Thursday, July 31, 2008

Day 43-- Yamas, Niyamas and Competition

8:15 pm class with Libby.

I haven't talked much about the other aspects of yoga.  The challenge board today brought up a lingering issue, which is my competitiveness.  Another student has done several doubles and caught up to me in the number of classes she has done.  This probably shouldn't drive me to do even more, but it might.

The first two parts of yoga are the yamas and niyamas:  in some ways they are the yoga version of the ten commandments.  The yamas are guides for how we interact with the outside world.  In short, they are:  1) Do no harm; non-violence, 2) Truthfulness, honesty  3) Non-stealing 4) Moderation and 5) Non-attachment
These are very broad, open to lots of interpretation, and probably bad translations from sanskrit.  Still, as ethics go, this is a pretty good starting list.
The niyamas cover how we should deal with ourselves.  They are:  1) purity, cleanliness  2) contentment 3) austerity 4) self-study and 5) surrender to god/faith.  Again, there is lots of room for interpretation here, but also alot of wisdom covered in ten words or less.

My initial reaction to the idea of yoga competition is that it struck me as an oxymoron.  Libby's husband said that they've been doing it in India for hundreds of years, which is undoubtedly true.  Bikram himself was a champion for several years.  He also said that there's nothing about yoga which is inconsistent with competition.  This may be true, but its hard to have a really well developed competitive edge and to remain content, for example.  And its pretty common for great competitors to get very attached to their goals, to the exclusion of other things.

Now back to my competitive nature.  It's pretty clear to me that one of the reasons I'm paying attention to the number of classes at all is because I've grown attached to the goal of doing more classes than anyone else.  And the goal is also, in some sense, killing my sense of being content.  So, its something I just have to let go of.  That doesn't mean I can't do any more doubles -- just that I shouldn't be doing them to get ahead of someone else.  Like other things, this is simply a matter of letting go.

Class today was very good.  I felt more comfortable than usual in Half Moon without sacrificing depth, and may have gotten deeper in the first backbend.  I also made it through the standing series without bending over between postures for breath, which is a failing that I'm trying to work on.  I still had to pause and catch my breath, going late into the setup for the second set of triangle.  But its getting better.

The spitting up is not improving.  Again, I couldn't hold Locust because I was in danger of spitting stuff all over the floor.  I don't know at this point whether the problem is physical, psychological, or some combination of the two.  Not drinking in class didn't help.  The only thing I had beforehand was about 6oz of a smoothie a couple of hours before class.  Maybe even that is too much.

Everything else was smooth sailing, almost to the point where I felt like I was being too easy on myself.  The funny thing is:  I notice that I could probably have pushed some things harder, and then I kick myself for not having gone as hard as I could.  The problem with this is that it means that no matter what I do, I end up kicking myself.  Maybe someday I will learn just to accept what I'm capable of doing, but I'm not sure I really know what that is yet.  I'm still trying to find that line between not enough and too much.  Maybe someday...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Day 42 -- Priorities

10:30 am class with Zeb.

As usual, a very good and fairly intense class with Zeb.  I got off of the "no water" kick about a week ago, but I'm thinking about it again.  Perhaps I won't do without water entirely, but limiting intake to a few sips is probably a good idea.  Today I had a sip after Eagle, and then another before Fixed Firm.  The main advantage is that it leaves nothing for me to spit up in Locust.  And it does seem that my head is clearer at the end of class without it.

I had one distinct breakthrough today.  In the second set of Half Moon, I grabbed my feet from behind, instead of slightly from the sides, for the first time.  This slight movement strikes me as a minor miracle.  Two weeks into the practice, my best guess on when I would get to that point would either have been "never" or "several years".  

Now the question is whether the breakthrough will stick.  Fixed firm is getting back to normal, but I took a slight step backward from yesterday's Standing Head to Knee.  Progress definitely spirals with the yoga, while hopes and expectations tend to be linear.  The trick, I guess, is to see the "setbacks" as simply being part of the natural progression.  Expecting continuous straightforward progress will just create another obstacle.

When I talk to people about Bikram, the comment I hear most often is something like this:  "I would love to do something like that, but I just don't have the time."  More and more, I think this means "I like the idea of doing something like that, but its just not important enough to me."   If someone really wants to do something, then they can make it a priority and find the time.  That's one of the things that has been really great about this challenge.  By taking on the commitment, I insisted that for at least 60 days, yoga would become one of my top priorities.  And making it a priority means that I have to find the time for it.   If its important enough, then it should almost always be possible to find the time.  (Fortunately, with the extra energy I get from the practice, it actually feels like I'm adding useful hours to my days, not stealing them away.)

Of course, its not my place to tell people what should be important.  But it would be nice if people would face the truth about their priorities, instead of simply making an excuse because of their busy schedules.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Day 41

8:15 pm with Libby

No double today, and taking the late class made it almost feel like I had a full day off.  The soreness in my lower back was not so bad.  Instead, I had some soreness in the elbows and arms.  That's new, and I think it means that I'm working something differently, which is probably a good sign.  However, I don't really know what in the practice is causing the soreness, so maybe I'm not as fully in touch with what I'm doing as I thought.

I had a pretty big breakthrough today.  In both sets of Standing Head to Knee, on both legs, I made it through the full set without falling out of the pose.  I kicked out for some of each set, and then when I thought I was losing it, I moved back to bent leg.  And I kept my standing knee locked for the full time.  More than anything, this was a matter of keeping focused, calm, and determined, while ignoring the deepening pain in my standing calf and thigh.  Just making it through these sets felt like a major triumph.

It also set up a positive attitude which helped for most of the rest of the class.  Even though I was almost totally exhausted by triangle, I still managed to do a respectable finish to the standing series, without skipping or cheating on anything.  And I almost locked my knees again in the Separate Leg Head to Knee pose.

The floor poses were fine, but nothing as good as in the Standing Series.  Locust, again, was a bust.  I spit up three times in the spine strengthening series.  I haven't had that problem in over a week, and it was too bad to have it come up (pun intended) again.  Someday I will work through this.  

On the other hand, I got all the way into Fixed Firm again, for the first time in about two weeks.  So my knee is gradually getting better.  And Camel and Rabbit were really good again.

I took some extra time in Savasana at the end.  One of the only problems with the late class is that I tend to be wide awake even at 3am.  I've heard, and am hoping, that the longer Savasana will relax me enough to let me sleep at a reasonable hour.  We will see.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Day 40

4:30 pm with Zeb.

I got a really good night sleep, and felt great through the day.  No stiffness to speak of, my knee felt great, as did my heel.  I was perfectly hydrated going in to class.  Everything should have been fine.  But once again, the class itself ran contrary to expectation.

The main culprit, I think, was allergies.  There was something like a clog in my right nostril, and no matter what I did I couldn't get rid of it.  This didn't really interfere with my breathing so much, but it continually annoyed me, and it messed with my mind, which in turn messed with everything else.  As a result, the class felt hot, humid, and long.  And I think if I had just been able to ignore the feeling in my nose, the class would have gone much better.

More and more, I'm convinced that how the class goes depends more on mind and attitude, than it does on anything physical.  The postures today were sort of middle of the road.  I was not so good on Standing Bow, but did well for me on Balancing Stick, and had one of my best Toe Stands ever.  And I didn't get more out of breath than usual.  It just felt harder, partially because I couldn't get rid of the distractions.

The other big distraction for this afternoon were a couple of visits we paid to elderly friends of ours.  He is 82, and is now suffering from a form of liver cancer.  He was in good spirits, and he is one of the few people I've met who is totally at peace with himself, and basically happy towards the end of his life.  So that visit was simply fine.  However, his wife is suffering from Alzheimer's and was recently placed in a facility for treatment.  She believes that she's been kidnapped by some very clever kidnappers.  They are caring for her very well, but she feels totally out of place and without any anchor, and its very sad.  Even though I know she's probably in the best place for her to be, it is difficult to see her, and it's hard not to think that she might do better in a place filled with love, if only such a place could exist for her now.

This evening, I'm more than usually stiff, especially in the lower back.  I dogged it in the back strengthening series (at least it felt like that), but I really pushed hard in both Camel and Rabbit, and I think I'm feeling that now.  But I'm confident that the cure for this soreness will be tomorrow's class.  I'm contemplating another double tomorrow, maybe, just for kicks.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Day 39

2:30 class with Libby

The main challenge with 2:30 classes is having the energy for it.  I actually got a decent night's sleep last night.  As a result, I woke up too late to have a real breakfast before yoga -- a real breakfast would likely reappear on the mat sometime in the spine strengthening series.  So I had some watermelon, and then made sure I was hydrated, and hoped for the best.

It turned out that the best was what I got.  After a bad transition from backbending to the forward bend in the first set of Half Moon, the rest of the class was very strong and satisfying.  I wouldn't say I had any breakthroughs, but I felt really good throughout.

