Sunday, August 31, 2008


2pm with Cisco

I've only had a few classes with Cisco, and they've all been great and memorable.  He brings an enthusiasm for both life and for the yoga that is infectious.  In my first class with him, my legs came up in Locust for the first time.  And I remember him actually putting me into the correct set-up for Triangle and joking with me that I would hate him for it the next day.  Then, I wanted to say that I hated him already, but I didn't know him well enough.  Now, I'd probably say it, because he would know that I was joking.

And in another class, he taught the importance of squeezing the hands together in Half Moon.  It was a lesson that was outside the dialogue, and it was a big revelation for me.  It basically showed how important the small details are, and how the yoga works from the outside in -- so that what you are doing with your extremities is really important.  This is a lesson I keep relearning, but I won't soon forget the huge difference that squeezing my hands together hard made in that lesson.

Things started off pretty badly.  I felt stiff in the first set of half moon, and could barely get hands to the floor in the first forward bend.  Then something opened up in the second set and things just got better and better.   

I'm getting deeper into Standing Bow.  I can get to the point where I can see my whole foot over my head.  But I still have to choose between getting depth or holding the pose.  Last week, this pose was hurting my left hip, and that is over with now.  And its nice to have the choice. Before, I was left with not holding a shallow pose.

In Balancing Stick, Cisco gave one of his tips which should have been obvious, but wasn't.  He said that when you step forward at the start, to bring all of your weight into the forward foot.  That way, all you have to do is hinge at the hip without adjusting your weight and it will be much easier to balance.  It made a big difference for me.  I've had problems holding balance in this pose recently, and this tip cured the problem for today at least.  

I pushed really hard today in the floor series, especially in the back strengthening series.  That's led to a pleasant soreness the rest of the day.  My back feels tired, and I'm really aware of it.  But its a nice soreness, and its not hurt in any way.  This is the way I often felt when I first started Bikram, and was making really fast progress.  So I think I probably was doing something right again today.  I'm just not sure what it was, except that I was pushing even harder than usual.

Overall, I'm feeling really good now.  Every class has been better and stronger.  I still haven't figured out how I will squeeze two doubles in, but if its important enough in the next three weeks, I will figure a way.  Mary Jarvis says that the first 30 days reshapes everything physically, the next 30 days breaks people down emotionally, and then things start to come together again in the 30 days after that.   It may not be exactly 30 days per section, but things are definitely coming together now.  

Saturday, August 30, 2008


9:30 am with Amy

Another very nice class.  I haven't had an early morning class since I came back.  In part, I may have been avoiding that early morning stiffness that sometimes comes.  Today there was none of that.  I felt focused and steady throughout, and my flexibility was pretty good. 

The big surprise today came in Locust, of all things.  I first focused pretty strongly on the one legged lifts, keeping my hips low and trying to push hard with the arms and shoulders.  Normally, I'm pretty much going through the motions here, out of dread for what's coming.  Then, when we put both legs up, I pushed them up and then actually focused on trying to straighten my legs, and trying to push up harder with my arms.  When Amy called change, I was still actually going up a little bit.  In this part, I'm either in one of two modes:  either I'm hanging on for dear life, or I feel something coming up and bail out completely.  Working into and through the pose was an entirely new feeling.  Better yet, I did it twice.

The other high point was Standing Bow.  In second set, my balance was pretty good, and like Locust, I was working steadily going deeper into the pose.  Then out of nowhere, Amy said "Good Duffy!"  In other poses, this would be no big deal.  But I don't think anyone has ever said anything good about my Standing Bow pose.  Some people call it Dancer pose, and I am anything but a dancer (except in the sense that Maxwell Smart was a dancer).  So I took this as a pretty big compliment.

Progress is pretty steady on the injuries.  Fixed Firm was not quite as good today as yesterday, but my knee feels fine.  Every day seems a little bit better for my hip.  And I don't seem to be developing any tightness again after eight straight days.  If anything, I'm gradually loosening up again.  So, all is good.

Friday, August 29, 2008


4:30 pm with Libby

Good class today.  My breathing was much better throughout.  And I felt more focused today than yesterday.  My balance was better throughout.  So overall, things felt much better, and I'm not having any big problems with either the hip or the knee.

And then, by contrast with yesterday, I didn't go all the way down in Fixed Firm, and Half Tortoise wasn't quite as deep.  So, in some ways, maybe today was not as good. 

But overall, class was very satisfying today, and I have no complaints about either my progress or my lack of progress.  Overall, I'm feeling much better and stronger than when I came back from my break.

Today was Zeb's last day teaching before going to Baltimore, and I'm a bit upset that I missed it.  Basically, I woke up dehydrated and still a bit beat up from last night's class, and then I had some other things I had to do.  He's going to Baltimore next week to teach for a while, and then to someplace really cool like Singapore or Australia or New Zealand.  That is a really attractive aspect for someone young with Bikram teacher training.  It must be a great way to move around to interesting places and meet a whole bunch of great people.  

I wish him well, and hope he comes back to visit us.  I'm going to miss his toughness, his ability to motivate, and his ability to point out exactly the right thing to make a difference in any given class.  My guess is that he has a really bright future.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


8:15 pm with Libby

Class started very hot and humid, and I felt drained of energy.  My balance was bad.  I fell out of the balancing poses so much that they were relatively easy.  Then it cooled down quite a bit.  Throughout, I felt like I was taking things a bit too easy, and to my way of thinking, I would have said it was a below average class.

But...  In Floor Bow, Libby said I was doing really good.  And maybe I was deeper than usual, even if I felt like I was taking it easy.  Then I got all the way down in Fixed Firm for the first time in a long time.  Then I had another breakthrough in Half Tortoise:  again it felt easier than usual, but I had my hips actually resting weight on my heels instead of just glancing them, with my arms locked out. 

And then after class Libby gave me a big thumbs up.  So, its pretty clear she thought I was doing well, even if I would have said "mediocre, at best."   And looking back on it, in spite of feeling like I was not giving it my all, there was objectively some improvement.  

I remember Jerry Garcia talking about the difference between how a performance felt, and how it actually was, meaning how it sounded on listening to it.  Basically, he talked about how it was always really nice to have a performance feel great, but sometimes it could feel great and still have just been an awful performance.  And sometimes, they would leave the stage in a real funk and then hear the tapes and hear stuff that was very inspiring.  In some ways, I think that's what happened tonight.  Subjectively, not so good, but maybe much better in hindsight.  Ultimately, however, the goal is to unify body and mind.  So the real lesson from tonight is how far I still have to go along that path.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

69/71 Thoughts on the 60 Day Challenge

4:30 pm with Zeb

Today felt like I was simply back into a routine.  The class was good.  I felt strong throughout, and my breathing was better than it has been since I've returned.  My hip feels better each day.  My knee is basically back to normal.  No breakthroughs today, nor any big setbacks.  It was just good to be there, and, as always, I felt much better after class.

