26 June 2011


Three classes in 13 days. Ridiculous. Every time I think I can get to the studio, life gets in the way. I'm not bitching -- I was needed for different things and I am very happy I can take care of whatever comes up. My practice, needless to say, has almost ground to a complete halt.

I went to class this morning. I almost wish I hadn't. It was horrible. NO balance. NO strength. I hit the deck at Triangle and pretty much laid out for the rest of class. It was quite warm in the room, and I consider it a small (very small) victory just to have stayed in the room. Oh, another thing: I had woken up at 4 AM, so I thought breakfast would be OK since class did not start until 10. Wrong. Or, rather, scrambled eggs and coffee were the wrong thing to have. I was queasy the entire class.

I always look forward to going to class. The fact that I have had so much trouble going regularly is really beginning to irritate me. I know that to put everyone and everything else aside just for yoga is wrong. At the same time, I have to look out for myself, right? If I'm not taking care of myself, I can't really take care of those I love, right? So where do I draw the line? I know, the answer is different for everyone. I need to find that balance, though. Soon.

I'm sure most of you know the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling. Many moons ago (1997), my favorite sports team, the Dallas Stars, adapted the poem for use in the opening of their television broadcasts. It has always resonated with me. The shortened adaptation is as follows:


If you can keep your head
               When all about you are losing theirs…

If you can force heart, nerve, and sinew
               To serve long after they are gone…

If you can meet with triumph and disaster
               And treat them just the same…

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
              With sixty seconds worth of distance run,
              Stare down the foe that looms straight ahead.
              For the battle is won
              Only by those who will fight!

I hope you draw inspiration from it. I still do, at times. It just seems to get harder and harder to summon up the strength for the battle....




24 June 2011

My Floor Series

In the interest of full disclosure, I thought it time to actually to discuss how I’m doing in each of the postures. I do this for a couple of reasons. First, it forces me to be honest with myself about bad habits or areas to work on. It gives you, the reader, an idea of how far I’ve come in two years of practice -- and more importantly, how far there is for me to go. 
Earlier, I talked about my Standing Series. Today, I talk about the Floor Series. 

Savasana: Seems to take me longer to get into the pose than most. Must have something to do with wiping my face and chugging some of my ice cold water before laying down. The deeper into class we go, the harder it is to stay still. If I am really fighting to stay in the room, either my right wrist twitches or I'm literally hanging on to my mat for dear life...

Wind Removing: I know I've gained some weight back because it is really difficult to grab both legs at the same time and pull. Working with each leg separately is not so bad, but I've slipped here as well.

Sit-ups: All depends on how good or bad my back feels. If good, I can do a passable sit-up, but forget about touching my forehead to my legs, much less my entire body! Again, my gut gets in the way.

Spine Strengthening Series (Cobra, Locust, Full Locust, Floor Bow): I will tackle all of these together because it is all or nothing with these postures. If I am feeling strong that day, it is not difficult to get into any of these postures. However, on many days, I feel a quick, sharp pain in my lower back... almost like an electric shock... and lifting up even an inch is torture. Locust is the worst... if I'm good I can get both legs really high (45 degrees or more) off the ground. If not, I can barely lift my legs, either singly or together. It gets really frustrating at times when I feel as weak as a newborn kitten. Floor Bow is the same. I do not know if I need to see a chiropractor or do more sit-ups or just do as much yoga as possible. (I will listen to ANY suggestions!!)

Fixed Firm: Had my first breakthrough here when I was able to get my backside on the floor between my heels! It varies as to how easily I can get into the pose. One of my favorites to do, though.

Half-Tortoise: Impossible for me to get hips to heels AND touch my forehead to the floor. I once asked a teacher which was more important and she related a Bikram quote: "Whom do you love more, your mother or your father? You love both equally." Many of these poses illustrate just how weak my core still is...

Camel: Lately, it has been really difficult for me to get into Camel, specifically grabbing the heels. Pushing forward is sheer torture at times.

Rabbit: Getting better at touching my forehead to my knees, but can't keep it there when I pull on my heels. My biggest problem: with this (or any similar forward bend) I feel like I'm going to choke because I can't breathe. I always come out of Rabbit early just so I can get a good, full lung breath.

Head to Knee w/ Stretching: Have yet to get either leg fully extended. Have yet to keep my forehead on the knee for full length of the posture. Have yet to keep chin to chest, or pull either heel off the floor. Most of the time I half-ass my way through this one... if I'm even in the room. When I pull on my toes it hurts. I really don't think I'll ever get my entire my stomach, chest, and face to my legs.

