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!


09 March 2016

Storm Clouds

It's 4AM. An insanely loud clap of thunder jolted me awake an hour ago, and I doubt I'll get any sleep in the next 90 minutes, so what the heck?

Sunday's class was actually not bad. Got a little deeper in a few poses. Good heat and energy in the room. Monday, however, was quite different. I reverted to the form of the previous four months. 

It was a really stressful day on all fronts, and it showed in class. Yawned my way through Pranayama. My shoulders ached and I couldn't get them much past parallel. As soon as I tried to move in Half-Moon, my back hurt. Awkward was a joke (again), and I was useless in Eagle. I felt powerless to turn the tide, so at Party Time I bailed. Not only from the room, but from the studio. Drove down the street and inhaled a bacon double cheeseburger, a mountain of fries and a vat of soda. I felt better... for a minute. I returned to the studio to clean and the instructor approached and asked if I was ok. I said no but I was working on it. 

"You couldn't stay with me in the room?"

"Body said no. Mind said no. I didn't want to become a distraction to those around me."

As an aside: I am really REALLY tiring of all the "mind over matter" and "you are strong enough" type of phrases I'm hearing in the room. If the "matter" (in this case my body) is too tired or too stressed or too whatever to move, all the coaxing and cajoling in the world by my mind will not matter. At all.  No, I do not have the strength or intestinal fortitude to get back up and once again fall out of Triangle. Or fall out of Balancing Stick. And I'm too damned fat to even try Rabbit right now. 

PLEASE UNDERSTAND: it's not the instructors. It's me. I'm not ready to hear positive affirmations. I'm struggling, and really fighting myself, my body, and my postures. It hurts. 

Thank you. Now back to our regularly scheduled post...

Tuesday was not quite as bad. Instructor was new to our studio but very good. She has an almost melodic delivery and is quite knowledgeable. My class wasn't much better than Monday, but I did stay in the room. Yes, she was positive and exhorted us to go further and told us we were strong and we can do this and so on. 

Unfortunately I'm really not hearing any of that for the thunderclaps in my head. I cannot find the blue skies for all the storm clouds passing through. 

PostScript: Last night the instructor from Monday left a note for me:

"One Asana at a time. One breath at a time. You CAN do it! Give yourself permission to get to the other side of the struggle. It's worth it, I believe with all my heart that you know that"

Off to work soon. Then back in the room. 

"The only way out is through."


06 March 2016

Long Road Ahead

Well, I've completed one week of my newest Bikram Yoga Challenge. 


First, it is going to be a long road back to where my practice was last July. I've done quite a bit of damage to my body with my eating habits, and it will not be reversed overnight. My poor diet allowed my body to balloon to 257 lbs (116 kg). I'm not going to lose sleep over it. I have found that changing diet and habits overnight is nearly impossible. So while I have been working to eat more healthy foods, I've still made stops at the donut shop and McDonalds. I find, however, that the more classes I take, the more my habits change. Example: yesterday's lunch consisted of chicken soup (canned, low sodium) and tortilla chips instead of a Big Mac, large fries, and vat of soda. Coffee consumption is down to 1-2 cups. Water consumption now at 2-3 liters per day (and increasing). 
Today, after a breakfast sammie at Starbucks, I cranked up the juicer for lunch and dinner, and they were really good!

Second, I'm becoming more accepting and forgiving of myself. For instance: because of my large gut, I know that any asana involving a forward bend is difficult if not impossible. Instead of silently cussing myself out, I simply tell myself that this is not forever. I go as deep as I can until I reach a spot where breathing becomes difficult and I try to stay there. I know that as my nutrition improves my belly will shrink and those postures will improve. Time and patience. Time and patience. 

Third, I need to find another activity outside of yoga. To wit: this morning I strapped on my rollerblades for the first time in 16 years and went for a skate. Only 20 minutes and just a few sprints, but it was great! It will help me strengthen my legs, groins, and all the core muscles as well as help strengthen my knees. I will tell you that I really felt it in this afternoon's class. My legs were wobbly at times! It's worth it though. 

Finally, my favorite postures are still my favorite postures. Example: Standing Bow is still my favorite asana, and Locust is still my worst. With each class though, they will get a little better. Just keep showing up. 

Seven days down. ??? to go. 

Let's do this. 

TIP OF THE DAY: In Standing Bow, sometimes we have our hands too far toward the toes or too close to the shin. 
Always make sure you're ankle bone is directly in the palm of your hand - as if you were holding a walnut in your hand.  (From an instructor).

"You made it to the yoga room. Nothing else matters." -- F. C., instructor

Back at it tomorrow. 

Sending you blessings. 