I haven't said much about my overall thoughts on having done the 60 day challenge.  Partially, I think I held off because I was a bit too preoccupied with my hip/butt problem, and I thought that might place a negative cast on my opinions.  Also, I wanted to get some distance from it so I could put it in some perspective.

Physical changes:

I lost another 13 pounds.  I'm down to 214 now, and could still stand to lose another 10 or maybe even 15 pounds.  But since I've lost 46 pounds so far without any effort at dieting whatsoever, I'm basically ecstatic about this progress.  My guess is that several more pounds will come off with consistent practice, just as a matter of course.  After that, who knows?

Even better, I can wear my 34" jeans again.  They are GAP jeans, so probably closer to 35-36".  I don't remember exactly where I was when the challenge started, but I think I was just getting comfortable in 38" pants.  When I started Bikram, 42" pants were a bit tight.  Moreover, the suits I bought in Hong Kong about 10 years ago, when I weighed 205, now fit again.  So, I'm now fitting into clothes at 214 lbs that used to fit at 205.  My guess is that this reflects some change in body composition.

My legs are stronger than they have been in years.  This is something my mom commented on.  She said that I've got real shape and definition in my legs for the first time, probably, since I was in my 20s and biking all the time.

Lots of the really big flexibility breakthroughs that I've made came before the challenge, when I was going a mere 5 days a week.  I've seen some progress and some setbacks in this area, but overall, I think I've gotten more flexible recently.  It's odd, since this is yoga which ordinarily get associated with bendiness, but the really big benefits that I'm seeing seem to come in other areas.

One surprising physical change that I'm beginning to notice is in my walk.  My posture, of course, has gotten much better and still improves.  But recently I've started to notice that I don't walk duck-footed anymore, or at least not as much.  And when I stand to wait for something, like on line, I find that I stand comfortably on both feet, instead of shifting my weight back and forth from one leg to another.  I'm taking these changes as a sign that my overall alignment is improving, and that the changes from yoga are having an impact on my habits.  They are creeping into my way of being without my having to think about them.

Tomorrow, I might focus on some of the mental changes resulting from the challenge and from yoga and general.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

68/70 Slow and Steady Wins the Race

11:30 am with Lenette

It's becoming clearer and clearer to me that Bikram wrote the dialogue for lazy people.  So much of it exhorts you to push as hard as you can.  Or to pull harder.  An athlete, a strong person, or just someone with lots of determination, could endanger himself by following these instructions.  The greatest danger probably lies in the forward bends.  In two of them in the standing series we are told to pull as hard as we can with our arms to increase the stretch in the back of the legs.  Done wrong, this could put the hamstrings, the lower back, or (as I learned) the sciatic nerve into some jeopardy.

I was talking to Lenette about this, and she made a great observation:  the dialogue actually says to pull as "hard as possible."  An even greater command in Bikram, is to come 4 times a week or more.  If you pull yourself into injury, you probably will not be able to continue to come.  So as "hard as possible" has to mean without injuring yourself.  Go figure that I am the lawyer and she came up with this interpretation.

She also made a great observation about why I hurt myself.  First off, she said I tend to overdo things anyways.  Second, in Separate Leg Forward Stretching we're told to be a bit pigeon-toed.  I overdid this to start with.  And then, to try to grab my heels, I would actually exaggerate the pigeon-toed effect even more by pulling the toes in even more, because my stretch was not good enough to grab comfortably.  Combine those two things, and voila, a perfect recipe for sciatic pain.

The great news though is that after class today, I feel almost at 100%.  There is the slightest discomfort in the hip still, but it no longer feels like any nerve pain at all.  So easing off a bit in the forward bends, and paying really close attention to the set-ups, is making a world of difference.

Class was pretty much back to normal.  My breathing was better than its been for the last few days.  The postures were fine.  Nothing stood out as exceptionally good or bad.  And at this point, that is really good news.  

The one area where I seem to be making some real progress in the last couple of days is in the balancing series.  The poses themselves aren't a whole lot better, but my focus seems to have improved.  I can really concentrate on locking the knee in Standing Head to Knee, and just hold the concentration.  I still fell out once, but it was towards the end of the first set, just before "change" was called.  And I made it through a full second set in Standing Bow while challenging myself.  This is improvement, but its more incremental than anything else, and if anything, the improvement is more mental than physical.  Of course, I should be celebrating rather than belittling a mental improvement.  Perhaps the reason I don't immediately think that way is that its much harder to have some sort of objective yardstick for an improvement to "focus."

Monday, August 25, 2008


4:30 with Zeb.

I stayed with the class today, but had trouble between poses with my breathing.  Some days there just isn't enough air in the room.  Zeb even called me out on it in the beginning of Balancing Stick.  I didn't have the same difficulty while actually in the poses.  But the transitions really hit me hard.

I've been re-reading a long fantasy series called The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan.  The main character uses a technique called the Flame and the Void to focus while doing archery (and in other circumstances where he's trying to control his emotions/fears).  It's described in much greater detail in the books, but basically he imagines a flame burning in front of him, and he throws all of his distractions into the flame, which creates a void around him.  For kicks today, I tried doing this in some of the poses.  And to my surprise, it actually seemed to work.  In the second set of Triangle, I was imagining a flame before me, and basically blocked out just about everything else.  I came out of the pose late because I was even blocking out the dialogue by that point -- and I don't think I've ever come out of Triangle late.  This is something I'm going to look into a bit more, I think.  And people say fantasy books are worthless....

My overall flexibility was much better today.  My left hip/butt improved quite a bit over the last few days.  I got deeper into each of the forward bends without any extra pain.  The danger here is that I'm afraid I might be lulled into a false sense of security, and then push it too hard again.  Right now, it feels OK.  The soreness persists, but without any shooting pains or any sudden pains.  I still think its going to be slow going, but perhaps not quite as slow as I had feared.

The Camel rush came over me again tonight.  This time I managed to breathe through it, and stayed with the pose for the duration.  I'm still amazed at how the difficulty of a pose can change.  Just a couple of weeks ago, Lenette had us in Camel for more than a minute, and it was no problem at all.  Now its one of the hardest poses in the series for me.  I just hope that means I'm doing something right.

This is Zeb's last week.  He's moving to Baltimore.  Many of the Bikram teachers are young and live a vagabond/wanderer's lifestyle.  I'm sorry to see him go.  His classes are easily the hardest of any of the teachers here, and because of that they can also be the most satisfying.  And on top of that, he is just a really nice and very dedicated guy.  The Baltimore studio is lucky to be getting him.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

66/68 Back to Normal

2pm with Miranda

These weekend classes present a challenge all their own.  Today, I had nothing but water before class.  So while stamina wasn't an issue at all yesterday, today it was something of a problem.  

The room was hot.  I started sweating even before I got my mat rolled out.   And it felt really humid.  I took a new spot, mostly because my usual spot was already taken.  But it had good circulation (I prefer a convection oven.), and it was just fine.

I put some extra effort into pranayama today.  I think its a bit too easy to slack off in this exercise, so I really concentrated today on honing in on all the dialogue hints as they came up.  I think the humidity, combined with the extra effort here really took away some of my limited energy.  By the second half of Awkward Pose, I was already struggling for air.  I tried concentrating on my breathing, but it didn't get better for awhile. 

