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Entries in hatha yoga (17)


Don't you have Yoga to do?

That is a question that my wife and kids ask me these days, especially when my responses to their questions are 

- questions 

- have nothing to do with the question

- general answers in a raised voice that don't add any value

I do occasionally answer their questions when there is a lot on my mind, but most of the time my mind is simply not tuned to what is being asked.

This year has been particularly off to a bad start with us getting hit with unplanned spends almost every week.. a broken washer to start off on New Years eve, a rat/squirrel deciding to nest inside the Prius hood, India trips, locked up knees and jaw which came out of nowhere, water main leak bills that hit us months later, a change in deduction rules from IRS which makes us cut checks to them.. the list keeps going.. 

This year has also been tough on the mind with my father taking a fall and the constant worry that he might fall again and the impact this has on my mom, Jr. having to go to college shortly and me being at odds with the wife and kids on the value of a college education vs. real skill development.. 

Let's just say that I am at war with the world.. 

So it is no wonder that my wife and kids would rather see me pack off and go do Yoga, because at least for a few hours I am calm and not belligerent after coming back. The yoga literally knocks the wind out of me and in trying to get my bearings back, I tend to look forward instead of in the rear view mirror. I am able to do that at work but not at home. At work, can always tell myself and folks "let's focus on what has to be done next". There comes a point in your life where your willingness to solve some issues is simply not there because you don't see the value in solving those issues. I maybe at that point now!

This year I signed up for a 60 day challenge with the goal of getting some sanity. It was the one word I put in as the reason for signing up. Having signed up 8 times before and finishing 7/8 times, was not really going for the physical benefit this time. Just wanted to lower my rage. 

There was going to be travel during the challenge and that meant doing some doubles, but that was a known thing and by now it is nothing new for me or the family. However, I stopped drinking water during class last March 21st. Wanted to make that the new normal. So that made some of the doubles incredibly hard, but I did it. Drank a packet of vitamins 15 minutes after class and walked right back into the hot room and did everything.. gave it my 100%. Most of the times, I went on will power alone. Literally willed my body to stand up and do the asanas. 

The main goal of not drinking water was to be able to fidget less in class, what with having less distraction from the water bottle and also to be able to suck my tummy in during forward compressions.  The no water practice definitely helped with the tummy "tuckability" in a significant way.  However, in the 222 classes since no water, the number of times I have NOT fidgeted or tried to unintentionally wipe sweat off my forehead or nose, try to unwrinkle my towel, etc. is ZERO!  Have managed to stay absolutely still for the standing series most of the times but that is only two thirds of the class.

It becomes especially hard when we are lying down on the floor trying to relax. It is one thing to let the body relax.. it is another thing to let the mind wander while the body is trying to relax.. that is when you fidget and by the time you realize it, it is too late.. fidgeting already done.. mission failure! 

At first it used to depress me that I had no control over my own body parts. How could my hand go to my forehead the second I take my mind off of the "no fidget no fidget" mantra? We call it "sub-conscious" for a reason! The trick is to be conscious of every thing for 90 minutes. It is NOT easy. In that challenge I failed miserably.  

One has to take the positives when you get them. From that perspective, I did manage to do Yoga 60 times in 60 days, thanks to all the encouragement from family, friends and most importantly my teachers. That is the big positive. For all the seething internal negativity and rage, there are people out there who care about me, realize that most of my screw ups are well intentioned and calm me down. We have a healthy support group and a great community at BYSJ. We don't talk about our individual problems, work etc.. we do talk about attitudes, approach to things.. be it in the hot room or how to translate that to the outside world and that helps. We talk to each other and get inspired. 

Folks with fused spines, amputees, folks who see their patients die on a regular basis, folks who have to inject themselves every day to just be able to function, folks with PTSD... a long list of people who come and do the yoga to keep them moving and functioning..

Compared to them, my flying across the pacific every three weeks and going over jetlag or fighting joint locking up issues seems lame. 

The usual graphs and charts that I post to remind myself that every year is different but I can still go after finishing 10 challenges..

My average weight has gone from 149 to 152 this year.. but it ahs been going up from 139 steadily over last 6 years at 2 lbs/ year. Guess that is on the trend line. This is the weight graph ever since I started tracking it.  


Made new friends this year. Most of the times I went for the last class of the day. We managed to encourage and push each other to finish!

The best part was the party where we got to share our stories and have family and friends present to get our T-shirts. It is a shirt that I wear with pride everywhere, not just because of the soft fabric, but because it was earned with a lot of hard work!

