Tuesday, September 30, 2008

98/104 Listening

4:30 pm with Miranda

Why is it so hard to listen and follow instructions?  Just about every revelation I've had about how to improve my practice has been something that has been included in the dialogue.  So, as I've said several times before, my "discovery" was finally paying attention to something that I had been told all along.

I am far from alone in this failing.  The very first thing we are told in Pranayama is "heels and toes touching".  That seems simple enough.  Today, I noticed that about 1/3 of the people were standing with their feet apart.  Some then moved them sort of together when the breathing actually started, but a surprising number just blithely went ahead with the exercise without bringing their feet together.  So, what did they not hear? 

Maybe it doesn't make that much difference in pranayama whether your heels and toes are touching.  But I have my doubts.  I'm willing to bet that almost everything in the dialogue is there for a reason.  And I also tend to think that Bikram knows a boatload more about this stuff than the average student.  If it doesn't make a difference, then there's no reason not to follow the dialogue.  And if it does, then following the dialogue is even more important.  (Pascal's Wager applied to yoga!)

I've been guilty of this many times.  I've been told time and again to lock my elbows, in Half Moon, in Half Tortoise, in Balancing Stick, in Standing Separate Head to Knee.  And I still catch myself with bent elbows in some of these (though not so much in Half Moon anymore).  That's one obvious example, and I'm aware of it.  The scary thing is that there are probably other revelations waiting, little things that I am not doing and have not paid attention to, simply because I'm still not listening well enough.

Good class again today.  I'm beginning to get a tiny bit of flexiblity back into my left hamstring, and that's a very encouraging sign.  Triangle has gotten really strong the last couple of classes.  I have passed the point of just suffering to stay in the pose, and I'm finally starting to think about doing the stretch in the arms and torso the way the dialogue describes.  This is one of those poses where just doing an approximation was so hard that actually doing the pose seemed unimaginable.

Balancing series was really good again today.  As were most of my other "problem" poses:  Locust was as good as its been.  Full Locust was very strong for some reason.  I've noticed on the back strengthening series that I tend to alternate good and bad days.  That might have something to do with the strengthening aspect of these poses.  On the bad days, it may be that my body is just screaming for a rest already (although its probably a whole lot more complicated than that).

Fixed Firm was about where its been recently -- not even close to dropping my elbows back.  But the other poses that have been bugging my knee were better.  So there's even some progress there.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


2:30 pm with Amy

I was a bit anxious about class today.  First, there is the ordinary 2:30 eating problem.  Basically, I go into these classes without having eaten since the day before, and that can always present a problem.  Today, I was going in with little sleep.  I dropped Yanzi at the airport at 4:30 am, did not go to sleep beforehand, so I finally got to bed for a couple of hours starting at around 6 am.

Class was a bit more challenging than the recent classes, but it was not the crushing exercise in endurance that I thought it might be.  I caught myself sliding into the old tics a few times too many, but I didn't indulge myself in them.  So I pretty well managed to stay still between postures.  Things started to get bad in Triangle, and then for the rest of the standing series.  But, I could manage them, barely, with normal breath.  So I was good to go.

I wouldn't identify anything as particularly standout today.  Balancing was  bit better than usual.  Fixed firm sucked.  Camel and Rabbit were both good.  I had some spitting up problems with Locust, but Full Locust and Floor Bow were both better than usual.

If anything, I'd say that today I was a bit more aware of the heat than I have been.  It wasn't especially hot.  For the middle part of the class, it seemed a bit cool.  But for some reason, from Rabbit to the end, Amy adjusted the heat or humidity four times.  My spot is right in front of the controls, so its basically impossible for me not to notice this.  And I seemed to feel the fluctuations beyond how they reasonably should have effected me.  After Rabbit, changes in the heat should make little or no difference.  The rest of the class is not all that taxing.  But today, maybe because Amy made an issue of it by fiddling with the controls, I allowed it to get to me and felt myself sort of suffering through the easy final stretches.  Sometime, its hard to figure why things matter when they really should not.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

96/102 Autopilot Off

2:30 pm with Cisco

Cisco's classes are always high energy.  Today, he had just come back from a seminar with Mary Jarvis (in Colorado), and he seemed even more stoked than usual.  As a result, his good nature was more than usually infectious.  

As an added plus, my mat was right next to Libby's.  Practicing next to an instructor has always made me have a finer honed edge, and today was no different.  My guess is that that comes from some sort of ego thing, so its probably bad.  But its hard to say how bad it is when it makes my practice better.  I guess what's bad is that I don't have that same edge when I'm next to mere mortals.

Anyway, todays class was great again, almost on a par with the Thursday class.   Cisco tried to get us to focus on gripping our hands and locking our elbows in the poses where the fingers are in steeple position.  I've been pretty good at the hands part of this, but concentrating on the elbows was a big help in half moon, and then especially in Half Tortoise and Standing Seperate Leg Head to Knee.

The major point of todays class was to get off of autopilot.  From the beginning, we concentrate on breathing because it is through breath that we start to connect the body and mind.  And once we've made that connection, we should then come off autopilot by focusing on what we are doing, and doing it with dedication.  

I really liked this:  its very similar to the efforts I've been making the last few classes to avoid my cheats.  The cheats were/are little habits I used to try to make things easier for myself.  Today, I only caught myself doing these little things twice:  I almost dropped my arms between sides in Triangle, but stopped myself in time.  And I was wiping sweat off my face as I was laying into Savasana, and doing it without thinking.

It doesn't sound like it should make a difference.  But in only three classes, I can see that it does.  My energy level is up throughout the classes.  My focus is better.  It seems counterintuitive, but by stopping the things that I thought were making class easier, the class has become easier and more fun.