So I was sucking air for much of the standing series.  On the plus side, my hip felt a bit better today.  I did the first forward bend with good form, just to the point of feeling the stretch in my hip.  And I did the same in the other forward bends.  For the most part, I felt like I was back in about the same form as I was before the five day break.  So all that was good.

Then I got a bit overwhelmed in Triangle, and had to sit out a set.  That doesn't happen much these days.  The main cause here was how hard it felt in my left butt when trying to bend the leg.  Between that, and the humidity, I just felt like I couldn't hold it and gave up.  It's funny, if it were Zeb's class or Libby's, I probably would have stuck with it anyway.  Well, maybe.

By the floor series, for some reason, things had cooled down quite a bit.  And the floor was like any regular class over the last couple of weeks, with one exception:  In Camel, first set, I got the overwhelming rush that I have heard about from others but never really felt before.  I don't know what happened, but I just got this incredible dizzying feeling coming to my head and felt a bit disoriented.  I had to come out of the pose early.  My breathing was normal, but I felt so weird.  Second set, and it was gone.  At least now I know firsthand what they are talking about when they say that Camel can do strange things to your head.  If it happens again, I think I will probably be able to stick with it.  I came out today, I think, as much from the surprise as from the feeling itself.

Other floor poses were good, especially back strengthening and Fixed Firm.  I felt like I was working harder in Full Locust and Bow.  And I got back on my elbows again in Fixed Firm.  

The near breakthrough, however, came in Final Savasana.  Recently, I've had little patience for this.  I think that may be a result of just having spent so much time in the room.  Today, Final Savasana was actually relaxing and a pure pleasure.  I think I may have a harder time meditating than most people.  My mind tends to race, and making it sit still is a trick I still haven't learned very well.  But today, I felt some stillness at the end while lying still.  For the most part, I find more meditation in focusing on what I'm doing in the poses themselves.  But I think there is a huge difference in the effect of that sort of concentrated focus, and in just trying to be still while lying there.  For some reason, today I got a taste of that sort of meditation, and it encourages me to put more time into Final Savasana later.

On the hip healing front:  during the afternoon, it felt a bit sore, but it has gotten better again as the day has gone on.  So, no signs so far that I have re-aggravated anything.  Bill Johns told me that the best advice that he has gotten about Bikram is:  "Be kind to yourself."  Maybe treating this hip/butt/nerve problem will give me some lessons and experience in being kind to myself.

65/67 Back to the Oven

2pm with Zeb

There's probably no such thing as easing back into Bikram, but especially not when the first class is with Zeb.  And add a weekend afternoon to that.

In short, I felt like I was way off my game, and could not believe how much I seemed to have lost in only five days.  It wasn't just pampering my hip.  My balance was not good, and I could not get nearly as deep in anything.  In some ways, I guess that is to be expected, but it was still a bit disappointing.  One thing I should have learned by now is that Bikram Yoga continually offers lessons in humility.

My hip feels better generally, but I still don't have anywhere near the depth in any of the forward bends that I had a few weeks ago.  And it feels like trying to push any of them will risk reaggravating the nerve.  Right now, it is just on the borderline.  So my primary goal now is to continue to do the yoga, while taking care not to make anything worse. 

After every class I feel better.  And I think that very thing has led me into trouble.  Because, while I feel better after class, from pushing too hard i was gradually getting worse each morning.  So now my goal is to get better not just after class, but each morning as well.  If I can keep that up, I should be on the road to recovery and then to gradual improvement.

The time off was probably a good thing.  But the biggest lesson I learned is how easy (and tempting) it could be to fall back into old habits.  Almost by definition, a visit to my parents is an eating festival.  And as quickly as yoga turned on my "full" signal, the visit turned it back off.  For five days, I don't suppose I could have done myself much harm.  But it is definitely worth knowing how fragile this practice could be.  I guess it's not called practice for nothing.  It is definitely something that you have to keep up, or lose your edge and all that comes with it.

On the plus side, going back into the oven seemed natural and like a breath of fresh air, or at least as fresh as a hot, sweaty, humid room can be.  The heat didn't bother me at all, and I didn't have any problems with stamina either.  Instead, the difficulties I had came either from the yoga itself, or from the tightness in my left hip/butt.

The tightness is really putting limits on the standing series.  In the first forward bend, I can hardly straighten my knees at all.  In Standing Head to Knee, I can't kick out with the left leg at all, so I'm just working on locking the right leg on that side.  In Standing Bow, I feel a deep stretch in the left hip when that is the standing leg, and I can't push it very far.  (Today, I was so tight generally that I almost failed to grab my feet at all.)  Balancing Stick is really tough on the left leg:  its like I don't have the butt strength to hold the position at all.  Separate Leg Forward Stretch is maybe the worst of all.  In the first set, I could barely touch my feel.  Then in Triangle, on the left side I can't bend the leg to perpendicular in the setup -- it's too deep a stretch for my hip.  And it's really painful to hold the pose on that side.   And so on...

Floor series is much closer to normal.  Today the big surprise in floor series is how close I was to cramping.  In Locust, which was good today (even Zeb complimented me on it!), I was very, very near to cramping in the hamstrings.  That has never happened before.   And I had to sit out a set of Camel because of a cramp in the arch.  But aside from that,  the floor series was pretty good.

The nicest thing I can say about today's class is that going back to class felt normal, while not going to class the last few days felt weird.  This bodes well for the future.  I still intend to continue on to 100 classes in 100 days.  But if things go well (meaning that I can heal my hip while going to class), then I see no reason to stop at 100 or any other number.  In the end, I think the numbers are arbitrary.  In the end, maybe the challenge is getting to the point where going every day is just not a challenge anymore.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

64/62 Two Days Off (So Far)

For the 100 day challenge, I've changed the naming convention to a/b, where a is the number of classes I've done and b is the number of days.

We say on airplanes and in airports for about 7 hours yesterday, and I only got 1.5 hours of sleep beforehand. So I felt like crap, and my hip was complaining most of the day. I also got some really bad tightness in my upper back.

Then, after a really nice 12 hour sleep in very cool weather, I have just a general sense of well being. I still am a bit tight in the left hip, and it's not completely better, but I think it's going in the right direction. Without that, I would say that I feel better than I have in many years.

A yogi named Neel Kulkarni, whom I met through, sent me his book: Health and Yoga Aphorisms. I've just started looking at it and it has lots of food for thought. More on that later.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Day 60 - Official Challenge Done

2pm with Miranda

Class was good today.  If anything, it was something of a letdown.  I don't know if I was expecting something magical to happen on day 60 or not.  But I shouldn't.  The magic happens over time.

I took care of my hip, and it felt better after class.  I think it's slowly going to get better, and I don't see any reason to stop, so long as I stay extremely mindful of my forward bends.  One of the teachers was telling another student how sometimes you feel like you are going backward in your practice, when what is really happening is that your form is improving.  You can almost always go deeper with bad form, but its dangerous and not as good for you.  So, its often a mistake to think that there's been regression.

