10 December 2017

The First Few Classes

So, now that we are reacquainted, just how is my practice looking after just over a year of inactivity?

Shockingly, not too bad!

However, just as shocking is which postures look better, and which ones look not as good.

For instance, when the studio closed last year, standing poses were extremely difficult. My backbends were slight. I was no where near being able to grab either foot in Standing Head to Knee. Separate Leg Stretching made my hips ache. Triangle Pose had become a nightmare. On the floor, however, I fared much better. Cobra, Fixed-firm, and Camel were relatively easy to get in and out of.

Now, however, these have reversed. I was stunned in my first class back when, in SH2K, I reached down, grabbed each foot easily, and even kicked out (at least a little)! Balancing Stick was easier... I still fell out but my breathing was much better. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to bend down in Standing Separate Leg Stretching... I was nowhere near getting my head to the floor, but the fact that it didn’t hurt as much was shocking. Even Triangle felt different. I didn’t stick it, but it felt easier. I felt lighter... as if divesting myself of all the stress of the past year in my personal life was paying immediate dividends in my practice. On the floor, however, it was harder. Locust was impossible - my elbows ached when pinning them beneath me. Fixed-Firm was rough - I could not go back to the floor. When I tried to get into Camel, the room started to spin and I came out of it immediately.

Thankfully, a couple of postures felt great. I stuck three of four Standing Bows, and Cobra felt fantastic! Overall I was happy with my breathing and my ability to keep still between poses.

As I write I have taken ten classes. It was probably class number seven before I could do Camel and it felt really good. Locust and Rabbit will take some time. My biggest problem is finding time to actually take class. I have worked 68 hours each of the last two weeks between my retail job and working part time at the studio. A couple of the staff and I were going to practice by ourselves between classes today but one couldn’t make it and I... well, I hurt my back this morning... making toast. No joke. I was making breakfast and when the toaster chimed, I leaned over to grab the toast... and started having back spasms... from making toast. Only I can get hurt making toast... We are going to try again next Sunday...

Next time: 90 vs 60


01 December 2017

it’s time to start healing...


My name is Mark.

If you are new to this blog, welcome.
For those of you who have followed in the past, welcome back.

It has been a little over one year that my Bikram studio closed. At the time, my personal practice was in disarray. Every class was a struggle. I felt weak. Exhausted. Empty. Simply to stay in the room seemed impossible. I was in a bad place, in my practice, at home. Everywhere.

In the interim months there were long nights, hard decisions, and so many tears.
My significant other and I reached an impasse in our relationship. The reasons are not important, and there is no value in recounting the events that transpired. Suffice it to say that I had given everything I could, and separating myself from her was as much an act of self preservation as it was desperation.
I was broken, broke, and in despair. So after almost 18 years, we parted ways once and for all. By the final week of September, she had moved away, and I had moved into my new accommodations. It is now just myself and two of my three kitties... my best buddy, Pumpkin, passed away in July. Oh, and just for an extra dose of stress, I turned 50 at the beginning of November. I felt used up... old... worn out.

As far as yoga goes, there were a scant few yin classes at my friend Ali’s studio. There were also a couple of workshops on food and healing, and a discussion of the chakras that was extremely interesting. Ali and her husband, James, are top flight instructors, and just the nicest people you would ever want to know. Ali even led a Fundamentals of Yoga workshop: footwork,  beginning poses, a little theory. All of these were awesome, and I enjoyed being in the studio whenever I could.
But, it is across town and if traffic is bad it is difficult to get there. Plus, no matter how much I enjoyed the classes, I missed the heat. Missed it badly. I despaired of ever getting back into a hot room.

So, there I was... single for the first time in almost two decades. Trying to figure out how I was going to pay for a place to live, a new car (we had one car and it was hers), and how to start healing a damaged heart and soul. My grocery store job would not pay the way. I knew I would need a second job.

About the time that I told my soon to be ex that I was ready to move on (late June), I got a message from the former front desk manager at the studio. He told me that he was working to get the studio up and running again and that he wanted me to come back.

My heart raced... I was so pumped. The idea of being able to use the yoga to help me recover from this broken relationship was too good to be true. As I began the process of ending things, I kept waiting and waiting for more news. Finally, near the end of August, I couldn’t wait any longer. I told him I wanted in and that I had to have a paid position and explained why (in the two previous iterations of the studio, I was a work-study participant). He answered that he needed front desk staff, that I was at the top of the list, and that I would get all the hours I could handle. His target date to open was during the first week of October. I was ecstatic!

