just so you don’t get any illusions that I’m actually good at any of this.