Project Louise: Hot Yoga With The Naughty Moms, And Other Discoveries

Chaturanga, or the dreaded low yoga pushup. (Kennguru via Wikimedia Commons)

Chaturanga, or the dreaded low yoga pushup. (Kennguru via Wikimedia Commons)

By Louise Kennedy
Guest contributor

I learned a new word this week: chaturanga. It’s Sanskrit for “Your arms are about to fall off.”

No, really, it’s just a perfectly simple low pushup position. You remember how much I love pushups, right? Well, it turns out I love them even more when I’m doing them in an 85-degree “power yoga” room, surrounded by sweaty strangers who are still, somehow, not quite as sweaty as I am, and knowing that I still have an hour to go.

For all of this, I blame the Naughty Moms.

It’s so unlike them, really. The Naughty Moms – there are five of us – typically get together to drink too much wine. (I named the group a few years ago, when it struck me that we felt the strongest urge to convene on the nights when PTO meetings were scheduled.) But it turns out that some of the Naughty Moms are actually quite fit, and when they learned of this project, they were eager to gang up on me. I mean, offer support.

Louise's downward facing dog looks nothing like this.

Louise’s downward facing dog looks nothing like this. (Iveto via Wikimedia Commons)

So here I am on a rented mat, next to Sara, Queen of the Naughties, and occasionally glancing ahead in awe at Naughty Pretzel Princess Susan, who has been doing yoga for seven years and looks, frankly, incredible. Sara has been a jock all her life, so even though she’s new to yoga, her chaturanga is pretty strong, to say nothing of her downward dog. Me? I’m barely a downward puppy.

But gradually, surprisingly, I start absorbing the advice that the amazing teacher, Renee LeBlanc, is sandwiching between torture commands. If you need to take a break, take it. Do what you can do. Try not to judge. And, my favorite, “This is practice. The big game is tonight.” Nothing like a sense of humor to get me on board.

What really hooks me, though, is the way I feel after class. Once I’ve showered away the truly prodigious quantities of sweat, I feel … pure. Clean. Like all my crankiness and excuses have been sweated out of me, and like I’ve worked really hard and, as a result, feel at once stronger and more relaxed than I have in years.

Maybe best of all, I know I am a beginner, and I accept it, almost without judgment. Yeah, I couldn’t do some of the poses at all. But I did some others, and I worked hard, and I deserve to feel good. For a self-critical perfectionist, this is a remarkable shift.

It’s also a remarkable contrast with what happened in the swimming pool. (Yeah, I told you I went swimming, but I didn’t really come clean with how that went.) My gym has two pools with marked lanes, and I’d heard that the back pool was the recreational one, so I headed there in order to stay out of the way of the “real” swimmers.

Once there, I asked the official-looking guy standing at the edge to direct me to the “extra slow” lane. He pointed, and I got in and started to swim – and, even going slow, was huffing and thrashing and cursing myself for being so out of shape. Not much fun.

After four lengths of this, I paused at the wall to let the faster woman in my lane go ahead. Very sweetly, she asked, “Would you like a copy of the program?”

“The program?” I said.

“You’re on the masters’ swim team, yes?” she replied. I said no, and we both laughed – I in embarrassment, and she, no doubt, in relief at having the mystery of an incompetent “teammate” explained.

I told this story to Coach Allison while we were talking about setting a more structured timeline and goals for the year – and, as I did, I was struck by my literal enactment of a metaphor. As I often do, I had jumped in with both feet, and so I’d gotten in a little over my head. I survived, sure, but I’d made it harder on myself than it had to be.

Allison gently suggested that I might be doing the same thing with Project Louise. In my eagerness to get going in time for January 1, she pointed out, I had launched myself with some goals that might not be exactly what I was really aiming for.

Specifically, I said I wanted to weigh 145 pounds at the end of the year. “Is that really your goal?” she asked. “If you weigh more than that, but you’ve established sustainable habits that have you pointed in the right direction, and you feel healthier, and you’ve created a life that is serene and happy, will you feel as if you’ve failed?”

No, I realized, I won’t. I’d like to lose some weight, and 145 seems like a weight at which I would look and feel much better. But my actual goal, as Allison said, is to create sustainable habits and improve my life.

So maybe I’ll weigh 145, and maybe I won’t. I’ll be tweaking my specific goals in the weeks to come. But at least I’m clear on the general direction I’m pointed in — and I also have a better sense of how to get there.