As I waited for word to report to the studio. I got on with the business of living in this brave new world of being a single man again. Unpacking and organizing my tiny little duplex apartment (500 sq ft), getting the cats used to the new digs, and learning to be alone again. There were a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of anger and tears, and a good bit of beer and whiskey. Then there was my diet. Many days my breakfast was Starbucks, lunch was McDonalds or Church’s Fried Chicken, and dinner was a large Domino’s Pizza and 3-4 beers. I generally ate the entire pizza in one sitting. I went to my doctor for my annual blood work and she immediately asked if I knew why my cholesterol levels had spiked. When I told her what was going on she said, “Ok. I get it. But you need to get that under control now. I don’t want to put you on meds... You have to get this under control. You know what to do. So do it.” For the most part, I have been good, but I still have a beer every so often and fast food has crept in from time to time. I am learning how to prep meals for 4-5 days at a time. Lots of soups, roasted vegetables, lean proteins, and salads. Lots of salads. It’s a work in progress.

Meanwhile back at the studio, there were delays. October slipped away, taking with it the last of my savings. I had to borrow from family to stay afloat, and I was ready to give in and take a job elsewhere. Finally I got word that we would open on November 6. During the final week of October I helped assemble furniture for the guest quarters and began to learn the software we use at the studio.

Then, it happened. The door was unlocked and we were off and running. So many yoga friends. Friends, fellow students, instructors... it was a reunion. That first evening behind the desk was head spinning but so much fun. My job is simple. Check in clients. Sign up new clients. Provide mats and towels. We have a small selections of mats, towels, and women’s yoga gear on sale. When class begins I lock the doors, catch up paperwork, and then freshen up the changing rooms and do laundry. After the final class of the day, I clean the studio if I have no work-study students that night. It might seem like a lot but it isn’t. I work four nights a week plus all day Sunday at the studio. This means 14-15 hour days when I work at the store then clock out and hustle to the studio for the two evening classes (this is where the meal prep pays off). The days are long, but I have found that I feel so good when I leave the studio at night because I’m helping people resume (or discover) their yoga practice. That feels good.

November seems to have flown by. Little by little our yoga family is reuniting. We have had three classes Mon-Fri and two classes on the weekends... all 90 minute Bikram classes. Next week we roll out 60 minute classes in the early mornings and at lunchtime. It’s about to get busy... fingers crossed!

I did not get to practice until the second week the studio was open. When I finally walked in that room and set up my mat just so, I took a long look around. New owners. New role for myself. New chapter in my life. Even a brand new floor beneath my feet. I took a deep breath and whispered to myself:

“I’m home. It’s time to start healing.”


17 May 2017

Great Strides

What did you do first thing this morning?

Think about it. I'll wait.

I'm going to bet that one of the first thing you did was to take a deep breath. Nice and long. Get a good blast of O2, feeling life start to flow once more.

Felt good, right?

Now imagine waking up wheezing and coughing as you begin the two or three hours of breathing treatments. Pills on top of pills. Just to be able to get through your morning. Then doing the same in the afternoon. Then again before you turn in for the night. Imagine that a good day is having 65% of your normal lung function. Imagine being underweight for your age. Imagine that your skin is salty not just after a hard workout but all of the time. Imagine having a port implanted to receive continual IV medication and a feeding tube placed just to make sure you do not suffer from malnutrition.

That, and so much more, is the lot of those who fight Cystic Fibrosis.

Why am I telling you this?

 On Sunday, May 21st, I will be participating in the Great Strides Walk benefitting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. CF is a cruel disease that attacks the lungs and digestive system. Thick mucus builds up in the lungs, clogging airways and trapping harmful bacteria. The exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide is impeded, to the point of respiratory failure. Mucus also builds up in the small intestine and pancreas, so that nutrients cannot be fully absorbed. So, despite having a proper appetite, those with CF do not gain or maintain weight easily. The mucus in the lungs leads to chronic respiratory disease, weakening the lungs to the point that they simply will not function anymore.

Why am I walking?

I walk for two people, neither of whom I have ever met in person, but hold places in my heart.

The first is Abigail Dunning. I never knew Abigail but her sister, Shanna, is a friend of mine. Abigail was a bright light: camp counselor, youth group leader in her church, and educator of autistic and special needs children. She passed in 2014 but the spirit of #TeamWebbygail lives on.

The second is Cheriz Kunkel. Cheriz wears many hats: wife, realtor, advocate, and fundraiser. Oh, and soon to be foster parent! All while completing her daily treatment protocols and taking part in a research study to help find a cure. On top of all of that, she somehow finds time to write about it. You can follow along at cheriz.org.

I walk for Abigail. For Cheriz. For their friends and their families.
I walk in the hope that soon Cystic Fibrosis will be a thing of the past.

If you feel so inclined, I have set up a fundraising page.

To donate, CLICK HERE

Thank you.

31 December 2016

Looking Back, Looking Forward

My fifteenth and final entry for 2016.

I sit here in my bedroom and try to put 366 days into words. Historians will certainly have much to say about this year. Political upheaval. Humanitarian failures. The loss of iconic celebrities. Hell, even the Cubs and Cavaliers won championships in their respective sports.