And after class, I felt much better than I have in several days.  My knee doesn't feel tender anymore, at least for today.  There's no real soreness in back or shoulders.  And my right heel feels fine.  And of course, I've had lots of energy again.  In the past, I've had troubles with the 2:30 time, but today it worked out just about perfectly, and for now at least I'm looking forward to the next three weeks will bring.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Day 38 -- Sleep

9:30 am with Lenette

I got almost 7 hours sleep last night (well, probably more than six), which may be a record for the week, but it was still not enough, as I will explain.  Driving to class, I just felt tired.  I didn't have any particular soreness issues other than the usual:  a tightness in my right heel, tenderness in my left knee, and some general stiffness in the back and shoulders.

From what I've read, the second thirty days of the challenge start to get at emotional issues.  So far, this has been pretty much a nothing for me.  I don't feel like breaking down to cry at all,  and I rarely get any sort of emotional release directly from doing the poses.  Today, I might have approached something like that.  From the beginning of the class, I resented being in the room.  It wasn't that is was hot, or particularly hard, or anything physical at all.  I just hated being there, or having to be there, or something.  It was silly, and it was getting in the way, but there it was.  

It started from the outset, and then really crystallized in the first forward bend.  That first bend has steadily become grown into a moment of dread for me.  Today, I started to go forward and... nothing.  My hands at first could barely go to the middle of my calves.  By the time we were done with the little shuffle warm-up, I had only barely managed to get my hands on the floor and move my hips a little, and I could then only barely get my fingers under the sides of my feet for the posture.  With my attitude of resentment, this meant that I was going BACKWARDS, and what was the point of coming every day if I was just gonna get worse.

The same sort of thing crept more or less into everything, peaking with the separate leg stretching, where again I could barely do the forward bend in the first set, and started feeling more resentful about being there and getting worse.  But more, it was just about being there.  I basically just wanted to go back to bed and forget about locking my @#$%& knee.

Then, somehow, in Triangle it all melted away and I regained some concentration.  But I can't even say that it was a typical concentration.  All of a sudden, none of the stuff that was bothering me mattered, and I was just doing it.  I say I was concentrating, but it wasn't any kind of active concentration or focus.  I was just sort of going with things.  From there on, the class just got better and better, with a few weird spots.

First the weirdness:  I fell asleep twice.  First, in the 20 second Savasana between Fixed Firm and Cobra.  The clap telling people to go into the sit up woke me up.  And then again, between Camel and Rabbit of all things, I just sort of nodded off.  I know you are supposed to relax in between poses, but this was sort of ridiculous.  In the other Savasanas, I was awake but I think I was totally still.  I was aware of Lenette's voice, but probably of nothing else.  This was a strange new thing for me, but it was very cool and I definitely liked it.

Then, the good stuff.  I had probably my best back strengthening series.  I think I went further in every single one of the poses, even Locust.  In Full Locust, I felt up almost only on my hips, and it looked like there was an actual arch going on in my back, and much further down than usual.  It both felt and looked better than it has before.  And also in floor bow, there was more of an arch shape, and a balanced shape, than I've seen before.  And when I was kicking up, it actually felt like my feet and legs were moving up. 

And of course, after class as usual I felt really good.  The knee locking has now made both knees a bit sore in the back.  But it's definitely not injury.  So all is well.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Day 37

8:30 am with Zeb

The hardest thing was actually getting myself to class.  Again I had less sleep than I would like, basically 2 stretches of about 2.5 - 3 hours, for a total of maybe five and  a half hours.  So I really would have rather slept, but got myself out of the house by 8 o'clock anyways.

Class was a typical Zeb class:  harder than others, but very strong and satisfying.  In standing series, I was working really hard and almost losing my breath.  With other teachers, there is a good chance that I would have sat out a set of triangle.  But for some reason, because it was Zeb, I was determined not to sit out.  And then, of course, he gives me a nice correction in triangle which really dug into my inner thigh and hips.

Balance was better today.  I made it through Standing Head to Knee without falling out.  I'm kicking out now, but when I start to lose it, I'm able to bend the leg and keep the standing knee locked.  I've still got a long way to go on this, but I now feel like I'm on the right path.  

I also had a small breakthrough in Toe Stand.  I actually got both of my hands into prayer while on the left toe, for about a microsecond.  It's a start.  I don't understand why I'm better on my left foot than on the right.  My left bunyon is much worse, and its supposed to cause problems in this pose.  It's something I'll need to ask about.

Once again, after class I felt much better and had lots of energy for the rest of the day, despite the lack of sleep.  I'm wondering more and more about yoga and sleep.  I've heard that Bikram sleeps only a couple of hours a night.  That seems really extreme, but I've been generally going with much less sleep than usual, and I haven't felt any bad effects from it at all, at least not yet.   

Day 36

8:15 pm class with Miranda.

Miranda is a new teacher from Hong Kong who was auditioning.  The audition is very much a two way thing.  Amy needs new teachers, so its important that the teacher like the studio, maybe even more so than that the students like the teacher.  Fortunately, with Miranda there should not be a problem either way.  Class was upbeat and enjoyable.  Miranda kept a good tone and pace throughout.  And it probably helped that it was perhaps the most experienced group of students gathered in one class that I've seen.  To begin with, both Amy and Libby (two teachers) took the class.  And of the remainder, I was probably was the least experienced.

From her dialogue, Miranda is probably a fairly new teacher.   I've said before that when Zeb is delivering the dialogue, I can sometimes transpose his voice into Libby's.  Today, I got that same impression with another dimension, with Miranda's voice transposing into Zeb, then into Libby (who was next to me), and back to Miranda again.  On top of this, Miranda has a pretty think Cantonese accent, so her version of the dialogue is not Bikram's Hindi, sort of translated into English, delivered with a thick accent.  It was very surreal, and almost had me laughing a few times.  Push became poooosshh, and amazingly, the new emphasis probably got me working harder.  Talking with her after class, its clear she has no problems with English.  She's just delivering Bikram's dialogue almost verbatim, which sounds strange enough with an American accent.  

Anyway, I hope she stays on.  Also, she seems to want to do some hands on corrections, and I always love that.  Some things can just be shown so much easier that way.

It rained almost all day.  I had a low grade headache most of the day, which I attributed to the low air pressure.  Or maybe the yoga, just because I'm tending to attribute everything to the yoga now.  I was a little apprehensive going in, and once again the class defied my expectations.  I was in a relatively hot spot with little circulation.  But I felt fine, and the headache disappeared by the middle of half moon.  And its still gone.

Also, I had a pretty big breakthrough.  I've been working really hard on standing head to knee recently.  And today I saw results, but not in that pose.  Instead, something just relaxed in the final forward seated stretch and my chest folded down to my legs, to the point where I could feel the hairs on my chest brushing lightly against the hair on my legs.  Not quite touching, but close enough that I'm probably just a bit of determination away from making real contact.  This is a really big move in the pose.  Before, I was having trouble getting forward at all without simply arching my back.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Day 35 -- Changing the World One Camel at a Time

8:30 am with Lenette, and 4:30 pm with Zeb.

I only got about 4.5 hours sleep last night. I stayed up watching the morning's Tour de France stage. And I felt really stiff going in. So after yesterday's class, I was not expecting to enjoy the class. And once again I was wrong. In some ways, how I feel going in tends to be a reverse barometer for how the class will go. The entire class felt smooth and natural. I did fairly well on the balancing series and think I'm making some progress in locking the knee. My Toe Stand on the left foot was my best yet, I kept one hand up in prayer for almost the full time. And Locust was strong in both sets, considering how worn out my back muscles are at this point.

In between sets of Camel, Lenette repeated something she has heard from Bikram. He says that 25% of the people who start with Bikram Yoga continue to do it after one year. And that 10% continue doing it after 5 years. (Its not clear from the wording whether that means 10% of the starting group, or 10% of of the 25%, but it doesn't really matter for the story. It's just something I'm curious about.) He then says that those 10% will change the world. Lenette added that, of course, the people don't really change the world; rather, they change themselves, and because they change, their world and thus the world changes. This idea reminds me of the saying that "The world of the happy man is different than the world of the unhappy man." And in some ways, I think this idea lies at the heart of the difference between yoga and all the other exercise that I've done.

I have been thinking about doing a few more doubles to leave open the option of going 100 days without having to be forced into doing makeup doubles. So today I went to the 4:30 class, mostly because at a quarter to four, I really, really didn't want to go. I'd been having some borderine cramping in my hamstrings, felt tired, and just not in the mood. So, I pulled myself together and got myself ready for a tough Zeb class.

About halfway through the first breathing exercise, I had a revelation. I was doing this class as a bonus. I wasn't doing it to complete the challenge, but simply because I wanted to be there. In some ways, I was just doing the class because I could. And that slight change in attitude seemed to shift everything, and I had one of my most enjoyable classes ever. In each posture, instead of just blindly pushing myself, I tried to feel something new. I wouldn't focus necessarily on the painful part, but perhaps on parts of my body that I never really thought about in that posture. And, even though I was working as hard as ever, it felt much easier than it has in the last few days. Zeb held us for a long time in first set of Camel, and I just went with it and got maybe a deeper bend than I have before. Maybe not world changing, but who knows?

