Monday, May 4, 2015

Just Breathe Through It

Back to reality.

I took a couple of days off after the end of the Challenge, then got back in the saddle on Saturday morning. I enjoyed my first Sunday off, and then BOOM. All of a sudden, it was Monday morning.

It's a good thing Brook teaches on Mondays; knowing that she'll be there greatly lessens the temptation for me to skip class. She's that good.

And it was a good class. These days, going to the studio feels a little like going into Cheers; I love the community and chit chat and support.

Camel was more overwhelming than it has been for a long time, but I remembered what Brook had already said a couple of times: "Just breathe through what you're feeling. It's only temporary." This is a life lesson, one I won't forget anytime soon.

I realized that I didn't give any hard numbers when I made my Day 60 report, but today all of my Challenge material is due, so here's the deal. During the Sixty-Day Challenge:

  • I lost seven pounds.
  • I lost an inch off my chest.
  • I lost 4.5 inches off my waist (at the navel).
  • I lost 1.25 inches off my hips.
  • My upper arm stayed the same, and I lost a half inch from my thigh. 

Pretty good, eh?  A little over seven inches all over. I'm sure younger people with working thyroids did better, but I'm happy for any progress in the right direction. Hopefully, it's just the beginning.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Day 60 -- Done!

I woke up feeling emotional and a bit disoriented. I'd been working on the Challenge for so long that I couldn't believe it was ending. I even got a little weepy when I thought about it, but pulled myself together and headed to the 9am class once my morning routine was complete.

It was fitting that Val was leading the class, I thought. She owns the studio and taught the very first class I attended. Class was pretty full, so I set up close to the door.

As we began, I realized it was just another class. I wasn't going to magically be able to extend my leg in Standing Head to Knee or touch my forehead to my knee in Standing Separate Leg Stretch. I was maybe a micrometer more advanced than I'd been the day before, that's all.

And that was fine. I was just happy to be there.

Lying in savasana after the Standing Series, I felt my emotions well up a bit--and then the dam threatened to break when Val started talking about me to the class. How impressed and inspired she was that I'd completed the challenge despite all the kids and my schedule and just having started, etc. People started whooping and clapping spontaneously, and I will confess that a few tears mingled with the sweat running down my face.

And then, 35 minutes later, it was over. I hung around a little longer than usual to congratulate other Challenge finishers, and I wanted it just to sink in that I was done. And then I went home, like always.

A little later, the doorbell rang. I answered the door to find a delivery man from my favorite florist standing there with a lavish floral arrangement.

The card read, "Congrats on 60! You are Hot Yoga. Love, Patrick."

Best. Husband. In the world. Again with the weepiness.

I wonder if this is how people feel after their first marathons: the disbelief, the gradual realization that it's OVER. But then again, as my yoga Yoda Bruce wrote in his congratulatory text, "This is just the beginning."

He's absolutely right.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Day 59 -- Hold On For One More Day

I'm not gonna lie: I'm tired. I'm looking forward to my regular practice, which will be 4-5 days per week instead of 7.

But I've made SO MUCH progress during the Sixty-Day Challenge. I'll do measurements and weight and stuff tomorrow (TOMORROW!), but here are some things I've noticed:
  • I'm way better at delayed gratification. I drink less water during class, and I don't bother wiping my sweat away anymore. I can deal with a dry throat and a wet face/neck/everything through the poses; I can ignore them and focus on the work I'm doing. 
  • I'm far more calm during class. No more panic or anxiety. I really do get lost in the rhythm of it and am often surprised when we get to the final breathing exercise, because I realize we're done. 
  • I can stay still. When I started, I'd fidget with my hair and shirt between every set. I'd scratch my nose, wipe my forehead, etc. Now I just stand there (or lie there) and breathe, for the most part. 
  • I'm stronger. I can lift higher in Cobra and farther back in Camel, for example. And I don't want to shoot myself or the teacher as I approach muscle failure in Half Moon. 
  • I have better balance. Yes, I still fall out of Standing Bow on a regular basis, but I can hold the posture for much longer and with much better form. 
  • I'm far more calm out of class. Traffic bothers me less. My kids' issues don't get me as wound up. I'm less obsessive about...everything. "Oh, well," I say to myself. "Let it go."
  • My mind is clearer. I'm less foggy, less depressed, less vulnerable to downward mood spirals. 
  • I'm better at savoring every moment and being present. This is probably my favorite change.
At the end of class today, Byron gave the usual exhortation: "Practice this yoga five to six times a week, and it'll change your life. Try it for two months and see if we're right."

I definitely agree.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Day 58 --Core

I'm so glad Brook teaches on Mondays; she makes everything better, even the fact that a new week is ahead.

It's funny how my experience of the practice has changed since I started in February. Back then, I loathed Half Moon; now I love it. My latest bugaboo is Locust, which I didn't used to mind. And I don't feel like I'm getting what I'm supposed to out of Spine-Twisting Pose; it just feels like it's the last obstacle on the way to Final Savasana. I'm sure I have more to learn in every posture, not just these.

Noticing these things today made me want to read Bikram's book; I feel like I want even more information than my teachers can give me in any one 90-minute class. I've ordered it and look forward to seeing what the yogi has to say to me.

As my strength in my legs and arms has increased, I've tried to focus more on my core. I know it's getting a workout, but I'm now to the point where I can tighten and contract more; my energy isn't all being expended on other crucial things. Brook always exhorts patience, which I always need to hear. I'll get there.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Day 57 -- Sailing

Today's class with smooth-as-silk Eva felt almost easy. I was still working to my absolute edge, but things just...flowed. It helped to have made those amazing breakthroughs yesterday, but also I seemed to have some extra energy, somehow. I don't know why it happened, but it felt great to come out of every posture and not have to make a desperate grasp for stillness. I just stood and breathed and then did the next thing I was supposed to.

Roxanne, as always, was very encouraging afterward, and gave me a goal to work toward in Camel. "When you can see the wall behind you, not just the ceiling, you're ready to reach for your feet," she said. All righty, then. I'm on it.

Three more days of the Challenge! I can't believe it.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Day 56 -- Joy

Oh, that 5:30 a.m. alarm on a Saturday morning.

But on the drive to the yoga studio, I was excited. I know it seems like my favorite teacher is always the one I have that day (and isn't it great to have so many contenders for favorite), but I adore Roxanne. She's been so helpful and kind and willing to take time with me answering my endless questions. This morning, I remembered that I wanted to ask her about the third part of Awkward Pose, which has been my bane from Day One.

I didn't have time to ask her before we started, but then during class, it was as if she'd read my mind. It was a small group, and she came over and helped me figure out how to get down to my ankles--which I'd never been able to do before.

Other exciting breakthroughs today:

I grabbed my foot in Standing Head to Knee--with good hip alignment. That was a first, and Roxanne shouted for joy. Me getting my foot has been a quest of hers, and it was perfect that I got it right for the first time in her class.

In Triangle, Roxanne showed me a hip correction that COMPLETELY changed the posture. How did I not see it before? I was able to get my thigh parallel to the ground for the first time. (Of course, since I'd gotten to muscle failure in the third part of Awkward, I couldn't stay in Triangle for very long. Every time I think I'm getting stronger, I find a new weakness. Oh, well.)

The fourth breakthrough was emotional. If you've read about my Challenge thus far, you know that Camel has been a particular struggle for me, and also that the weight I carry in my gut is an ongoing concern. I sensed a couple of weeks ago that the two things were related, and today I had an insight that confirmed this. I've been visualizing releasing that weight every time I've done Camel since then, and the image that has come into my mind as I've done so is of an iceberg or a glacier calving.

When a big piece breaks off the side, that's what it's called: calving. (And wouldn't be great to let go of weight all at once like that?) But today, I realized that calving is also what a cow does, and that I've held on to weight in my stomach because it's hard to let go of the fact that my childbearing years are over.

Don't get me wrong; I'm happy to be done having kids; six plus one is plenty. But after so many years of it, it's hard to move on from that self-definition as a mother of young children. I don't know if that makes sense, but the truth of it for me--the source of my emotions starting to be uncovered in Camel--felt powerful. And now that I see it clearly, I can let it go. Emotion accompanies that kind of release, and today was no exception.

So, am I glad I woke up before dark and got to class? Oh, yes. I'm always happy I went to class, but today I experienced true joy.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Day 55 -- Use What You Have

Today was my last double, heaven willing and the creek don't rise.

Sometimes, when you state an intention, the Universe seems to conspire against you. A bad night's sleep, hormonal craziness, a freezer with only one Vitamin Water left in it, a very full weekend ahead--let's just say that it wasn't the ideal day for a double. The Challenge ends next Wednesday, so in theory I could have put it off, but I didn't want to tempt Fate.

So I just did it. And now it's done. And I'm all caught up. Knock on wood.

