Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dog Bite

Friday through Monday Off
Tuesday 6:30 pm with Libby
Wednesday off.

Four days in a row off. Yikes. I don't have a real excuse, except for a persistent runny nose that has been interfering with my breathing. But, that's pretty much a phony excuse.

Libby's class was interesting. She's changed something in her delivery recently, I think. Mostly, the pranayama seems to take forever, and with my breathing difficulty, it seemed like double forever. In the second set, I felt like I was going to pass out a couple of times. She has a thing she does now on some breaths where she counts one to six, and gives an instruction between each of the counted instructions. And this time, it felt like "One ... The Gettysburg Address ...Two.. The first chapter of War and Peace ... Three ... etc..."

Then, the other thing that seems to have changed since her vacation is the timing in the standing series. The postures and sets come immediately after one another. I don't have any problem at all with this style. It's very demanding, and that's just fine. But it does feel different to me, and I haven't yet asked her whether there was a deliberate change. If not, is she aware of some change or am I just imagining things (always a strong possibility).

Once pranayama was done, things actually went pretty well. I got a nice compliment in the first part of awkward, and then in final stretching of all things. I also got some good corrections: elbows again in first backbend, then chin to shoulder in Standing Bow.

And I also got a "Duffy, what did you eat today?" during back strengthening. The reflux problems are not going away yet. And this class wasn't even that bad. I had to sit up twice in back strengthening, but briefly, and I only skipped one set of Locust. I've had much worse days, but it was bad enough to get that comment. And the answer was "A turkey sandwich" and nothing else, and that was over six hours before class. I think I may need to ask my doctor about whether the medication might be causing it, and if so, to try to explore some other alternative.

Now, the dog bite. I have two lovely and very active Samoyeds. I take them to a nearby dog park almost every day. Yesterday, within a minute of getting to the park my boy got into a squabble with a Pit Bull. I didn't see it start, but saw the dogs lunge after each other at least twice before I got there. By then, my dog had grabbed and locked onto the loose skin on the top of the Pit Bull's neck (the area where mother dogs pick up their puppies). I grabbed my dog by the chest under the shoulders, but he wouldn't let go of his grip.

Almost everyone around is freaking out, especially the Pit Bull's owner, who keeps yelling "He's tearing up my dog." I reached around with my right hand to try to pry open Papa's mouth. The Pit Bull got my hand, hard. Then he bit my foot, almost through my sneaker. He bit my friend three times. He kept trying to bite my dogs throat, but Papa's grip on his neck made it impossible for him to grab Papa.

The Pit's owner is now screaming "He's getting defensive." As if to explain the bites. But was doing nothing to help. Eventually, a smart woman poured water down Papa's nose, and Papa let go to breathe. And, as I expected, at this point there were no visible wounds on the Pit Bull's neck or on my dog.

Two seconds later, for reasons I can't even begin to fathom, the Pit Bull owner let go of his dog. I was still on ground holding papa, and the dog tackled me. This time he bit through my leather jacket and into my forearm. (I could feel the sharp bite, but didn't know that he had punctured my arm until after I got home.) In this second, short squabble, my dog bit the pit bull on the top of the head and drew some blood. In return, my dog got bites on his mouth and one leg, but they were very minor.

The police and animal control arrived. Most of the witnesses had left. The Pit Bull owner and his friends said that my dog started the fight, and this might be true. They also said that my dog was the one who bit both me and my friend. I asked the police how my dog could have bitten us when the problem was trying to get his jaws unlocked from the other dog. The officer went back to them and then came back and told us that it was my other dog who bit us, even though she wasn't at all involved. When we said we knew who bit us, the policeman said we were interested in the outcome and that we were lying.