However, all of that is the province of historians to analyze. As for me?

(Pours a Bushmills. Neat.)

I learned how ungrateful some people can be.
I learned how destructive some people can be.
I learned (well, relearned) how hateful people can be.
I watched people in pure anguish fearing for their children, their parents, their future.
I (once again) was forced to "make things work" after yet another decision was made without consulting me, or by ignoring my wishes outright.
I watched co-workers become more and more bitter, burned out, and leave.
I shed more tears than I have in a long time (including Christmas morning and this morning).

My year in yoga was difficult as well. I attempted another long duration challenge. My last goal was 120 days but I stopped at 104. It was the complete opposite of the previous year: instead of improving and feeling better and better, it was horrible. It was like trying to practice in quicksand at times. It got so bad I couldn't even make myself walk in the room at times. Then in November, the studio was forced to close its doors -- attendance had dwindled so that continued operation became untenable. I was part of the collective mourning of my yoga friends as they scrambled to find new or similar venues. I'm still searching for a full time studio -- and the money to pay for it (work-study was such a blessing).

Without a regular yoga practice, and with the holidays looming, I retreated to darkness. Depression. Hopelessness. For the last six weeks, I have had the most empty feeling most of the time. Eating half of Fort Worth hasn't helped. I hesitate to step on the scale but I will do so tomorrow just to see where I'm starting from. I turn 50 in ten months... right now I feel like I'm 70. I feel empty. Used up. Nothing left to give.

On the good side, I rediscovered writing. If you follow my Twitter account, you see I post poetry there. I truly enjoy writing, and I have met so many fellow writers who encourage and inspire me. I am also part of an extended yoga family that has kept up with and encouraged each other since the studio closed. My yoga journey is not over by any means. I simply have to figure out how to make it happen. Lastly, there a few people that I hold dearest to me. People that check in, make sure I'm ok, let me rant or cry, and basically keep me going. I may not see them often, if at all, but they are quite special to me.

So, for 2017:
I have to figure out how to make LIFE happen again. I've been on this merry-go-round far too long. I cannot bear the thought of taking another turn. I have places to go. People to see. Yoga to practice. Time is short for all of us. I have a lot of life to live and love to give. I matter. I have meaning. My life has meaning.

I am enough.
I am enough.
I am enough.

Thank you for reading and following. Hang with me a little longer.

You. Are. Loved.


14 December 2016


In my quest to find a new place to practice yoga of any kind, I tried a couple of vinyasa classes in the past week at two different studios. They were both listed as vinyasa but could not have been more different.

The first was at a studio I had never visited before in the nearby hospital district. A simple, beautiful space with lots of natural light. Took class from the studio owner. The class is not a hot or heated class but, with cool temps outside, I did notice the thermostat was reading 76 degrees.

This was a 75 minute class. I don't think we stopped for the first 45-50 minutes. It was continuous and the vinyasa "flow" included lots of planks and Downward Dogs. There was music in the background which threw me early on but I adjusted. Chair pose with twists, as well as a lot of stretching and lunges, had me pouring sweat. This actually felt GOOD to me, as the Yin classes I take are cool and quiet. For a brief moment I felt at home, especially when the heat kicked on for a few minutes. Overall, I enjoyed it quite a lot. Felt sore but good. Felt grateful.

Then just a couple nights ago, I tried a Vinyasa class at the studio where I practice Yin. The room was cooler. Darker. Quieter. The class could not have been more different. In this one we held poses longer without so much flow. Also, the poses we did try were harder for me by far. For example: when doing a plank or down dog, we were instructed not to lock the arms out but to bend the arms slightly at the elbows with hands on the floor and elbows pointing to your knees ( that was exceedingly difficult ). I would get behind, fall out, and try to resume. Balance was a difficult thing to maintain, especially in poses where we were balanced on one knee or foot. I never broke a sweat, and once more I was questioning my sanity and my attempts to find a new place to practice. I fell out of poses because my body hurt and I was slow to resume. I didn't feel good about this class.

All of which brings me to... December.

I hate December. I don't need it. Christmas is for couples, lovers, and children. Not me. Work gets more difficult. More business. More shoppers. Far more work. Pressure levels rise. I eat lots of junk, come home, and pass out. One afternoon last week my I got home at 3:00, passed out on the bed at 4:00, and slept straight through until almost 8:00AM. That happens a lot in December and January for me. I've lost the desire to practice yoga. My great new yoga app sits dormant. I'm exhausted. All. The. Time. Hell, I keep fading out while trying to write this... New Years is almost worse, what with resolutions and plans to improve and all that bullshit. I've gone into "survival mode" for the next two weeks. Strange hours. Bad coffee. Lots and lots of sugar. I wake up around 3 most every day. Little or no yoga or exercise of any sort. My body hurts and I cannot find comfort. Usually this feeling dissipates after Dec 25. I'm not sure, this year. I really hurt and my sleep is so screwed up...