My other doubles went better; maybe today it was all about the cumulative fatigue. Fortunately, I had two favorite teachers: Brook and Jeff. They got me through it, as did friends like Roxanne, Corinne, Philip, and Megan. And Eva! She rocked the 9am class today.

I loved something the ever-wise Brook said today. Every day, we bring what we have into the studio. It's not always what we wish we had; sometimes it's less than what we usually have. But when you use what you have, what you have gets stronger. And that's a comfort on a day when it felt like I didn't bring very much. No worries; just use what you have.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Day 54 -- Grace

Nine tenths of the way through the Challenge, people. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty impressed. :)

Before class today, I read this magnificent piece by Anne Lamott, who's one of my favorite people on the planet. (Go read it; it's far more worth your time than this post.)

I've been thinking about grace ever since. Not the kind that ballet dancers and hummingbirds and running backs have; the kind from heaven. The kind that comes when you least expect or deserve it and bathes you in warmth and healing. A smile from a stranger. A call from a friend. The forgiveness of a family member. A little bit of extra help to get you out of bed and out of yourself and into the world. Grace got me to the yoga studio today.

In yoga class, we make ourselves vulnerable; you can't help but be vulnerable when you're trying that hard at something. As I think about it, it's actually kind of a miracle that no one in the room judges or laughs as we put ourselves out there and go through our imperfect practices.

Today as I wobbled in Standing Bow and reached in vain for the ground in (the very beginning of) Toe Stand, my weaknesses were all right there, staring back at me in the mirror.

As I tried to breathe calmly and practice stillness--

--and also transform my intense yoga face (which looks super mean and angry, no lie) into a "delighted, smiling, happy face," as awesome teacher Christian put it today--

--I thought of this scripture, which reads,
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
I'm weak in so many ways, and humility is even harder to practice than Ustrasana. But it's the catalyst for grace, so I'm choosing it hour by hour.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Day 53 -- I'm Tryin'

Whenever I used to run into my West African friend, Roselyn, when I lived in Manhattan, I'd ask her how she was, like you do. Her answer was invariably, "I'm tryin.'"

I thought of Roselyn this morning. Hormones are conspiring against me, and it took a lot of willpower to get myself to class. The yoga room was HOT, despite my best hydration efforts. I worked hard to distance myself from emotions and self-judgment as class continued, but by the time we got to Rabbit pose, a bad attitude was setting in. I pushed it aside and kept breathing. Lying in final savasana, I didn't feel the payoff I usually get. That bummed me out.

The payoff came a few minutes later. I met another new student named Megan (and introduced her to Megan, Eva's aide, as well as Eva). Then we got to chat with veteran teachers Roxanne and Jen, both of whom were so very helpful and encouraging. Bless them. Once again, the yoga community saved my mood.

One week and eight classes to go. I see the light at the end of the tunnel; I just hope it's not a train. :)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Day 52 -- Practice

Byron was in charge today. He's great. When he walked in, he said, "You know what they say about small classes: they're quick, easy, and painless."

We all laughed.

Painless? No. Right from the start, my balance wasn't great. I had some good moments, but I found myself getting frustrated.

Byron must have been reading my mind, because then he said, "Remember: this isn't a yoga performance. This is a yoga practice."

And somehow, once I felt I had permission not to be perfect (not that I was even close), things got easier.

Thank heaven for intuitive teachers.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Day 51 -- Finding the Ease

Jeff said something surprising on Saturday. "Stop clenching your butts," he directed the class as we stood in Half Moon. "There's no room for your spine to move if you're clenching. Learn the difference between contracting and clenching."

I spent the rest of the class trying to figure out the distinction. I continued on Sunday, and today in marvelous Brook's class, I tried some more. This is a fine line, at least for someone as uncoordinated and (previously) unaware of her body as I am.

And finding the line made every posture more difficult. It's really hard to relax your back while your stomach is held in, your thigh is lifted, and your standing leg is locked in Standing Head to Knee. But I'm sure this is what Roxanne meant weeks ago when she told me to search for the ease in each asana.

I've accepted that this work will never not be hard, but I didn't realize there would be so many different ways for it to be hard. I'm sure I'll discover more as I keep practicing.

Brook said something today that I want to have govern my practice: "Easy breath, honest effort, good form." That really says it all, and it's something I can carry into the rest of my life as well.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Day 50 -- Serenity Now

Jeff three days in a row! I was tired today after yesterday's Three-Set Class, but I also felt like my stretches today went a little deeper than they've gone before.

Because I was so tired, every standing break, every sip of water, every savasana felt doubly precious. I really embraced my breathing and worked hard to slow it down and master the calm.

My body is definitely getting stronger; I don't get to muscle failure quite as quickly, and my balance and endurance have improved a ton.

But I feel like I've made most progress mentally. Patience. Grit. Perseverance. Serenity. These are where I'm seeing the biggest gains.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Day 49 -- The Three-Set Class

I won't deny I was nervous when I signed up for Jeff's Three-Set Class, but the fact that it would count as a double was plenty of motivation despite my anxiety.

I needn't have worried. Jeff is serious about yoga, but doesn't take himself seriously. There were so many great things about the two and a half hours:

  • Jeff deconstructed many of the asanas, showing what they were designed to do and why. Layering new info onto experience at a high level of detail is one of my favorite things, and this class was no exception.
  • He also showed us a lot of advanced postures that build off of the basic ones we do in class, which was inspiring and mind-blowing. I didn't know the human body could do some of the things that he and Roxanne showed us. Wow.
  • The pace was slightly slower, which meant I could catch my breath and really focus on trying new things and feeling new ways to do things I already knew.
  • We got lots of attention and praise as we worked our hardest to rise to new levels. 
  • The energy in the room was high--lots of laughter, lots of intensity, lots of whooping and cheering. 

When it was all done, I felt great; I think all of us were sorry that it was over. Jesse had kidded that the class shouldn't be worth a full two stars on our Challenge charts, but I swear: we earned them.

I would definitely do another three-set class in the future; I hear cool things are being planned for the fall, and I don't think I'll be nervous about signing up again.

"You'll be higher than a kite when you leave here," Jeff promised early in the class. He was right.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Day 48 -- Good Feeling

Class was great today. Jeff always gets me to work even harder than I think I can, and even though I still stink at Triangle, I'm happy with my progress in so many other postures. And now I feel great. It's that simple. It's the time of the month when I'm normally feeling super anxious and irritable, but right now? It's all mellow.

Tomorrow is Jeff's special three-set class. THREE sets of all 26 asanas instead of two. It should take about two hours, he says. I'm going, largely because it counts as a double and I still have two of those to do, but also because he's going to show us some advanced expressions of the postures, which sounds really inspiring. And a lot of my yoga friends will be there, so we'll all be in it together.

One thing that makes me happy about Bikram Yoga Pasadena is the HUGE range of people that show up to class. The diversity is SO cool--all ages, ethnicities, orientations, walks of life--I love it. Not only is it a diverse group, it's an open, accepting, tolerant, and supportive group. These are good people trying hard to be better. It's always uplifting to be among them.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Day 47 -- Community

My friend Julie came with me to Bikram yoga for the first time ever today. She was a trooper! Wow. She stayed in the room and made it through the Standing Series without sitting down. I know the heat wiped her out, but I think she'll be back. I was proud of her.

Two years ago, when I first tried Bikram, I still had a child at home. I liked the yoga itself, but couldn't feature paying a babysitter for three hours a day while I went to a yoga class. I figured I'd do what I'd always done: pop in a yoga DVD, roll my mat out in my room, and do yoga by myself.

But now that everyone is conveniently in school and I've been going to the studio nearly every day for more than two months, one of the things that I treasure is the community. I know a lot of other students by name: Eva (check out her yoga blog!), Megan, Dana, Rainy, Ebonee, Cheryl, Philip, Jamie, Brown, Mitra, Corinne, and others. There are others I know by sight: Hawaii Towel Guy, Awesome Afro Lady, Bellagio Water Bottle Gal, and others.

I don't know them all that well, although we chat a bit before and after class. But I feel a bond with them, because every day, we're there together doing something hard. It's like being soldiers in the trenches (but of course on a much smaller scale); the challenge of something so physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding unites us, and I get a huge charge out of that.

And that charge--that sense of community--will keep me coming back, long after the challenge is over.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Day 46 -- Energy

Today I got to go to class with my inspiration, my brother-in-law Bruce. He was in town to visit, so off we went to the yoga studio.

There was a great energy in the room, and it was fun to be there with a friend who is so much more advanced than I am. Bruce has made tremendous progress in the past five years; it was awesome to see out of the corner of my eye. Eva was there, too, and she's just created her own Personal Best Challenge for the next six weeks.

(Eva! I need to know where you're blogging about your yoga experience. I haven't been able to find it, and I want to link to it.)

All in all, it was a great class I'm trying to find ease in every posture, even as I work as hard as I can. It's all starting to feel like second nature, when the whole Bikram experience used to feel so foreign. But the energy of the room, the teachers, and the community as a whole are making the studio seem more and more like a home away from home.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Day 45 -- Habits

Three fourths of the way through the Sixty-Day Challenge! WOW.

