Monday, June 30, 2008

Day Twelve

4:30 pm class with Cisco.

It almost felt like a vacation.  Somehow, Cisco rushed a bit through the standing series, and the slightly shorter time in the postures boosted my energy for the whole class.  I had no problems with triangle, and felt strong all through the standing series.  Even locust was OK:  I wasn't huffing and puffing as much as usual.

Then, before Camel, Cisco says:  "Did I skip any postures?"  He hadn't, but we were about 8 minutes ahead of schedule.  To make up for it, he gave us more time in Savasana.  Other teachers might have held Camel or Rabbit longer than usual (and he might have just a little).  So overall, today's class felt like a rest.  Objectively, I don't think it was much different than some of my early classes with Lynette or with Jessica.

The balancing poses are gradually improving.  Half tortoise has definitely turned a corner.  It's getting easier to get my head to the floor first.  

I'm regressing, however, in fixed firm.  For a few days I was completely in the posture.  But somehow my knees and ankles have stiffened up some, and in the first set I can barely start to lean back.  The second set has been better.  This is a pose where I think more has been getting me less.  I've got to be more patient with these joints.

Energy throughout the day has been fine, despite a hectic schedule.  I was up at 6:30, at work by 7:30.  I worked steadily, with about a 10 minute break to get lunch.  Then I got to class by 4:30, came home showered and took the dogs to the park.  Home again at 8:30 to make dinner, do the dishes, etc...  And I don't feel beat up at all.  It's pretty amazing, and I think that the same type of schedule without the yoga would leave me dragging.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Day Eleven -- A Minor Breakthrough

2:30 pm class with Cisco.

I've come to dread the Sunday afternoon classes, so today's class was a pleasant surprise.  I felt good throughout the class, and have felt really good afterwards.  There is almost no soreness at all.

The room was really crowded: over 50 people.  There was not enough room for me to take the full stride to get into triangle.  My feet went underneath the mats to my right and left.  Even so, it never felt oppressively humid, and the energy level in the room was very good.

The breakthrough came in Half Tortoise.  The dialogue says that as you go down, your head should reach the floor before your hands.  Today, it did and on both sets.  Its a good indication that my hips and shoulders are opening up some, and a better indication that my core strength is improving.  It's also one of those arbitrary "threshold" moments that probably seems like a bigger deal than it is.  But I will take what I can get.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Day Ten

9:30 am with Zeb.

This is several classes in a row with Zeb.  His classes are really hard, as I've said before, especially in the standing series.  Today it felt hot.  I couldn't make it through second set of triangle.  And then later I gave up in Camel of all things.  I never have had trouble with Camel, but today I just felt a little dizzy.  For only the second time, it felt too hot to stay for very long in final savasana. 

Afterwards I was a bit discouraged, but had a pleasant time chatting with other students after class.  One student baked some Baklava for Dmitri.  He had a great time showing it to everyone, but would only give a piece to a fellow greek.

After class I was wiped out for about an hour and a half.  And since then I have felt really good.  The soreness is mostly gone in my back.  I can feel some strangeness in my hips.  But its no longer strange for me to feel strangeness there.  I'm guessing that someday they will settle down, but who knows when.

The surprising thing was my weight was down to 218.  That's four pounds in the last week, which is very dramatic for me at this stage.  Given how hot the class was, some of it was probably water weight, but I'm doing comparisons of after class weighings, so the difference shouldn't be that much.  I'll be very curious to see whether my weight keeps dropping during the challenge, or if it levels off somewhere.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Day Nine -- It's feeling routine

4:30 pm class with Zeb.

I only had four hours sleep last night, and was falling off toward the end of work.  So I thought class would be really bad.  It wasn't.  It was pretty normal.

Half moon was tough, especially the back and front bands.  But then I loosened up and by the end felt more flexible than usual.  The soreness was gone from my back, and I felt like I went deeper in the final stretching poses than ever before.

The amazing thing is how much energy I continue to have.  

My big concern right now is that I'm afraid I may be working too hard.  In a few poses, my legs are shaking when I think they probably shouldn't.  Most notably in the separate leg forward bend (my thighs quiver and I can't relax them), and today in Fixed Firm (my left quad had a mind of its own).  Some of the stuff I'm reading suggests that I would make better progress by holding back some.  It's just hard for me, especially with Zeb saying "push, push... lock the knee, lock the knee,.. more back, way back go back..."  It's something to think about. 

On a related note, I'm wondering if the challenge itself forces people to pace themselves and to do the holding back that I mentioned above.  