My usual spot for Sunday's was taken, so I decided to go to the very hot side of the room.  As a pleasant surprise, the heat just isn't much of an issue for me.  There were times when I would have liked a breeze.  But basically it was fine to be hot and still.  And if I really focus on maintaining my breath, then the heat just doesn't matter.  The main time when the heat becomes an issue is when I otherwise get out of control.

I'll be very interested to see what a few days off are like.  But already, my guess is that I'm going to miss going to class.  This yoga is very addicting.  I always feel better after class -- always.   And it's been so long since I haven't gone, that its going to feel pretty weird taking some time off.

I will post some more detail on my thoughts on the challenge as a whole in the next couple of days.  Right now I'm just a bit stunned that its over.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Day 59

9:30 am with Amy

The soreness in my left hip hampered almost the entire class today, not just a couple of poses.  Half moon was harder because I couldn't push my hip out to the side as much as usual.  Standing head to feet pose was almost impossible:  I couldn't even get my hands to the floor in the first set.  Eagle hurt.  I couldn't kick out on the left leg in Standing Head to Knee.  And so on...

The poses that went as usual were:  Tree, Savasana, Wind Relieving, Cobra, Half Tortoise, Camel and Rabbit.   And worse than that, the nagging stiffness really bit into my focus.  I just wanted to be someplace else, doing something else.  When that has happened before, its usually been the heat, the humidity, or my stamina.   This was something new.  And I can't help but think that if I could get over feeling sorry for myself because my butt hurts, then I'd be able to do something about it -- at least stay within my limits and start slowly improving.

The good news is that I think I've figured out what it is, what precisely caused it, and what I can do about it.  I already knew that it was some sort of irritation to the sciatic nerve.  It turns out that there are typically two main causes for this.  

The first is a problem with the vertebrae.  This one is probably out:  I don't have any lower back pain at all, and it doesn't shoot down into my leg.  And I have no other reason to think I have back problems.

The second cause is a tightness in a muscle in the butt called the piriformus.  When this muscle gets too tight, it can put pressure on the sciatic nerve and cause inflammation.  Even better, I read how the tightening happens.  In a forward bend, if you arch your back forward, instead of hinging from the hips and keeping the back straight, you will then also tend to push the hips backward.  These two things (which we are warned against) will tend to tighten the piriformus, and that is the culprit here.

As the challenge has progressed, my hamstrings got tighter and tighter.  Since I was used to a certain depth in the forward bends, I can see now that I got lazy about my form to maintain the depth.  In the first forward bend, seperate leg stetching, and the last forward bends, I have been doing exactly the kind of arching of the back, and pushing the hips backward, that leads to this problem.  

Fortunately, I don't have anywhere near the kind of pain that I have read about with other victims.  And I have now, I hope, learned my lesson in time to prevent it from becoming worse.  The first key is to be even more mindful about perfect form in the forward bends, and not to push anything into the danger zone. 

Also, there are some supplemental exercises I've read about for stretching the piriformus and dealing with sciatic pain.  These include a variant on wind relieving, pigeon pose, bridge, locust!!!, and from wind relieving straightening the bent leg to vertical (or until the pain/stretch starts).

I talked to Amy about this after class.  She raised an interesting point.  Rest might work, but often it doesn't work that well.  The trouble with rest, though, is that it can relieve the symptoms without doing anything about the problem itself.   This approach can simply lead to inactivity, and ultimately can make people worse off.  But, if I can cure this through yoga, then it will really be cured (both cause and symptom), and I will be better off as a result.   So, while I've been afraid that this will slow me down, I think now that it might just slow me down in ways that need slowing, and won't make me have to stop altogether.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Day 58 -- Four Steps Forward and a Big Step Back

10:30 am with Zeb.

Maybe it was because it was a morning class.  Maybe it was the rain, and the lower air pressure.  Maybe it was something I did yesterday without noticing.  But after several strong classes with steady improvement, I was tighter than ever this morning.  My left hamstring and hip have never been so stiff before.  

In toe stand, we are supposed to bend forward, put our hands on the floor, and then lower ourselves down.  On my left leg, my hands stopped about two inches above the floor.  This has been easy for me from the beginning.  And then in the final stretch, my leg was bent at a really big angle before I could even grab my toes.

After class, Zeb said that it's just funny that way sometimes.  Some days, you are really stiff and there isn't any very good explanation for it.  Then, if you are lucky, it just goes away.

In other ways, class was just fine.  My stamina is better than ever.  I didn't have any trouble in the standing series, and made it through the back strengthening series without quitting on anything.  And in most ways, I feel really good.  Even my left knee is feeling better.

But my left hip, at least today, is not better.  Sitting down, the pain is pretty persistent.  It's lowgrade, just a deep soreness.  And nothing I do makes it feel worse, so I'm not all that worried about it.  I will be very curious to see what a few days rest do for it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Day 57 - Another Strong Class

8:15 pm with Libby

The room actually seemed to get cooler as the class went on.  This is probably an illusion, but it's really nice to feel stronger as the class goes on.  I felt good all day long, and even better in class.  I still needed to pamper my knee some, and sit-ups are really bad now because of the tension in my hip.  Otherwise, it's all good.  

If I had to single out one pose that was especially good today, I would probably go with Savasana.  I actually had a few of them today where I didn't register a single thought.  I just laid down and relaxed, and then it was over.  Usually, getting into that kind of zone doesn't happen for me.  My mind races and races, or I force myself to repeat some kind of mantra.  For some reason, today I could sometimes just let go.  And I think that's one of the main reasons the rest of the class felt so good.  Now, if I could only figure out the secret for repeating that feeling.  

Another good point was that I was away from my usual spot for the third class in a row.  If I keep it up much longer, maybe I won't have a usual spot pretty soon.  It would probably be better that way, but I do like having some airflow over me: anything to enhance the evaporation a little.  After my five day break, I think I will start to experiment with different spots in the room -- maybe try a new spot every day.  It would be nice to be able to get the same strong feeling I've had the last couple of days, but in the back of the room where the air is hot, still, and dank.

Day 56 -- All is Well

4:30 pm with Zeb.

Everything seems to be falling into place right now.  My left knee is almost better.  I still pamper it a bit, but its now out of precaution, not to prevent pain.  Lenette's tips seem to be working for my hip.  I don't have the range of motion back yet, but the pain is going away so its just a matter of time.  And I don't have any other problems creeping up.  Even going into the first forward bend isn't terrifying the way it was a week ago.

Class today was typical Zeb: very high energy, intense, and just hard.  But I did great throughout.  I didn't have any real breakthroughs, but I stayed with the dialogue in the standing series, without doing any bending over to grab air and try to lower my heart rate, and without joining any of the poses in mid set-up. 

