Extending the Gratitude 147 Days: Thanksgiving to Nowruz


Funny, this was supposed to be a New Years post, looking back on 2013 and ahead to 2014.  Why I’m such a procrastinator on this thing, I have no idea. My last post was all the way back in August, when I just wrapped up a 75 day challenge before heading off to Pennsylvania for a week’s vacation.  At that point I was looking forward to visiting the brand new Bikram Yoga Lehigh Valley, which just opened near my home town. As it turns out, I was able to do 5 classes that week.  The studio is fabulous and beautiful!

Jump ahead to October   My home studio announced a 30 day “Gratitude Challenge” designed to culminate on Thanksgiving.  There was a wall chart in the studio where, instead of just checking off the days of your challenge, you wrote what you were grateful for each day.  Sounded like a great idea, and having already done 30, 60, and 75 day challenges this year, no way can I resist a challenge, so of course I had to do it.   The pic above was taken in December, wearing the t-shirt those who completed the challenge received.  It’s my second studio challenge t-shirt, with many more to come I expect.  (Actually I do NOT need more t-shirts but what the hell, yoga t-shirts are a new genre to collect, lol.)

Since it’s hard for me to stop at “30”, my plan was to keep going and see where it leads.  My December schedule was fairly favorable to extending the challenge into the New Year.  I would hit 60 right before New Years, 90 would be the end of January and 100 would be early February.  My personal best so far is 102 (see previous post), so if I get anywhere near that, I have to go for it.  When I did the 102, I was actually shooting for 120, so maybe that’s where I’ll end up if I can manage it.

As anyone who read my previous posts knows, I speak of challenges as X classes in X days, not necessarily X days in a row.  My schedule does not allow for the normal consecutive day challenge.  I have my kids on alternate weeks, meaning one week I can go to 6:00 am every day and the other week I have to get my youngest off to school.  It’s kind of a binge and fast pattern.  I manage to average a class a day by doing as many doubles as possible on my binge weeks and weekends. Depending on what time of year it is, my kids are involved in swimming, basketball or baseball, so even that takes some juggling.  The key point is, after my parenting priorities, my practice is at the core of who I am and what I do.  I organize and prioritize everything else around it.

Day 60 was Christmas Eve, and the way the weeks fell,  I was only on class 55 so I had to keep going.  I was caught up by day 75 but now 102 plus was clearly in reach so that was no stopping point.  I kept pace with 95 in 95, but fell behind again by day 100.  I had 97 in 100 and 100 in 102.

So close!

Now I was determined not to stop until my X classes in X days matched up at some point beyond 102.  I charted out a plan that would get me to 120 and reach my original goal.  But it wasn’t going to be so easy. It was now my older son’s swim season and he had a series of out of town weekend meets that kept me from doing my usual weekend doubles that enabled me to keep pace. I was continually a couple classes behind at 120, 130, and 140.  I had a good binge week coming up to 150 but that weekend was my son’s last swim meet, State championships!  Ironically, Esak Garcia was holding a seminar and posture clinic at my studio the same weekend and I was going to have to miss that too (aargh!)

Happy Nowruz!

According to wikipedia: “Nowruz marks the first day of spring or Equinox [20] as and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar. It is celebrated on the day of the astronomical Northward equinox, which usually occurs on March 21 or the previous/following day depending on where it is observed. The moment the sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year and families gather together to observe the rituals.”  

So happens that the company I work for is run by Persians and we are closed for Nowruz every year.  The significance of this is that it gave me an extra weekday to squeeze in an extra class, which enabled me to hit 147 classes in 147 days on the Friday before the weekend of my son’s swim meet and Esak seminar.  Since I couldn’t make classes that weekend and the following week was an “off” week, I had to call the challenge complete at 147.  It turns out to be pretty cool symbolism extending the GRATITUDE from Thanksgiving, through one of the most brutal winters in Chicago history, to the first day of Spring!  There were many many days that started going to class at 6:00am when the air temp was below 0 and the windchill was -30 to -60, but I never missed class because of it.  No, you get up and go, weather is just weather.  Also amazing is that my studio never cancelled a class due to the weather.  We were there every day even in the most brutal conditions.  We have some great committed teachers willing to come out no matter what to teach those classes too. That’s hard core! Crazy…we’re ALL fanatics!  It’s addictive, it’s contagious!

