On Challenges

My sweaty triangle, as of May 12th, when the instructor asked if she could photograph me after class so I could see how my form has improved….

Folks who have been around here very long know I started practicing Bikram Yoga a couple years ago. That practice is still stuttering along, though lately it’s been going stronger than ever. I felt I was slipping earlier this spring, falling back to only a class or two a week, so I decided that, in order to kick my ass back into line, I’d try, again, to commit to a practice-every-day, 30-day challenge. I’d made the attempt in the past, but never managed to go thirty days in a row. This time I pulled it off; from April 27th to May 26th, I muscled through a class in the hot room — mostly 60-minute classes, a few 90-minuters, and even two or three hot Pilates classes — every day. It was exhausting; not so much the classes themselves, but I fell behind on getting enough sleep, so my ass was dragging by the end. It was worth every sweaty minute. It was also nice to sleep in a little that Saturday the 27th. I didn’t get up until almost 8:00 AM!

I was out of town for a few days after it wrapped up, but now I’m back at it. The new challenge on the yoga front is something that happens every summer in the studio where I practice. Everyone who wants to participate signs up and must attend at least three classes per week (we get one throwaway week). At the end — the first of October — anybody left standing gets entered into a drawing for a free year of yoga. So I signed up; in the first week I went four times. So far, so good.

I also agreed to do a food challenge with my mom. She’s doing a paleo thing, I’m doing Whole30. That started on June 3rd, so we’re a little over a week in. I’ve tried this sort of thing in the past as well, but so far it’s going better than it typically has. I’m eating quite a bit of bison, potatoes, lots of spinach, peppers, tuna, cashews, a little chicken, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, etc. Hell, I even ate eggs and avocados this morning, unprecedented in my history. And no soda so far! At least once a day I’m taking a picture of a meal — usually dinner — and sending it to my mom. I think the accountability helps. It’s even kind of fun.

Why am I doing all this? Just to clean up my act, people. Everything I love to do most requires a certain level of health and fitness. I need to regain some ground, and I’m not getting any younger.

Friends Who Help Along the Way

Kalin Andrews is a huge inspiration. We’ve actually squared up next to each other in the hot room at yoga a few times, but it wasn’t until Instagram that we actually “met.” The homemade videos she shares to her feed are something to behold. She runs a delicious pizza joint. She’s bold and fun in front of the camera. She works hard at what she does. And I’m pretty stoked how this little collaboration turned out, especially given how experimental it kind of was.

FYI, posture-wise I'm pretty good too at top left and bottom left
FYI, posture-wise I’m pretty good too at top left and bottom left

Getting Healthy Will Bleed You Out

Battle scars
Battle scars

I took the 7:00 AM Bikram class this morning. I’ve been practicing now for ten months. The first sixty days, starting basically last November (I think day one was October 29th), I probably went about fifty times. January was still pretty steady. It was real sporadic from February until mid-June, because I was on the road all the time. I still managed maybe one class a week, but I lost a ton of ground (and gained back some fucking weight in the bargain). Since mid-June, though, it’s been an uninterrupted 3x/week practice.

I’m still awful at pretty much every posture, and that is no exaggeration. For like the tenth time (second class in a row) I savaged my calf just trying to grab my ankle for standing bow and proceeded to bleed all over my mat. There’s a gash on my leg from my nails (they’re even trimmed!), and signs of previous gashes. Look at the placement of the wound in the picture. Then realize I’m supposed to be reaching for my ankle! Six months ago for a brief period I could at least grab both ankles. Now I’m lucky to get one.

When the instruction calls for “forehead to — ” it doesn’t matter if it’s knee, shin, thighs, whatever, it will take a chainsaw to get my noggin’ anywhere near. The only instruction that is relevant for me is when it’s “belly on your thighs” because that’s where mine is pretty much just standing upright.

Cobra? Maybe I should call it Python, because I feel like one that just swallowed a cow for the entire series of belly down, spine strengthening postures. On locust one is supposed to lift head, chest, arms, legs off the floor like a 747 taking off. I feel like a dirigible.

So not a lot of progress at making my practice look like it’s supposed to look. But even though I’m frustrated, I still feel pretty good. That’s the idea, right? So I’m keeping after it, at least while there’s still blood in my body. . . .


That’s Not Part of the Meditation

I’m about to describe how the excellent writer (and my good friend) Charlie Stella haunts my yoga practice.