That's all for now. Peace and Good Night.

09 December 2016

Getting My Yin On

A busy avenue on the East side of town. Outside, the main rail artery out of town is busy. Warning gates drop and sirens sound every few minutes. Rush hour is winding down but there is still plenty of traffic on the four lane street. At regular intervals, the express bus from downtown stops, drops off, picks up, and moves on.

Inside the tiny yoga studio, it is semi-dark. Room temperature. Parts of the plastered walls are gone, revealing ancient brick beneath. There is a whiff of incense in the air. It is a peaceful place where students learn to block out the background, open their hearts as well as their bodies, and learn to accept what is.

Welcome to Yin yoga.

A few weeks before my Bikram studio closed, one of the instructors saw me continually struggling in the hot room. She also teaches Yin, and suggested I try it. She explained it as follows:

"Bikram yoga is a very Yang type of yoga. Hot. Lots of movement and exertion. It is very masculine. Yin is the opposite. Feminine. Quiet. Cool. Holding poses for minutes at a time. Letting your body slowly open itself. You will feel the effects for days."

So I did a little investigating, found the hole in the wall studio, and signed up. 

The instructor owns the studio with her husband, and together they teach Hatha, Vinyasa, and Yin classes, with a few different classes here and there. When I told her I was a Bikram devotee, she nodded and said her yoga journey began with Bikram as well. She said this would be completely different and that I would love it. So I unrolled my little rubber mat and waited. I have to admit I felt like a stranger in a strange land... no heat, no mirror to fight, no carpet on the floor. I watch as 4-5 regulars walk in, greet each other, and get set up.  The instructor takes her place on her mat, welcomes me, and explains that this class will concentrate on the liver and gallbladder "meridians" -- channels that conduct energy throughout the body. With that, away we went.

The biggest differences:

1) Obviously, the first difference is the lack of heat. I joked that I might need a sweater, but in reality it did not seem to bother me. Recall, Yin is cool and quiet as opposed to Yang which is hot and "busy" or more dynamic. In fact, the instructor believes the heat gives the body a false sense of being truly open and loose. Remember: this person started her journey in Bikram yoga and has taught in hot environments, so she has far more insight than I do.

2) Breathing: In Bikram one of the main mantras is, "Suck your stomach in. Hold it in.", even in Pranayama. Well in Yin (and in the Vinyasa class I took this week) that does not hold. Took a while to get used to pushing the belly out on the inhale, THEN sucking back in on the exhale. Still crosses me up.

3) Postures: I am acquainted with Downward Dog or Half Pigeon, but Cat/Cow? Dolphin? Sphinx?  Frog? I seem to learn a new pose in every class. Sometimes I catch myself trying to find a comparable Bikram pose (usually Cobra) and fall into it instead.

4) Props: Bolsters, blankets, and blocks, oh my! Along with straps and sandbags, no less. Foreign objects to someone who usually only has a water bottle and towel when practicing. Yin is about slowly opening the body and creating new space in both body and mind. The props help the body to relax itself long enough to open. If I recall correctly, she said it takes the body a minute or so to "get used to the idea" and relax the muscles and other tissues. She is right. Time after time we would go into a pose and my body would tense or cramp (almost always on the side OPPOSITE the side that was stretching) but after coming back up, taking a breath, and breathing back into the pose, everything would relax. Now, I did not by any stretch go deeply into a pose, but I did get in.

5) Accoutrements: Sometimes there is soft music. Sometimes it the chimes of Tibetan Singing Bowls (search on YouTube -- I sometimes put them on to sleep to). There might be incense. Last week it was a gong bath -- feeling the sound waves move through you is strangely relaxing. Almost always, she chants in Sanskrit (this lady knows 12 languages!) during Savasana. All add to the novelty... each class in different in its own way.

My takeaways:

First, while I love Bikram and am dearly missing the heat (if you missed the previous post, my Bikram studio was forced to close several weeks ago), this is a wonderful form to practice. Bikram is said to be a "moving meditation", but it can be difficult to meditate when you are sucking air and your heart is pounding after Triangle Pose and, yes, that is one of the goals of the practice. In Yin, there is none of that and I find it to be more meditative. I still fight the thoughts racing through my brain, but it is easier to quiet my mind.

Second, by holding poses for two, three, five minutes or more, my body is more open and I think my progress in postures is quicker.

Third, Yin can be just as intense as any Bikram or hot yoga class. I have walked out of that studio with legs shaking every bit as hard as any hot class I've taken. Look up "Half Saddle Pose" and add a twist to it... Yeah.  Also, it is true... you do feel the effects for days.

Finally, I am far weaker than I thought. Especially in my core. While she does not teach any standing poses, there are times we are asked to lift our legs off of the floor; sometimes even to the vertical. That is really difficult for me to do even with my hands holding my hips. Combine that with my gut preventing much of anything in the way of a forward fold, and I have plenty of work to do.