Spine Twist: Another testament to the fact that my core is nothing but mush. Always using one arm as a kickstand. If I do try to wrap my arm around my back, I look like a hunchback. The twisting part is pretty good though.

Kapalbhati Breathing: I've got the form down, but that second set is murder. I am never able to keep up for all sixty counts.

So there you are: my practice in a nutshell. Feel free to leave a tip or two.



22 June 2011

Just stopping by.....

It has been a frustrating week. Long story short, every time I tried to make a class over the last week, something would come up and I would miss. It drove me a little crazy at times, but as I've said before, sometimes your yoga lies elsewhere...

Anyhow, finally made it back to the room last night. It was the type of class one could imagine after a seven day layoff. It was tough. I wasn't very flexible, my balance was worse than usual, and I sat out a couple of postures (yes, Triangle was one of those). I made it through without leaving the room, but I was beat. I wish life would slow down a tick or two so I could make it to more classes. Trying to get to a point where I can attempt that 10-day mini challenge....

Finally, the spring session of Teacher Training has concluded and I would like to offer my, "Congratulations!!!" to Savygirl, Colleen, The Grateful Yogini, and all the 2011 spring graduates!!

Gotta go for now... Namaste.


16 June 2011

My Standing Series

In the interest of full disclosure, I thought it time to actually to discuss how I’m doing in each of the postures. I do this for a couple of reasons. First, it forces me to be honest with myself about bad habits or areas to work on. It gives you, the reader, an idea of how far I’ve come in two years of practice -- and more importantly, how far there is for me to go.
Today, I’ll talk about the Standing Series.

Pranayama: Always difficult to keep my legs locked. Left leg is a bit longer and I tend to rock side to side. On the exhale, I almost never remember to keep my eyes looking for the back wall.

Half-moon/Hands to Feet: Most “up and down” posture. If my back is loose, I can get myself fairly deep but keeping the knees locked is always tough. I can sway front to back in this pose, too. If I’m tight, forget it. My back grabs and it hurts. A lot.

Awkward: the first part is OK for me, but the last two parts are hell. If I can merely stand on my toes in the second part (forget about bending my knees), I’m ecstatic. That rarely happens, though. On the third part, I have trouble squeezing my knees together, and one or both knees pop and crackle on the way down. Ouch.

Eagle: My current favorite! I have come very far here. I can now get both feet to hook behind my legs almost every class. Working to keep my upper body straighter once I’ve hooked the foot. I tend to “curl” my spine once I’m in.

Standing Head to Knee: Ugh. I have yet to keep my knee locked for the duration of the posture, much less progress to extending the leg, and on from there. I still have trouble keeping hold of my foot, and I my grip breaks every time. LONG way to go here.

Standing Bow: Another “up and down” posture. IF I can keep my knee locked, and IF I can keep my ankles (both sides) from rolling, and IF I can think to “STOMP THAT HEEL” into the ground, and IF I remember to kick the foot up AND reach for the mirror, I do OK. Some days it’s kind of easy, many days I do nothing but fall out over and over.

Balancing Stick: Not good. Never get arms and legs level. Always feel like I’m falling over to one side or the other. Extremely hesitant to go all out – just leads to me keeping myself from falling, or taking the easy way out and going to my knees.

Standing Separate Leg Stretching: Yuck. I can’t get my legs wide enough to touch my forehead to the floor. Hell, I can barely get my hands to my heels, no matter how wide a step I take. Either way, my hips scream at me. On the rare occasion I do grip my heels, I don’t seem to go anywhere. I pull and pull but I feel very weak when I do, like I would if I was trying to pull a city bus – nothing happens.

Triangle: How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways. I find it impossible to get either leg to bend to 90 degrees – my hamstrings give me a “cease and desist” order and my hips continue their complaints. If I can manage some semblance of a bent leg, and move my arms to the vertical, I sway backwards and have to hit the deck. I can think of only a few times that I’ve been able to get even close to a decent expression of Triangle. Yuck.

Standing Head to Knee: Another ugly posture. I feel smothered and can’t breathe when I get my forehead to the knee. If I do suck in my gut then it’s harder to bend forward. Again, I have trouble keeping my balance coming in and out of the posture. (This lack of balance thing is REALLY frustrating – tell me again why I do this?!!?)

Tree Pose: More balance issues here too. I used to love this posture – it was the only one where I could actually keep my knee locked and stay balanced. Now, it is tough at times.

