The Results of My 30-day Bikram Yoga Challenge

At the Sackler Museum Yoga exhibit, October 2013.

My son’s shadow at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Museum exhibit: Yoga~The Art of Transformation, October 2013.

A week ago, I completed a 30-day Bikram yoga challenge. The challenge began October 21 and ran until November 19. I actually started on October 23 because I hadn’t been to the studio in a while and didn’t know a challenge was happening. Needless to say, I was at a disadvantage from the beginning in more ways that one.

At the beginning of October, my day job responsibilities were taken away from me, which is a nice way of saying I was out of a job. Unfortunately for me, this coincided with the government shutdown.

Living in the DC metro area, even if you don’t work as a government employee, your life is directly affected by the government’s business. So for the first two weeks of my job search in October, I didn’t hear a word or a sound from any potential employers. Heck, I didn’t even hear crickets!

But I persisted. I was determined to stay positive, but it wasn’t easy. I was struggling. In all honesty, when I walked into Bikram Yoga Rockville’s studio two days into their first Turkey Trot Challenge, I was in a deep slump emotionally, mentally and physically.

However, instead of saying, “Damn! Another opportunity lost because I wasn’t paying attention,” I took it as a sign. I saw it as an alternate chance to move myself in a better direction. So I asked the owner of the studio if it was okay to sign up late. She said, “No problem!” and had me sign my name to the top of the challenge board where she drew in more grid lines to accommodate my late participation.

(I’m happy to also report that a few others joined me as late comers, so to say. I wasn’t alone. Hehe!)

But enough about why I started, most of you are probably more interested in what I learned as a result of doing the challenge, right. Well, here goes:

1. I don’t mind ending up in a hot spot.

Bikram Yoga is hot and sweaty. REALLY hot (105 degrees Fahrenheit) and sweaty. Many teachers of Bikram Yoga refer to their studios as “The Hot Room” and/or “The Torture Chamber.” Personally, I don’t find it torturous, but I have, in the past, found myself consciously avoiding the hottest parts of the room.

You see, not every spot is the same. Some spots are hotter and some spots are much “cooler” (if that’s even possible to say). I discovered that the hotter and more uncomfortable I was, the more focused and determined I was. My mind wondered to places outside the room far less when I was in a hot spot and when sweat was running down my face, than if I were in a “cooler” spot in the room.

The hotter my spot, the better my practice. Who knew!!

2. I learned that I can trust my body when it tells me when to eat and when not to eat.

During the challenge, I ate what I wanted when I wanted it. I don’t eat a lot, but I did during the challenge. My body just needed it. I even ate Halloween candy, including chocolate, which I try to avoid because it has been known to cause me headaches in the past.

According to the calorie calculator over at everydayhealth.com, it’s estimated that I burn between 850 calories during a 90-minutes Bikram Yoga practice. Before the challenge, I wasn’t so sure that was true. But now I am convinced it must be true considering all of the food I ate without gaining or losing weight.

I am the type of person who eats to live, rather than lives to eat. (I haven’t always been that way.) So my body was telling me it needed food, so I helped myself!

3. I realized that what I learn about myself while on the mat translates into how I should be off the mat.

I like to be challenged. But whereas in the past I would become frustrated and upset if I didn’t meet my standards, I’m more inclined now to brush myself off and try again.

One of the yoga teachers at the studio mentioned in the early part of the challenge that if we can remain patient and non-judgmental in a 105 degree room as we try to balance on one leg while trying to touch our head to the knee of our other leg, we can remain patient and non-judgmental anywhere.

In the yoga room, when I fall out of a posture, I just try again. Not because I am competing with anyone else in the room or even because I’m competing with myself. But because I have a desire to honor my practice. Not giving up is honoring the time I invest in my yoga practice. I am patient with my physical limitations and know it takes time to build muscle strength and balance.

Why not translate that kind of thinking off the mat and apply it to my emotional and mental needs for strength and balance? So I did. After about day 15 or so, I repeatedly reminded myself of my yoga teacher’s message.