My brother-in-law Bruce, aka my "yoga Yoda," counseled me to start thinking about what my yoga practice would look like after the Challenge is over. I've taken his advice and pondered. I see myself going on weekdays except Tuesday, and on Saturdays. No Sundays. I think I'd be happy with going to class four to five times a week.

I've been reading Gretchen Rubin's new book, Better than Before, in which she discusses how different people go about changing their lives for the better. She talks a lot about the power of habit, for good or for bad. I'm only about a quarter of the way through it, but already I've learned that I'm what Rubin calls an "obliger." I'm really good at keeping my commitments to others (which is why the group Challenge has worked so well for me), but not so good at keeping promises I make only to myself. I'm looking forward to learning about the strategies Rubin suggests for helping someone like me make and keep better habits.

One habit I've learned the hard way to maintain is electrolyte replacement. I've noticed a strong correlation between great classes, in which I feel strong and able, and consistent, careful hydration. Plain water is not enough. If you find yourself craving Fritos or other salty stuff, you need to replace electrolytes. But you probably need to anyway, if you're doing Bikram's yoga on a regular basis.

Here's my recipe for homemade "Gatorade":

1 quart water
1/3 cup juice or frozen fruit
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1-2 tablespoons honey, or other natural sweetener to taste

Put all ingredients in a blender with a few ice cubes. Whirl it up on high until the fruit and ice are blended. I like to make lots of different flavors from day to day. The frozen fruits I like best are either mixed berries or mango. The juices I prefer are either lemon or orange, preferably fresh-squeezed.

Drink all of it a couple of hours before class, then drink another batch afterward. I'm telling you: HUGE DIFFERENCE in my perception of how hot the room is, how focused I'm able to be, etc.

Byron was back from vacation today. He's another teacher with extensive knowledge of the postures and the human body. I learn from him every time I take his class. Today, he not only changed my understanding of Locust pose, he also confirmed my instinct that Camel is an amazing releasing posture. I'm still working on them all, building the habit of mind-body connection. Onward!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Day 44 -- Listen

In contrast to yesterday, today I needed to get out of the room.

Last night, my six-year-old was up at midnight with an earache. After I gave her some medicine, her sister tried to corral the dog, who had escaped from the girls' room (where she usually sleeps) and hidden under our bed. I told the girls just to go back to bed, and that Moneypenny could hang out with us for a while.

But it took me a long time to go back to sleep, partly because Moneypenny was fidgety, and her dog tags kept clinking and startling me fully awake. Then at 1am, she started barking at something outside, pulling me out of my drowse and back into adrenaline mode. I took her back downstairs, but again--it took me a long time to settle down.

And the alarm goes off every day at 5:15 a.m. There's no snooze, no wiggle room; it's not like I can skip the class I teach every weekday at 6am. So whenever I have a rough night (and they're actually quite few and far between these days, nothing like those years of nursing babies and toddlers), I promise myself a nap at some point, and that gets me going.

I got the kids off to school and headed to the yoga studio. I always love Brook's class, and things started out well. But halfway through the Standing Series, I felt faint. I sat out half of Triangle and got back up for Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee. In the past, I've always been able to get all the way through Tree, telling myself that the long Savasana is up next.

But today, I started blacking out during Tree. I staggered out of the room and sat for five minutes. Once it was time for Full Locust, I went back in.

At some point during the Floor Series, Brook reminded us to focus on her words when we felt overwhelmed and scattered. I always do this with all the teachers, and Brook's smooth, warm cadence makes that task particularly easy.

But today, I had to listen to my body as well. I needed the break today, as opposed to just wanting one yesterday. It did me good, and I got through and finished the class.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Day 43 -- Endure to the End

There are 17 days left to go in the Sixty-Day Challenge. I still have two doubles to do. Sometimes I can't believe I've made it this far.

Today's class was the most humid I've ever been in. It was very full, but that can't account for all of it. I swear: it was almost foggy in the room. Picture a 105 degree swamp. Me no likey. Luckily, Eva is a wonderful teacher, and she kept me going.

With sweat sheeting down me as we finished the Standing Series, I thought about leaving the room. I lay in savasana and thought about the cool, dry air mere feet away from me. But then I realized I wasn't overwhelmed or panicky; I was just intensely uncomfortable. As much as I wanted to leave, I didn't need to leave. And there's a big difference. I thought of Brook's frequent saying: the sensations are temporary.

So I stuck it out. I made the most of each savasana. I breathed my way through the postures and did my best to think releasing thoughts in Camel and Rabbit. And a few minutes later, I was finished.

Patience. Perseverance. Endurance. Grace. They'll carry me through.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Day 42 -- Breakthrough

My husband and I went to Jesse's 6am class. Saturday insanity. When the alarm went off at 5:30, I briefly thought about shutting it off and going to the 3pm class instead, but I knew I'd a) feel amazing after class; b) be so glad to have my star on the chart and yoga done for the day; and c) run the risk of crazy Saturday life in this house throwing me off schedule if I procrastinated. So I got up and got going.

Jesse's a fabulous teacher. He really knows his yoga; he continues to take advanced classes in yoga physiology and is great at making that knowledge accessible to students. He insists on proper setup, and takes the time to explain exactly why. I've learned from every teacher, but Jesse combines depth of knowledge with humor and ease. Very excellent.

Oh, and I met Dana in person today. Hi, Dana! Thanks for reading!

It's always nice to have company in class, and Patrick felt like he had some breakthroughs in class. I was glad, because I had one, too.

I'm coming to terms with this 48-year-old body of mine. I accept and even love a lot of it, but I have still struggled with how much I don't love my stomach. I've heard yoga teachers talk about how different asanas release various emotions, and how people literally carry around stress and tension in different areas. I've wondered why certain postures--Camel and Rabbit--make me so uncomfortable.

Today during the floor series, I had a flash of inspiration. I'm carrying something (or somethings) in my midsection, something emotional, and the extra weight is cushioning that mysterious thing. Insulating it, protecting it. The image of a dung beetle, laboring along with that big ball of stuff, came into my mind.

I don't know what it is I'm carrying around, but I'm going to focus on releasing it. I have a feeling that if I am successful, the weight in that area will follow. From now on, I'm embracing Camel and how hard it is; I'm welcoming the panic I feel in Rabbit. I'll breathe and let it pass through me and be grateful for the signal that it is. We'll see what happens.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Day 41 -- Back in the Saddle

Yesterday I wrote about yoga on my writing blog, so don't miss that post.

My six-year-old woke up healthy, praise all that's holy, so off to school she went. I got ready to do a double yoga session, but knew that if I checked my phone after the first class and had a message from the school, that would have to do.

I always love Brook's class, so I was glad to start my Friday with her. I was surrounded by teachers in the very full room, which made for a lovely energy. My new thing in Standing Head to Knee is being able to hold my foot with a proper grip--except now my knee is skewed way out to the side. I talked to Roxanne about it after class, and she encouraged me to keep trying to round down and hollow out my front side. I'll keep at it, because I'm probably a little too obsessed with this posture.

And my phone had no messages from the school, so into Jeff's 11am class I went. Jeff has an eagle eye and is great about encouraging students not to give up. There's no phoning it in with him. And, just like in Wednesday's double, the sense of calm enveloped me and carried me through the class.

I've never experienced anything quite like the post-yoga high. The air seems clearer and more fragrant; everything is more beautiful, more delicious, more noteworthy. I floated home and got a 10-minute power nap after showering, and then it was time to go get the kids. Another double in the books; two more to go.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Day 40 -- Showing Up

Well, today I should be two thirds of the way through the Sixty-Day Challenge.

Except I'm not.

Last night, I went to bed pleased and hopeful--glad that I'd done that double, and feeling confident that I could do two more to finish the Challenge before April 29.

And then this morning, my six-year-old woke up with yet another fever. I'd planned to go to the 9am class this morning--and a newbie friend was going to come with me--and I had to cancel. The ground I gained yesterday is lost again. I'm back to owing three doubles in the next twenty days.

On other days, I might be able to do an afternoon or evening class once my teenagers are home, but not today. Not with two kids having orthodontist appointments at 3:30, three kids having swim practice at 5:40, and one receiving his Cub Scout Arrow of Light at 7:00 tonight. I'm booked up solid with kid stuff.

When I'm being rational, I remember that my family is my first priority, and that taking care of sick kids is a) part of the job I chose; and b) fulfilling in its own way.

But this Challenge is important to me. I didn't know whether I could even get this far, and now that there's light at the end of the tunnel, it's hard not to resent anything that gets in the way of my momentum.

So here I am, trying to let it go. I can show up for my family, and hopefully tomorrow my daughter will be well, and I can show up for another back-to-back double at the yoga studio.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Day 39 -- Back-to-Back

Today was a double day--and this time, I did the classes one after the other. I was nervous about this; I started preparing yesterday by making sure I had plenty of electrolytes.

