If anyone is interested in following along, the book is here. I recommend it. But I won't just be writing about it; I'll still be doing much the same as I have for the last few months.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I'm going to take this blog in a somewhat new direction starting the first of the year. There's a very fine book called Meditations From the Mat by Rolf Gates. It has an entry for each day of the year and covers each of the branches of yoga. I intend to focus the blog on these meditations. I'll try to make it so that the blog makes sense without actually reading the book, but I can't promise anything.
at 7:32 PM
Monday and Tuesday Off
Wednesday 8am with Jennifer on Long Island
Thursday through Monday Off
Tuesday 9:30 am with Danielle
This holiday patch has included the least amount of yoga that I've done since starting last March. I tried to get my sisters to come with me while visiting Long Island, but alas, they were too busy with other things.
On Wednesday, I went to a new studio on Long Island. It has been open for just over a week. It's a hot yoga studio, and not affiliated with Bikram, and the teacher is one that both my sisters like very much. The studio is a bit different, mostly because it has hardwood floors, instead of carpet. This made more of a difference than I would have thought, especially on the balancing poses. My feet, I guess, are used to grabbing the carpet and didn't fare as well on a rubber mat and hard wood floor.
The other big difference was in the single leg stretches at the end. My heel was directly on the hard wood, and it HURT. I suppose I would get used to it, but it was really hard to focus on the rest of the pose with my bone pushing directly into the hard floor.
Jen is a good teacher, but trained differently than Bikram. This meant that the class used the same poses as a Bikram class, but with different dialogue, slightly different set-ups, and some different points of emphasis. For example, I don't think she said "Lock the knee" even once. That was weird for me. And there was a different emphasis in Cobra. She even suggested lifting the palms from the floor there.
Her demeanor in general was a bit mellow, and yet she still seemed able to motivate people. And she gave me some very good corrections. Overall, I enjoyed the class very much and would be happy to go back, painful heel and all.
The time off was a bit odd. I kept meaning to wake up for an early class again while in NY, but the enthusiasm seemed to wear off when the alarm went off in the morning, and I stayed in. As a result, this was a tie for the longest break I've had since starting -- the other coming immediately after the 60th day of the challenge.
Class this morning was refreshing. I had to bail on one pose toward the end of the standing series, but otherwise I felt good, especially on the floor. My hamstrings and lower back were a bit tight following the break, but I should be back to where I left off or better either tomorrow or on New Years day. The best thing about today's class was that I was able to keep a smile on my face, even through half locust.
at 7:16 PM
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Friday 10:30 am with Danielle
Sat. 9:30 am with Connease
Sun. 2:30 pm with Miranda
Wow. This has been a long time without posting. Classes have been just fine. Danielle is getting more confident with each class, and Friday's was great. Her timing was almost perfect. I didn't notice a single dialogue mishap, and the energy in class was really good
Saturday I had two friends come to class for the first time. It's funny, but this is the first time that people have come to my studio on my recommendation. They both did really well. Shelley was up and trying on every posture, and I don't think she let up once. Delton tried to hard at the start and got knocked out pretty early on, but he got back into things and kept up a good sense of humor about the whole thing. Even better, I think they both will be back for more.
Today's class was pretty typical for a Sunday. Around 1 pm I started feeling hungry and a bit deprived. But then class was really good, and the time just flew by.
I'm not sure what's happening, but there is a tenderness in my lower back that I haven't felt in months. It doesn't feel like there is any danger of injury. It's just a kind of sweet soreness, and I'm hoping that its a sign of things opening up, or about to open up. Maybe it means that I'm giving extra effort in the back strengthening series or the backbends.
I noticed something odd today. At the beginning of Awkward Pose, we are told to step to the right six inches. I've always stepped to the right a bit and then to the left with the other foot, so that I end up with them six inches apart. Today, I started on the left side of my mat, to let the person behind me see the mirror. So I stepped to the right for the first time, and amazingly enough, it seemed to make a difference. My alignment was better than it usually is, I went a bit deeper into all three sets, and it seemed a bit easier. I cannot explain why. If asked beforehand, I would have said that it's a trivial matter and that it shouldn't make any difference. So here's another example of rule 1: Do what they tell you. Don't do what you think amounts to the same thing. Just do what they say. It's so easy, and I keep finding ways that I have veered from it. And who knows, maybe there are ways where it really doesn't make a difference. But if it doesn't make a difference, then there really is no reason not to do what they say either...
at 6:47 PM
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Monday 10:30 am with Lenette
Wednesday 10:30 am with Lenette
I always enjoy Lenette's classes, and always seem to learn something from them. There two classes were no different. There's always a sense of good humor and fellowship in her classes, and she gets it without skimping on people's motivation and effort.
Today, she coached me through Camel. She said that the first set was good, and I was only a couple of degrees away from having my hips and legs vertical. So she pushed me to get it completely right in the second set, and said that I had done it. Of course, this is a pose I can't see, but if she is right, that means I'm basically in the full expression of this pose now. That's one down and 25 to go :)
She also walked us all through Standing Separate Leg Head to Floor pose. I've been so focused on being able to grab my feet that I've kept them closer together than they should be. She made me, and all the rest of us with tight hamstrings, spread our legs even farther. And she did this in a third set. It felt really good, and quite different from what I'm used to. And she is the only teacher at our studio who would ever put a class through a third set of anything.
On Monday, she complimented my first backbend. It wasn't because I was going back really far, but she could see how hard I was working to keep my hands together and my elbows locked. Then later she pointed out that I needed to straighten my wrists in Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee. I did, and it made things alot harder. That's another cheat I was doing out of pure ignorance. I love when I get attention to small details like that.
I've been a bit lax about posting here. I thought it might be laziness, or perhaps because I've been feeling my posts suffer from being repetitive. Today it hit me that it may be something else entirely. Again and again in class we are told to try to get beyond judging ourselves. Part of being present in the class hinges on being able to do the poses without scolding or being too critical. Praise has its own pitfalls. Anyway, in some respects, I realize I have constantly been judging classes, and my own performance, through this blog. That raises a question, and I don't know whether I can answer it satisfactorily: How do I go about writing a somewhat interesting or worthwhile blog about my yoga classes without bringing any judgment into it? I suppose it may be possible, but I'm not sure exactly how that would be done.
And I'm pretty well convinced that comparing my performance from one day to the next, from one set to the other, etc..., only hinders my progress in the long run. So I'm not sure what I'm going to do about it. Next week I will probably have five days in a row off, and I'm going to think about some new approaches to this side of the endeavor during that break.
at 12:12 AM
Monday, December 15, 2008
2:30 with Miranda
Today, I felt a bit like I was back on track. Class pretty much flew by. The heat was up pretty high, but it felt good and not al all oppressive. And unlike yesterday, I felt like I was putting all my effort and attention into the poses. So, all in all, it was a good class.
Balancing was only mediocre. I fell out of each part one time. In Standing Head to Knee, I fall because I start to lose my balance to the outside of my foot. I think this is an alignment issue, and I should probably go back to the first part of the pose for a while to get an even more solid knee lock. In Standing Bow, I fall out because the stretch becomes very intense. I should be able to overcome this with just a deeper concentration. Basically, I think if I could learn to breath into the stretching pain, I could hold this pose longer. But its in little things like that where the true difficulty lies.
Back strengthening was really good today. Cobra was really good. From class to class I can feel myself lifting up even more with just my back, and then I can get a really good stretch in the upper back. Locust was better than its been for a while, as was Floor Bow. After locust, I felt the beginnings of a cramp just below my left scapula. And in Floor Bow, I could feel a real tightness/tiredness feeling in a line across my middle back.
Before class I was talking with a man who has been coming to this studio since it opened. He has probably taken over 500 classes in the last two years, and did other yoga before this. He said, with a touch of bemusement, that he still couldn't lock his knee. So I watched him in a few poses. He kicks out in Standing Head to Knee without a fully locked knee. I don't know much, but it seems pretty clear to me that you need to learn to really lock the knee before you start to kick out. Once you are concentrating on the kicked out leg, it's exceedingly difficult to focus on locking the standing knee. Besides that, its dangerous and he's lucky that he hasn't hurt his back. Then I saw him going into Fixed Firm: He goes all the way back into the full posture, but his hips are off the ground. Again, I thought this was dangerous. And it probably is not giving him the full benefits of the pose. Now I wonder if I should talk to him, and I know him well enough that I probably will.
The point here is that he is really a good, dedicated student, and there are still some things that seem to have slipped by him. And I'm pretty sure the same happens to all of us. I know that I discover little adjustments I need to do in the poses all the time. And who knows, maybe there are some really big errors that I have been making all along. Both of the errors I saw today, I think, come from wanting to go deeper into a pose before being ready for it. That's a huge temptation, and one that I have been trying to guard against. But today I started inching back some in Fixed Firm myself. Was I truly ready for it? Or was I just trying to get deeper into the pose so I could reward myself with another breakthrough? Sometimes it's pretty hard to tell.
at 12:04 AM
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Thurs 8:15 pm with Miranda
Saturday 2:30 with Danielle
We have company visiting, so it's been harder to make it to class. One of my favorite Woody Allen quotes is "80% of success is just showing up." And these past few days, I'm hoping he has it right.
