USA Yoga has invited me to compete in the 2020 Northeast Regional Asana Championship. My video submission scored very well - it was one of the best in my division - and now the real training begins as I intensely prepare for this competition. I know many of you will be thinking that the words yoga and competition should never be in the same sentence, however, this is not a yoga competition. It is an asana competition, much like a gymnastics competition. It should interest all of you that I don't care about winning or losing. My goal is to honor my teachers, the ones who threw me into the fire to see if I could survive, the ones who tested me, guided me on a daily basis, and forged me into a yogic katana blade so sharp and honed at 126 pounds that I became the best version of myself. I also honor my teachers' teachers before me: Bikram, Bishnu Ghosh, Lahiri Mahasaya, Mahavatar Babaji, and, of course, Lord Kṛṣṇa, who is basically God. I want to show everyone what it means to train at Hot Yoga Philadelphia on a daily basis, the sacrifices and level of commitment you need to make, and how a little girl from Brooklyn who was told she had no athletic ability all her life can do all of this with a happy, smiling face. Breathe, believe, and do!
January 10, 2020, 6:00am - class 901 Bikram 75 - Oddly, only one student showed up today and he wanted to try the 75-minute version of my class, so I taught it the same way as on Sunday and it still ended in 75 minutes, thus proving that you can have two sets of Eagle and one set of Tree/Toe, Fixed Firm, and Head to Knee with Stretching and still end on time without the need for supersets. "I like the timing and pace of your 75 minute class," the student said.
January 12, 2020, 10:00am - Core 26
January 13, 2020, 6:00am - class 902 with Justin Riley - 133.7 today. We held Standing Head to Knee longer than usual in the second set. I stopped at my elbows and held still... for a long time. I didn't care how long we held it. I reversed out with a small glitch. Esak Toe Stand was a little wobbly. I did two good Camels and Rabbits. My friend Tina told me that a student, who was in the class I taught for Joel two weeks ago, said I did a marvelous job picking up the class right after the in-class emergency and was amazed that we ended on time.
January 14, 2020, 6:00am - class 903 with Kaitlin McCoale - 133.2 today. "Looking good, Clare!" Kaitlin said, as I held my Eagle. I fell out in Standing Head to Knee, but I was strong going in. I stretched higher on my right side in Standing Bow than at any time in recent memory. Kaitlin's humor helped us get through the difficult times in class.
January 15, 2020, 6:00am - class 904 with Brittni Deveraux - 132.3 today. "Nice, Clare!" Brittni said of my Floor Bow. My recent strategy is to kick my legs up first before I look up towards the ceiling. You're not supposed to look at the ceiling anyway, as the Ghosh Yoga folks - Scott and Ida Jo Lamps - tell us. The original Floor Bow looks very different from the contortionist version we've come to know and expect from Bikram Yoga practitioners. Mine is somewhere in between. After class, Brittni taught another student the finer points of Spine Twist. I looked on, eager to gather any and all information about this posture.
January 15, 2020, 6:30pm - Core 26 - Perhaps the best compliment a yoga teacher can get is when one of her students says, "I want to look like you!" "You will. Just keep coming to yoga," I said to her. Hot yoga is the best way for a person to look their best. Not weightlifting, not running, not martial arts, and not archery. I've done all of them and you will not stay in the same great physical shape as hot yoga.
January 16, 2020, 6:00am - class 905 with Colleen Hoplamazian - 129.6 today. "Nice, Clare!" Colleen said of my Half Moon backbend and Locust. I fell out gracefully in Standing Head to Knee, almost touching my forehead to my knee. I practiced Separate Arms Balancing Stick in the second set of Balancing Stick and Fish in the second set of Fixed Firm.
One of my friends doesn't seem to understand the sacrifices and commitment needed to prepare for an asana championship. "Oh, I could probably beat everyone in that contest," he said to me. I was thoroughly offended by his overconfident remark. "You can't even squeeze your palms together over your head! How can you hope to compete against these people?" I replied. "I've taken a yoga class with you before. I give myself a B+ grade in that," he said. "No, I hate to say this, but you're just okay. Not B+. Just okay," I told him. He's more like a D- than a B+. The types of poses you have to do to win a championship are graded and then offset with a multiplier, just like Olympic gymnastics and figure skating competitions.
January 17, 2020, 6:00am - class 906 Bikram 75 - I ended at 71 minutes with all the same postures and intensity as my previous Bikram 75 classes. You really can include two sets of Eagle in the Bikram 75. I told one of my students about the upcoming asana championship and he was very excited for me.
January 18, 2020, 9:00am - class 907 with Joel Pier - 129.6 today. I practiced some of the postures in my asana routine before class: Fish, Spine Twist, Archer, and Eight Angle. Practicing Fish twice prevented me from doing a good Camel. We held some postures for way too long in class today. We ran out of time, so Joel had to omit Savasana from the last two postures and Kapalabhati.
January 19, 2020, 9:00am - class 908 with Dan Murphy - I practiced Shoulderstand Lotus before class. Due to the tweak in my neck from yesterday, I practiced just one Fish today.
January 20, 2020, 6:00am - class 909 with Justin Riley - "I just wanted to thank you for pushing me hard all these years," I said to Justin before class. I told him I was invited to the asana competition this year. "Congratulations! I'm sure you'll do amazing," he said. I practiced my usual class today. I didn't want to chance retweaking my neck. I used a dharma wheel to loosen up my spine after class. Justin taught us a stepping technique to get our hips higher and legs straighter in Hands to Feet.
January 21, 2020, 6:00am - class 910 with Cate Reese - I did a better Standing Head to Knee today than Sunday and Monday. I didn't get my head all the way down, but it was rock solid. Cate liked my Standing Separate Leg Stretching pose. I practiced Fish today.
Ideally, I try to fall asleep around 10pm so I can wake up at 5am to get seven hours of sleep. That never works out, so I try to fall asleep around 11pm to get six hours of sleep. That never works out, either, especially if I go out to eat and drink with friends. Midnight rolls around and I'm still not asleep yet and I get at most five hours of sleep. It would be too easy to just stay in bed like everyone else, but something compels me to get up and go to 6am yoga class every morning, even if I don't get enough sleep.
January 22, 2020, 6:00am - class 911 with Maria Spano - 132.8 today. Great class today. Well-paced and informative with no supersets! Yay! Despite having just four hours of sleep, I managed to do a rock solid Standing Head to Knee to the elbows. I did Fish in place of Fixed Firm.
January 22, 2020, 6:30pm - Core 26 - One of my eleven students today was from Maryland. "I've been to many, many yoga studios and yours is the best class I've ever had. You give the most instruction. Most Bikram teachers don't give much instruction," she said. "I've been invited to the asana championship and the judges said my postures were technically excellent, so I'm just imparting my knowledge to everyone," I replied.
For those of you who are curious about my scores in the video submission qualifier, I ranked #1 in my division in execution (Women 50+, 17 contestants across 9 states) and in the top 10% overall in score and execution (75 contestants across 9 states).
January 23, 2020, 6:00am - class 912 with Cate Reese - 130.6 today. Cate emphasized the importance of maintaining a flat back in Standing Separate Leg Stretching and Tree. I practiced Shoulderstand Lotus before class. I practiced Fish in my second set of Fixed Firm.
Long before I knew about asana competition, I got up bright and early and went to a yoga class every morning. It became a routine part of my life. I don't go to yoga class just to "hang out" and do a half-assed job at it. I listen to all of my teachers when they give me posture corrections. I push myself hard in every posture. I stay focused and never give up. This is the only way to improve your asana practice. Prior to yoga, my most recent physical conditioning modality was circuit training using Universal and Nautilus machines. My goal was to become an elite level bodybuilder. Of course, my dreams were dashed by my genetics. I still had an incredible foundation from two years of three- or four-day per week training. I was able to leg press 750 pounds and do almost vertical incline sit-ups. My body looked more like Ms. Fitness than Ms. Olympia. I have no idea what most of the other asana competitors' backgrounds are, but I'm pretty sure many of them don't have my background of fitness and modelling. The hundreds of thousands of pictures shot of me by my friends, fellow photographers, and pro photographers and the careful scrutiny of all of these pictures has sharpened my eye for what makes a good pose (that's me from 2010 long after bodybuilding and before my re-introduction to yoga). When yoga teachers talk about posture and pose, I've been doing just that, but in a different form, all my life. In the end, all of these movement arts are based on similar principles: position, timing, and breathwork. My goal is to show the world what 900+ Bikram yoga classes, as taught by some of the finest teachers in their field, can enable you to do. I will quote Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid, one of my favorite films: "Win, lose, no matter. You make good fight and respect. Then nobody bother." Entering the asana competition is one of the surest ways of gaining respect in yoga as you are showing the world you have the guts to put the best version of yourself out there for all to see, scrutinize, admire, and inspire.