One other thing about Zeb: he doesn't make personal corrections all that often, but when he does say something specifically directed at me, it has always been spot on, and made a huge difference later. Today, he corrected my downward reaching arm in triangle, and the difference was pretty amazing.

After class, I read a fellow student's blog about the same class. (Reminder to self: add the link to her blog to the side column.) She said that one of her bosses asked her "Why the challenge?" and she couldn't come up with an answer other than that everyone else was doing it, and that now she had committed to doing it and she was going to follow through. I think doing it because you decided to do it and will carry it out is an excellent reason, and may be enough. But I've been thinking about my own motivations. The incredibly huge benefits I saw from the yoga came in a rush before the challenge started. As sore as I am now, I can't really say that I've seen alot of physical benefit from doing the challenge, at least not immediate benefit. And, at this point, I can't say that I'm in this primarily for the physical benefit.

So why the challenge? In some ways it goes to what Bikram says. In the past, I've tended to get involved in something, typically running or biking, for a medium amount of time, and then let it slip away while my condition fell apart again. Amy says that once a person does one of these challenges, Bikram yoga gets into their blood and it becomes very difficult to quit. And that's part of it. I want to be one of the 25% who sticks it out for a year, one of the 10% still at it after five years. But more, I have some faith that if I do that, I will change my world. But getting there means changing the world one Camel at a time. Hence the challenge.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Day 34 -- Totally Wiped

9:30 am with Lenette

I set up in the hottest part in the front, an area with very little air movement, and it was probably a mistake.  Things were bad already in Awkward Pose.  But after Eagle, I moved the mat near the windows, where there's some more air flow.  That should have taken care of things, and it did for a little while.  But not for long.

I didn't miss too many poses -- just one set of triangle, and I bailed on the third part of Locust second set.  But things got very strange.  In every Savasana, I started to feel a little dizzy and out of breath.  When I got up for Fixed Firm, which is a resting posture, I got hit with a wave of dizziness/fatigue, and went back down for about half of the first set.  Then I decided it was ridiculous, and basically toughed my way through to the end.  And from there, I was fine so long as I was in a pose and focused, but as soon as the pose was over, I would start to lose it again and get overwhelmed, maybe by the heat but I'm not sure.  It was more like a low grade panic attack.  I'd lose my breath, feel really hot, and just want to escape.  The cool thing is that the poses themselves were the best escape I had.

Lenette obviously noticed I was not doing well.  In the final spinal twist, she came by and helped me out by bracing a little against my back with her knees and twisting my shoulders a bit further with her hands.  I went further than I've gone before, and it felt wonderful.  Not only that, but it appears to have cured the chest soreness I had yesterday.

One of the other students doing the challenge says that a few days ago she went through almost exactly the same thing that I felt today.  She thinks that it's just working through some emotional stress, and its the sort of thing to expect when you're working hard in one of the challenges.  I hope she's right, but tomorrow should tell.

Now for more of the floor series:

20.  Fixed Firm  My hips started about 4 inches off the floor with my legs separated, and it hurt, especially in the tendon in the front of my left foot.  I progressed pretty fast in this one, and got to the full expression several times, with my knees spread apart about 8-10 inches.  Then I aggravated my left knee last week, and now I'm back to just going back onto my elbows, not all the way to the floor.  That should change as my knee improves, and its feeling better every day.

21.  Half Tortoise:  I don't understand the name for this one, but so be it.  When I started, this felt like a resting pose.  The big challenge/impossibility was having my head touch the floor before my hands.  Then, in the pose, my hips were up quite a bit and I never locked my elbows, so I didn't really feel the stretch.  Now I understand why they say its an energizing but not a resting pose.  I can get my head on the floor easily before my hands, and then I can lock the elbows and keep my hands together, which puts a very nice stretch through my shoulders and shoulder blades.  It feels like my hips are even getting lower some.  This is a favorite pose, even more so now that I've figured out how actually to stretch in it.

22. Camel:  To begin with, I put my hands on my back and sort of dropped my head back and leaned back a little bit.  Reaching down for my hands brought up absolutely nothing.  Basically, I felt like I was kneeling with a very slight backbend.  Today, I think my Camel is almost respectable (even though I think the pose got its name because camels are filthy, nasty beasts that bite, but can be tamed).  I have no problem grabbing my feet and arching back.  I don't even fall back into the feet anymore, they are just there.  Pushing my hips forward is still a struggle, and I don't really know how far forward they are.  But I'm doing pretty well in terms of seeing the back wall, and even the floor.  And, despite the warnings and sympathy from the teachers, I don't ever feel dizzy or sick or panicked in this pose.  If I didn't have to push on the hips so hard, I could hang out in this pose forever.

23.  Rabbit:  Rabbit used to do for me what everyone else claimed they felt in Camel.  Dizzy, out of breath, and panicked.  I could not get my head near my knees no matter what.  I couldn't really feel the grip on my heels.  Straightening my arms was out of the question.  And my big belly got in the way.  The posture was a total mess, and I basically only felt a stretch in my neck.  Now its one of my better poses.  It's easy to get, and keep, solid contact between my head and knees.  I can breath easily, lock my elbows, pull on the feet, and have gotten to feel a stretch all the way down to the tailbone.  I'm not sure how close I am to getting my thighs perpendicular to the floor, but it feels like I can't be too far away.  This one has gone from being one of my least favorite poses, to one of the poses I most like.

24. Seated Stretch Head to Knee:  This is an easy pose to fake, and I probably did fake it some to begin with.  I can't remember having any problem getting my head to my knee.  But my knees weren't anywhere close to locked to begin with.  Now, I can lock the right leg and get my head even above the knee.  The left leg is not so good, and pushing the knee locking on this side makes my knee hurt more, so I've been taking that part easy. 

25.  Forward Seated Stretch:  To start with I could barely grab my toes, my knees didn't quite lock, I couldn't hinge forward from my hips, and my back was pretty rounded.  Grabbing the toes is easy now, but my legs still don't lock as much as the instructions call for.  It really hurts to lock them so that the heels are off the floor.  I do hinge forward from the hips some, but my back still rounds too much.  I need to work harder on locking the legs here, and then on straightening my back so the stretch is truly from the hips.

26. Spinal Twist:  My setup was awful.  Keeping both hips on the ground, my bent leg was about a foot in front of the knee on the ground.  Then I would reach up, but I couldn't get my arm over the knee, so I would try to grab the mat for leverage.  My other hand would keep me propped up at something like a 60 degree angle, but definitely not with a straight back.  The stretch I felt was more in my hip flexor than in my back.  The set-up has made lots of progress, my foot is almost at my knee now, and doesn't bend that far out to the side.  I can get my arm over my knee and grab the knee on the floor, which was a major step.  I can lift the back arm off the ground and grab my shorts, but can't reach the thigh yet.  And my back is straighter up and down than it was.  The twist started coming along when I got to the point where my belly got out of the way.   I like this pose now.

27. Final Breathing:  It took a while to figure this one out.  The comical thing at the start was how much my belly bounced around.  It's more controlled now, and I think I've developed better control of my abdomen from this exercise.  But there's still some jiggly belly going on, especially if I try this sitting Indian style.  Finally, when I started, doing the fast set seemed ridiculous and impossible.  Now it seems normal, and the slow set seems slow.  So that's a definite improvement.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Day 33

10:30 am with Lenette

I didn't sleep well at all, and had sort of a scare:  there was some tightness in my chest.  It turns out that I've got muscles that I wasn't aware of, and somehow I managed to strain them yesterday.  And, as usual, the cure for yoga soreness was more yoga.  But going into class, I figured that if I was wrong, I could just go straight from class to the hospital.  Anyway, I could feel the source of the tightness in some of the poses, and Lenette confirmed after class that I could get the feeling I have from overstretching and intercostal muscle.  So that's what I've done, but I didn't even know that I had intercostal muscles that close to my breastbone.  Go figure.

Class was surprisingly good.  The best part was Lenette's reminder about what to do if you are working through an injury.  Basically, the idea is to push to the edge, where the pose starts to hurt, and then back off from there.  But then it occurred to me:  it seems to me that in Bikram's mind, all beginning Westerners are just walking piles of accumulated injuries.  The yoga, as he sees it, is a comprehensive cure.  If so, then shouldn't this approach to the poses apply to them all?  This idea might confirm my idea that the exhortations to "Push, push..." are meant for veterans who can safely do it, or for beginners who have never really pushed in their lives.  But for people with sports backgrounds, the same instructions might be a little much.  Or the ex-athlete should interpret them as meaning to push to your edge, but not through it. 