Cisco's point about autopilot goes way beyond those little things I was doing between poses.  Instead, he's talking about using the mind to take control of your poses, and not simply glide through them without thought, or focus, or concentration.  At one point, in Balancing Stick I think, he said we only needed to concentrate on two things, and that it was simple.  I started laughing, and he said "Duffy's laughing because there are probably hundreds of things to think about, and there are.  But you only need to really concentrate on two of them, and today pick these two."  Of course, he's right.  Concentrating on everything is pretty much impossible (unless you are a master or a genius), and concentrating on two things is far, far better than nothing.

In Rabbit, he gave me a great correction.  He showed me how to relax my shoulders and get my arms to lock out.  This allowed me to roll even further forward, and I could feel a stretch even deeper in my spine.  And I thought I was already pretty deep into the lower back.  I think I may have been close to the full expression of this pose, which is totally amazing considering where I started.

After class, Cisco probably paid me the best compliment I've gotten yet.  He said that I look amazing, and that he wasn't just talking about my body.  It's obvious my body has changed, but he was talking about my practice and my attitude.  He said that I looked radiant and happy while practicing.  That's really cool.

Right now, I feel like I'm on such a roll by just going every day that I don't know whether I should risk what's happening now by starting to add doubles to catch up to the challenge.  A class a day in perpetuity is probably just fine.  I may do a double early in the week just to see how it feels.  But with classes going so well, I'm not feeling at all compelled to end the challenge by catching up.

95/101 Breathing and Pacing

Fri. 4:30pm with Margaux

Like most of the "discoveries" I've been making, its something that was there before me all along.  From the very start we are told to get control of our breathing.  If you need to breathe through the mouth, you start to activate the fight or flight response.  This in turn sends adrenaline rushing through your body, and it will take a while to recover from that.  So, if that happens, just take a knee.

The flip side of this thought is:  if you are capable of breathing normally through your nose, then you are good to go.  There's no midway.  Either you can do things right, or you shouldn't be doing them at all.  At least that's the way I'm thinking about it now.

Class was very good again.  Not as great as yesterday, but still strong.  I made it through both sets of Standing Head to Knee without falling out, and I'm even starting to think about locking out the lifted leg on the right.  Standing Bow was fine, even if I did fall out a couple of times.

I couldn't hold Locust today.  I'm not sure what it is, but Margaux's gentle delivery of the dialogue gets in the way of the amount of sheer energy and will I have to put into the third part of Locust.  I still have to get myself really psyched up to get into this.  And especially if I'm in danger of spitting up.  So, on this pose, the meditative feel of the class does not help me.  (Of course, my balancing poses often seem better in these classes, so its a mixed bag.)  

My knee was better today.  Third part of awkward pose was not quite so lopsided as it has been recently.  Same for Japanese Sitting positions.  And I almost got my hips to the floor in Fixed Firm.  I'm still probably a ways from being completely healed, but it seems like there is some progress.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

94/100 Best Class Ever

4:30 pm with Miranda

With my thoughts about pacing fresh, I went into class determined not to do any of the small cheats that I've allowed myself.  And two thirds of the way in, it seemed like I had more reserves than I've had before.  I made myself stay still.  Only once I caught myself bending forward between postures to put my hands on my knees.  I didn't wipe off the sweat once.  I didn't blow my nose.  More important, I didn't anticipate Miranda calling change, and only came out of the poses when I heard her say so.  And everything was great.  I know that that might just be co-incidence.  But I did feel like just staying still and focused was making a positive difference.

I had an amazing balancing series.  I fell out of Standing Head to Knee only once.  I got deeper into Standing Bow than I have before.  And I was pretty good in Balancing Stick as well.

The floor series was also good, especially Locust and Full Locust.  I found some ability to bend my back in Full Locust that has totally changed the feeling of the pose anymore.  I'm now actually beginning to feel my middle back muscles working.  And the pose feels something like a stretch, instead of just an exercise in futility.

All in all, it was just a wonderful class.  And it would have been perfectly fitting as a 100th class, but I will settle for just the 100th day.  I'm more and more amazed at how good the yoga feels each day, especially considering how rough the end of the 60 day period was.  Now, going every day doesn't feel like a burden at all.  It's just normal.

93/99 Pacing

Wed. 4:30 with Miranda

Conventional wisdom says to pace yourself.  If you go too hard at the start, you could just burn out and not be able to finish.  I've done that, to one extent or another, through many of my classes.  Now I'm beginning to think that I might be cheating myself.  There are spots where I typically take it a bit easy, and it is all too easy to say that I'm just saving myself to get through class.  At one time, that might have been true, but now its starting to feel more and more like an excuse -- because really giving 100% all the time is just hard.

We are told again and again that every day our bodies are different, and we need to learn not to expect to do one day what we did the last.  The more I think about that, the more it means don't pace myself.  After all, pacing is just making an anticipation about how I'm going to perform later in the practice and making an adjustment early to prepare for it.  And that just cheats me out of some effot early on.  So I'm thinking it might just be better in the long run to push until I get too tired, and then sit out if I must.  That way, eventually I may not have to sit out, and be able to give 100% throughout.

The pacing I'm talking about may be a bit subtle.  Where I'm slacking is in little things, like lowering my arms between the right and left hand side of Triangle and Standing Separate Head to Knee, or like bending my knees and leaning a bit forward for breath between poses instead of standing still.  The problem is that I've been doing these slight deviations again and again, and I may be starting to depend on them.  Instead,  I'm thinking that I will do better in the long run if I try either to do be in all the way, or sitting out.  This yoga was simply not meant for half measures.

Class was fine.  The balancing series was a bit off.  Back strengthening was good, especially Locust.  I felt like I was close to a real breakthrough, but I couldn't quite just get through whatever is stopping me from really going up towards vertical.  Half Tortoise was also good, I had my hips on my heels, and was feeling long and strong through the spine.  Basically, it was another solid, strong class. 

