Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Saturday Off.
Sunday Off.
Monday 6:30 pm with Sherry.

Last week I got some new blood pressure medicine. The first medicine the doctor gave me brought my blood pressure down from emergency hospitalization levels to about 150/100 (+/- 10 on either side). The new medicine actually works, perhaps too well. I'm typically around dead normal now, which is alot better than dead. And I've had readings as low as 100/65.

The reason I'm mentioning this is because the new medicine also seems to have a side effect. It does something strange to my constitution about 1-2 hours after I take it. And that's exactly when I took it on Monday. The upshot was that coming out of a forward bend made me dizzy. Toward the end of standing series, I started to get chills. Think of it, chills in a Bikram class! And I had some really bad reflux issues on top of it. By Half Tortoise, I was an utter mess. And I limped to the end, doing one set per pose. A couple of times, on the floor, I nearly fell asleep, and almost missed the instruction to get up for the second set.

I'm forgiving myself for this total disaster, because I think quite a bit of it was drug induced. And I hope over time I will be able to wean myself off these drugs. And now for the funny/remarkable thing: After class, my knee felt much, much better. And it has since, as well. That just goes to show that even an amazingly shitty Bikram class is way better than nothing at all.

The day 302 meditation focuses on two things -- keeping it simple, and taking risks. Keeping it simple, in this context, means showing up. And for Gates, showing up and being present end up being the same thing. The more present you are, the more you are in the moment, the more you have shown up. And, for him, its as simple as that. Everything else follows.

The cool thing is that taking risks, for Gates, means exactly the same thing. Playing it safe is withdrawing from the moment. It's not showing up. And in the end, it is more harmful than taking a risk. Part of me wants to say, "But that's so simple." But that's exactly the point, isn't it?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Willingness to no Longer be in Pain

Tuesday off.
Wednesday 6:30 pm with Sherry
Thursday 10:30 am with Lenette
Friday 6:30 pm with Rohit

Each of the classes was good in its own way. Wednesday was one of those days where the body was willing, but my mind was all over the place. I started with some worries about my ability to even get through the class. But everything settled out, and overall it was very good.

Thursday's class was better. I thought the room was cool, but I was wrong. Instead, the humidity was down just a little bit, to maybe 35%. It's amazing how much of a difference a small humidity change makes for me. For the first time in what seems like ages, I didn't skip any of the poses. And Friday was pretty much the same, except that I missed the second set of Standing Separate Leg Head to Floor, to spare my left knee.

Here's something I've been wondering about. I tend to have really good classes with the same teachers. And, of course, these teachers also are the ones I like the best. The question is about cause and effect. Do I have good classes with the same teachers because they are really good teachers (at least for me)? Or do I have good classes with them simply because I like them so much? Or is it the other way around? Meaning that for some other reason, or perhaps coincidentally, I have these good classes, and then I tend to associate them with the teachers I seem to like best. I don't know the answer to this. (And don't get me wrong. I don't dislike any of the teachers at our studio. I actually like them all, but as with other things, I have minor preferences even among those that I like. It's kind of like my preference for Beethoven over Mozart, or Chopin over Liszt.)

The day 301 begins with an interesting idea: that our practice centers on "a mature willingness to no longer be in pain." I think that Gates is probably right about this, but it sounds strange when thinking about Bikram's "torture chamber." I've heard some teachers quote Bikram as saying that we endure 90 minutes of pain in his class to avoid 90 years of pain outside. But I think dancingj summed it up better in a comment on an earlier post. That post was about pain masquerading as pleasure (like stuffing yourself at Thanksgiving), and she commented that Bikram yoga was the opposite: pleasure masquerading as pain.

Gates goes on to say something I don't quite understand. He says that this willingness comes from an acknowledgment of two admittedly contradictory things. First, that we are powerless. And second, that we are absolutely responsible for all of our actions. Even if I knew how to wrap my mind around the contradiction (and I think it has to do with gaining access to abilities we hadn't thought we had by letting go), I still don't see quite what it has to do with a willingness to no longer be in pain. There's something about this idea that I simply do not understand.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Letting Go of Junk

Thursday 6:30 pm with Libby
Friday through Sunday off
Monday 6:30 pm with Sherry

Libby's class was great. I drank no water, for the first time in months, and as usual, it helped my alertness throughout class. Instead of slogging through from Camel to the end, I had some energy and was able to stay with the dialogue. It was one of the most fun classes I've had in a while.