Val's 9am class was first, and it wasn't my easiest. The good part was that Eva was there and had made so much progress that spontaneous applause and hoots of encouragement broke out. Go, Eva!

But I had a hard time focusing, and at one point felt so tired that I had no idea HOW in the world I'd ever get through another entire class, let alone the one I was in. But I forced that fear out of my mind and worked even harder on being in the moment.

After class, I sat in the foyer with a couple of friends I've made, drank my first Vitamin Water, and just rested in the blessed cool air. By the time it was time to go in for Miranda's 11am class, I felt a bit restored.

Half Moon was tough; my neck was just plain fatigued. But then, somewhere in the middle of the standing series, it stopped being quite so hard. A wave of calm washed over me, and I got some kind of second wind. I finished the rest of the class with serenity. And that second Vitamin Water went down pretty smoothly.

When I got home, I felt great mood-wise, but I'm not gonna lie. My thighs felt like two slabs of meat.  (Just now, though, Patrick rubbed a bunch of eucalyptus basil stress relief cream into them, and they feel as good as new.) Before all the after school routine started, I was able to snatch a 30-minute nap after making and drinking more of my homemade electrolyte drink, and the rest of the day went just fine.

I'll do another back-to-back double on Friday, circumstances permitting. Now that I've done it once, I won't have the anxiety of the unknown. I can finish this challenge!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Day 38 -- Stars

I live for my Sixty-Day Challenge chart on the wall at the yoga studio. I love getting my star sticker and putting it in its little box after every class. Clearly, I was deprived as a kindergartner, because that humble piece of paper gives me an absurd sense of pride and accomplishment. The whole wall, filled with charts that sport new stars every day, is quite a sight.

Class today was with Jen, who is new to the Pasadena studio. I loved her approach to the dialog; she knew it perfectly, but it sounded like she was saying the familiar words for the first time. We're often told to approach the postures with a beginner's attitude, and Jen's fresh style made that much easier. Very enjoyable.

Superstar teacher and yogi Bernadette set up next to me in class, and she was even more of an inspiration up close and personal. I was glad for her example, because I struggled today. I noticed right away that I felt stiff and sore after a day away; I'd hoped that the extra rest would be in my favor, but it didn't seem to be.

In Camel, I experienced yet another kind of stars--the kind that are very familiar to those with low blood pressure. Green shooting stars are a sure sign that I'll pass out if I don't change something. I got into the back bend, but had to come out early both sets. But I let it go, as Jen directed. Too good is no good, as Val likes to say. Sometimes you have to ease off.

This is the most demanding exercise I've ever done--harder than Body for Life, harder than Crossfit, harder than training for a 5K. Why do I keep doing it? Because every time I leave the studio, I feel like a star, like I can do anything at all. It's all worth it for that.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Day 37 -- Reality

My youngest woke up with a fever this morning, which meant taking her to the doctor this morning instead of taking her to school and then heading to Brook's 9am Bikram yoga class.

I felt discouraged about the shuffle and about life in general, so I went online to see if I could find anyone else who had chronicled their 60-day challenge. Success! I was interested to read Aimee Macovic's chronicle, since she practices in Austin, Texas--which is where my Bikramite brother-in-law lives. And then we left for the pediatrician's office.

So. Instead of Standing Head to Knee, I practiced Standing in Line for a Chest X-Ray (to rule out pneumonia). I figured I'd go to the 4:30 class once my six-year-old was back in bed with her teenage sisters to keep an eye on her.

But the installation of our new home security system ran very long (still going on, in fact). And we got school progress reports today, and a couple of people needed a reality check regarding grades. And on and on and on.

No yoga today. I'm back to needing to do three doubles in order to complete the Sixty-Day Challenge. I plan to do one on Wednesday, one on Friday, and (if I'm not dead) possibly one on Thursday. If I can't make Thursday work due to extreme fatigue, I'll go for another next Wednesday.

I knew this would happen, this reality thing. I've got five kids in three different schools (not counting the two who are away at college); the system breaks down every once in a while, and my family is my first priority. I'll get back to class tomorrow. I already miss it.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Day 36 -- Renewal

36/60--Three fifths of the way through the challenge. (I love fractions.)

Today is the holiest day of the year for me, a day that commemorates renewal and hope. Because I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my family, I went to the earliest yoga class I could find--which was at the South Pasadena studio at 7am. I've always practiced in Pasadena, so I was interested to see what the experience would be like at another studio.

I got up at 6 o'clock and got ready, preparing our family Easter basket, among other things. Then I followed my GPS to the South Pasadena studio. I was glad there was a temporary sign out front, or I would have missed it entirely. I'm not familiar with that area at all.

It's a smaller classroom than in Pasadena, on the second floor of a building. I loved the northern light that came in through several windows. There were only about 15 of us in class, as I would expect early on a holiday Sunday. The teacher, Mark, was passionate and energetic and took good care of a woman who had recently had knee surgery. I appreciated his guidance. It was a serene but strenuous class, and I enjoyed the view of passing clouds as I lay in savasana.

Sunday is always a day of spiritual renewal for me, Easter Sunday even more so. I was grateful for 90 minutes of meditation first thing in the morning. It's a wonderful life.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Day 35 -- Surfacing

I've had Miranda as a classmate many times (her Standing Toe is awesome), but hadn't had her as a teacher until today. It was a good thing; postures went smoothly, and Miranda's dry humor kept things light. And I grabbed the bottom of my foot in Standing Head to Knee! That felt great.

Miranda mentioned that at this point in the sixty-day challenge, buried emotions start coming to the surface, and people can get irritable, cranky, and emotional. Old injuries resurface. Fatigue sets in. I've been feeling panicky in Rabbit lately, despite my best efforts to breathe and stay calm, and I wonder if there's something within me trying to get out when I do that posture. I'll keep watching it and see what happens.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Day 34 -- Breath

I had a hard time catching my breath during the standing series today. Jeff always encourages me to work my very hardest, so maybe I overdid it a bit. I was pleased with my progress in Standing Bow Pose in particular and didn't want to let up. But then I had to sit out one set of Triangle. I need to find the balance.

What made it harder today was that there was a man near me who kept huffing and puffing through his mouth throughout the class. Hearing him struggle so obviously somehow made my struggle more difficult. But it also made me focus more on keeping my own breath under control, and remember how I never want to be a distraction to anyone around me in class.

I was able to breathe normally through the floor series; I took Jeff's stillness/refueling advice seriously. After class, I opened my sun roof and car windows to let in the fresh spring air--but then got behind a driver holding a cigarette out the window. The distant smoke smell made me grateful all over again for healthy lungs that are getting stronger with every yoga class.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Day 33 -- SuperLocust

A pattern:

a) I wake up feeling crummy and like I don't want to go to yoga.
b) I go anyway.
c) I leave class feeling fantastic.

Class was great today. I really love Y Thuan's detailed instructions and insistence on correct form. Jeff was in class today, as he often is. Since I focus so hard on myself in class, I don't often see what others around me are doing. But today, I finished Locust before Jeff did and saw him coming out of the posture, since he was to my right and my head was facing that way in savasana.

Mind. Blown.

Why? Here's how I had been visualizing the asana:

And that's what I'd been doing (but with my legs at a fraction of that height). But Jeff looked like this (except with his face on the mat):


I didn't know that was possible. Crazy skillz and strength, and something new to which to aspire.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Day 32 -- Waves

I just finished class #30! I'm halfway through the Sixty-Day Challenge.  Cue the Bon Jovi.

Changes I've noticed so far:

* I have a lot less tension in my shoulders and neck.
* I've experienced much less "mental fog," depression, and anxiety.
* I've lost many inches, including 5.5 at my waist and 2 at my hips. (FIVE POINT FIVE!)
* I've lost four pounds.

That's pretty significant, if you ask me.

But I was dragging this morning after yesterday's double. I might have skipped yoga today, but the thought of adding ANOTHER double--when I still have two more to go--to my calendar persuaded me that I could gut it out and go. I wasn't feeling sorry for myself--not quite--but my enthusiasm was low.

And then I walked into class and saw Eva.

Eva started doing Bikram at about the same time I did--about six weeks ago. Eva is severely disabled with Cerebral Palsy and comes to class with her aide, Megan. She does the standing series in her wheelchair, and then gets on the floor with the rest of us for the second half of class. Val led class today and remarked several times on how much progress Eva has made in the past six weeks through hard work and sheer grit. She. Is. Awesome. If Eva can strengthen her mind and body through Bikram's yoga, so can I. She has no idea how she's affected me for the better. (But I did ask her permission to write about her today.)

