31 March 2014

I Thought I Knew Savasana

Fifty minutes or so have passed in your Bikram class. You've stretched and pulled and bent your body in a myriad of ways. You've been asked to show "bengal tiger strength" and "bulldog determination". You've attempted to pull on your heels, lock your knees, and touch your forehead to the floor (or your knee). You've tried oh so hard to balance on one leg, then the other, then on your toes. If you're like me, you've also been awake for fourteen hours commuting, working, preparing meals, cleaning, or any of a hundred different things that might make up your day. You're getting tired, you may be a wee bit dehydrated or nauseous (that cheeseburger two hours was a mistake).

You need a break. You need it badly.

Then those magic words ring out:

"Lie down on your back. Savasana."

You crumple in a heap on your mat, guzzle down some water, and try to get yourself situated. While all this is going on, you dimly hear more dialogue that may or may not include the following:

"Bring your legs together, heels together, feet fall open. Arms by your side, palms facing up. We take two minutes here to relax and let the body sort itself out. Focus one spot on the ceiling, resist the urge to adjust your costume, to scratch, to wipe, or anything else. Empty your mind and focus on full, deep breaths. Belly rise, belly fall."

Of course while these words are spoken, you (meaning me) are too busy doing almost ALL the things you aren't supposed to do. The sweat is running down everywhere, making me itch. My breathing resembles a locomotive instead of in and out through the mouth. My mind races with thoughts of what to eat after class, what the following work day looks like, the grocery list, etc.

That was Savasana for me when I began practicing. Over time, it has gradually moved to a more relaxing, renewing break before the floor series.

At least, I thought it was. Then about ten days ago, I had a small revelation.

There I was, laying quietly, breathing in and out through the nose, legs quiet, no scratching, no moving, mind quiet. The instructor said something I've heard a thousand times: "Relax your neck."

I did. It felt like my neck dropped six inches, although it was much less than one. I never knew how much tension I held there! I was surprised at how much of a difference that made. Now, I really focus on relaxing ALL of my body, from heels to head. The clearing of the mind is still a challenge every class, but it's getting better. I have been interested in getting into meditation, and this is a good way to begin.

Last week, I learned a good tip for Savasana on your stomach. Try to touch your earlobe to the floor every time in order to stretch your neck fully. It works!

How long to stay in final Savasana? You are told two minutes. Five is better. Stay in the moment. Let your body get acquainted with all you have done. Meditate. Breathe.When you get up and leave the room, the world will still be there, doing it's very best to break you down. Make the world wait for you instead of the other way around for once. You've just done something wonderful for yourself. You've spent time on yourself. And your Self.

You deserve it.


30 March 2014

When one class simply isn't enough...

Vacation is coming to an end. In a few hours, it's back to the mind numbing, day to day grind. My goal for these eight days was to attend nine classes. Naturally this meant that somewhere I'd have to do a double.

I've taken two classes in a day before but never the true, back to back double. So, after yesterday's class (which was quite strong), I made sure to drink at least 5 liters of water (with a little coffee thrown in at breakfast) and stretch throughout the day. Cleaning house and doing more loads of laundry than I can count kept me moving and my body loose. A good night's sleep and there I was at 7:35 this morning to take the 8 and 10AM classes.

The only word that comes to mind is AMAZING.

Knowing that there was three full hours of yoga ahead of me, I knew I had to keep some energy in reserve. So, for the first class, I took it slowly. In each posture, I didn't go to my edge where I might fall out, but just short. I figure I was going 80-90% into the posture -- where I could feel the stretches and compressions while keeping my breathing under control.

You know in the dialogue where they say, "The slower you go, the better you do..."?

They (yet again) are correct!

My floor series in the first class was so much better than normal!! I did all the postures -- even gave it full effort in both sets of Rabbit, which isn't normal at all. Overall, the first class was quite the success. After a pint of coconut water and a costume change, I was ready for class number two. As an added challenge, I moved from my comfortable spot on the right side of the room all the way across to the far left side (got to beware of attachments, you know).

Quite simply, my second class was phenomenal.

The warm-up was actually quite difficult. Half-moon was harder the second time, as was Awkward. After that, things went more easily. In Eagle, I got each foot behind the leg and held it for almost the entire time! Then, after Party Time, the miracle happened. I was able to actually lock the knee and kick out the leg in Standing Head-to-Knee. In both sets!!! Couldn't kick out straight, and couldn't stay there long, but I finally got there!! I was amazed and pretty damn proud of that! The rest of the Standing series was a blur. Took a knee twice but I was just so happy about such a huge improvement in SH2K. Even took a crack at Toestand, which I used to love but a balky right knee has made very difficult.

The floor series was harder but I actually went further in most of the postures than I have in a long time! My spine-strengthening set was so much better! After that I started to falter, but fortunately I was surrounded by three ladies and a gentleman who, by simply continuing to do posture after posture, kept me focused and energized. Each time I thought about taking a set off, they would all rise as one. I just wasn't going to try a double and lay out the final 25 minutes. With their silent assistance, I did every posture and made it through. My post-class mineral water has rarely tasted so good.

Overall, since the first class was a warmup, I was so much more flexible for the second. Therefore, instead of using my strength to find flexibility, I was (for once) using my flexibility to gain strength. In addition, my mind was more clear in the second class. There was less mental resistance, less "monkey mind", and more surrendering to the moment. It really was just a matter of listening intently and moving and breathing. Finally, the second class seemed to fly by. It was hard to believe I has just finished two back to back classes, let alone survived them so well!!