I took Friday off because I planned to take it off. And then something hit me, and I woke up both Saturday and Sunday intending to go, but couldn't breath through my nose, and decided against. Yesterday was not much different, except that in addition to not being able to breathe, I had a bad headache. (Note: three days off of yoga = headache. Remember that next time, and maybe I can avoid it.)

So I went into last night's class with a splitting headache, and wondering if I was even going to be able to breathe through Pranayama. In typical Bikram fashion, I got the opposite of what I was expecting. I thought the room was a little on the cool side, but when I checked, it was perfect Bikram weather -- 105 degrees, 37% humidity.

My breath cleared up by Eagle. My headache was gone by Balancing Stick. My knee felt like it was improving throughout the class. I skipped the second set of Standing Separate Leg Head to Floor because I felt some strain in the knee. But otherwise, I felt good through everything.

The only notable thing in any of the poses is that I sort of flew backwards out of the first backbend. Sherry said "Well, I guess you found your edge." Then, in the second set, I concentrated on holding it more, and through my arms I could start seeing several feet down the back wall. In the past, I've talked about being able to see down to the ballet bar, and I still can do that. But that was looking past my arms, not between them. This is different, and I think that it means my arms are coming back closer to where they should be.

For a long time, I wondered why the dialogue for the first backbend says "Don't be scared." Yes, it felt odd, and I could get so I thought I was hallucinating in the bend. But it was never scary before -- I think because I was too inflexible to get to the tipping point. Now, I think I understand. I'm hitting a point where the pose just seems so unnatural that it really is a bit scary, because bending that far leaves you with no idea what is supporting your body. Add that to the general disorientation and I can now see where the fear enters in.

The day 300 meditation is about letting go. There are a bunch of rhetorical questions he asks, but I'm not so sure they actually are rhetorical. For example, "Can we really lose or own anything?" The answer he wants is "No." But my philosophical training rebels against this kind of question. The question is asking for absolutes, and thus ignores that words like "lose" and "own" are ordinary words that mean something in ordinary usage. The "really" in the question tempts people to jump outside of ordinary contexts. That temptation may be to a good purpose here. But typically its a mistake that leads to all sorts of philosophical conundrums. But enough of the brief foray into philosophy.

I really like the last two lines of this meditation: "Letting go is the opposite of fearing death; it is trusting life. When we let go of something;our hand opens and we are able to receive." Both parts of this are both simple and profound. The first is that letting go is an act of trust, and that trust, by itself, is worthwhile. The second is a bit more involved. The idea is that we can only deal with a certain number of things at any one time, and that letting go of things enables us to bring new, possibly better things into the mix. Clear your closets of junk, and you can start to collect new, better things.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Saturday Off
Sunday 9:30 am with Rohit
Monday 6:30 pm with Rohit
Tuesday Off
Wednesday 6:30 pm with Sherry

Sunday's class started cold. Houston was in a cold snap (well, for Houston anyways) with temperatures dipping into the high 20s. When I got to the studio, the heat had been on for almost an hour, and the temperature was still only 83 degrees. It got up to 87 by the start of class.

To make up for it, Rohit tried introducing people to the "Breath of Fire" as a preliminary warm-up. This is basically the same as the final breathing exercise, but he wanted us to do it standing up, and you breathe through the nose, not the mouth. It was working for me, but basically noone was buying into it. I got the feeling that there was much resistance in the room to trying something new. Rohit went back to the standard Bikram series, and we warmed up as well as we could, which was not that well, even though the room hit 102 by the end of standing series.

Despite the lack of heat, class went pretty well. I adjusted decently to the lesser flexibility that comes with a cold room and a less than throrough warm-up. And did better than usual in the balancing and the strength poses. My knee, however, was not going to co-operate in the cold, and the kneeling poses were pretty much a total bust.

Monday's class was much better for my knee. I had to skip a set of Triangle, because the forward bend just before it puts alot of pressure on the back of my right knee, and I started to feel a bit unstable coming out of it. Then, on the floor, I finally started to feel things opening up a bit. After class, my knee felt better than it has in months, and that lasted the rest of the night.

Yesterday was a repeat. My knee felt great after class, and now it hurts just a little, but it seems to be making real progress. The other big progress I've made in the last several classes is in the compression poses. I'm getting my hairline to my knee in Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, and in Rabbit I can bring my forehead up on my thighs.