Readers, have you been surprised to find an exercise you like? And how clear are you about your goals? Would you like to know more about SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time bound) goals?

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  • lindam313

    Start taking a Pilates class – it’s something you can do and not worry about getting injuries and it is an amazing exercise for core strength – sit-ups don’t even remotely cut it! You can also do Pilates no matter how old you get, so it’s good for the long haul and building sustainable exercise programs!

    • Louise Kennedy

      Thank you — I’ve owned a Pilates DVD for at least 5 years (though it’s still shrink-wrapped). Maybe a class would get me going on it, because I think I was worried about “doing it wrong” by myself and so didn’t do it at all. (I could probably write an entire post on perfectionism, but I’m working on it.)

      • lindam313

        I started doing Pilates with DVDs and now I’ve been taking a great class every week at our gym for probably 7 years – it takes a very long time to feel some sense of mastery of certain movements, but it’s so worth it! EVEN MEN are starting to go for the best core workout!!!

  • NMF

    Louise, Many thanks for your post. I find the yoga teacher’s emphasis on practice and Allison’s on habits of body to be very useful. I am very good at starting things and gung-ho for some amount of time, but the hardest thing for me is to decide multiple times everyday what is good for me and, if I do it, makes me feel good. It’s that daily (or many times a day) choice that is hardest for me. I think that what I am really trying to do it make new habits, so it doesn’t seem like a decision I must make over and over. Your blog helps me reflect on these things–thank you.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Yes! This is exactly what I struggle with, and exactly what I’m trying to overcome in this project. We’ll be looking a lot at how habits (both good and bad) get entrenched, and how to step toward choosing better ones. I think you’re absolutely right that the key is to create new habits, so you don’t have to think all the time about what’s right to do. Thank you for that very clear statement of the problem.

  • Opalbuoy

    I started water aerobics in October, I never realized how difficult it could be. I know that my numbers on the scale haven’t really moved but my waist and arms are improving everyday. I am adding I day of yoga to my program. It is a great sense of accomplishment when you finish the hour.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Congratulations — I think how your body feels is much more important than the scale! And I took a really hard water aerobics class once and loved it — I wonder if I can find one that fits my schedule. Thanks for the idea.

  • Judy D

    Love your ability to reconnect with reality and humor. Without that, nothing can truly happen. We would all give up in defeat. While yoga never really did it for me…too many knee issues, I do love the idea of the practice, and staying within your own limitations, whatever they may be. Glad that it was a mostly positive experience for you.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Thanks, Judy — and, honestly, I don’t think I could do ANYTHING without a bit of humor along the way! I hope you’ve found something that works well for you, and thanks for joining the conversation here.

  • Bella

    I have always found that trying to focus on a number on the scale is just trouble. We can’t control what the scale is going to say. We can control what we put in our mouths and do with our bodies, so those are what I focus on. Yes, the results (hopefully) show up on the scale but it’s not like the weight comes off in an orderly one pound per week, it’s a very disorderly pound down, half pound up, stay the same, 1.5 pounds down, half up, etc. But over time I can see the connection between my behavior and my shape. And I feel better not eating until my stomach hurts and getting off the sofa to walk or hike or go to yoga.

    • Louise Kennedy

      You’re so right! I’ll be talking more about eating in my post on Monday. I’m already finding that I feel full after eating less food than before I started this project — partly because I’m really focusing on eating more vegetables and whole grains, which are filling, but also because I’ve tried to cut down on portion sizes, and I think my stomach is adjusting to the new normal. I’m not an expert on all this, though — that’s why I’m talking to one tomorrow, and I’ll let you know what he says!

  • emcherin

    Louise, i love this post. I’ve been battling, courageously i might add for over two years now; Lymes, and severe and total body pain. It has changed my life entirely. As i continue my battle to recovery, and some semblance of an active lifestyle i have had to vastly shift my idea of success. For the last 3 days i have gotten in the pool. I have used a kick board for about 15 minutes doing froggy legs back and forth.

    A year ago, i would have been horrified at how pathetic i looked or felt. Today, and now I LOVE that i can do this. I relish the feeling of no pain for 30 minutes i’m in the pool, and love even more the feeling i have after it’s all done.

    For me, baby step by baby step and staying present with it is total success.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Em, I am so sorry to hear that you’re dealing with Lyme — what an awful thing. But I salute your courage and baby steps. I’ll think of you every time I get in the pool.
      And I’d love to see you next time you’re in town!