Posted by: kerryalina | 24 March 2012

Challenge Class 36: Challenges for Beginners?

After today’s class, I overheard the teacher trying to persuade a brand new student that a 60 day challenge was a great idea.  New student was having NONE of it.  I’m pretty sure she thought it was either a joke, or completely insane.  (I’m pretty sure she may be right).  But of course, I piped up (“I’m doing it!  It feels great!“) and the conversation turned into a fairly standard Q and A session: Are you tired?  Have you noticed any changes?  Are there days you just don’t want to go?  (My response to this is always “Oh dear god yes.  But I haven’t yet had a class I’ve regretted attending.”  Seriously.  Not even this one).  New student left, promising to think about it.

But you know what?  I know it’s the official Bikram thing… but I don’t know if I’d necessarily recommend a brand spanking newbie start off with a challenge.  Or, to put it a different way: I definitely wouldn’t recommend every newbie start off with a challenge.  I actually began with a kind-of-sort-of challenge, in a “THIS IS AWESOME AND I’M GOING TO DO IT EVERY DAY” kind of way.  The only result was that I quickly grew exhausted, frustrated and constantly injured.

Exhausted, because when I was a newbie?  I was the very newbiest newbie around.  I had zero fitness and zero experience.  I didn’t play sports, I wasn’t a gym member, I’d never done yoga.  I’d completed the first few weeks of the Couch to 5K running program about once a year since finishing uni, always during that one month in Melbourne when the seasons change and the weather is suddenly bearable.  Then we go back to 45 degree days in summer or freezing rain in winter and I’d go back to sitting on the couch.  I had no strength, no stamina, no nothing.  And my body just couldn’t cope.  Hell, I had to ration locking my knee for the first few months – waiting until the last possible minute for each asana – because I just did not have the energy to keep my thighs contracted for more than a few seconds at a time.

Injured, because I had no concept of how to work with my body instead of against it.  How to push against my limitations without rushing past them and damaging myself.  How to use my core muscles to support my spine in backbends; how to support my own weight so I didn’t collapse onto my head in Rabbit.  How to listen to my body.

And frustrated.  Frustrated beyond words.  Frustrated because all I could see was how weak I was – how weak I’d let myself become.  Frustrated and betrayed by my own body, which was feeble for no reason other than lack of use.  Frustrated because I was lying down for half the postures, when nobody else in the class had to.  Frustrated because I was wasting my energy railing at myself for being lazy and useless.  Frustrated because I was injured, and exhausted, and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing there – why I kept coming back when the only result I could see was that I’d be limping for days afterwards.  Then coming back anyway, because I didn’t know what else to do.  And getting injured again.  Frustrated.

So, I cut it back to once a week.  I was stiff and sore for days afterwards, but doing fewer classes meant I was less exhausted.  The extra energy meant I could hold my muscles taut for longer, preventing injury and building strength.  And so I had the capacity to do more postures (and do them better!), taking breaks less and less often, respecting my body more… until the frustration became a rare occurrence, not a constant companion.  And as my confidence and abilities grew, so did my attendance.  Twice, then three times, then four times a week.  And now a challenge – six classes a week for 60 days.

This challenge has honestly been an incredible experience so far and I can’t explain how much benefit I’ve gained from it.  But despite the party line – that everyone should do two months of daily practice as a beginner – I know that I never would have been able to complete it when I first started practicing.  If you can, I have so much respect for you.  If you can’t?  I have just as much respect.  It wasn’t the right thing for me.  It may not be the right thing for you.  But you’re amazing just for showing up, no matter how many times a week it happens.

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Responses

  1. “And frustrated. Frustrated beyond words. Frustrated because all I could see was how weak I was – how weak I’d let myself become. Frustrated and betrayed by my own body, which was feeble for no reason other than lack of use. Frustrated because I was lying down for half the postures, when nobody else in the class had to. Frustrated because I was wasting my energy railing at myself for being lazy and useless. Frustrated because I was injured, and exhausted, and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing there – why I kept coming back when the only result I could see was that I’d be limping for days afterwards. Then coming back anyway, because I didn’t know what else to do. And getting injured again. Frustrated.”

    YESYESYES! I spent so much time in the beginning being pissed at myself for not being a rock star like the other people in my class. NEVERMIND that they’ve been doing this for years.

    Ahhhh. This was a wonderful post. So proud of you!

    • Oh man, my aspirations were SO NOT rockstar-high. I just wanted to be able to stand up for the full class! Preferably without looking like a zombie. (Yeah… I’m still working on that last part). And I was so busy hating on myself for not being able to do it that I forgot that what I WAS achieving was still pretty bloody awesome.

  2. I agree with you – doing a challenge right at the beginning is not for everyone. I could not have done it. I did my first challenge (30 days) after about a year. I could not have handled it before then – not just for the physical stuff, but for the mental strength it requires to do a daily 90 minute moving meditation. I’m still always shocked at the things my brain does during a challenge! Thanks for sharing and namaste!!

    • I had a whole paragraph about this, but couldn’t figure out where to fit it in! Yes yes yes I totally agree – there’s no way I would have been able to push through the tears and the tantrums and the incredible mental challenge when I hadn’t yet realised just how much benefit it could bring.

      And congrats on your challenge!!

  3. i don’t think (no, I know) bikram is not the way to start off with yoga but I know for many it is. I think it should be a mid-pinnacle once the foundations are set. I always telll people, go for beginners, then general dynamic, then astanga, and if you’re still there, see what bikram teaches you…

    • I love everyone’s different viewpoints! As someone who had zero yoga experience going into my first Bikram class, I couldn’t disagree more – I loved the process of learning everything from scratch and I learned faster because I didn’t have to weed out ingrained habits from other yoga styles. I’ve also found that the newbies who have yoga experience are the ones who are less likely to come back – they tend to have a very definite idea of what yoga is… and for most of them, Bikram isn’t it!


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