26 February 2016

It's That Time Again

It was a couple of weeks ago, after another disastrous class. I was in the room cleaning mats when my friend 'A' walks in. A is an extremely dedicated yogi. He routinely takes 300 classes every year. Last month he competed in the Texas USA Yoga Regionals for the first time and placed 10th. 

Anyway, 'A' comes in the room and asks how I'm doing. He knows I haven't practiced much. He knows I've been bailing on classes. 

"Mark, where have you been? We miss you. You ARE 6:30 class."

I tell him I've been busy and ill and haven't felt well. He nods and says nothing for moments. Then he smiles and looks me in the eye:

"We need to do a challenge. You and me."

In my mind I'm thinking, "What? You already take 300 classes a year. You don't have an ounce of fat on you. You can practically bend yourself in knots. Why are you asking me?"

I cough and catch my breath. I'm trying to find a reason to say no. "I don't know..."

"It will be good, my friend. Thirty days."

My brain was saying, "We need to think about this. Just say you'll think about it." But I actually heard myself say: 

"OK. Sixty days."

"OK, we start March 1st!". He smiles and leaves. 

My brain is pissed: "What in the HELL were you thinking??!!??"

For the next few days, I go back and forth. Yes I will. No I won't. I can't do this right now. Sure I can. Finally, this past Wednesday, he comes in to set up his mat for class. I walk over and say, "Monday?"

"OK! Monday!"

So here we go. Again. 

For those new to this blog, I completed a 100-day challenge last year. My longest challenge ever. Learned a lot. Worked very hard. At the end I could get into almost every posture. Then I slacked off big time. Took fewer and fewer classes each week. Got caught up in the holidays, ate very poorly, got depressed and stressed, and regressed in my practice. So, I'm starting yet again. It seems that the only way I can improve and maintain is to keep going to class. Every. Single. Day. The idea of going 4-6 days a week just never seems to work. 

Of course, the other important advantage to a challenge is that I will lose my appetite for processed food, junk food, and soda. Today's menu would make most of my fellow yogis ill: fast food breakfast sandwich, coffee, soda, fried fish, canned prepared tuna salad, more soda, and caramel sundae. (There was a salad in there, drowned in Ranch dressing.) The first order of business? Hydrate. Two liters of water tonight. Three tomorrow. Four on Sunday. Gotta wait for the next paycheck to get all the groceries I need but I'll do the best I can in the interim. There will definitely be more vegetation and no McDonalds in the diet. (My Lenten vows to eliminate fast food and caffeine failed miserably.) The wild card? I now own a juicer! I've been experimenting with it and I LOVE IT!!! So I'm hoping to incorporate fresh juice into my diet as much as possible during this challenge. It will definitely help with the first goal: reducing my gut. It's really difficult to bend forward these days because there is so much belly fat. That will change. Soon. 

I've said this before and I'll say it again: If you have never attempted a challenge before, try one! Try 30 days. Try 15 days. Even seven straight days will be very beneficial for you. Just try. It doesn't have to be a yoga challenge. Ride your bike. Walk a mile. Find something you can do every day. If you don't make the goal it's ok. Good on you just for making the effort! Rest, recoup, and try again. 

So, it's déjà vu all over again. 

Sixty days in the chamber. 

Or maybe just thirty. 

Or maybe....

21 February 2016

Blessings In Distraction

Wednesday night. 6:30 class. I'm in a familiar spot in the third row. No one in front of me except two experienced students on the first row. They always choose the hot side of the room. 

Class starts and all is well until Triangle. The instructor moved to turn up the fans to give us a quick blast of cooler air. She turns the fans on full blast. The instructor moves to guide a newer student and forgets the fans. Even I start to feel a chill. The ladies in front are trying to get her attention and get a little exasperated, frantically trying to get the instructor's attention. I become distracted as well and had two poor Triangle sets. Now we are into Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee and the fans are still blowing full and I'm actually shivering a bit. 

Here's the kicker: while I'm trying to process the ladies' exasperation as well as my own discomfort, I completely missed the fact that I actually touched my forehead to my knee for the first time in months. By the time I realized, "Holy Crap my knee and forehead are touching!", it was time to switch sides. I didn't touch my knee on the left, though. I was still shocked by the success on the right side. In second set I didn't come close on either side because I was actively thinking about the posture instead of just letting go and letting the posture happen. 

So now the instructor realizes the issue but overcompensates by turning the fans OFF. In minutes I go from being cold to being in the fifth circle of Hell. I'm sweating so much so fast and now it's getting harder to move through the floor series. Next to me was a young woman who was starting to have trouble. When I inquired she said she was feeling ill. I asked her to lie down and breathe slowly. During Half Tortoise I get the instructor's attention, point at the fan and hold up three fingers for the fan setting. Finally, the inferno is broken and a gentle breeze drifts down. My neighbor and I feel immediate relief and are both able to finish class. The final revelation came in Spine Twist, where I was once again able to get my knee, hand, and heel in the correct position, again for the first time in months. 