Today, I actively practice mental patience off the mat more than I had been doing before the challenge. When I start to feel myself becoming agitated with myself or with someone or some situation, I stop myself from diving into negative thought patterns. I step back and say, “Hey! This kind of thinking isn’t going to make the situation better. It’s only going to make it more difficult. Stop. Rewind. Start over.”

There is no shame in admitting defeat and trying again.

4. I love yoga!

After completing the challenge, I realize now more than ever how much I love yoga. I love the smell of the mat and sweaty room; I love the collective sound of the pranas (breathing exercises); I love how the mat feels between my toes; I love the taste of my ice cold water after eagle pose; I love the feeling I get coming out of camel pose (sometimes it’s relief, other times it’s nausea); I love meeting fellow yogis and learning more about why and how they got started on their yoga journey.

On the final day of the challenge just before my 30th consecutive practice began, one of my fellow yogis approached me and handed me a small, rolled up piece of yellow cloth. She stepped back to her mat, and I opened it.

30-day challenge banner

Vera’s gift to me

I immediately got emotional and walked over to her mat and hugged and thanked her. She just said, “You inspire me, Paula.” I cried some more, returned to my mat and finished out my challenge with my last moving meditation.

Her generous and thoughtful act truly humbled me. I couldn’t believe she had taken the time to create something so special just for me. As I walked to my car after practice, I thought about where to hang it in my home to honor her and to honor my challenge. I couldn’t wait to show my husband and my son, who were my biggest supporters and cheerleaders, not to mention they put up with my stinky yoga laundry every single day for 30 days!

Once inside my car, I reached for my phone to call my husband. But before I could call him, I noticed I had missed several messages from a staffing agency I had been working with over the previous three weeks. It seems I had gotten a job offer while I was in yoga!

5. I owe a lot to my yoga practice.

Without it, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Most of all, I appreciate all of my family and friends who don’t tell me to shut up when I start talking about yoga. It’s been too much of a good thing to keep to myself. I can’t stop myself from sharing.

Namaste!
~Paula

© 2013 Paula Carrasquillo and A Yogini Transformed.


Paula Carrasquillo is an active yogi, author, and advocate who has lived in numerous watersheds throughout the United States, including Colorado, Maine, Maryland and New Mexico. She currently lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Paula is passionate about her family, friends and the motivational and brave people she meets daily through her online writing and social media exchanges. To Paula, every person, place, thing, idea and feeling she encounters is significant and meaningful, even those which she most wants to forget. Follow Paula on Twitter and check out her other blog.

Why I’m Doing Another 30-day Bikram Yoga Challenge and How I Prepare and Remain Motivated

I am embarking on my second Bikram Yoga challenge. The first challenge was almost two years ago in February 2012, just a few months after I started my yoga practice.

Me in Bikram Triangle

Me in Bikram Triangle

To be honest, I never imagined I would be motivated to do another challenge. The first challenge was very beneficial but also tough on my body, mind, spirit and family life. Although I felt accomplished in a mindful and self-aware sort of way upon completing the first challenge, my ego also said, “Well, you did it. You proved you could do it. No need to do that again.”

So I held fast to that egocentric attitude until recently when I started feeling defeated by life and overwhelmed by my responsibilities.

You see, in addition to having a regular 9 to 5 job, I have been writing non-stop on my other blog for 21 months. Over 320 blog posts in 90 weeks. That’s almost an average of 4 blog posts per week.

What I write on my other blog does not result in any sort of financial compensation. None. My compensation comes from the comments and messages I receive from readers who have been positively affected by the message I attempt to share and disseminate, a message related to an understanding of what domestic violence and intimate partner abuse looks like when perpetrated by emotional abusers. Sociopaths and narcissists.

Yeah, it may sound dramatic if you aren’t already familiar with my other blog. And you would be correct. Abuse and control is all about drama. My postings and writings are filled with reactions to that drama, and composing those reactions have been 100% draining. So when October began, I wasn’t surprised when I found myself in need of a break from my other blog and the emotions and feelings it stirred in me.