What does all of this have to do with yoga (or my yoga)? Well, two out of the three bites were no big deal. I've got some nice holes in my forearm, but they don't bother me that much. The problem is with my index finger. The bite there runs ragged for about a half inch, and it goes to the bone. The doctor won't stitch it because it increases the chance of infection. No bandage will last through a yoga class. And I can't interlock my fingers or do anything at all with my right index finger (typing seems to be an exception today, which is a big improvement over last night). That means I will be taking a break from yoga practice, probably until the wound closes up enough that I can do an approximation of the basic Bikram grips without re-opening it.

In the meantime, I think I will try to focus on the Gate's meditations on a daily basis. I'm skipping the meditation that would ordinarily have gone with this post because I think this has gone on long enough.

And if you are interested, the upshot of the squabble in the park is that my dog got put into quarantine today for nine days! His rabies tag had expired a little while back. And even though he didn't bite anyone, animal control decided and arguing with them can only make things worse. (One year rabies vaccines last for at least five years. The only point of a quarantine is because rabies can only be passed on through saliva for about 6 days before a dog dies, so if a dog stays healthy for 10 days after it bites a person, the person can't get rabies. But the incubation period for rabies can be as long as six months. So if the Papa were not immune to rabies, then the reasonable quarantine period is not 10 days, but six months -- and I wasn't about to make that argument to animal control for obvious reasons. So, no matter how you look at it, this quarantine is pointless and is basically being done to punish me, as if the pain from the bites I got are not punishment enough.) And if you are wondering, no action was taken at all against either the Pit Bull or its owner.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Boisterous Seas

Thursday Off
Friday 6:30 pm with Rohit
Saturday and Sunday Off
Monday 6:30 with Sherry
Tuesday 8:15 pm with Amy
Wednesday Off
Thursday 6:30 pm with Libby

Each class was slightly better than the last. Twice, I managed to do both sets of Locust without throwing up. That shouldn't seem like that much of an achievement, but now it is. I'm pretty sure that most of my trouble with this reflux is a by-product of my blood pressure medicine. And gradually, I think I may be able to overcome it.

My knees feel a little better one day, a little worse the next. But Awkward Pose seems to be coming together again, if slowly. And I can almost imagine again the day when I will get my butt down in Fixed Firm. So there's definite progress here.

On the other poses. My backbends seem to be coming along, but I don't get comments on them. Instead, I get good comments now in Standing Head to Knee, Standing Bow, Triangle, and Locust. When I can do Locust, my legs still go way up, and straight. I find it really funny that what others think of as my best pose is, subjectively at least, my worst.

In the day 305 meditation, Gates talks about "the boisterous sea of liberty." It's boisterous, he says, because we are forever turning inward, from our smallest to our largest decisions. I'm trying to make this idea sit easily alongside the idea of stillness that pervades this work. Somehow, stillness doesn't seem to coincide with being "boisterous." But what if its not us that is the boisterous thing, but rather the world where each of these decisions is made. Then I can see how we could be like a still vessel, bobbing with the waves, and hardly even noticing the movement because of the still center that we keep. Maybe that's what he's getting at? But I'm not really sure on this.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Leaps of Faith

Monday 6:30 pm with Libby
Tuesday Off
Wednesday 6:30 pm with Sherry

On Monday, everything went pretty smoothly. My knee felt better than it has in a long, long time. I almost got my butt to the floor in fixed firm. I skipped a set of triangle, half from nursing my knee, half from stamina concerns, and half from recently formed habit. And yes, I know that's three halves, but I've been watching American Idol recently, and if they can have someone be "a billion percent yes," then I can have as many halfs as I want.

I also did much better in back strengthening series, and almost completely avoided any reflux problems. I had sushi for lunch, and I'm wondering if that's the difference. Maybe, I just need to simplify my meals? I'm going to try a simple sushi lunch again and see what difference it makes.

Wednesday was the polar opposite. Instead of sushi, I had Indian food for lunch. For some reason that I don't get, yoga and Indian food don't mix. At least for me. It's probably the spicyness. The meal was almost completely vegetarian and well cooked -- very savory. And it started playing havoc with me almost immediately in class. I started having some distress in Half Moon.