I have been taking these Yin classes once or twice a week now for about six or eight weeks. I am convinced they are greatness. I love the studio and the souls I practice with. It is a tiny place and I've never seen more than ten people in a class and the intimacy of the space is relaxing. Even as I search for a warmer yoga to practice, I continue to be drawn to this little oasis of calm. I hope you look up a Yin class near you and try one soon!

Next time: the yoga tour continues as I try a Vinyasa class, I try yoga at home from an app, and the trouble with December.


19 November 2016

Here. We Go. Again.

The third Saturday in November and Autumn has finally reached North Texas. A definite chill is in the air. Long overdue. I should feel rejuvenated. Refreshed. Renewed.

Today, however, I am heartsick.

Went to class last night. Good and hot. Started strong but faded near the end. Given the recent state of my practice, it actually felt good. I was looking forward to the next class.

Late last night, I received a message from the studio owner.:

"I'm closing the studio tomorrow. Would love if you could take my last class at 10."

I stared at the screen, momentarily stunned.

"What?" was the only response I could muster.

I could see she was typing a response, and then it hit me, and I understood. I took a deep breath, thanked her for allowing me to be a part of the studio, and gave my love.

This afternoon there was a message on the app, and an email in my box. Dwindling attendance meant that keeping the studio open was no longer viable. It was a heartfelt, sad letter, and I feel empty right now. Not only because I will miss the practice itself, but there are a lot of people that I will see little of, if at all, for now. As part of work-study, the studio was also my main social outlet, and a place where I could be alone with myself when everyone else had departed and it was just me, my music, and my mop. Sometimes I would sit in the hot room alone, in the dark, and just let go. Shed more than one tear in there.

So, once again, I am a "yogi" looking for a home.

The plan: go to my Yin class tomorrow. The rest of the week, I will be working (including Thanksgiving Day). After that, I have nine days off, during which I hope to check out a few studios -- some hot, some not -- and see what works  Then I will figure out how to pay for it. I can't wait around for a year plus like last time. Just can't.


04 November 2016

Reclamation (Part 1)

Hello, all!

Again, it has been quite a while since I have been here. I haven't practiced much yoga, either. In fact, it has been rather a difficult summer. I was depressed. I found very little joy in life. I medicated with food. Lots of food. Lots of processed, sodium filled, chemical filled, fast or ready made food. When I did take class, I usually left early. Nothing was working. Nothing was fun. For the last five (six?) weeks my only visits to the studio were to clean. On those nights, I would stop at the convenience store for a king size Almond Joy and a giant soda. Sometimes there would be a second stop on the trip home. Cooking healthy or buying ready made healthy food was out of the question -- who had the time or desire? Not me. My sleep was poor and I always felt miserable. At my annual checkup in late September my weight was 264 lbs. On the bright side, all of my blood work came back within norms, meaning that I've not done any irreparable damage. Yet. My doctor was very pleased with the results but said that with a BMI of 36 I needed to drop some weight. Thirty pounds at least. Bear in mind that when I started my yoga practice I weighed 278 lbs.

So, here I am on my 49th birthday, starting over for the umpteenth time.

The fact that I turn 50 in one year has me freaked. I guess the idea that I'm on the downhill side of this existence has grabbed me by the short hairs, if you'll forgive the coarse description. The idea of death scares me. Logically, I know that no one lives forever. Emotionally, I know there is so much more living I need (want) to do. To make that happen, I've come up with The Reclamation Project.

Starting today, I'm keeping a journal. Not of everything I eat or drink (although that sometimes will appear) but of what I do, how I feel, and plans I make. I will keep track of what exercise I do each day (yoga, push-ups, walking, whatever). In addition, there will be challenges along the way. The first one is to meditate for seven days straight. The next one might be to drink only water for a week or ten days (I just read an article by a woman who did exactly that. Sounds horrid). There will be a yoga challenge in there somewhere, but it will not be of the 100 class variety -- 30 will be the limit. I've learned that 30 strong, mindful classes beats the hell out of dragging your tired ass in there for 60 or more. Finally, I'm going to truly contemplate the things I want to do before I die. Not a full on bucket list, but I want to see new places and try new things. Thirty years at the same job made me blind to those things over the horizon. I need to live, not just exist.

I have already tried a couple of new things. First, I renewed my love of writing. Poetry. Haiku. On my Twitter page, I have found some fabulous poets who have taken me as one of their own and I'm writing almost every day. Second, in an attempt to rejuvenate my passion for yoga, I now take a yin yoga class each Thursday evening. It is almost the complete antithesis of Bikram, and I really enjoy it. I will write more about it soon.

