USA Yoga Participant Bio – Lauren Anastos

by Lauren Anastos

Running and Bikram Yoga

Almost four years ago, while long-distance training, I pulled a hamstring.  I continued to run on it and completed a marathon in Charlevoix in June 2013.

I struggled throughout the race due to the pain in my hamstring.  Also, despite my training, around mile 14 I had trouble breathing and needed to use an inhaler.  At the end of the race, the pain in my hamstring was so bad that I couldn’t bend my knee.  I had trouble walking over the next week both due to my leg as well as generalized soreness.

Six weeks after the race, my hamstring still hadn’t healed.  I still couldn’t flex my leg despite taking time to rest.  I also tried spinning, walking, stretching, and strength training, without any luck.  …

That’s when I found Bikram Yoga.

Within one week of practicing Bikram Yoga, the pain from my training and racing was 100% gone, and within one month, my mobility was completely restored!

Lauren in Bow Posture Variation – preparation for full backbending – BYCA – May 2017

I maintained a regular Bikram Yoga practice from 2013-2015. I felt so good that in July 2015 I started training for the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.

I did the same race training as I had in 2013, but this time I made sure I practiced Bikram Yoga 2-3 times per week.  The results were amazing!!

I didn’t even feel tired until mile 25, and my breathing was smooth the entire time.  When I was done running, I didn’t feel any pain.

I walked two miles after the marathon to catch a cab, and I was fine.  The next day, I woke up and was amazed by the quick recovery – I could walk around just fine.

I was back for my yoga practice 3 days after the race, with a smile on my face!

USA Yoga Participant Bio – Ann Chrapkiewicz

Ann Half Spine Twist Cropped 2017 Mid West Chicago

by Ann Chrapkiewicz

My practice history

I started practicing Bikram Yoga in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2003 – shortly after returning to the United States after 2 years of living in rural Japan.  I was working in the kitchen of the People’s Food Coop at the time and attended on the invitation of one of my coworkers.  I do not think that either of us “liked” the first class – she did not ever return for a second class (that was hard!).  But there were reasons I had to return.  Day after day, almost every day of the week.  For that first couple of years, I hated how it felt if I missed a day.

Ever since childhood, I had struggled on a daily basis to get a good, satisfying, deep breath.  I was never diagnosed with asthma or any other pathologies, but it was noticeable in my daily life.

After that first class, I remember doing some grocery shopping and feeling like every breath was deep, wonderful, heavenly.  I felt like I was floating through the aisles, light as a feather.  Even though that first class was the hardest thing I had ever done – and I sat down five times before triangle posture! – I knew I had to go back.

Dramatic healing

Within two weeks, my chronic blood sugar imbalances disappeared.  I didn’t crave sugars so desperately, and I naturally started to eat better foods.

Within one month, the carpal tunnel syndrome that had been developing was gone.  And my chronic sluggish digestion was changing for the better.

Within two months, my bulimic mindset of nearly 10 years almost completely vanished, and after the immersive practice of teacher training the following year, it stayed away permanently.  I gained so much time and freedom in my life after living in a sort of obsessive prison of dieting, compulsively overeating, and body-loathing since high school.

The 30+ pounds of excess weight came off later, but by that time I truly didn’t even care about the appearance of my body.

I just felt so stupidly good on the inside.

Eight months into practicing, I slipped and fractured two vertebrae.  The first part of the story of that injury can be found HERE.  Thanks to Bikram Yoga, my pain was gone in 20 days.

Only a few months after my back healed, I attended and completed Bikram Yoga Teacher Training at La Cienega HQ, Los Angeles, in August of 2004.  I loved it.  There is nothing like a 15-hour-a-day, 5+-day-a-week, 9-consecutive-week immersion in a yoga practice.  People say it is hard to leave their lives and homes and families and jobs for 2+ months.  That it is hard to do two 90 -minute+ Bikram Yoga classes every day.

But in my experience, living for a decade in a mental prison – of body-loathing, what we call “OCD”, dieting, eating uncontrollably, counting calories, desiring external validation – was much, much harder.

Half Spine Twisting – La Cienega HQ, Los Angeles, CA – Bikram Yoga Teacher Training Summer 2004

Supporting more than one life

Throughout 2006 – and until the day my labor started – I practiced Rajashree’s Pregnancy Yoga at least 4 days a week.  It took away all of my morning sickness, relieved my back pain, and kept my blood sugar steady in each trimester.

8 months pregnant – Standing Bow Pulling – October 2006

I had a healthy home-birth largely due to the physical awareness I had developed with this yoga.  After 3 hours of the last “pushing” stage of labor, the baby was still stuck, the contractions were irregular and debiltating, and I could tell something was not right.  Upon communicating this with my midwife, she found that he (although I did not know the sex at the time) was coming out with his hand resting against his temple.  Thanks to her skills and my ability to breathe and relax, I was able to give birth without injury to either of us.  Without question it would have been a cesarean section in any of the best hospitals.