Thursday night's class was very good. I don't remember much about it at all, and that's usually a good sign. The 6:30 class had orange slices waiting for them, and I remember being a bit disappointed that they were gone after the late class. Other than that, I can't recall anything particular about any of the poses.
I meant to go to class on Friday, but we had lunch reservations that made any of the early classes impossible. We ate at a Brazilian churasscuria, which is basically an all you can eat steak house with about 22 different kinds of meat, each of them better than the last. I thought about going to the 6:30 class, but was afraid of what might come up in Locust. So I took the day off.
Then today, we had another big lunch, but there were no other options for class. So I went to class with a full stomach, which was a first. The idea filled me with more than a bit of terror. But it was different than I thought. I didn't have any problems holding the food down. Instead, I lacked energy. So my mind was involved, but my body wasn't responding the way it should. I kept having the sense that it would have been a simply great class if I had gone without eating.
Danielle has already improved quite a bit. Her dialogue was more confident. She made only one noticeable slip. And she seemed to have a better connection with the students than before. The first class I took with her was solid and showed promise. After this class, I'm pretty sure that she will develop into a really good teacher. The only faults I could find with today's class were the pacing (too quick) and the heat (too cold for me).
I was fine in the standing series. Had pretty good balance. I made it through the back strengthening pretty well, and without spitting up. Then, the extent that I dogged the class became clear in Camel and Rabbit. Both poses were considerably less deep than usual, especially Rabbit. I took that to mean that I had not prepared as well earlier on. The amount that each pose builds on the earlier ones in this series is pretty incredible. So, either my full stomach was holding me back, or I held back a bit unconsciously because of the full tummy. Either way, its not something I want to repeat very often, and I need to make sure that I don't let myself get into the habit of dogging it.
at 12:31 AM
Thursday, December 11, 2008
6:30 pm with Miranda
It snowed today, which is the first time since I've been in Houston. I heard that it snowed about 5 years ago on Christmas eve, but I was in China at the time. I have two Samoyeds, sled dogs who have never seen snow. So I let them frolic for longer than usual and came in just in time to get to class, but really chilled. It was very tempting not to go, but I didn't give in and I'm glad I did not.
I didn't have much of the after cold burning sensation in my hands or my feet, and the temperature in class was perfect and felt really good. And it was very pleasant being in the hot room and being able to look through the foggy windows at the snow falling.
Class went well. I've found a new spot to breath through in my throat during Pranayama. It sounds even more like a snore on the inhale. I assume this means I'm improving, but I haven't asked anyone. It feels a bit better than before. It's strange to think about how varied a simple thing like breathing can be.
I didn't get my bit toe to hit in Eagle today, so that was a minor step back. But I also had a minor breakthrough: in Locust, I got my elbows to touch for the first time. I can see how keeping them closer might increase my leverage someday, and make it easier to push further up. But something is going to have to open up in my back first before I can take advantage of that leverage.
Balancing was not good. I was fine on my left leg, but had trouble holding balance on my right leg. I think cold feet from the snow may have had something to do with this.
Otherwise class was pretty standard. The big achievement today was showing up. Also, for the first time I brought an extra towel and showered there. Until recently, I thought the shower there would be pointless, because I couldn't stop the sweating that fast. For some reason, that doesn't seem to be as much of an issue any more. And it was really nice to be able to go home dressed as a human being.
at 12:44 AM
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
10:30 am with Miranda
Today's class was as good as Sunday's was bad. Heat and humidity were a perfect 105/40. The energy was good and I felt strong throughout.
Miranda gave a few hands on corrections that were illuminating. In the first forward bend, she started to push back on my knees while telling me to roll forward. The feeling was a bit different than when I do it on my own. I could feel more in my back and in the middle of my hamstrings. I had never really rolled forward properly before, I guess.
I thought I was doing it. It's pretty easy to fool yourself into thinking you are doing something when you really are not. That is one lesson I learn again and again from doing this Yoga.
In one of the situps, she came over and pushed down on my knees while I was sitting up. When I sat up, she gave me a look that said "You see, you can do that." And for the rest of the sit-ups, I did do it on my own. It's so easy to let the knees bend in the sit-ups, but its also a point where I really do have control. So no excuses from this point on.
And she pushed my hips onto my heels in Half Tortoise. She's done this before, but I've made some progress in this pose, and it changed what she was doing. Basically, I realized how far I have to go still in this pose. My head was barely on the floor, and there was an awesome stretch through my upper back and shoulders. I can still feel the aftermath of that stretch. The feel of this pose varies so much from day to day. Sometimes, its like a pure rest, and other times I can get a big stretch out of it. I haven't figured out quite what makes the difference, and today I found out how much more work there really is to do in this pose.
Balancing was pretty good, especially Standing Head to Knee. My right leg still wants to come out of a full locked position, but there's some improvement. Balancing Stick was really good. Miranda stressed leaning back before going into the pose, and then concentrating mostly on lifting the leg, and letting the upper body follow. I hadn't heard this before, and it seemed to make a difference.
All in all, it was a great class. Oh, and I almost forgot. My big toe touched the back of my leg in Eagle. It's a minor breakthrough, but very satisfying.
at 10:36 PM
Monday, December 8, 2008
Saturday 9:30 am with Amy
Sunday 2:30 pm with Miranda
Saturday morning class was just about perfect. Other than that, I hardly remember a thing about it. I remember getting my head on the floor in Fixed Firm. Other than that, I'm pretty much drawing a blank. But I know I was really with it, and I felt good during class and great afterwards. That is enough.
Today's class couldn't have been more different. Unfortunately, I remember just about every moment, every painful moment. We started out at 85 degrees and 60 % humidity. It was so cold that Miranda took us through a stretching routine she does to warm up. That part was fun, but class started over 20 minutes late as a result. That wasn't that big a deal.
Gradually the room got hotter, eventually to 99 degrees. And the humidity never went below 58%. I did really well to start with, and then around Standing Bow I started to run out of air. Sometimes it really is the humidity. And of course, on Sundays, I don't eat before class, and that probably didn't help. By Triangle, I was pretty beat, and I dropped my arms between sides, so I went down. Then I went down again in the next pose. And then, I even felt like going down in Tree pose, but resisted.
I figured floor series would be better, but it was even more humid on the floor. The only thing I skipped on the floor was a set of Locust, because I needed a bathroom break. Or maybe I just wanted to escape. After Locust, things went back to being merely painful.
To top it off, I've had a low grade headache since class. Maybe I'm getting sick, but this class will go down in the Pantheon of nightmarish classes. It was right up there with one of Zeb's torture sessions, or the class with Lenette where I pretty much collapsed, or the second advanced class where I was out for the count for the last 20 minutes. But there's no lasting damage, and I think I may have actually learned a few things about the poses, and about warming up. So the class was really hard and painful, but not in any way a loss.
at 12:33 AM
Friday, December 5, 2008
6:30 pm with Miranda
I don't know why, but I could not stand on one foot today. Well, I do sort of know why. I played with the dogs before class, and it was pretty cold out. And the ground was wet. So I started class with very cold feet and hands. They didn't burn, like the last time. Instead, when we started Eagle, I started to get cramps in the outsides of each standing foot. Not so bad that I had to hop around or anything, but bad enough to completely throw off my balance.
By Standing Bow, it got comical. I was about as bad as I was in the first couple of weeks of class. Not overall, but I fell out about every 5-10 seconds or so. The best thing I can say is that I didn't give up, and I didn't get mad at myself or frustrated. And that is a major difference between now and when I first started. Then, I constantly got mad and frustrated with myself, particularly in the balancing poses.
The best parts of class today were Fixed Firm and Rabbit. In Fixed Firm, I felt like I could have gone all the way down in second set. I still didn't push it, but I'm pretty near to where I was before I hurt my knee. In Rabbit, I got into what felt like a pretty deep position. It's really hard for me to know with this pose, but it felt better than usual, and my breathing was good in the pose.
I got confirmation today of Bikram's close call in Mumbai. He was with his wife and several of the yoga champions to open a new studio there. They stayed at the Taj Mahal Hotel, and left the building to go out for food or a drink only ten minutes before the terrorist attack. A few minutes the other way and the chances are pretty good that some or all of them would now be dead. Thankfully, they are all fine.
at 10:59 PM
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Tues. 10:30 am with Miranda
Wed. 10:30 am with Miranda
There's a funny thing about morning classes. I'm less flexible during classes, so while doing it, I feel less sense of accomplishment. In the evening classes, I tend to go much deeper into the poses, and that's always nice. But afterwards, I feel like I've gotten more benefit from the morning classes. Not just from the energizing effect that lasts the rest of the day, but also simply in the way my body works.
The room conditions the last two days were very different. Yesterday, it was cold and humid. Class started at 92 degrees and got up to about 102. Humidity never dropped below 45%. That usually bodes ill for me, and yesterday was no exception. I almost had to sit out a set at the end of standing series, and was suffering through some of the floor series. Today, it was hotter but dry. We started at about 102 and it got up to 107, but the humidity was only around 35% at the maximum. And those differences made class so much easier. Plus, I came into class today determined to try to really focus on Miranda's voice, and to push everything else out of my mind. I think that helped speed things along, and made for a better class all around.