We all affect each other, for good or for ill. When you're in a very hot, humid room with fifty other students and focusing on stillness, you notice the slightest movement of the people around you because of the motion of the air. When the class releases upheld arms after Half Moon, or turns as one in the full expression of Triangle, it makes a very slight breeze that you can miss if you're not paying attention. I've written before about the waves of blessedly cool air that come into the classroom as people leave, but this is much more subtle. Today I noticed when the woman next to me got up for a minute to get a tissue. The wake of her passing by felt good on my sweaty skin.

Basic physics tells me that we're all making these waves in the air as we move around all the time. We affect one another, even when we don't realize it. But I do want to realize it; I want to be more aware both of the waves of influence that wash over me and those I cause for others. We're all connected, I feel, but we'll miss those waves and connections--unless we're very still.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Day 31 -- Make It a Double

Today I'm more than halfway through the Sixty-Day Challenge day-wise...but not class-wise. As I write this first half of today's post at 10:45 a.m., I've done 28 classes in the past 31 days. (I went to Sachie's 6:30 class this morning. Patrick went with me, which was lovely.)

That means I need to do at least three "doubles" (or "two-a-days") before the challenge is over. The days are getting on, and the need to make those classes up is weighing on me; today will be my first double.

Yesterday, I was a little nervous of what a double might take out of me, so I read up a bit online. Everyone unanimously counseled paying extra attention to hydration--at least 24 hours in advance. So yesterday, I drank even more than I usually do, paying attention to electrolytes. 

Was it a coincidence that this morning's class felt miraculously easy? Maybe "easy" is the wrong word. I still worked as hard as I possibly could--but I got through every posture without sitting any out, and the room didn't feel as hot as it usually does. According to what I read online, exhaustion and heat intolerance are symptoms of dehydration. I wonder whether I've been under-hydrating all this time without realizing it. We'll see. 

I wish I could just take a long nap, but the kids don't have school today, and my errand list is lengthy. But even given all I need to do, I will rest as much as I can until it's time to leave for the 4:30 class. 


Second class, after a long day of errands: tough, but manageable. I was glad Jeff was in charge; his positive, clear, detailed directions were my lifeline. I had to sit out a set of Triangle and all of Floor Bow, but the rest went okay. Tess went with me and had fun. One double down! 29 classes done; 31 to go. Can't wait to be in savasana for seven hours in my bed. I'm hydrating to be ready for tomorrow's 9 o'clock with Val!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Day 30 -- Savor It

I love Eric Barker's blog. He posts research on "how to be awesome at life," and his messages are always great reminders of things I can improve.

Last week, he posted about how to be happy, and his number one suggestion was to slow down and pay attention. Savor life, he suggests, and you'll notice that you're enjoying it more.

In Brook's always awesome class today, I noticed my discomfort in every moment and decided to try to turn it around and savor it. Brook reminded us that the sensations we were experiencing were only temporary, so I held onto that concept and let myself experience fully. Yes, I kept falling out of Standing Bow, but I focused on how it felt both to be in the posture and out of the posture.

Every savasana was even more enjoyable when I really worked to savor it. I noticed how uncomfortable and panicky I felt in Rabbit, and then let it go. After a lifetime spent avoiding discomfort, it's interesting to embrace it and appreciate where it can take me.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Day 29 -- Judgment

Today's teacher was yet another new to me: Eva. She's tiny, toned, and oh-so-calm. I haven't yet had a teacher whom I haven't enjoyed and appreciated. Roxanne was at class today, and again encouraged me in my new rethinking of Head to Knee. I followed her advice. It was hard, but I can see how much better this approach to the posture is.

Bikram is big on making the connection with yourself in the mirror. This was difficult for me to do when I started. Around the house, I tend to avoid the mirror; it has not been my friend for a long, long time. But now, for 90 minutes every day, I'm focusing only on my image, and I think I'm starting to be able to do so with some peace.

Yes, I'd like to lose 50 pounds. No, I haven't lost any weight at all yet (just lots of inches, which of course is awesome). But acceptance is slowly coming. This is who I am right now, and that's okay.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Day 28 -- Effort and Ease

I went to the 6am class today. I know! On a Saturday! But our family had a lot going on today, so it seemed worth it to get up at o'dark thirty and go. I'm happy I did.

Today's teacher was the buoyant, seasoned-but-new-to-me Roxanne, and the class was quite small; there were maybe 15 of us in the room. That meant Roxanne could give us detailed, individualized attention, which felt like a luxury--almost like a private yoga lesson. My turn came during Standing Head to Knee.

I'd been feeling pretty good about how I was doing this pose. No, I wasn't holding my foot, but I could stand one one foot with the other lifted and flexed the entire time everyone else was completing fuller expressions of the asana.

But right away, Roxanne had advice for me. "Your spine shouldn't be straight," she said. "Try rounding down and making contact with your foot or leg instead. You're strong, but rigid. Find the ease in the posture. Go ahead; round down."

I tried it. Ease? No. It instantly made the posture much, much harder. The burn in the outer thigh of my standing leg got way intense very quickly.

I've mentioned before that my core is weak. After giving birth to six kids and not doing anything to restore my ab muscles afterward, I haven't called on my stomach much in recent years. But rounding my spine while reaching for my uplifted foot meant I couldn't rely on my back; I had to use my gut. Oy. Instant humility.

But I'm SO glad Roxanne pointed this out to me. As I rounded my spine, I got MUCH closer to reaching my foot--and maybe I actually will sometime soon.

Effort and ease. It's a complicated dance, but I'm enjoying every step.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Day 27 -- Milestones

After a very rough night's sleep and not feeling great this morning, I was not optimistic about how class would go today. On the drive to the studio, I told myself it was okay if I just sat cross-legged on my mat the whole time.

But then, I surprised myself. In Standing Bow, I saw my foot over my shoulder for the first time. I made it through both sets of Triangle. In Fixed Firm, I got all the way into the posture for the first time. (No pain!) And I made it through Camel without feeling like I was going to pass out. It was a banner day!

I've noticed other milestones, too. Today, my fresh-from-the-dryer jeans went on more easily. My yoga pants are all getting a bit baggy. And I have muscle definition in my upper arms and thighs that I've never had. It's exciting to notice the incremental progress.

Of course, tomorrow's challenge will be not having expectations. But I maybe will have a little more confidence than I did this morning.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Day 26 -- Fatigue

Jeff told me early on in the challenge that fatigue would be a problem. I appreciated the heads-up, and I didn't doubt him. Twenty-six years ago, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, so I am intimately acquainted with the cumulative effects of fatigue. And today, I definitely feel the truth of Jeff's statement.

Class was great. Y Thuan, like all the Bikram Pasadena teachers, is a pro. I enjoyed her gentle corrections and encouragement. I did my best. I can tell I'm making progress in several postures, and I was delighted after class when Val asked if she could profile me in her next newsletter. She took a photo of sweaty me squinting into the sun and doing Half Moon Pose, and then asked me a few questions about what brought me to Bikram. It was a nice shot in the arm.

After coming home, though, I haven't gotten myself to do much of anything other than give James some advice on his John Donne essay. Part of it is that I have a six-year-old home from school with a fever, and it's way nicer to cuddle with her while she watches the Disney Channel than it is to do anything on my chore list. Part of it is that this week has been very hectic schedule-wise. And I know that a lot of it is hormonal, so I'm trying just to go with it. My body is tired; I'm trying to give it what it demands.

I have to get up and get going, though. People will need dinner and clean clothes and encouragement on homework very soon. The down time has done me good; I'll find my second wind. And then I'll get up tomorrow and go to yoga all over again, fatigue or no fatigue.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Day 25 -- Company

My 18-year-old son, James, went with me to Bikram class today. He's home on Spring Break from UC Berkeley, and it's always great to have him around. He's had asthma for a long time; just last year he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, a challenge to which he has risen with grace and courage.

I've wondered for a long time whether yoga would help James's asthma, so I invited him along today. He's extremely flexible, and as difficult as it was for him to encounter Bikram for the first time, he enjoyed it. It was great to have his company, but I did have to force myself to focus on me and quell my impulses to correct his newbie form. I hope he'll consider continuing with Bikram once the semester is over.

James is studying John Donne in one of his classes at Berkeley right now, which makes me happy, because Donne is one of my favorite writers. He was a master of the poetic form known as the sonnet.

I was thinking about sonnets just the other day. My daughter Hope asked me whether I ever get bored in yoga class, since it's always the same. At first I laughed and said, "I'm working too hard to be bored." But then I answered her with my favorite passage from Madeleine L'Engle's great novel A Wrinkle in Time. In it, a character named Mrs. Whatsit says this:

In your language you have a form of poetry called the sonnet…There are fourteen lines, I believe, all in iambic pentameter. That’s a very strict rhythm or meter…And each line has to end with a rigid pattern. And if the poet does not do it exactly this way, it is not a sonnet…But within this strict form the poet has complete freedom to say whatever he wants…You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you. 
I find Bikram class to be like a sonnet. It's a strict form, and precision and exactness are encouraged. But within that form is a whole range of human expression; in fact, the very structure of it highlights individuality, in my opinion. No, I'm never bored in Bikram's yoga class, and I don't think I ever will be. I've been given the form, but I have to write the sonnet myself. What I do with it is completely up to me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Day 24 -- Vision

If you've been in class with me, you know that I do a very modified version of Standing Head to Knee pose. I stand with my leg locked, round my spine down, and reach for my foot. I'm not even close to clasping my hands and grabbing it from underneath. I just stand there with my gut sucked in and focus on keeping my knee locked and my body weight distributed all over my foot.