The day 299 meditation talks about the last of the hinderances to meditation: restlessness. My first thought on this is that restlessness encompasses all the others. Craving and ill-will, for example, are just different ways that one loses one's rest. Gates runs through a familiar catalog of the restless ways we might have in class, from adjusting our clothes to wiping sweat to fidgeting from one foot to the other, etc...

He then says we need to drop our autobiographies. I wouldn't have connected restlessness with an "autobiography" but I think he has a very profound point here. This little autobiography is our pre-occupation with our "selfs" (with a small "s") It's the focus on what's going to happen after class, or even in the next pose, or the focus on some little problem from the day that we brought into class. And this reminds me in turn of two Bikramisms:: "Kill your self." and "Don't let anyone steal your peace." Killing your self means killing your ego, which means letting go of your little "autobiography." And, when someone steals your peace it means that you have allowed them to make you restless.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ill Will

Wednesday Off
Thursday 6:30 pm with Libby
Friday 6:30 pm with Sherry

Classes are back to normal again. My stamina is back to where it was, making me think that I must have been fighting off some illness last weekend. I used to get sick. Now I have really bad yoga classes instead. It's a pretty good tradeoff. And normal also means that I'm in the middle of nursing one of a seemingly endless series of petty knee ailments.

Here's the strange thing. I set up my towel on Friday and felt some drops on my head. And then some more. I looked up, and there was no leak anywhere. Rather, it was raining on my mat. Inside. That's how strange the heating system combined with our cold snap is. So, while the usual for cast for Bikram is hot and humid, now I'm going to have to factor in the probability of rain as well.

I don't have much else to report on the classes themselves. My balance is better the last few days, especially in Standing Head to Knee. So has my forward bending. I did really well in Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, getting a nice tight compression and keeping both legs straight. I also had a killer Rabbit yesterday. My forehead was on my thigh (not the knee), I kept the heels together, and my hips went up. And for whatever reason, I could breath in the pose, too. What a difference from how the pose has been for what seems like months.

The day 298 meditation is about ill will. Gates says ill will stems from the conviction that something is wrong, and the problem resides in someone or something other than ourselves. The example he gives is one I've seen many times in the Bikram studio. An experienced yogi comes to his first class. He finds himself in some difficulty, and blames the difficulty on the heat, on the instructor, on the series. He refuses to follow the directions. And the first class completely beats him up. The reason for his difficulty is his ill will toward the new practice.

This problem is one that arises very easily in Bikram. I've experienced it again and again. There are times when I blame the heat for my troubles, or the humidity, or the teacher's timing, or the person next to me doing things I find distracting. And even while laying blame, I know those things would go away if I could just stay within my breath, and let things be.

Libby wrote on Facebook a while back after some class she taught something to the effect: "I don't care if you hate me, if you just do the pose." At the time, I replied that anyone who is doing the pose will not hate her. A bunch of other teachers chimed in, telling me that I must not be a teacher, and that one of the hardest things for a Bikram teacher has to deal with are the constant looks of hatred, fear and loathing they get from the students.

Of course, they must be right about what they experience from students. But I also know that when I'm really doing the yoga, and am doing it right, there's no hatred at all -- no ill will to the teachers or to anyone else. And if I do find myself hating a pose, or the heat, or even the teacher, that means that I'm not really doing the pose. So my comment still stands -- anyone really doing the poses won't hate the teacher. Now I just have to acknowledge that, and let go of my ill will, the next time I find myself glaring at some poor teacher.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Optimism and Pessimism

Sunday Off
Monday 10:30 am with Connease
Tuesday 6:30 pm with Rohit

Every time I've had a bad class, I've consoled myself with the Scarlett O'Hara idea: After all, tomorrow is another day. And that's always true. But now I know that as bad as one class can be, its always possible for the next class to hit even harder.

I'm reminded of a joke my screenwriting teacher used to tell: The difference between an optimist and a pessimist. A pessimist goes around saying "Things are horrible, things are terrible, things can't get any worse than this." And the optimist says "Oh, yes they can."

It started getting bad in about the third breath of pranayama. I actually skipped a set of Standing Bow. That's never happened before. I know I'm just supposed to go where my practice takes me, but this was really testing my patience and resolve. How many times are you supposed to get knocked down before you throw in the towel? I don't know the answer to that question yet, and I hope I don't end up learning it.

I did learn one fairly useful thing about my practice. Even with things that bad, I didn't notice what was going on with others until Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee. At that point, when I hit the floor, I wondered if it was just me. I looked around and over half the class was down for the count.

