Struggling to sweat

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“If you feel something weird, that’s good. If you feel something good, that’s weird.”

I’ve been having a hard time coming up with things other than bikram to write about since I haven’t been riding and I don’t do much else besides work. And, despite bikram yoga founder Bikram Choudhury’s recent sexual harassment lawsuit in which he was ordered to pay $6.5 million to his former legal adviser, I’m still a fan. In the last 30 days, I counted 15 bikram yoga classes and, while I haven’t really noticed any changes to my physical being, (I should have taken before and after photos), I feel a lot stronger mentally and more centered. It’s a lot easier now to keep my mind from taking over and remember that everything is temporary.

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The view from my classroom sure has changed
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The best thing about inversion is the killer sunsets!

Bikram is the hardest thing I’ve ever done besides racing enduros and hare scrambles in the Florida heat, and it’s been taking the place of dirt biking since there’s too much snow on the ground to ride anywhere around Salt Lake. Plus I can’t see myself driving 4 hours just to ride for 2. So, I’ve been sweating it out inside instead and I’m sad my 30-day challenge is behind me. My last class was probably one of my worst in terms of feeling like I was going to pass out, but the day before that, I nailed every posture. The best part of the challenge was having those 90 minutes all to myself in “open eye meditation” on my own body in the mirror. I learned something about myself every class and came to appreciate my instructors giving me small correction; I knew they could tell I was taking it seriously and trying my hardest.

“Smile. It’s only yoga,” they said.

It’s way more than that.

 

 

Riding through the clouds

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If I take more than a day off from bikram, it’s almost like having to start over with some of the poses and all the progress I made last time. Or, I’ll get dizzy and lightheaded when I never did before. Still, either way, every time I make it to the mat, the class is almost always full. The goal, the instructor says every time, is to stay in the room, “but if you do have to lie down, do it.” In the past month, I haven’t lied down yet, but people do. My goal is making it to class three to four times a week. So far, so good.

On Sunday, I met up a new YZ250X-riding-friend – one of the few people I’ve met who are willing and able to ride in sub-40 degree temps – and we drove out to Fivemile Pass and burned some two-stroke fuel. It was my first time riding across completely snow-covered terrain, which I guess is kind of like skiing (even though I’ve never been.)

Usually, when I’m out riding, I can go as fast as I dare, but not in the snow. It’s risky riding across what felt like a foot of snow up to my foot pegs but was probably only 6 inches. I underestimated not being able to see the bottom and crashed a bunch trying to weight my rear wheel while controlling my front end according to no real trail ahead, navigating across meadows of powder only marked by rabbit prints. It takes a special kind of rider to just go for it; it’s a different mindset blazing your own trail through fresh powder rather than trying to stay in a slippery rut. Still, no matter how cold you are, freedom rings riding motorcycles.

“There was a star riding through clouds one night, & I said to the star, ‘Consume me.’” – Virginia Woolf

Thought upgrade

I spent Sunday morning unable to ride my dirt bike anywhere around this frozen tundra so I found myself walking into the Mountain Life Church in Park City for the first time. I was welcomed with warm greetings and outstretched hands from smiling strangers at the front door, which was held open for me. The sun and blue skies probably had more to do with my smile than anything because of how bad the inversion in the valley has been lately. Inside the lobby, more people welcomed me with a handshake as I noticed others helping themselves to free coffee, water and juice. The laid-back vibe was just what I was looking for and once Pastor Scott started his sermon about kicking off the New Year thinking the best thoughts – our brains process more than 70,000 thoughts per day on average – I knew this was right where I belonged.

Last night at bikram, I arrived just a few minutes before class started and found a spot on the back row before settling into Savasana aka corpse pose.

Once the instructor walked in and noticed how crowded the back row was, she volunteered me to move to the front row right next to her. I hesitated. “What? You’re ready for it,” she said. No more hiding, I told myself as I moved. After the first 30-minute standing series, we take our first water break aka “party time” before finding our way down to the mat for our first Savasana. My mind started to wander about all the things I wanted to do and write – this blog – my words coming easy and flowing fast. The instructor must have noticed since I was lying about two feet away from her. She reminded the class: “Bring your awareness back to the breath. In through the nose. Out through the nose,” she said. “Try to stay in Savasana,” which is hard for most of us to do. She referred to it as the “monkey brain,” and said, “Just try to just keep it quiet for a little bit longer.”

Bikram can be a daily practice, if you stay hydrated enough, even though some students worry that they might get bored doing the same postures every day but there’s actually so much to each of the postures that every day is different.

Later, I was trying to get into the Fixed Firm Pose that just kills my ankle, which she must have noticed that, too, because seeing that I was in pain she told me to back off a little and then reminded the class not to do anything that might make them cry. “Just be patient with yourself,” she said. “If there’s one thing this practice is good for, it’s patience.”