On top of that, the room was humid, and the sweat was really flowing. I did a reasonable imitation of a yogi through standing series. But coming out of the first separate leg pose, I got really dizzy. Then again after the Separate Leg Head to Knee poses. Then I found myself needing a bathroom break before Cobra. And when I came back in, I just didn't have it anymore.

So for the day, I pretty much gave up. I came in early, and lay down before class. Next thing I knew, Sherry was telling me to wake up because class was starting. But asleep was really where I wanted to be. In the floor series, I gradually got back to that point. The back strengthening series was crippled by the Indian food. I skipped half of the first three poses. Then I was on track until Camel, but just going through the motions. But I skipped out on half of Camel, half of Rabbit, and then everything else until final breathing. Sleep, or near-sleep, was what I was craving, and that's what I got. I took a nice long Savasana afterwards, again on the edge of sleep though not quite there.

All in all, it was one of my strangest classes. It wasn't a struggle, because I basically refused to struggle. And I can't quite say that I gave up either. Afterwards I felt good. So I'm not going to beat myself up over this kind of performance. But I don't want to make a habit of it either. Did I do the best I could? I don't really know the answer. I probably could have forced myself to do more, but I think I might have felt worse, or injured myself as a result.

The day 304 meditation talks about applying meditation to everyday life. Meditation starts out being nothing but a jumble of distractions. Over time, we learn to shed the distractions. Gates says that at that point we find some direction. In life, Gates says the same process turns us away from simply following the expectations of others, or heeding our own fears. In its place, we learn to listen to our hearts. This process involves a leap of faith: the faith that what our heart tells us will be the right thing -- that we won't get burned in the process. Gates also describes this as the faith that "the love that wished you into existence will never let you down."

The only thing I have to add here is that what Gates says is a leap of faith actually strikes me as having two distinct leaps. First, there is the leap of faith involved in deciding or discerning that you have truly listened to your heart in the first place. Oftentimes, I will ask myself what I really want in a situation, and the answer comes up with a resounding "I don't have a clue." So the first part is simply learning to listen. The second leap comes with acting on what you hear, that's the part I think Gates seems to be addressing. For me, this part would be easy. Or maybe they aren't as disconnected as I suppose. If I really knew that it was my heart telling me something, I would probably be more willing to act on it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Tuesday off.
Wednesday 6:30 with Sherry
Thursday off.
Friday 6:30 with Libby
Saturday and Sunday Off
Monday 6:30 with Sherry
Tuesday 6:30 with Libby
Wednesday and Thursday Off
Friday 4:30 pm with Sherry
Saturday off
Sunday 9:30 am with Sherry

How's that for a list? I'm not even going to try to list the details of each class. As a general trend, I'm having real reflux problems, which might be related to my new blood pressure medicine, or might not. Today's class was the only one where I didn't have to skip something to prevent myself from messing up the mat. And I'm having stamina problems, which comes from skipping so much. So typically I miss a pose in standing series, sometimes because of stamina problems, and sometimes because I feel some tightness/weakness in my left knee after the first Separate leg pose.

The only odd thing I'm feeling recently is a sensation deep in my shoulders during opening pranayama. I've been concentrating on really keeping the elbows up from the start of each exhale, and its really hard. I haven't gotten any corrections on what I'm doing, at least not yet, so I doubt I'm overdoing it.

The day 303 meditation has a contradiction that Gates has skirted with before. First he talkes about getting in touch with an "inner being" that allows us to be creative. He says that all religions recognize this inner being, as do many artists and other creative people. And he says that pratyahama is the moment in yoga when we let our answers come from this being. From this point he talks about inspiration and its role in yoga, and basically says its the same thing as what he just described.