When I wrapped up this challenge at 147 days, it consisted of 55 days of single classes and 46 doubles.  The most consecutive days I did was 11, a few times.  The most consecutive days of doubles I did was 4, also a couple times.  My doubles were either back to back on weekend mornings or 6:00 am and 7:30 pm on weekdays.  There are things I like about both types of doubles.  Back to backs are the most challenging but sometimes the second class can be better than the first because you’re already so stretched out, you feel extra flexible, as long as you can manage your energy and focus on your breathing.  That’s really where you can work on your focus and meditation and stillness, because you don’t have the raw energy to push through the class.  AM/PM doubles are easier and you still get the benefit of being a little extra loose from the morning classes.  Some of my best classes ever have been evening classes after an early morning class.  Your energy is back to normal and your body is still more stretched out.

One thing I learned through this period is how GRATEFUL I am that I discovered this yoga.  I go through most of my days amazed at how good I feel and not being able to wait till my next class. I also believe more in more in my blog title, Always Great Never Easy.  As much as I love going to class each day and feel so great afterwards, the one word I would still never use to describe it is “easy”.  There are classes that feel good and smooth and there are classes that you feel like you’re gonna die.  I am not immune from those at all.  You can’t tell going into it what kind of class its going to be.  I had great classes where I didn’t feel so strong, and I had hard classes when I felt great going in.  Who knows…no judgments, no expectations, just focus on your breathing, follow the words, and do your best for TODAY.

Hopefully, with this finally off my chest, I will get in the habit of posting a little more frequently. I definitely need to do one more very soon as May 1 was my 3rd Yogaversary.  I will have more to say about that soon. Namaste.






The Anniversary of My Fanaticism

riangle Pose very much a work in progress…not quite there yet but working on it….)

In past posts I wrote about my first and second “yogaversaries”, but it was just about this time last year that I did my first consecutive day “challenge”.  It took me about 9 months to a year into my practice until it dawned on me that I really could and should ramp up the frequency of my classes an become a lot more committed to it. Until late July/early August of 2012 I hadn’t done more than 2 classes is a row.

My first challenge was an 8 day streak from July 29-Aug 5 of last year.  That got broken off by a vacation trip to PA, but the mental commitment to daily practice as much as possible was made.  As soon as I got back I started on what ended up being my longest challenge so far, 102 days!  I did 45 consecutive days before I had to miss and make up a class.   It wasn’t until Oct 6 that I did my first “double” ever, 17 months into my practice.  Once I got that far into it I was trying to go for 120 or a double 60, but my schedule changed when I got a new job and had to cut it off at 102 over Thanksgiving weekend with a string of 3 consecutive doubles.


Yesterday I finished my most recent challenge, 75 days, not coincidentally cut off by this year’s vacation trip to PA.  So far this year I’ve done a 60, a 30 and this 75 day.  That means 5 1/2 of the 7 months of this year, and 9 1/2 out of the past 12 months were spent in challenge mode.  Overall, in the year from Aug 1 2012 to July 31 2013 I did 321 classes. Due to the quirks in my schedule, my challenges are very “double” intensive.   I average about 8 doubles a month, either back to back on weekends or early AM and late PM on weekdays.  It shouldn’t be any mystery where my “always great never easy” tag line came from!

I use the term “fanaticism” in the title of this post mostly as a joke, but there’s more than a kernel of truth to it (I’m sure there are people at my studio that would say “no Mike, you ARE a fanatic”).  I love this practice so much and I’m so addicted to how good it makes me feel and I still can’t believe how much is transformed my body into the shape I’m in today…crazy…not perfect by any means but exceeding my wildest expectations (to the extent I had any) by miles.  If you’re reading this blog for the first time or have only read a couple posts, scroll back to the beginning and get the whole story (there’s not that many posts to wade through).  Mine is only one of many many instances where people have experienced dramatic transformation through Bikram Yoga.  Some testimonies are far more dramatic than mine because in certain cases they started with serious injury or illness and ended up healing themselves and getting into great shape.  All I did was get overweight and out of shape with the onset of middle age, but I was otherwise relatively “healthy”.