I kind of half chuckled to myself when she said that. Patience is my word for this year. My dad said it best:

“Settle down with what life brings you and not with what you want. You will be overwhelmed with happiness.”

New year feels

Well, I finally did it: I joined a bikram studio in Utah. I don’t know why it took me 6 months but I made it to my mat four times last week, which is more than I can say since this summer in Asheville.

Bikram, 90-minutes of 105 degree yoga, is “One of the most intense forms of body shaping…and is taught in 1,600 studios worldwide.” It’s the same order of 26 postures anywhere you go, which is a bit of a comfort for someone like me who gets anxious when I don’t know what to expect. As much as the workout is always the same, my body never is. The first class is always hard adjusting back to the heat and humidity, especially during winter in Utah, so I went back the next day and it wasn’t my lungs that were hurting; my shoulder started popping halfway out of socket every time I put my arms over my head. Ouch.

I took it easy on the third day and by the fourth day, my shoulder was stronger and no longer my biggest worry. Now, it’s all about finding a moment of stillness in every posture. I’ve had three instructors at the studio, all women, so far, and the room is usually packed with at least 30 others of all ages, shapes and sizes. One of the instructors must have sensed I was new because she came over during one of the postures and helped stretch me a little deeper:

It was the floor bow pose, which is one of those postures that makes you feel open and vulnerable. Then she told the class, “You might want to push a little harder if you’re not feeling anything.” She reminded us that every day, you learn something, and it might be something new or it might be the same thing over and over again; you will leave old aches and find new ones, and tomorrow is an accumulation of today. She left us with this quote:

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – St. Francis of Assisi

Still searching

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It’s been 30 days since I turned 31, and it’s almost taken me that long to figure out what growing old will be for me. Everyone says, “In your 20s, you figure out what you want, and in your 30s, you go get it,” or, “Your 20s are a mess and then you turn 30 and everything changes.”

For me, I spent the first year of my 30s getting rid of things I don’t want and in the last year have said goodbye to more homes, jobs and personal items than I imagined. In terms of materials things, chalk this last year up to a loss, for sure. But as for my emotional awareness, I’ve been reading up on welcoming my emotions as teachers: “The longest journey that you will make in your life is from your head to your heart,” the author writes.

When I flew to North Carolina on Monday, the first official day of Christmas break from the high school, my sister picked me up from the Charlotte airport, after pinning it from Florida just in time for my arrival, and I drove us the two hours to Asheville in pouring rain. It’s rained pretty much ever since, except yesterday; we made a day at Grandfather Mountain, hiking hours down the most strenuous trail on the map.

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The Grandfather Extension Trail started around 5,000 feet.

I thought about my focus with one foot in front of the other – Pop’s hiking boots I wore were hooking up solid – and I took the lead, more confident than usual about the unknown journey in front of me.

Marry a mountain girl and you marry the whole mountain.

 

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Gone goes November

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I set some records this month in traveling to Florida twice – once for work and once for food, family and friends. I turned 31 on Friday and, instead of freaking out, I am just trying to focus on entering my early 30s with patience and gratitude. My friends tell me your 30s are the best decade of your life – I’m so ready! Just yesterday I rode in the snow for the first time ever – more on that later.

On the plane to Florida for Thanksgiving, I finally finished reading “The Untethered Soul,” a book on “the journey beyond oneself” and the basic decision to be happy no matter what. This year, I’m not only a year older, I’m a year wiser and a year closer to achieving my goals (Ph.D., publish my novel, ride…) Life isn’t about how much I make; it’s about what I make of it.

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Yesterday, I tested myself by agreeing to go ride in 20 degree temperatures. Ride or die, right? So, I layered up and hit the sand dunes, which were covered in fresh powder. It was an interesting sort of motorcycle ballet letting the bike dance under me while trying to find traction between the sand, snow and ice patches.

I was grateful to break a sweat ripping across snow-covered sand whoops and happy to have grown up riding Florida’s deep sugar sand, learning how to stand up, float my weight and steer while staying on the gas and keeping my feet up. After all, sand, like life, can be challenging and will control you if you let it; when in doubt, gas it out!

More speed = less sink.

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Working vacation

I found myself on a redeye flight to Orlando last Wednesday for the National High School Journalism Convention at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel.

And, since it’s already 30 degrees and snowing in the Salt Lake valley, I knew it wouldn’t be too terrible coming home to 90-degree weather, sunshine and palm trees. In the past as a professor, I traveled with my students to conferences in Atlanta and Miami, but college students are adults, so this is my first time accompanying minors to an out-of-state event, which is a bit nerve-wracking, in addition to finding a dog sitter – thank you, student – submitting substitute plans for two days of school that I’m missing – I miss you guys! – and making sure I bought gum for the flight, which was one of the worst flights EVER due to a screaming baby; I barely slept a wink.