January 25, 2020, 9:00am - class 913 with Joel Pier - 128.6 today. I practiced my entire asana routine on the hardwood floor before class. I did one set of Triangle, losing energy just before the second set. I sat in a squatting position with my hands on the mat. After Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, I lost my energy again and sat in a squatting position again. I had to do something - anything beneficial - while I was trying to regain my energy! During Tree Pose, I had to do Half Lotus while in Toe Stand. "What the hell are you doing?" Joel asked. I smiled and ignored him. I was able to do a second set of Toe Stand by keeping Kṛṣṇa in my thoughts. I practiced Fish in my second set of Fixed Firm. It felt like a good one. I couldn't do my first set of Camel. I made up for it after class. There were a couple of other times I felt winded and didn't want to continue. I just kept repeating to myself, "There is no tomorrow. There is no tomorrow!" and pushed on. I did my second set of Rabbit on the hardwood floor. After class, I couldn't hear out of my right ear. I kept drinking water to rehydrate. I felt depleted. This is how it's going to be for the next 30 days.
January 26, 2020, 10:00am - Core 26 - I demonstrated a number of postures today, including Eagle, Standing Head to Knee, Camel, and Rabbit. I did Rabbit on the hardwood floor. One of my students appreciated all of the little "tweaks" I teach in the postures. Another student felt great discomfort in her arms in Locust, so I gave her a stretch warm-up routine to do before class to prepare for Locust.
January 27, 2020, 6:00am - class 914 with Justin Riley - 130.3. today. Asana routine practice before class. Roller training for Fish after class. For the first time in a while, my Shoulderstand Lotus felt wavery. Standing Head to Knee also felt wavery. I maintained my composure on the left side of Esak Toe Stand. Rabbit was good. Asana practice during lunch hour... solid. Rabbit is great. I got some good height in Fish, but my elbows weren't down! I have to work on straightening my back and thighs in Shoulderstand Lotus. I got my big toe to point in the same direction as my other toes in Spine Twist. I got my heel off the ground in Archer. I could hold Eight Angle for a long time, but I have to work on levelling my shoulders. These are all subtle changes, but they mean extra points if I can do them. Except for tonight and the previous Monday night, my entire diet was plant-based.
January 28, 2020, 6:00am - class 915 with Brittni Devereaux - 129.6. today. I ate a big protein meal last night that included langoustines, branzino, and jumbo lump crab... and pecan pie from The Saloon. Class was good today. I felt a tweak in my neck, so I didn't do asana routine practice before class. In Standing Head to Knee, Brittni encouraged me to keep kicking forward and raising my leg higher as it was apparently sinking. I lowered my head down halfway to my knee and fell out. Good thing I'm not doing this posture for the asana championship! In Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, I was able to get my hands in pistol grip behind my back while touching my forehead to my knee. I did Fish in my second set of Fixed Firm. After class, Brittni and I gave a new student some tips on achieving a more solid Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee.Another student approached me and said, "You're the one who published 1234Yoga!" I nodded and replied, "Yes, I am!" We smiled and bowed to one another. I've been mixing matcha green tea powder with vanilla-flavored coconut milk for more than a month now. I recently tried it with whole milk and it tastes so much better. I practiced Fish in the evening and got my elbows to touch the floor!
January 29, 2020, 6:00am - class 916 with Maria Spano - 129.2 today. Nicely paced class from start to finish. My Standing Head to Knee was rock solid. I fell out as I was coming out of my forehead touching my knee. I could see my big toe twitch in the final moments. Still, I would not give up until I finally lost my balance and fell out gracefully. "Was it 'The right way is the hard way' that Bikram says?" Maria asked me in class. I nodded and smiled. The rotation of the shoulders forward, up, and back before we went down in Standing Separate Leg Stretching was a great tip. I haven't heard that tip in a while. I did Fish in place of Fixed Firm. After class, Maria praised me for my Standing Head to Knee. "It was so, so good! Your leg was completely straight," she said. Several ladies asked me about the asana competition. "I have to lose some more weight," I said. They looked befuddled. "It's a clever balance between strength and weight in a lot of the poses," I explained.
January 29, 2020, 6:30pm - Core 26
January 30, 2020, 6:00am - class 917 with Dan Murphy - 128.6 today. Is it more important to get a high curve in my spine or my elbows on the ground in Fish? I may just have to pick one or the other so I don't lose points on not having both. I can deal with both knees firmly on the ground. That's the proper foundation and will get me the points I lost last time. I turned Wind Removing into my personal Half Lotus stretch for Fish. I'm considering replacing Head to Knee with Stretching with Archer. "Awesome, Clare!" Dan said of my Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee. I had my legs straight, forehead to knee, and arms straight with hands in a pistol grip behind me. It was a good demonstration of balance. I came across an Intermediate Series Ashtanga version of Fixed Firm that resembles Fish. It's a little more advanced than Fish in that you cross your arms behind you and grab your opposite feet.
January 31, 2020, 6:00am - Bikram 90
February 1, 2020, 9:00am - class 917 with Joel Pier - 128.6 today. I stood before the full-length changing room mirror, reviewing what needs to improve more. Unbeknownst to me, another lady was watching me. "I want to look like you," she said frankly. For all the harsh self-criticism I give myself, I should be thankful for what God gave me. I practiced five of the six asanas in my routine before class: Fish, Shoulderstand Lotus, Spine Twist, Archer, and Eight Angle. The championship is just three weeks away, so what I can do today is basically what I'll demonstrate at the event. Joel pointed out the curve in my lower back in Hands to Feet. I could see it in Standing Separate Leg Stretching. I've always had it. I wonder if I could iron this out a little more in the next few weeks. It shouldn't affect any of the asanas I'm doing for the championship. I'm feeling a mild cramp in my glutes in the floor exercises. When we got ready to do Rabbit, I said to myself, "This is for all the diabetics out there, including me." I lifted my hips up higher than ever. I hope to show my very best Rabbit at the USA Yoga championshop. After class, I visited my hair salon. The picture is as much a testament to my shoulder armor as it is my hair.
February 2, 2020, 10:00am - class 918 with Ruth Hunter - 129.0 today. I took two yoga classes today, a 90-minute Core 26 class followed by a 75-minute Yin Yoga class. Unlike the rapid fire format in all my classes, Ruth's class was mostly silent. Many of the familiar faces in the room were students in my classes, but, until today, none of them had seen me take a full class with them. Ruth used me as an example in Triangle as I've always been able to get my bent legs to look like 90 degree angles. I modified the class to allow myself different stretches to prepare for the asana competition. Lia Bendixon's Yin class gave me some intense twists. We spent five minutes on each side in Bridge Pose, Spine Twist on the floor, and Deer Pose. There were many little poses in between these three major ones, including Cat Cow, Child's Pose, Rock the Baby, and an assisted Shoulderstand. The time passed very quickly in Yin.
February 3, 2020, 9:00am - class 919 with Justin Riley - 129.3. today. Asana routine practice before class. Roller training for Fish after class. It's official. I have the flu, but I'm not letting it affect my training. I feel weak at times, but I'm pushing through. Most people will never understand what an asana athlete puts herself through to be the best. I'm down to 8% bodyfat (usually I'm around 10%) and have kept my BMI below 20. I haven't been this low since college. Women athetes typically have a lean body mass of 81% to 91%. I'm at 88%. Of course, these numbers don't mean a thing unless I can perform my postures flawlessly. Today, in Rabbit, I realized that just having Justin say "Lift your hips up higher," my hips went up higher. It's a weird effect when someone else can tell you what to do and you just do it, but you won't listen to yourself. I gave my friend Ken some pointers on what to look for in the postures I'm doing. "To the untrained eye, a room full of yogis might look like they're doing the same posture, but the judges are going to nitpick the hell out of everything. A misplaced toe, a bend in the wrist, a leg not full extended... that leads to points deducted," I explained. Our poses are going to judged on aesthetic beauty and how closely they resemble textbook postures.