So you might ask why the talk about pacing?  Well, I rented a towel because I forgot my neat Yogitoes towel.  It's the first time I've had a regular towel in about 5 months.  Before, I hated the normal towels because they bunched up all over the place.  Yesterday, that didn't happen.  And that's great:  my towel stayed put because I'm staying pretty still (or at least my feet are).   So then I started noticing the other little ways to cheat that I've managed to find, and they all boil down to the same thing.  I started pacing myself when I really needed it, and now I'm holding on to the same crutches when it has passed time to let go of them.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Mon. 4:30 with Amy

The heat was a roller coaster today.  We started at 107 and 42% humidity -- yikes!  I was pouring sweat onto my towel even before we started pranayama.   Early on, Amy figured out that she was gonna kill people and turned it down.  By Standing Bow, it felt cold again at least by Bikram standards, so she cranked things back up.  And by second set of Triangle, it was so hot I felt like I was going to collapse.  After class she insisted it never went above 105 again, but she admitted it felt much hotter for some reason.  Then she turned it down again in Savasana, and by the end of class it felt cold again (it was 102 afterwards).

It's amazing what a huge difference small temperature swings make at that level.  104 degrees and I feel absolutely fine.  I don't even get very tired in the harder poses.  106 or more, or extra humidity, and it becomes a real struggle.  And unfortunately it really gets to my attitude.  

Today, I got a cramp in my lower abdomen doing Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee.  It was either the heat, or I was compressing and sucking in my stomach in some new way.  And I had some spitting up problems in the spine strengthening series.  Nothing way out of line, just a few of those vicious little throw up burps.

Otherwise, class was really good.  I felt more flexible in my knee for the first time in a while.  I didn't go down on my elbows in fixed firm, but I probably could have pushed it there.  Instead, I'm trying to concentrate on perfect alignment in the poses that are pushing my knee.   I got into Japanese Seated position today without too much discomfort, and I didn't look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa while doing it.  There was just a slight shift to the right still, but not the really noticeable angle I've been seeing recently.

I've been getting some "You've lost more weight." comments from people in the last few days.  I hadn't weighed myself in a couple of weeks, so I thought it might be true.  They are probably noticing something that I don't see (because I stare at myself in the mirror for at least 45 minutes a day now, so I don't see the gradual changes).  I checked this morning, and I haven't lost anything since finishing the 60 days.  That's not to say they are wrong about my appearance, but if there are changes it is a matter of composition and not weight.

When I started at Lifetime Fitness, a few weeks before I found Bikram, they said that 211 would be a reasonable goal for my weight.  I was about 260 at the time.  Now, I think it may be most reasonable not to have a goal.  If I were to set one however, it would probably be somewhere around 205.  That's another 11 pounds, and it's sometimes nice to think about making a push for it.  However, its probably more important not to do anything that will not be sustainable.   

That means, for now, the goal is just to continue with practice.  I've been at it now for 6 months.  In some ways now, I am one of the more experienced people in the room most classes, which is kind of hard to believe.  It's dangerous to start thinking of myself as somehow experienced:  I'm still just a rank beginner.  Progress in yoga is measured in years if not decades, not just in months.  And that is a good thing.  If real progress could be had in just months, then it would also be OK to just set the practice aside for a few months as well.  And that is precisely what must not become an option. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

91/97 $%$%& Comcast

Thurs. 4:30 with Miranda
Fri. 4:30 with Margaux
Sat. 2:30 with Amy
Sun. 2:30 with Libby
Mon. 2:30 with Amy

No, I didn't forget to blog.  And I didn't miss any classes either.  Instead, five days after Ike our cable service went down.  First, Comcast said that it would be up within 24 to 48 hours.  After 60 hours had passed, they said they could not give any estimate on when it might be back up.  So I asked when they estimated I would switch to Direct TV and DSL instead.  To that, I got a nervous "I understand what you are saying, sir."

As for yesterday and today, I think they figured out how best to handle customer complaints.  I'm no longer able to get through to a person.  Instead, I'm either told to wait forever, or until I get some random busy signal while navigating their call menus.  So instead, I have to go out to a coffee shop to get internet access.  And from other people I've talked to, it doesn't sound like they are making any progress on fixing anyone's service.  No-one has heard about anyone's service getting restored.

Yoga has been good.  I had really strong classes on Thursday through Saturday.  Each day, I felt better than the last, and each day I thought the room was too cold.  (I didn't ever think I would be saying that.)  Thursday it was 103.5 and 40% humidity.  Friday 103 and the same.  And Saturday it was just over 104 with slightly higher humidity.  I was coming out of class not even sweating that badly, and I was starting to feel like a tough guy.

Then came Sunday with Libby, and it was back to real Bikram weather:  over 105 with high humidity.  And lo and behold, I was just an ordinary struggling human again.  Class was still good, but I was drained and a bit exhausted afterward.  It was a real struggle to make it through the standing series.

The funniest moment the last few days came in Standing Bow in Libby's class.  I was concentrating really hard, holding it fairly well.  Then I heard Libby say "Tongue inside the mouth."  I didn't know I was doing it, but as soon as I heard "tongue" I knew she must be talking about me.  I was sticking my tongue out for concentration long before anyone had ever heard of Michael Jordan.  And I had no idea that I was doing it -- but there it was.  So I pulled it back in and of course immediately fell, which got me laughing, which in turn got Libby laughing, to the point where she had to tell someone else "I'm not laughing at you, I'm laughing at him...."  

After class, she said that there's even a line in the dialogue about keeping the tongue in the mouth.  But it's in Rabbit.  Still, she said I should know better.  And of course, I do know better.  I just don't know that I'm doing it when I'm doing it.  So one more very small thing to be aware of.

My sciatic problem is basically over with for now.  I'm not going to say that it won't come back.  But at least now I know how to deal with it, and maybe I can now make some lasting progress on my hamstrings.