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Fiesta’s face every morning when I tell I have to go to work

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Looking west at the Oquirrh Mountains

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Driving east to the Wasatch Mountains

We arrived in Orlando around 5 a.m. on Thursday to pick up our minivans, my hair instantly frizzy, and drove to the 7-bedroom house we rented just minutes away from Disney World. It was some of my student’s first time in Orlando, so I made sure to prep them about the high humidity and daily afternoon thunderstorms, which never happened.

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One of the parent chaperones and I hit up Publix to stock up on groceries – always a must whenever I come back to Florida. After that, it was off to Disney World where we hit 3 parks in one day with the park-hopper pass, starting at the Magic Kingdom, stopping by Hollywood Studios (formally known as MGM?) and ended our night at Epcot. By then, I was wired and could not fall asleep until midnight having been up for more than 40 hours.

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Main Street at the Magic Kingdom

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Front row on Splash Mountain
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The Tower of Terror was closed due to “technical difficulties”
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Christmas in November at Hollywood Studios
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Epcot lit up at night

Friday kicked off the first day of the convention and I was excited to arrive to the Dolphin Hotel having not been since the last dirt bike banquet a few years ago.

Arriving that morning, I walked into chaos with more than 5,000 high schoolers trying to find the desk to check-in, where to find coffee and what session they would attend first.

I picked my first session on online teaching tools and was saddened to find out there was no wifi at this convention because apparently it was too much money – I heard something like $30,000 for just the speakers to have internet access, which is absurd. In 2015, I think it’s a reasonable expectation for wifi to be provided at a journalism conference. I was not happy.

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One of my favorite sessions was using your device for video journalism

“The only way to stay and get to be a good producer and creator is to constantly create content.” – Don Gable of Ladue Horton Watkins High School talking about how he continues to stay relevant in his field by producing videos.

Strip it down

I woke up Sunday morning without any plans to go riding or enjoy my last chance to “get it found” before another work week begins, so I headed out to Jordan River OHV State Park in Salt Lake, which has two motocross tracks but I was more concerned with the 3-mile offroad loop I’d heard about. Pulling in, it was obvious that this was a moto crowd as I noticed jacked-up trucks and flat bill hats everywhere. I must have stuck out like a sore thumb with my stock wheels, bark busters and yellow number plates. Nothing new…

I felt nervous unloading my bike in front of everyone and could not remember the last time I went riding by myself. It’s usually a no-no where I’m from because if you crash while you’re out riding solo in the woods and no one knows where you are, you’re good as gone. I assume it’s especially important not to ride by yourself in Utah where a stupid mistake on one of these really epic trails could end your life without a trace.

“If she’s lonely now, she wont be lonely long.”

Once I geared up, I took a ride around the one-way trail, which was all flat singletrack and pretty choppy hardpack with some tight and sweeping sand corners. It was fun finding my lines as I had the trail to myself and made two loops before pulling off with cramping brake and clutch fingers.

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I came back to the pits and sat on my tailgate watching all the families and friends together and felt lonely as ever with no one to talk to or bench race with. It hit me like a ton of bricks but I tried to remember that loneliness comes when you forget that God is with you.

The next thing I notice is a guy walking over to introduce himself: “I saw there was a girl out here riding so I had to come say, ‘Hey.'” Suddenly, his friend appeared and I was the center of attention again, answering questions about Florida, why I moved here and how I like it so far. I no longer felt alone, thanks to my new friends at the dirt bike track.

Crash or win

Sunset at Sam Boyd Stadium.

There’s a story for every time someone says, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” The cliche sums up how you take a piece of Vegas home with you (if you ever get out of there) – you never lose Vegas. Just like you never lose memories of the perfect someone coming into your life – your “person” – and the two of you are so incredibly amazing together that you cannot imagine life without them. But nothing lasts forever, right? The honeymoon has to end sometime. So you enjoy the moments, you consume life and you enjoy every single second until it ends. Knowing nothing lasts forever actually intensifies the need to be in the moment and experience everything. The end actually brings some security.

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Driving south on Interstate 15 to Nevada.
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Good morning from the Stratosphere Hotel.

So, I added another Supercross to the list, but this time I wasn’t alone, unlike my last trip to Vegas five years ago when I went for the first time during my last grad school semester at Syracuse. It was supposed to be a girl’s trip but the other girl bailed so I made it a pre-graduation gift trip to myself and hit the strip solo, which was not as bad as I thought once I was surrounded by dirt bikers.
This time in Vegas changed the game completely. First, I rode passenger on the drive there, instead of looking out the window seat flying across the country. Driving through Utah to Arizona and then Nevada was breathtaking as was the view from the top of the Stratosphere Hotel where we stayed. The event itself included an active and engaging pre-show including a best whip contest with famous freestylers flipping high overhead. During the race, I watched from the sidelines clinging to the hope that everything I wanted would come true, including James Stewart’s comeback three-moto sweep. Well, not even close. He crashed out of the first race, never to return. Maybe next time, Vegas.

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