It's hard. And even though I work to keep a laser-like focus on my own body, I am aware that I'm often the only person in the room doing this modification. That's okay; I really don't care. I'm too busy imagining myself completely extended in the full posture. I follow the teacher's instructions in my mind and imagine doing exactly what s/he directs: extending the bent leg, stretching the Achilles tendon, lowering my head to my knee. Someday, if I keep working and imagining myself doing it, I'll get there. There is real power in vision.

Standing there and reaching down today with my gaze arrowed in on my knee's image in the mirror, I thought about different kinds of strength. My hip flexors aren't strong enough yet for me to lift my leg high enough to grab my foot. But this body has carried and birthed and nursed six children. That's strength for you. I can't raise my leg up very high yet in Standing Bow. But I wonder how many of the lithe, fit people around me could do the posture at all while wearing a 50-pound weighted vest. (I'm losing inches like crazy, but the pounds are coming off very slowly.) And fortunately, my vision, which is just another aspect of faith, is very strong. In class, I celebrate my strengths even as I look forward to becoming much stronger.

Another vision today: I generally like to move around the room from class to class. This is unusual, I think; most people I've come to recognize seem to like the same spot over and over again. Today, after three days of especially challenging classes, I decided to park my mat by the door. I've heard it's cooler there, and I felt like I needed an edge. Class ended up being great, but in final savasana, I got my reward. As people left the room, big swaths of cool air would blow in from outside. It was like lying on a hot beach with the sun beating down, and then having the most lovely, gentle waves rush up and over my body, again and again. I finally got up and left with the biggest smile on my face. Vision carried me through another class.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Day 23 -- Stillness

One of the many things I love about Brook's class is her gentle insistence on stillness. Other teachers emphasize this, too, but Brook really embodies it. I appreciate that, because stillness is very important to me. As I use the mental space for meditation and prayer, it's a chance for me to rest and refuel.

I pray a lot in general. I pray for my kids and my husband. I pray for my students. I pray over my writing. I ask for help to be kinder and more forgiving and less stubborn and selfish. Prayer is a way of life for me.

I see yoga as a form of living prayer: a struggle, a wrestle, a submission of will. I pray in yoga class--before, during, and after. I try to get to the studio a few minutes early so that I can stretch a bit and meditate. I ask to get through the next 90 minutes with grace and strength and an open mind. I think about the day to come afterward and ask for help with various challenges.

During class, my prayers are simple, borne upward on the breaths I work to keep calm and even. Please let me get through this posture without dying. Please help me to learn from my limitations. Please help me to let go of frustration and fear. Please help me to listen, both to the teacher and to my body.

Afterward, it's mostly about gratitude. I'm grateful that I can afford the time and money for yoga class. I live a life of incredible privilege, and it does me good to go through my blessings one by one and recognize how huge, amazing, and undeserved they are.

And sometimes after class, answers to my questions come: softly in the stillness, heard only because I've turned my attention inward. Namaste.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Day 22 -- Valley and Hill

Today was rough--not just class, the whole day. And I really struggled in class, despite the ever positive and patient Jeff's leadership.

I felt nauseated, I felt like giving up, I felt like crying. For the first time ever, I had to leave the room, because I thought I was going to throw up. (I didn't, it turned out; once I got out of the heat, the nausea vanished.) After a five-minute break, I went back in and finished, but I went home kind of crushed.

But then something happened that turned everything around. I can't write about it; it's too personal. But it was a life-changing experience. And it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't had such a terrible day beforehand.

Valley and hill: you can't have one without the other.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Day 21 -- Habit

I remember hearing somewhere that it takes twenty-one days of consistent effort to instill a habit. I've missed three classes out of the past twenty-one days due to schedule conflicts, so maybe I'm not to habit stage yet, but it's definitely getting easier to incorporate class into my day.

Recovery is getting better, too, especially as I take time to hydrate, eat well, and rest plenty. Have I accomplished as much as I'd like in the past three weeks? No. But I have learned to slow down and be a little more zen about how things are going.

Patrick came to class with me early this morning, which was great; I always love having his company. My problem with first-thing class is that I don't feel hydrated enough. Maybe I should set my alarm for 4am next Saturday, drink a big glass of water, and then go back to sleep. We'll see.

I feel strong and clear-headed. I also feel grateful that I have ample time to take a nap today. Spring Break is over as of Monday, so I've got to gear up for that. But I'm feeling positive as I look forward, and that's a true gift.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Day 20 -- One Third

20/60! One third of the way through the challenge!

After our Disney Day yesterday, it felt good to get back on the Bikram yoga horse today. (I now have three days to make up, but that's feeling doable as I get stronger.)

It was my first class with Nafisa, and she was a riot--but also very precise--a great combination.

Looking at myself in the mirror through the poses, I thought about the slogan on Friday Night Lights: "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." The rest of the class and I did our best to work together, and that one good belly laugh in savasana felt great.

With yoga, as with life, I feel it's important to take the practice seriously, but NOT take myself too seriously. Maybe my personal slogan will be "Clear eyes, light heart, can't lose." Namaste.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Day 19 -- Connections

Today was our family day at Disneyland, and we had a fantastic time. Fourteen hours/23,000 steps/nine miles took their toll on my aging body, but we made lovely memories that will last a very long time.

One cool thing that happened: Patrick and I were in line for the Buzz Lightyear ride with our two youngest kids. Just as the line progresses to the turnstiles, a human-sized Buzz states the urgency of the riders' mission (defeating the evil Zurg, etc.) and exhorts everyone to do their best. 

Right behind us in line was a three-year-old boy with his parents. When he saw the giant Buzz, he just about leapt out of his skin. "BUZZ!" he screamed, frantically beating his hands on his chest. "IT'S ME!! It's me, Buzz!"

Patrick and I nearly died over the adorableness. This kid clearly expected Buzz to recognize and acknowledge him. His connection to the character went that deep. 

It reminded me of another recent incident. Our thirteen-year-old daughter probably has (next to me) the deepest connection to our corgi, Moneypenny. She loves corgis and is constantly reading about them online. She knows, of course, that the Queen of England has several corgis, and decided earlier this week to write a letter to Her Majesty. 

She looked up the proper forms of address, wrote the letter, labeled the envelope, and asked me for postage. She mailed the letter off on Wednesday. She knows she likely won't get an answer; the Queen receives over 200 letters per day. But I was impressed and proud that she had the courage and humility to reach out and attempt a connection with someone with whom she has something in common. 

What does any of this have to do with yoga? I see many benefits to developing a Bikram practice: better health, stamina, and flexibility; increased calm and perseverance; heightened discipline and focus. 

But for me, the biggest benefit I've seen so far is increased connection: to my own body; to my teachers; to my fellow students; and to the rest of my life. I have a greater desire and capacity to reach out to others, to make new connections and to strengthen old ones. That takes bravery and vision and heart, just like that three-year-old; just like my daughter. Better connections were not something I was expecting to find in my challenge, but I'm appreciating them now. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Day 18 -- Mama Said

Days like this. Oy.

Today was rough mood-wise all day; I hated saying goodbye to my sister, for one thing. She's off on more globe-trotting adventures. I'm glad I had her to myself for a good week, though.

I went to the 4:30 class, which was later than I would have liked, but it was the only time that worked for me today. And apparently I ate lunch a little too late in the day for comfort; reflux hit me in the middle of class and became a big distraction. But I stayed in the room and got through most of the asanas.

Afterward, I didn't have my usual euphoria, which was a total dogsock. And I'm way exhausted now.

Tomorrow's Disneyland with the family; we're leaving tonight and staying in one of the Disney hotels so that we can get to the park extra early. It'll be a physical/mental/emotional challenge all its own. :) But seriously: I'm looking forward to being completely present with the kids and spending time making memories. We'll stay late and hope for fireworks, since they were canceled last time we went.

So I'll be back on the yoga horse Friday morning. I am tentatively planning on a double on Friday, assuming Mickey Mouse doesn't totally do me in. After missing tomorrow, I'll have three classes to make up before the end of the challenge, and I'd like to get those out of the way soon. If not Friday, possibly Saturday. I'll get there.

I know that the challenge will have ups and downs, but I do hope that downs like today are few and far between.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Day 17 -- The Twenty-Second Vacation

Today during the floor series, Byron encouraged us to treat each savasana as a twenty-second vacation. "Relax into it as fully and as quickly as you can," he counseled. "Enjoy the sensation of complete relaxation after your complete exertion."