There is a warmth in that hot room (no pun intended) that makes me feel like I am inside my mothers womb (guess at least that is what it would feel like). It is a place of safety where I am at peace. The teachers voices are always a calming influence, even when they are imploring us to push ourselves in their loudest voices! My mind reacts "that is so soothing",  kind of like how after almost 20 years my wife looks cute even when she is yelling at me. Thank you BYSJ for keeping me healthy inspite of my repeated attempts to screw up my body and more importantly for keeping me sane!

The challenge is done but San and the kids keep encouraging me to do Yoga. All credit for anything I do, goes to them... but the T-shirt goes to me! 


Double Double

Over the last many 60 day challenges, have done many doubles. Usually it is a class in the morning and another one in the evening over the weekend to make up for classes missed during travel.

A few times have done doubles with back to back classes.. but it is usually rare and the classes were taught by different teachers. 

One exception was back to back classes taught by Ashley.. gave it my 110% in both classes. 

also got an idea to take a picture after each class and merge them.

Double class, teacher, student..

Actually feel pretty good after doing back to back classes!

the trick is to trust your teacher to watch out for you. They always do!

The challenge continues.. 


Like a flower petal blooming

As most of you know, I have been doing Bikram Yoga for the eighth year running. You also know that I make it a point to do Yoga at least 200 times a year and there is always some new thing that I learn with respect to the Yoga, myself, and the connection between my self and the yoga. 

It is a never ending practice to find new edges, improve on posture, breathing, reaction times and being able to listen and implement directions.

Today we had Joseph Encinia come teach a workshop at BYSJ. This is the second time he is teaching this workshop at BYSJ. Two years ago when he came, got to attend his talk but could not attend the workshop because of travel. This time I was lucky to be in town. 

It was a four hour workshop which would have gone on for 5 hours were it not for the fact that there was a regular scheduled class after the workshop.

Have posted blogs on special classes and workshops in the past at BYSJ and every one of them has been eye opening.  For example, I learned that drinking water was not a necessity in class after the last workshop. Have not had water during class since March 22nd and it is almost been six months. Putting that into practice and sticking to that for day after day to make it the new habit is one of the things that this Yoga teaches me. 

Yes, you do something for ~1600 classes (excel spreadsheet says 1597 to be exact) and find out that you are still not doing something right or you are not using the right muscle to do the right thing (it might look okay in the mirror but you are not doing it right) and you start correcting it. Maybe after another 200 classes there will be another correction, but it has to be made the new habit or else this doesn't work.

Joseph was amazing today. He did a demo before class to go over the entire sequence in under 10 minutes. Then he broke down every pose and explained the do's and don'ts. Some of us also got to go show him our poses that we thought were messed up and he helped figure out what was wrong and what needs to change. 

When he started doing this and everyone took our their phones to take videos, I looked at it through the iPhone and said "no. I just want to record this in my brain.". You know how sometimes you are in a national park and you just put your Camera back into the bag and just stand there and take it all in. It was like that. Have the beginnng few minutes of the workshop in this video. (I am sure BYSJ will post more information or Joseph will post information on his website)

He was not going to show us fancy poses but how the breath moves through the body and that he demonstrated in 4 hours with is own body as well as ours with amazing clarity.

As in most classes, even if I learn a 100 things, only 5 stick to my mind and can be made into a habit. The rest wait. Folks who know the yoga poses will be able to follow the below. Someday when I can show the difference between pre and post, will post a video of myself doing things the right way. That day will come sooner than later.

Ardhachandrasana or Half Moon pose: Have always struggled to push myself at the end of the half moon pose because of my attempt to keep up the breathing at 80/20. Keep 80% of the lungs full and just breathe 20% in and out. However, my lungs have had difficulty doing that, towards the end, trying to breathe. Today I learned that the trick is to use a lung, instead of both lungs. There is one lung that is compressed and one extended in Half moon pose. Use the extended lung to breathe comfortably. Apparently the "flower petal blooming" is to help drive that point home when the teacher says it in every class! The flower petal blooms from the inside out.. that lung was supposed to do that. I never got that in all these years. 

Dandayamana Janushirasasana (standing head to knee) : The second thing I learned today was that the three bandhas or locks have to be done for a lot of poses. In some poses only two are used, in others three. But the pelvic lock is mandatory. You lose that, you might as well come out of the pose and start all over again. I had no idea how many times I was unlocking it and trying to relock. It simply doesn't work that way. There are also poses where that lock implies pulling your navel straight back in vs. pulling your navel back and up. Again, these are things that you get to see only when you see a teacher demonstrate this up close and personal. I was on the floor and Joseph was standing 6 feet away and I understood. Many teachers have tried to show us this from the Podium and I still could not see the difference.