I kept the knee locked through a full minute in Standing Head to Knee.  And I had maybe my best Standing Bow yet.  Even better, Lenette told me I was advanced enough in Balancing Stick to start focusing on getting my hips parallel to the floor -- lowering the hip on the lifted leg.  The criticisms that come with advancing to a new stage always make me feel better, much better than a straight compliment for some perverse reason.

Now back to my ongoing review of posture progress, continuing with the floor series:

13.  Savasana:  It's hard to say whether there is any steady progress in this pose.  I would like to think that I don't fidget as much, but I have no idea how much I did fidget to begin with.  I'd also like to say that I can calm my mind some, but I can't.  My mind flies all over the place.  Think of the jumpiest, quickest, busiest flying bug you've ever seen, and that's my mind in Savasana.  I've tried counting my breath, repeating meaningless phrases, focusing on one point.  And sometimes, very briefly, things get a bit still.  But mostly...

14.  Wind Removing:  I've always been pretty good at the single leg version of this.  But to begin with, when bringing both legs up to the chest, I could not get anywhere near to grabbing my elbows.  I couldn't even grab my forearms.  My belly was too big, and I ended up clasping my fingers together an holding on for dear life.  Now, I can grab my elbows pretty comfortably, tuck my head a little bit, and even relax my shoulders some.  Beyond that, its fairly hard for me to judge progress in this pose.

15. Sit-up:  This isn't really a pose, but it is an action specific to the Bikram series, and we do quite a few of them.  I started by kind of throwing my body up.  My knees would bend, and my feet would leave the floor.  The pulling on the feet during the exhales was more an intention than anything that I actually did.  Now, I have no trouble coming up smoothly with my back fairly straight, keeping my legs and heels on the floor.  I pull on my feet, but my elbows don't come close to touching the floor, nor does my head get near my knees.

Back Strengthening Series:

16. Cobra:  This pose has always been pretty good.  I could always get up pretty well, so its mostly been a matter on working on keeping my arms close to the chest, arching the back some more, pressing the pelvis to the floor, and keeping the legs together.  I've probably gotten better at this, but its difficult for me to judge.

17.  Half Locust:  Getting the arms underneath my chest was horrible.  My elbows hurt.  In the one leg lifts, I could probably get each leg about 8-12 inches off the floor, and that was while rolling off the opposite hip.  Lifting two legs?  Maybe 3 inches to begin with, using all my strength.  My issues with spitting up in this pose started at the very beginning.  Now, this pose comes and goes.  My legs go up fairly well in the one leg lifts.  My elbows don't bother me, and I can almost get them together underneath me.  The two legged lift is a matter of breathing and attitude.  Some days the legs go up fairly high, and I can hold it easily.  Other days it feels like I've got no strength in my arms and back, and that there is no way to breathe in the pose.  My guess is that I get my legs up somewhere around 18 inches to 2 feet, but its only a guess.  It could be more, it could be less.

18. Full Locust:  This is another pose where its hard for me to judge progress.  For one thing, because Half Locust beats me up so much, I'm not sure that I often give this pose a really good effort.  The biggest change I've noticed came from Lenette's tip about lifting the arms up first and then bringing them back.  

19.  Floor Bow:  To begin with, my legs were uneven, and very wide outside my hips.  My legs would come up some, and I would arch my back, but I don't think I resembled anything like a bow.  I think I'm much better now.  My knees are about hip width, and I can keep my feet together.  Sometime I feel what it means to "kick up."  And when that happens, I know that I'm getting it.  But even when I can't really feel the kick, I still think I'm much more arched and symmetrical than I was.  And it's also pretty clear that this pose has helped some in opening my shoulders.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 32 -- Wiped

12 noon advanced series with Libby.

I thought I went in hydrated, but I must have been mistaken.  I had a smoothie a couple of hours before class, so I should have had enough energy.  Sometimes its hard to put my finger on exactly what went wrong, or maybe nothing did and this advanced series is just much harder than I thought.  But today, it really kicked my butt.  I was down in Savansana for about the last 15 minutes.  I had trouble with breath control throughout.  I tried to give it my best, and for today at least, I think I really gave it my all.  

But its also possible that I'm just not ready for this.  I took steps to protect my left knee, and that doesn't seem to be a problem.  In many of the poses, I feel sort of foolish, because I am so far away from anything that might resemble the pose.  The main trouble seems to be in my shoulders, which simply will not open up enough to get into many of the poses.  The other difficulty, at least today, was stamina.  That part I know I can improve.   But even so, I may not be ready for this yet.  On that, I will defer to Libby.  If she says I should keep it up, I will.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.  In my progress review, I was up to the balancing series.

5. Standing Head to Knee:  When I started, I could barely grab my foot on either side, especially on the left side, and my thumbs would not go under the foot,  I sort of cupped it in my fingertips.  Then I would hold it for as long as I could, sometimes as long as 5 - 7 seconds, before I would fall out and start over.  Now, I can hold my foot in the first part typically for as long as 40 seconds and have even made it for a full minute on each leg.  I can kick out my lifted leg and hold it for some time.  My record is for the full second set on each side.  My right lifted leg gets fairly close to locking the knee.  The left leg is still a ways off. 

6. Standing Bow Pulling:  I couldn't get into the set up on either side, mostly because of tightness in my shoulders.  On the right side, that would mean not being able to balance with my knees together.  On the left side, I basically couldn't consistently grab my ankle -- it was a hit or miss thing at best.  When I did try to charge my body forward and kick back, my knee would fly out to the side in a sort of bizarre version of the funky chicken.  Then I would fall out to the side.  Now, I don't have any problem with the set-up.  I can charge forward, and typically get to the point where I can see my lifted foot over my head.  When I fall out, I generally fall forward, which is good.  And I have held the pose with a locked knee, and without falling out, for almost the full minute on each side.  I still have a long, long way to go before I do a standing split, but there is hope, and I feel like I'm making progress on it.

7. Balancing Stick:  I was taking too big a step forward when I started.  It messed up my balance.  My standing leg didn't lock, my elbows bent, I looked down in the wrong direction, and my lifted leg didn't come up very far.  Just in the last few classes, I've started taking a smaller step forward to get into this, and its making a world of difference.  I now am concentrating on keeping the standing leg locked.  I'm getting much closer to forming a T, but I still don't feel like I stretch as much forward and back as the pose demands.

Now the Separate Leg Series.

8.  Separate Leg Stretching:  When folded forward, I could barely reach my big toes to pull back on.  My guess is that my head was somewhere around 1.5 to 2 feet off the ground.  Now, I can almost get my hands under my heels.  Sometimes I am there, but it depends mostly on how wide a stance I take.  It feels like my head is only a few inches off the floor, but realistically, its probably somewhere between 6-9 inches.  I roll forward and keep my knees locked, but the progress in this pose, since the challenge, has been pretty slow.

9.  Triangle:  To be truthful, I didn't do much triangle to start with.  I would try to do one of the two sets, but it was just as likely that I would be too exhausted.  When I did try, my stance would start too tall, and then I didn't have the leg strength to hold the stance and my legs would start to slide apart into more of a split.  This made the pose even more exhausting.  And I doubt there was anything very triangular about what I was doing.  Now, my stance is much lower, but it could still use some work.  My arms are pretty good, but I could probably work more on twisting the torso and stretching up with one arm and down with the other.  But, if I'm not too tired, this pose is in pretty good shape.

10.  Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee:  When I started, my belly was the enemy of this pose.  I basically couldn't get my head on my knee because the belly was in the way.  And when I tried, everything got so cramped up that I found it almost impossible to breathe.  I hated this pose.  Gradually, its become one of my favorites.  I can either push to try to lock the knee, in which case I tend to lose my balance and have to bring my hands apart.  Or I can concentrate on locking my elbows, staying in prayer, and keeping my forehead high on the knee.  Once, on the  right side, I actually got everything together -- compression in the rounded spine, balance with hands in prayer, and a fully locked knee.  It's much harder to lock the knee on the left side.  But this pose is coming along.

And to finish the standing series:

11.  Tree:  I haven't had any problem ever getting my foot high on my costume, or in getting one hand to prayer position.  The question is balance, and that's a day to day thing.  For a while, my right foot hurt so much that I pretty much could not balance on it, but I've worked through that.  Today, I had a breakthrough.  In advanced series, Libby says there's no nonsense about gradually coming into prayer.  Instead, she said to put pressure on your foot actively to hold it in place and just go into prayer, forcing your foot not to slip.  And it worked!  I stayed in prayer, with my foot reasonably high, on both sides.  Now I need to work on getting that same tension with my foot even higher.

12. Toe Stand:  Of course, to begin with, this pose is just a pipe dream.  I first tried it somewhere around my third or fourth class.  I had to reach my arms out about 4 feet in front of me, and was amazed that my leg didn't break when I went down.  I don't remember if I got up using my leg and hands, or if I just rolled out of it.  The last few days, I've been able to get one hand up into prayer position and hold it there for about 10 seconds.  I haven't gotten close yet to feeling anything like balance on the one foot.  One day...