My knee is a slightly different story.  I talked to Amy about it, and she said it sounds like I'm working through old injuries, and realigning things.  Later, I realized that the problem is worse when I twist the leg slightly to the inside.  And then it hit me that I'm not walking duck footed anymore, so my knee is constantly now feeling what, for it, seems like an internal twist.  And that really is just my body realigning itself.  So from that standpoint, the tenderness makes perfect sense, and I should just work through it.  Eventually I should come out on the other side, with a better aligned, more capable left leg.

On a more practical level, I've eased off just a bit on any pose that seems to put pressure on the knee, and it seems to be coming back some.  I don't have any problems with it out of class now.  And the only poses that really get to it are Toe Stand, Fixed Firm, anything in Japanese Sitting Position, and the final forward stretch.  I'm pretty sure that all will be well with it in just a couple more weeks.

If you noticed, I've got 9 classes to go and only three days to do them.  I'm not sure I've got a triple in me right now, much less three in a row.  I will continue with this challenge either until the numbers match (x = y in x/y)  or until I'm ten classes behind.  I just thought it might make some sense to define failure as well as success, so I have some idea when the "challenge" is over. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


4:30 pm with Miranda

The sciatic problem seems to be gone.  And now I can start to work a bit more deeply into the forward bends.  So that's very good news on one front.

But my left knee is tighter than ever.  Fixed Firm was worse than when I first started.  And I can feel tenderness on the inside of my knee in postures where I would not have guessed -- most notably on the first forward bend, and on the final stretching.  I'm wondering if there is something about those poses that is aggravating it.

Otherwise the class was good.  I felt strong the entire way through.  I was not even leaning forward between sets.  Instead, just maintaining a nice mountain pose and breathing steadily.  The only pose I bailed on was Toe Stand, and that was because of my knee.  I just didn't want to go into a full bend on the left side, so I did two sets of Tree instead.

The balancing poses were good again.  I made it through two sides of Standing Head to Knee without falling out.  Now I have to start figuring out how I'm going to lock the raised leg.  It's amazing to me how far yet there is to go, especially since I've already made so much progress.  But even with all the progress, I'm not even halfway there.

Standing Bow was really good too.  In the second set, Miranda kept extending the last exhortations to kick.  She was holding it one more time, and one more time again, just to see if I was going to fall out.  And I didn't.  When I was done, she almost laughed at me.  It was a very energizing thing.

And I think I learned something in Balancing Stick.  A while ago, I heard that I should be looking 4 feet forward on the floor, and I've stuck with that.  Today, Miranda said to just look ahead.  So I kept my head up a bit more than usual and tried to look forward.  For some reason, that just clicked and I had an easier time balancing, and felt like I was going deeper and stretching forward better than before. 

 Once again, its pretty astounding what a difference the small details can make.  And now I'm wondering how many times I've heard the same instruction in this pose and just not paid any attention to it.   More often than I would like to admit, I have stopped focusing on parts of the dialogue because I already convinced myself that I knew what I was doing.  Then one day, I pay attention to something that I hadn't really paid attention to before, and a pose will just open up.  And that leaves me to wonder whether I was just doing it wrong all along and holding myself back, or whether somehow I miraculously start hearing some details when I'm ready for them.

Teacher training started in Acapolco this week.  Blogging has taken off, and I've already found four student blogs.  I'm going to put up links to them.  They are only on day one, but its pretty clear already that this challenge I'm doing pales in comparison to what they will be going through.  On day two, and there were people being dragged out of the room, two given IVs, lots of cramping, lots of puking, lots of crying.  And everyone insists that Bikram is going easy on them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


4:30 pm with Miranda

Pranayama used to be a fairly easy way to ease into class.  Ever since Tu showed me how to suck in my stomach and really lift the chest, its become harder and harder.  Today, by the middle of the second set I was getting dizzy.  I know, I know, I've been told again and again that getting dizzy in this exercise is good.  But it's totally new to start feeling wiped out only 6-7 minutes in the class.  Actually, I guess that was how it was at the beginning.  What is totally new is to feel like I'm recovering in Awkward Pose.

Today's class was good and pretty standard.  The first forward bend is no longer an exercise in terror, which is a big improvement over the last few weeks.  I'm still not trying to straighten my legs much in this pose, just letting gravity and a slight pull stretch out my back.  But that seems to be making all of the difference with the sciatic problem.

The balancing series was pretty strong again.  I fell out of Standing Head to Knee on three out of the four sets, but I only had time to get back into it once.  I'm getting deeper into the left side of Standing Bow -- I'm pretty amazed at seeing my foot, then heel, then ankle and a bit more over my head.  Balancing Stick is still hit or miss.  If I get into it properly, then its good.  Otherwise, I either can't go down or can't keep my balance.

The big pose for today was Triangle.  Nothing major happened, it just felt good.  And triangle almost never feels good for me.  I could actually see the triangles that they talk about, I felt a good stretch up and down, and I had no temptation to come out early.  My left hip was getting in the way of the left side of this pose, but that's another limitation that seems to be coming to an end.

Floor series was pretty good.  Strong in all of the back strengthening series.  Miranda even complimented my Locust.  I'm going to have to ask someone how far my feet are coming off the ground in this someday.  But I know that when I do, the pose will be a bust for me.  Fixed Firm was as bad as its been.  But Camel and especially Rabbit were strong today.

The rest of the area is not so good.  Centerpoint Energy expects to get power to half of its customers in the next ten days.  That means that two weeks after the storm there will still be a million homes in Houston without power.  We are having a nice cool wave right now, but that won't last.  When things start heating up, people will start to get really angry.

And the grocery situation, even where we are, is not that good.  The local store today got a shipment of bread.  And they still have some canned goods.  But there is no meat, no fish, no vegetables, no frozen food, no milk, no eggs, no dairy of any sort.  There is some fruit, but its already starting to rot.  The store is running on generators only, and so they won't be getting any fresh deliveries at least until their power is restored.  And that's just an inconvenience.  Only 20 miles away people have it really bad.