I don't have much to say about the postures in either class. Balancing series were OK. I'm pretty much falling out once per part in these, and sometimes making it all the way through. Back strengthening was about par for the course. Fixed Firm is slowly improving. I can go back on my elbows when I want now, and am even thinking about lowering my head to the floor a bit.
In terms of the poses, it seems like the biggest improvement I could make now is to increase the flexibility in my butt and hamstrings, especially on the left side. Pushing this too hard, however, is fraught with danger. Most of the people who hurt themselves (including my own sciatic problem), do it by pushing the forward bends too hard. So, instead, I'm trying to learn patience and persistence. The persistence part doesn't seem to be that much of a problem. The patience lesson is a harder one to learn.
at 9:18 PM
Sunday, November 30, 2008
2:30 with Miranda
Full class today. I was in the back row in the middle. For almost the full standing series, Miranda was directly in front of me and I had no view of the mirror. That's pretty much a first, and it interfered less than I would have supposed. I couldn't see a thing in Half Moon, but I think I was pretty much on target anyway. Standing Head to Knee was where it was the worst. I've grown accustomed to focusing on my standing knee. Without that reference point, I could still stand and lock the knee, but for some reason I couldn't kick out and hold my balance for long. For the rest of the series, including Standing Bow, not being able to see myself didn't have much of an impact at all. I made it through two parts of Standing Bow, and here I think not being able to see myself might actually have helped some.
Floor series was very good today. I felt really strong in the back strengthening series. I focused on stretching outward with my legs in Locust, and I think it might help. Rabbit and Camel were very good, especially Rabbit, which is definitely a pose that comes and goes for me. And I must be doing something right on the final stretch now. I'm working on flexing the feet and locking my knees, and it really hurts even before the stretch starts. I'm assuming at some point that intense stretch behind the knees will start to feel more normal.
All in all, for a Sunday class with no food beforehand, it went very well. I'm not having stamina or breathing problems at all. My focus, overall, is pretty good. I could still be a bit more still getting into Savasanas. And on a day like today, I actually was enjoying the time in class. I'm still a bit hung up on progress, or the lack of it, but when I can put that out of my mind, everything is just fine.
at 10:38 PM
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Thursday Thanksgiving! and off.
Friday 2:30 pm with Miranda
Saturday 9:30 am with Amy.
I took two days in a row off for the first time since Hurricane Ike. I felt great, except the Thanksgiving feast gave me a headache. I didn't drink much -- one beer and a small glass of champagne. So I'm blaming it either on the turkey (which was my own doing, and delicious), or just on general overeating.
The headache stayed with me through Friday morning and up to class, so I was a bit concerned about how I would do in class. By Standing Bow, the headache was gone. After class, it stayed away, and then came back slightly after a couple of hours. But nothing like it was in the morning. Add another item to the list of Bikram benefits: it can cure some headaches. I was especially surprised that it had that effect since I basically ate nothing before the class.
When Friday class started, my head hurt so much that I had a little trouble staying balanced on two feet. I decided to hold back some in Standing Head to Knee, and made it in the first position (grabbing the foot and locking the standing knee) for the full first set. Then I made it kicking out through the full second set. So much for balance problems. Standing bow was good as well.
The rest of yesterday's class was sort of a blur. The one thing I distinctly remember was Miranda pulling back a bit on my hands in Half Moon, and then putting her knuckles into my spine just below the shoulderblades. This had me slightly arch the back backwards, and it did let me go further into the pose. Now I'm trying to recapture the same feeling on my own.
Today's class was very ordinary. Balancing was not good. I fell out a bunch in all of my poses. Then I had a pretty good Separate Leg Forward Stretch, a very good Triangle, and then I lost it in the first set of Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee and had to sit out for a set. My legs were tighter than usual, and getting into the pose was harder on my balance and I was having trouble keeping my breath.
The last two classes with Amy, she has called me out on not locking my elbows in the first backbend. It's odd, because this is something that I would say that I work on. But apparently not enough, because when she calls me out I can improve it. Locking the elbows makes the bend feel even more funky and insecure. That's part of what the "don't be afraid" command in that pose addresses. Without being able to see, its very hard to know for sure if I'm getting this one right. Now it looks like the answer is: if I feel OK, then I'm doing it wrong and I should try to stretch my arms out more and really lock the elbows.
Here's the funny thing: a few weeks ago, I obsessed over my knee, over my sciatic pain. The petty little injuries gave a focus to my practice. Now, I'm pretty much injury free. I feel a little tightness in the hamstrings, but its not even close to an injury. And as a result, I'm thinking that my practice lacks a real focus. In an odd way, the injuries may have been a blessing. They gave me something specific, and very real, to work on. I still, for some reason that is probably wrongheaded, feel like I need something more specific to work on, but anything I might choose seems a bit arbitrary. Next month, Amy is going to start a program geared towards next year's Texas Asana Competition. Maybe concentrating on that will fill the gap (a gap that probably shouldn't be there).
at 3:21 PM
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Wednesday 8:30 pm with Amy
It's been awhile since I saw Amy. Her little girl came down with pneumonia, had a fever that reached 105, and went to the hospital twice for it. During that time, her boy got a fever of 104, and she and her husband also got sick. So she's had a really bad couple of weeks, and seemed to be really happy to be doing something other than attending the sick.
Class was good and hot. We finished at 107 and 40% humidity, and it had probably already come down a degree or two by that time. Often, that kind of heat will knock me out of a pose or maybe two. Instead, I was pushed to the very edge at the end of standing series, but held on. I lost my breath after the second set of Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, but there's no point in sitting out Tree pose since its basically a resting posture anyways.
Balancing Series was very good. I fell out of Standing Head to Knee twice, but my kicking out was better than its been recently. I was concentrating on flexing back my kicking foot, and the difference was noticeable. I made it all through the full second set of Standing Bow. Amy doesn't talk during the second set of this pose, and it makes it much easier to concentrate. When the dialogue is going on, its hard not to measure how much time is left by the progress of the dialogue, and I think that that alone is a pretty big distraction. It's too easy to think "I'll never make it" and fall out, when it might have been possible to make it. Or to push hard as the last words are coming up, only to lose the pose. With silence, it seems much easier to fall into a state where there is just your image in the mirror, your breathing, and that slightly burning stretching feeling.
Sit-ups today seem much improved. My head still doesn't hit my knees, but its getting close. Now I've noticed that my knees come up a little bit as I'm coming forward, and I'm going to concentrate on keeping them nailed to the floor.
In the floor series, the good news came in Locust. In first set, we got to the last part and Amy started heaping praise on how far I went up. She said it was "awesome", and said "you go away for a little while, and its just amazing to see the progress people make while your gone" I would not have said my Locust was anything special, or even very good for me. It's really nice to know that a mediocre Locust still shows that sort of improvement. I don't get breakthroughs very often any more, so I really appreciate this kind of feedback, especially on the poses that I can't see.
A while back, Amy was in a class that Cisco taught where he made us do the second set of Blowing In Firm at almost a machine gun fire pace. The clapping sounds to me like its about 144 breaths a minute, or maybe a little faster. Amy has taken to doing the same thing in her classes and she has joked about it with me a couple of times. For the first time, I kept pace for the entire set, without having to gasp or slow down. And when it was over, I basically fell off my knees laughing. When I started, just doing the slow first set was pretty much impossible, so keeping up this ridiculous (and it really is ridiculous) speed felt something like a triumph.
at 9:21 AM
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Tuesday 6:30 pm with Miranda
Another good class. I had my best balancing series in a while. I made it through all four parts of Standing Head to Knee without falling out. I had to come out of the kicking out part of it from time to time, but instead of falling when I went to far, I managed to pull myself back to the first position. Standing Bow was not as good, I fell out three out of the four parts. I'm falling here because the stretch, either in my standing leg or in my shoulder, becomes too intense. So I think that's probably a good sign. And Balancing Stick was good: no hopping and I didn't fall out.
The rest of class went very smoothly. No real high or low points. I only went back on my elbows in the second set of Fixed Firm. The slightest change in the angle of my feet seems to make a huge difference, and I'm really trying to get them pointed straight back to the wall. Because of the difference that angle can make, I think it might be hard to judge progress in the pose just on how far back I go. Today, I may have done better than yesterday, even though I didn't go back as far, because I think my feet were straighter.
This idea makes me wonder how many poses have the same sort of issue. And my guess is that they probably all do. I know that you can feign progress in half moon by compromising your grip, arm position, and the stretch up before leaning to the side. And how far the hips come up in Rabbit can vary alot based on subtle differences in the head position, and also on where you grab your feet and how tightly you bring your ankles together. I could probably go on for another half dozen postures or so where I've noticed the large effect that a small change in the set-up can make. And I don't even know all that much about the postures yet. So maybe I should start talking more about my progress in terms of form instead of depth?
I've noticed the same thing about the Final Stretch. It's much, much harder when I concentrate on keeping my feet together and really engaging my quads while locking my knees. I've been working on this recently, and it limits how far forward I can come. So there is an apparent lack of depth from doing this pose with better form. But the burning sensation in the back of my knees, my hamstrings and my hips, tells me that this is the right way to do this pose. The lesson in this is that sometimes moving forward actually appears like moving backwards.
at 9:39 AM
Monday, November 24, 2008
Saturday 9:30 am with Danielle
Danielle is our brand new teacher. She just came back from teacher training in Mexico, and Saturday's class was her second. She did really well. Her timing was perfect. She kept the heat just right. She didn't seem nervous, except at a couple of points when she might have been trying to remember whether to say right or left. I think she's going to be a very good teacher.