Toe Stand: If I’ve had a good Tree, I will try Toe Stand. I can get down there, but balance again is iffy, at best. Coming back up to Tree can be an adventure.

So, there you have it. I’ve come a long way from that 280 pound lummox who huffed and puffed and flopped through his first class. A million miles to go, though.

Hey, it’s all about the journey, right?


Judgments, Expectations, and Intentions

Judgment: The process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing; an opinion or estimate so formed; a proposition stating something believed or asserted.

Expectation: the act or state of expecting; anticipation; assurance.

Intention: a determination to act in a certain way; the thing that you plan to do or achieve; resolve; pledge.

It is a phrase you hear almost every time you go into the chamber. It is one of the mantras of a Bikram Yoga class:

No judgments, no expectations.

The idea is (apparently) simple: Accept yourself for who you are. Accept your body for what it can AND cannot do today. Don’t come to class expecting to do every posture, or every set, or every sit-up, etc. More importantly (to me, anyway), don’t beat yourself up once you are in the room.

I said “apparently” because, like so many other things in life, “no judgments, no expectations” is easier said than done. I have quietly chastised myself up for a myriad of reasons: not hydrating, poor balance, falling out of postures, not even trying to do postures, and silently cussing myself out when I am laying on the floor, unwilling or unable to drag myself up once more. Then, of course, there is leaving the room, which my mind perceives as the ultimate humiliation. ("Loser!! You pathetic loser!!")

As for the “no expectations” part, it is really difficult for me to deal with that. Perhaps it’s because I am a guy, or maybe because I am very competitive, or that I simply expect myself to quickly become proficient at whatever it is I’m doing. Doesn’t matter if I’m playing street hockey, or learning a new procedure at work, or trying a new recipe, or performing Triangle pose – I should be able to master it in very short order.   

There is another phrase you hear very often: “Set your intention.”

To me, that means going into class with an expressed idea to do…. something. It may be to simply stay in the room. It may be to at least attempt every posture. Perhaps it could be to not take water during class, or to do every sit-up. It’s not a promise. It is, to me, making certain to try as hard as you can to do improve your practice, and therefore your life. The trick is not to turn that intention into an expectation – with all the mental pitfalls that come with expectations.

It is not the easiest thing in the world, but it IS possible. When I can set (and keep focused on) an intention, it is easier for me to listen to and try to quiet my mind and sharpen my focus. When I can, the class can almost become easy: move and breathe, breathe and move, then rest. (As I've written before, our lead instructor says yoga is simply, "Movement with awareness of breath.") 

Mind you, that hasn’t happened very often. It is, however, one of the big reasons I keep going into that room.



15 June 2011

I did!

I went to class last night.

I did not leave the room (it wasn't nearly as hot in there as in the past days).

I did not sit out any postures (fell out of some, but did not sit out).

I came closer to locking the knee.

I pulled and stretched and bent.

I stayed in the moment with very few exceptions.

I not only persevered and survived, I flourished.

I went somwhere new: in Head to Knee/Stretching, I stretched farther than ever, and came close to fully extending my legs!

I felt great at the end.

I said I would, and I did.


14 June 2011

I will.

Class starts in one hour. The temperature outside just hit 101. I had a ridiculous day at work, and I've only had about 2/3 of my normal water intake. Guaranteed that by the end of class it will be 115 or more in the room.

I could take the easy way and opt out.

I could stay home.

I could do a hundred different things tonight.


I'm going.

I will do the very best I can.

I will not judge myself.

I will try to match my body to the words.

I will try to lock the knee.

I will pull on my heels as hard as possible.

I will persevere.

I will stretch and stretch and stretch.

I will not only survive, I will flourish.

If I can, I must.

I will.

Have a great class!!

13 June 2011

Hey, dark side, listen up!!

(Note: For this post to make sense, you need to read the preceding post, "And now, a word from the dark side...)

 Hey there, DS (formerly known as me), I was wondering when you would crawl out of your hole.

Oh, yes, I got your note. Read it several times. 

I've got one thing to tell you.

Go. to. Hell.

Things have changed since the day Sweetie asked me to join her in that room.

A number of things have changed, and for the better.

I am lighter. I am more flexible. I think I am physically stronger. I KNOW I am mentally stronger (perhaps not by much, but it will come).

Yes, it is difficult. Yes, it is torture at times. Yes, it is the most difficult thing I've ever tried. Why?

It works. It is working. It will continue to work if I allow it to.

And I intend to continue, whether you like it or not.

