Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Next Year -- Meditations From the Mat

I'm going to take this blog in a somewhat new direction starting the first of the year.  There's a very fine book called Meditations From the Mat by Rolf Gates.  It has an entry for each day of the year and covers each of the branches of yoga.  I intend to focus the blog on these meditations.  I'll try to make it so that the blog makes sense without actually reading the book, but I can't promise anything.

If anyone is interested in following along, the book is here.  I recommend it.  But I won't just be writing about it; I'll still be doing much the same as I have for the last few months.

160/195 A Long Break

Monday and Tuesday Off
Wednesday 8am with Jennifer on Long Island
Thursday through Monday Off
Tuesday 9:30 am with Danielle

This holiday patch has included the least amount of yoga that I've done since starting last March.  I tried to get my sisters to come with me while visiting Long Island, but alas, they were too busy with other things. 

On Wednesday, I went to a new studio on Long Island.  It has been open for just over a week.  It's a hot yoga studio, and not affiliated with Bikram, and the teacher is one that both my sisters like very much.  The studio is a bit different, mostly because it has hardwood floors, instead of carpet.  This made more of a difference than I would have thought, especially on the balancing poses.  My feet, I guess, are used to grabbing the carpet and didn't fare as well on a rubber mat and hard wood floor.  

The other big difference was in the single leg stretches at the end.  My heel was directly on the hard wood, and it HURT.  I suppose I would get used to it, but it was really hard to focus on the rest of the pose with my bone pushing directly into the hard floor.

Jen is a good teacher, but trained differently than Bikram.  This meant that the class used the same poses as a Bikram class, but with different dialogue, slightly different set-ups, and some different points of emphasis.  For example, I don't think she said "Lock the knee" even once.  That was weird for me.  And there was a different emphasis in Cobra.  She even suggested lifting the palms from the floor there. 

Her demeanor in general was a bit mellow, and yet she still seemed able to motivate people.  And she gave me some very good corrections.  Overall, I enjoyed the class very much and would be happy to go back, painful heel and all.

The time off was a bit odd.  I kept meaning to wake up for an early class again while in NY, but the enthusiasm seemed to wear off when the alarm went off in the morning, and I stayed in.  As a result, this was a tie for the longest break I've had since starting -- the other coming immediately after the 60th day of the challenge.

Class this morning was refreshing.  I had to bail on one pose toward the end of the standing series, but otherwise I felt good, especially on the floor.  My hamstrings and lower back were a bit tight following the break, but I should be back to where I left off or better either tomorrow or on New Years day.  The best thing about today's class was that I was able to keep a smile on my face, even through half locust.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Thursday Off
Friday 10:30 am with Danielle
Sat. 9:30 am with Connease
Sun. 2:30 pm with Miranda

Wow.  This has been a long time without posting.  Classes have been just fine.  Danielle is getting more confident with each class, and Friday's was great.  Her timing was almost perfect.  I didn't notice a single dialogue mishap, and the energy in class was really good

Saturday I had two friends come to class for the first time.  It's funny, but this is the first time that people have come to my studio on my recommendation.  They both did really well.  Shelley was up and trying on every posture, and I don't think she let up once.  Delton tried to hard at the start and got knocked out pretty early on, but he got back into things and kept up a good sense of humor about the whole thing.  Even better, I think they both will be back for more.

Today's class was pretty typical for a Sunday.  Around 1 pm I started feeling hungry and a bit deprived.  But then class was really good, and the time just flew by.

I'm not sure what's happening, but there is a tenderness in my lower back that I haven't felt in months.  It doesn't feel like there is any danger of injury.  It's just a kind of sweet soreness, and I'm hoping that its a sign of things opening up, or about to open up.  Maybe it means that I'm giving extra effort in the back strengthening series or the backbends.