February 4, 2020, 6:00am - class 920 with Cate Reese - 131.0 today. The flu has hit everyone, including my boss as work and our teacher today. Her normally mellifluous voice was marred by the effects of the ailment, making her sound like a raspy teenager. The class was still well-paced and we learned some things about keeping a flat back in Standing Separate Leg Stretching. I was the most steady in recent memory in Esak Toe Stand, perhaps because I chose to forego my usual asana routine practice before class. My muscles ached from my own bout with the flu, but I pushed on in class. I remember class 178 back in 2014 when Sandy Robin criticized me for not trying hard enough. "No, not quite. You're just hanging on," she said of my Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee. At the time, I was touching my forehead to my knee, but I wasn't putting in the extra effort to make my bent knee straight. I dealt with the flu back then, but Sandy's words stuck with me and reminded me of what it truly takes to be a champion. You have to keep pushing yourself hard, no matter what, and you have to be willing to sacrifice many things along the way. Today I can do Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee with both legs straight and my arms clasped and raised up high behind me. I am always pushing my forehead to my knee to maintain the straightness of my front leg. I found some time during the day to practice my asana routine. One of my coworkers looked at asana videos of me and a couple of other contestants and concluded, "You should be be competing in the 18-49 division. With your muscle tone, you'll blow everyone away in your division." It's not a muscle contest, but I appreciate the accolades.
February 5, 2020, 6:00am - class 921 with Maria Spano - 131.0 today. Asana routine practice before class. Roller training for Fish after class. Rabbit was great. Fish was good. Shoulderstand Lotus is going to be my biggest challenge. Spine Twist was very good. Archer was textbook. Eight Angle was a little wobbly, but I held it for eight seconds easily. My sciatic nerve is irritated, a clear sign of overstretching that likely led to piriformis syndrome. In other words, my right butt cheek hurts like hell. Something is wrong with my right teres major as well. Fuck the pain. I fell out in Standing Head to Knee from pain shooting through my leg. Yowch. "Nice, Clare!" Maria said of my Triangle. I worked through the pain. Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee was great with my arms behind me. When I stretch my legs, I could feel my butt and leg muscles stretching over bones, a clear sign that I have little to no body fat left in those areas. Another measurement of 8% body fat today confirms this. Instead of Wind Removing, I prepped for Lotus in Fish. Instead of Fixed Firm, I did Fish. I think I'd rather get the top of my head on the floor than touch my elbows to the ground. So long as both knees are down, I'll get some points there. I'm kicking up higher in Floor Bow these days. "Are you ready for the championship?" Maria asked me. "Ready as I'll ever be," I replied, nodding. I may not be the most advanced yogini at the contest, but I'll put my whole heart into it and sometimes that's all it takes to win. I stopped by Rite Aid to pick up a set of five pound weights for my wrists, but concluded that this was not enough weight to merit their purchase.
February 5, 2020, 6:30pm - Core 26 - One of my students today saw me in class this past Sunday and commented, "You looked beautiful. You're such a beautiful woman!" Then she stopped herself. "Oh, don't worry, I'm not that way. I think your practice is beautiful," she said. She asked me for advice on how to stand more firmly in class, because she felt wobbly with her feet together. "It's normal to feel that way. You're balancing on your big toes, your pinky toes, and your heels, but you're also pressing the insides of your feet together to create better stabilization," I explained. The point is to always make the midline of your body strong. "Your balance will come in time," I said.
February 6, 2020, 6:00am - class 922 with Dan Murphy - 130.3 today. Sciatic pain is still affecting my right butt and leg, changing the way I do sit-ups and a few of the postures. My right shoulder is still in pain. Still, I forge onward, like a bat out of Hell. Just a little over two weeks left preparing for the big event. Ironically, the way to relieve sciatic pain is to perform stretching exercises, some of which may have caused the sciatic pain in the first place! I feel like I'll be hobbling, like Yoda, as I walk onstage at the championship, but at the moment I'm asked to begin, hopefully I'll do something amazing. Dan ran over time and had to skip a set of Kapalabhati Breathing at the end. The standing postures were held a bit too long. I think it's safe to say that if you're not doing Half-Tortoise by the 70th minute of the class, you're behind. Remember, teachers, the standing series should be over at around the 50th minute of class.
February 7, 2020, 6:00am - class 923 Bikram 90 - It was just me in class today and rather than go home early, I practiced an entire Bikram class on my own. I also practiced my asana routine after class, trying to improve Shoulderstand Lotus. Sadly, it may end up being my lowest scoring posture even though I have the most experience (40+ years!) with its easier cousin, Shoulderstand. I managed to perform my best Fish posture yet. Both knees down, both elbows down, wrists straight, top of head on the floor, and arch in the spine. Breathe, believe, do.
In honor of my yoga teachers...
For Sandy Robin, I perform Rabbit and Fish to honor you.
For Tony Sanchez, I perform Archer and Eight Angle to honor you.
For Maria Filippone, I perform Spine Twist to honor you.
For my first yoga teacher in 1978, I perform Shoulderstand Lotus to honor you.
For Lord Kṛṣṇa, the Master of Yoga, I perform my sequence to honor you.
February 8, 2020, 9:00am - class 924 with Joel Pier - 128.4 today. I practiced Eight Angle, Shoulderstand Lotus, and Spine Twist before class. I was pretty strong for most of the class. Joel held our standing postures extra long as he tried to teach a new student in class, so we ended ten minutes late. I fell out gracefully in Standing Head to Knee. I was still suffering from sciatic pain, so I didn't go 100% in Standing Separate Leg Stretching or Head to Knee with Stretching. The pain even affected my Toe Stand. "See how her hips are down low and her heart is up high? That's how you're supposed to do it," Joel advised the woman behind me, using my strong Triangle pose as an example. So many people come to our yoga with a Vinyasa or Ashtanga Triangle in mind. It turns out many of them can't do our Triangle very well because they haven't developed the hip and leg muscles for it. That's okay. I can't do their Half Moon very well, either. I practiced Lotus in my second set of Wind Removing and Fish in my second set of Fixed Firm. Unfortunately, we did a superset at the end due to time.
February 9, 2020, 10:00am - Core 26 - The heater did not turn on as scheduled, so I had to come up with a quick solution to get everyone warmed up for class. We performed a standing version of my pre-stretch warm-up routine. That got everyone's internal temperature rising. "What you did today was great," one student said. "The warm-up really helped," said another. At the end of class, everyone wished me well for the upcoming championship. They knew I'd be away a couple of weekends from now and were very excited for me. "Wait... you're competing in the Women's 50+?" a student asked. I nodded. "I'm 52," I said. She paused and looked astonished. "You don't look 52!" she said. "Yoga keeps you young," I said, smiling. It's true. There are activities you can do that will injure you and make you look prematurely old, but yoga will always keep you strong and forever young.
February 10, 2020, 9:00am - class 925 with Justin Riley - 129.2. today. Asana routine practice before class. Roller training for Fish after class. I overheard a conversation between two classmates where one said to the other that she wasn't feeling so good today and maybe she should just be happy that she came to class. "You can't have a 100% class. Some days are better than others, but you just do what you can," the other student replied. It's true. Your body is different every day and we can only hope to give it our all and perform all of our best poses on any given day. Today may not have been a perfect class for me, given my sciatic nerve pain issues, but it was as close to perfect as I can get right now, which is perhaps the best birthday present I can have. Well, there is something else that can happen that would be an even better birthday present, but we're jumping ahead of ourselves about two weeks! Justin again used the metaphor about sharpening your blade, which may have been influenced by my katana blade metaphor (see the beginning of this page). I proceeded through class with a calmness and steadiness I haven't had in a while. Nothing was going to steal my peace. So long as I continued breathing, I felt I could hold my poses indefinitely. I tried to record my asana routine today, but I must not have pressed the record button on my phone. No matter. It was good practice and everything looked and felt great.
My birthday month continues with another miracle! Many of my dedicated fellow yogis and yoginis know that I've been talking about going to Jedi Fight Club hosted by Esak Garcia for quite some time now. Well, Esak is finally doing a training "nearby" in Turner Falls, Massachusetts! Now, most of you know these things about me:
- I'm a dedicated yogini.
- I'm old (52 years today).
- I'm not great at backbending.
What Jedi Fight Club focuses on is exceptional training, the kind that produces world champions. To that end, one of its training highlights is learning how to confront my fears of extreme bending, the kind you see in horror films where people can walk upside down on their hands and feet. While there is no promise that I'll be walking down stairs upside down any time soon, I'll be learning some techniques that should take my practice to a higher level. Let's see if Esak can coax more out of these rickety old bones!
February 11, 2020, 6:00am - class 926 with Cate Reese - 129.6 today. "Good, Clare!" Cate said of my Triangle as I lengthed my arms from top to bottom. "That's it!" she said, as I lengthened and straightened my back in the third part of Head to Knee with Stretching. I continued practicing Fish in place of the second set of Fixed Firm. I also practiced Archer in place of the second set of Head to Knee with Stretching.