The intellectual problem I have with this is that inspiration does not come from the inside. The very word means "to breathe in." What we breathe in comes from outside of us, not from any inner self. Moreover, there certainly have been cultures who believe that creativity comes from outside. The muses are a pretty good example of this.

I don't, however, think this confusion or contradiction is a particularly big deal. In some ways, I think that Gates is making a distinction that yoga doesn't. Since yoga deals with union, eventually union of everything, I doubt it makes much difference in yoga whether you get in touch with your inner self, or whether your inspiration comes from outside. And to a certain extent, I think that Gates' confusing language on this point only reinforces my point. I tend to think he's being sloppy here because you can look at it from either side. In the end, I think it matters little where inspiration comes from, certainly not in comparison with the importance of simply being inspired.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Saturday Off.
Sunday Off.
Monday 6:30 pm with Sherry.

Last week I got some new blood pressure medicine. The first medicine the doctor gave me brought my blood pressure down from emergency hospitalization levels to about 150/100 (+/- 10 on either side). The new medicine actually works, perhaps too well. I'm typically around dead normal now, which is alot better than dead. And I've had readings as low as 100/65.

The reason I'm mentioning this is because the new medicine also seems to have a side effect. It does something strange to my constitution about 1-2 hours after I take it. And that's exactly when I took it on Monday. The upshot was that coming out of a forward bend made me dizzy. Toward the end of standing series, I started to get chills. Think of it, chills in a Bikram class! And I had some really bad reflux issues on top of it. By Half Tortoise, I was an utter mess. And I limped to the end, doing one set per pose. A couple of times, on the floor, I nearly fell asleep, and almost missed the instruction to get up for the second set.

I'm forgiving myself for this total disaster, because I think quite a bit of it was drug induced. And I hope over time I will be able to wean myself off these drugs. And now for the funny/remarkable thing: After class, my knee felt much, much better. And it has since, as well. That just goes to show that even an amazingly shitty Bikram class is way better than nothing at all.

The day 302 meditation focuses on two things -- keeping it simple, and taking risks. Keeping it simple, in this context, means showing up. And for Gates, showing up and being present end up being the same thing. The more present you are, the more you are in the moment, the more you have shown up. And, for him, its as simple as that. Everything else follows.

The cool thing is that taking risks, for Gates, means exactly the same thing. Playing it safe is withdrawing from the moment. It's not showing up. And in the end, it is more harmful than taking a risk. Part of me wants to say, "But that's so simple." But that's exactly the point, isn't it?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Willingness to no Longer be in Pain

Tuesday off.
Wednesday 6:30 pm with Sherry
Thursday 10:30 am with Lenette
Friday 6:30 pm with Rohit

Each of the classes was good in its own way. Wednesday was one of those days where the body was willing, but my mind was all over the place. I started with some worries about my ability to even get through the class. But everything settled out, and overall it was very good.

Thursday's class was better. I thought the room was cool, but I was wrong. Instead, the humidity was down just a little bit, to maybe 35%. It's amazing how much of a difference a small humidity change makes for me. For the first time in what seems like ages, I didn't skip any of the poses. And Friday was pretty much the same, except that I missed the second set of Standing Separate Leg Head to Floor, to spare my left knee.

Here's something I've been wondering about. I tend to have really good classes with the same teachers. And, of course, these teachers also are the ones I like the best. The question is about cause and effect. Do I have good classes with the same teachers because they are really good teachers (at least for me)? Or do I have good classes with them simply because I like them so much? Or is it the other way around? Meaning that for some other reason, or perhaps coincidentally, I have these good classes, and then I tend to associate them with the teachers I seem to like best. I don't know the answer to this. (And don't get me wrong. I don't dislike any of the teachers at our studio. I actually like them all, but as with other things, I have minor preferences even among those that I like. It's kind of like my preference for Beethoven over Mozart, or Chopin over Liszt.)