I noticed something odd today.  At the beginning of Awkward Pose, we are told to step to the right six inches.  I've always stepped to the right a bit and then to the left with the other foot, so that I end up with them six inches apart.  Today, I started on the left side of my mat, to let the person behind me see the mirror.  So I stepped to the right for the first time, and amazingly enough, it seemed to make a difference.  My alignment was better than it usually is, I went a bit deeper into all three sets, and it seemed a bit easier.  I cannot explain why.  If asked beforehand, I would have said that it's a trivial matter and that it shouldn't make any difference.   So here's another example of rule 1:  Do what they tell you.  Don't do what you think amounts to the same thing.  Just do what they say.  It's so easy, and I keep finding ways that I have veered from it.  And who knows, maybe there are ways where it really doesn't make a difference.  But if it doesn't make a difference, then there really is no reason not to do what they say either...

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Monday 10:30 am with Lenette
Tuesday Off
Wednesday 10:30 am with Lenette

I always enjoy Lenette's classes, and always seem to learn something from them.  There two classes were no different.  There's always a sense of good humor and fellowship in her classes, and she gets it without skimping on people's motivation and effort.

Today, she coached me through Camel.  She said that the first set was good, and I was only a couple of degrees away from having my hips and legs vertical.  So she pushed me to get it completely right in the second set, and said that I had done it.  Of course, this is a pose I can't see, but if she is right, that means I'm basically in the full expression of this pose now.  That's one down and 25 to go :)

She also walked us all through Standing Separate Leg Head to Floor pose.  I've been so focused on being able to grab my feet that I've kept them closer together than they should be.  She made me, and all the rest of us with tight hamstrings, spread our legs even farther.  And she did this in a third set.  It felt really good, and quite different from what I'm used to.  And she is the only teacher at our studio who would ever put a class through a third set of anything.

On Monday, she complimented my first backbend.  It wasn't because I was going back really far, but she could see how hard I was working to keep my hands together and my elbows locked.  Then later she pointed out that I needed to straighten my wrists in Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee.  I did, and it made things alot harder.  That's another cheat I was doing out of pure ignorance.  I love when I get attention to small details like that.

I've been a bit lax about posting here.  I thought it might be laziness, or perhaps because I've been feeling my posts suffer from being repetitive.  Today it hit me that it may be something else entirely.  Again and again in class we are told to try to get beyond judging ourselves.  Part of being present in the class hinges on being able to do the poses without scolding or being too critical.  Praise has its own pitfalls.  Anyway, in some respects, I realize I have constantly been judging classes, and my own performance, through this blog.  That raises a question, and I don't know whether I can answer it satisfactorily:  How do I go about writing a somewhat interesting or worthwhile blog about my yoga classes without bringing any judgment into it?  I suppose it may be possible, but I'm not sure exactly how that would be done.

And I'm pretty well convinced that comparing my performance from one day to the next, from one set to the other, etc..., only hinders my progress in the long run.  So I'm not sure what I'm going to do about it.  Next week I will probably have five days in a row off, and I'm going to think about some new approaches to this side of the endeavor during that break.

Monday, December 15, 2008


2:30 with Miranda

Today, I felt a bit like I was back on track.  Class pretty much flew by.  The heat was up pretty high, but it felt good and not al all oppressive.  And unlike yesterday, I felt like I was putting all my effort and attention into the poses.  So, all in all, it was a good class.

Balancing was only mediocre.  I fell out of each part one time.  In Standing Head to Knee, I fall because I start to lose my balance to the outside of my foot.  I think this is an alignment issue, and I should probably go back to the first part of the pose for a while to get an even more solid knee lock.  In Standing Bow, I fall out because the stretch becomes very intense.  I should be able to overcome this with just a deeper concentration.  Basically, I think if I could learn to breath into the stretching pain, I could hold this pose longer.  But its in little things like that where the true difficulty lies.

Back strengthening was really good today.  Cobra was really good.  From class to class I can feel myself lifting up even more with just my back, and then I can get a really good stretch in the upper back.  Locust was better than its been for a while, as was Floor Bow.  After locust, I felt the beginnings of a cramp just below my left scapula.  And in Floor Bow, I could feel a real tightness/tiredness feeling in a line across my middle back.