February 11, 2020, 5:30pm - class 927 with Chris Fluck - 127.8 tonight. I returned for a second class to practice more asanas. They say you are much stronger and more flexible later in the day than in the morning. This is true. I could bend much deeper in Half Moon, so much so that anyone limiting themselves with evening classes really isn't feeling the true power of yoga, because your body is already warmed up from your day's activities. I had my elbows touching my calves in Standing Head to Knee and held it strongly. I wanted to make it stronger by continuously kicking forward. I started to lose my balance, slowly veering over to my left. My entire body was twisting and turning counterclockwise, rocking and tipping over like a sailboat about to sink. "You are... a fucking... asana champion! You will not fall!!!" I said to myself... and I did not fall! I regained my composure in mid-air, pivoted my foot back to center, and held steady until we were asked to come out of the posture, all on one leg. The entire ordeal probably lasted five seconds, but it felt like I was moving in slow motion over a long period of time. Chris showed me how to make my Triangle even stronger. "Lengthen the neck first and then touch your chin to your shoulder," he advised. "Ground the foot of your straight leg. The lower hand should touch between the first and second toe," Chris said. Hmmm... that doesn't jell with Tony Sanchez's way. Two arms in one straight line means your arms should stretch in opposite directions: hand towards the sky and hand towards the ankle. Aiming the lower hand at the toes only works if your knee is in front of your ankle. Still, when in Rome, do what the Romans do. Note the weight loss from morning to evening. Assuming I consumed about a pound worth of food and beverages during the day, I've been correct in telling people you can lose three pounds of weight with one 90-minute class, assuming, of course, you work as hard as I do in class.
The one thing that being a yoga teacher spoils for me is horror films with demonic possession. When I see a possessed person, who is almost always a woman, I no longer see a demon, but a yoga teacher who happens to be an actor. I say to myself, "Wow, what an incredible backbend!" and then I know that the easiest way to defeat this demon is to take her balance by kicking her ankles or punching her in the solar plexus. I wonder why the good guys in horror films don't do this and just run away. Are they afraid of being possessed by a demon who can give them the ability to do awesome backbends? They should only be so lucky! Don't they know that a good backbend can lead to better spine health?
February 12, 2020, 6:30pm - Core 26 - One of my students asked me about Standing Separate Leg Stretching in class. "Is the front leg supposed to be straight or bent?" he asked. "It's supposed to be straight, but if you can't touch your forehead to your knee, then you bend your leg," I advised. "Be sure to get your forehead on the knee, not the center of the forehead, but a little over to the side when touching the knee. Continually push against the floor and try to get your forehead higher up on the knee. Keep the belly sucked in. Keep breathing."
February 13, 2020, 6:00am - class 928 with Dan Murphy - 128.3 today. Two newbies joined the class and stood right behind me. Dan recommended that they watch what I do in Standing Bow, since newbies usually get the grip wrong in it. At the end of class, a student who practiced next to me said, "It's an honor to practice next to you. You're an inspiration. You have such control over your postures. You don't just jump into every posture like some teachers tell us to," he said. He noticed how strong I built my first set of every posture before moving deeply into my second set. I thanked him and replied, "It's awesome that you really get what I'm doing. Most people don't see that." He learned from a classmate that I wrote a book on yoga and is interested in buying it. My friend Mark asked me how I was doing and how training was going. I told him that I'm doing well and that hopefully my sciatic pain will not affect my postures for the competition.
My inspirations for my asana routine are as follows:
- Rabbit (Jennifer Vanderhart, 2014) - the only woman who can get her thighs more than perpendicular off the ground
- Fish (Chia-Ti, 2016) - not a USA Yoga competitor, but does a marvelous Fish pose
- Shoulderstand Lotus (Bruce Merkle, 2020) - the straightest spine I've ever seen in this pose, smooth like butter
- Spine Twist (Becky Klein, 2019) - level shoulders, straight spine, extra flexible hips, legitimate 180 degree gaze
- Archer (Cynthia Wehr, 2013) - having fun making herself all bendy
- Eight Angle (Kylie Williams, 2019) - even shoulders and rock solid from beginning to end
February 14, 2020, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - Two new students joined my class today. Typically, my Narberth classes are all male students, but today it was all female. The new students were powerfully built and took to my instructions very well. We completed class in 86 minutes.
February 15, 2020, 9:00am - class 929 with Joel Pier - 127.9 today. Asana routine practice before class. Today felt special after all the crap I went through the past few days. Tuesday's two-class day took a heavy toll on me, leaving me dehydrated with high blood pressure and shortness of breath. My heart rate peaked at 160bpm in the second class, which it's never done before. It took a good 24 hours for my body to start feeling okay again. I resumed training on Thursday. Now that I lost a bit of my belly, I could twist better. I knew there was something special about today. As I did my Spine Twist, I could see my face clearly in the reflection of the glass door behnd me. I saw all of my face, not just 90% or even 99% of it. All of it from ear to ear. "I fucking did it!" I said to myself. A perfect Spine Twist. Here's the ironic thing... I must've lost so much weight from Tuesday to Thursday evening because I felt malaise. I couldn't keep my head up at work! I felt like I was going to pass out several times. I was breathing heavy... it was labored breathing. The last time I had such difficulty breathing I had pneumonia! My heart rate was above 94bpm most of the day on Wednesday and above 82bpm on Thursday. Thankfully, I have a futon in my office. "I... will not... end up... in the hospital again!" I said to myself, laying frozen on my futon. "I've worked way too hard to fucking die now!" It was a strangely quiet day, so if I just died right there in my office, nobody would notice until the next day. Twenty minutes on my back was enough to increase my energy a few percent, so I got up from the futon, still groggy, and locked up and left early. I slowly walked back home, holding onto every handrail and pressing against every wall available to me. I must've looked like a zombie. My body wanted to drop, but I wouldn't let it. When I got home, I just ate and ate until I was full and then some. I ate a lamb vindaloo frozen meal from Trader Joe's. I ate a can of tuna fish. I ate a hummus, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. I ate half a pint of ice cream and a lot of Torie & Howard Chewie Fruities. I drank a lot of orange juice and Orangina. In other words, this was more than two dinner meals for me. I'm not certain, but I think I just had a panic attack. On Friday, I ate four Insomnia cookies, including a Bigwich filled with vanilla icing, squash spaghetti with vegan chorizo and tomatoes, and a Beyond burger and some ice cream. The amazing thing is I still ended up with a lower weight today than in previous weeks and I feel fine today. Walking to the studio in the cold weather really helped. After class, I asked Joel to push into my thoracic spine. Your thoracic spine invariably gets tight over time and the best remedy for this is a nice, firm push to temporarily increase the space between the vertebrae. "There it is," Joel said, as he pushed his fist into my upper back, releasing two audible pops... CRACK CRACK!!! "It was a small one," he said. This is all done while relaxing on your belly. Chiropractors do something very similar. "I won't see you next week. I'm competing," I said. "Tell me all the details when you return. I'm sure you'll do great," he said, as we hugged.
February 16, 2020, 9:00am - class 930 with Thayne Dibble - I took my kids to my yoga studio this morning and showed my youngest what he needed to do in the yoga competition. At first, he wasn't convinced he could do any of the poses until I showed them to him. To his surprise, he could do all of them with relative ease. "See? You would've won a medal for doing that," I said. Upon further questioning, I discovered that his greatest fear is not losing the regional contest, but eventually losing to someone better. "There's always someone better," I said to him, "but we compete to see how good we are against the best." He said he might compete next year. Thayne took a chapter out of Chris Fluck's wisdom. "Strength is more important than flexibility," she reiterated, "because with strength, your flexibility will come in time." A new lady I had never seen before placed her mat in the front row next to mine. During class, she huffed and puffed her way through it, falling out midway through every posture, creating distractions all around her. She had little to no strength, balance, or flexibility. Still, she stayed in the room and completed the entire class. That was certainly better than people who would leave the class after Eagle or the standing series. "This is not what I signed up for! This is not butterflies and peace and tranquility! This is not yoga!" I would hear them later say in the locker room to their agreeing friends. Yoga is different for everyone. There are certainly yoga classes that project images of butterflies, peace, and tranquility, but in a hot yoga class, especially a Bikram Yoga class, the butterflies would be burnt to a crisp, you can throw peace out the window, and tranquility comes from knowing you gave it your all and did your best in a class A lazy person will likely never get in shape taking butterfly yoga classes, but the same person will likely whittle themselves down to their 25 year old selves taking hot yoga classes. "You're using your own weight and gravity to build strength in a yoga class," Thayne said. She gave the class her own little tricks to try in each of the postures and she walked around making posture corrections for all the newbies.
