How did you first discover Bikram yoga?
I heard about Bikram yoga when I was living in San Francisco around 2000. A few friends and co-workers had regular practices at different points in their lives and spoke very positively about the benefits. I stalked the BYSJ website for a year or two but was intimidated to try it. Eventually, I bit the bullet and signed up for the ’10 for 10′ in late January of 2007, promising that I’d go all 10 days. Walking in I realized how much time I had already spent in these buildings. Part of the old BYSJ was an arcade I frequented in the 80s, and part of this “new” space was a bar I had certainly been to once or twice.
Once my 10-for-10 was over, I wasn’t “hooked” like some people say, but was glad I tried it and wasn’t sure if I would continue. I was talking to Chris at the front desk about finishing and before I knew it I was signed up for another 10 classes, so I just rolled with it.
My practice was pretty hit-and-miss for a lot of years, and there were entire years that I didn’t get into the studio once, but I’d show up for short streaks when other parts of my life were overwhelming. I didn’t really ‘discover’ the benefits until a friend and I did the 60-day challenge in 2016. Before that, it had taken me eight years to get to class 100 times, then in 2016, I got to 100 in one year. In 2017 I did a streak 126 before completing the summer 60-day, ending up with 232 for the year. This year, I’m trying to maintain about 12 per month (but am a little behind due to some new hobbies). I had been pretty under-the-radar the first few years, but after trying the 60-day in 2016 (and having a long, gray beard), people recognized me more and I felt like more of the community. During my speech at the end of my first 60-day, I remember the shocked look Michele gave me when she asked “How long have you been practicing at here at BYSJ?” and my answer was “nine years.” While I’m glad that I completed a few 60-day challenges, right now, my practices feels better at three-ish days per week.
What have you gained from your yoga practice?
Most of my postures have really improved over the last few years but I think I’m more grateful for the spotlight the yoga shines on my weaknesses and limitations. This has allowed me to focus on some limiting flexibility issues that are helping with other physical activities. For a long time I felt like my body was a block of ice that was slowly melting as I gained some mobility. I still have some frozen parts, but significantly fewer.
I’m certainly better at keeping hydrated throughout the day and making better food choices. I lost 40 lbs. over the last 12 months, but it wasn’t related to my yoga practice; I think I lost a total of about four pounds during my previous 60-day challenges. Looking back, that was primarily due to poor dietary choices. I’ve been dealing with some weird medical issues that I didn’t realize have been plaguing me for years, and through diet, exercise, yoga, and a few cycles of weekly shots, am starting to have more energy and feel like my old self. I’m still a little thinner than I’d like to be, but through my new regimen am I’m hoping to put a few pounds back on (but not all 40).
What has been my greatest struggle or accomplishment?
Early during the 2017 winter 60-day challenge, I managed to re-aggravate an injury to my lower back. It was merely annoying at first and really ramped up about the 3rd week in. During class in late January, something happened on the right side just above my hip. It felt like a dog had bitten me and wouldn’t let go. I went straight to the ground and laid there for about 1/3 of the standing and the entire floor series. About 15 minutes after class ended, I literally crawled to the back of the room and used the wall to stand up so I could go outside and sit on the bench for about 20-ish minutes. The daily pain was intermittent and random. It would ‘bite me’ then disappear a few minute later, but it always hurt and left me very timid about moving around. I couldn’t do my other physical activities and getting up off the couch or sitting down to get in the car were often awful; it would freeze up and left me wondering if I had really damaged something. I finally called a friend who is a Physical Therapist. He’s practiced here as well and pretty much said, ‘just keep going, but take it easy. Light stretching and heat are what I’d do anyway until it calms down a bit.’ So, that’s what I did. I searched online and found a Bikram student that wrote a story about having very similar symptoms. Her prescription was to double up, so I modified the postures that always upset my back and did a few doubles.
After about a week, the pain episodes diminished in frequency, and towards the end of the 60 day, my back felt pretty good … until the same thing happened to the other side. My PT friend said ‘yeah, that’s sort of how it happens, could be an old injury working itself out.’ I decided to keep going with a daily practice and that went away after a few weeks as well. I think it took about 3 months before I was really feeling solid again. Now my lower back feels stiff sometimes, but I haven’t had that searing pain in over a year.
While 2016 and 2017 was really about fixing my physical body, 2018 so far has really been about getting deeper into my mental experience. I’m really trying to recognize when I lose focus and my mind races during the class, and not being as critical when I lose focus, fall out, get too hot, get angry because the fans aren’t on, or just need a break. Beginning a meditation practice outside of class has helped me to grasp more of the ’90-minute moving meditation’ that for a long time was just 90 minutes of moving and sweating.