Purna Salabasana (Full Locust pose) : The third thing I learned was the shoulder joint when rotated outwards makes it easier for the neck to curve upwards. This might seem intuitive to some, but it was not obvious to me.  There is always a balance between strength and flexibilty, and maybe my body is different or my brain is, but it was another thing that I understood only after watching this close.

Tadasana (Tree pose) : Number four was that, a little pull in the inner thighs can straighten your legs and knees in multiple poses. Locking the knee by default pulls the legs outwards and to compensate, pulling in your inner thighs up works wonders. 

Janushirasana and Paschimotthanasana (Head to knee pose and stretching pose) : The last one was ingenious. When doing a separate leg stretching pose, if you push the bone below your big tow away from you, it magically straightens your entire leg on the floor. Just recently one of my task masters, Brad, taught me how to pull my ankle bones towards each other to rotate my feet right. That correction has been going on for almost two months now..and this gets added to it!

Those were things to remember and apply. Then again, there was what he left us with. No amount of teacher instruction, workshops is going to improve what we do unless we OWN it and work hard for it. 

We had a girl in the class who has been going through severe arthritis for 20+ years and we could literally see the surgery marks on her for various corrections, and she showed us what real dedication, drive, intent and intensity meant. I have no excuse after seeing that. 

Joseph himself had a heart attack at the age of 13 after he had a lot of treatments for his Arthritis and he turned his life around. He is vegetarian and does Yoga every day! 

He almost choked when he said "some of you lucky to be here without any chronic conditions. some of us are here because of chronic conditions. Doesn't matter why you are here. Own your practice and you will see results. Some of us have to work a lot harder and overcome challenges, but at the end of the day it is the same for everyone. don't be stubborn. don't be too patient. Dont be too determined in a stubborn way. have the right intent and intensity in your practice"

On a side note to my wife and kids and other close friends who keep asking me "how come you do all that yoga and never have six pack abs?".. Joseph answered that one too. Six pack abs are good for body building but it is difficult to back bend with those and back bending is key to a healthy spine. So I would rather have my back bend than a six pack, not that there is anything wrong with a six pack.

The thing that impressed me most was how down to earth Joseph is and how sincere he is in spreading the knowledge he has acquired over time and by experimenting with his own body.  

Was really happy that BYSJ brings teachers like this for such special workshops, so regular students can learn more and improve. We also get to see stuff up close and personal and understand body mechanics, something that is difficult to do watching Youtube videos or even teachers on the podium doing the occasional demonstration.

This was a beginner workshop, but in a way I was glad to take this workshop now and not six years ago. Most of the stuff he said would not have registered then, as I would have constantly doubted if I had certain muscles he was talking about. Takes a few years to realize that we all have the same muscles.. just that some are never used or activated in normal life, and we use the most dominant ones to make the poses look like the end result without doing it right. . . slowly things normalize and the body changes.

The learning and discipline continues. Maybe the next time Joseph shows up, the top five things that I managed to remember at the end of class will be the new normal!


Combining two interests

Yoga and Photoshop..

call it what you want, but these two pictures were a good time pass.

Jr. volunteered to take the individual shots. She said it was more fun to keep clicking and watch me do yoga than have to do the Yoga herself.. also she got to yell "body down, stretch forward" a few times. (had taught her to repeat the right keywords at the right times to motivate me). 

One of my teachers Matt always tells me "Sundar, you have to take it one millimeter at a time. Trust the process. It is a process. Go for progress instead of perfection". Every word is etched in my head. 

Being a process engineer by background, this Process is asymptotic and can be imperceptible on a day to day basis.. but, a millimeter a day adds up to 36.5 centimeters a year.. that is more than a foot! That assumes you come every day. Sometimes a weeks break can reset you more than 7 millimeters.. but that is another story. 

If you keep going and practice routinely, you can see the millimeters add up.

Will leave you with these two pictures of the half moon pose backbend 

and standing bow pose

both of which were incredibly difficult for me to do as a beginner and as a regular student in every class.. Was probably going back or forward only to the first step you see in the pictures. Today can do slightly better than the lowest bends in these pictures given all the poses we do prior to doing this (in heat) compared to directly jumping into it without any warm up at home. 

Matt was right.. those millimeters all add up over the years. 

All that said summer is always a tough time to keep up the regularity of the practice. So the process takes an erratic path and some semblence of regularity is regained in fall.