As a toddler and young child, my son had experienced some traumas and was very anxious.  Thanks to this yoga, I was able to physically carry him and support his needs, yet maintain the health of my body and mostly stay out of muscular pain.

Year-by-year, the benefits continue

In the years since then, I have used the Beginners’ class and other Ghosh lineage practices to:

  • relieve the pain from sciatica and plantar fascitis,
  • build strength and maintain more calm when dealing with verbally abusive individuals / pathological narcissists,
  • reduce anxiety and insomnia, and
  • nearly eliminate premenstrual cramps that were previously debilitating.

My environmental allergies occur at only about 10% of their former severity.  I used to have to take something daily in the spring; now I take an allergy pill maybe once a year.  If things are really bad.

I am currently in a sort-of maintenance mode, where my health issues are under relatively good control.  But I know that life can bring challenges at any moment, and I am so appreciative that I have this yoga to use for both healing crises and everyday life.  It is my primary form of health insurance.

And these are only the benefits that have occurred on the most surface layers.  The deeper ones are much harder to describe.

Participation in the USA Yoga Championship

I believe that encouraging younger generations to get interested in a therapeutic hatha yoga practice is of vital importance in our world.  To support this belief, I established weekly (free) Youth classes at BYCA over one year ago.  This past winter I also volunteer-instructed at a Lansing Public Schools 6th-grade classroom.

I am participating in this year’s championship for three main reasons:

  1. to inspire people to start, maintain, or intensify their therapeutic hatha yoga practice,
  2. to continue to build an inspirational healing yoga community in mid-Michigan
  3. to develop more balance in my personal yoga practice

Instead of training in more advanced postures, this year I am happy to demonstrate the “natural” point in my practice.  Sort of like a snapshot in time.  Without pressure or expectation.  Without thoughts of what others are thinking. (What a glorious waste of time and energy, no?!)

Just my best focus in the moment, demonstrating the amazing communication superhighway between the mind and the body.  In every class I practice, and hopefully in the moments when I get up on the stage.

If you did not yet read my philosophy of competition and competitiveness in yoga, here it is.

One of my longer-term goals is to practice sustainably so that I can eventually participate in the Senior Women division (ages 50+) of the Championship.  I am excited to support the USA Yoga organization and events with the hope that they are still around in 12 years!

For our health, for the health of our elders, and for the health of our children…

December 2014

USA Yoga Participant Bio – Lindsay Gray

Lindsay working on Toe Stand

by Lindsay Gray

My practice history

I started practicing Bikram Yoga six years ago and have had the pleasure of practicing in many different places.  Having started in Honolulu, and then in Houston, Austin, Boston, and Berlin before ending up here at my most favorite of studios. (Aren’t we lucky!!)

I am forever indebted to a close friend of mine, a former dancer like myself, who introduced me to Bikram yoga.  I witnessed how she seemed, through her practice, more focused mentally, to physically glow, and to be able to use all the toxic stuff with which the dance world infuses you for a positive means.

Lindsay working on Toe Stand
Lindsay Working on Toe Stand (Padangustasana), 2016

Acceptance and discovery in yoga

Yoga, unlike ballet, focuses on the process and on the acceptance of where you are with a posture, and, ultimately, that’s what’s really spoken to me about this practice.  In dance, I hated racing to the finish line of who could become the best the fastest.  My brain is just not designed for that kind of race; the pressure of that level of competition is soul-crushing for me.

I love how, with yoga, I am constantly tinkering with a posture and working toward minute improvements that may some day add up to some form of relative perfection.  The trusting in that process of discovery, of all the psychic and physical subtleties within me, is the best lesson in self-acceptable and faith.

Participation in USA Yoga Championship

I wanted to participate in the USA Yoga championships for two main reasons.  I have been slowly working to expand my practice through engaging with some of the intermediate postures, and the championships seem like a good opportunity to re-enter the performance realm within a safe and supportive environment.

For the championships this go-round, I chose relatively simple, seated intermediate postures.  This way, I can participate but not make myself crazy with anxiety about sticking a posture on-stage, alone with no mirror, and a bunch of people watching.  I’ll worry about doing that maybe next year or in ten years. It’ll be a process.

When will I be able to DO the posture?

by Ann Chrapkiewicz

An important yoga-related question occurs commonly with regards to Fixed Firm Posture:

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I hear something like: “When am I going to be able to do the posture?”

I smile in response: “What are you talking about?  You are already doing it.  I have seen you do it several times a week for the past 5 months.”

“But I am terrible at it.  When am I going to be good at it?”