When I get back from vacation I will resume my practice right away but I think I will be taking a break from challenges for a little while.  Eventually I would like to shoot for that 120 again, but after awhile keeping track of classes and doing this challenge or that challenge is really just about GOING TO CLASS, like why wouldn’t I? What else am I going to do?  Of course I’m going to class.  I can’t wait till my next class (which will be a special class at the brand new Bikram Yoga Lehigh Valley this Sunday)!  How cool is that?  A studio is about to open up in my hometown so I won’t have to go a whole week and a half without class.  I’ll report back on it soon as I can.  Until then, Namaste’

Student of the Month

A couple weeks ago this article was posted in my studio’s monthly newsletter.  So happens I was named Student of the Month and was asked to contribute a little write up about how this practice has changed my life.  One of my teachers snapped a few pictures after class one night.  It’s the first documentation I have of any of my poses and will be interesting to compare six months or a year or two from now as I strive for continual improvement.  I feel a little “awkward” posting this as it seems like shameless self promotion, and much of what I say here I’ve said previously in this blog, but I figure what the hell, might as well share it in case it helps or inspires anyone.  It’s a nice piece of recognition and I never get tired of telling people about the benefits of Bikram Yoga.
Student of the Month
This month, we want to recognize and celebrate Mike Mitchell! Many of you know Mike as the smiling happy face who dropped an astounding 80 pounds since he started practicing Bikram Yoga. His transformation was more than physical, he’s become a constant source of encouragement and inspiration at Bikram Yoga Oak Park. When Mike tells you, “You can do it”, you should believe him because he HAS.
“I’m extremely honored and excited to be chosen Student of the Month this month.  It’s been a crazy journey over these past 2 years, from barely knowing yoga exists “out there somewhere” to becoming pretty much this “poster boy” Bikram yoga fanatic.  Since I started practicing in May 2011, I’ve read so many inspiring testimonies as to how powerful this yoga is, so many stories of weight lost, health restored and lives transformed.  My story is just another proof positive example of the power you have within yourself, within your mind and body, of the change that is possible when you commit yourself to this practice.

Prior to 2011, I never did any kind of yoga and it wasn’t on any of my “one day I really gotta…” lists.  What I had become more acutely aware of, however, was how gradually, incrementally but dramatically out of shape I had become and how much stupid weight I gained through the all too typical middle age sedentary lifestyle-sit, eat, drink, sit, sleep, repeat.  Then one day, on a lunch break from my nearby office, I came across the now familiar chalkboard sign on the sidewalk.  I checked out the studio’s website and read about class being conducted in 105 Degrees for 90 Minutes.  “Holy Crap that would work!”  I remember thinking that exactly.    My first class was hot and hard and I was convinced that no way does my body go that way, uh uh, no way; but I could also tell this practice was powerful enough to get me back on the right track.  

I didn’t start with any specific expectations.   Now I can definitely say what I have experienced exceeded my wildest dreams.  In 2011 from May to December I lost 20 pounds from semi-regular practice.  In 2012 as my practice commitment increased I lost another 60 pounds for a total of 80 overall.  This year my weight is holding steady but my tone and fitness have continued to improve.  I can honestly say I’m in better shape at 53 than I have ever been in my 20s or 30s. I just wish I discovered it sooner. Peace, patience, calmness and focus all dramatically improved through this 90 minute moving meditation.  
I strive to average a class a day and make frequent use of doubles to account for the quirks in my schedule.  I’m totally addicted to how great I feel after class and I can’t imagine ever not practicing as often as possible.Its great to be part of such a super supportive community here at BYOP.  There are so many incredible and dedicated fellow yogis sweating their asses off right along side me, many of whom I look forward to applauding as future Students of the Month. I also can’t say enough about the great teachers in this studio.  I’m sure there are a lot of great teachers in other studios too but this group here at BYOP is awesome.  Rigorous and demanding but also empowering and inspiring.   I would encourage anyone to just get yourself to class and watch the transformation happen before your eyes.  It may be gradual but it will happen.  Stick with it–it works if you work it!”
Thank you Mike for your courage and commitment. You made a decision and followed through. Your example paves the way for many yogis to just make up their mind.
Give a shout out to Mike. He’s a super motivator but it’s always nice to get some kudos back. Kudos Mike!
Hot Sign
The Sign that started it all (wording little different but message the same)!