The only minor bailout was about halfway through the second set of locust.  I came out early to avoid spitting up.  I made up for it by pushing harder than usual in full locust.  And then the first (sort-of) breakthrough came in Camel:  I saw the floor for the first time.  And I was in the middle row,  which makes it more of a move than if I had been up front.  Next stop, I guess, is seeing my feet (another feat that now seems impossible, but who knows).

Four days left on the original sixty.  And I need to squeeze in at least one (maybe two) doubles to have a good shot at going for 100/10o.  Tomorrow is probably my best shot at it.  It's funny.  I've done a few doubles already, and they have always been good.  So why does the idea of doing one cause some apprehension?  It's just an extension of the idea that some days just going to class is the hardest part of the class.  I need to think a bit more on why that happens.  It shouldn't.  I always feel better after class, and I think I've done enough classes by now to know that in more than just my head.  But there it is.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Day 55

8:15 pm with Zeb

It was a very tough class tonight.  It felt like the heat was up, and I got tired fairly early.  In some ways, this just means that it was a typical Zeb class.  But I think some other factors were at work.  

The biggest (and a pun is intended) was my lunch.  We ate at Fogo de Chao, which is an all you can eat Brazilian Steakhouse that features 15 different kinds of grilled meat.  It's an invitation to pig out.  Ordinarily, when I go to an all you can eat place, I feel the need to win:  to make the owners sorry that they let me have all I could eat.  I didn't go that far today, but I still went too far for a solid Bikram class.   In short, I just can't eat like that anymore.  And that's a good thing.

Anyway, by Triangle I was totally exhausted.  And there was very little airflow.  Recently, I've been using my own made up mantra to settle myself down:  "Be quiet, be still, be here, be now."'  This has the virtue of taking about the length of a six second inhale or exhale to recite.  I also like it because the "be now" part of it makes no sense, and alot of sense at the same time.  In back strengthening series, this phrase sort of automatically morphed into "This hurts, this hurts, this hurts, this hurts...."  Not quite as calming.  And I even had to stop myself from hyperventilating a few times.  

After we got to Fixed Firm, things settled down some.  And I finished off fairly strongly, without skipping anything.  So it was a good, but very tough class.  And I still need to work on my control in some situations.  (And I have to get less attached to "my spot.")

The big surprise for me today was a comment I received from Mary Jarvis.  (Comment on Day 53).  Mary Jarvis owns a studio in San Francisco and has been involved with Bikram before there was any notion of Bikram as a yoga franchise.  I had heard about her in several contexts, always with the highest praise.  I've commented about her before, because it was her ideas about water drinking that started me experimenting with taking no water.  I also routinely tell people about her curing her back doing Bikram after a car accident (and after doctors had recommended a spinal fusion).

From what I've read, she stands in the pantheon of Bikram teachers/practitioners along with Bikram himself, his wife Raj, and Emmy Cleaves.  So I was totally blown away, and flattered, that she took the time to comment here.  But then, I don't know why I should be surprised.  Of course, I'm surprised that she found out about this blog in the first place.  But the people I've met in Bikram are so kind and caring, that I shouldn't be that surprised that she took time to give me some encouragement.  Let's just say instead that I am honored and grateful.  Also, what she said has had some effect:  I told Zeb tonight that I'm doing 100 classes.  That's the first time I've said it to anyone like its a done deal, and I think Mary Jarvis' comments may just have given me the confidence to decide.

I started this blog for a few reasons.  I thought that doing the blog might give me some motivation for getting through the challenge.  I also thought that the blog would allow me to exercise three of the Yamas/Niyamas:  these are honesty, self-study, and contentment.  In other words, I thought the blog would give me the chance to be honest with myself about how things were going, to take a deep look at what was happening with myself throughout the challenge, and to approach the above in a spirit that did not complain too much.   If that was all that I got out of writing these entries, then I would have said that keeping the blog as more than worthwhile.   On top of that, I've found that writing the blog has actually helped me with my practice.  And now, I find that some people are taking an interest in it, and that its becoming a source of encouragement, and perhaps even a way to make new connections.  

Monday, August 11, 2008

Day 54

8:30 am with Lenette

We stayed up late last night watching the Olympics.  So I got just under 5 hours sleep.  But it didn't matter.  I felt strong throughout the class, and have had good energy all day.

I'm hitting a nice plateau on several of the poses.  For some reason, half moon pose feels much easier than it used to.  Attention to my breathing may be paying off.  Part of me thinks that I must be doing something wrong, but I can't figure out what.  And it is just possible that I'm finally doing something right.  

As a result, I have the very strange feeling these days of being warmed up by the end of the warm up.  That's a rather significant change from being almost wiped out by "party time." 

The poses do seem to change in ability as my body changes.  At the start, Half Tortoise seemed really easy, basically a resting pose.  Now it is one of the more technical poses, and it puts a really big stretch through my shoulders.  It's much tougher now than it was to begin with.  Similarly, Camel went from being easy (because I couldn't do it), to really hard, and it's becoming one of my easier poses again.

I imagine I'll be observing things like this for quite some time.  After all, I've devoted almost 50 years to ruining my body, and I was doing a pretty fine job of it.  I don't know how long exactly it will take to undo the damage I've done.  The remarkable thing is how much has repaired itself in under 5 months.  

I had pretty bad acid reflux for the last couple of years.  It would keep me up nights maybe three times a week, and there were several times where I forced myself to throw up for temporary relief.  I've been reading YOU: THE OWNERS MANUAL recently.  It says that acid reflux happens basically because the esophagus straightens out:  it loses the kink between it and the stomach that stops food from backing out of the stomach.  One of the reasons this happens, they think, is because of weakness in some interior muscles causing the organs to lose their proper relationship.  This makes me understand why Bikram has cured my acid reflux.  It has worked on muscles that I didn't even knew existed, and apparently has put the kink back into my esophagus.  To me this is really amazing, especially since the doctors told me that I needed to go on medicine for a long, long time to deal with only the symptoms of this problem (since the problem itself was incurable, according to them).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Day 53 -- Life in the Back Row

2pm with Miranda

I think we had a new attendance record today.  There were at least 50 students in the room.  It was filled almost to overflowing.  As a result, I didn't get my usual place.  But I did find a spot with decent airflow in the back row.  It's the first time I've been in the back in a while, and I think I haven't been in the back in a crowded class for several months.

It was quite an adjustment.   First, it took a long time to peel away the distraction of so many other people.  Fortunately, the general energy and focus in the room was very high, so the distractions should have been minimal.  My focus lagged behind the class, so I found myself paying attention to others more than I should.

This had its worst effect in the balancing poses.  First, I had to figure out how to lock my knee without looking at it.  I should be able to do this now, but I wasn't confident about it.  And I think falling out of the pose might be contagious.  Every time someone in front of me fell out, I did too.  

I also was not aware before at how much I relied on the mirror for some of my set-ups.  Triangle was very different for me today because I don't think I quite had the right angles that I typically get in my legs, and that's because I couldn't see them.

Then of course once we hit the floor, the size of the class became irrelevant.  The floor series was fairly typical.  The main news was that my knee felt really good throughout, and even my hip didn't hurt as much as it has recently, especially on the sit-ups and the final stretch.  I was paying very close attention to the tips Lenette gave me, and they seem to be working.