Monday, September 15, 2008

84/90 Studio Reopens

4:30 pm with Miranda

The studio opened again today, and stands as an oasis of sanity.  Missouri City, which basically has no problems at all, is under a 9pm to 6am curfew for the next week!  As near as I can tell, the only purpose of the curfew is to keep peoples anxieties well honed.

Two days off has made a world of difference.  I felt better today than I have in many years.  My nagging injuries (hip and knee) were not bothering me at all, and everything else felt loose and good.  I did some cleaning up in the yard, and I felt strong and had really good stamina even doing what I would ordinarily think of as heavy lifting.

For the most part, this feeling stuck with me during class.  The big surprise was Eagle.  My shoulder flexibility took a big leap, and I got my hands into full prayer position on both sides.  It wasn't even a struggle.  Something just opened up, and what had always seemed impossible was suddenly easy.

The balancing series was middling.  I had one very good set of Standing Bow, and Standing Head to Knee was OK, but I didn't have the focus that I would like.  The good news is that I didn't have the tightness in my left hip on either Standing Bow or Balancing Stick.  I may finally be overcoming the sciatic problem (fingers crossed).

Floor series was pretty good.  I had a pretty big mean only two hours before class, and Mexican food no less.  So I was grateful not to have any bad spitting up problems.  I even managed one strong set of Locust.  The second set, however, was a bit of a bust.  Everything else was pretty standard for me these days.  I couldn't get down on my elbows in Fixed Firm.  Camel and Rabbit were both pretty good.  My sit-ups were better than they have been in weeks (again because my hip and sciatic nerve were not bothering me).

To make up the missed days on the challenge, I think I'm going to try to gradually play catch-up.  Maybe two doubles a week for the next three weeks, assuming we don't have any more hurricanes.  And even then, I'm going to lean more on the side of making the classes up gradually.  I just don't want to push myself too hard and risk re-aggravating any of these near injuries.

And I'm also going to have to start riding my bicycle to yoga for the next few days.  I'm down to about 100 miles left on my gas tank.  The current waits for gas, when it is available, looks like it is somewhere around 2-3 hours.  I'm really hoping that the panic will ease in the next couple of days, and that I can wait that period out before filling up.

83/89 More Ike

No yoga yesterday or today.  Now, I would have to do 6 doubles in 11 days, assuming the studio opens tomorrow.  And that may be a long shot.

We came through the storm just fine.  Two sections of fence in the backyard collapsed, and a tree in the front lost a few big branches.  Other than that, we are fine.   Power was off for about 40 hours, and last night was really hot.  But all things considered, the storm here was just an inconvenience. 

Folks just to the north of us did not fare so well.  The storm surge devastation is pretty incredible -- whole stretches of beach houses are just gone.  There isn't even much debris where they stood, the water washed everything away so completely.  Further inland, it looks like the major problems are loss of power, and lack of food.  But it also looks like things are fairly well organized and moving in the right direction.

Friday, September 12, 2008

83/87 Ike Pt. 2

10:30 am with Miranda

The evacuation ended, people cleared the roads, and the studio was open at least for the morning.  20 die-hards showed up for one last yoga class before hunkering down.  (Does anyone hunker for other things besides hurricanes?  And is it possible to hunker in any other direction?)

Class was a mixed bag.  I was surprised at first at how hard it was to keep my focus.  Panic is contagious.  And though I would say that I was, and am, far from panicked, my practice told me that I was far from being in balance.  I was certainly way off of Wednesday's high.

On the plus side, my hip felt better again.  And my knee was a little more flexible than usual.  This is an area where the storm is also having its impact.  Right now I'm feeling a bit stiff in both knees, and I think that is mostly the low pressure.

Nothing in class was particularly strong.  The standing series was below average because of lack of focus.  And the floor series was middling.  The best pose was probably the second set of Half Tortoise.  My hips stayed securely on my heels, and I had a very nice stretch forward.

After class, as per usual, I felt really good, and I'm really glad I went.  In contrast to the other people I have been talking with, it was nice to be around sane people who were not overreacting to the storm.  Their presence at the class was testament enough to that; and their generally relaxed attitude confirmed it.  So, just as panic is contagious, its also possible that sanity has an infectious quality.

Prospects for the challenge look bleak at this point.  No classes tomorrow, which will put me five days behind.  Sunday is up in the air, and it will depend on whether there is power in the area.  The media are hoping for power outage catastrophes, since they now almost have to admit that Ike will not be as disastrous as they wanted.  But even if the predictions of two weeks of power outages is way over the top, it would only take a couple of days to make the 100 day challenge impossible to achieve.  

Even as it is, I don't know how I would manage to do five doubles in eleven days.  One thing has occurred to me:  I've been wondering what to do after the 100 days are up.  If I'm still behind, I can go on a reasonable schedule of doubles interspersed with my daily classes until x = y in my x/y tally in the title.  Then I will have done a challenge of even greater than 100 days.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

82/86 I Got Iked

No yoga today.

Hurricane Ike is due to hit somewhere near here in about two days.  The coastal counties have been evacuating.  The trip to the yoga studio is usually 10 minutes.  Today it was more like impossible.  I didn't even try.  I'm hoping the studio will be open tomorrow before the storm rolls in.  This hurricane might throw a serious monkey wrench into the challenge.  But the good news is that I'm not all that worried about the storm.  I don't expect it to have much impact here, unless there are massive power outages.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


4:30 pm with Miranda

I'm really liking this class.  When she first started here, Miranda pretty much stuck with the dialogue, which she delivered well and with lots of energy.  Now that she is getting more comfortable with the studio, she has started giving more demonstrations, tips, and personal corrections.  It makes for a very lively and fun class, and I think I'm getting alot out of it.