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Day 31

9:30 am with Amy.

Today was kind of typical.  I felt stiff and tired going in.  I got over that by the time I managed to bend myself in half in the first set of Standing Head to Feet.  That first forward bend is getting harder and harder.  Then I felt fine through most of the rest of class.  Triangle was a struggle, but I was actually good in Standing Separate Head to Knee, keeping my balance with my hands in prayer and almost locking my knees on both sides.  Floor poses were fine, even Locust.  Then, once I got some water in me (4th class in a row with no water during class), I felt much better than before class, and very energized.

I remembered what Lenette was talking about when she said my body was changing.  It was during Toe Stand on the right foot, because I had my left hand in prayer position for the first time.  The reason I remembered is because today I couldn't do it -- at least not on that side.

Now that I'm halfway through (assuming I only go 60 days), its probably a good time to review my progress in the poses.  It would be tough for me to remember where I was when the challenge started, and I've only been doing Bikram for about 4 months, so I'll compare where I am now to when I started.

1. Pranayama Deep Breathing  To start with , I could do the breaths for about 3 counts and then I would get dizzy.  On the inhale, my elbows would get up just above my shoulders.  On the exhale, I could not get my elbows to touch.  Now, six counts seems too short for my breathing and I'm sometimes lagging behind the class.   My elbows go over my ears on the inhale (still a long way to get them touching my head, but its progress).  And I have no problem getting them squeezed and parallel to the floor.

2.  Half Moon Side Bend  Before, my elbows would not lock, and my arms kept a sort of diamond shape.  The bend was more of a wish, unless I let the inside collapse.  Now, this is one of my better poses.  Elbows firmly locked behind my ears, hands clasped together, and I'm rounded about 70-75 degrees.  Not the full 90 degrees that I see, but not too far off, and I'm definitely getting there.  The outside is a definite arch, without and noticeable folds.

2a.  Half Moon Backbend  Before, I could see the ceiling only.  The bend was only in the lower back.  My hands didn't want to go back at all.  I tended to bend my knees.  Now, its a little better.  I can feel the bend get deeper with each breath, and I can get to where I see the back wall.  Also, it feels like my upper back bends some.  This is a hard pose for me to judge, because it feels so weird, and I really have no idea how deep I'm going.  Also, coming out of this pose always seems to cause something to "pop" in my mind.

2b.  Standing Head to Feet  This was one of my worst poses to start.  No matter how much I bent my knees, I couldn't get my hands under my feet.  So I settled for grabbing my ankles.  My chest was about 2-3 inches away from my stomach -- definitely not a Japanese Ham Sandwich.  And that was even more embarrassing considering how far my stomach was sticking out.  Now, I can almost get my hands completely behind my heels.  My chest presses against my thighs.  I get good leverage and feel a real stretch in the back of my legs.  But I still can't lock the knees.  I think I'm pretty close, but I can't tell for sure.

3.  Awkward Pose  In the first part, I sat on a tall barstool.  The second part was even worse.  I could barely get on my tiptoes.  In the third part, I would lower down nicely for about a foot, then collapse to the ground.  Going up was fast.  It was basically impossible for me to hold my arms extended for all three parts.  Now, this is one of my better poses.  I'm down with my thighs almost parallel to the floor in the first and second part.  I can come slowly down and up in the third part.  My arms stay up, but they could still stretch more to the front.  And my back could be a bit more upright.  The funny thing about this pose is that the better I get at it, the more it hurts.

4. Eagle  With my arms twisted, my fingers on one hand would touch the base of the palm on the other hand.  My foot could get about 4-6 inches away from my other leg and just hang out there in the middle of empty space.  Balance was not good, and I would have to unwind my legs to regain balance very often.  Now, I can interlace my fingers, and in prayer the fingers come up to the first knuckle on the other hand.  So some progress there.  I can get my middle toe to touch the standing leg, but wrapping it still seems a long, long way away.  Balance is much better, which is probably mostly an indication of how much more stamina I now have.

That's the warm up.  Next time, I'll go over the balancing series.  

Friday, July 18, 2008

Day 30 -- Halfway

10:30 class with Lenette

What a difference from yesterday.  In the morning, I was really sore, especially in the hips and between my shoulderblades.  And I felt tired.  So I didn't know how I was going to make it through class.  Then, about halfway through awkward pose, all the soreness and tiredness just seemed to melt away, and I had a really nice class.

On one set of standing bow, I did not fall out.  My knee locking was fine.  And balancing stick was probably as good as its been.  I can actually start to look forward and keep my elbows locked, or close to locked.  I still think I'm probably closer to a broken umbrella than a "T", but it feels like its improving.

In the back strengthening series, Lenette had us do the advanced version.  That means doing Cobra, Half Locust, Full Locust, and Floor Bow in quick succession, with no break between them.  This way, there was no time to think about Half Locust, and I just did it and managed to keep my breath, especially in second set.  If I can do it this way, I should also be able to do it in the normal progression.  More and more, I'm thinking that my problems in Half Locust are probably more mental than physical.

I had a great compliment at one point.  In one pose, Lenette said that my body was changing, and that it was awesome to see.  But I can't even remember which pose it was.  Anyway, it was very nice to hear.

This was my third class in a row without water.  Today, I was not even tempted.  At the water breaks, I just move to a nearby point with the most airflow, and soak in the evaporation while concentrating on my breath.  That's working just fine.  Of course, I've been drinking endlessly outside of the class, so I'm more than making up for it.

For the rest of the day, I felt great.  No soreness to speak of.  My knee really is better.  On one forum, there is a woman who has gone to something like 330 classes in the last 300 days.  She says that at this point its hard for her not to go.  She knows that every time she attends a class, she just feels better afterwards, even when the class itself is torture.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Day 29 -- Bleh

8:15 class with Amy.

It felt like I put my mat in the hottest, stillest spot in the class.  It was as though the CO2 I was exhaling just stayed in a cloud around me, until there was almost no oxygen left.  And it just kept getting hotter and hotter.  And all of this started around half moon pose.  All in all, class was just a struggle.

On the plus side, I only skipped out of the second set of Triangle.  My first balance poses were terrible again, but I am locking the knee.  Balancing stick was pretty good, at least on the balance.  Locust was surprisingly good, and I momentarily got stronger in Floor Bow.  But then the heat struck again, and in Camel, my mind kept saying push your hips forward, and my body said "no way, jose"  Yoga is supposed to be about a union of mind, body, and spirit.  If so, then my Camel was a very Non-Yoga moment.  

Things got better after Camel.  I jumped in the pool when I got home, and now I feel really good.  My knee is better.  Nothing in particular hurts, though there is still a general soreness.  And I did make it through a hellish class without any water, which is something.

After class, one woman asked Amy if the room was cooler than usual.  Her mat was right next to mine.  Amy, of course, said it was perfect Bikram conditions.  That just goes to show that how hot it feels often has little to do with how hot it actually is.  

If I'm going to do 100 classes in 100 days, I've got to get some more doubles in.  And right now, I just don't see how I'm going to do that.  But, if I want it badly enough, I suppose I'll figure a way.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Day 28 -- No Water

4:30 class with Libby.

I made it through the entire class without taking any water, and it was great.  I stayed clear headed and alert at the points toward the end where I typically start to go a little loopy.  The only hard part was right after triangle.  But, like I've read, what I needed was air and not water.  I know that the best way to get the air then is to stay still and take deep breaths, but its still very hard to do that when I feel like gasping and gasping.

Locust was a bust again.  I bailed out of the first set after about 5 seconds, but managed to pull together for an almost respectable second set.  Otherwise, everything was OK.  Rabbit was great again.  Camel not so good as yesterday, a little hard to really push the hips forward.

And my knee is fine.  I'm really concentrating on locking the knee in the balancing poses, and its betraying some balance weakness.  It's especially hard balancing on the right foot in Balancing Stick.  I'm going to try to stick with the program.  Locking the knee will be number one priority.

Overall, the class felt about as good as it can.  I kept the water bottle by my side, to keep present the temptation to drink.  I also think its a good idea, for a while, to keep the water handy in case I decide sometime that I really need it.  For at least a couple of weeks of classes.

And also, given the variability of my experience in class, I shouldn't be too quick to attribute my mental clarity at the end to not drinking.  There could be lots of other explanations.  But it's a worthwhile goal to shoot for.

Mary Jarvis says that people drink in class mostly for three reasons:  boredom, emotional comfort, escape.  It's rare that a person who starts with proper hydration will actually need to drink.  So, if the reason I'm drinking is any of the above -- or to cool down, which is a combination of comfort and escape -- then I won't.  I trust I'll be able to tell when I really need the water because of thirst.