I've thought about this class a lot. In the midst of distractions, I was able to, well, do the postures. Not sure if it was because my regular thought process and negative self-talk were interrupted or that it was pure luck or I'm back in a cycle of progression and growth. 

Time (and regular practice) will tell. 

Last thing: after class one of my yoga buddies asked if I would join him in starting a new challenge. He wanted to go thirty days but I upped the ante to sixty. If we decide to do this, it will start March 1st. 

Stay tuned. 


15 February 2016

Getting The Poison Out

Hello, all! 

No yoga posts since Nov 30. I think this past holiday season was the most difficult in my life so far. There simply seemed no end of trials, stresses, and illnesses. As December progressed, it seemed each day was harder than the last. The only celebrations we had were Christmas lunch with my Dad and sisters, then hosting a small lunch a couple days later. On New Years Eve the house was dark by 10:00. The entire month I felt more listless, sick, and depressed. January was much the same. Go to work, come home, sleep (or try to sleep-- insomnia was a major player. The ONLY thing I looked forward to each morning was my stop for donuts, burrito, and coffee. Every morning I plunked down $7.72 for a few minutes of joy. Lunch consisted of MickeyD's or tacos. It caught up with me quickly. I've no idea what I weigh now and frankly, I don't want to know.

Over those two months, I made it to a grand total of 16 classes. I think I completed two of them. Most often I left at or before Savasana, usually just before or after Standing Bow. Three or four times I left after Eagle. 


Basically, I had gotten so tight I could barely lift my arms. In Half Moon even the slightest bend in either direction brought pain. Awkward Pose was a complete failure: no strength or balance at all. I would simply take a knee and gasp for air. Eagle is usually a pose I take great pride in as I have come so far in that pose. Now I couldn't even come close to getting one arm under the other. It was as though my shoulders were being pinned while trying to get my arms in position. Some nights I couldn't even clasp my hands together, let alone try to get them into prayer position. That would be about the time I would give in and leave. I felt it was better for me to depart rather than be a distraction to those around me. 

So for two months, that was the drill. Go to class infrequently, fail miserably, become intimidated by the beautiful, happy men and women around me, lament my place in the room (and the world), and run away. I had accumulated so much poison from bad food, bad mood, bad everything that I was shutting down. 

The nadir came a week ago Sunday. Super Bowl Sunday. I had to work but I would be home in time for the game. Put the pork roast in the oven to slow cook for pulled pork that night. I was already fighting a head cold but I felt ok. Stopped at the donut shop for the requisite hit of fat, sugar, and caffeine, and rolled into work. About 30 minutes in, I started to feel really bad. Dizzy, headache, stomachache, the works. Left work after two hours, came home and was sick all day, all night, and most of Monday. Slept intermittently. If I wasn't coughing up crap from my lungs, I was... you know. 
I've never felt so bad or had both respiratory and digestive issues at once. It felt like my body had finally said, "That's it. We need urgent repairs. Too much poison. Time to purge. We are shutting down. Deal with it."

So I did. By Tuesday I could eat again but I knew it was time to correct some of these issues. With Lent beginning last week, I decided to try and do without fast food or caffeine for the 40 days. So far the fast food part (including the donut shop) has been easy, but the caffeine part has been more difficult. I've broken down two of the last three days for coffee. 

After ten days away from the room, I got back in last Wednesday. To say I was apprehensive would be an understatement. 

It was good. Shockingly good. 

First, I could actually breathe deeply! I mean a FULL, six second inhale. My lungs felt so much better. I think my lungs have entered another phase of recovery (May will mark two years without a smoke!) and I had to get rid of more junk from the lower part of my lungs. 

Second, side bends did not hurt. My Half Moon felt so good again! Plus, I wasn't gasping for air in the back bend portion of the pose. I was slightly shocked at how good it felt. I still fell out of Awkward but it still felt easier. In Eagle, not only did I clasp my hands (and attempt prayer position) bit I was able to hook my foot on both sides! Yeah, me!

Third, I made it all the way through class. My floor poses are in a world of hurt right now. Long way to go but it felt much better. 

After class, the instructor stopped me while I was cleaning mats. I think it was her first time to teach at our studio but she and her beau have been practicing at the studio for a while and she had seen me abandon class more than once. 

"That is the best class I have seen you take since I've been here. Great job!" She gave me a high five. 

"Thank you.", I said. "It's been rough. I think I just had to get the poison out."

She smiled. "No better place to do it."

No, indeed. 

Two nights later I was back in the room. This time I attempted every posture. I have so far to return to the form I had, but that's ok. There is still some more poison to purge. It just takes time. 
I lost my faith in myself and my life. I'm reclaiming myself. I can do this.