By contrast, yesterday's class was just hard. I only missed one set of Triangle, and then a set of Locust. I bailed on Locust because of reflux issues, not because of stamina. Otherwise, the class seemed fairly normal, at least to me.

The difficulties came in the knee poses -- anything that involves fully bending the left knee is very hard for me. The wonder of the class, however, was that by the end it seemed like I had pretty much worked out whatever was wrong with the knee. And the rejuvenated knee lasted the rest of the night and even feels better today.

The funny thing was that after class Rohit commented on how hard the class seemed to have been for me. I think he could see some grimacing in the kneeling series, and definitely in the third part of Awkward, when he asked whether I was OK. Add the bout of reflux when on my belly, and I can see how he might have thought I'd had a train wreck of a class. And there I was thinking that it was good to be back on track again. I guess that shows how genuinely bad (scary bad) the last two classes had been.

The day 297 meditation makes a couple of points about craving. The first is that cravings result from dissatisfaction with your life as it is. The second point is that the way to get over cravings is simply to start living your life. This makes perfect sense to me now. Craving is in some ways the opposite of contentment. And contentment is not something that you are, but something that you practice. I think that's pretty much what this meditation restates.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Resolution Time

Friday Off.
Saturday 9:30 am with Amy

You could easily tell it was January 2nd. Typical classes in the last month have been in the 12-20 range. Thirty would be alot. Saturday morning we had closer to 50.

Before class, I thought it might be a good idea to try to start the year as if I were a beginner. But I wasn't really expecting how that would manifest itself. I started feeling bad right away, and it never got much better. It was really humid and I simply was having trouble breathing. My worries over my blood pressure still being out of control doesn't help in that kind of situation. I skipped one set of: Standing Separate Leg Stretching, Triangle, Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, Tree, and then Locust, Camel, Rabbit. And even skipping those, I still felt wiped. Who knows, maybe I was getting sick? It was kind of a repeat of my Thanksgiving class in New York, and much worse than anything I've done in this studio.

Anyway, I still felt better after class. But it wasn't what I would call the greatest start to the new year. I'm sure there will be better times ahead.

I'm not much for resolutions. I haven't looked back to what I said last year, if anything. Usually, I tell people that my resolution this year is not to make any resolutions. And, of course, since I make the same resolution every year, I end up not keeping it either.

There are some things I would like to make some progress on this year, though I hate to make them rise to the level of resolutions.

For health:

1) Get my blood pressure back to reasonable levels.
2) Eat more fruit and veggies, less sugar. (On this note, I've started doing this, and nothing else, and have already lost 19 lbs.)
3) Add some bicycling in addition to yoga, to get resting pulse down some (its 68 in the mornings, which is way too high, I think.)

In yoga practice:

1) Get over my fear of Locust.
2) Make some progress on my leg wrap in Eagle.
3) Do fuller first sets in the balancing poses.
4) Stop anticipating the teacher when I get tired (this one will be tough).

In general, be kinder and less quick to anger and frustration over stupid little things. Maybe spend a month at a time concentrating on one each of the yamas and niyamas?

For those of you interested in yoga resolutions, I suggest you check out the Bikram 101 challenge. A group of the yogi bloggers has decided to start a 101 day challenge, starting Janurary first. It's not too late to join. And if you don't join, think about cheering them on. I'm putting the site on my blog roll, or you can see it here.

The day 296 introduces us to the classic hinderances to meditation. These are: craving, ill will, sloth, restlessness, and doubt. Lord knows that I've seen each of these crop up, both while simply trying to meditate, and also during class. Take cravings in class: when I'm standing in my spot and the humidifier isn't blowing air on my, I find myself looking forward to it coming on, just for that brief respite. Sometimes its the water. Sometimes its wanting to do the pose better. Sometimes it's just wanting to hear that word of encouragement. And sometimes it can be nothing more than an itch, or the urge to wipe sweat from my eyes. To an outsider, these may not seem like much, but the more I practice, the more I see that they really are getting in the way of something better.

Gates introduces a cool idea in this meditation. These hinderances are always there, he says. Too often, they are simply sitting in the background, behind the noise of our everyday lives. They are ingrained habits of mind. When we meditate, we strip away that noise, and become aware of the hinderances themselves. And then we erroneously jump to the conclusion that we have failed in the meditation. Quite the contrary, he says. When we start facing the hinderances themselves, that shows that the meditating is actually making progress, that we have succeeded in stripping away some of the noise.