February 17, 2020, 6:00am - class 931 with Justin Riley - 129.2. today. Asana routine practice before class. I felt like I could hold Eight Angle forever. I did. I held it 14 seconds rather than the requisite five. "Looks good, Clare!" Justin commented of my Rabbit. I had mentioned that my first posture of my asana routine was Rabbit and how I perform in that will basically set the tone for the remainder of my routine. My entire routine is based on maximum points for my strengths. USA Yoga provides a posture calculator in which you select six postures from a list of 79. You can't just choose any six that you like. Your routine must demonstrate aspects of strength, balance, and flexibility and you must choose postures from each of the categories of forward bends, backward bends, tractions, twists, lifts, and inversions. Missing any of these aspects or categories results in point deductions from the overall score. The winner will be decided by tenths, hundredths, even thousandths of a point. My routine has "easier" postures than other athletes' routines, but the six I chose completely fulfill all the criteria. I tried entering other postures into the calculator, substituting more difficult postures for ones in my routine, but, strangely, I would end up with the same or a lower score if I made the substitution, because the more difficult postures would've specialized in one aspect of strength, balance, and flexibility versus the easier one hitting more than one aspect. It's ironic that an easier posture can actually be a more complete posture.
February 18, 2020, 6:00am - class 932 with Cate Reese - 128.3. today. I've been fighting sciatic nerve pain for the past two weeks. Today was the first day in two weeks that I was able to touch my forehead to the floor in Standing Separate Leg Stretching and extend my leg straight in the left and right leg parts of Head to Knee with Deep Stretching. I told my friend Chris about my recent battle with sciatic pain. "People our age get sciatica," he said, matter of factly. Like many macho guys, Chris doesn't believe in yoga. He thinks the asana competition is a joke and believes he can beat everyone in it. He'll be in for a big surprise on Saturday. I've been experimenting with grips in Rabbit and Fish. A millimeter adjustment in my grip can mean higher hips in Rabbit or lower elbows and higher ribcage in Fish. USA Yoga sent me the schedule for Saturday's event. I'll be the second contestant starting in a field of 16. This is the largest group of 50+ women to ever compete in the Northeast Regional Championship. Last year, there were 12 and the previous year, there were seven. I'll be competing against people who've won this championship before. How befitting that this is my first championship and I just jumped right into the fire!
February 19, 2020, 6:00am - class 933 with Maria Spano - 127.9. today. You know you have a good Standing Head to Knee when you have your leg extended, heel pushing forward, elbows hugging your calves, and eyes locked onto yourself in the mirror. Everything else looks like a blur. Things are moving around you, but they are just a blur. Time stands still. You hear your own heartbeat. You can hold your pose forever. Have you ever felt that? That's what a good Standing Head to Knee feels like. You don't even need to touch your forehead to your knee to feel this effect. It's an incredible feeling. "Your practice looked strong today. Are you ready?" Maria asked after class. I nodded and smiled. "I'm ready," I said.
February 19, 2020, 6:30pm - Core 26
February 20, 2020, 6:00am - class 934 with Dan Murphy - 126.5 today. Time stood still again in Standing Head to Knee. During the floor series, I practiced Eight Angle right after every sit-up and then went into the next posture. The katana blade has been unleashed! "Strong practice today. I like that you smiled in your postures," Dan said after class. "You have to have fun in your postures, otherwise you're not," I said. "That's true," he said. My friend Mark promoted my book to other practitioners in the lobby.
February 21, 2020 - The seven-hour drive to Chelmsford, Massachusetts for the asana championship was pretty smooth and uneventful. I saw my friend Toni at the athlete orientation in the evening. We chatted and discovered that we were both dealing with injuries these past weeks. "Oh my God, your neck has all these knots in it," she said, massaging my neck using her skills as a massage therapist. The pain from tucking my neck completely in Rabbit or bending my neck back all the way in Fish would've dropped anyone else to their knees, but I wasn't about to let that interfere with my goals. I also have sciatic nerve pain in my right leg, but, thankfully, my postures didn't require much use of right leg abduction. Much of the rest of the evening was devoted to quickly rehabbing the pain in my neck and shoulders. I tried to get six hours of sleep, but kept waking up from my friend loudly snoring in the bed next to mine. "You sound like the JCW exhaust in my MINI Cooper," I told him. BRRRRTTTTT... BANG!!! Burble! Frickin' sound could wake up the dead.
February 22, 2020 - USA Yoga Northeast Regional Championship - I did pretty well for my first championship ranking number 4 out of 16 contestants from 9 different states in the Women's 50+ division. Had I scored at least as high as my video qualifier on my final posture, I would've ranked number 3, enough to earn the bronze medal. Someone came up to me after the scores were posted and said, "Wait, you're Clare, right? I thought you won." The woman ranked number 1, Keri Palasz, was also from Pennsylvania and really took her routine to the next level. This was her second year of competition. She had the calmness and demeanor of a Buddhist priest in the warm-up room. Everyone else was chattering away and practicing their postures before going onstage, but she remained alone and silent, meditating. I introduced myself to her and discovered that she was warm and friendly, a good soul, and a worthy champion. Many people watching me felt I displayed great composure for my first championship. The truth is I was calm until my name was called and I walked onstage. "Holy shit, the lights are so frickin' bright!" I said to myself. The judges were obscured by the blinding rays of light coming from the rear of the auditorium. The moment was surreal. "Begin, please," the emcee announced, just like all the past USA Yoga videos I had seen. At that moment, I said to myself, "This is for all the teachers who made me who I am," and I just did my routine the way I programmed it into my body. Everything was going smoothly and I was building a strong case for myself, improving in every score from my video qualifier... until the last posture, my pièce de résistance. I lifted my hips too high on the initial lift, my thighs weren't gripping my inside arm tight enough, and my hands were a little too wide. I had not practiced this posture - Eight Angle - as much as the others, because it's not the type of posture you want to practice often. Eight Angle is the kind of posture that leaves an audience breathless, because it's a very difficult posture. It's only ranked 6 out of 10 in difficulty, but it should be ranked 7 out of 10, because it's much more difficult than Archer and other 7 out of 10 postures.
|Video Qualifier Scores
|Northeast Regional Scores
I knew going in that my "easy" asana routine would require absolute perfection to beat the top competitors. There was very little room for error. One bad posture and my final score would be affected significantly. I believe my score is high enough for me to be invited to the National Championship in August, but we'll have to wait and see when the last of the regionals are scored in April. As a consolation, my execution score was ranked number 2 overall. Execution measures how elegantly you move into and out of the postures in your routine. If you study my routine at the championship, it is a perfect example of the way I perform my postures in any hot yoga class: movement with grace and precision.
Some of you die-hard yogis out there might be wondering why I didn't simply choose more difficult postures to attain more points. Had I scored a 7.0 on Standing Bow - well within my capability - instead of Fish, I would've ended up with 1.3 points more to make my final score 28.667, good enough for the silver medal. Even a more mediocre score, such as 6.0, would've been enough to earn me the bronze medal. As this competition is a game of points, every fraction of a point counts. As you will recall, I said I didn't care about winning or losing. My real goal was to display poses that were as close to perfection as possible to honor my teachers. My Fish pose was more advanced than my Standing Bow pose. Yes, I could've scored more points in Standing Bow, but I wouldn't have felt like I gave everyone perfection. Also, Standing Bow would've been unsuitable for my theme of yoga postures for diabetics.
Best comment from an audience member: "Holy shit, you were amazing out there!"
I sat in the audience after the competition ended and chatted with friends as well as strangers. "I didn't do too badly for a 52 year old," I said. "Wait, you're 52?!" a beautiful twenty-something redhead said in a shocked manner. "I thought you were in the 18-49 division!" She studied my facial features closely, mouth agape. "That's so unfair!" she concluded after careful scrutiny. "Yoga keeps you young," I said with a smile.
Actually, a truly amazing fact is had I entered the Women's 18-49 division, usually the most competitive group, my score would've been ranked number 5 out of 24 contestants. If you combine the scores of all the contestants in the Women's 18-49 and 50+ divisions, my score is ranked number 8 out of all 40 contestants. That's 40 of the best yoginis in the northeast region! My score is higher than several number 1 ranked contestants in each state.