A Month of Sundays and Esak Garcia

I attended Esak’s day long seminar and posture clinic on Sunday May 19th.  I looked forward to it a great deal based on all the great things I heard about him and his Jedi Fight Club trainings.  It was my first opportunity for a more in depth training since I started practicing.  As I mentioned in the previous post, I decided to prepare for this by doing a 30 day challenge designed to conclude on May 19th.  So happens I finished it the day before, but did not go on to extend it into a 60 day like I thought I might.  The seminar was great.  A room full of some familiar and lots of new faces from other studios throughout Chicago area.  Hearing a master teacher like Esak talk about yoga and give very detailed training on nitty gritty specifics of various postures was incredibly inspiring.  He was sweet, humble, humorous, relaxed and really focused on the joy of yoga and the benefit the postures are to you.  The very opposite of a “my way or the highway” type of guy.

That seminar on a beautiful Sunday morning temporarily interrupted my weekly 8:00 and 10:00 Sunday Doubles.  Up to that point I did 16 consecutive weeks of Sunday Doubles, 32 classes– essentially a Month of Sundays.  Its become a regular part of my practice whether I’m doing a specific challenge or not.  One thing I learned is, just because you do it on a regular basis, doesn’t mean back to back doubles become “easy”.  Sure I know what to expect and I’ve done it so many times that I know I can make it, but any given week or any given class can be a “great” one or a “hard” one.  No rhyme or reason–just is what it is.  Can’t worry about it, can’t be afraid of it, just focus and breathe and move with the words.  Find your peace, find your stillness, and push or kick until you hear “change”.  One thing that is extremely consistent is how great I feel afterwards.  Even if I feel totally spent and exhausted at the end of the second class, it isn’t long till I feel amazing.  That’s the feeling that is soooo addicting…how great you feel after class.  That’s the crazy part.  No matter how great or hard the classes were, how much sheer determination it took me to get through them, how much I was reduced to a pool of sweat on the floor, it wasn’t long till I was saying to myself, “That was awesome…when’s my next class?”

Second Yogaversary May 1

May 1st was my 2nd Yogaversary (if it wasn’t a word,it is now…lol).  I’m a few days late in posting it but I don’t want to let too much more time pass before recognizing it.  I went to class at 6:00 am on May 1.  It was my 17th class in 12 consecutive days, since I got the idea of doing a 30 Day Challenge culminating at an Esak Garcia seminar and posture clinic at my studio, Bikram Yoga Oak Park, on May 19.  By the time of the seminar, I should have a few classes over 30 in 30 days, so I will probably not want to “waste” those days and keep on going for a 60 Day Challenge.  Why not, right?  As I mentioned in previous posts, my work and childcare schedule require a liberal use of doubles to keep pace with a class a day average.  One week I can practice like crazy, the next week I try to squeeze a class in once or twice if I’m lucky.

Just like I said this time last year when I appraised my first Yogaversary, this yoga continues to be an amazing transforming experience.  I log every class and from May 1, 2012 to April 30, 2013, I did 281 classes, average of about 24 classes/month, but only 1 month since September had less than 25 classes.  May June July had less than 20.  It was in August that I really committed to the principle of Daily Practice. I did 22 days, the only reason it wasn’t more was a week of family vacation.  My weight loss really kicked in once I started practicing  that regularly.  I already experienced noticeable success but once I made the commitment to daily practice, I was able to get my weight and body fat down lower and lower till I got myself in the best shape of my life, toned, taut, firmer than I ever was in my teens, 20s or 30s.  My weight loss has plateaued a bit lately.  There’s still another 10 lbs I’m shooting for, but I’ve been holding steady in spite of maintaining a very rigorous practice schedule.  That’s fine, whatever.  I’l work on it as I go.  Yoga may be an obsession, but weight loss per se is not my obsession.  I feel so great I just want to go from great to greater.