Day 27 - Recovery

8:15 pm class with Amy

I half woke up for the early class, and then decided to sleep instead.  When I did get up, with a good full night's sleep, my knee felt all better.  It got a bit worse during the day, but its fine.  So, while I might be able to do with less sleep from the standpoint of my mental energy, its still important for physical recovery.

Class was a mixed bag.  It started out kind of weak.  The room felt really hot.  My balance has been better.  I struggled through Triangle and Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, but made it.  Then, even the floor felt really hot, and I had a hard time through all of the back strengthening series.

But on Floor Bow, I decided to really recapture control of my breathing, and then things just changed for the better.  I'm sure it was still just as hot and humid, but all of a sudden it wasn't bothering me anymore.  As a result, I probably did my best Camel and Rabbit yet -- deeper and at the same time a bit more relaxed than usual. 

After class, I felt more drained than usual, and I had an amazing tingling feeling through most of my body.  It just felt like everything was a bit more alive.  

It turns out that 60 days is sort of the mid level challenge at Bikram studios.  Lost of studios offer 30 day challenges.  But it also turns out that the 100 day challenge is pretty standard as well.  According to Mary Jarvis, a teacher in San Francisco, the first 30 days works over the body, the next 30 days works the emotions, the next 30 days after that integrates everything that has been torn down, and the last 11 days is like the cherry on top.  (The reason its 11 days, is because the first rule of her 100 day challenge is that you have to go to class on day 101).  

Anyway, I should probably collect a few more doubles before Day 60.  When I get there, I will decide then whether to keep going to 100.  Right now I'm pretty excited about being almost half way through, so I don't want to commit.  I don't like the idea of saying to myself that I'm less than 1/3 of the way there.  But, if I take it a day at a time after Day 60, who knows?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Day 26 -- Lock the #$%@$% Knee

8:30 am class with Lenette.

Doing the advanced series, I overstretched my left knee again.  It's really stiff again, about at the same level as last week.  So today, I was basically back to square one in fixed firm.  As usual, the knee felt better after class, and has been better for most of the day.  My guess is that it will just continue to improve.  But I've got to be more careful of it.

After class, Lenette said that it might be the start of a mild tendonitis.  She also said that can happen sometimes when a person engages the quad and lifts the kneecap while also bending the knee.  That is definitely the side that I err on in the balancing series, because I've been very cautious about hyperextension.  The solution, of course, is just to lock the knee properly.  So that's my next big focus.

Here's a Bikram quote I recently read from one of the teacher training blogs:  "You want to know the secret to success in life?  Lock the $%^^%$# knee."

Otherwise, class was really good, even after only 5 hours of sleep.  For some reason, I just don't seem to need as much sleep now.  I'm not getting tired later, and I'm totally energized after class.  I'm not worried about it, but I'm assuming that for some reason I just don't need to sleep as long.  I don't know if that is a benefit or not.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 25 -- Advanced Series

12 noon with Libby.

Class was small, and it was more like a meeting of friends with a mutual interest than a disciplined Bikram class.  There were seven of us, and at first I felt like I had no business being there (and I still won't say that that feeling was wrong), but Tracey was there too, and she started Bikram after I did, so that bumped up the comfort level some.

The series itself includes at least one set of all the 26 poses from the beginning series, but there is much, much less time devoted to the set-ups, and the postures may not be held for as long as in the beginning series.  For example, in Triangle, it typically takes 30 seconds to a minute for the teacher to bring us fully through the set up before we move arms into the posture.  Here, its presumed you know the pose and you just do it.  One amazing thing is that this didn't cause me much trouble.

Then there are alot more poses.  We did a series of extensive warm-ups to get ready to do Lotus, which is the traditional meditation posture with the legs crossed over each other.  But, and I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, once we were in Lotus there was a series of about 6 postures that we went into while keeping the legs crossed.   I was amazed enough that I got into a respectable Lotus to begin with, but then trying to keep up with some of the really bendy stuff... It was both intimidating and awe inspiring, and who knows, maybe in a couple of months, more or less, I'll be able to get myself into some of that stuff.

Other new things were a bunch of hand balancing postures,  a shoulderstand series, and a "leg-breaking" series.  When I heard the last one, I started laughing.  But its no joke.  These poses were much deeper and more involved than anything I've encountered in other classes.  Actually, moreso than anything I've seen in person.  It's pretty cool to see fellow classmates with both legs wrapped behind their heads -- or a guy balancing on his hands with his entire body parallel to the floor about 3 inches above it.  Amazing stuff.  And even more amazing is that all of this stuff is within reach someday.  

Actually, at one point in one of the ridiculous poses, I blurted out "No way.",  and Libby said "Of course there will be no way if you don't try."  And, of course she's right.  So I made up my mind at that point to give everything my best effort, no matter how ridiculous it seemed.  After all, I felt exactly the same way about much of the beginning series as well, and while I can't do full expressions of those poses yet, I definitely think they are all possible.  So, why not these?

Anyway, the class lasted a full 2 hours and 15 minutes.  After the first 90 minutes, I started to feel like it was time to get out of the heat, because I've gotten used to the 90 minute dosage.  All in all, the class did not feel as intense as a hard regular class.  Partly, I think that's because I did some more sitting out than usual.  Partly, it was because some of the poses involve more stretching, which allows a type of rest during the posture.  Almost everything in a regular class has as much strengthening as stretching.   And part of it was just the more congenial attitude of the class.

Libby is planning on offering these classes every Sunday.  But there is a catch.  I asked her if she thought I did well enough to continue.  She said that was no problem, but if I was going to continue, I would have to compete.  I think Yoga Competition is kind of an oxymoron.  But I have no problem with going on stage and making a fool of myself (I've done it before with no particularly harmful effect).  So if that's the price of continuing, its fine with me.  And that was OK with her, too.  She said that the point was not how deep or well someone did the postures, but demonstrating the focus and discipline that one brings to their practice.  And, she said on those scores I would do just fine.  A very nice compliment.

Later, I might comment on the new levels of soreness (or body awareness) that this class has brought. 

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Day 24

9:30 am class with Amy.

Class felt routine today.  The room was very crowded, but not too hot, considering how many people were there.  I felt strong throughout, with some trepidation in the usual spots -- exhausted by Triangle, not very strong in Locust, not flexible in first set of Fixed Firm.  But my focus and concentration were fine.

Amy gave some tips after class about how to set up for triangle.  It turns out I've been doing it wrong from the start.  I've tried to keep my hips parallel to the front mirror in the setup, and it turns out it is fine to roll them forward.  I haven't tried it yet, so I don't know if it will make it harder or easier.  I'm looking forward to it tomorrow.

And tomorrow there will be an advanced class.  The Bikram advanced series is 84 postures done in 90 minutes.  I've never seen it before.  But Amy said that she thought I was strong enough in my practice to give it a try.  So, I'm planning to do it tomorrow, and then follow it with the regular Sunday class, if I have the energy left.  So, a big yoga day coming up, and nothing routine about it.  I'm really looking forward to it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Day 23

8:30 am class with Zeb.

I felt really tired going into class, and it started off poorly.  The first move from a backbend to deep forward bend has been getting harder and harder for me.  And today I reached new levels of stiffness.  My hands went down and at first they could not even scrape the floor.  After doing the hip shuffle for a while, it loosened up some.  Then for the forward bend, I had trouble even standing on my hands from the side.  Zeb corrected this, and I actually somehow got my hands behind my feet for the first time.  And then, as usual, I actually started to loosen up some in the forward bend.  Second set was much more like normal.

Then on to an unusually hard standing series, especially in the balancing series.  With each pose, I just felt a little more tired, and I suppose, a little more sorry for myself.  So by Triangle, I had pretty much decided that I had to go down.  One knee hit the floor, and Zeb said "Duffy, stay with us."  If he had pushed a little harder, I probably would have pushed back and gone down for my worst class ever.  Instead, something about his tone was perfect, and I decided "What the hell, I can always drop later if I have to." 

I went on to do respectable triangles, and got a burst of energy.  I think mostly this was the result of an attitude readjustment.  From that point on, class was just fine.  Two lessons from this:  First, sometimes you really can do more than you think you are able to.  Or, as some teachers like to put it,  your body is alot stronger than your mind thinks it is.  The second lesson is:  Sometimes your teachers know your capabilities better than you do.  After all, why else would I be going to a teacher in the first place.  

All the soreness that I felt yesterday -- neck, shoulders, lower back -- is gone.  That's another thing that's been really amazing about this Yoga.  The cure for minor ailments and stiffness is more yoga.  And the cure brings with it a whole new batch of sore spots to be worked out the next class.  As a result, I'm always a little sore, always discovering new ways to be aware of stuff rearranging, and the soreness is always a novelty.  Nothing in particular has persisted, so its not really worrisome, and its gotten pretty easy to ignore most of it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Day 22

9:30 am with Lenette.

I didn't sleep much last night, maybe 5 hours, so I was afraid I might be too tired for class.  Once again, the event totally countered my expectations.  Once we were 3/4 of the way through Pranayama, I was wide awake and felt energized and just great.