Bikram Yoga — which I started last fall, practiced diligently through the winter, totally slacked off most of the spring, and have since gotten vigorously back on board with all summer — is described as a “90 minute moving mediation.” It’s 26 postures, and it takes 90 minutes to get through them all. The second to the last one is called “separate head-to-knee,” or, in sanskrit, “janushirasana.” Yes, I had to look that up. I’m usually in a sorry state by the time we get to it; drenched with sweat, stifled by heat and humidity, and often so bedraggled that I can only get through one of the two sets (and my fat-ass version of the posture is a pale imitation of how it’s supposed to look). It’s supposed to look like this:


Anyway, when the instructor announces the pose, I swear it sounds like its name is “Johnny Shirasana.” It never fails to remind me of Charlie’s second novel, Jimmy Bench-Press, and I start giggling to myself thinking of somehow turning “Johnny Shirasana” into either some kind of yoga-practicing villain or yoga-practicing swashbuckling hero. Which I’m sure is not where my meditating mind is supposed to lumber off to. But it happens. I got called out by a guest instructor during dead body pose the other day for moving when I wasn’t supposed to. That time I was distracted by thoughts of how I was going to acquire chocolate cake for my best girl later, when I was supposed to be “focused on my breathing.” As if.

As for Stella, the guy should be a household name because he’s a fantastic writer. He’s also a hell of a guy. Here’s the synopsis of Jimmy Bench-Press:

jbpJimmy Mangino figures he’s overdue. Already he’s done two stretches in the joint. But he’s back, and he’s still a good earner for the family. You got a loser you need to lean on, Jimmy lends his strong arm, and he doesn’t flinch at murder, not for the Vignieris. He also bench-presses four hundred pounds. Jimmy wants to be a made man. Alex Pavlik wants to take Jimmy down. Pavlik, the edgy Polish cop who tailed Eddie Senta in Charlie Stella’s enthusiastically reviewed debut, Eddie’s World, has been transferred to Organized Crime from Homicide, where his short temper, keen sense of justice, and too-ready prizefighter’s fists have proved to be a volatile combination. Tough-talking, taut, and craftily plotted, Stella’s second novel takes Pavlik and his new partner, another New York police detective, John DeNafria, into the shifty world of Jimmy Bench-Press when wannabe-mobster Larry Berra hires Mangino to collect on a bad loan to a sixty-three-year-old Italian barber with a Cuban girlfriend. Jimmy’s got his fingers in any number of illegal pies, from extortion to murder, among purveyors of drugs and porn. Enough to get a man made, maybe.

Here’s my quick and dirty Amazon review of it, dated 04/03/2011, before I ever met the guy:

My first foray into Charlie Stella’s writing, and I really enjoyed it. His voice and style are great — I love how this book is so driven by dialogue, and each character, even bit players, are individual and memorable. Jimmy Mangino, aka Jimmy Bench-Press, may be the title character but he is just one in an ensemble of characters that tie this book together. I got a kick out of watching all the machinations and betrayals weaving through the story, and the tribulations in the lives of the characters who actually fill the roles of “good guys” that make them do things we wish they wouldn’t. A fine, quick read. Can’t wait to read more from Charlie Stella!

Hell, it’s only .99 on Kindle (which seems somehow criminal), so you should check it out.


Update From the Front Lines

IMG_9583A couple weeks ago I mentioned this big health and fitness program I was poised to undertake, and I’m here to report I’m still going strong. I haven’t stuck to the food plan as well as I would have liked, but have done okay considering the circumstances of everything else that has gone on. I’ve been good at getting my walking and hiking miles in, at least until this week when the freezing cold wave set in, but I’ll be braving that yet this week regardless. I did get out on one final epic hike on Saturday before winter arrived: 17 miles up into the Rattlesnake and back, the last few of which I did by headlamp. That was great, and the only thing it cost me was one Bikram Yoga class. With the rough emotional trip hopefully behind me, or at least manageable, renewed focus on my training table between now and the holiday should get me where I was hoping to be when this first phase is complete.

That Bikram stuff is the revelation here, though. I’d heard from so many people how life changing it is, and there really is something to that. I’ve gone 12 times in the last 14 days, with 13 more planned over the next 16. Then I think we (Julia and I) are going to take Thanksgiving off and start another 30 day challenge right after that, making it 60 days in all. It might be the hardest day in, day out physical thing I’ve ever done. I’ve done a lot of weight training and things like that before, but just the environment in that room (it’s 103° and humid), and how every posture is working so many parts of the body at once (if you are doing them right, that is, which in most cases for me I’m still NOT), it’s really staggering. Everything is soaked with sweat afterwards.

I like the instructors, I like the camaraderie of the people involved (something I didn’t expect to like and feared I’d struggle with), and I like how I feel afterward. I don’t know that I like it while I’m doing it yet, but I do like the times when I have a breakthrough, or “get” something I wasn’t previously doing correctly. And the emotional part of it really helped get me through what has been a very difficult couple of weeks. It’s possibly the best thing I’ve done for myself in years.

So far, so good. I’ll report again here in a couple weeks.