One thing is clear after 2 years now, with a 9 month commitment to daily practice, is that I still have a long way to go and a lot to work on every day.  Two years on the mat and I still can’t get my foot completely behind my calf in Eagle or touch my head to my knee in Standing Head to Knee (the name of the posture after all…) or get my leg very high over my head in Standing Bow Pulling or touch my forehead to the floor in Standing Separate Leg Stretching or get into Toe Stand at all!  So what the hell have I been doing these past 2 years?? lol…only kidding.  It’s a lifelong process and maybe next year I will report I achieved some of these poses or maybe 5 years from now or whenever.  All I know is I’m going back to class tomorrow and keep on working on it.  I’m addicted to feeling incredible both during and after class.

Sunday Doubles

Today happens to be “Easter Sunday” so I “liked” and “shared” a couple great pix of Rabbit   Poses on my FB page in honor of the Easter Bunny.  That’s about as “eastery” as I get.  I’m so glad my studio, Bikram Yoga Oak Park, didn’t reduce its class schedule for the holiday.  I noticed a number of other studios I follow did.  Today was the 10th consecutive week (and 11th of the last 12) that I did a back to back Sunday double, taking the 8:00 and 10:00 a.m. classes.  I started doing it in January as a way to keep pace with my 30 then 60 day challenge, but now that my challenge is over (60 on 3/13/13) I just kept doing my Sunday doubles because…hmm…because…I guess I like them and have gotten accustomed to doing them.  I still do other doubles too from time to time, with or without being in a “challenge”, as a way to come as close as I can to averaging a class a day.  I like taking 6:00 a.m. class before work then coming back for 7:30 p.m. class after work some days. With classes so far apart it almost doesn’t seem like a double but I notice the enhanced flexibility in the evening class regardless.  Almost without fail the 2nd class of a double is the better class, even if the first one was good too.

I practiced for 16 months before doing my first double and my initial concern was “making it through” or having enough stamina for both classes.  That has proven not to be as much an issue as I expected.  Now there are some classes that are hot and hard and take every ounce of determination to get through, and I think “no way in hell could I do a double after this class”.  But those classes have never coincided with my plans to actually do a double.  (My suspicion is that it was just my mind running wild and trying to psyche me out.)  I have had 1st classes on a Sunday in this string where I questioned whether or not I should stay for the next class but I stayed and was always glad I did.

Two weeks ago, for example, the first class was pretty hard and I was a little mad at myself for falling out so often during the balancing series (I know…let it go…) so I came out of class kinda pissed and discouraged even though I kept working as hard as I could during the floor series and finished relatively strong.  I considered bagging the double and going home to rest.  After a shower and costume change I felt good enough to stay for the next class and OMG am I glad I did!  The next class was a great strong energetic class, the best class of that week even.  If I left after the first class I would have been somewhat discouraged and looking forward to my next class to get back on track. But since I stayed for the 2nd class and had a great class, I left totally energized and exhilarated.  What a difference a class makes.  With the 2nd class in a back to back double, its not about pushing as hard as you can, its more about finding your peace, breath and stillness and moving into the postures calmly.  I find my flexibility is much better in almost every posture, my hands get much further under my feet, my grip is much stronger in Standing Head to Knee, as so on.  I also find the energy is there too, a peaceful but strong surge, just the opposite of being too fatigued.  Sort of like being in a “zone”.

Today was one of those great 2nd classes too.  Definitely my best of the past week in terms of energy, flexibility and balance.  My first class was fine, not a problem in any way, so I felt good going into the 2nd.  I did have some lingering thoughts about my Friday night class though.  Friday night 7:30 p.m. class started hot and humid, dripping sweat from the get go, which I am totally fine with and even love.  I am working on Standing Head to Knee and have gotten fairly good at keeping my standing knee locked and more often than not locking my extended knee right before time to change.  I have not yet been able to lower my head to my knee but I feel I’m getting close to giving it a shot.  The problem I sometimes have with extra humid classes is that my grip is sweaty and I can’t always maintain it as strongly as I need to (opportunity to build my strength).  In this particular class the teacher seemed to extend the time a little….kick….kick…kick….  I started doubting myself and fell out before she said “change”.  It was immediately crystal clear to me that it was an occasion of mental weakness not physical weakness.  Stay in the posture, listen to the words, don’t anticipate…but alas I did.  So I came into today’s classes with a firm determination to focus on the words, let the teacher control the time and just focus on my breath.  And it worked!  If you practice this yoga I don’t have to tell you, you know it works.  This was the perfect set up to an awesome 2nd class. Got that second wind, calm energy flow and felt very in sync with the flow from one posture one series to the next.  Didn’t even fall out of anything in the balancing series.  That’s what I call a Happy Easter.