My friend Chris and I stayed in Boston the next couple of nights. The last time I was up this way was about ten years ago. We toured my alma mater, Boston University, dined at 110 Grill and Atlantic Fish Company, and visited various shops along Newbury Street, including the newly located Newbury Comics. Over 29,500 steps in two days! At night, we watched a cabaret show at Jacques and danced at an avant-garde nightclub called Candibar where I was told by young guys half my age that I was very beautiful. Ah, the power of yoga! I consider dancing to be another form of yoga, so I got a great deal of exercise over the weekend, so much so that my bodyfat dipped below 8%.
After I return from my trip to Boston, it'll be time to start training for Jedi Fight Club, an intense training program designed to prepare yogis for the national and international championships. See you soon, Esak Garcia!
February 25, 2020, 6:00am - class 935 with Cate Reese - 130.6. today. "Are you a dancer?" a woman asked me in the locker room before class. She said she had noticed I displayed tremendous flexibility in class. "No, I'm not. I was actually very awkward as a child," I said with a smile. "Really?!" she said, disbelieving. I nodded. I told her about how my flexibility was a result of my strength. "I competed in the USA Yoga regional championship this past weekend and ranked number 4 in the region," I also said. I am a USA Yoga athlete. That has a crazy cool ring to it! Other women in the room congratulated me for having the confidence to compete. One woman was inspired enough to consider competing next year. I was surprised that class went smoothly considering I hadn't taken a class since last Thursday. Towards the end of class, I felt soreness in my lumbar spine, perhaps from the long drive back home in the car yesterday.
February 26, 2020, 6:00am - class 936 with Maria Spano - 129.2 today. The first part of JFC (Jedi Fight Club) training is building up your stamina so you can prepare for the rigors of intensive training. This requires taking two hot yoga classes per day, known in the hot yoga world as doing "doubles." As you may recall, my most recent attempt at a double led to a panic attack. The panic attack may have been exacerbated by anxiety caused by the competition or heat stroke. My lumbar spine was killing me yesterday afternoon to this morning. The body twists in my pre-stretch warm-up routine alleviated a large part of the problem. WUMPPP!!! I could hear my discs in my lumbar spine pop back in place! Right side, then left. Same noise. Major pain relief. The best chiropractic adjustments are the ones you can give yourself, because you control the amount of pressure you want to use. You know your limits. Some people adhere to the philosophy of resting injuries. I am from the school of thought where you have to continue to work through your pain and continue to stretch and stay active to heal your injuries. Maria congratulated me on my achievement at the asana competition. We discussed how I should've won third place had I done a posture worth more points. Truthfully, all I needed to do was a better final posture. I would've felt like a fraud had I fallen out or scored a lot of 6s and earned third place. Athletes need to remember that they are forever immortalized on the Internet via pictures and YouTube videos. Years from now, people will remember an amazing routine more so than a mediocre one. As a teacher, I want my students to see perfection, not something that most people could do. I want them to see something that they could potentially do if they worked their asses off to achieve it. Class was expertly timed today with rests in between every posture. I was very impressed with the flexibility of the bodybuilder guy behind me.
February 26, 2020, 6:30pm - class 937 Core 26 - My last weekday class at Bluedeer Yoga. The studio is closing and the schedule is being reduced to a barebones schedule. I spoke to the owner and she agreed to have me teach some weekend classes until the studio finally closes. I've had an amazing run at Bluedeer and I've met so many great students there. "Since this is our last Wednesday class together, I want to show you how I practice," I said to my class. I included all of the little warm-ups I do in between postures and I practiced along with the class. Everyone received additional tips and techniques they can take with them and use in their future practices. They also got to see how dedicated I am to yoga because I make every class I practice much more intense than how it is taught, so I can sweat my ass off and achieve maximum benefits. WIthout even thinking about it, I did a legitimate double today!
February 27, 2020, 6:00am - class 938 with Dan Murphy - 127.6 today. "Nice pose, Clare!" Dan said of my Awkward 1. Class was well timed and paced. Because of my sciatic and lumbar pain, I'm stuck in this weird mode where I could do mostly everything with intensity, except for Standing Separate Leg Stretching and Head to Knee with Stretching. At times like this, you can't just rest and relax. You have to push onward, gently at first. Most people live with some amount of pain every day of their lives. Some live with a great deal of pain, both physical and mental, but it's all managed through mind-body conditioning like yoga.
February 28, 2020, 6:00am - class 939 Bikram 90 - 127.8 today. I practiced along with my student today. He liked the tips I gave him in Eagle. You basically need to keep your hands in line with the centerline of your body, otherwise you're torquing your spine. For that, I developed a hand shovel twist technique. I don't recommend "zhooming" quickly when twisting the arms. Yoga is supposed to be done slowly and with precision. Start with your arms over your head, palms facing each other. Pronate the wrists so the palms face outward. Extend your fingers outward as you slowly swing your right arm underneath your left arm. Cross the arms at the elbows and wrists. Your hands should come together with the back of your left hand facing the mirror in front of you. I call this the hand shovel. Squeeze the hands closer together. Twist the hands and pull your elbows down so that both of your thumbs are facing you. Try to get your thumbs and pinky fingers in line with each other. As you pull your elbows down, stretch the crown of your head up increasing the distance between your shoulders and your ears. Sit down on an imaginary chair behind you and proceed with the rest of Eagle pose. The 6:00am classes haven't been very busy lately, so the owner offered me the 6:30pm class on Tuesdays to teach. It's a busier time slot and the owner feels I have a lot to contribute to her community. This gives me back my Friday mornings, so I can practice at Hot Yoga Philadelphia again.
February 29, 2020, 9:00am - class 940 with Joel Pier - It was open house weekend at the studio, so there were a lot more people than usual. Vendors filled the spaces in the lobby and offered free samples of energy drinks, juice cleansers, and more. Lots of people congratulated me for competing in the USA Yoga championship. "This girl won the championship," Maria announced to one of the vendors who was thoroughly impressed. Somehow I got a free tanktop because of this. Joel agreed to review my championship video with me to help me improve my postures for the next round.
I was at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health the first week of March for a teacher training course. On the next to last day, I met Rajashree Choudhury, ex-wife of the famous hot yoga guru, Bikram Choudhury. She is super nice and has a radiant glow about her. We were discussing the course I was taking on The Bhagavad Gita and how all the concepts introduced or described in the Gita relate to our practice. USA Yoga Head Judge Lynn Whitlow introduced me to Rajashree during lunch. Lynn came up to me and said, “You look familiar...” and a hug and a chat later and I was standing in front of Rajashree! I wasn’t able to check out Rajashree’s class, Hot Yoga Therapeutics, all week because I was intensely absorbed in my class. It’s funny how things just happen when you just let them happen. We learned that, too, from The Bhagavad Gita.
March 8, 2020, 9:00am - class 941 with Thayne Dibble - 127.6 today. It's been over a week since my last hot yoga class. I felt a little winded after my first set of Triangle, so I did my second set while seated cross-legged on the mat. I also felt winded after Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, so I did my Tree Pose while seated on the mat. If you can, always try to do an alternate posture if you cannot do the one you're supposed to do. "That's a great adjustment, Clare. That's your bow!" Thayne said, commenting on my ability to roll forward onto my belly and kick my legs up higher in Floor Bow. After class, I did my wall-walking practice against the back wall. I can wall-walk about half way down at this point. Let's see if I can go further.
March 9, 2020, 6:00am - class 942 with Justin Riley - 128.5 today. Justin challenged us to get our legs straighter in Hands to Feet. "I've had students straighten their legs in as little as three months," he said. Sadly, I can't get my legs straight and here's why. My pelvis is tilted because my left leg is a little longer than my right. On leg stretches, such as Hands to Feet and Standing Separate Leg Stretching, equal stretching of both legs leads to more tension on the muscles and tendons of my right leg leading to greater chance of injury on my right side. I do what I can and adjust as necessary. Let's delve deeper into what I just said. That does not mean take it easy on yourself. Work as hard as you can, within reason, given your limitations. Those of you who've played any competitive sport in your life know what I mean. Unless it's a serious life-threatening injury, athletes don't rest and relax after an injury. They work with it or around it and continue to train their bodies in spite of their injuries. They give it their all even when they are injured. That's what they do, that's what I do, and that's what I encourage you to do if you are training yourself to be a better you.