Students don't get to see the dialogue itself, and most teachers start to vary things up on their own with time. So one of the nice things for me about this class was that it was a fresh exposure to about as pure a form of the dialogue as I am likely to hear. It's really quite amazing how effective the pure dialogue is. It doesn't need elaboration or adornment to make for a very strong class -- even with it's broken English ("your exactly head on your knees"), and its absudities ("360 degree backbend for gravitation").
As for the class itself, the energy was high and I did well for a Saturday morning. Balancing was pretty good. I fell out of each part, but only once and very late into the set. Triangle and Standing Separate Head to Knee were both strong.
The high point of the class was Fixed Firm. I went back on my elbows in both sets. That's the first time I've done that in a very long time. I'm not going to push too fast to get all the way back. I want to make sure my butt is firmly planted on the ground first. But this is a really good sign that my knee is healing.
And Toe Stand is also getting a bit better. I have a hard time holding the squat on my left leg still, but I'm just barely managing it. The good news is that its no longer scary to go down on that leg. I have confidence that my knee is not simply going to break.
I missed blogging this weekend because the internet was down. And I took Sunday off. I was going to go at 8:30 this morning, but it now looks like it will be 6:30 pm or nothing.
at 9:32 AM
Saturday, November 22, 2008
6:30 pm with Miranda
We started at about 104 and 45% humidity, and it just kept getting hotter. At Camel, Miranda opened the door to let in some cool air, and it still got hotter. I don't know where it peaked, but my guess is somewhere around 107, and the humidity never went down. It started to get to me in the floor series, but I tried to stay focused and dealt with it pretty well.
On the good side, I was much more flexible than recently. Rabbit seemed especially easy. And I got deeper into the left side of the final stretch. I'm not fully extended yet, but I'm much closer to the floor. In the worst days of my sciatic injury, the knee made about a 90 degree angle in this one. Now, I can almost get it down all the way. And I got back easily on the elbows in second set of fixed firm.
Balancing series, however, was not very good. After a bad first set of Standing Head to Knee, I just locked the knee without kicking out for the second set, and managed to hold the balance both times. Standing Bow was a little better. I fell out once in each part, but held it pretty well before falling forward. And I did fall forward, which is supposed to be good. Balancing Stick was good, as it usually is when the other parts are not.
This was the first class that I've taken immediately after taking my dogs to the park. It was about 50 degrees out, and I played with them without gloves. Then I rushed off to class. Bad idea. The first 20 minutes, my hands had to adjust to the change from 50 degrees to 105 degrees, and they were burning up as a result. It was fairly painful, and it didn't seem like there was anything to do about it. The grips in the early poses made it even worse. So from now on here's an important safety tip: don't jump from an extended stay in cooler weather directly into the hot room.
For some reason the other stupid thing I did wasn't nearly as bad. I left the studio still in my sweaty shorts and shirt, basically drenched, when it was mid 40s outside. And that doesn't bother me at all. Not sure why that change in temperature seems so much easier to take, but there it is.
at 12:23 AM
Thursday, November 20, 2008
9:30 am with Connease
I set up in the back. The room was cold. It started at 85 degrees and 45% humidity, and probably never got over 100. At the end of class, it was 96 and 44% humidity. Lukewarm and humid are not a good combination for me. It means having a sweat and feeling a little chilled at the same time.
On top of that, I just felt weak for some reason. And so the entire practice was like I was back at square one. I couldn't balance at all -- I must have fallen out of Standing Head to Knee 20 or more times, all tolled. I skipped the last part of Triangle, and a whole set of Standing Head to Knee. I dropped out early on the first set of Locust. It was like old times.
On the plus side, Connease gives really good corrections and pays attention to details that I haven't heard before. She corrected my hip alignment in Half Moon, then my knee locking (right leg of course) in Standing Bow, and then my set up in the final seated Head to Knee pose. There were other corrections along the way, but those were the ones that gave me a bit of new info on doing the poses.
Even though class was sub-par, I felt really good afterwards. And I've noticed that before on days when I had to sit out a pose for some reason. Sitting out means that for whatever reason I've really pushed to the edge that day. And maybe that extra effort (or what seems like extra effort on days when I'm a bit out of it) is what makes the difference after class. The implication, I guess is that I should push even harder on days when I've got everything together.
Connease talked today about finding a still point in each of the poses. She said that you always want to find a point where you are uncomfortable, but still, and able to breathe. Then she said that often this is a point that sits on the edge between Fear and Ego. Fear prevents people from going deep into poses, while Ego tempts them to go to far. So the trick is to push past your fear while not going to far simply to indulge your Ego. She said it better, and I'm just paraphrasing, but I really like the idea.
In some ways, I think I probably hurt my knee because I pushed poses like Fixed Firm too hard. And that was ego driven: I really wanted to be deep in that pose so I probably forced it. Now, I tend to ride the other side of that edge. I'm a bit wary of pushing too hard and may tend to remain too much in the comfort zone. So the trick is finding that middle area.
at 7:46 PM
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
4:30 pm with Miranda
It looks like everyone in town is getting sick. Amy's little girl has pneumonia, her boy has had a high fever, and both she and her husband have a cold/fever. Yesterday, Lenette was talking about how she was just getting over a cold. Another student almost dropped in class yesterday -- also a victim of this cold. And today, Miranda gave a really good dialogue between coughs and sniffles.
I focused on being happy to be there. It didn't take as much effort as I thought. That might be because I like afternoon classes better, and it might be because the heat was perfect. I'd like to think its because I really was happy to be there. A few times I drifted away into thoughts outside class, but that's pretty much par for the course. But there wasn't any time in the class when I started feeling sorry for myself. Just that slight adjustment makes everything so much better, and its amazing how much it really is under my control. Of course, there are some pretty serious implications for this insight outside of the yoga room...
Class itself was good. Half moon was better than usual. My form is getting better and I feel like I'm starting to open in the chest a bit. The depth is coming.
Balancing series was mediocre. I had two really good sides on Standing Bow, with a really intense stretch that I was able to hold. I had one really good part for Standing Head to Knee, and then lost my balance again and again in the next three parts.
In Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, I had a choice. I was aware of the salty sweat running into my eyes, and my cramped breath. I was also aware of a really good stretching feeling in my hamstring and hip. Ordinarily, I might just focus on the stinging in the eyes or the lack of air. Instead, I focused on how good the stretch felt and on breathing into the slight burning sensation in my legs. I don't know if that made the posture any better, but it made a world of difference for the practice overall. I came out of the posture feeling energized instead of beat.
This change meant I was already recharging well before Savasana. As a result, I think I may have been able to put a bit more into the back strengthening series, and I had a really good floor series overall. I went back on my elbows in second set of Fixed Firm. I'm just fine in Japanese Sitting Position for the final breathing exercise. Overall, a very satisfying practice, and I've felt really great since class.
at 11:23 PM
Monday, November 17, 2008
10:30 am with Lenette
Good class. It started out really hot -- 107 and 40% humidity. But Lenette has a knack for getting things just right. The humidity blowers are not going full time now that the outside temperatures have dropped some. As a result, my favorite spot has moved from under the blowers, to anywhere under one of the moving fans.
Before class, Lenette told me that my left knee has been locking really well recently, and now I have to bring the same focus to my right knee. Then during class she showed me what she meant. I have a tendency to bend the right knee when I kick out in Standing Head to Knee, because I can't get my left lifted leg up straight. So I bend the knee some to compensate. She forced me to lock it, which makes the kicking out even harder. And in Standing Bow, I have a bit of the same problem. Lack of flexibility in the lifted leg is causing me to compromise some on the anchor.
Balancing series was average today. I made it all the way through on maybe one part in each pose. The rest of the standing series was also average, except for Triangle. I got a really good set up, and fell into the pose very naturally. There were some nice triangles within the Triangle, and I felt like I could hold it for a long time. On the down side, I didn't attempt Toe Stand. I can't say what it is that makes me try it sometimes and not others, but for now I'm trusting my instincts and staying on the safe side.
Floor series was good. Sometime in Cobra, I had a sort of revelatory change in attitude. Basically, out of nowhere, I decided that it was a privilege to be able to be in the room, and that I would do much better in class if I just came to each pose with the idea that it was an honor and a pleasure to be able to do this right now. Lately, I think I've been beating myself down some by focusing on the lack of breakthroughs, the effort and pain of the postures, and other negative things. And that's just so wrong, and ultimately could poison the whole practice. The reason I keep coming every day is not only because of the benefits I'm getting outside of class, but because at a deep level I really like doing this stuff. And since that's true at a deep level, I might as well bring that to the surface. Anyway, just being happy about doing the poses made the floor series much better.
Lenette recently came from a retreat in Minnesota where Emmy Cleaves (the amazing octagenarian yogi) and Rajahsheree (Bikram's wife and I've probably misspelled the name) taught. Emmy said that a practice will succeed if there are three elements: frequency, precision and intensity.