I've mentioned before how much I enjoy savasana, and it's even better as I learn to set aside potential distractions. The smell of the Bikram room used to hit me like a brick when I walked in, but now I barely notice it. (That makes me a little paranoid, actually, but there it is.) My hair, my sweat, my clothes, my increasingly sodden towel--I'm getting better at ignoring them all as I sink into the floor in savasana.

Today, in final savasana, I had a hard time not smiling (though I could have, of course). After each and every class, no matter how it has gone, I feel so GOOD. I'm committed to many more twenty-second vacations in the days and weeks to come.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Day 16 -- Best-Laid Plans

Well, I had planned to do a double today. It's Spring Break for my kids, so except for my 16-year-old's early morning swim practice, the day was pretty unstructured.

I went to the 11am class. Brook taught; it was awesome. I've come to terms with the fact that Bikram class will never not be hard, and I'm even looking forward to the daily challenge of getting through the postures with grace and serenity. Fixed Firm pose went great today! And after it was over, I savored my slushy Vitamin Water on the way home.

(Pro tip: get your favorite flavors of Vitamin Water at the warehouse store. Put them in the deep freezer. Before class, take one out and take it into class with you. By the end of 90 minutes at 105 degrees, it'll be thawed enough to be Slurpee-ish. I never drink the VW in class; it's my treat for the car ride home. Plain ice water is all I want/need during the class itself.)

I came home and took a nap, ate, and hydrated, planning to go back to the 4:30 class. (We have Family Night on Monday nights, so later classes weren't an option.) I felt rested and serene and ready.

And then at 3:30, my six-year-old, Anne, ran across the hardwood living room floor in her socks, slipped, and face planted. Chin to floor. Split it right open. After I iced it for a couple of minutes, I could tell it would need stitches, so off we went to the Emergency Room.

Even though we got right in, the visit took nearly three hours. But Anne was a trooper, and the doctors and nurses were very kind and competent. I felt calm and completely not anxious. Anne and I read and played clapping games and talked about our upcoming trip to Disneyland. She's resting comfortably at home now, and I just ordered pizza.

Sometimes life takes over, and you just have to go with it. I can try again for a double on Friday or Saturday. It'll happen.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Day 15 -- 25 Percent

One thing I'm enjoying about the Sixty-Day Challenge is the variety of teachers. I've had six of them so far, with a new one just today: Christian. Each teachers follows the Bikram script, but each has subtle, personal variations that enhance my depth of learning.

I enjoy the detailed, precise directions some teachers give, but I also enjoy the greater degree of silence that others seem to prefer. I've learned a lot from everyone's style.

For example, today, Christian helped me understand the Fixed Firm posture better. He had me move my knees and adjust my hand position, and it was instantly both easier and more profound. After class, he asked me how it had felt on my knees.

I explained that my knees weren't the problem in that posture; it was my ankles that didn't love it.

"Ah," he said. "But your ankles are already in position. Nothing changes for them if you lean back farther. It still sucks for your ankles no matter what, so don't be afraid to take the posture deeper and enjoy the benefits for the rest of your body."

I laughed, but as he demonstrated, I could see that he was right. Suddenly, it all clicked for me, and I look forward to putting my new understanding into my practice going forward.

It was a subtle thing, but it felt symbolic of the progress I've made now that I'm a quarter way through the challenge. What new things will I learn in the weeks to come? I'm excited to find out.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Day 14 -- Expectations

Today's class was hard. The room felt hotter than usual--and more humid. I felt weak and got light-headed more than usual. It was hard to settle in. I had to sit out a couple of sets here and there.

I did my best, and it helped that Jeff was teaching. He's one of my favorites. It also helped that Patrick went with me today; it was very nice to have company.

But maybe part of the problem was this. It's Saturday; I got to sleep in. I got a little more sleep than usual (we were up later, too, though). I had my best friend with me. We don't have much else scheduled for today. For all of those reasons, I think I went into the class expecting it to be a little easier than it is during the week.

Did my expectations set me up for a fall? Not sure. And everybody tells me that progress is not a constant vector; there will be good days and less good days.

I'm still mulling it over. I'm glad I went, as always, and my slushy-cold Vitamin Water tasted as delicious as ever on the way home. There were good things about today's class; it just wasn't what I was expecting.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Day 13 -- The Bubble

This morning, class was nearly over; we were all in final savasana. Brook was encouraging us to stay in that posture for as long as we could--one, two, five minutes.

"You've worked hard for this," she said. "Use the focus and purpose and calm you've gained over the past ninety minutes to go out into the world and be a little kinder, a little more patient, a little more generous. You've earned it, so use it."

And I started to cry.

Two weeks into my challenge, I've felt a little tired (okay, a lot tired) and have questioned somewhat whether I can really afford this--so much time devoted to yoga, when I have so many other things going on. My writing. My kids. My husband. My teaching. Household management. SO many other demands. 

I guess I'd been seeking a sign that the Bikram yoga, and the challenge in particular, was the right way for me to be spending my time. 

And then Brook's words fell over me like a gentle rain, and a little emotional bubble burst somewhere in my chest, and tears mingled with the sweat running down my face, and I knew. 

I was in the right place. I'm doing the right thing. All is well. I'll go forward. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Day 12 -- Notice It

In 1989, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. For a year, I slept 20-22 hours per day, and very gradually, through a lot of simultaneous self-care and pushing myself, went into remission--mostly. But even now, 26 years later, I have to be very careful.

A few years later, I got an additional diagnosis: Generalized Anxiety Disorder. My fatigue and anxiety, when combined, can cause me to literally panic when I get too tired. I worry about relapse; I worry about collapse. And that can be a vicious circle.

I noticed both my anxiety and my fatigue rising in my first Bikram class about a month ago. I was hot; I was pushing myself to my limits. I didn't know if I'd be able to make it through that class, but I decided that I only had two goals: to keep breathing and to stay in the room. I managed both.

Over the following weeks, as I got more comfortable with the class routine and expectations, my anxiety didn't trigger as much. I gave myself permission to sit out a set of a posture if I got light-headed. (This often happens to me in Camel or in Triangle; I think it has to do with my low blood pressure.)

And then I figured out something new. If I stayed in Camel and kept breathing, the light-headedness would subside. I didn't pass out or throw up. I just noticed the light-headedness and breathed through it.

It worked in Triangle, too. Lunging to the side, my arms stretching away from each other as hard as possible, I was uncomfortable. I felt dizzy. I noticed it and kept breathing. I made it through.

Sometimes noticing means taking action, but sometimes it just means...noticing. Detaching a bit and observing. Playing with the edge, as Brook likes to say. I'm getting better at noticing with a calm mind, dismissing my anxiety and telling it to come back later. This is a very good thing, and I look forward to applying it to other areas where my anxiety can paralyze me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Day 11 -- Catalyst

Class was good. I didn't want to go; I felt so much better afterward.

I've known about Bikram and its benefits for a long time. But for years, I thought I didn't have the time. What changed? What was the catalyst?

I read an article by Paige Williams in O Magazine. Part One is here; Part Two is here. (Note that for both parts, it's difficult to get to page 6; for some reason, the links are wonky. But the sixth/final page of each part is the best, so make the effort to get there.)

I figured I needed wholesale change, just like Paige. I figured I'd try to make the time. So far, I'm glad I did.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Day 10 -- Wipe the Sweat

My good friend Carmen, one of the world's best narrators, tells a hilarious story about a bra fitting at the renowned Orchard Corset on Manhattan's Lower East Side. I won't go into the details, but the punch line is "Wipe the sweat," said in a heavy Eastern European accent. Vipe the sveat.

I think of that line often when I'm in Bikram yoga class. I've never sweated so much in my entire life; in fact up until now, I've avoided sweating whenever possible. I prefer to walk Moneypenny in the early morning, when it's quite cool. I sleep with the windows open in the winter time. I. Don't. Like. The heat.

Except now, I find myself looking forward to it. This morning I was dog tired and pretty down, and the ten minutes I had on my mat, lying in the heat and meditating before class even started, were already restorative. As sweat poured out of me through the postures, I visualized my bad mood oozing out with it.

And now? I feel better. Still tired, but calmer and brighter. I'll go back to class tomorrow and keep sweating out the moods and the stress, the worry and the cares. And it'll all get wiped away.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Day 9 -- How You Try

This morning, Brook said something in class that struck me: "It's not what you do; it's how you try."

I thought about that a lot through the rest of the postures. We're so used to quoting Yoda: "Do, or do not; there is no try."

But there is "try" in yoga. I have to modify a lot of the asanas. Standing Head-to-Knee. Toe Stand. Camel. It'll be a long time before I can do them the way you see them performed in photographs.

But that's all right. I'm moving forward, and as I do my best version, I visualize doing them perfectly. Someday.