I even pushed my limits in a few ways.  I really sat into the chair on the second part of Awkward pose.  It felt like someone put my legs into a blender, but its mercifully brief.  And I did one side of Standing Bow Pulling better than I ever have before.  I didn't fall out, my standing leg was completely locked, and I could actually see my lifted foot over my head.  And -- it was still going up at the change.

Even better, I got in two good sets of Half Locust, without dogging it or collapsing.  And I still felt full of energy at the end of class.  I didn't feel like I was dragging myself into the home stretch.  The downside, is that I may have pushed Camel and Rabbit a bit too hard.  My lower back feels a bit stiff (which is normal this time of night).  And my neck has felt a bit funky all day.  It doesn't hurt, but it knows its been through something very unusual.  I'm not going to mess with my neck, so this is definitely something to watch, but I doubt its anything serious.  Its just there.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Day 21

10:30 am class with Libby

Class was fine.  I put myself in the hot side of the room, and the heat basically didn't bother me at all.  I felt pretty strong throughout, and I didn't skip a posture, or hold back on any to conserve energy.  So, as usual, Half Locust was the only real weak point.  For the third class in 25 hours, I just don't seem to have the back strength to hold this posture for the full 10? seconds.

Libby called me out on water once.  I held myself to 3 water breaks only.  But I took the third between the sets of Fixed Firm.  Sure enough, just as I'm taking a sip, she says "Water breaks between postures please, not between sets."  

The rest of the day was great.  I haven't been sore at all -- not in the shoulders or the back.  And I had a ton of energy.  I was afraid that three classes in such quick succession would wipe me out.  But its had the opposite effect.

After class, Libby teased me a bit about expecting me to go to teacher training sometime soon.  It's nine weeks, and I don't see how I could ever do it.  And I don't know whether I would like to teach.  But I'm pretty sure that I would love the experience of the teacher training,  just for itself.  At this point, I guess I should just be flattered that Libby thinks I'm dedicated enough so that she would think that teacher training might be in my future.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Day 20 -- Another Double

9:30 am class with Lenette.  And 8:15 pm class with Zeb.

In the studio lobby, a board lists everyone doing the challenge.  And each day, as you go into class, you put a check for that day in the row with your name.  It's meant to be a way for everyone to encourage each other, and my guess is that it does that job.  It's also brought out a bit of the competitive streak in me.  I don't compete with anyone in the classes themselves.  I try not even to compete with myself.  But those check marks kind of nag at me, as much as I know they shouldn't.  Anyway, with today's double, I'm officially "winning" the race among the Sugarland Bikramites, with 22 classes in 20 days.  I'm both a little proud of myself, and a bit ashamed for being aware of it in the first place.

I was toying with the idea of another double anyway, mostly because I've been reading blogs about the last teacher training.  They do five doubles a week for nine weeks.  Compared to that, this 60 day challenge is a cakewalk.  So I've thought about doing some more doubles.  The chances that I would ever do teacher training are practically nil, even though it sounds like an amazing experience.

Then, after the first class, I asked who was teaching the late class, and the answer was Zeb.  My first reaction was that Zeb's classes are really hard, and I would just skip it.  Then I almost immediately changed my mind.  The whole point of this exercise is to stop avoiding things just because they are hard or a bit uncomfortable.  And as a result, my first reaction basically forced me to go.

I'm glad I did.  Zeb's classes are hard, and he keeps the room at perfect Bikram conditions, or slightly hotter.  As a result, I find myself losing energy and focus towards the end of his classes.  But the things that I do with concentration in his classes are very satisfying.  Today, I felt like I had a really good Camel.  And I got my knee locked for the first time in Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee.  I was really happy about that, because usually I'm totally wiped by that point in the standing series.  And tonight I was totally focused, and my front leg actually straightened out.  (Skipping half of Triangle probably helped here.  Oh well...)

On thing that's amazing about this yoga is that it feels like it works from the core outward.  The first big effects I felt were in the spine, the hips and the abs.  It's becoming clearer and clearer that minor changes in the extremities have big impact on the center.  In morning class, Lenette corrected my extended leg in Wind Relieving Pose.  She said not to let it just flop out.  My foot should point to the ceiling while remaining relaxed.  She showed me what she meant, and I could immediately feel a stretch in the hip that I'd never felt before.  All from a change of a few degrees in a foot that's basically relaxed anyways.  And then tonight, Zeb called me out in Half Tortoise.  He said to push the palms into prayer and lock the elbows... more...  This slight change created a huge stretch in between, and in, the shoulder blades.  Again, a very slight adjustment in the extremites made a huge difference.  I'm wondering if that idea might be a metaphor for how the yoga works on life in general.  After all, its just 90 minutes a day, and to an outsider it appears to work on strength and flexibility.  But these seemingly minor changes in a closed, hot room are having an amazing impact at the core -- and not just the core of the body.  It's more like it goes to the core of everything.  

Monday, July 7, 2008

Day 19

10:30 am class with Lenette.

It turns out I've been spelling her name wrong.  Who would ever have guessed?  As usual, a very nice class.  Lenette has a very good mixture of encouragement, compassion, and humor.

I was struggling some (as is usual) in Triangle and just after.  I wanted to go down, but decided to stick it out instead.  The fact is that even when it's bad, I can probably still do it.  And I know that I can control my breathing through these poses, but sometimes I just don't want to badly enough.  So as hard as I'm working at this, I can still see areas where I feel like I might be slacking off.

Libby's talk about the water bottle and the "showers" has sunk in some.  I've tried to give up some of my "crutches,"  and then I am noticing new ones creeping in.  Right now, I have a habit of trying to recover by leaning forward some.  What I'm doing, I know, is trying to get my head lower than my heart to lower the heart rate some.  But I shouldn't have to, and I'm going to try to stop it, if possible.  I'm also drinking water when I know I don't have to.  Frankly, if I go into class properly hydrated, then there probably isn't any physical need to drink during the class.  So far, I've only started to get really dizzy once.  And that was not from dehydration.  But water is a crutch that I will probably have to wean myself off of slowly.

My knee is fine.  I went fully into fixed firm in the second set, and didn't feel anything out of the ordinary.  Yesterday, when I told Libby about the knee problems, I said that I had thought it might be from engaging my quads so much trying to "lock the knee."  To my surprise, she said that I don't fully lock the knee yet.  She said I'm pretty good about it, and its good that I never hyperextend, but I could more strongly engage the quad, and it would help with my foundation.  So there is something else I've started to concentrate on.  In standing head to knee, I'm basically back to step one:  I'm trying to lock the knee strongly for the full minute and balance.  And I still can't do it.  And I'm paying more attention to it in the other balancing postures as well.  In Balancing Stick, it really seems to help.

Half Locust was good today.  That's two days in a row where I've made it through without collapse.  And today, I could even focus on trying to go deeper, and trying to feel what was going on in my back.  It actually felt sort of good.

And Lenette gave me a tip in Full Locust.  She had me start by reaching out a little forward as well as straight to the side.  Then when the arms went back, my entire chest went up about 2-3" further with the same amount of effort and a big feeling of opening through the front of the chest.  It's amazing what a huge difference very small details in the set-up make.  I managed to repeat the improvement in second set, and I'm hoping that I'll be able to recreate it tomorrow.  This is a pose where they say that people can plateau for years -- so the bump I got from this little tip is very cool.

Day 18

2:30 pm with Libby.

Everything is OK.  Or at least it's going to be.  I went through the entire class paying special attention to what was going on in my left knee, and I figured out what's wrong.  The second to last pose is a one leg forward bend.  You sit with one leg extended to the corner of the room.  You bend the other leg so that the sole of your foot is tucked into the groin and completely touching the thigh.  It makes a 90 degree angle between the calf and the extended leg.  Then you put your hands over your head, interlock the thumbs, tuck your chin to your chest and bring your forehead to the knee.  The goal is to do this, get the knee locked, and eventually get the elbows to the floor.  It's one of the two poses in the set where you can pretty much hang out without using strength, once you are into it. 

For quite a while, I've been able to basically get my right leg straight with no problem.  The last couple of days, I realize, I've been fed up with my left knee popping up off the floor.  So I forced it down.  And I overstretched it some.  I could feel that quite clearly today.  This is both good news and better news.  The good news is that there's probably no long term danger to the knee.  Now that I know what caused the problem, it should be very easy to take care of it.  The better news was how easy it was to pay attention to what was going on with the knee throughout the poses, and learning something from it.  That's an aspect of yoga that is really cool.  It seems to develop an awareness that was unimaginable to me just a few months ago.