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Day Eight

8:15 pm class with Zeb.

I always love the evening class.  For some reason, its a much better time for me than the afternoons.  I'm thinking that there is something quieting about doing the yoga during or after sunset.

Zeb's class was probably as intense as yesterday's.  Beforehand, some students were saying that they always felt hotter in his class.   But today, the pacing felt good, not pressured at all.  That just goes to show how much of this is a matter of attitude.

No breakthroughs again.  I feel like I may be getting a bit deeper in several poses, but I'm not having any a-ha! moments.  The most noticeable improvement today was in Rabbit.  I was rolling forward quite easily.  Breathing seemed almost natural, not constrained much at all.  And I didn't have any trouble holding the pose while pulling on my heels, for the full length of the pose.

I'm popping joints in some more interesting areas.  Back, neck, shoulders, hips -- I feel like I'm made out of bubble wrap.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Day Seven

4:30 pm with Zeb

Despite the soreness yesterday, I woke up feeling good, and didn''t have any particular soreness at all during the day.

The class was basically good.  I felt fine all the way through.  For me, Zeb is a tough teacher.  I can't verify it, but I think he holds the postures longer than some of the other teachers, and he does not give much time between postures, especially in the standing series.  I think this is so because we seem to go straight from set to set, and pose to pose in the standing series with him.  And yet, the series took about 5-8 minutes longer than usual.

In the end, this makes the class hard.  And I'm really feeling it now, especially in the shoulders and the mid-back.  But that's what I'm there for, so no real complaints.

It was another day with no real breakthroughs.  The low point was spitting up almost an entire orange, during Locust of course.  Actually, the low point was putting my face into it for the third part of the pose -- yuck!  Afterwards, Zeb saw what had happenned and brought me some tissues to clean it up and get it out of the way.  No comments, but it was very nice of him.

I feel like I'm reaching a point where some things are really going to start to change.  I don't know how or when exactly, but I am looking forward to it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Day 6 -- Slow and Steady

9:30 am with Lynette

Class was almost completely unremarkable, which is good.  In terms of the poses, the high points were:

Standing Bow Pulling -- I made it through one set on each side without falling out.  And on the right side, my hip wasn't coming too badly out of alignment.

Half Locust -- It didn't suck.  And it didn't hurt that much.  I get the feeling with this pose that once the body gets closer to vertical, the pose probably gets easier.  Trying to hold the entire body up at less than a 45 degree angle just has to be harder in terms of leverage and torque.  Someday I' might even find out.

Spinal Twist -- Recently I've been able to grab my front knee, which I thought was a breakthrough.  Today, I felt some real moving and twisting as I did the twist.  It felt like I was actually moving something, instead of just looking over my shoulder and thinking about moving.  

I tried coconut water after class for the first time.  I've heard raves about it.  It tasted OK, but I really couldn't see what the big deal was.  Of course, I don't know what I was expecting it to do.  I just can't see how its worth the incredible price they charge for it.

Another big plus with the challenge is that people in the studio are talking more with each other after class, and seem to be taking an interest in each other.  I hadn't thought too much about this aspect of the challenge before, but it strikes me that its really good for the health of the studio for people to get to know each other, and for a sense of camaraderie to develop.  I see it as something that should last long after the challenge ends.

Finally, the soreness seems to be creeping up on me.  Today, it was my right hip, the shoulders, and the middle of my back.  My back feels again like it did after the first few days of practice -- there's a lingering soreness that goes away when I pay careful attention to good posture.  If I keep my back straight, its fine.  But when I get lazy and hunch or slouch at all, it tells me to behave myself.  Maybe I should listen.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Day Five -- Back on Track

8:30 am class with Lynette.

Today was as good as yesterday.  There were no major breakthroughs, but just about everything felt peaceful and strong.  For example, I didn't hold standing leg to knee for the full time, but I came close, and on both legs.

I asked Lynette about the conditions in the room.  It was 106 degrees with 26% humidity.  It's amazing how much of a difference the humidity makes. 

I'm beginning to feel some new things.  There's a slight creeping soreness in my lower back.  It doesn't feel bad, but it's there.  My hamstrings seem like they are prone to cramping.  Most of all, I'm getting some soreness and some popping in my shoulder blades and shoulders.  I'm surprised because I've thought of the series as not focusing on the shoulders.  It doesn't have the obvious shoulder work like down dog, or cow face, or dolphin.   But it seems to be working anyway.  I guess that means that Bikram knows more about this stuff than I do -- go figure.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Day Four -- The Challenge Begins

2:30 pm class with Libby.