I realize there are days or moments when you will rise up and bitch at me. From time to time, you will win a battle, as you have lately with my diet, and the occasional smoke.

However, listen closely.

I will win the war.

There will be more classes, and you will bend to my will. (Notice that right after your note, I dragged your dead ass right back into the room for two straight days. Notice, also, that those were the two best classes in more than a month. I gave you no chance to flop, to sit out, to run screaming from the room.)

Oh, and don't worry.  There will be more challenges, inside and outside the room. As soon as I can, we are going to attempt a 10-day mini challenge, then maybe a 20 or 30. The full 60 day struggle will have to wait. For now.  As for outside the room, how about facing down a lifelong fear or two. Trying acupuncture? Getting some ink? Perhaps swimming lessons? Maybe taking a trip by airplane? You know we will probably have to fly to go to teacher training.... Relax, that is only a dream... at least for now.

So, enjoy those quick, small victories. Enjoy them while you can. 

Yes, I'm worried. Scared. At times, I am downright terrified of what may happen or where I may end up.

But I'll never be alone, will I? 

You will be right there with me, every step of the way.




08 June 2011

And now, a word from the dark side....


Hey, Mark.

It's me... you know, the guy you were before you started this insanity.
The guy who loved nothing better than pounding cheeseburgers and pizza, and washing them down with liters and liters of Dr. Pepper or Coke. The guy who would inhale potato chips or cheese curls while sitting for hours in front of your gaming console, stopping only to go out and enjoy a fine cigarette. Or two.

You do remember me, don't you? The guy who would toss back a couple of beers (or more), plus a couple of shots (or more)? The guy who thought that runners were weird (I mean, really, you run and run and run, and you're not really going anywhere, you're just tiring yourself out). The guy who never understood how someone could work out in a gym for two hours, or swim three miles, or hit a silly punching bag. 
And God forbid you try anything like yoga. Those yoga people are true freaks -- tree-hugging, soy-eating, tattooed freaks who bend their bodies in unfathomable ways. Just looking at them made you feel uncomfortable!

So, what happened, buddy? Where have you gone? Off the deep end?

Ok, I can understand. It was new, it was different. It has also been a pain in the ass!! I mean, those classes are really hard! It's so friggin' hot in there!! Not only that, you did something called a challenge: 52 classes in 60 days! I thought that was ridiculous in itself, but then you did it AGAIN!! Insane!! I was so glad when you had to stop going for that six months -- I thought sanity had prevailed. Imagine my horror, then, when the studio called looking for work-study people. You never gave me a chance to put in my two cents, you just hauled off and went right on back without any chance for me to shout you down. So, once again, I am put through this hell two, three, sometimes five times in a week!!

And for what?

You make me drink so much water or Gatorade -- I want a soda!
You make me eat vegetables and, God forbid, fruit! At least you don't eat a lot of that yet.
You drag me into that oven, bend me, stretch me, and make me sweat and sweat and sweat.
You force me to breathe that hot, humid, nasty air.


It doesn't have to be this way. Let's be reasonable about this.
You don't really have to do this anymore.
I know you lost 45 pounds, and you are a bit more flexible and all that.
I don't care.

Let's go back to the way it used to be. No more of this foolishness. 
No more spending all day trying to get three or four liters of water down your throat.
No more eating better.
No more sacrificing two hours of your day for this madness.
Let's go get that ice cold Coke. And a couple of burgers.
Let's not worry about how you will fit in three classes this week. Let's watch TV or play games.

You can do it. I know you can. I've been watching.
I've seen you give in from time to time. Fast-food breakfast here. Candy bar there.
And yes, I've seen you have a smoke from time to time. It's once a week, for now, isn't it?

I've watched you crumble in that room, too. Laying out for long stretches of class, or leaving the room altogether -- what's wrong Mark? Can't take it anymore, buddy? I notice that once the postures start, you're having a really hard time looking in the mirror at your own two eyes, or your knee, or anything else. You stare at the floor (or the ceiling when you're on your back, which is happening more and more often). Your muscles scream and your body feels limp (that's my doing -- it seems to be the only way I can get your attention).  You have trouble hearing the instructor because I am there, whispering to you, "It doesn't have to be this way. You don't have to do this to us.... Let's quit."

So, come on! Let's get that pack of smokes, a giant pizza, and a 12-pack of soda. Let's fire up the Playstation, or watch the ballgame. Let's not have anymore of this lunacy.

No one needs to know.

It will be our little secret.....

Take your time. I'll be here.