I also had a minor breakthrough in Rabbit today.  Rabbit is the deepest forward bend in the series.  The goal is to have the stretch on the back go all the way from the back of the head to the tailbone.  At the beginning, I couldn't get into the basic setup, and I could feel some stretching in my neck and maybe in my shoulderblade area, but that was about it.  Today, everything felt great and I really tried to lengthen on the inhales and go deeper on the exhales.  And I could actually feel a stretch all the way down into the tailbone.  This is another thing that I would have said would never happen.  (Just like I would never be able to touch my forehead to my knees.)

I'm going to have to start being less particular about where I am in the class.  I haven't had a really good class on the "hot side" of the room.  But so what?  Today I arrived 20 minutes early, and the room was already filling up.  At least, all of the prime real estate was already occupied. I'm thinking it will be much easier to let go of my preference for certain spots.  Ultimately it shouldn't matter, and maybe the best way to make it not matter is just not to think about it anymore.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Day 17 -- Creeping Soreness

9:30 am class with Amy.

Yesterday, I said I would try to focus more on doing Triangle properly.  Yeah, right.  I had to skip the second set because it felt like there wasn't enough air in the entire world to get me through it.  The strength building poses are starting to take their toll, and there is much more strength building in the Bikram series than I would have thought.  The only pose I can think of that lends itself to just hanging out is Half Tortoise, and maybe the final forward seated head to knee pose.

When I went down in triangle, I couldn't even really hold myself in Japanese seated position, because my left knee was kind of sore.  That's the only soreness I have right now that's troubling me.  I haven't quite decided whether its a good soreness, or the beginning of something that might get worse.  To protect it, I'm easing off of Fixed Firm for now.  I've also thought about it, and I'm going to have to concentrate even more on "Lock the Knee," if that's possible.  But I can't decide if this feeling comes from having hyperextended the knee without being aware of it, or if its just because the support muscles are tired from all the knee locking I've been doing.

Otherwise, I'm noticing something really odd.  Typically, when you do relaxation at the end of yoga classes, the teacher invites you to call attention to body parts and to bring your focus into relaxing them.  Right now, I can play a different game that stems from the same thing.  When I decide to focus on just about any part of my body, I can pinpoint a soreness there that I may otherwise not have noticed.  If I can get to the other half of the trick, and figure out how to breathe through that soreness and eliminate it, I will be absolutely perfect.  Right now, it's more tempting not to think about any specific part.

Lynette talks about progress in Yoga as being like a spiral or a helix.  People expect progress to be linear, and that leads to disappointment.   She insists that practice always leads to progress, but because its more like a spiral, it sometimes feels like you are going down, backwards or in the wrong direction.  The backward moving moments, I guess, are a small test of faith. 

Friday, July 4, 2008

Day 16

9:30 am class with Lynette.

It was not easy dragging myself to class, but once there everything went smoothly.   For the third class within  25 hours, I felt really good -- much better than I would have anticipated.

Afterwards, however, I started to feel a bit funky.  My left knee is a little tender.  It doesn't actually hurt, but it feels a little stiff.  Same for my lumbar region.  And there is a creeping stiffness in my neck and underneath my shoulderblades.  It's something I'm going to have to watch.  I've been waiting for the soreness I've heard everyone talk about.  I've heard that Day 10-15 are normally a bad stretch.  Maybe I didn't avoid that stretch after all.

The balancing poses are doing better.  I almost made it through Standing Head to Knee on each side.  I fell out on both sides with about 10 seconds to go in the first set.  I even managed to bring a hand off the floor for a few seconds in Toe Stand without falling.  Balance is mental more than anything else, so I'm very pleased by this sort of progress.  It means my focus on focus, for lack of a better word, is seeing some benefits.

And half locust was actually decent today.  It hurt my back more than usual, but I felt like I may have gotten higher up than before.  And more important, I didn't have any trouble breathing through it.  I remained relatively calm.  And there wasn't even a threat of spitting up.  Next challenge is to try not to skimp on Triangle.  I may give that a shot tomorrow.

Day 15 - A Double

9:30 am class with Lynette, and 8:15 pm class with Libby.

The idea of doing two classes in a day has intimidated me from the start.  But there was a chance I would have to miss one of the limited classes on the holiday weekend, so I thought I might give it a try, depending on how I felt in the evening.  Here, my anxiousness was totally wrong.

The second class was probably the most fun class I've ever had, and it felt like it went quicker.  The high point was probably when Libby said:  "Now that you've gotten skinny, you can do a really good Rabbit."  Rabbit was maybe the pose I liked the least to start with.  The problem was that there was no room to breathe.  And Libby is probably exactly right.  Now there is actually some room inside, breathing is not a problem, and I can take some more time and really push the pose.

One of the strange things is that I thought the morning class was unusually hot, and not all that good.  I was struggling toward the end and looking forward to the whole thing being done. 

The big mistake during the day was eating a burger at Fuddruckers.  I knew this was likely to cause some problems if I went back for another class.  Or rather, I should say that my body knew, but my mind was being stubborn.  It's a meal I used to have all the time, and now its just too much food and the wrong kind.  Anyway, I grabbed some tissues before we went to the floor poses, just in case.  And sure enough, in the second set of half locust, I had to catch a little bit of burger and fries returning on me.

Usually, that sort of thing kills my attitude.   But not last night.  I don't know if its just how much I like the evening classes, or if it was being loose from having practiced in the morning.  But everything just felt good.  I was strong and secure through the poses.  I didn't fall out of the balancing poses as much as usual, and was even pushing standing bow a little further than normal.  And my breathing was fine throughout.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Day 14

10:30 am with Libby.

I've been thinking some more about "Be kind to yourself."  I told Yanzi, and she said, "Yes, take it easy."  But that's not what it means.  Taking it easy can mean not doing the yoga, because it would certainly be easier not to endure the heat, the passing pain of the postures, the constant encouragement to "push, push...."  But it's clear so far that coming to the classes has been a far greater kindness than almost anything I've done for myself in at least a decade.  Maybe part of being kind to yourself is being able to listen to what your body needs, and that's one of the first and best thing that the yoga seems to do.

No scolding from Libby today.  I avoided any impromptu showers, and kept the water bottle at my side.  She might be right about the showers making me hotter.  At least today, the room felt cooler as the class went on.  I was not struggling too hard at the end of standing series, and even half locust was ok.

After class, one of the students was complaining about yesterday's 4:30 class.  She said that the humidity was off the charts, and about 3/4 of the class was down for the count, and that five people actually left early because they couldn't take it.  It sounds like it was really tough, but I told her that one of the student's responsibilities is to do as well as they can no matter what conditions are being thrown at you.  And that if that means that you go down because you can't make it, if you are doing the best you can, then that's good enough for that day.

She didn't agree.  She said:  Maybe so, but I come here for a workout, not to be put down for the count.  I let it go.  But it occurred to me that I don't go to these classes for a workout.  I know that its physical, and that its really good for my body, and its probably all the exercise I will ever need.  But there is something more to this yoga that goes beyond any other types of "workouts" I've ever done.  It's partially learning about focus and discipline.  Even more, its learning to feel things internally -- like when I am full and don't need to eat any more, which is probably the most trivial and obvious example.  And I'm beginning to see how the classes are leading to a point where I might be able to both "let go" and stay "in control" at the same time in a severe environment.  So, the "workout" at least for me is a side benefit.  But I wouldn't be trying to do 60 days in a row if that's all there was to it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Lucky Thirteen

8:15 pm class with Libby

All in all, it was a very satisfying class.  Libby directed two comments at me today.  First, during party time, she objected to my pouring water over my head.  She asked if I was doing a double, and then said I had no excuse.  I joked that I didn't need an excuse, and she joked back that in her class she would decide who needed excuses and who didn't.  A bit later, she moved my water bottle to the front corner of my mat, and said that I had been coming to classes long enough that she could start being more picky with me.

After class, I asked her about both things.  On the "shower", she had a few objections.  She said it was distracting to others, that it could easily become a crutch, and that it actually was counterproductive, because in the end it would make me sweat harder and make the class harder.  I don't buy the distraction idea, because its part time.  But on the other points, I think she's probably right.  It's certainly becoming something of a crutch, and for that reason alone, I think I will cut it out.

On the water bottle placement, she basically said that bottles all over the place can be distracting.  And that when its too far away from the mat, you have to move too much to get it.  The reason I've been keeping it away from the mat is because I hate knocking it over.  But I can get around that by keeping it around where my knees are.  So on this one, I just think she's right.

Here's the nice thing.  She said that I'm doing so well in class, and am otherwise so strong, that she decided that it was time for her to become picky about details that have to do with focus and meditation.  So, the criticisms were actually about the best compliment I could have gotten.

I talked to Bill Johns this afternoon.  He's the guy who first told my wife about Bikram yoga.  He said that he did the challenge starting his first day, two years ago.  Through the whole thing, he was constantly asking his teachers about ways to improve, and strategies for staying hydrated, etc... etc...   When he was done, he had a letdown, wondering what was next.  He asked his teacher, and her advice was very simple:  "Be kind to yourself."  I think this is a terrific way of summing the whole enterprise up.