According to Lenette, anything from 3 times a week and up is enough to satisfy the frequency requirement. More is better, up to a point. And the more you do, the more important it is that you be precise. Because if the precision is not there, its easy to overdo things.
Precision, to my way of thinking, is probably the hardest thing to achieve and it may be the most important. It insures safety, and is the only way to guarantee progress. Also developing a habit of precision may be the quickest way of learning mental discipline and focus. Of the three elements she mentions, I think precision is the hardest, and its what can keep the 26 postures interesting for so long.
Intensity may be the easiest of these to achieve. My objection to this element is that it is so easy to be too intense. I think Emmy would probably answer that, with precision, you cannot be too intense. (Or conversely, if your practice becomes so intense that you lose control of your breath or your movements, then you have lost the necessary precision.)
Today, I was thinking about this as it relates to attitude. And I think its clear that a bad attitude infects and threatens all three of these elements. Beating myself up over lack of progress, or just focusing on unpleasant things could 1) make me come to class less often; 2) come out of poses early or tend to cheat either to relax or to give myself the illusion of going deeper than I'm able; and 3) take it easy from time to time, or push too hard to force a breakthrough for which I'm not ready. So, if possible, I'm going to try to get back to the attitude that I'm just happy to be here.
at 10:11 PM
Sunday, November 16, 2008
9:30 am Saturday with Lenette
2:30 pm Sunday with Miranda
These were two very different classes. Yesterday it was hot, and tough, and I felt pretty good throughout. Today, it started out cold and gradually warmed up. The class did not seem objectively as tough, but I was having some troubles toward the end. I think the problem today was the lack of a good warm up.
Before class I was talking to a woman who has practiced in 6 different studios, including two in Boston, one in Dubai of all places, and the downtown studios here in Houston. She said that this was the coolest of any of the places she has practiced, and also said that its the only studio she has been in with fans. In Dubai, she said the studio was hotter, but to get it to that temperature, they still had to use air conditioners. Outside, it was typically 12o degrees when she went to class.
Yesterday, Lenette said that she had heard several people ask her to give other teachers some lessons on controlling the heat, because some classes have been too cold. Her answer was that, to a large extent, you can control your own heat through your breathing. (Other yoga practices use the throat breathing we do in pranayama to help warm up their bodies, and it definitely works.) And since we have our own internal mechanisms that can add to the heat, she suggested that we stop bitching and do our yoga. Very funny.
As for the yoga, yesterday I felt hot and a bit weak, but more flexible than usual. So I did well in the poses that emphasize stretching, but had what seemed like a weak back strengthening series, awkward pose, triangle, etc... Balancing was mediocre. Nothing really stood out.
This morning, it was quite the opposite. I felt really strong, and did great in the strength poses. But I wasn't very flexible at all, I think because of the lack of heat (it finally got up to about 100 or 101), and because that led to less of a warm up. Balancing was very good today. I only made it completely through one part each of Standing Head to Knee and Standing Bow. But I came close on all the other parts. When I fell out in Standing Head to Knee it was because I was trying at the end to lock my kicking leg. And in Standing Bow I fall out because the stretch just starts to get too intense in the standing leg and butt.
at 8:03 PM
Thursday, November 13, 2008
8:15 pm with Miranda
All day I had a kind of deep pain in my left hip socket, so I was a bit anxious about class. I didn't feel any pain in the hip at all during class. That made me thing that yoga had once again cured a temporary problem. But now the pain is back. It's not bad, but its like something deep in my hip wants to open up, and it isn't quite there.
I set up in the back tonight. And, as always, it was harder to focus and I did not fare as well in the balancing poses. The rest of the class went really well though, especially in the parts where I got physical corrections from Miranda. First, she helped out in the first forward bend, and once again I came just shy of locking my knees. Then she put all her weight on my legs during Wind Relieving. She's done that several times, and it always feels good. Tonight I almost got contact between knee and shoulder, and there's no way I can get nearly that deep without help.
Then the new correction came in Floor Bow. She pushed forward and up on my ankles, driving me onto my chest and getting my feet up higher than I ever thought they would go. It felt absolutely amazing. Now I'm a little bit aware of some tenderness in my lower back, which might be from that, but it was definitely worth it.
On my own I had some good moments as well. From a distance my half moon is starting to look more round. I still think this is one of the hardest poses in the series. I've worked hard at getting the form better, and the good form set back my apparent depth for a while. Now I'm probably 20-30 degrees above parallel from the floor with my arms, but my elbows are locked, my knees are locked, I'm reaching pretty strongly with the hands, and I have almost no collapse in the waist on the short side.
The other pose that was good tonight was Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee. I actually locked my knee on the right side. I might have done that once in a Zeb class during the challenge. Then the sciatic pain killed the pose for the longest time. Now, its stronger, at least on the right side than its ever been. On the left side, my knee isn't bent quite so pathetically as before. And I'm getting closer to keep my arms locked throughout the pose.
Finally, going back to last night's post. I think the reason I was never able to understand the words in the line of that song is because they just don't make sense to me. That made me think that maybe the same thing happens sometimes with the Bikram dialogue. I have several times heard something new in the dialogue, even though its clear that I have heard the words many times before. And the reason I suddenly hear it as new, I think, is because it suddenly makes sense, perhaps because my body has reached a point where I am able to make sense out of it. This is interesting, but shouldn't be that surprising. It just shows a deep connection between the mind, the senses, and the body -- a connection deeper than a purely intellectual approach might suppose.
at 11:42 PM
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
8:30 am with Lenette
Really good class this morning. The heat was perfect. It started out hard: Lenette took us through more repetitions of pranayama than usual, and its amazing how hard that breathing gets with just a few extra repetitions.
My balance was back. I did all four sides of Standing Head to Knee without falling out. And I held the kicked out leg the full time on two of the four. Only did half as well on Standing Bow, but it was still an improvement on recent days. And Balancing Stick was good, which almost never happens when the others go well.
The rest of the standing series was strong, and I ended again on Toe Stand, without any pain. My left knee is popping alot, but it doesn't hurt at all.
In the floor series, Lenette told a strange story. Her sister runs a studio in Idaho. There's a student there who has been going every day for five years, at least. She also runs, goes to the gym, and does other sports. She has been very unforgiving of herself and very critical. Recently, Lenette's sister has been pushing the idea that how you think during your practice has a direct effect on the practice itself. So if you beat yourself up mentally while practicing, you actually take away the benefit of the yoga. In line with this, she's been getting her students to focus on their thought processes as they are practicing. With this student, during Half Tortoise, she was trying to get the woman's bunched up shoulders and back to relax, using a physical correction, while at the same time encouraging the woman to relax her body and her thoughts.
The woman came out of the pose with a kind of light in her face. She didn't know where she was. She recovered from that, but after class didn't know where her purse was. Then she denied that the purse in the corner was hers, until they showed her her wallet with her driver's license. Then, when she didn't know which car was hers, and didn't know where she lived, they took her to the hospital. It turned out that she got some kind of transient amnesia that the doctor's could not explain. It gradually went away over the course of about a week.
Since that moment, her practice has jumped by leaps and bounds, as has her attitude. She's able to accept herself now, warts and all, and isn't constantly punishing herself over her limitations.
Lenette said that this woman's epiphany (she didn't use that word) came from a sudden connection of her mind and body, that opened up some of the power of her soul. She suddenly got access to what was always inside her, or as Lenette quoted America "Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn't, didn't already have."
I think she may be right, and the line from America is fabulous. I also think the amnesia was another layer of denial. It was like a temporary mental bandage, giving her time to ease into her realization. Anyway, I think its a cool story about the power of this yoga.
And as much as I like that line from America, the next line may be the worst line from any song ever: "And cause never was the reason for the evening, or the Tropic of Sir Galahad." It's non-sensical, not grammatical, and it isn't even fun. I didn't even really know what the line was, so after class I asked Lenette if she knew, and she hummed through the first line and then said "And blah, blah blah something something Sir Galahad." Which is about what I knew. So I looked it up on Google tonight, and realized that its so terrible that I've probably been blocking it out of my mind so I wouldn't have to think about it.
at 8:08 PM
Monday, November 10, 2008
Sunday 2:30 with Miranda
Monday 10:30 with Miranda
After doing so well in Standing Head to Knee, my balance was really off in the last two classes. Today I didn't even make it through a single set of either Standing Head to Knee or Standing Bow. In Standing Head to Knee, I think I'm finally grabbing my foot down far enough away from the toe. And getting the grip right has thrown off my balance some. So progress in one area has caused a temporary setback in another.
Sunday's class was fun. There were more than 40 people in the room and the energy was really good. The temperature was good. No one was sitting out, and the class basically flew by. At this point I don't remember many of the specifics, but I felt really good, if a bit wiped out, afterwards.
Today's class was more of a challenge, maybe because of the morning. It started off well. I really tried to relax my upper back more in the first backbend, and it seemed to make a difference. That's one of the poses that I haven't focused very much on, probably because I think I'm so inept at it. And also, I have really no idea what I look like while doing it, but it doesn't feel like I'm very deep into it. Also, that backbend almost always gives me a feeling of astonishment as I come out of it. It's a really weird feeling that I've been getting used to, although Im not sure that that's the right word, because I still feel a bit dizzy/disoriented every time we come out of that pose.