Before class I was talking with a man who has been coming to this studio since it opened.  He has probably taken over 500 classes in the last two years, and did other yoga before this.  He said, with a touch of bemusement, that he still couldn't lock his knee.  So I watched him in a few poses.  He kicks out in Standing Head to Knee without a fully locked knee.  I don't know much, but it seems pretty clear to me that you need to learn to really lock the knee before you start to kick out.  Once you are concentrating on the kicked out leg, it's exceedingly difficult to focus on locking the standing knee.  Besides that, its dangerous and he's lucky that he hasn't hurt his back.  Then I saw him going into Fixed Firm:  He goes all the way back into the full posture, but his hips are off the ground.  Again, I thought this was dangerous.  And it probably is not giving him the full benefits of the pose.  Now I wonder if I should talk to him, and I know him well enough that I probably will.   

The point here is that he is really a good, dedicated student, and there are still some things that seem to have slipped by him.  And I'm pretty sure the same happens to all of us.  I know that I discover little adjustments I need to do in the poses all the time.  And who knows, maybe there are some really big errors that I have been making all along.  Both of the errors I saw today, I think, come from wanting to go deeper into a pose before being ready for it.  That's a huge temptation, and one that I have been trying to guard against.  But today I started inching back some in Fixed Firm myself.  Was I truly ready for it?  Or was I just trying to get deeper into the pose so I could reward myself with another breakthrough?  Sometimes it's pretty hard to tell.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Thurs 8:15 pm with Miranda
Friday off
Saturday 2:30 with Danielle

We have company visiting, so it's been harder to make it to class.  One of my favorite Woody Allen quotes is "80% of success is just showing up."  And these past few days, I'm hoping he has it right.

Thursday night's class was very good.  I don't remember much about it at all, and that's usually a good sign.  The 6:30 class had orange slices waiting for them, and I remember being a bit disappointed that they were gone after the late class.  Other than that, I can't recall anything particular about any of the poses.

I meant to go to class on Friday, but we had lunch reservations that made any of the early classes impossible.  We ate at a Brazilian churasscuria, which is basically an all you can eat steak house with about 22 different kinds of meat, each of them better than the last.  I thought about going to the 6:30 class, but was afraid of what might come up in Locust.  So I took the day off.

Then today, we had another big lunch, but there were no other options for class.  So I went to class with a full stomach, which was a first.  The idea filled me with more than a bit of terror.  But it was different than I thought.  I didn't have any problems holding the food down.  Instead, I lacked energy.  So my mind was involved, but my body wasn't responding the way it should.  I kept having the sense that it would have been a simply great class if I had gone without eating.

Danielle has already improved quite a bit.  Her dialogue was more confident.  She made only one noticeable slip.  And she seemed to have a better connection with the students than before.  The first class I took with her was solid and showed promise.  After this class, I'm pretty sure that she will develop into a really good teacher.  The only faults I could find with today's class were the pacing (too quick) and the heat (too cold for me).

I was fine in the standing series.  Had pretty good balance.  I made it through the back strengthening pretty well, and without spitting up.  Then, the extent that I dogged the class became clear in Camel and Rabbit.  Both poses were considerably less deep than usual, especially Rabbit.  I took that to mean that I had not prepared as well earlier on.  The amount that each pose builds on the earlier ones in this series is pretty incredible.  So, either my full stomach was holding me back, or I held back a bit unconsciously because of the full tummy.  Either way, its not something I want to repeat very often, and I need to make sure that I don't let myself get into the habit of dogging it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

151/176 Snow in Houston

6:30 pm with Miranda

It snowed today, which is the first time since I've been in Houston.  I heard that it snowed about 5 years ago on Christmas eve, but I was in China at the time.  I have two Samoyeds, sled dogs who have never seen snow.  So I let them frolic for longer than usual and came in just in time to get to class, but really chilled.  It was very tempting not to go, but I didn't give in and I'm glad I did not.