What advice would I give to new students or those struggling with their practice?
Be the star of your yoga story. It was easy for me to get wrapped up in the dialog, proper form, full expression of postures, how many days in a row, making improvements … but it took me a long time to worry less about moving forward and take some time to really feel where I was at that given instant. To stop worrying about how triangle was only 2 postures away and actually give your Standing Bow the attention it deserves. To give myself permission to take seat and look around a bit, to learn from others sometimes.
I’m dangerously close to my 500th class and I still can’t lay back in fixed-firm (although I’m close!), and my forehead is closer to the ceiling than the floor in “the one before triangle,” but I feel like I get more insight as to how my body is doing in those postures rather than some of the postures that I’ve noticed more improvement. So I guess the advice is try not to worry about how good you’ll be tomorrow or next year or when you’ll finally be able to do whatever you can’t do.
When my back hurt, I didn’t do the sit-ups for over a year and I think that core weakness and some extra pounds in my mid-section are a big part of my back issues. The jerkiness of the sit-ups aggravated my back, so I rolled over to get up, and then just kept doing that instead of getting back into sit-ups, because I couldn’t really do them. This year, to make some progress, I started doing vacuum holds for a few seconds before I turned to roll over. Getting that “suck your belly button back’ strength back helped tremendously with my back, allowed me to do the sit-ups again, and eventually with other postures too. In a few weeks, I could do half of the sit-ups, and now I have no problem with them.
Go to the clinics and talks. I’ve been to four of the clinics and, three in the last year and the improvement in my understanding of the postures and the tips gained have been well worth the expense and time.
Recruit a support base. Yoga has been ‘just something I did’ for a long time. The teachers and staff do a great job of cheering on the ‘challengers’ but most everybody else in my life seemed uninterested. When I decided to keep going to 100, I didn’t tell anybody at the studio and only a few people that I regularly communicated with. My 100th day felt like a letdown, I was proud of my dedication, but nobody really knew, so it was just another session. When I got out of class, a close friend had gotten “Congrats!” balloons and tied them to my car. It was a wonderful surprise, and made me happy that somebody took the time out of their day to acknowledge my accomplishment. I still have them on the back of my door, and more than once they’ve helped me get up and get to class when I just didn’t feel like it because after being recognized for going 100 days, I could certainly get motivated to do one. So, talk about your plans with others and recruit some cheerleaders to share in your challenge and dedication – whether it’s the official 60-day, your first double, or the first time you’ve tried to go multiple days in a row. Celebrating your successes with other people makes it more fun to challenge yourself a little more the next time. I had a very flexible schedule, so it was easier for me to work classes in, but for those that have more demanding commitments (full-time jobs, hobbies, families, significant others), it’s really hard to set that time aside and stay committed. Celebrate, you deserve it.
Yoga didn’t fix my back or other body problems. I did. With consistent, mindful practice, willingness to do some research and a few things at home, and patience to let my body do the healing, my back is better than before. Yoga was a very, very important tool and in my opinion got me out of that cycle of pain much more quickly than other modalities without taking any sort of pain medication, but what I’m saying is you’re the magic that fixes you. Just showing up won’t do it, and showing up randomly really won’t do it. Take your body seriously and use the postures and experience of the teachers to reach a goal, and then set a new goal.
What do you like to do outside of yoga?
I was an athlete in high school and for a while in college (water polo), and I’ve spent most of the last 20+ years coaching water polo and swimming locally at the high school level. I like to think of myself as an athlete still, but over the last decade I have really gotten away from a regular fitness regimen. I have been doing the yoga, and that was a huge part of fixing my body, but it isn’t enough for me. I’ve tried a few new team activities – learned to ice skate and play hockey a few years ago and did that until I hurt my back. I used to enjoy hiking, astronomy, and making music, but over the last few years had just gotten really stagnant with my life. Some abrupt changes over the last year have made me re-evaluate my habits and hobbies and I’ve realized that I need to be much more active and engaged with those things I used to enjoy in order to be happy. So I’ve started some regular fitness and strength progressions in addition to yoga, replaced some mindless time killers with educational opportunities, gotten out to see some good live shows, and am dabbling in some new meditative experiences. All have helped tremendously.
I’ve officially ‘retired’ from coaching as of last Fall and am now working to put my life on a different path that can hopefully include what I’ve learned managing teams and teaching physical skills with my educational background in Computer Science. We’ll see where that takes me. I’m also trying to fix and/or unload some old cars that have been sitting around the house for years, all in the hopes of rebuilding an Austin Healey my dad left me; but right now I’m focusing on breaking out of old patterns and moving on from the stagnant me of the last few years and towards the person that I really want to be.