Since class, I've felt really good all day.  No soreness to speak of.  My knee feels good as new for the first time in weeks, and my hip has a little lingering soreness, but it is not the constant deep pain I have felt on some days.

Some of the other students are asking whether I'm going to go on to 100 classes.  And I really don't know yet.  I've been wondering whether I should set some other goal, instead of an arbitrary day count.  How about:  I will go seven classes/week until I can touch my head to my knee in Standing Head to Knee.  Or until my head hits the floor in Separate Leg Stretching.  Or until my head hits my toes in the Final Stretch (yeah, right).  With a goal like one of those, who knows? Maybe I will do 1000 classes in 1000 days.

The real goal, ultimately, I think is to stop counting the days and just to do it for its own sake.  I'm not quite there yet, but maybe I will be in another week.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Day 52

9:30 am with Lenette

For the first time, I did not feel exhausted at any point in today's class.  I started out pretty strong, and things just got better in terms of energy and strength.  It was especially surprising because I probably got 5 hours of sleep last night.

My knee felt really good.  Standing Head to Knee was about as good as its ever been.  I didn't fall out on the right side at all.  The left side is a bit hampered by my hip, but I can still hold it with a locked knee.  I got all the way down in Fixed Firm, which is a rarity now.  But then by the end, there was enough soreness creeping back for me to avoid Japanese Kneeling on the final breathing exercise.  For the rest of the day, it has felt fine.

My hip was not as good.  After class, I talked to Lenette about it, showing her exactly where and how it hurts.  She thinks my leg is re-aligning, and that the sciatic nerve is readjusting.   She had some recommendations:  In Separate Leg Stretching, I should keep the feet parallel, and not go pigeon-toed (which is what the dialogue calls for).  In all the other forward bends, I have to make sure that I'm keeping my feet aligned, especially in the final stretch.  She agrees that a few days rest might just knock it out, because there may be some inflammation in the area along with the sciatic nerve moving around some.  This is great news:  it means what's happening is basically what is supposed to happen.

During class, Lenette talked about an idea she recently heard:  that life is the continual process of getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.  She didn't go into detail about life, but you could think that we get yanked off the umbilical cord, come out screaming, and things go downhill from there.  I think that's part of the basic idea.  Anyway, she thinks that if that is true, then Bikram is a perfect microcosm for the process.  We walk into a 105 degree, 60% humidity room, start to sweat and then do poses that are basically impossible and told to act like statues.  And in the process, we need to learn to ignore the sweat dripping in our eyes, the urge to adjust our costumes, to drink, to move around.  And in the process, we are ultimately supposed to learn to meditate.

To illustrate the idea, she was going to have the entire class hold the second set of camel for as long as possible.  Lots of people dread this pose, and you could just feel the anxiety level go up some when she said what she was doing.  We got to the second set, and she put us through a long set up before even going into the pose.  For me, the set up has always been harder than the pose.  Then we went down to grab our heels.  Ordinarily the pose gets held for 20 seconds, and most people started dropping after 30 seconds.  I was doing just fine.  Then, after one minute, she called change and everyone came out.  I held it for another 10 seconds or so, but I think I could have held it for another 2 minutes at least.  I started feeling some tension in the lower back, but once my hands are down in this pose, it takes almost no effort to hold it.  If she had done the same thing in Triangle, or the second part of Awkward Pose it would have been a different story (and let's not try to think about holding Locust for a minute!!!).

Even so, I think there's merit to her idea.  Learning how to get comfortable with the uncomfortable will develop techniques for finding peace, and it should set you free in many situations.  If you don't need to complain (to yourself or others), then you can choose whether to complain or not, and how you should raise the complaint.  In a way, each pose in the series gives new opportunities for trying to become still and peaceful in a situation that should be extremely uncomfortable.  And I think this aspect is part of what makes this physical practice also a spiritual practice.

On a lighter note, it occurred to me today that I went to class the day before the challenge began.  Since the 100 day extension would be completely personal, that means that for that challenge I have now done 56 classes in 53 days.  If I can get two more doubles in before I go away to NY, I'll probably try to continue.  Maybe I'll just see how long I can go on a seven class/week pace.  I'm thinking that seven classes might be easier if I did doubles on some days and took other days off completely.  Just not having to go every day would make a major difference.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Day 51

10:30 am with Lenette.

I worked harder today on the breathing technique I described yesterday.  I managed to keep it up with some focus through several of the postures.  It seems to help quite a bit.  One of the ideas behind the technique is that you might be able to achieve a moment of stillness at the point where you hold the breath between inhalation and exhalation.  I didn't notice that so much, but I did notice that at the moment where I was holding my breath in before exhaling, I was able to examine what was going on with the pose and make a real decision about what to relax during the exhalation.  As a result, in a few poses I had a new feeling of release and movement along with the release on the exhale.

Overall, class today was very strong.  The single hardest moment was the move from the first backbend to the first forward bend.  I used to drop right down in the forward bend and start the Bikram shuffle with no trouble at all.  Today, I had just barely made it to the floor by the time we were supposed to go into the hands to feet pose.  Lenette even said something like, "That's right, Duffy.  Take all the time you need to get down, you are looking good."  Looking good -- thats a matter of opinion;  but I was feeling like crap.  Second set, as always, was much much better.  And the rest of the class just seemed to get better and better.  Locust was decent again today.  And I felt like I did a really good Camel.  Zeb has been really punishing us in the set-up of Camel recently, and it seems like its paying off.  I'm much better able to really bend backward first, so that when I reach down for the heels they are just there.

There may be a slightly insidious reason why this yoga is so addicting.  These days, I wake up and I'm feeling really stiff.  My back will be a little tight, my left hip will have objections of its own, as will my left knee.  But I know that after yoga everything will feel better for the rest of the day.  So, as weary as I am of going day after day, the idea of missing class also means going to sleep almost as stiff as when I woke up.  Yoga makes that feel better.  But the downside is that the yoga also seems to be making me even tighter the next morning.  Thus, there is a cycle of addiction.  (Not all addictions are necessarily bad.)   

It also occurred to me this morning that my plantar fascia-tis in my right foot is completely gone, as are the other nagging pains.  For a few years, I would have shooting pains in both heels from time to time, especially when I first got out of bed.  The pains in my left heel disappeared almost immediately after starting Bikram.  In my right foot, they dissappeared, and then I started getting a new pain on the outside of the foot and in the arch.  These also would come after sleep, or after sitting for a long time.  But now they are completely gone, and I didn't even notice.  

This is very exciting in its own right, but it is also a confirmation of the idea that Bikram will bring up problems in your body and then work through them.  I've been told that this is how things will work, but its great to see it in action.  So despite what I said above, I still think its true that the cure for yoga related soreness is more yoga.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Day 50 - Breathing Lesson

8:15 pm with Zeb.