First Challenge of 2013: 30 Days Turns into 60 Days

I am such a bad blogger, even though this site represents my first attempt to do so.  I often think about writing entries and commenting more on my day to day practice but if I find time to do so, I more often join in conversations on the other great yoga blogs I follow rather than write my own new posts. So anyway, finally, here goes–The first actual post of 2013 and its already mid-March.  Oh well, there are no rules for these things after all.

Early in the New Year, my home studio announced its first ever studio-wide 30 Day Challenge.  This is obviously quite common in many studios but this studio is only a little over 2 years old so this was the first of hopefully many more to follow.  Previous posts discuss my 102 day challenge last year and how my daily practice schedule was altered by a new job I started in November.  At first I didn’t think I was going to join the challenge because it would be hard to make it work with my schedule, but thinking more about it and in the spirit of “esprit de corps” I figured what the hell might as well.  The weeks of the challenge fell in such a way that I could do 9 or 10 days in a row then miss 4 or 5 days and still be able to do enough doubles to make the 30 classes in 30 days.  I completed the studio-wide challenge with more than dozen fellow yogis, including our fabulous leader and studio owner Nancy, doing a total of 10 doubles a midst streaks of 9-10 consecutive days.  I’ll probably write more about my doubles practice later but I will say here that I do both back to back and AM/PM doubles.  In one scenario I do 8:00AM and 10:00AM Sunday mornings (8 consecutive Sundays and 9 out of the last 10 right up to and including this past week) which I’ve come to love and plan to continue apart from any “challenge”.  I also did 6:00AM, go to work, then 7:30PM after work the same day, usually M-W-F of my “on” weeks.  That way I got 4 doubles in a week and was able to keep pace and average a class a day.  The AM/PM doubles aren’t as rigorous being so spread apart from each other but there is the grind of yoga-work all day-yoga, get home late, get up for 6:00AM yoga again….  Life outside of yoga?  Pity the Fool…LOL.  I often found myself wonderfully flexible (or as flexible  as I get so far) in the evening class as well as the 2nd class of a weekend back to back.  I’ve found in the majority of occasions, the 2nd class of the day is better in terms of focus and flexibility than the first.  But that’s not to say it doesn’t take every ounce of determination to make it through sometimes.  There’s a reason my theme is Always Great Never Easy because its exactly how I feel every class.

So the picture above is me on the left waiting to get my “medal” for completing the challenge on our studio’s open house celebration in honor of the yogis who completed it  You see fellow yogis Lucy and Carlos wearing the medals they just got from Nancy (sliver profile in the far right).  By the time the first 30 days were done I had already decided to keep going for 60.  I was in a groove and feeling great so why stop now?  I followed the same pattern for the next 30 days and finished the 60 classes in 60 days last Wednesday with a total of 19 doubles over the 2 months.  The streak has been broken and I have no plans to continue to 90-100-120 like last year (I was shooting for 120 when my schedule changed and I wrapped things up at 102).  I did do my now regular 8:00 and 10:00 Sunday morning double this week and will still do as many consecutive days as I can on my “on” weeks.  I love the 6:00AM classes that I can do on alternate weeks.