The question I must ask in return:

What do you mean by “doing” a posture?  Or being good at it? And what is the purpose of the posture?dude in fixed firm yoga on the river 2016

Let us say that you are thirsty for a drink of water.  Very thirsty.  As in you just ran a mile unexpectedly on a hot, sunny day.  You have been breathing hard and were not hydrated beforehand.  You arrive at a fountain of fresh, clean water, and a friend of yours is even standing there, holding out a large glass of this water that he has just filled for you.

This angel of a friend says to you, “You look so thirsty.  I got this water ready for you and even squeezed a little bit of lemon in it.”

What do you do?  Take the water, right?  Drink it blissfully and in complete appreciation for the water, the fountain, and the friend.  And maybe even ask for a second glass.  You feel every drop of it soothing your dry mouth and thirsty body.  Heaven.  You drink the water to relieve your thirst.  Plain and simple.  


You do not think about whether you are drinking it as well as someone else drinks a glass of water.


But am I good enough?

Well, you know you are good enough to drink the water when you are thirsty, right?  How “good” you are probably doesn’t even cross your mind.  You just fulfill the need.

We can apply the same simplicity to therapeutic yoga postures, especially the difficult ones.

Let us say that you have tight ankles, old foot injuries, bad knees, tight quadriceps, or poor leg circulation.  

A lifetime – or even just a few years – of misuse, while not intentional on your part, has resulted in poor mobility, slowed healing, stiffness, or pain.  Not to mention disillusionment with your own body, and lack of faith in its ability to feel better with the passage of time.  It just seems to get worse each year, little by little.

So you arrive in a Bikram Yoga class, perhaps at the urging of a friend.  And maybe you even come back 100 times, just to get the smallest taste of the immense benefits that are available.  Each day, you do the deep breathing, the standing warm-up postures, and the spine strengthening series.  Not too bad, you think.  I feel so good when I am done with class, my panic attacks have virtually disappeared, my depression is nearly gone, my cholesterol has dropped, and my blood sugar is balancing….this is definitely good for me.

But then you get up from the floor to do Fixed Firm Posture.

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All of a sudden, the thoughts come pouring out like a waterfall: “I cannot do this posture!  When am I going to be able to DO this posture?  Why can other people do it better than I can?  Why do I suck at this?  I am not good at yoga.”

These thoughts repeat themselves for the entire 20 seconds of the first set.  Finally, the teacher says it is time to change, and you turn around and flop down on the floor, partially defeated and partially relieved that it is over.  “Oh, god,” you think. “I have to do it again.”  Hell.

Heaven or Hell?  You choose.

Now what you might not realize – or perhaps might know but often forget – is that Fixed Firm Posture is, for most sets of legs, that metaphorical fresh drink of water at the end of the hot sweaty mile you ran.  

Your friend (Ms. Yoga) knows that your legs are weary, stiff, and damaged, and she has prepared you – through the first 80 minutes of the class – for the maximum benefit of Fixed Firm Posture.  She has designated about a minute of your day to help you find relief, improve circulation, and generally help your legs to function better.  She offers this to you joyfully and with calm persistence and faith that the posture will help in some way.

But instead of accepting the glass of water from Ms. Yoga and drinking it joyfully, your mind says, “Oh jeez.  I am not good at drinking water…I cannot do it as gracefully as the other people around me.  Is this over yet?  I really can’t stand this but I will go through the motions.  Ugh.  I guess.”  Little to no appreciation happening, no relaxation, and very little awareness of the breathing for those 20 seconds.  Just mental torture!

And it doesn’t just happen in Fixed Firm Posture.  It can happen in any posture, and it can transfer from one posture to another, as time passes in our practice and old injuries or weaknesses come to the surface.

Instead of seeing a posture for what it is – a tool for healing – the mind can turn it into a thing to be achieved.  The mind can basically ruin the whole thing – not just one posture but the whole class.  Just by choosing a certain set of thoughts.  We generate dread and tension when relief and healing is being offered.

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Drink the water.  Savor every drop.

Although our beloved yoga method is intensely physical, 99% of the most wonderful lessons and benefits are mental.  And this example is one of the many great shifts that can happen.  The reality is that fixed firm posture is here to help you heal your legs.  It regulates the circulation of blood and lymph.  It removes scar tissue.  And it is known as one of the best postures for the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

If you dread it or if you see it as something you need to accomplish, you can create all the suffering and mental hell you want.  You might even leave the yoga class with a negative comment for social media about how this was supposed to be a beginners’ class, but clearly it was not because you couldn’t do some of the postures.  

But if you consciously approach it as your friend and appreciate it for what it is, you can learn to relax while you do it….and maybe even enjoy it.  Here’s to Fixed Firm Posture.  

 

By “doing” a posture, all we mean is an honest, correct, open-minded attempt, repeated consistently.  Without thought of the outcome, without comparison.

The purpose of doing a posture in a therapeutic lineage is healing, not the achievement of some particular depth of expression.

 

 

*none of the individuals pictured in this post whined or complained about Fixed Firm Posture during the making of this post.