So there we are. It's my birthday and I'm a mess. That said, I have felt much more positive the last couple of days. Two nights ago, I walked back into the hot room for the first time in weeks. I was weak. I was gassed pretty quickly but I made it through the full 90. Most importantly, for the first time in months, I felt like I belonged there again. Like I mattered.

21 July 2016

Nothing Feels Right

Sitting down here at the keyboard with approximately 90 minutes to go before leaving for the studio. When last we met I explained why I was stopping my latest Bikram challenge. I intended to take a few days - maybe the weekend - and rest before getting back in the room.

The layoff was 22 days. Just over three weeks of doing nothing but going to work, eating a shitload of processed/fast/junk food, and going to bed. That's it. Nothing else.

I would tell myself, "I'll go tomorrow. I just need some more rest."

Or, "I have to be up early tomorrow. I should stay home."

Or, "Fuck it. I'm not going."

If I wasn't talking myself out of class, I was eating myself out of class. I would leave work, jump in my car, drive across the parking lot to McDonalds and order a meal. Super sized. Sometimes with an extra burger or nuggets. Some days it was calculated, some days it just "happened" -- I was not thinking. It became "routine". I would inhale all of the food and soda on the way home, stuffing myself so I couldn't possibly go to class -- I would just get sick if I did. Last week, I bought a scale: I'm back over 250 lbs.and climbing. The house is empty save for two of us. We work different schedules with different physical and time demands. When we both are home, it is usually late. No one wants to cook or has time. So, it's the same processed, fast food choices every night (save for the weekends but even then neither of us wants to go about prepping and cooking a bunch of food.) I have broken out the juicer several times over the past month, but even that becomes a whip: assemble juicer, peel and chop fruits and veg, extract the juice, then disassemble/clean/sanitize the juicer. It takes just as long to produce 2-3 liters of juice as it does to actually cook a meal. So after a few days, the juicing stops. In the fridge right now there are 1 1/3 XL Supreme pizzas that we ordered last night. The local joint's special is Buy 1 Get 1 Free. So, we get two pies each trip (once every week-10 days). If cautious we get three meals from them. If  I'm ravenous (or just in a mood), it's two. Before that it was the big box of fried chicken with all the sides. Some nights it's something from the SmoothieKing down the street -- only slightly healthier than the other items.

Obviously, this does me no good if I'm trying to do yoga. To be honest, it's been my reason NOT to practice.

Two days ago,  I returned to the chamber for the first time in three weeks. Walking into the chamber was a minor miracle in itself. As I set up my mat, the feelings of failure began. My shoulders began to hurt. My hips suddenly felt like they were on fire. I just knew this was going to suck.

As you can surmise, it did not go well. It was just like most of the classes during my challenge. Well, actually, it was worse. I had to retreat to the locker room and change into a larger pair of shorts -- the pair I had on wouldn't stay laced. I took my first breath in Pranayama and realized I couldn't inhale for six full seconds, to say nothing of the exhale. I started yawning again and again and again. I couldn't keep my arms over my head. I lost my balance doing the first backbend. When I tried to fold forward for Hands-to-Feet, both my bowling-ball gut and the sudden twinges in my back made me stop short. I won't bore you with the rest. Suffice to say that 25 minutes in, I was sitting on the floor, head bowed, staring at my mat, ignoring every subtle suggestion (plea?) from the instructor to get up and try anything. Why bother? I'll just be right back down here in minutes... no, seconds...

So, here we are, an hour away from the gong sounding.

I can already feel my body resist, feel the pain rising, but I said to myself this morning that I would go.

So, off I go.

But it doesn't feel right.

Not at all.

I keep wondering when I'm going to be like the others in class.When it's finally going to click?
Why am I the odd one?

Epilogue: I am back home and writing this with 23 minutes remaining in that class. Left the room at "Party Time" (25 min in). As soon as I walked in I got more and more tense and my body started to hurt. Couldn't come close to doing any of the opening postures, and my breathing was for shit -- had to stop Pranayama and restart three different times. Oh well, plenty of pizza left for dinner. -- M.

24 June 2016

At Some Point The Bar Doesn't Matter

Hello again!

It started on 29 February. I began a 60 day Bikram challenge which morphed into a 120 day challenge.

Today would have been Day 117.

Let me type that again.

Today would have been Day 117.

Alas, it is not to be.

From the start in February, this challenge has been the most demanding one I've ever undertaken. Illness, injury, work schedules and life events have taken their toll. I would get behind, then do double after double to catch up. Then I would get behind again, and repeat the process. When I got to Day 60, I was nowhere the level of proficiency I had attained last summer (read about it HERE). So I just kept going. And going. And going.

Problem was, my practice got worse. And worse. And worse.