In terms of what I learned in this recent 60 Day Challenge, I think the biggest progression of my practice has been the almost accidental decision to stop taking water into the studio with me. (I have written on this as a comment on other blogs)  It started on Day 1 of the studio-wide challenge on a 6:00AM Monday morning class when I realized I forgot my water bottle. Instead of buying a bottle at the studio I just said, almost on a whim, “blank” it I don’t need it.  I always hydrate fairly well before and after class and I was aware of the idea of no water in hot room practice from other discussions but it was never a strong focus at my studio.  A couple teachers recommend it or mention it but don’t harp on it and the vast majority of yogis bring water into class, so its no big deal, no stigma,and I didn’t do it to be hard core or anything.  I did it because I realized that the water bottle could be a distraction that makes class harder not easier.  At this point I was only drinking water at middle savasana and final savasana anyway.  I stopped taking a water break after Eagle a couple months prior because I felt it inhibited me from catching my breath and finding my focus for the balancing series.  I noticed the few seconds it took to grab my water and drink took away from the stillness and focus I needed to prepare for Standing Head to Knee, which is still a work in progress for me and very strenuous, so I wanted to eliminate that distraction and it helped alot.  I found my energy returned quicker standing and breathing rather than grabbing for water. In the same way I got out of the habit awhile back of drinking during the floor series between the 2 long savasanas. So now, the only issue was having or not having water in middle savasana.  I figured the same principle would apply, that using that time laying still and breathing would be more beneficial than grabbing for water then laying down.  No way I’d go back now.  After that first day I never wanted water in the hot room again, not even on  back to back doubles.  Teachers are right, there really isn’t enough time for the water in the  hot room to benefit you so its much more important to drink before and after class, which I do, in gallons it seems.  I think its something a yogi should contemplate for him or herself and not be pushed into it or feel any peer pressure about it.  Class is all about your Self and your focus and mediation.  If you feel having water with you helps your peace of mind and helps your practice, great.  If you wonder whether not having it might help your focus and improve your concentration, I suggest that yes it probably would and give it a try.  Then go with what works for you.

What Was 2012?

New Years Day…wow….  As I described previously, I’m using this blog to document and reflect on the evolution of my Bikram Yoga practice.  My practice started May 2011 from scratch, a complete yoga virgin, when I came across a sandwich board sign on the sidewalk for a studio right around the corner from where I worked at the time,Bikram Yoga Oak Park.   Throughout the rest of 2011, I committed myself to the practice but it was still rather sporadic.  Once or twice a week at best and there were weeks that I would miss entirely.  It was partially due to being immersed in a time intensive job, but it was also that it didn’t quite sink in that 1 or 2 days a week was not the goal I should shoot for, not the ideal level of commitment for what I needed to get out of my practice.  More experienced yogis I would talk to in the locker room suggested as much.  and encouraged me to try to come every day or every other day if I could.  Teachers said the same thing…as often as you can, the more the merrier.

Because I was new to yoga period, I also explored other styles of hot yoga like vinyasa.  I took advantage of other studio’s intro offers and online coupons.  I only explored hot or heated classes.  Heat was an essential element for me and the only thing I was interested in exploring.  I enjoyed learning a greater variety of postures beyond the fixed set of the Bikram series, chatarunga, up dog, down dog, warrior, sun salutation, etc.  Also some inversions, head stand, wall work which was more advanced than where I was at but fun to try.  I enjoyed  these classes and often worked up a good sweat and strengthened my practice with new experiences.  I met some cool teachers who incorporated more of the meditation/chanting traditions into the class.  All of this was great in learning a little more about the wider world of yoga.

I continued blending Bikram and vinyasa into early 2012, and still practiced only once or twice a week till about mid April.  I left my long time job in Feb and began the job search process.  Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t kick in a more frequent practice right at that time.  I had plenty of time but I must have been distracted.  I felt “dedicated” to Bikram at a certain level but I continued to explore new vinyasa opportunities and got a 5 pack at one studio and a 10 pack at another, a free two weeks at another.  By April I was averaging more like 3-4 classes a week and often doing multiple classes on the same day and really feeling like my practice was beginning to take root and was becoming part of my identity.  At the same time, I also reached the conclusion that for what I needed and was really drawn to, Bikram was the Gold Standard.  I couldn’t get as much out of 95 degrees for 60 minutes with completely variable series of poses as I could with 105 degrees for 90 minutes with a challenging set of fixed poses that I could really focus on, delve into the specific details and adjustments and really MEDITATE.  In vinyasa I found myself looking around and trying to figure out what the teacher said in many poses.  It was more distracting trying to follow when every class was different.  I also had financial limitations on how much I could afford to spend, so I decided to get the most bang for the buck and signed up for auto-pay at my home Bikram studio.  From that point on I did a solid 3 and sometimes 4 days a week.  Every other day more or less.  The benefits were obvious, I continued to get in better and better shape and continued to lose more weight.