March 10, 2020, 6:00am - class 943 with Cate Reese - 127.7 today. "Good, Clare, good! Keep going..." Cate said. I lost my balance and fell out in the last moments of Standing Bow. "It's okay to fall out. Learn to fall out gracefully... just like that," Cate said, directing everyone's attention to me. As usual, I just laugh at myself, because it's just a pose and it's what I can do today. I try to make my body into an art form when I do my poses. When I'm at maximum tension and my grip slips or I lose my balance, my body springs alive in some direction. I manage to catch myself in the act of falling and use the power of my legs to gracefully lower my body down with my feet sliding in opposite directions. It looks like a ballet move. Anyone who comes to the morning classes enough times will see me do this in either Standing Head to Knee or Standing Bow. Sometimes the magic of what I do in making my poses look effortless is better seen in the way I fall out.
March 10, 2020, 6:30pm - Bikram 90 - The studio owner of The Bridge Hot Yoga moved me to a potentially busier time slot. Since it's a brand new class, it hasn't been promoted yet, but I got a feel for what it might be like to teach during this time.
March 11, 2020, 6:00am - class 944 with Mara Spano - 127.8 today. I focused on getting a good stretch in Standing Separate Leg Stretching today. I touched my forehead to the floor for a moment before sciatic pain emanated from my right leg again. We did supersets of Half-Tortoise, Camel, and Rabbit, because we were running out of time. We spent a long time in the Standing Series. Bikram likes to say that the Floor Series is where the real yoga class begins. The Floor Series is where we really work into our spines and internal organs and push ourselves mentally. I got my right leg fully extended in Head to Knee on the floor and I've been doing a good job of binding my wrist in Spine Twist.
March 12, 2020, 6:00am - class 945 with Dan Murphy - 128.8 today. Dan liked my Eagle and Toe Stand. Same as yesterday, I touched my forehead to the floor again in Standing Separate Leg Stretching and my forehead to my knee in Head to Knee even with my sciatic pain still present. Forehead to knee in the Sit-ups is getting easier again. Attendance has suffered lately, perhaps because of the coronavirus warnings.
March 12, 2020, 6:30pm - Private Lesson - My friend Mark asked me to help him improve some of his Standing Series postures. We worked on Pranayama Breathing, Half Moon with Hands to Feet, Awkward, Eagle, Standing Head to Knee, and Balancing Stick. Prior to the private class, I measured Mark's flexibility with a new flexibility tester I had recently acquired. We also practiced my Pre-Stretch Warm-Up Routine. I showed Mark a tip that will help him lift his leg up higher in Standing Head to Knee. "That one tip alone was worth the price of the lesson!" Mark commented. Many Bikram teachers who teach private lessons just regurgitate the Bikram dialog. That doesn't help students at all. Mark asked me for food advice. "What should I be eating on a day to day basis?" he asked. I advised him to remember the four food groups we learned as kids. While a vegan diet is admirable, it's not always the healthiest option.
March 13, 2020, 6:00am - class 946 with Justin Riley - 127.8 today. Amid the scare of the coronavirus, class was a decent size today, including a newbie who followed along with everyone. Yesterday and today, my Standing Head to Knee was steady and solid. Justin noted my left shoulder wasn't stretching forward enough on my right side Standing Bow, but noted my right shoulder looked good on my left side. He emphasized that the hips should be low, but not below the knees in Triangle. We take our Triangles seriously in the 6:00am class. He got me to sit higher in Toe Stand. "Hips above the heels, otherwise you're not doing Toe Stand," he said. I did a wrist bind on both sides in Spine Twist.
March 14, 2020, 6:00am - class 947 with Joel Pier - 126.3 today. My body probably felt like it was in toxic shock last night, because I got sick three times during the night. My dinner last night was a barbecue feast of epic proportions from Fette Sau. Feeling weak, dizzy, cramped, and hungry this morning, I could've stayed home, but did I? Nope, because champions push through all of that. I dialed my go-go-go attitude back to 80% to have enough energy to drive myself through all of the postures. Joel used my Half Moon as a demonstration of how the curvature of the spine should resemble part of a circle. One of my favorite teachers, Justin, stood in the back of the room. I hadn't seen him practice as a student in the same class as me in a while. He's a stickler for perfect form, but he follows all the posture advice he gives. I saw him do an interesting turn and twist motion during the warm-up for Half Moon. After class, Maria and Marynoelle checked out my Facebook page and saw the feast I had last night. "Where does it all go?" they asked. "Right in my tummy," I said, patting my belly and smiling. I received more compliments today on my performance at the Northeast Regional Championship. Joel reviewed my championship video with me and pointed out little things that jumped out at him. We also looked at the video of the woman who won first place. "Engagement of the core, reducing little wobbles, coming out exactly the way you came in, it’s subtle things like that. Irrespective of the postures, that’s the difference between you and number one. Fix all that and you’ll at least be second place next year," Joel said. There is truth to what he says. Most contestants go for points, but I'm approaching the championship from a perspective of perfection. Points versus perfection... which would win? Perfection always wins.
My friend Chris visited me in downtown Philadelphia this weekend and got to see some of the preparatory work I'm doing for Esak Garcia's Jedi Fight Club. "There's no reason anyone should be doing that," he commented, after watching me do several wall walks. I smiled a knowing smile, because I didn't want to say anything to start an argument. How do you explain to someone that you're working on techniques that only the most advanced yogis get to practice? Later in the day, our conversation turned to the championship again. "I saw some fat, out of shape guys in the men's division. I could beat them," Chris said with confidence. He still thinks he can win the senior men's division. "First of all, the one or two chubby guys you saw didn't win anything. Did you see Tim Mizerak? He was the winner. He was great," I said. I showed him Tim's video and we reviewed Tim's Archer pose together. "Think you can do that?" I asked Chris. "Oh, sure! I could bring my leg up like that," he said, still confident. I didn't believe him. "You could touch your foot to your ear?" I asked. "Well, no. I could get my foot about halfway up to my ear," he said. "What Tim can do and what you can do is the difference between a 7 or an 8 and a 4," I said. "Ooof..." he blurted out, sounding dejected. "Just because people like me and Tim make this look easy doesn't mean anyone can do it," I said. When you stand in front of some of the harshest judges on the planet, you are being scrutinized for every little detail. I'm not sure someone who is more talk than walk can deal with that. I think I drove my point home, so I let the subject go for another day.
March 16, 2020, 4:00pm - class 948 with Joel Pier - Sadly, Hot Yoga Philadelphia had to close its doors after today's class due to the Governor's orders. Every other hot yoga studio in the area is closed as well. All businesses might not be open until the end of the month to contain the coronavirus. I need my yoga! I had to come up with a plan. I could try to find an online yoga class, but most of them are not Bikram classes or are some diluted version at 60 or 75 minutes. What if someone were to offer totally free 90-minute Bikram classes online, all for the love of yoga? That's what I decided to do and I wanted to show myself practicing along with my instructions instead of just barking commands out at people. I've watched and studied many, many yoga practitioners and even the toughest, most resilient can barely teach and practice at the same time. I don't know why. Vinyasa teachers do it all the time. I created an instant online class with the help of Facebook Live and teleconferencing software. Two live feeds! Everyone is encouraged to join and practice for free until this whole coronavirus thing goes away. If you can, show yourself and practice along with me via the teleconferencing software, so we can feed off of each other's energy.
March 17, 2020, 6:00am - class 949 Bikram 90 - My first online class using Facebook Live was a success with 35 people watching, including some of the superstars of the hot yoga world. There was a little mishap at the beginning of class as my power went out temporarily due to power overload. Two space heaters, room lights, two laptops, networking gear, and a 500W modelling light all running together tripped a fuse. I'll have to teach my classes without the modelling light, which was my original intent anyway. I just wanted to see if I could get my living room to appear brighter.
After 16 days of wall-walking, I could finally get my arms straight. I can also tiptoe my feet back towards the wall to reverse out of a wall-walk. This kind of training requires baby steps, because one false move and you might tweak your neck or fall and injure yourself.
I received my invitation to compete in the USA Yoga Nationals event on August 7 to 9, but it came at a bittersweet time with all the craziness that's happening in the world.
March 18, 2020, 6:00am - class 950 Bikram 90 - My second online class was an even bigger success because the hot yoga guru himself and my teacher, Tony Sanchez, was in the audience! A veritable who's who in the hot yoga and aikido worlds were also in attendance and that includes studio owners, dojo owners who practice yoga, classmates from teacher training, and enthusiastic practitioners. In a way, I feel blessed that I'm approaching 1,000 classes where the final 50 might be ones I teach for such a captive audience.
March 19, 2020, 6:00am - class 951 Bikram 90 - My Facebook Live had audio problems today, perhaps due to the concurrent Zoom session. I might have to continue doing these classes without Zoom access to keep the video and audio stable. Some of my former teachers joined, but left due to the bad audio. It's a shame, too, because it would have been my best online class yet.