The more I do Bikram, the more I appreciate how important the teachers are.  With a scripted dialogue, and the same poses in every class, you would think that the teachers might become less important over time.  And maybe eventually they will.  But I've found the opposite to be true so far.  And I think our studio has been blessed with a fine group of teachers, and a fine assortment of styles.

Today, my balancing series was very good.  I only fell out of the pose once.  And I managed to keep my lifted leg extended for the full time once on each side.  I'm still a long ways away from dropping my elbows down, but I seem to be making some good progress on having a solid foundation.  

Then, in Standing Bow, I managed to get through a set on the right side without falling out.  And I was kicking and stretching the whole time, not simply hanging out.  Miranda was actually cheering me on.  And then, I did the same thing on the left side.  Here, by the end I could see my entire foot over my head.   After class, Miranda again said it was a really good standing bow, and that she still has problems holding the pose for the entire time.  This is the second teacher who has complimented this pose for me, so maybe part of me is becoming a dancer.

My focus in balancing is definitely better.  I also got a good, but probably obvious, tip from an anatomy book my brother gave to me for my birthday.  It basically talks about stability in the foot coming from three arches:  heel to ball of foot, ball of foot to just under base of the pinky toe, and then from the base of the pinky toe back to the heel.  Try to press down on the three points of this triangle and you have the optimum stability for either foot.  I think I already knew this in some sense, but the description in the book has made it easier for me to focus on how to distribute the weight in my foot, and I think this is helping my balance.

The floor series was basically good.  Miranda helped out on Wind Removing, so I got much deeper than usual on that, and it felt great.  Back strengthening was all good, even Locust.  Fixed Firm was really bad -- my left knee is still stiff, and I cramped up in the right foot.  Then I cramped up in the left foot in first set of Camel.  But overall, it was pretty solid.

I haven't stayed around after class for one of Miranda's Final Savasana massages.  That would probably be just too much of a good thing.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


4:30 pm with Miranda

All day my knee and hip felt really good, so I was expecting them to be much more flexible in class.  The hip was better than its been, but the knee was not so good.  I was almost back to square one again in Fixed Firm.  It's really puzzling how this goes.  Anyway, after class everything feels great again.  

I had a strange emotional experience in class today.  I put my mat next to a woman who I instinctively dislike.  I have no idea why I don't like her:  it may be something about how she looks, or something in the way she carries herself.  But, through no fault of her own, she just puts me off.  And I would like to make clear that I don't think this dislike has anything actually to do with her.  I'm sure that its my failing.

Anyway, it got to my practice.  We would go into Savasana, and I would notice that she wasn't with it - that she was adjusting things.  Ordinarily I notice nothing at all about other people in Savasana.  And even if I did, I wouldn't be judgmental about anything.  This was really bad, and I'm not even sure if there is anything I could do about it.  I'm thinking that when I see her again, I will need to make an effort to be friendly to her, just because the whole thing is so irrational, and it has not happened in any of my classes before with anyone else.

Class was pretty standard for the last couple of weeks.  Some poses a little better, and some a little worse.  The low point was a foot cramp in Camel, which knocked me out of the first set.  When I get these cramps, it usually means that I worked extra hard in the back strengthening series, so its hard to get too upset about this cramping.  

Ever since Tu talked about engaging all the hip muscles in Cobra, the entire back strengthening series has presented a new level of difficulty, and my back has the same sort of soreness that it did when I first started Bikram -- that sort of delicious sense that things are getting stronger and straighter, a pain that is fundamentally good.

Monday, September 8, 2008

80/83 The Sit-up

10:30 am with Lenette

Lenette's classes are always very satisfying.  I come out of them feeling like I've pushed really hard, without totally exhausting myself.  

Today, she talked about the sit-up.  She was emphasizing the importance of the two loud exhales on each sit-up.  She says that often the first sit-ups in class are great, but by Camel and Rabbit, she can barely hear anything at all.  And then looking at the class she can see looks of dread and defeat on the class.  But just be getting the class to stay with the sit-ups, and to stay loud on the exhales, the energy of the class goes way up at the end, and so do the final postures. 

So I tried it today, and it seems to work.  This is just another small aspect of the mind taking the lead.  A positive attitude going into the sit-ups leads to more energy and good things in the floor series.  This seems like a small point, but as Lenette says, many of the small points in the Bikram series are there for lots of reasons.  There are other benefits to the loud exhales in the sit-ups, but the attitude adjustment it provides is more than enough to justify putting in the extra effort. 

The other thing that I found was that by focusing attention on the sit-up form I was able to do them better, and without hurting my hip at all.  The last several classes I've been really slacking off on these, in an effort to protect the hip.  But, it turns out that I can protect the hip just as well by doing them right in the first place.

In all other respects the class was very good.  The balancing series was better than it has been in a while.  I actually made it through a set of Standing Head to Knee with the leg kicked out.  That hasn't happened in a few weeks.  Standing Bow was good -- I still can't hold it for a minute, but I'm getting to where its no surprise to see my heel above my head.  Even Locust was good today.  I'm finally figuring out how to lift one leg without rotating my hips.  And I did well on raising both legs without bailing out. 

 I went back on my elbows in Fixed Firm, so today was a decent day for my knee,  at least in class.  After class, my knee felt a little bit funky.  It doesn't really hurt, but it feels tighter than it should, and much different from my right knee.  I'm starting to wonder if there is some relationship between my knee and the hip/sciatic problem.  It seems like every time my hip feels better, the knee starts to get worse, and vice versa.

Only 17 days to go, and I still need to squeeze in three doubles.  I'm not sure how I'm going to do it, but I've always been a bit of a procrastinator, so I guess I will start doing the doubles when I feel enough urgency.  (And I've toyed with ending the 100 days with a triple, just because...)

