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Yoga 360 Surrey Students of the Month: Shawn Papatoff & Lisa Porter

"Why are you making me do this?" are the words Shawn mouthed to Lisa as they lay on their mats in the hot room waiting for their first Bikram yoga class to begin.

For her part, Lisa felt a similar dread: "The heat really was overwhelming the first time. I started to regret the decision to go as soon as I entered the room and unrolled my mat." However, she adds "We both tried our best, and we tried EVERY posture (which was a real feat in itself), but we must have looked ridiculous because we didn't know any of the moves, and we did just about everything wrong, except maybe the savasanas."

The couple, Lisa is a high school drama teacher and Shawn is a technical animator for video games, describe how the challenges of their first class - all unfamiliar postures and heat they were unaccustomed to - evolved into a regular yoga practice: "We were exhausted by it, and I had a wicked dehydration headache! But, still, there was something about it that compelled us to go back the next day, and the day after that too. And before we knew it, we were totally hooked."

Lisa became interested in trying Bikram yoga during the teachers' strike. The strike was taking a toll on her: "I was feeling anxious and emotionally drained as a result of the negative political climate around education issues, and wanted to do something to take care of myself and let go of the negative emotions associated with what was happening." She had heard about the health benefits of Bikram yoga from a colleague, and, although she had heard comments ranging from "the heat is dangerous" to "it's a magical cure-all", her curiosity was piqued. "I didn't really believe either of these things, but I was curious about what made it so controversial, and had a hunch I would find it a positive thing for me. What I enjoyed in the end was the fact that I found Bikram not to be magical, but to be practical, and doable, and enjoyable – and in that way, it was pretty special!"

Now that school is back in, Lisa can use yoga to control her work-related stress: "Just today one of my students commented to me that I seem "more relaxed" this year as compared with last year. Though he wasn't commenting directly on my yoga practice, I felt like his remark reflected on the important impact it has on my whole self, which is that I feel calmer, more "present", and less stressed. Yoga gives me a regular break and opportunity to spend working on myself and focusing on my own strengths and areas for improvements." Balance, both literally and figurative, summarizes the greatest benefit Lisa has noticed since starting her Bikram yoga practice: "Literally, I have developed strength and greater physical control over my body in space. Figuratively, I find greater balance in my life between various aspects: career, rest, leisure, nutrition. I find myself more interested in achieving balance, and more able to do so with less difficulty than I would have anticipated."

Shawn and Lisa love the outdoors and take every opportunity they can to enjoy the natural beauty of our area through hiking and bird-watching. "We love being out in nature, and Bikram Yoga has complemented that activity nicely by increasing our endurance, strength, and spiritual awareness." Lisa adds,"Shawn is an avid photographer, and I am his mule. (Meaning, I carry the tripod!)."

"We enjoy spending time together as a family, and by doing yoga together, we are able to participate in an activity we all enjoy and share the unique experience that is yoga. We also try to make it a priority as a commitment to ourselves and to each other." Lisa says one of their secrets is not getting comfortable on the couch, but getting into the yoga studio right away. "We try to keep each other motivated - and nag each other when we aren't! Our daughter also helps motivate us, because she loves yoga too."

While they rely on each other to stay motivated, they like that they can do Bikram yoga individually, when their schedules don't mesh. "I really love the fact that it is a non-competitive activity where I can challenge myself as much as I want to, but can also choose to give myself a break when that is beneficial to me. Shawn says he likes that yoga is an exercise where time passes quickly for him because he does not get bored or wish it would end faster." It sounds like the family discussions are the highlight of each yoga class: "We each have our favourite teachers, and our favourite postures, and we enjoy talking about these things in the car on the way home! We laugh at our own and each others fumbles in class, and we celebrate everyone's successes and breakthroughs."

Lisa laughs as when she thinks back on their previous attitudes towards Bikram yoga: "Bikram Yoga isn't something either of us would have considered, until recently, mostly because we probably never really thought of it as "serious exercise" - until we tried it!"

No matter how serious you may think yoga is, the benefits are undeniable. "Shawn notices that he is more flexible than he used to be, and I am impressed that he can do a toe stand and hold both hands up in prayer position for the whole time! For me," Lisa notes, "full locust pose is always a challenge, and I'm encouraged to see that I am finally starting to get my legs higher than they used to be. They still aren't up where I want them," she says a bit ruefully, "but I'm excited whenever I notice progress." She notes that Bikram yoga has has a positive impact on their daughter's riding as well, "Our daughter is an equestrian rider, and she and her coach have noticed improvements to her riding as she has increased her flexibility and core strength."

Shawn and Lisa's goals are to "continue to make our practice as consistent as possible, and to prioritize it in our busy schedules. We want to continue to increase our strength and flexibility, and make practice an integral part of our lives." Lisa has also set herself a personal challenge: "My personal goal is to get through the whole balancing series without falling out of a posture! I haven't managed it yet, but one day!" Shawn's greatest challenge is hamstring flexibility, so his personal goal is to continue to work on that.

There is one particular line of dialog that they both laugh and wonder about: "We would love someone to please explain to us what on earth is a "Japanese ham sandwich"?" This is sort of intimate knowledge of Bikram yoga that doesn't have to take years to discover; it's basically Bikram's little joke about Japanese versions of Western food (he lived in Japan before moving to America) where the sandwiches have so little filling that the two pieces of bread touch with nothing visible in between - just like your body and legs in the third part of Half-Moon Pose. It's also about enjoying and having fun with your practice, and it is clear that this family does!


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