March 19, 2020, 5:30pm - class 952 Bikram 90 - No audio problems in this Facebook Live class. I made it public to the world and attracted a good group of people.
March 20, 2020, 6:00am - class 953 Bikram 90 - I taught Beach, Fish, and Half-Tortoise Mudra in the second set of Tree/Toe, Fixed Firm, and Half-Tortoise. I taught a gentle yoga class in the afternoon at 5:30pm.
March 21, 2020, 6:00am - class 954 Bikram 90 - I taught Beach and Head to Knee Mudra in the second set of Tree/Toe and Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, and ended class with Pigeon and an abdominal exercise. The hot yoga studio I work for said that I could teach online Zoom courses at the studio if I wish. It would be nice to have a nice, lighted setting for my online classes once or twice a week.
March 22, 2020, 6:00am - class 955 Bikram 90 - If you look at enough online Bikram classes, they will look very boring. I'm changing that. I skipped the breathing exercise in the beginning and got ten extra minutes to explore many more postures, including Pigeon, Mountain, Cowface, and Revolving Spine Twist.
It's official! I will be teaching on Tuesday afternoons at 5:30pm at The Bridge Hot Yoga for a 75-minute Bikram class that will be broadcast online via Zoom.
March 24, 2020, 6:00am - class 956 Bikram 90 - I taught a plain vanilla Bikram class with no new postures, since I was recovering from a neck injury.
March 24, 2020, 5:30pm - class 957 Bikram 75 - The Zoom class went well with five students practicing with me until the battery died on the studio computer. We didn't get to do Spine Twist and Kapalabhati.
As I walk my hands down the wall, itsy bitsy spidering my fingers towards the floor, I confront fear and joy at the same time. Fear at the thought that one false move and I might slip and injure myself. Joy at the thought of attaining a goal. I could walk down further this time, but at a cost of bending my elbows. The next step is to straighten my elbows. The next step after that is to walk down futher, then straight my elbows, and so on. I am barefoot this time to achieve a better grip with my feet.
March 26, 2020, 6:00am - class 958 Bikram 90 - Lesson of the day: "Do not be afraid to achieve a point past what your limits are. Once you reach a point of discomfort, ask yourself, is it pain that you feel? Then back off. If it's fear of the unknown, see what you can do to overcome that fear. Sometimes our anxieties and fears can limit our potential. Human potential is a vast and wonderful thing. You might surprise yourself each and every day."
March 26, 2020, 6:30pm - Private Lesson - My friend Mark and I continued from where we left off last time. I showed him techniques for improving his Standing Bow, Standing Separate Leg Stretching, Triangle, Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, Tree, Toe, Corpse, Wind Removing, Cobra, and Locust. With my help, I got Mark to do a decent Triangle and Toe Stand. "I've never been able to do that before... thank you!" he said after Toe Stand.
March 27, 2020, 6:00am - class 959 Bikram 90 - Imagining your body between two narrow panes of glass doesn't just apply to Half Moon. It could also apply to Triangle. Last night, I taught Mark how to use the studio mirrors to see where his body is at from the side in Triangle. I emphasized this technique in this morning's class. Not many people are going to look at Triangle in such an advanced way, but the more you know about a posture, the better you will be in it. The "new normal" for my worklife these days is a Tuesday to Saturday 8:00am to 4:00pm shift. I practice yoga at 6:00am, eat my lunch in the morning, take a midday break to work on my wall-walking, eat dinner after my shift, and read and watch movies and shows at night. Strangely, this is how my worklife should have been had I planned my tech career more carefully. It will be interesting to see how my remaining yoga teacher training courses will look in an online format. I hope Jedi Fight Club will still be an in-person training.
March 29, 2020, 8:00am - class 960 Intermediate Series - 130.8 today. I never tell students to go 100% in their practice. I tell them to go 80% so they can get through an entire yoga class without issue. Over time, they can increase to 90% and eventually to 100%. Get to your maximum expression in each pose and surrender to it, connecting what's in your mind in perfect stillness to what's happening with your body. In my class today, I made the Intermediate Series my own, different from Tony Sanchez and Ida Ripley's versions. Don't miss the tip on getting your feet straight in Tree and Toe Stand.
March 30, 2020, 8:00am - class 961 Intermediate Series - 130.5 today. If you can't do a posture today, don't fret. Just like life, some days are better than others. You chose to be the best version of yourself by following this class. I'm working on a name for my Intermediate Series. Tony has Core 40. Ida has IRIS (Ida Ripley's Intermediate Series).
March 31, 2020, 6:30am - class 962 Bikram 90 - 130.2 today. Savasana is a time to relax your body completely, to learn how to completely surrender yourself to a posture. It's this same feeling of surrendering to a posture that you should have when you are at the maximum expression for any pose you do. When you can achieve that, you will feel like you can hold a posture forever.
March 31, 2020, 5:30pm - class 963 Bikram 75 - Today's Zoom class was a little bigger than last week and, with it, more technical difficulties. The studio's Internet connection might not be able to handle all the callers.
April 1, 2020, 6:30am - class 964 Intermediate Series - 129.3 today. Today I introduced my students to Jatharasana, a core building posture. Watch my online class and see where I place it, because it will serve as a powerful final posture in the Abdominal Series. I'm repositioning postures around in the class.
Before you participate in one of my online classes, be sure to crank up the heat to at least 75 in your room and have a space heater aimed at you to get an additional 10 to 15 degrees. When you exercise and sweat, you burn calories. When you burn calories, you lose weight. The ultimate goal with our yoga is improving our strength, balance, and flexibility in the physical realm, improving our focus, concentration, and determination in the mental realm, and linking everything with our breathing, which is slow, purposeful, and continuous throughout our practice.
April 2, 2020, 6:30am - class 965 Bikram 90 - First set we explore proper alignment and where we are at. Second set we explore depth and how far we can go, but try not to do anything that causes pain. Discomfort is okay to a point, but back off if you start experiencing pain. Always be aware of that with every posture. We can work with a little discomfort, because it's not in the realm of what we do every day, but don't ever reach a point of pain. Don't try to build Rome in a day. You're working slowly to regain the flexibility and mobility you had as a child.
April 3, 2020, 6:30am - class 966 Intermediate Series - I introduced Flamingo, the Abdominal Series, and Baby Crow today. I may replace the Abdominal Series with Wind Removing Head to Knee.
April 5, 2020, 8:00am - class 967 Intermediate Series - I omitted Flamingo and Eight Angle, replaced the Abdominal Series with Wind Removing Head to Knee, and added Shoulderstand Lotus at the end. Starting today, I will be releasing my afternoon wall-walking practices online so people can catch a glimpse of what this practice is all about. I'm not proficient at it yet, but my goal is to keep practicing and improving my skills every day. The wall-walking practice will be followed by light stretching exercises to relax the lumbar spine.
April 6, 2020, 10:00am - class 968 Intermediate Series - In preparation for the Arm Balancing Series, I tell students that distributing your body weight across all 14 contact points of your fingers and palms is not so bad. It's mind over matter. Sometimes the very thing that prevents us from believing we can do a posture is ourselves. Sometimes the order of postures will change depending on the teacher and the day. Don't be too upset if a posture is not presented in a sequence that you're familiar with. So long as you get all the postures in a class, you should be fine. I released my second wall-walking practice online. This time, I practiced some advanced postures after wall-walking, including Crow, Root, and Mountain.
April 7, 2020, 6:30am - class 969 Bikram 90 - Hydrating before class is always a good idea. Just a few sips of water. Not a lot. Don't guzzle your water. Too much water will upset your belly in certain postures. Heating your room will actually help relax your muscles so better stretches are possible, but it's very easy to overdo it, so be very careful and mindful with your stretches.
April 8, 2020, 6:30am - class 970 Bikram 90 - In all of the postures, if you ever reach a feeling of pain, you need to back off. Discomfort is different from pain. Discomfort we can work with. Everyone has different pain tolerances and pain management is something we inherently do. If, on a scale of 1 to 10, 5 is our pain threshold, then we want to stay at 4 or below. In Locust posture, first and second parts, lengthening the leg is more important than lifting it up high, so think about lengthening first, then lifting.
April 9, 2020, 6:30am - class 971 Bikram 90 - The spine is an amazing thing. Most students report growing taller after yoga, but the truth is you were always that tall. You may have been slouching or hunched over before yoga, but yoga stretches your spine to increase the distance between your vertebrae to rebuild the thickness of your discs that you lost over time due to bad posture.