Sunday, September 7, 2008


2pm with Amy

After two days in relatively cold classes, I decided to put myself into the hot part of the room.  And it was very hot.  There was almost no air movement, and it made class very challenging.  I made it through the standing series fairly well, but lost my strength in Locust (where else?). 

After class, I felt pretty wiped out.  Part of this may have been the heat.  Part of it is not eating anything all day before class.  It's been a while since a class beat me up this badly, and in a weird way I think that's good.  As Cisco said after class, "If you come out feeling really good and aren't spent, then we'd just send you back in for a double."

My flexibility was much better, especially in my knee and sore hip.  I was back onto my elbows in Fixed Firm.  And I could go down on my left leg in Toe Stand again, even though I didn't then hold it the full time.  

And I was a bit better in my forward bends, without angering my sciatic nerve at all.  I go back and forth on whether rest is what I need.  I'm sure it would help, but then I'm also sure that if I just stay within my limits that I can continue to do the yoga.

Tu's advice from yesterday stuck with me today, at least in pranayama and Cobra.  I'm getting the sort of soreness in my lower back which comes along with strengthening.  And I get the feeling that if I keep focusing on locking all those hip muscles, that I will eventually be able to do without my hands pressing on the floor.  That would be very cool.

Saturday, September 6, 2008


9:30 am with Tu

Tu is a new teacher who is passing through town for only a week or so.  He taught in Australia, then New Zealand, is stopping Houston now, and will be going to Vancouver next week for a couple of months.  It must be really cool to be a vagabond Bikram teacher in your early 20s.

Amy needs to do whatever she can to bring him back to Houston.  He was a really fine teacher.  He had great energy, connected well with the class, and had the ability to motivate people past their limits.  He was also charming and had his own style (or at least a style I have not encountered before.)  And he brought a new slant to several of the poses.

First, pranayama has never been so hard before.  He held each inhalation and exhalation longer than any other teacher.  And he paid much more attention to people's posture during the pose.  Twice he corrected me for having my stomach not pulled in enough.  I would have thought that it was tucked in, but I was wrong.  He was able to get me pulled in tighter, which in turn got my chest to open a little more, which made my whole body straighter and taller.  Oh, and by the way, it also made the whole thing much harder to do.  But it felt amazing.

The whole standing series was good.  But there was a problem with the heat.  The room never got over 96 today, because the heater was broken for some reason.  This made for my second cold class in a row.  A few weeks ago, I don't think I would ever have guessed that I would be disturbed by a class being too cold.  And before I started Bikram, I don't think I could have imagined 96 degrees as a bit chilly.  To compensate, Tu turned the fans off and made us work harder, and I think that worked to some extent.

The next big revelation in class was in Cobra.  Tu said that we talk about firming the butt and keeping the legs locked, but really everything in the hips should be solid.  This means the butt, the side of the hips, and especially the muscles in the front from the navel to the hips.  If all of this tightens up, it frees the spine to stretch upward.  I tried thinking about it this way, and I did get what he called a "floating" feeling above the belly button, and there was a much different feeling of support.  Also, I think he helped me to find some new muscles down there.

Between Locust sets, he showed us how it can be done.  He went all the way up so his legs were completely vertical.  Then, he dropped his legs so his heels came down to touch his shoulders.  I saw a woman dancer do this once, and that was amazing enough.  This is the first time I've seen a guy do it, and it was sort of dumbfounding.  It's so different from what I can even think about getting, that its hard to say that it was inspiring.  But it was very impressive all the same.

Tu took some time with me in the final spinal twist, showing me how to keep my back straighter in the set up.  This small correction added a bunch to my range of motion.  It's something I hope to be able to repeat.

My knee was worse than its been in weeks today.  Fixed firm was back to square one, or maybe even worse.  My hips were sore going in, but have felt better since.  I'm still pretty sure that I should be able to work through this.  I think the key is to take it easy even on the days when I feel really good.  What happens is that I feel good, so I push hard again, and that sets me back again.

77/80 Missed Class

No class today.

For the first time I missed class when I had intended to go.  I was almost out the door, when there was a problem with one of our pianos.  I tried to fix the job quickly, botched the job at first, and then had to take more time to get things right and then could not leave on time.

It's probably just as well.  I was feeling some numbness in my calves, which is a pretty sure sign that the sciatic nerve is acting up again.  And for some reason my left knee was also bothering me again.  We'll see how it feels tomorrow.

Now I'm three doubles away from finishing this challenge with less than three weeks to go.  So, the challenge aspect is starting to rear its head again.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

77/79 The Importance of Heat

8:15 pm with Margaux

It just wasn't my day.  I felt stiff to begin with, especially in my left knee.  And my left hip started to complain again.

Just before class started, the heating system shut off.  Margaux didn't turn it on again, and the woman next to me gave a conspiratorial wink and a short giggle just as we went into pranayama.  It felt like we were getting away with something.  So, as the warm-up progressed, the room started cooling off. 

I mentioned the heat after the first set of pranayama, and Margaux turned up the heat without turning it on.  So we moved along.  And then we finally turned the heater back on after Eagle.  

This made the beginning of class seem alot easier, but overall I think it had a bad effect.  I never felt really warmed up, and the later postures suffered as a result.  Fixed Firm was back to square one.  I couldn't stay down on the left leg in Toe Stand.  My final stretches were really bad, on both sides.  Even my final spinal twist felt off.

The funny thing is that the heat was back to normal probably by Balancing Stick.  So the problem at the end wasn't the lack of heat, but the lack of a really good warm up.  There have been many times when I've cursed Half Moon, the First Forward Bend, and Awkward Pose, because they feel just so hard.  Zeb says in every class that Half Moon sets the tone for the entire class.  The harder you work there, and the better you do and more benefit you will get later on.  I used to think this was hyperbole;  now it seems pretty clear that its just plain truth.

Even so, I feel much better after class, especially in my left hip.  So, a below average Bikram class is still really good.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

76/78 "Slowly, gently...."

