Last summer I got really into yoga, largely thanks to Hannah and our very early mornings at the Lake Harriet Yoga Project. After summer ended, I spent much of the rest of my time in Minneapolis seeking out yoga classes – with friends, at our in-building gym, or even on Youtube in my apartment after a long day. Needless to say, as I made my second 101 in 1001 list, yoga had cemented a spot on the list with “#28: Join a yoga studio.” For good measure, I also threw in “#18: Take a Pilates class,” after brief exposure through the 21-Day Fix. I’ve had so much fun checking both of these off this summer, thanks to Stanford’s amazing employee wellness program!
A few thoughts on that program – Stanford’s emphasis on health and wellness is seriously unbelievable. In addition to fully funded healthcare (I seriously pay nothing for an incredible plan!), Stanford offers a holistic program called BeWell for all faculty and staff. Shortly after I started, I completed the SHALA (“Stanford Health and Life Assessment”), a comprehensive questionnaire that addressed every aspect of personal health, from eating and exercise habits to stress triggers and sleep quality. After that, I underwent a full health screening, met with a consultant on weaker areas of personal health, and worked with a personal coach to devise a plan to address those items. As the year draws to a close, I’ll complete an analysis of victories and setbacks along the way…and for doing all of that, Stanford will pay me a big fat bonus.
UM, WHAT? Sign me up.
As part of the BeWell program, Stanford offers employees free or significantly reduced fitness classes, built right into the workday. Seeing yoga and Pilates sprinkled throughout the schedule, I signed up for several classes, all for less than $3 per class. The classes, taught by Stanford’s personal trainers, were varied and engaging, challenging me every session in new ways. Best of all, the time to go to these classes is just baked into our day – no staying late, coming in early, or struggling to fit a class in around meetings…the time dedicated to BeWell classes is near-sacrosanct, and it’s the most heavenly reset in the middle of the day.
Though I’m definitely not the bendiest person in the world, and am known, if anything, for my lack of natural grace, balance and coordination, I’ve loved the yoga sessions I’ve participated in for the last two and a half months. Our instructor Patricia (a woman in her sixties who could contort her bodies in ways worthy of a circus act) taught with so much humor and patience that I felt completely comfortable flopping around with the balance of a baby giraffe. One of my favorite moments: during a shoulder stand, I overcorrected and legitimately somersaulted over my own head with legit no idea how I’d actually done that. I cracked up, half in embarrassment and half in total incredulity.
Patricia joined in, and eventually half the class (also struggling with converting shoulder stands to headstands) was losing their shit as I sprawled across my mat like a rag doll. Needless to say, I’m steering clear of headstands for the time being. That said, over the course of the classes, I’ve strengthened my wrists to the point where planks and downward dog no longer bother them…my arches to the point where my plantar fasciitis is practically gone…and my core to the point where my posture has visibly improved. Added bonus: I can stand on one foot now for like…a VERY long time. Life skills, campers!
As for Pilates…good lord, I am so in love with it and so, so bad at it. No seriously. I’m terrible. I take a Pilates-yoga fusion class every Friday over lunch, the perfect end to a week. Two of the other women in my department also take it, and it’s been a fantastic bonding experience to walk back to the office from the studio with them, bitching the whole way about how hard class was that day. Our instructor, Susan, was a petite, compact powerhouse of torture, subjecting us to every Pilates variation under the sun with the accompanying sunny smile. From accessory sets using tubes, straps and balls to full hour sessions of planks and inversions, every new segment of class offered some kind of ridiculous way to highlight my lack of strength, stamina and inherent stretchiness. That said, I loved it so much. The isometric micro-movements and small adjustments that so much of Pilates is built around seemed underwhelming to me at first…at least until I spent ten minutes in a lunge set that left me near-incapable of climbing my apartment’s stairs the next day.
Last Friday was our final class with Susan for summer session, and she came in with a vengeance ready to work us HARD. Nearing the end of class, as she held us in a one-arm, one-leg plank for what felt like forever, she laughed out loud and encouraged us to look around at how far we’d come since the first class. I peeked up with sweat dripping in my eyes and couldn’t help but grin – I am in terrible shape, but at that moment and in so many others over the last few months, I’m incredibly happy to be working toward getting in better shape. It’s absurdly fun to be able to exercise with coworkers who are all on their own health journeys (god, cheesy!)…just one more perk making everything at Stanford come up roses. Can’t wait for fall session!
Check out more of my 101 in 1001 list here!