I didn't have much of the after cold burning sensation in my hands or my feet, and the temperature in class was perfect and felt really good.   And it was very pleasant being in the hot room and being able to look through the foggy windows at the snow falling.

Class went well.  I've found a new spot to breath through in my throat during Pranayama.  It sounds even more like a snore on the inhale.  I assume this means I'm improving, but I haven't asked anyone.  It feels a bit better than before.  It's strange to think about how varied a simple thing like breathing can be.

I didn't get my bit toe to hit in Eagle today, so that was a minor step back.  But I also had a minor breakthrough:  in Locust, I got my elbows to touch for the first time.  I can see how keeping them closer might increase my leverage someday, and make it easier to push further up.  But something is going to have to open up in my back first before I can take advantage of that leverage.

Balancing was not good.  I was fine on my left leg, but had trouble holding balance on my right leg.  I think cold feet from the snow may have had something to do with this.

Otherwise class was pretty standard.  The big achievement today was showing up.  Also, for the first time I brought an extra towel and showered there.  Until recently, I thought the shower there would be pointless, because I couldn't stop the sweating that fast.  For some reason, that doesn't seem to be as much of an issue any more.  And it was really nice to be able to go home dressed as a human being.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


10:30 am with Miranda

Today's class was as good as Sunday's was bad.  Heat and humidity were a perfect 105/40.  The energy was good and I felt strong throughout.

Miranda gave a few hands on corrections that were illuminating.  In the first forward bend, she started to push back on my knees while telling me to roll forward.  The feeling was a bit different than when I do it on my own.  I could feel more in my back and in the middle of my hamstrings.  I had never really rolled forward properly before, I guess.  

I thought I was doing it.  It's pretty easy to fool yourself into thinking you are doing something when you really are not.  That is one lesson I learn again and again from doing this Yoga.

In one of the situps, she came over and pushed down on my knees while I was sitting up.  When I sat up, she gave me a look that said "You see, you can do that."  And for the rest of the sit-ups, I did do it on my own.  It's so easy to let the knees bend in the sit-ups, but its also a point where I really do have control.  So no excuses from this point on.

And she pushed my hips onto my heels in Half Tortoise.  She's done this before, but I've made some progress in this pose, and it changed what she was doing.  Basically,  I realized how far I have to go still in this pose.  My head was barely on the floor, and there was an awesome stretch through my upper back and shoulders.  I can still feel the aftermath of that stretch.  The feel of this pose varies so much from day to day.  Sometimes, its like a pure rest, and other times I can get a big stretch out of it.  I haven't figured out quite what makes the difference, and today I found out how much more work there really is to do in this pose.

Balancing was pretty good, especially Standing Head to Knee.  My right leg still wants to come out of a full locked position, but there's some improvement.  Balancing Stick was really good.  Miranda stressed leaning back before going into the pose, and then concentrating mostly on lifting the leg, and letting the upper body follow.  I hadn't heard this before, and it seemed to make a difference.

All in all, it was a great class.  Oh, and I almost forgot.  My big toe touched the back of my leg in Eagle.  It's a minor breakthrough, but very satisfying.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Saturday 9:30 am with Amy
Sunday 2:30 pm with Miranda

Saturday morning class was just about perfect.  Other than that, I hardly remember a thing about it.  I remember getting my head on the floor in Fixed Firm.  Other than that, I'm pretty much drawing a blank.  But I know I was really with it, and I felt good during class and great afterwards.  That is enough.

Today's class couldn't have been more different.  Unfortunately, I remember just about every moment, every painful moment.  We started out at 85 degrees and 60 % humidity.  It was so cold that Miranda took us through a stretching routine she does to warm up.  That part was fun, but class started over 20 minutes late as a result.  That wasn't that big a deal.

Gradually the room got hotter, eventually to 99 degrees.  And the humidity never went below 58%.  I did really well to start with, and then around Standing Bow I started to run out of air.  Sometimes it really is the humidity.  And of course, on Sundays, I don't eat before class, and that probably didn't help.  By Triangle, I was pretty beat, and I dropped my arms between sides, so I went down.  Then I went down again in the next pose.  And then, I even felt like going down in Tree pose, but resisted.