Since class this morning, I've thought about Brook's statement as it applies to life in general. I'm a perfectionist; all or nothing. Maybe that's why my writing has been such a chore lately. I'm not doing it the way I picture it in my head.

But maybe I need to focus more on the "try."

I'll "try" it and see how it goes. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Day 8 -- Respite

Today because of church commitments, I can't make one of the four scheduled yoga classes. That's okay. I've already talked to Jeff about strategies for doing "doubles," meaning two classes in a day, because I'll have to do at least two to complete the challenge.

Let's face it: as out of shape as I am and with Daylight Savings Time starting, my body was glad for the respite.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Day 7 -- Just Be

Confession: I didn't want to go to yoga class today. I just woke up unenthused, and then I started thinking about how hard trikonasana would be, and I wished I didn't have the commitment to going hanging over me.

But then a thought came into my mind: Just go and be.

So I went and was.

And you know what? Trikonasana kicked my trash, as usual. But it was okay.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Day 6 -- Monkey Brain

I have a busy brain. It has served me well all these years. It's the reason I can contemplate a gnarly plot point in my latest novel while folding the daily laundry, or how I can make a mental shopping list as I drive around.

My brain is so busy that, in addition to my thoughts and my actions, I have a soundtrack going on during almost all of my conscious hours. It could be Brahms; it could be The Violent Femmes. But there's almost always something my brain is running over and over to itself.

Not at Bikram class. The yoga is so intense for me that I can't think about anything else. I focus totally on what my body is doing, and I hang onto the teacher's constant, calming flow of words like a lifeline. During the savasana breaks, I keep my mind as still as my body. I try not to anticipate what's coming next; I try not to evaluate what I've just done. I just breathe. This is a new thing for my monkey brain, but it feels good.

The stillness lasts about halfway through the drive home, but that's okay. I have a busy life, and I need to stay on top of things. But I welcome the daily break from the busy brain. It feels great just to turn it all off and regroup for a while.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Day 5 -- Slow Down

We’ve trained ourselves to depend on instant gratification. We want things fast. Our society provides us with options for fast cars, fast food, fast reads, fast weight loss gimmicks. In the past, I’ve been enamored of strategies to write fast.

Unfortunately, “fast” rarely equals “sustainable.”

I’ve come to believe more and more in the power of slow. I’m a fan of the slow food movement and of slowing down life in general. I want to focus on journey even as I travel toward a destination; I want to enjoy the process as much as the results.

I’ve found that focusing on “slow” often means delaying gratification and doing the work to build a solid foundation.

Bikram teaches this. The foundation of the standing postures is a locked knee. Lifting the quadriceps muscle to do this properly—and keeping it lifted—takes more strength and stamina than I have at the moment. The teachers repeat: “If the knee isn’t locked, the posture hasn’t begun.” So I focus on locking the knee, even as my thighs shake with the effort. I’m building the foundation. The rest of the postures will come, eventually.

I love learning patience. I love the reminders to keep my focus inward during class and not compare myself to all the other (younger, slimmer, more flexible) people in the room. I love staying in the present moment and seeing how far I can take myself. It’s a slow process, but it’s sustainable.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Day 4 -- March Fourth: March Forth!

The only date that’s also an imperative sentence! I love it.

The great news is that I did the sit-ups. You can't imagine my glee. 

Between every asana in the floor series of every Bikram class, there’s a full-body sit-up to get you back into position after resting in savasana. When I first started Bikram, my core was too weak to do the sit-ups properly. I’d have to grab my leg to get up off the floor.

On Saturday at the Fundamentals class, I asked Val what to do about it. She told me to give every sit-up my all, and then use my elbows to get the rest of the way up. I followed her instructions on Monday and again until halfway through Tuesday night’s class—and then magically, I came all the way up! I had the biggest smile on my face.

And it wasn’t a fluke. I did every sit-up today as well. It feels great to make some progress.

As I get to know the various poses in the class (which is always the same), there are some I love and some that…challenge me.

Most Challenging:

Half-Moon Pose (Which is first—and it’s SO LONG.)
Camel Pose (But today, for the first time, I didn’t get light-headed when I did my modified version.)


Savasana (I am all about the savasana. Both versions: prone and supine. Bring it.)
Balancing Stick Pose (I feel strong and awesome; it’s almost like a Warrior asana.)

I feel so clear-headed after every class—like I’m standing on a cliff with a fresh ocean breeze blowing in my face. I love it. But I think I might need to avoid classes at night, if possible. Last night I got home and had a hard time winding down. I’ll do what it takes to finish the challenge, but if I can, I’ll do the bulk of my classes in the mornings.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Day 3 -- Resistance

On Monday nights as part of our weekly Family Home Evening, we go over our calendar for the next several days. Last night as we did so, my anxiety kicked into high gear. How will I do everything I'm supposed to do and be everywhere I'm supposed to be this week--while doing yoga every day?

In his genius book The War of Art--which I highly recommend to artists, athletes, and anyone wanting to be a force for good in the world--Steven Pressfield discusses the concept of Resistance. There is a force in the universe that opposes every worthy endeavor. The more crucial that endeavor is to your happiness, the harder Resistance will work to keep you from doing it. (Really: read the book. It's life-changing.)

As a writer (and as a mother), I encounter Resistance every day. It never goes away; the battle against it needs to be fought anew each morning. But fighting it does get easier as it becomes something that is prioritized.

For me, Resistance often rears its ugly head as anxiety--sometimes to the point of paralysis. I've learned some tricks to overcome it, and I usually can these days. I just have to be vigilant, both planning ahead and taking things minute by minute.

It helps to be aware; it helps to be accountable. It helps to know the work you're trying to do is important enough that it's catching the attention of Resistance. And the work itself--whether a new chapter or a yoga class--can also help a great deal. One foot in front of the other. One breath, one word at a time. Here we go.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Day 2 -- Making Room

Today's class was more difficult because I was trying my best to do the breathing Val taught me on Saturday. She assures me that, though it's exhausting, it will pay off in the long run.

It's Monday, the day I look at the week ahead and brace myself for the many challenges ahead. Last week was less eventful, and I was able to fit yoga in relatively easily. This week will be trickier.

I've got seven kids--six of our own plus a foster daughter. My two oldest are in college, which means that, while they're always in my heart, they don't affect my schedule much unless they need a paper proofread or their dining hall points topped up. But the other five: they're in three different schools, with all kinds of extracurricular activities going on every day of the week. They keep me busy.

Mondays are late in/early out for me, meaning that my high schoolers go to school 2.5 hours later than usual, and my other kids come home 2 hours earlier than usual. I have about three hours to myself, so I'll always need to do the 9am class on Mondays as a result.

On Tuesday mornings, I meet with my writing group until lunchtime. That's non-negotiable; I need them, and so does my career. On Tuesdays, I'll need the 6:30pm class.

Wednesdays are a little more free, though evening classes won't work, since my girls are at our church youth group. I think I'll plan on the 11am class.

Ditto for Thursdays and Fridays. I don't want to shortchange our Corgi, Moneypenny, so I think it'll work best later in the week if I walk her before class. This morning, I could barely manage a half hour's walk with her after yoga class, and she needs more like 45-60 minutes, with hills.

Saturdays, I'll try to get there early in the day. On Sunday, there are only four classes, and because of church obligations, I'll plan on the 5pm class. (I couldn't do that yesterday because of the kids' piano recital; I'll need to do a "double"--two classes in one day (likely a Saturday) to make up for that.

Of course, this week, dentist appointments, etc. will mess all of the above up, and I'll have to scramble. But scramble I will! I'm determined to do this right. Long ago, my mentor Claudia Bushman taught me that when taking on a new project, to be very conscious about what I'll give up to make room. Never just assume you'll fit it in; be mindful and plan at least a day ahead. I've tried to follow her advice ever since, and it will definitely help me as I work toward completing the 60-Day Challenge.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Day 1 -- Inspiration

I guess yoga runs in my family. My brother Thomas teaches yoga at Reed College. (Photos to come, I hope!)

And then there's my brother-in-law, Bruce, who's been doing Bikram faithfully for four years and has seen amazing results. He looks fantastic. (I'll ask him for a photo, too.)

My younger sister Mary takes photos of her cool yoga moves all over the globe. She's got skillz, yo.

And my cousin Travis? He's a year younger than I am, and he's hotter than July. His secret? Yoga.

I'm hoping their strong hearts and bodies will keep me inspired as I start my journey. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

YogiVal and the Five Fundamentals

To get ready for my Sixty-Day Challenge, I took a class today with Val Sklar Robinson, the owner and director of Bikram Yoga Pasadena.

I'm so glad I did. Her emphasis on Five Fundamentals of yoga completely changed not only how I had been thinking about yoga, but how I was going about practicing it as well. She has a video coming out soon that goes over her philosophies and techniques; I think it's going to be very useful. I can already feel a difference in how I'm breathing and holding my body. I'm even more excited now about the next sixty days!