Was originally going to spot the 10+ things wrong in every pose, but today has been a good day. So instead I took a different approach, admired my handiwork on photoshop and decided all those things can wait. 

They are going to take a lifetime to fix.. and I am surprisingly okay with it!

Hope all of you got to do or try some Yoga on International Yoga day on Thursday. If you tried it for the first time, hope you had a lifechanging experience and you keep coming. If you got your regular yoga done, go you! 

It takes an inner will to be absolutely selfish to go do Yoga on a regular basis. The only way you can take care of others if you take care of yourself first. 


Behavioral economics and Hot Yoga

If you have read the book "Thinking Fast and Slow" by Kahneman, you will remember the test he does with data from colonoscopy patients. The patients rate their experience of a long colonoscopy treatment that might have varying degrees of pain throughout the procedure, purely on the basis of the last few minutes of the procedure.. if the pain goes down towards the end, they say "not bad" even if the peak pain level was high or the average pain level over the entire duration was high! This apparently is explained as the experiencing self vs. the remembering self and also explains how folks are impressed with an other wise dull movie that has a fast paced ending in the last few minutes etc. 

I just realized the same thing happens to me during hot yoga. During the standing series I start off great and by the time we are just past the 60% point, I have to catch up and really make an effort to breathe and concentrate and sometimes just stand in attention and focus and get back in. Then I give it everything while doing toe stand which is the last asana in the standing series. If I don't do well on the right side, push myself to do an even better job on the left side to get the series to a "happy ending". Even if I stood out for two or three poses during the standing series, I go down on the mat thinking "that was good" simply because of the toe stand. 

Then the same thing happens during the floor series. As long as I come back and finish strong my brain evaluates my attempt on the class as "stellar" no matter how crappy I did during the early part of that series.

Looks like a happy ending and all is forgotten. The opposite is also true. Sometimes I give it all I got during class only to end up not doing a 100% during the last five minutes (hanging on for dear life) and even though nothing was missed, come out feeling not satisfied with the effort.

All this might just be the natural way a brain works between experiencing something through the class and remembering only the way it ended.

Behavior or not.. two things are for sure.

1. Going to keep up with the happy endings

2. Going to treat the second set of every pose as a mini ending in itself

Hoping that those will improve the practice! 

On a completely tangential note with human behaviour... 

It has been almost a month since I started doing this five tibetan rites thing as soon as I brush my teeth in the morning. It takes me 15 minutes to do the five exercises 21 times and while doing it, make tea for my wife. She thinks I have already finished drinking my morning tea. Truth is I gave up drinking tea in the morning to cut down the milk and sugar. Have tea only in the evening on some days. Have also reduced the amount of milk and sugar in the diet. We also switched to 50% white and 50% brown rice. I cannot give up white rice and milk on the diet. My stomach has indeed stopped bloating in the middle of yoga class. There is definite improvements in abdominal strength and forearm strength after doing these exercises. 

A few weeks ago I went to say good night to the little one and told her

"I am cutting down on Tea and sugar and trying to eat brown rice and also cut down on milk products"

LO : but you love tea and thachchi mammu (rice with yogurt). that is pretty much all you eat? 

Me : I know. But the brown rice mix isn't all that bad. Still drink tea every alternate day in the evening.. 

LO : rolls her eyes.. 

Me : maybe your dad is just an idiot ?!

LO : gives me a big kiss and goes "I knew that the day I was born!"

That took me by surprise. Just smiled and gave her a big hug. Well she knew an idiot as soon as she laid eyes on one.. Probably the first idiot she saw! I am happy to be that idiot in her eyes because I will always be "her idiot". 

As an experimenter I am now upset. Was it the 5 rites ? was it the reduced tea, milk, sugar, white rice that helped? (also that book said to eat a meal with similar stuff only.. in other words if you eat bread eat only bread.. not mix with rice.. keep the meal to similar fiber contents) Not sure if that made the biggest difference. Always do one split at a time to evaluate the experiment. Use a control split. If you are doing a complex experimental design make sure you can analyze with good confidence and order your variables with decreasing expected impact. 

I teach this to people everyday and in what has been a huge experiment on myself, fail to follow my own rules for experimentation. Now to figure out what made the difference I have two options..

Keep the diet and stop the 5 rites or the other way around..

So I am going to keep the 5 rites and go back to my old diet with tea twice a day, finish dinner with thachchi mummu and go back to white rice for a month and see if the belly reappears.. 

I am doing it for science, people!