Finally in late July it dawned on me that I really could/should do a daily challenge and strive to practice every day.  My first mini-challenge was interrupted by a week vacation in early August to visit family, but when I got back, from that point on I went to class every day I could for the rest of the year.  Previous posts discussed the 102 day challenge I completed Thanksgiving weekend and that my goal of 120 was interrupted by getting a much needed new job,which I am very happy with.

So overall in 2012 I did 203 Bikram classes and 20 vinyasa classes.  My goal for 2013 is to do 250 Bikram classes and maybe a few vinyasa here and there for fun (thanks to an non-expiring ten-pack).

2012 was a very challenging year in terms of the prolonged job search and financial stress involved but yoga gave me an outlet to stay positive and focus on positive things, rather than sulk or worry or feel sorry for myself.  On the contrary, I was able to delve into the process of personal transformation and watch my practice evolve from something I did on the side or did when I could to something that is absolutely core to WHO I AM and WHAT I DO period.  Its so exhilarating and inspiring, it kills me to miss a class on any day.  As much as I love it, the one word I still would never use to describe Bikram yoga is EASY.  Always great, never easy….

I feel overwhelming gratitude for the great studio and community of yogis who comprise Bikram Yoga Oak Park, as I’m sure is the case in many other studios as well.  There’s lots of people doing challenges, lots of people practicing regularly, lots of great teachers who really care and push you to do the best you can in each class and accept where you are with no judgement and tons of encouragement.  It’s been an AMAZING year!

So Happy New Year and I wish you all the sweating and stretching your heart desires!

Day 102: Nov 25, 2012

Today was Day 102, and the conclusion of what started as my 60 day challenge. I posted previously when I reached 60 that I had no intention of stopping there. I decided to shoot for 100 or maybe even 120, a “Double 60”. I had the ironic “benefit” of being unemployed and plenty of time to look for work for part of the day and come to yoga class for the other part of the day. It was a great way to stay positive and focused. I was able to do 45 days straight before needing to miss a class and do my first double. That was the only double of my first 60 days. By day 83, I only missed and made up 2 more classes. Then, Good News…I got a new job. Bad News, the schedule and commute make it very hard to make it to class most week days, especially on my alternating childcare weeks. I was able to figure out a way to do a handful of doubles over the past 3 weekends to make it to 102 classes in 102 days, and now I realize I did the best I could for as long as I could and put this streak to rest. It was an amazing experience, often awesome but never easy; sometimes a struggle and really seriously not easy. Nonetheless, I loved it every day and will love it every day forward. In the course of the 102 days, I lost 30 pounds. That’s in addition to the 30 pounds I lost in 2012 up to that point and in addition to the 20 pounds I lost in 2011 since I started at Bikram Yoga Oak Park in May of 2011. 80 pounds in all and a transformed and renewed perspective on life. This yoga is in my blood now and forever, and I intend to practice every day I possibly can from Day 102 on. Love and gratitude to all the inspiring teachers and fellow yogis at BYOP. It’s an incredibly inspiring and supportive community. Bikram Yoga–It works if you work it. Namaste!

Day 60: Oct 14, 2012

Well I made it to 60! Today was day 60 of my 60 day challenge. The time between day 30 and day 60 flew by and I have no intention of stopping here. Yesterday was 59 tomorrow will be 61, so in that way nothing changes. Its not like “thank god that’s over with, I thought I’d never make it”…not at all. Its not like doing 60 pull ups or 60 pushups where it gets harder and harder and you struggle with the “arrgghh….last…..one…” Once I got in the groove of daily practice, one day just followed the other. Its something I do everyday whether its 10 or 30 or 60 or whatever it turns out to be. Just normal. Might be 90, might be 120, might get interrupted before then, who knows…day by day. My practice is either THE highlight or among the highlights of my day and I can’t wait till 9:00 tomorrow because I’ll be there again.

Part of the fruits of my labor have been that I confirmed today that I am under 200 lbs for the first time since my mid-late 30’s. (I’m 52). I started in May 2011 at 268 and I weighed in today (same official scale at my local Y) at 196. I’m not where I want to be yet but well on my way and none of it would have happened without Bikram Yoga and the awesome Oak Park studio.