Balancing series was not good. I had very little balance at all, and fell out alot. But then, Balancing Stick was good today. I still can't figure out why I do well at Balancing Stick when I stink at the other two, and vice versa. It's a puzzle to me.
The good news is that I tried Toe Stand again, probably for the first time in about a month. I got down onto my heel on both sides, but couldn't balance at all. Going down on the left knee felt a bit strange, and the knee popped pretty loudly toward the end. But it didn't hurt, and I haven't felt any ill effects afterwards. Bikram's book says that this pose really strengthens the knees, so I'd like to continue trying it, provided I don't make my left knee any worse.
In the floor series I'm starting to feel some new things. In Locust, the last couple of days, I'm getting a cramp under my left shoulder blade. This probably means that I'm finally working my upper back, so to that extent its a good sign. But I could do without the cramping. Then in Floor Bow, I've started trying to kick more, and this has caused some cramping in my left calf. I'm not sure what this means. And I'm getting cramps in my feet during Fixed Firm, and setting up for Camel. Maybe I need more potassium. I'll give that a shot (Banana time), and see if the cramps are from exertion, lack of electrolytes, or a combination.
One thing I love to see is how much our teachers care about teaching. Yesterday, Miranda was trying to come up with an easy way to show people where to focus their eyes in Toe Stand. It's not a big deal, but it shows that she really cares about people's form. And then today, Lenette took Miranda's 8:30 am class, and was giving her some advice and praise after the class. Seeing them help each other out left me with a very warm feeling.
at 11:54 PM
Saturday, November 8, 2008
2:30 pm with Miranda
I took yesterday off. I'm following a similar rule to what I do in Final Savasana. In Final Savasana, as long as I feel like I need to get out of the room, I stay. I can only leave when I'm comfortable staying. Two days ago, I didn't really feel like going to class, so I went. Yesterday, however, I would have been fine either way, so it was OK to take off the day.
Class was really good today. I started off well in Pranayama. I've been doing this harder than usual recently, and really feeling a stretch in my ribcage. I don't often get the dizzy feeling they talk about, but sometimes I feel like I might be on the verge of it.
The breakthrough, of sorts, came in Standing Head to Knee. I made it through all four sides of the posture without falling out. The first three parts were really strong, especially kicking out the right leg. On the left side kick out, I could only hold the kickout for about half the time, but managed to keep my balance and my standing leg locked, while retreating into the first position. And in the last part, the retreat was comical. I almost lost my balance, and bent my leg sort of sideways to keep myself up, then managed to pull it back together out of sheer determination. So it wasn't pretty, but it's still a first.
Then, of course, Standing Bow was almost a complete bust. Actually it wasn't that bad, but I fell out of each part about 5 seconds before Miranda called change. And in one part, I was much worse than that, falling out a couple of times. But I guess that's what I get for congratulating myself so much over Standing Head to Knee.
Triangle was also really good today. Miranda came and put my stretching up arm into the proper position, and it made the tension/pain of the stretch just a bit more exquisite. As much as this pose hurts (and its the set-up that hurts me much more than the pose itself), it has come to be one of my favorite poses. More than any other pose, this one feels both like I'm working really, really hard and also like I could hold it for a very long time if necessary. You can't really hold the other ones that work you so hard: Balancing Stick, Locust, Full Locust, second part of Awkward. Well, maybe some folks could and I'm beginning to see how it could be possible in Awkward, but the others are way too intense right now for me to think about holding them for minutes.
Fixed Firm took a step back. My knee was feeling a bit worse today, and it was cracking alot in a new way. So I couldn't get as deep as I have been, but its not a major setback and I don't feel like I've re-injured anything.
In the final stretching poses, Miranda came by and started to pull my heels forward a bit. Afterward, for a few moments, I felt like I had been on a rack. She obviously knew where to stop because nothing got hurt. But the stretch was amazing. I'm probably supposed to remember the feeling and try to get to it on my own, but I don't know if I can do that. In India, Yoga is a one on one experience between a guru and his (almost always his) student. I sometimes wonder how different that sort of experience would be, and how much faster, if at all, the progress would be. Someday, I'm going to take a private lesson, or share one, to see what the individualized attention for a full class would be like.
at 10:08 PM
Thursday, November 6, 2008
8:15 pm with Amy
This past week, and even today, I have been a little less enthusiastic than usual about going to class. Today, I was 50/50 on whether to go at all. And then class just raced by, and was really satisfying. Even though I wouldn't say that I exactly rocked any of the poses, the practice as a whole just felt great. The trouble is that I'm now so energized that I may be looking at another 3am bedtime.
Some parts were clearly not so good. I couldn't hold balance in any of the Standing Head to Knee sets. On the good side, when I am kicking out, I'm doing it pretty well, with a very solid standing leg. Standing Bow was really great in one set, with almost perfect concentration. But otherwise mediocre. And Balancing Stick was just a struggle. I was hopping around again.
Then the good stuff really started. I almost grabbed my heels in Standing Separate Leg Forehead to Floor. That's pretty huge for me, and I could feel my hips lifting as I rolled the weight forward. Then Triangle was really strong with a good stretch across my chest. It even earned a "beautiful" from Amy. And I finished off the whole standing series just as strongly, with good stamina.
Floor series was pretty similar. Back Strengthening, which has been so good recently, was middling at best. The best I can say is that I really was trying hard in it, so that's fine. Fixed Firm was better than its been in a while. In second set, I was legitimately back on my elbows, with my feet pointed straight back, and my hips on the floor. Half Tortoise felt really great, with a huge stretch in my shoulders. And Rabbit is back to where it was a couple of weeks ago -- I'm feeling the stretch deep into the lower back again.
But the best thing was just how quickly the class flew by. Basically, it felt like we started, were in Triangle, then in Locust and then we were done. The energy in the room was great, and I was in one of those zones where time just doesn't seem to exist. That happens so rarely, and when it does, it almost always goes together with a great experience. And tonight was the same. The other times when I've had the same type of experience come either when playing music and being really involved in it so that everything else just seems to vanish, or from time to time when I was a kid playing basketball and the team was just totally clicking together. And now in yoga...
at 11:34 PM
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
10:30 am with Lenette
I always enjoy Lenette's class. Besides the fact that she was my first teacher, that she gave me the advice that cured my sciatica and then my knee, her classes always have a really nice balance of information, humor and motivation. Today was no different, and it made for a very enjoyable class.
Balancing series was pretty good today. I made it through 2 of the 4 parts in both Standing Head to Knee and Standing Bow. The locking of my knee seems to be getting better and better. I had a really good stretch going in Standing Bow, which I can really feel on the back of my standing leg. And it just feels so good to actually be able to hold that pose.
Balancing Stick was not quite so good. I was hopping around a bit in the first set, which I almost never do. I generally either get into the pose or fall out, but not hop. On the plus side, I'm doing better at keeping my arms locked, and I can really feel it in my shoulders.
Lenette said I'm making real progress in Fixed Firm. She said my foot alignment is much better than it used to be, and that as a result my ankles and tops of my feet are almost flat on the ground now. It was really good to know that I'm on the right track here.
My knee has regressed slightly from jumping around with the dogs. It's not a big deal, but a couple of days ago I felt absolutely great, and now I need to pay some attention to what I'm doing with it. It's still way better than it was just two weeks ago, and a few more days of practice should work wonders.
at 7:21 PM
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
9:30 am with Connease
I don't have any political comments, but I'm typing this while listening to Obama's acceptance speech. It's a pretty remarkable, and memorable, moment.
I took two days off in a row. The first was deliberate; the second less so. I felt really good both days, and yesterday I was bouncing around with the dogs, doing some jumping and hopping that I haven't done in months. This morning, I felt a little popping in my knees, which means I might have pushed it just a little too hard.
Class was brutal. It started at 98 degrees and 60% humidity, which wasn't so bad. But it kept getting hotter and hotter. By the end of standing series, it was 105 degrees and 50% humidity. It was bad enough that I sneaked a peek. And at the end of class it was 109 degrees and 41% humidity. It was easily the hottest class I can remember. The Zeb classes that I thought were crushing ended up at about 107 and 41%.
It's not that surprising that my stamina suffered --- a lot. It was surprising, however, that I came out of the first forward bend a bit dizzy. I was already gasping by the end of Awkward pose. I thought about sitting out some of Eagle, because I was on the borderline with my breathing. Then I finally lost it in the middle of Triangle, and ended up sitting out one set of Triangle, one set of Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, and then one set of the Final Stretch. And on top of that, I bailed out early on the third part of Locust, and in the first half of Rabbit.
After class, I was drained like I haven't been in a fairly long time. And later in the afternoon, I had a slight headache, probably from dehydration. When class is this hard, its difficult for me to evaluate individual poses.
I got a good correction in Fixed Firm. Connease suggested that I spread my knees some to get my feet even straighter behind me. That, she said, would ease up the torque on my knees some. This is a point that I have often wondered about. I know its preferable to have your knees together, but also acceptable to spread them if necessary. The "if necessary" was the questionable part -- because it always seemed to me that it was never necessary. Now I think I understand the necessity, which is a matter of alignment more than depth in the stretch.
at 10:57 PM
Sunday, November 2, 2008
9:30 am with Amy
A good tough class today. The high point was Standing Head to Knee. I made it through three of the four rounds without falling out, and almost made it through the fourth. And I wasn't holding back on the kicking out either. Then, to even things out, I fell out a bunch in Standing Bow. But still, its showing progress.