The day 301 begins with an interesting idea: that our practice centers on "a mature willingness to no longer be in pain." I think that Gates is probably right about this, but it sounds strange when thinking about Bikram's "torture chamber." I've heard some teachers quote Bikram as saying that we endure 90 minutes of pain in his class to avoid 90 years of pain outside. But I think dancingj summed it up better in a comment on an earlier post. That post was about pain masquerading as pleasure (like stuffing yourself at Thanksgiving), and she commented that Bikram yoga was the opposite: pleasure masquerading as pain.

Gates goes on to say something I don't quite understand. He says that this willingness comes from an acknowledgment of two admittedly contradictory things. First, that we are powerless. And second, that we are absolutely responsible for all of our actions. Even if I knew how to wrap my mind around the contradiction (and I think it has to do with gaining access to abilities we hadn't thought we had by letting go), I still don't see quite what it has to do with a willingness to no longer be in pain. There's something about this idea that I simply do not understand.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Letting Go of Junk

Thursday 6:30 pm with Libby
Friday through Sunday off
Monday 6:30 pm with Sherry

Libby's class was great. I drank no water, for the first time in months, and as usual, it helped my alertness throughout class. Instead of slogging through from Camel to the end, I had some energy and was able to stay with the dialogue. It was one of the most fun classes I've had in a while.

I took Friday off because I planned to take it off. And then something hit me, and I woke up both Saturday and Sunday intending to go, but couldn't breath through my nose, and decided against. Yesterday was not much different, except that in addition to not being able to breathe, I had a bad headache. (Note: three days off of yoga = headache. Remember that next time, and maybe I can avoid it.)

So I went into last night's class with a splitting headache, and wondering if I was even going to be able to breathe through Pranayama. In typical Bikram fashion, I got the opposite of what I was expecting. I thought the room was a little on the cool side, but when I checked, it was perfect Bikram weather -- 105 degrees, 37% humidity.

My breath cleared up by Eagle. My headache was gone by Balancing Stick. My knee felt like it was improving throughout the class. I skipped the second set of Standing Separate Leg Head to Floor because I felt some strain in the knee. But otherwise, I felt good through everything.

The only notable thing in any of the poses is that I sort of flew backwards out of the first backbend. Sherry said "Well, I guess you found your edge." Then, in the second set, I concentrated on holding it more, and through my arms I could start seeing several feet down the back wall. In the past, I've talked about being able to see down to the ballet bar, and I still can do that. But that was looking past my arms, not between them. This is different, and I think that it means my arms are coming back closer to where they should be.

For a long time, I wondered why the dialogue for the first backbend says "Don't be scared." Yes, it felt odd, and I could get so I thought I was hallucinating in the bend. But it was never scary before -- I think because I was too inflexible to get to the tipping point. Now, I think I understand. I'm hitting a point where the pose just seems so unnatural that it really is a bit scary, because bending that far leaves you with no idea what is supporting your body. Add that to the general disorientation and I can now see where the fear enters in.

The day 300 meditation is about letting go. There are a bunch of rhetorical questions he asks, but I'm not so sure they actually are rhetorical. For example, "Can we really lose or own anything?" The answer he wants is "No." But my philosophical training rebels against this kind of question. The question is asking for absolutes, and thus ignores that words like "lose" and "own" are ordinary words that mean something in ordinary usage. The "really" in the question tempts people to jump outside of ordinary contexts. That temptation may be to a good purpose here. But typically its a mistake that leads to all sorts of philosophical conundrums. But enough of the brief foray into philosophy.

I really like the last two lines of this meditation: "Letting go is the opposite of fearing death; it is trusting life. When we let go of something;our hand opens and we are able to receive." Both parts of this are both simple and profound. The first is that letting go is an act of trust, and that trust, by itself, is worthwhile. The second is a bit more involved. The idea is that we can only deal with a certain number of things at any one time, and that letting go of things enables us to bring new, possibly better things into the mix. Clear your closets of junk, and you can start to collect new, better things.