I would start yawning in Pranayama. I couldn't extend my arms in Half-Moon. I had neither balance, nor strength, nor flexibility. I couldn't pick up or hold my foot in Head-to-Knee. Sometimes I couldn't reach back for my leg in Standing Bow. I was spending 45, 60, sometimes 70 minutes lying on my back. My anxiety grew. Crowded classes were difficult because there were so many people. Small classes were difficult because there was nowhere to hide from the instructor (as if one could hide from an instructor). I rarely focused on myself in the mirror. My diet improved... sometimes.

Still, I was going to knock this out and get back into form. My FB post from June 7:

"Here we are. Day 100, Class 94. This year, it has been infinitely more difficult -- I feel like a beginner again. If you've set up next to me or led any of my classes, you know what I'm talking about. That said, I am nothing if not stubborn. I've got 21 days left to complete 26 classes and I intend to see this through. Searching for that "A-ha!" moment where things fall back in place. And if it takes another 60 to figure it out, so be it."

Brave words, but hollow. The harder I pushed, the worse things got. From June 15:
"Do you ever suffer from impostor syndrome? Do you ever feel as though you simply have no business being in this room with these wonderful men and ladies? That you just don't quite fit in? Do you ever wonder how they can keep going, posture after posture, while you crash to the floor with your head down, feeling like a complete fool? Do you ever wish that the floor would open up and swallow you whole? Do you ever wonder? 

Haha. Me neither...
(Asking for a friend.)"

I was hoping I could make it work, but no. My classes got a little better, but I was just exhausting myself trying to catch up. I wasn't going to fall short. I wasn't going to FAIL.

When this week started, it was very simple: do doubles Monday - Friday and then rest up for a triple next Monday the 27th. (My work schedule prevents me from making any classes this weekend.)

I wasn't happy about it, but I was prepared to do it. Until Tuesday past.

From June 22:

"I did not take class tonight. I'm here to fulfill my work-study obligations.
A few days ago, I wrote about how I'm struggling in the room and how I was going to just keep going no matter what. My current challenge was to do 120 days (I did a 60-day and thought I should keep going), but work and life have put me behind to the point where I would have had to do a triple next Monday to finish on time. Last night a friend asked if I was going to a double and when I said yes they stopped me. Said they see me struggling. Didn't want me to do two classes, and if I did then at least simply do one set of each posture. Didn't want me to kill myself in there. Wanted me to get the full benefits of the yoga. Said it was ego that was driving me. 

You know what? This person was correct. 

Achieving a set number is great, but you can lose yourself in it. I just wanted to be as proficient as I was last summer. When it wasn't happening quickly enough, I felt like I was failing. I pushed harder and harder, ultimately to my detriment. I've never NOT completed a yoga challenge, and it is really hard to admit I'm going to fall short. But it would be better to stop and reset. So at 114 days and 110 classes, I'm stopping. Taking a day or two off. I'll get where I want to go, but I can't rush it. I must trust the process. 

So, no, I didn't take class tonight.
And I'm ok with it.

To that friend, Thank You!
Blessings to all."

The studio owner replied:

"What you have accomplished is nothing short of amazing. It's beyond what most of us could ever do. Please don't keep setting the bar higher and punishing yourself for not reaching it. At some point the bar doesn't matter. This is that time. You have done enough challenges and enough doubles and enough back to back yoga classes. Take a break. Take care of yourself. None of us are measuring you or your classes. We love you for you. I hope you can too."

Having a difficult time with that, as I have for most of my life.

I just don't quite know how to do that.

I planned on going to class tonight, but no. I'm going to rest some more and perhaps do some more writing this weekend  -- perhaps even here. 

Yoga can wait a little while longer.



09 May 2016

Still At It

Sorry it's been so long, friends. 

This is going to be very "stream-of-conciousness". When I get a little more time, I'll delve a bit deeper. 

That said, let's catch up:

I did complete the challenge in the allotted sixty days, but it was close. I completed the final 14 classes in 10 days. My classes ranged from horrid to mediocre at best. Back spasms hindered me most of the way. I really considered giving up with three days to go, but I just couldn't allow myself to do that. 

Last year, after 60 days, I was feeling really good about myself and my practice. I had really advanced in many postures: kicking out in Standing Head to Knee, holding both sets of Standing Bow, holding all four Triangles, things like that. This year? Not so much. On a good day I can hold Bow or (if it's a REALLY good day) hold 3 of four Triangles. Kicking out in SH2K is impossible. Grabbing my heels in Hands to Feet is impossible. ANY forward bend is impossible. My "Buddha belly" has stayed put, if not grown. I kept a food diary for eight days... I lost count of trips for fast food (McD mostly). I've begun packing my own lunch, and eating a better breakfast. Also, I'm trying a new multivitamin. Some days it goes well. Some days not. This morning I had cereal for breakfast but on the way to work I stopped for coffee... And a bacon/egg/cheese biscuit and hash browns... 