The rest of class was pretty standard. I was pushed just to the limit by the end of standing series, but still managed to hold it together and make it all the way through. My knee felt really good, and I was tempted to try Toe Stand, but decided to hold off.
The floor series zoomed by. The temperature seemed perfect (and afterward Amy confirmed that it was perfect Bikram weather: 105 degrees and 40% humidity). I was pretty well honed in to just listening to the dialogue and following along, without looking forward to anything or having my mind race around. It's amazing how fast the class can seem to go, and how good it feels, when you can just keep your mind with your body.
And the great feeling lasted the rest of the day. My knee isn't bothering me at all. In several places, I have that slight soreness that is so satisfying because instead of hurting, it just makes you feel connected to your body.
at 1:57 AM
Friday, October 31, 2008
10:30 am with Connease
Connease is our new teacher. I like her because she said my second part of Awkward Pose was "beautiful." She also had very good energy, gave what sounded like good corrections, and taught a very nice class.
The room was cold. I think getting the heat right is just hard for new teachers. They know the dialogue and the yoga, but every studio has its own HVAC system, and I guess they all have peculiarities. Today, I wasn't the only one who thought it was too cold. About 4 other regulars spoke up after class, and Connease said, in the future, just to speak up. She also said if you think its too hot, you are on your own. I liked that-- it shows a nice sense of humor.
She also said she's going to see Bikram tomorrow. It turns out he's giving a seminar in Orlando and she's flying out for it. I checked the Orlando studio website, and the seminar is basically all day, including a lecture a posture clinic, and a class. It costs $200. Someday....
Class was fine today. First forward bend was a bit stiffer than yesterday. I may have pushed a little too hard in my enthusiasm. But I don't think I hurt anything. Balancing series was pretty good. I fell out of three parts of Standing Head to Knee, but Connease said she liked the way I was kicking out. (Both times Connease complimented me today, I immediately fell out of the pose. I understand it in the balancing pose, but I never fall out of Awkward. I probably just felt so strange to get such a great compliment.)
Standing Bow was really good. I almost made it through in each of the four sets. But couldn't quite hold on at the end. So I ended up falling out all four times, but it was still probably my best overall effort yet. And Balancing Stick was pretty good. I fell out once because the person next to me did, and the sudden motion threw me off.
The floor series was fine as well. The only strange part was Rabbit. In second set I came close to pulling something under my shoulderblade (right side). I've never felt that big a stretch there before. Rabbit was really going well a couple of weeks ago, and now I don't feel quite so deep into it as I was and I'm getting different stretching feeling than I used to. I need to ask someone if I'm doing something wrong, or if what's going on is a kind of progress.
And I got a good correction in Locust. I wasn't locking my legs enough in the single leg raises, and need to concentrate more on stretching back with them instead of lifting up. These changes make the pose even harder, and I don't get as much lift, but I could really feel more in my leg and even in my back. But that's just what I needed: a way to make Locust even harder.
at 10:07 PM
Thursday, October 30, 2008
4:30 with Miranda
I went to the hot side of the class today and it kicked my butt. There were only 10 in class, and they all set up near the windows. I was all by my self on the other end. When I looked in the mirrors, there was no-one beside me, no-one behind me, and I could barely see the others in my peripheral vision.
I was looking forward to that kind of isolation. I thought it would be great for my focus. But no dice. I was middling at best in the balancing series. I should have known better. The distractions don't really come from the people around you, but from within. And in a strange way, I think by eliminating all the people around me, I just put a stronger light on the internal stuff that was going to lead to distraction anyway. Once again, I got through one of four tries in Standing Head to Knee and Standing Bow.
Balancing Stick, however, has improved alot in the last few days. I'm getting closer to a "T" and less like a broken umbrella. I haven't fallen in several days, and I even come out of the pose in more or less the starting position. In the past I have tended to fall back to the right as I came out of the pose.
The big thing today was the first forward bend. I got my head to touch my shins for the first time, even if it was a bit of a push. And I am very, very close to locking the knees. Considering I could barely get into this pose when I was struggling with sciatica, this is an amazing improvement. When the knees finally lock in this pose, maybe I should throw a party.
Fixed firm was good today as well. In the second set, I allowed myself to spread my knees some, and the hips went down to the floor pretty easily. I went back onto my elbows and even started inching back from there. My knee didn't scream, and the pose felt pretty good.
On the negative side (maybe), the heat kicked my butt. I almost sat out a set of Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee. And I think my pulse, at least in my ears, was pounding at about 200 beats a minute, like Gene Krupa playing in my head (or maybe its more appropriate to say it was like Wipe Out playing in my head?) But I made it. Now I need to think about whether its better to take my usual spot, where I usually feel strong and on top of things, or whether its better to be in the spot that is more challenging. I don't have a scientific answer for that, but I can see good aspects to both.
at 11:49 PM
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
4:30 pm with Miranda
Today, I thought the room was too cold again. In the floor series, I saw Miranda repeatedly go to the controls, and I thought she was trying to get things warmer, and it did seem to be getting a little warmer. Then, after Rabbit, she opened the door to the lobby and said she was giving us a treat because no matter how much she tried to turn the heat down, it just kept getting hotter. So I guess my class was stronger than I thought -- at least the heat was obviously no obstacle.
The first set of the balancing series was terrible. I fell out four times on one side. As soon as I lifted my foot up, my weight would shift to the outside edge of my standing foot. And I couldn't bring it together. Second set was much better. I managed to hold the full length on the right side, and did pretty well on the left after falling out once at the very beginning. After that, my focus returned, and I did OK in both Standing Bow and Balancing Stick. I still only made it all the way through one of the four tries in Standing Bow, but at least I felt like I was working through the poses.
I seem to have hit a new level in Awkward Pose. In the second part, I'm finally all the way down in the chair, while keeping my back straight. I still have a ways to go to get all the way up on my toes, but otherwise the second part is looking good. The first part has been pretty good for a while. And I'm not feeling limited by my knee in the third part anymore.
The floor series was pretty standard. It occurred to me today that I still have a lingering fear of Locust, even though its been a while since the pose has caused me any real trouble. I haven't spit up for a while, and I don't fall out of it very often at all any more (and for some reason, I never seem to fall out of it in Miranda's class). Locust still gets my heart zooming, and its not easy at all. But it is a pretty satisfying pose these days. That makes me wonder when I will start looking forward to it as it now actually is, instead of as the dreaded monster that it was for several months.
at 11:20 PM
Monday, October 27, 2008
4:30 pm with Miranda
Something was wrong with the heat today. At the start of class, the room was 87 degrees and 51% humidity. By the end, it got up almost to 102, with 46% humidity. Most of the time, it felt cold, and that had some interesting effects.
Of course, flexibility was a bit off, and I could really feel that in Fixed Firm, Camel, Rabbit, and some of the stretchy poses. That's to be expected. One of the selling points of the heat is that it makes you more limber.
As an odd benefit, I found the balancing poses much easier to do in the relative cold. I held two full periods out of the four total in both Standing Head to Knee and Standing Bow. And I had no trouble at all holding, and even pushing, Balancing Stick. I had not been all that aware before how much the heat adds to the challenge of these poses. It makes some sense: there is a mental aspect to dealing with the heat, and I can see how that might make it harder to keep focused like you need to for these poses.
The other benefit, if it is a benefit, is that a strength pose, like Awkward, seems so much easier in the cold. Same thing with the entire balancing series. I felt like I did all of these really well. But then, it was cold, so its kind of a cheat.
Afterward, I'm feeling a little bit weird in both of my knees. They aren't hurt, but they are a little sore. That may be from pushing the stretches too hard under the colder conditions, and its definitely something I will have to mind tomorrow.
at 11:10 PM
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Sat. 9:30 am with Amy
Sun. 2:30 pm with Miranda
Saturday's class was really hard. For the first time in months, I think, I had to sit out one of the postures. We came out of the first half of Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, and I couldn't keep my breath. I was gasping some through my mouth, and in keeping with the new rules I set for myself, I went to my knees until I had my breath back and could give the pose my all.
Not being able to make it was weird for me now. On the bright side, it means I'm still capable of pushing my self to the outer edge. And I didn't blame myself too much for it. Maybe I'm getting a little better about accepting each day for what it is.
After class I asked Amy about the humidity. She said that the humidifier didn't kick on until sometime in the floor series. When class started, the room was under 100 degrees, but with over 50% humidity. And all of the humidity was just from the natural conditions. She kicked up the heat to draw some of the water out of the air, but she insisted that it never went over 105. Maybe so, but it felt really hot.
By the end of the class, it was perfect Bikram weather, and I was doing really well again. So while the end of the standing series was really hard, the floor series was good.
And since I'm starting to keep score, my balancing series was fair at best. I made it through a second set of Head to Knee and Bow without falling, on the right side only. And I made it through one full set without falling in Balancing Stick. I've got a long way to go to hit my goals in this series. It should be interesting.
