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.