4:30 pm with Margaux

Margaux's classes are deceptively hard.  She speaks slowly and softly, with a bit of a sing-song tone to her voice.  In general, her tone helps make the class a more meditative experience.  It's easy to remain calm and focused without the usual rushing, near panicked cries to push, and push...  But the slower pacing tends to mean being in the poses longer.

And then there is my favorite contradiction, which so far I have only heard from her.  At the end of each pose, instead of just calling "change" as most teachers do, Margaux says to slowly, gently do the move that would bring you out of the pose, and then says "change."  What this slowness and gentleness means, of course, is that I'm working longer and harder while coming out of the pose.  The gentle release makes the class harder, not easier.  Even better, Margaux is so naturally kind that I'm pretty sure that she is not aware of this effect: it is just her way.

Class today was fine, but I was a bit stiffer than I've been recently.  Fixed Firm, for example, was back to leaning back and supporting myself on my arms.  I could feel my hip some more in the forward bends and sit-ups.  I moved a bunch of stuff out of storage just after lunch, and carrying the boxes and full suitcases probably accounts for the stiffness.  Of course, I felt better after class.

It also felt cool in class today.  I haven't been feeling the heat much at all recently.  After class I checked the thermostat:  105 and 37% humidity, nearly perfect Bikram weather.  Hurricane Gustav has sucked all of the surrounding moisture out of the air, so the humidity has been very low outside.  So, maybe I'm just getting better acclimated to the room, or maybe the lower outdoor humidity is being kind to us.  Either way, I'm not complaining.

75/77 Stretching is Hard

8:15 pm with Libby

Another strong, good class.  Every day my left hip is getting better.   But today, I started to feel the first signs of the same problems in my right hip.  Hopefully, I have learned enough about this to nip it in the bud.

I seem to have reached a pretty steady plateau.  I'm not having either major breakthroughs or setbacks.  For the most part, I'm fine with this.  It's really nice to hit some objectively new milestone, but I think that for now I need to work on milestones having to do with focus and determination.  A while back, I joked about using Standing Head to Knee as the measure of a challenge -- to keep going until I could get my head to my knee.  Now, I'm thinking that a pretty good challenge would be to go for three days straight extending the leg and not falling out.  Now that would take some determination.

Libby said today that she thought it might be an American thing, but people here tend to think that stretching should be easy.  Which is exactly wrong -- stretching is hard.  She said this during final stretch, where I'm trying to get my heels off the ground by locking my quads.  Since this stretch puts an intense burn through the entire back of my legs, it was rather easy to agree with her.

The more I think about it, the clearer it is that there are few or no easy stretches in the Bikram series.  Even the poses that might otherwise be easy in other forms of yoga involve some pulling in this series.   In the first forward bend, we pull on our heels as hard as possible.  Other yoga schools might be content with letting gravity do most of the work.  In Eagle, we pull down on the elbows and twist like ropes.  In the Separate Leg Forward Bend, we pull on the heels again, instead of just hanging out.  In Cobra, we use our lower backs to lift up, where other yoga schools use the hands to push up and use the pose as a pure stretch instead of as a back strengthener.  In the final stretch, we are pulling as hard as we pull on our toes while locking our knees.  Again I think other schools do this a little bit differently.

So, every pose where we might be hanging out, Bikram throws in something to pull on -- another way to push the stretch.  This is one of the things that makes the same 26 postures so interesting.  So much is going on in every one of them, and I can still see little ways, and sometimes not so little ways, that I am falling short in any one of them.  Sometimes the difficulty lies just in deciding which of the many details I might focus on to improve a particular pose.  So yes, stretching -- at least in Bikram -- is hard, but physically and mentally.  But that's also what makes it fun.

Monday, September 1, 2008

74/76 Maximum Benefit

2pm with Amy

Today was another solid, high energy class.  In the mid-afternoon on Labor Day it is a pretty good bet that the people who are there really want to be there.  And it was surprisingly crowded -- about 30.

My practice was solid.  I got another compliment in Standing Bow, which I think is just nuts, but I will take what I can get.  My Balancing Stick was as good as it has been.  I pushed a little harder on the forward bends that have been bothering my hip, and it doesn't seem to have any ill consequences.  We will see in the morning.

I've been wondering about something we hear all the time in the dialogue.  We're told that it doesn't matter how far we go into a posture (especially on the ones like Standing Head to Knee that no-one can do right).  As long as we go as far as possible while maintaining form we will get "maximum benefits."  I've always liked this thought, but like "pulling as hard as possible," I don't think it means what it seems to mean at first blush.  It doesn't mean that two people who do the posture differently will get the same benefits from the posture.  Instead, I think it is a positive way of saying that you can't get any further benefit from a posture by breaking form.  So, by keeping perfect form for as deep as you can go, you are getting the maximum benefit that you can get in that posture on that day.  On another day, if you can go deeper, you also get maximum benefit in one sense, while perhaps getting more benefit than you got before.  But, if you break form, you just put yourself in danger of harm without doing any further good.

I like this way of putting it.  It's basically a negative idea put in the most positive way;  Break form at your peril becomes maintain perfect form for as deep as you can and you will get maximum benefit.  And unlike the "pull as hard as possible" command, this one doesn't present danger.  Instead, its just another way of showing how thoroughly optimistic the dialogue is.  The optimism ("you can do anything for 10 seconds"  "if you kick hard enough you can balance forever" etc...) seems odd coming from a man who takes delight in calling the orange room his "torture chamber."  (This reminds me of the old joke that says that a pessimist is someone who goes around saying "This is horrible.  This is terrible.  Things can't possibly get any worse than this."  To which the optimist responds, "Oh, yes they can.")

Speaking of "torture chamber," over the last week the torture seems to have almost completely dropped out of my practice.  Either I've turned some major corner, or I'm about due for a really killer class to teach me some more humility.