Which brings us to this afternoon's class. I set up in the back row. It makes a huge difference in the balancing series for me, and not for the better. I fell out alot. I think I made one side of one set in Standing Bow, and that was it. On my left leg, I was falling to the outside continually. It's much harder to focus on a single point in the mirror from the back row, and there seems to be alot more peripheral distraction. But I'm thinking that the difficulties could also provide an opportunity. I'm going to set up in the back a bit more regularly, on the theory that if I learn to focus there, it will increase my ability to focus more generally.
Miranda helped out today in a couple of poses, and it was great. She pushed really hard in Wind Relieving, and was giving her general instructions to me specifically as well. I got my knee much closer to my shoulder than I have before, and in the third part, I could really feel something opening up in my back.
Then she helped out in one set of the final stretch. This was a bit scary, because I don't know how aware she is of the knee problem I've had. After pulling out on my legs in the stretch pose, she whispered "I had to hold back a little so I wouldn't break your legs." Nice to know that she was thinking the same thing I was.
Fixed Firm was good today. I got down on my elbows in the second set with no pain. Once again, I think Lenette's advice has worked wonders here. She said I had a tendancy to let my left toes point too much to the outside, and I really needed to work on getting the toes of both feet pointing straight back, as much as possible. This has made a world of difference in how the pose feels, and I'm getting much more of a stretch in the ankles and feet. It's still slow going, but it seems like the foundation I will end up with should be much more secure.
The other thing I noticed about the back row is how different the eye directions can be here. I'm pretty used to my eyes reaching certain points on the floor, or ceiling, or mirror, or wall, depending on the postures. And I've tended to use those points as a measure of my progress. Moving to the back room messes with that frame of reference, and that is also probably a good thing. My guess is that I pushed myself a little harder today in some poses, because I didn't know what the usual end point was. That is yet another reason for moving around in the room, and one I had not thought of before.
at 9:27 PM
Friday, October 24, 2008
4:30 pm Thursday with Miranda; No Yoga Today
I missed blogging yesterday, but not class. Today I'm setting the balance even, by missing class but catching up on the blog.
Yesterday's class was basically perfect. I felt good throughout, had no problems from any of my little nagging injuries. I went in feeling good and came out feeling better.
I had really good focus in the balancing series. By the way, I think that is what I'm going to focus on for the near future. My goal is going to be to get through the entire balancing series without falling, while pushing it, and then to do that for at least three classes in a row. I think that's going to be more of a challenge than my 60 or 100 days. It will probably take longer too.
Today, I felt really good all day. I didn't make it to class because of one of those 1-5 pm repair calls. The repairman said he would come sometime after 1 pm. And I guess 4:30 is sometime after one. So is Sunday, for that matter. Anyway, my hips were talking to me some during the afternoon, so I guess a day off isn't all bad. Now I'm really looking forward to tomorrow morning's class.
at 9:07 PM
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
4:30 with Miranda
I need to learn to shut out the people practicing nearby. Today I was next to a guy who started just around the same time that I did. He's in his twenties, in decent shape, and has probably been going to class 4-5 times a week. I've noticed before that in Half Moon he tends to drop his arms alot, like maybe 6 times in the first set alone. For some reason, this habit of his draws my attention to him. I want to take him aside and tell him that he should just focus on keeping his arms raised high and stretching up and locking the elbows. Anything further that he does would just be a bonus. But I don't know how to approach him about this. The teachers haven't said anything to him that I know about, so I'm probably just being too picky.
And today, in every Savasana, he was wiping his forehead, adjusting his hair, taking a drink, and it was just so busy. Again, I wanted to say something, but I'm afraid he would take it the wrong way. It's just that his practice would really start to open up, I think, if he just settled down. On the other hand, its not really much of my business, unless he asks me, and I really would be much better off if I could just bring myself not to notice on it (or maybe to notice it but not to think about it so much).
Practice was about average. My knee feels much better, and I'm pushing harder on the poses where it was causing problems before. The only time it feels at all weird now is coming up from the third part of awkward pose. There's a sort of pop as I come up that is definitely not right, but even that is getting better. Fixed Firm is still a ways away from where it was, but that's just a matter of time.
The odd thing now is that the practices feel good, and I feel great after them. I'm probably making progress, but its not all that noticeable -- certainly not on a day by day basis. The challenge has basically ended. So now I have to come up with something (or maybe I don't) that will allow me to take the practice to still another new level. I'm not sure what that is yet, but I think I'm going to explore some ideas in the next few days. One idea, of course, is not to push things and let the practice evolve naturally for a while. That sort of goes against my nature, but its probably worth considering.
at 10:35 PM
8:15 pm with Miranda
It's been a while since I've taken the late evening class, and it was very nice. I felt looser later in the day. The energy level in the room was good. And for the first time, class started after the sun had set. Practicing in the dark is different, and made things feel almost serene.
I found another pose I've been doing wrong: Rabbit. There are several head to knee compression poses in the series. In at least two others, Separate Leg Head to Knee, and the final stretch head to knee, we are encouraged to put our heads up even above the knee if possible. When I first started Rabbit, it was impossible for me to get my head near my knees. Then I could do it, and I was really proud of my progress. Then, I could bring my head down to my thighs instead of on the front of my knees. I was so pleased with that progress, that I just went ahead and did "better", apparently without listening. As a result, I've been rolling too far forward on my head and planting almost the back of my head on the mat. Today, I realized what I was doing wrong, and followed the instruction of putting my forehead on the knee and rolling forward so the crown of the head touched the floor. My hips went up much higher, my elbows locked naturally, and I felt less in my neck and even more deep in my lower back.
The odd thing is that I'm making these small discoveries now in poses that I thought I did well. No, for me, I did do them well. But that just shows that there is always room for improvement, and sometimes it is fairly obvious room for improvement.
Overall, today's class was really strong. I had very good concentration in balancing series. I did a full minute in Standing Head to Knee without falling out (kicking up right leg). I did both sides of Standing Bow in second set without falling, and getting a decent view of my foot over my head. Balancing Stick was balanced for a change, without any falling.
I'm slowly making some progress in the Separate Leg Forward Stretch. This one is really hard for me because I'm so tight in my hips with my legs spread. It seems like the key here for me is to keep my eyes open and to try deliberately to lengthen my back. I've taken this one really slowly for a while because it was probably the chief culprit in my sciatic problem.
Floor series was strong, and pretty relaxed for me. Back strengthening just felt good today for some reason. No dreading Locust, and I'm even getting better about easing out of the postures instead of just collapsing to the floor.
Camel was great again. It's getting to be one of my absolute favorites, and I'm always amused when the teachers try to encourage people to stick with the pose, because for me its never been that much of a killer. Today, I was actually a bit disappointed when it was over; I felt like holding it longer.
Now I just need to figure out what to do with the excess energy I get from the 8:15 class. It's been a little while, so I'm not used to it any more. And here it is, at 3:08 in the morning and I'm typing this when I should be asleep....
at 2:47 AM
Monday, October 20, 2008
4:30 pm with Miranda
Cisco came to class today with a friend who went through teacher training with him, and who now teaches in Colorado (I think). He was just behind me, and he had a really strong practice. No water, perfectly still between postures, and extremely controlled coming into and out of postures. The teachers have told us time and again to try to get quickly into the Savasanas on the floor poses. He took this almost to an art form. While I was just kind of turning around, he was already on his back and relaxed.
Having them in class was both an inspiration and a hinderance. It's great to see people with so much energy, focus, and discipline. So from that aspect, it will probably be a big help for me in the future. But at the same time, there were several times when I realized that I was losing focus because I was watching more than concentrating on my own poses. Of course this raised its ugly head most in the balancing poses.
I did learn one detail from them. I've been going into Triangle wrong. We're told to move our arms only when going from the last part of the set-up into the pose. I had been holding the arm-chest alignment steady at right angles and dropping into the pose. I saw both of them moving just the arms from the shoulders to get into the pose and then moving down from there to get the fingers near the big toe and first toe. In second set, I tried it that way, and it made a big difference, in my hips at first, and then I noticed that I was able to stretch down in the torso, as well as up, which of course is what we are told to do. Here's the amazing thing: once again I realize I'm doing something wrong, and that the right way to do it is the way the dialogue says.
How many times is this going to happen? I've really been trying to focus on the instructions and doing what I'm told, and I'm still finding lots of areas where I have either refused to listen, or just gotten it wrong. I know I've complained about other people not being able to listen, and maybe the reason it bothers me so much in other people is because I know how guilty I am of exactly the same thing.
Overall, class was good and strong. Hot, but not crushing. I felt really good throughout the floor series. Camel was great again. I went back on my elbows in second set of Fixed Firm. And I even did one set of Blowing in Firm in Japanese Sitting Position. It's been a long time since I tried that. So my knee is definitely, if slowly, improving.
Two other pieces of good news. Rumor has it that Bikram will be coming to Houston for a workshop sometime in the next several months. I don't know the date yet. And next year, the Woodlands will be hosting the Texas Asana Competition. I bailed on this year's competition, which was yesterday, when I got the sciatic problem. But with the location so close, and so much time to think about preparing, I see no reason not to do it next year. Maybe that will get me a bit further into Standing Head to Knee.
at 11:14 PM