I figured floor series would be better, but it was even more humid on the floor.  The only thing I skipped on the floor was a set of Locust, because I needed a bathroom break.  Or maybe I just wanted to escape.  After Locust, things went back to being merely painful.  

To top it off, I've had a low grade headache since class.  Maybe I'm getting sick, but this class will go down in the Pantheon of nightmarish classes.  It was right up there with one of Zeb's torture sessions, or the class with Lenette where I pretty much collapsed, or the second advanced class where I was out for the count for the last 20 minutes.  But there's no lasting damage, and I think I may have actually learned a few things about the poses, and about warming up.  So the class was really hard and painful, but not in any way a loss.

Friday, December 5, 2008

147/171 - No Balance

6:30 pm with Miranda

I don't know why, but I could not stand on one foot today.  Well, I do sort of know why.  I played with the dogs before class, and it was pretty cold out.  And the ground was wet.  So I started class with very cold feet and hands.  They didn't burn, like the last time.  Instead, when we started Eagle, I started to get cramps in the outsides of each standing foot.  Not so bad that I had to hop around or anything, but bad enough to completely throw off my balance.

By Standing Bow, it got comical.  I was about as bad as I was in the first couple of weeks of class.  Not overall, but I fell out about every 5-10 seconds or so.  The best thing I can say is that I didn't give up, and I didn't get mad at myself or frustrated.  And that is a major difference between now and when I first started.  Then, I constantly got mad and frustrated with myself, particularly in the balancing poses.

The best parts of class today were Fixed Firm and Rabbit.  In Fixed Firm, I felt like I could have gone all the way down in second set.  I still didn't push it, but I'm pretty near to where I was before I hurt my knee.  In Rabbit, I got into what felt like a pretty deep position.  It's really hard for me to know with this pose, but it felt better than usual, and my breathing was good in the pose.

I got confirmation today of Bikram's close call in Mumbai.  He was with his wife and several of the yoga champions to open a new studio there.  They stayed at the Taj Mahal Hotel, and left the building to go out for food or a drink only ten minutes before the terrorist attack.  A few minutes the other way and the chances are pretty good that some or all of them would now be dead.  Thankfully, they are all fine.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Tues. 10:30 am with Miranda
Wed. 10:30 am with Miranda

There's a funny thing about morning classes.  I'm less flexible during classes, so while doing it, I feel less sense of accomplishment.  In the evening classes, I tend to go much deeper into the poses, and that's always nice.  But afterwards, I feel like I've gotten more benefit from the morning classes.  Not just from the energizing effect that lasts the rest of the day, but also simply in the way my body works.

The room conditions the last two days were very different.  Yesterday, it was cold and humid.  Class started at 92 degrees and got up to about 102.  Humidity never dropped below 45%.  That usually bodes ill for me, and yesterday was no exception.  I almost had to sit out a set at the end of standing series, and was suffering through some of the floor series.  Today, it was hotter but dry.  We started at about 102 and it got up to 107, but the humidity was only around 35% at the maximum.  And those differences made class so much easier.  Plus, I came into class today determined to try to really focus on Miranda's voice, and to push everything else out of my mind.  I think that helped speed things along, and made for a better class all around.

I don't have much to say about the postures in either class.  Balancing series were OK.  I'm pretty much falling out once per part in these, and sometimes making it all the way through.  Back strengthening was about par for the course.  Fixed Firm is slowly improving.  I can go back on my elbows when I want now, and am even thinking about lowering my head to the floor a bit.

In terms of the poses, it seems like the biggest improvement I could make now is to increase the flexibility in my butt and hamstrings, especially on the left side.  Pushing this too hard, however, is fraught with danger.  Most of the people who hurt themselves (including my own sciatic problem), do it by pushing the forward bends too hard.  So, instead, I'm trying to learn patience and persistence.  The persistence part doesn't seem to be that much of a problem.  The patience lesson is a harder one to learn.