Before class, I had some thoughts about asanas, concentration and meditation.  The class trumped my plans.  There was no chance for meditation:  Instead, it was an exercise in  suffering through the heat.  A few factors combined to get this result:

1) The 2:30 class time is really bad.  I can't have a decent meal beforehand, so start with less energy.  On top of that, I think mid-afternoon is a natural low point for me.  It's nap time.  And its also peak sun and humidity time.

2)  There were 41 people in the room.  I came a bit late and got a spot on the hot side.  The people just adds to the humidity and to the heat.  Libby kept turning the heat down, and it kept getting hotter just from the body heat.  Also, at one point she went to lower the humidity control, only to discover that the humidifier was already off.

3) I didn't have much food last night, and didn't sleep well.  But I felt good before class.  So I didn't anticipate that being a problem.

4) It was the fifth day in a row, my longest number of consecutive days so far -- though I'd rather not contemplate that as a major factor, because it doesn't bode well..  And:

5) I messed up hydration.  About halfway through class, I felt like I might have to pee.  This is especially troubling in the back strengthening series.

Anyway, by Awkward Pose (the second posture), I already felt exhausted.  I bailed out on the second set of triangle.  My pulse wasn't that high, and I wasn't feeling any aerobic load.  Instead, it felt like there wasn't enough air in the room.  I think that's the humidity and the number of people, but I'm not entirely sure.

By Savasana, my skin started to feel like it was burning.  And the sensation didn't stop for the rest of class.  Half locust was back to being a joke:  I flopped on the third part of the second set.  I even felt like I might have to sit out of Half Tortoise, which is a relaxation pose.  I made a respectable Camel and Rabbit, which was a minor triumph, but then sort of collapsed, which made Libby laugh at me, commenting "No histrionics, please."  

I got to final savasana, and cut it shorter than I ever had.  My skin still burned.  On the plus side, after class a number of people commented on how hot it felt.  Sometimes its nice to know that you aren't the only one (even if it turned out that you were the most demonstrative).

On the plus side, I weighed in at 222 after class.  That's down 38 lbs. since I started Bikram, without any dieting.  Of course, its sort of a false measurement.  I was down 5 pounds since before class, and that includes the two liters of water I drank before weighing myself the second time.  So, I lost maybe 8 pounds of sweat during class.  That's probably close to a record for me.  And that proves that whatever the thermometer said, it was HOT.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Day Three - Japanese Ham Sandwich?

9:30 am class with Amy.

So, in between sets of half moon pose, Amy says that she forgot to bring in a picture of a Japanese Hand Sandwich.  One of the silliest parts of the dialogue comes in the first forward bend, where the instructor tells you to fold your body like a Japanese Ham Sandwich.  I've asked around, both at class, to some friends, and on  It doesn't look like anyone has ever seen a Japanese Ham Sandwich. 

Then I did a Google search.  The phrase "japanese ham sandwich" mostly brings up Bikram yoga related pages.  But it doesn't bring up anything that has either a picture or a description.  I didn't even know the Japanese ate ham, and thought that the sandwich was so thin and compressed because there wasn't any ham in it.  Now I'm waiting to see if Amy ever actually brings in this picture she claims exists.

Today was a lesson in taking a step back after having made so much progress.  Things didn't go badly, but I couldn't hold my balance in Standing Head to Knee (like yesterday), and I just didn't have the strength for the second set of half locust.  I'm thinking that part of it could be the four hours sleep I got last night.  But my energy level seems fine, even with so little sleep.  

It could be the effect of four consecutive days.  But I have to put that thought out of my mind.  Because that leads to extrapolating to how beat up I might feel after 40 days, etc...

I also am wondering more about group dynamics in the class.  Nobody talks, of course.  And for the most part, when I'm looking in the mirror I am barely aware of the people around me.  And after the balancing series, the mirror is irrelevant and I basically don't see anyone, except maybe in between poses.  Even so, the mood of the room seems to have a real impact on how well things go.  If others are suffering, it becomes contagious.  The room actually feels hotter when other people are struggling.  When the folks are strong and composed, its uplifting and the room cools down.  I know the room doesn't actually either heat up or cool down.  But I'm also sure that, with the same absolute conditions, almost everyone would say that the room was hotter than usual when people are frustrated and suffering (and vice versa).