50 days done.  So now I can either look at it as only 10 days left, which seems really short.  Or I'm half way there, just half way....  The idea is very daunting.  Of course, that's putting lots of weight on the future, and if I can just live in the present and go each day, it would probably be over before I knew it. 

I read a breathing tip recently that I am trying to use as best I can.  Basically, the idea is to do normal breathing, but to focus on taking a pause between the inhale and the exhale.  This is something we should be doing in the opening pranayama, and of course in savasana.  Today, I tried to apply it to the postures, when I could.  The first thing I noticed is that it takes much more control than I have at this point.  But it seems like a worthwhile goal.  It worked best for me tonight in the Seperate Leg Head to Knee pose.  I got my right front leg to lock in the first set, for only the second time. 

But for much of the rest of the class, it was a struggle just to keep my breath under control at all.  I really pushed hard in Half Moon, and then in Awkward Pose.  In the second set of Awkward Pose I went down to where my thighs were parallel to the floor, and my legs shook so bad that my quads started to cramp on the way back up.  After that, by the time I got to Triangle, I was almost totally wiped out, and it was all I could just to stay with the class.  So then the challenge was just to control my breathing between poses, and to make sure I kept breathing through the nose.  And I'm still trying to get the hang of what Bikram calls 80/20 breathing.  I sometimes try to do this, but I never really seem to grasp what its supposed to feel like.

So, after a really tough standing series, I was back to my old self in the back strengthening poses.  Cobra was pretty good.  Locust was a bust, as if I had never made the breakthrough yesterday -- I could barely get my legs off the ground at all, and I came close to spitting up again.  And Full Locust and Bow were just OK.

Then things picked up again.  In Half Tortoise, I kept my hips on my heels without Miranda pushing down on the hips.  So that's a breakthrough that seems to have stuck.  Of course, I was focusing so much on my hips that Zeb called me out for not having my elbows locked.  After class he asked me about it, and I told him I was just thinking about my hips.  He said, yeah, there are so many things to concentrate on at once.  That is about the understatement of the year.  It is almost dumbfounding how detailed these poses are.

And I finished off the series as strongly as I ever have.  I don't think I did the postures all that well.  But I managed to push harder than I can remember in everything from Half Tortoise on, and I also had really good control of my breath.  The tip I mentioned above about pausing between the inhale and exhale really worked for me here.  Pushing that hard felt great at the end, but now I'm sore and tired.

But, there's only 10 days left! (Or I'm halfway there.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Day 49

10:30 am with Miranda

It was almost like a repeat of yesterday.  The class was a little smaller, the humidity a little higher, and I was a bit more stiff.  But otherwise, class was very much like yesterdays.  I got the same hands on treatment at the same spots:  Wind Relieving, Fixed Firm, and a great massage in Final Savasana.  After class, Traceye agreed with me that we could get spoiled by classes like these.

I had a fairly big, and even more surprising, breakthrough today.  In Locust -- yes, Locust -- I got deeper into the pose than ever before.  For the first time, both legs went up past 45 degrees.  Of course, I can't see this.  But I think it happened for two reasons:  First, when the angle becomes steep enough, then the strain has less lateral torque, and should become more vertical weight bearing, and that is what it felt like.  Second, I've read that when you start to go vertical, you engage a different set of muscles for holding the posture than the set used to lift into it.  And that definitely happened.  Not only did I feel it at the time, but I'm feeling the aftermath of using those new muscles as I type.

It's amazing.  Less than a week ago, I was wondering how not to spit up in this pose.  Now, I haven't had any trouble with that for about four days, and I'm reaching new heights in the pose (literally).  Well, I used to dread Rabbit, and now its one of my favorites.  So why not Locust?

On the downside, my hamstrings and my right hip are getting wound tighter and tighter.  I'm trying to be really careful with them.  I definitely don't want to risk an injury.  And I'm hoping that all they need is a few days rest.  And of course the same goes for my left knee.

I spent a complete set of Standing Head to Knee with a leg kicked out and the standing leg locked.  I almost locked my right leg while lifted.  I feel like I'm getting much stronger on these locked knee balancing poses.  But every once in a while, if my attention lapses I catch myself with a slightly bent -- not locked -- knee.  

I'm still wondering about extending the challenge to 100 days.  If I'm going to do it, I really need to get in at least two more doubles before the 60 days are up, to make up for the 5 day break I will have afterward.  And every day I think I might do a double, but then feel like I've had enough after just one.  Maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Day 48

9:30 am class with Miranda

We were supposed to have a tropical storm today, but it didn't quite happen.  Instead, it was a cool, rainy, gray morning and just about perfect for yoga.  I just love classes when it is raining.  It seems to add a level of peacefulness.

Today's class was really good, from beginning to end.  Miranda keeps a very nice energy to the class.  And I felt good throughout, even with a slight return of soreness in my hip.

The best parts, by far, came in the floor series.  Miranda takes a hands on approach that goes way beyond any of the other teachers here.  In Fixed Firm, she pushed down on my bent legs, making for a much deeper and more relaxing stretch in my hip than I have felt before.  In one of the savasanas where we are lying on our stomachs, she stepped and walked in place on the backs of my feet, giving a sort of impromptu foot massage.

Then, in Half Tortoise, she pushed down really hard on my lower back, keeping my hips in contact with my heels.  And in second set, I did the same thing without her help.  That's a really big breakthrough for me.  I didn't think I would get my hips to stay put for at least a year or so. Here's hoping that that gain will stick with me, or at least return fairly soon.

To top everything off, in Final Savasana she gave short shoulder and neck massages to everyone.  By the end of the class, I was thinking about taking private lessons with her, just to get the combined yoga/massage experience.

The other temporary boon for today was the humidity.  It turns out Miranda didn't know how to adjust the humidity in the classroom, and as a result it was about 20% humidity and 105 in the class.  It seemed positively cool, and I didn't even saturate my towel, which I think is a first. It almost felt like a cheat, but after this many straight days, I'm willing to take every unlooked for break I can get.  

Monday, August 4, 2008

Day 47

4:30 pm with Zeb.

It was a very strong class this afternoon.  Today was one of those days when the hardest thing was just showing up.  In some ways, things would be much simpler if the studio had a regular schedule.  Then I could just decide on a time and go.  But in the end, I think I like the variability better.  It seems to ensure that there will be perpetual surprise.

My soreness, at least temporarily, is not so bad.  Today I only felt a little bit limited in a couple of poses -- most notably the left side of Standing Bow Pulling, and the left side stretch at the end.  And my right arch cramped up a little bit in Camel again, but once my hand went to my foot, I could massage it with my thumb and hold the pose.

Otherwise, I felt loose, strong, and energetic.  I'm not even getting exhausted in Triangle now.  I think something may have opened in my hips, and it makes it easier for me to hold the pose with a full 90 degree bend in my knee.  This has a big effect later.  If Triangle doesn't wipe me out, then it seems that my chances of spitting up in the back strengthening series goes down. 