In the room, I find I'm getting overwhelmed more easily -- especially if the room is crowded. I get nervous, my pulse quickens, and it becomes very difficult to stay calm and keep up. I can't tell you how many times I've hit the floor and stayed. One night the instructor knelt beside me and whispered: "You know you can get back in." But I couldn't. I feel old. I feel like I'm out of step. I feel like I don't belong there anymore. 

And despite all of that, I keep going. 

I've decided I'm simply going to keep at it until I get it right or I'm so fed up that I quit. 

So it's off to the studio: Day 71, Class 70. 


01 April 2016

Nothing Works

It is Day 33 of my current Bikram Yoga Challenge. I have completed 28 classes (pending tonight's class).

One month in and the returns are not good. 

I am a mess. My practice is absolutely dreadful. My body refuses to cooperate. My mind is on strike. I go in that room and capitulate. Give up. Every damn day is a 50-70 minute Savasana. Seriously. My shoulders ache in Half-Moon and I quit the posture. I fall out of the second part of Awkward because I cannot balance on my toes and I quit the posture. I fall out of the third part of Awkward and crumble to the floor and I quit the posture. I fall out of Eagle, Standing Head to Knee, and Balancing Stick, and I quit the postures. 

Maybe I should rename this thing to "Quit The Posture". 

On top of that I seem to be prone to freak injury.  While the earlier hip problem has healed, I hurt an upper back muscle last week simply by sneezing. You read that right. It has yet to lessen because every damn time I sneeze I seem to hurt it again. How fucking ridiculous is that?

Nothing is working for me. Patience hasn't worked. Slowing things down hasn't worked. Silent berating (not berating so much as calling myself every name in the book) hasn't worked. I walk in there and collapse, again and again and again. There seems no end. The class is the same. The room is the same. The heat is the same. Some of the instructors are different, but that's a given. It's not the room or the heat or the person on the podium. It's me. And I've no idea what to do. 

I looked back at the post I wrote after thirty days last year. It reads much the same as this one (and somehow I'm not surprised). That said, it seems I had more hope or patience last year... More faith that this was going to work out. 

Not this time. Not yet anyway. It just feels so much different this time around. Worse. It doesn't help that I've become Jekyll/Hyde with my food habits. Juicing fruits and veg is delicious, but early donut and late night fast food trips render any benefits useless. After class last Sunday, I had to stop at McD's and scarf two double cheeseburgers on my way home. That was followed by a giant take-out burrito for dinner. Not good. 

At any rate I must get to the room today. I'm already four classes behind and it wouldn't be a good idea to fall further back. That would give rise to thoughts of abandoning the challenge. I can't let that happen. Just can't. 


15 March 2016

It Had To Happen

After last week's meltdown, my practice has begun to even out a bit. The roller coaster I've been riding to start this challenge has started to level off. It's not the practice has suddenly gotten easier, it's that I'm trying to slow things down so that my mind doesn't freak out. 

The classes this past week were better. I've been focusing more and more on breathing and keeping my abdominal a pulled in. Twice in the past week, I was able to keep my stomach sucked all through a set of Pranayama. Once, I almost made it through both sets. Forward bends are still problematic because my gut is still in the way (but it is getting smaller!). The most surprising thing is my Balancing Stick -- I'm able to hold it longer and longer!

So on Sunday I have a nice, flowing 10AM class. I feel really good -- so good that I think, "I'm going to have to do this sooner or later. I'll come back for the 3PM class and do a double."


The second class started great -- great breathing, solid (for me) Half-Moon and Awkward. Eagle was ok. Then we get to Standing Head-to-Knee. I picked up my left leg and it felt like something had relaxed and I could actually get my leg higher and stand straighter (I am nowhere close to kicking out). So I lift up and for a moment, I'm there! Then something seized up in my left hip and I fell out. Tried to get back in but I could barely bend down to pick up my foot. No better in second set. I didn't panic but I wondered if I could finish class. 

In Standing Bow, I moved very slowly and really focused on breathing. As I moved forward there were a couple of twinges but I breathed through them and was able to get in and out of the pose. As I moved through the class, the key was to move slowly and mindfully. In this way I made it through the class. 

I went to my normal evening class last night. I informed the instructor of my injury. (ALWAYS INFORM YOUR INSTRUCTOR IF YOU ARE HAVING ISSUES OR DEALING WITH AN INJURY!) The class was more difficult in that any forward bend hurt and I sat out the separate leg poses (Triangle and the poses either side) but that was OK. Sit-ups were impossible. I tried the first one and stopped short, so I skipped the rest. I did try the last sit-up because basically I zoned out and forgot I was hurt. My instructor mentioned it and said to hold off on those for a few days. 

Injuries will happen. Sometimes you can work around them. Sometimes you simply have to rest and heal. You know your body better than anyone else, but always let your instructor know what's up. If they give you variations on poses, use them. If they suggest you rest a day or two, consider doing so. They want you to be healthy and enjoy your practice. After all, this isn't life and death. It's just yoga!