But a funny thing happened after I made the conscious decision to take a break from writing: I started to feel guilty!

I felt guilty for leaving people hanging. I felt guilty for not being as active as I once was. I have made some incredible friendships through my other blog and value all of the feedback I receive. Actively responding to comments and e-mails was never something I had to struggle with doing. But I found myself struggling, and that made me feel guilty.

Fortunately, I had enough humility (Thank you, yoga!) to reach out to my friends for support. Repeatedly, I received the same message: “Paula, take care of yourself. Put yourself first.”

It took a while for that message to sink in, but once it did, I immediately thought another Bikram Yoga challenge would be just the thing to get me out of my self-imposed slump. I was thinking about doing a challenge on my own but was thrilled to discover the studio where I practice is facilitating a challenge between now and Thanksgiving! (There are no coincidences, I’ve learned.)

I started my second challenge at Bikram Yoga Rockville on Wednesday, October 23 which ends the day before Thanksgiving. (The studio’s challenge actually started on Monday, October 21, so I have two doubles to look forward to completely. I’ll save those for the end.)

Like my first challenge, I had to prepare. Currently, my office is in my home with a more open and flexible schedule than I had during my first challenge. This simply means I have more options for which times I can attend class: mornings, afternoons or evenings. But a more flexible schedule doesn’t mean finding and maintaining my motivation is any less challenging.

Below are some ways I prepared and remain motivated.

In preparation:

  1. Setup a calendar reminder for each day, so I remember to eat. (I sometimes get really busy during the day and forget to eat lunch. If I wait too long, I can’t eat until after yoga. (Bikram instructors recommend that you eat a light meal 2-4 hours prior to your daily practice.)
  2. Get a pedicure. (Hey, it’s important to have clean and polished feet to present to your fellow yogis. Plus, it helps to keep your mat fresh.)
  3. Bathe my mat. (It’s kind of like a clean sheet thing–it just feels good and it’s healthy, for you and your mat.)
  4. Buy tea tree oil and a spray bottle. (A tea tree oil and water concoction will be sprayed on my mat after each use; it’s a green and friendly solution to keeping your mat fresh.)
  5. Pack a clean change of yoga clothes and towel in my car for spur-of-the-moment decisions to go to the yoga studio.

To remain motivated:

  1. Let as many people know your intention to complete the challenge.
    The more people who know, the more people will be asking you every day, “So, how many days are left?” You don’t want to answer, “Oh, I quit.” Do you?
  2. Get a challenge buddy (or 2 or 3).
    This can be done directly or indirectly. If you are new or simply don’t have friends at the studio, pick someone’s name off the board and follow/stalk his/her progress. It’s definitely psychological but effective.
  3. Don’t neglect your family.
    If you are married, in a partnership, or have children, they’re probably your biggest supporters. So, even when you are feeling tired or overwhelmed by the yoga, do things with and for your family. They’ll be more inclined to maintain their support throughout the 30 days. And remember to say, “Thank you, Baby, for respecting how much this means to me.”
  4. Keep talking about how the challenge is making you feel.
    Even if you feel like crap some days, share it. You would be surprised by how many people will tell you, “Well, just don’t stop. You’re so close.”
  5. Be lazy, eat right, drink lots of water, and sleep when you can.
    Do I need to explain this one? :)
  6. Encourage other yogis in the challenge.
    Through encouraging others, you encourage yourself and the entire room.
  7. Keep smiling.

Namaste!
~Paula

© 2013 Paula Carrasquillo and A Yogini Transformed.


Paula Carrasquillo is an active yogi, author, and advocate who has lived in numerous watersheds throughout the United States, including Colorado, Maine, Maryland and New Mexico. She currently lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Paula is passionate about her family, friends and the motivational and brave people she meets daily through her online writing and social media exchanges. To Paula, every person, place, thing, idea and feeling she encounters is significant and meaningful, even those which she most wants to forget. Follow Paula on Twitter and check out her other blog.