It's amazing  the interconnections between the different poses.  It's not just a matter of how tired I am at any point.  It seems that how well I concentrate on, say, Seperate Leg Head to Knee will later have an impact on Half Tortoise, Rabbit, and the final Stretches.  I would have thought that the series might become boring doing it every day.  Instead, I'm learning more and more about the individual poses, and how incredibly well thought out the series is.  In some ways, I think concentrating so much energy and attention through the challenge has made the class more interesting.

My guess is that the series would more likely grow boring to the casual participant.  A few times a week only, and the series might start seeming like the same old thing.  And I suspect that boredom would tend to creep up on people who don't throw themselves into the intensity of the exercise.  It's hard for me to imagine anything this intense actually becoming boring.   (Thomas Hardy said something to the effect that there are no dull towns, only dull people.  His point was that dullness, or boredom, is more a predisposition for certain kinds of people, and that interesting people tend to find their surroundings interesting, whatever they are.  This idea fits very nicely with the idea that the world of a happy man is different from the world of an unhappy man.)  I hope I feel the same keenness of interest in this yoga in a few years.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Day 46

2:30 pm with Zeb.

Before class, a few of the challenge participants sat in the lobby and shared our various aches.  It's kind of funny actually.  Everyone feels tight, especially in the hamstrings or lower back.  Everyone is tired of dragging themselves to class.  The problem, I think, is not going every day:  its having to go every day.  The really funny thing though, is that everyone also looks much better than before.  And from the little I see in class, even though people feel like they are going backwards, its pretty clear that their practices are much stronger than they were.

Zeb wasn't there when I arrived, which is a first.  It turns out he either forgot, or never knew about class.  So 20 minutes before the start, he jumped in his car and he made the 30+ minute drive in about 23 minutes.  So class started a little over 5 minutes late, and he still managed to end it on time, without skipping or shortchanging anything.  If anything, the somewhat shorter class was both more intense, and less draining than usual.  I know that sounds odd, but what I mean is that we moved with focus and intensity from pose to pose, so everything seemed sharp and crisp, and there was little time for rest especially in the standing series.   But at the same time, we spent less time in set-ups and in the postures, so it was not as physically exhausting.  Overall, it was a very nice class.

The severe soreness of the last few days is basically gone.  And as I observed with the others,  I am not actually going backward in the poses where I feel like I am.  I may not be quite as deep as I was a week or two ago, but the difference is subtle.  Instead, I feel so much tighter at those points that it just feels like I'm not doing as well.  In some ways, I think this is part of the process of not being too hard on myself.  As Bill Johns put it a few weeks ago, I need to learn to be kind to myself.

On the plus side today,  I did well in the balancing series and made it without falling out in one set of Standing Bow Pulling.  I didn't spit up and made it through both sets of Locust.  And Rabbit seems to be getting better and better.

The biggest downside is that I got a cramp in my right arch just before Camel and had to sit out the first set to massage it some.  I haven't had foot cramps in a couple of months, and I don't know if this was from overwork or from lack of electrolytes.  I guess I will find out by seeing whether it comes back.

The hard thing now is not to look forward too much to the challenge being over.  It's only two more weeks, which doesn't seem like much.  But it seems like looking forward to the end has negative implications for the practice itself.  More and more, I'm thinking that extending things out to 100 classes in 100 days is a good idea.  And, to overcome looking forward to the end, I'm seriously thinking about upping the number of classes per week to 10 or more.  By doing more than the challenge calls for, I will no longer be doing the classes just to get through the challenge.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Day 45

9:30 am class with Amy.

I turned off the alarm, went back to sleep, and then came awake with a start just in time to make it to class.  As a result, I didn't get my ordinary spot, which is probably just as well.  I think I've grown too attached to the air flow.  (My favorite spot is next to a post which is directly under the hot air blowers.  Even though this is the hot air coming directly from the heating system, it blows fairly strongly and causes enough evaporation so that it feels cool.)  
Anyway, I went to the deep end of class, where the mirrors meet.  It's probably about the hottest spot, and the air is pretty still there.  I was afraid the heat would cause some difficulty, but there was no problem there.  The heat, by itself, just isn't much of an issue for me anymore.  But, when other things are going south, the heat seems to be the first thing that gets the blame.

Class went very well, despite lingering stiffness in my left hip and hamstring.  I paid particularly close attention to what bothered my hip.  Eagle pose was the first offender.  Surprisingly, it was not when I wrapped the left leg around, but when I tried to wrap the right leg around my left.  The pulling on the left leg from the right, while trying to balance caused the hip to complain a bunch.

Then Standing Bow and Balancing Stick caused similar problems.  My hip didn't want to stretch forward while balancing on the left leg.  In both of these, I could ease forward and actually feel a good stretch, which probably helped.

On the floor, the biggest problems were the sit up, and then the last stretching pose.  In the sit-up, they tell us to dive our head forward to the knees and then pull twice.  I was in a no diving zone.  In the first sit-up, I learned fast that a quick forward movement was going to cause more problems.  So, instead, I did each sit up much much slower than usual, and was very deliberate about the pulling.  Again, this seemed to help alot, and the sit up itself was probably better for my abs.

The funny thing is that I don't really feel injured at all.  Just really stiff and sore.  After class, I learned that some of the other people deep in the challenge are nursing their own brands of stiffness.  Dinette says that her hamstrings are pulled.  She was next to me today, and was having a tough time with the sit-ups too.  So she's trying to work through that tightness.  Another woman was asking about stiffness in her lower back that is sensitive to the touch, almost like a bruise.  

One answer is that this sort of thing is just normal.  After the challenge is over, a few teachers have said, some rest will allow things to settle in properly.  Then people typically see great advances come.  Despite recent tightness, I'm still well beyond where I started in most poses, and I generally feel great.  So if the teachers are right about what happens after the challenge, that will just be a terrific bonus.

Day 44 -- So Sore

4:30 pm class with Margaux

I felt fine all day with just a good soreness in the hips, so I really had no idea what I was in for in class.  This was only my third class with Margaux.  She has a very deliberate style, with a softer tone than the other teachers.  It makes for a more mellow and meditative class.  And today it was a good thing.

I felt fine through most of the standing series, but had some trouble going deep into any of the forward bends.  Once I hit the floor, however, everything from the lower back down through the knees seemed to tighten up.  I wasn't good in any of the back strengthening poses.  Then fixed firm was really bad -- very tight in the knees and even the hips.  And, except for Rabbit, it just got worse.   By the end, I was less flexible in the final stretch than I was when I started several months ago.  My hamstrings felt like overwound rubber bands, and something in my left hip made it difficult to bend forward at all.

Cisco has said in the past that he looks forward to moments like that, because it means a breakthrough is on its way.  I suspect that my body may finally be complaining about the challenge.  He's got more experience in these things, and I'm hoping he's right.  So far, the cure for yoga soreness has always been more yoga, so I do have some faith that tomorrow's class will straighten this out some.

It is a lesson in applying the first yama to the asana practice:  its important not to push too hard when feeling this tight.  Avoiding injury is one of the key aspects of not doing harm.  So tomorrow I'll really have to focus on where my limits are, and push just to the edge of them without going to far.  It should be interesting.