It can't be done all the time, but if you can invest a full morning or afternoon I hope you try to do a double. Your body, your mind, and your practice will thank you.


26 March 2014

Lessons Old, Lessons New

Last night's class was one of those "really tough but really good" classes. I kept my focus, I worked hard, and...


It took a little longer to clean the studio because of my foggy "yoga brain" but that was ok.

Anyhow, since resuming my practice, I've been reminded of a lot of things to help me through the class -- and learned a couple of new ones (at least to me):

Your Pranayama and Half-Moon determine how the rest of your class will go. One of my first instructors told me this, and his words still ring true. In those classes where I am unfocused with my breathing, or where I just "hang out" in Half-Moon, I tend to have classes where I am not really into it, where I take a knee a lot, where I let my mind convince me that, "We really shouldn't be here". However, if I really focus on my Pranayama (knees locked, glutes engaged, shoulders down, chest lifted up), I am set for a much better class. In Half-Moon, if I really PUSH my hips out and think about trying to pull my top arm toward the back corner of the room, my posture is really strong, and the rest of the Standing Series goes better. I don't slack off or take a knee nearly as much.

HYDRATE. HYDRATE, HYDRATE!!! Seems like old hat for those of us who have practiced for any length of time, but it still bears mentioning. For me, that means cutting my coffee intake to just 1-2 cups a day, and no alcohol. the rest of the time it is either water or mineral water. Sometimes after class though I will have a small glass of soda as a small treat. How do I know if I've hydrated properly? If I can go through class and sip water 0-3 times it's good (yes, sometimes I never open the bottle during a class -- YOUR BODY IS DIFFERENT -- OBSERVE AND TAKE CARE OF YOUR SELF!).

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!! Yes, I know I just said that. But after seeing a woman faint as she left the room (she was ok), it must be said. If you need a break during the standing series, take a knee or sit down but keep your head above your heart. During the floor series, simply go back to Savasana. Let your body tell you what it needs. Sometime it is necessary to leave (I had to bail last night to retrieve my inhaler) -- just ask yourself if you really need to leave the room. The instructor can take better care of you in the room.

Now for a couple of posture tips I picked up this morning:

Balancing Stick: Work to keep your hips level and do what they say: Contract every muscle. 

Wind Removing: Work to keep your heel, knee, and shoulder all in one line when doing each leg separately.

Cobra: During setup, the top of each shoulder should be directly over the top of your middle finger.

Half-Tortoise: Along with holding in your stomach, activate your inner thighs and squeeze your legs together to help stabilize your core as you come into and out of the posture. This was the biggest surprise for me today -- I always have to push myself up part of the way with my hands to get back up.

Hope you find your way to your mat today!!!

PS: As for the nine class in eight challenge, still on schedule -- four in four.



25 March 2014

Twenty classes later...

Hello again!

Tonight will mark the 21st class since returning to my Bikram yoga practice 45 days ago.

What have I learned?

1) I still love it! -- I just feel so grateful to be able to practice on a regular basis. To see old friends, to make new friends; to meet, take class from, and learn from new instructors -- it has just been amazing.

2) I have far to go... just to get back to the level I was at when I had to stop practicing. However, that is OK, because...

3) I understand more -- Since I already know the sequence of postures and how hot the room can get, there was less fear or apprehension at actually performing the postures. My only fear was that I would simply be unable to do a lot to begin with. Further, because I already know what to expect...

4) Things are "clicking " faster -- especially over the last 10 days or so. Last Thursday was the best class I've had since returning. My focus was really good, and I began to do more of the postures for longer. The first set of Standing Bow that night ranked right up there with the best I've ever done!

5) While some things are different -- Most of the instructors stick to the dialogue exclusively, and I think there have been a few tweaks to the dialogue. The more senior instructors do include tips and "mind-vitamins" for you to think about. Also, I think there is more attention is paid to making sure we get into the postures correctly -- "The setup determines the posture."

6) Some things remain the same --  What can I say? Triangle Pose is still a bitch. However, I must say that in the last week it has gotten better. I still fall out on almost every set, but I'm getting stronger little by little. Same thing happens in the next posture (Separate Leg Forehead to Knee).

7) Any posture in which I must tuck my chin to my chest is agony -- Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, Rabbit, and Head to Knee w/ Stretching -- these just suck. I think it's because of the bronchitis that sent me to hospital last year, but anytime I do those poses I automatically feel like I'm not going to be able to breathe and I begin to panic and come up for air. This will take a lot more focus and discipline on my part.

8) I used to love the Spine Strengthening Series -- now it gives me fits. Especially in Locust. Before the hiatus I was doing a reasonable Locust. Now, I can barely get one leg up let alone both. Then in Fixed-Firm, my hips have closed so much I cannot sit myself down on the floor. Soon, though. Soon.

9) Camel makes me feel really weird -- The fact that I can do Camel at all so quickly is mind-boggling. However, I feel really strange once I come out. You always hear how "things will come up... or out" in Camel, but it never happened to me previously -- or perhaps I simply wasn't aware of it. I don't feel ill when I come up and out of the posture, just "disconnected" for a few seconds. Or perhaps I feel "more" connected. I don't fear it, but I need to try and understand it.

And finally...

10) IT STILL WORKS!! -- Yes, the yoga still works. Question the man who put it together on many counts, but don't question the yoga. I feel better. I'm eating better. I'm learning (and re-learning) more about myself. I love it!!

Thanks for stopping by... leave a comment if you have been moved... would love to hear from you!!


PS: While on vacation this week, trying to go to nine classes in eight days... I'll let you know how it turns out.