One answer to this, I suppose, is that I should try to focus on myself, and put away the group dynamic.  First off, this is much easier said than done, I think.  Secondly, if I did that as a general rule, then I would miss the really great times when the class seems strong and together.   And this is one situation where I think the good probably outweighs the bad.  Now, if you could tap into the mood when its positive, but somehow ignore it when its negative....  But I have no idea how I would do that.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Day Two -- some breakthroughs

10:30 am class with Lynette today.

First the poses --

Standing Head to Knee:  For the first time, I made it through a full 60 seconds with leg locked, balancing and the lifted leg kicking out.  And I almost got it fully extended.  The more remarkable thing is that I did it with the left leg lifted.  Usually, my right foot hurts too much to balance for that long.  Today, something just clicked.

Toe Stand:  I've got to be more careful coming out of this.  I tried to stand up with the strength of my right leg.  Not a good idea.  I almost twisted my knee.  I guess there's a reason they tell you to come out of the pose the reverse of how you went into it.

Fixed Firm:  This is my "now you see it, now you don't" pose.  In the hot yoga classes in China, I was not getting anywhere with this.  Today, for the first time,  I got all the way down and had my arms folded behind my head and started working on the bridge in the back.  This pose seems to magnify fairly small increases in flexibility in the ankles, knees and hips.  I've heard that you get something like a 5% increase in flexibility from the heat.  That small difference is enough to make the difference between being fully in the pose (in the heat), or sitting in pain, straight up, with my hips hovering a couple of inches off the floor.

Now, more generally.  Working on visualization and attitude seems to be paying off, both in the class and outside.  The classes seem to move faster, and there's very little pain or discomfort anymore.  I'm even laughing from time to time.  I'm not thinking of the class as the "torture chamber," as Bikram himself puts it.  Outside, I'm seeing some of the same things.  Basically, I can see myself being more pleasant to strangers in general.  And it seems to take more to make me angry.  That's a little side benefit that I was not expecting at all.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Day One

Today marks the second anniversary of the Bikram Yoga studio where I practice.  Bikram Yoga is a series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises performed in a room heated to 105 degrees and 40% humidity.  In honor of the anniversary, the studio is having a 60 day challenge.  For the studio, this means taking 5 classes per week over the 60 days.  I'm going to do this, but I've decided to do the challenge the way that Bikram originally presented it:  60 classes over 60 days.

I've been practicing now for a little less than three months.  The idea of doing 60 straight days is both intimidating and exhilarating.  Bikram recommends this for very beginning students.  So you would think that it shouldn't be that hard.  We will see.

This is officially day one of the challenge, but I went to a class yesterday at 8:30.  The idea yesterday was to see if Bikram could help me get over jet lag -- I'd just gotten back from China, I 29 hour trip.  I took the class on about 4 hours sleep, and managed to get through the rest of the day and a regular night's sleep last night.  Two weeks off from Bikram does not seem to have had too bad an effect, and it looks like it is helping with the jet lag.

Lynette taught today's class.  The room was hot.  It seemed much hotter than usual.  This happens sometimes and in the past it was more a matter of psychology than actual conditions.  Today, however, my shorts were saturated by the end of the pranayama, about 15 minutes before usual.  It turned out that there is a problem with the HVAC, and it doesn't shut off automatically.  Lynette couldn't even shut it down manually, so instead she opened up the outside door.  That made for heat and drafts -- oh joy!

The standing series, as a result, was tough today.  I especially had problems with my balance.  Sometimes, I will think that my balance stinks because of weakness in my feet.  Sometimes its because of the person moving in my field of vision.  Today, I blame the drafts.  It probably is me, and not the draft, but the draft still makes a convenient excuse and I'm sticking with it...

The high point today was a lesson in the power of visualization.  Before half locust, I pictured my legs smoothly lifting up, my breathing steady, and my holding the pose with some composure.  And I didn't panic.  Typically, this pose is my nemesis.  It hurts.  It can cause my pulse to near 200 bpm.  It makes me spit up -- water, other liquids, a bamboo shoot, gross stuff.  Then I get to rest my head in the pool of whatever I spit up.  So, I've come to dread the pose, largely because of the picture I have of my suffering through it, of my panicked breath, and of me lying in a pool of my own bile.  Simply by changing the image, I think I overcame the panic, and managed not to spit up.  For me, the difference amounts to a sort of minor miracle.

After class, I think as part of the anniversary celebration, there was watermelon and cantaloupe waiting for us.  Still dripping from the heat, the cold,  juicy fruit was like pure heaven.