Saturday, January 12, 2013

UNBINDING MY ARMS WITH BIKRAM

As a New Years Resolution I declared that my former self, bound with frozen shoulder was no more. This week I had to keep my word.  I had to start the new year off with an effort to unbind those arms.  In 2012 I had been to the doctor, and gone through months of physical therapy, then I stopped short at surgery - and opted instead for acupuncture.  The acupuncture has been marvelous for alleviating pain, and the zing that a sudden movement often causes, but the stiffness on one side remains.

"Try hot yoga!" my daughter Rosalind repeatedly suggested.  After all, she had done it.  The first time she hated it. Her heart pounded and she felt almost panicked and wanted to leave the room - but instead she remained, and the second time she tried it, low and behold she came out glowing. "I loved it!" she said.

Ever since she's been urging me to try.  I wasn't convinced. Even though it sounded like it might help,  I sincerely doubted I was up to the challenge.

And then, quite independently my friend Irina told me that her daughter Allie had made an interesting suggestion. "Have you ever heard of it?" she asked me. "It's called hot yoga!"

We talked about it for weeks - every time we met, in fact. "We should really try," we told each other. "Yes, we really should.  It would be so healthy for us."

This Christmas, Rosalind raised the idea again. "Well, I have done yoga," I told her airily.

"When, Mum?"

"Oh," I said, "when I was in Rome, I did it several times a week. And when I came back here too..."

"What, you mean, four years ago? Mum, those muscles have gone by now!" she told me.

So at her suggestion, Roz and I took a tour of several studios in town and picked one where the people were friendly, relaxed and encouraging. The owner, whose name was Scott, told me he began his practice after a car accident that damaged his knee and his ribs. It changed his life. He then gave up his corporate job and opened up this studio.

"But for frozen shoulder, surely..." I began - hoping he'd say no, that it wouldn't be right for me.

"Oh yes," he declared, "it would certainly help frozen shoulder. You don't have to do all the poses.  Just do what you can.  No sharp pain.  Stop if you feel pain and just do what you can.  The first time, learn to breathe.  That would be an excellent goal.  Just concentrate on breathing. Think of it as a sauna and try not to leave the room."

Now I was really up against it. I had declared with the new year that I was throwing out that bound up woman with the frozen shoulders.  Rosalind was returning to the UK on Tuesday and we were out of time. There was no choice but to go to the bikram studio on Monday!

We changed into our yoga things and stopped at the supermarket for bottled and coconut water. The coconut water, Roz explained, would replenish the electrolytes lost during the workout.  The workout itself was going to be an hour and a half.  I was terrified.

But while we were in the supermarket looking for coconut water my friend Irina phoned.  "Amanda?" she said - she was calling because she was going to cut Rosalind's hair that day.

"Irina - guess where we're going!" I cried. "We're going to hot yoga. Why don't you come along?"

Sure, she said. She was feeling low, having just driven her son to the airport. But enough of hollow words; she would meet us at the studio!

Just before noon we all arrived.  We positioned our mats in the room and I tried to gather courage. But even before the class began I wanted to leave the room.  Just learn to breathe.  Just stay in the room. You can do that much can't you - with your friend and your daughter rallying you on, I told myself.

And so I did.  There are 26 poses of varying length - some of them familiar to me and others completely beyond me.  But in that boiling hot studio, most of the poses were all but impossible.  Besides which, my frozen right arm couldn't even reach for a half moon.

By the end of the first hour I was longing to leave.  I could barely think straight. At one point Irina tried to duck out to get herself a bottle of water - and was stopped by the instructor.  "Oh, I can get it for you," she said.  So no hope of leaving without a fuss.

My face in the mirror was a strange combination of white and red.  My hair became like kinky straw sticking out at the sides of my head. My body dripped. Please God. Get me out of here.

It didn't help that on either side two exquisite yogis were going through the most beautiful practice I'd ever seen.  They looked like swans as they swooped into their poses and  I felt like the biggest blob and the biggest boob in the room. But that's because I was.

At last we had half an hour of work on the mat.   Great, I could get off my feet, and I must confess I sat out some of it. "If you're looking at the person who brought you here, probably the person you gave birth to and wondering what they were thinking, you can now congratulate yourself," said our instructor - "because we're nearly at the end."

At last. It was over! OVER! We left the room, and I sat in a heap on the bench. The sweet relief of normal temperature felt like a glorious bath of cold water.

"You did it, Mum!" cried Rosalind.

"Well," I said. "Not exactly."

"What do you mean not exactly.  Everything in you was screaming to leave and you stayed.
Of course you feel terrible. Because all you had to go on was the promise of who you want to become!"

"Yes," I said, "and the distance between who I am now and who that person might be."

"It's never going to be as bad as this," she said. "You were terrified and you did it. Now you know what to expect."

Rozzie left the following day, and on Wednesday Irina telephoned to say she was going to yoga again. I wasn't ready.  Then yesterday I found myself telephoning her.  "Amanda?" she said in amazement.

"Yes! I'm going to hot yoga at 4 o clock. Want to come along?"  Turns out she had already been at 6 that morning and the studio was full, she said. She was trying to try out as many of the instructors as she could. "It was lovely," she told me.

Well, I said, full of resolve. I was going now.  And so I did. I promise you I wouldn't have gone if not for the shame of  giving up.  If not for the sweet encouragement of my daughter and friend.  "Just go, honey, "Irina said, "and go to have fun! Enjoy it!"

And surprisingly I did.  They were right. I knew what to expect this time around.  I knew what the poses would be, and paced myself accordingly.  I attempted all of the poses this time.  And even though the room was hot, it wasn't unbearable. They say it takes seven times for your body to adjust to the temperature.

I guess I just don't want to be the kind of person who gives it up before those seven times.  Maybe that's why I'm writing this.  It's my public declaration. I want to see if I can do it. And if I can't, I will just stay in the room.  I will try what I can and leave what I can't for another day. Maybe, bit by bit, I will finally leave that bound up woman with the frozen arms behind me.

The Bikram Studio in Falls Church: http://www.fallschurchyoga.com

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