August 30, 2021, 5:30pm - class 1201 with Joel Pier - The only class that fit my schedule today was Joel’s evening class. My practice was pretty strong from the start, but then I fell out of Standing Head to Knee and stumbled through Standing Bow. At the start of Balancing Stick, Joel announced to the class, “Clare asked me not to tell anyone that she’s ranked number 4 in the USA Yoga National Championship.” A number of people congratulated me in and after class. A curious thing happens when an announcement like that is made. Everyone looks upon you with crazy high expectations. “It doesn’t mean I’m any good,” I said with a humble smile to everyone. I don't do anything extraordinary in a Bikram class. It is a beginner's class after all and even Joel walks by and tells me to stop doing advanced things in his class. "We don't do that here," he whispered to me when I did Extended Bound Side Angle in place of Triangle. It wasn't until the final breathing exercise, when I sat in Root Pose, that everyone finally got to see what made me special. Few people can sit on their feet turned backwards and fewer still can sit in that position for an entire Kapalabhati Breathing session with Joel.
September 1, 2021, 11:00am - class 1202 with Vulgar Yogi - I was able to do Locust today, a minor victory. Vulgar teaches an intense 60-minute class. Her 60-minute class feels like a 90-minute class. People often wonder if it's possible to get the same benefits in a 60-minute class as you can get in a 90-minute class. It's possible, but most people won't. It takes commitment and a do-it-until-you-drop mentality to get those benefits. You know when teachers say "1% right gives you 100% of the benefits"? That's just a nice way of saying "it's better to do it a little bit right than a whole lot of wrong." Nobody who has ever done just 1% of a posture every class for years ends up being a yoga superstar. It takes 100% right all the time to become great. Most people aren't willing to sacrifice themselves for their art. Not many think of their bodies as their masterpiece. Most people are simply not willing or able to thrust themselves to a point of exhaustion with each yoga pose. What does that feel like? Imagine your heart rate is sky high. Imagine you begin to blank out. You. can. barely. breathe... now do it again and again and again in the Standing Series. If you want to be awesome, you learn to make that sacrifice. Professional athletes are willing to make that sacrifice, but most people are okay with being just okay. These people get to brag to their friends that they're doing hot yoga and "killing themselves" when a look at their overall physiques tells otherwise. If you are willing to devote 60 or 90 minutes to a yoga class, make every minute count. Do not half-ass it in class. Put your heart and soul into every pose and you will come out a winner, not for a championship, but for yourself.
USA Yoga has been slowly but surely dividing the three days of multi-hour National Championship videos on their YouTube site into individual division videos. When I first started competing and getting scored, I wondered why certain contestants scored better than others for what appeared to be similar poses. Now that I have more competition experience, I'm able to see the differences and improvements between how my poses are now and how they used to be.
September 5, 2021, 9:00am - class 1203 with Katelynn Ingersoll - Katelynn referred to the area Vulgar and I were practicing at as "Championship Row," which was cool. "Can you feel the energy here?" she said to the class. Yoga was a nice excursion to get my mind off of the craziness in my life recently. I did Locust in Lotus today. Caitlin, one of the yoga teachers, watched my National Championship video and commented, "You look so smooth. The transitions were flawless." I told her that Rajashree Choudhury said the same thing. Caitlin was the first to notice just how incredible my Rabbit is. "You have a long torso, so its amazing you were able to do Rabbit like that," she said. I explained that Rabbit requires me to hold onto my heels for dear life, but to make it look the way it looked this year, I had to take a "leap of faith" and allow myself to not grip so tightly so I could roll forward more. We both agreed that I am "so close" to having my thighs be perpendicular to the floor. Once that is achieved, I'll score well into the 9's on Rabbit.
September 8, 2021, 9:00am - class 1204 with Vulgar Yogi - My knees felt like jelly pudding during Triangle and, thankfully, Vulgar was able to see and correct my bent knee that was out of alignment. I extended my leg out in Toe Stand, a minor victory. Everything in yoga is about minor victories. I bowed to Krishna before I left. I didn't notice Krishna above the shoe rack before today. What most people don't know about me is I do chant Hare Krishna from time to time because it gives me strength and makes me feel better, especially before competition or an important presentation. As a polytheist, I see Krishna as one of my many favorite gods.
September 10, 2021, 9:00am - class 1205 with Rob Cancel - Class was upstairs today as some equipment needed to be replaced downstairs. I used to hate the upstairs studio as it was always the hotter, more humid, and less comfortable of the two spaces, but with the new heating systems in place, the upstairs studio, with its better air circulation, is now the more comfortable of the two spaces. The pacing of the class was so quick we were able to fit in a third set of Head to Knee with Deep Stretching. I took the opportunity to practice Archer in the third set. I've been a little pudgy lately because of all of the craziness in the past week, but I'll be back on track soon.
September 15, 2021, 9:00am - class 1206 with Rob Cancel - The humidity got me again and I had to sit down during a few standing postures and substitute floor postures in ther place. If you can, you must try to do something - anything - rather than nothing.
September 22, 2021, 9:00am - class 1207 with Rob Cancel - "Give yourself a big hug and say 'I love myself,' because if you can't love yourself, how can you love someone else?" That's one of Rob's best lessons and why I love his classes. I perform a lot of flourishes in Tree and Toe just to keep me motivated and challenged by the postures. Before I place my hands in prayer, I stretch up into a palm-grip Half-Moon. When I am in Toe, I might extend my leg out. You only get to do the crazy stuff like this after you've become proficient in the basics.
September 25, 2021, 3:00pm - USA Yoga Workshop "Planning Your Routine With Intention, Stage Presence, and Confidence with Bruce Merkle" - Not your typical workshop with a combination class and lecture it was instead a holistic approach to how to put together a routine based on your personalization and creativity. We reviewed what Bruce had done in his winning video from last year and discussed aspects of planning, lighting, sound, and more.
A recent concern arose as to why I'm not practicing yoga as much as before. Alas, work-related issues have kept me from going to as many classes as I have in the past, but fear not! I didn't become number four in the nation just by taking a lot of classes. If taking a lot of classes makes a yoga champion, then anybody could be one. There is not a minute that goes by that I'm not doing some form of strength, flexibility, or balance exercise to keep my skills sharp. Did you know that I perform spine twists several times an hour every hour that I'm awake? Or that I perform strength and balance exercises using everyday objects as often as possible to keep my muscles ripped? The yoga classes I take are more to inspire all of you who are reading this blog. They are just the tip of the iceberg in all that I do.
October 7, 2021, 6:00am - class 1208 with Kaitlin McKendrick - Kaitlin taught a great class today with beautiful phrases, including "lift your chest up high, heart to the sky" in Fixed Firm. I've said the same in Triangle: "Turn and twist your upper body back, heart to the sky." I liked her pacing and now I know she has a killer Eagle pose, because she demonstrated that and other poses in class. Despite excruciating pain in my right rotator cuff, I managed to do Locust today. The new heat panels made the room feel hot like the downtown Bikram studio.
I'm happy USA Yoga changed the rules of competition to allow for more creativity and diversity in individual routines. In the past, the championships were all about who had the best Standing Bow or Standing Head to Knee. Past rules allowed for routines with five compulsory postures and a free choice of two postures. For the most part, everyone's routine looked pretty similar. Now there is a free choice of all six postures, so we can showcase our strengths. I applaud USA Yoga and the IYSF for the foresight to realize that not everyone who is good at yoga has to be good at Standing Bow.
The IYSF (International Yoga Sports Federation) published changes to its posture guidelines for the 2021-2022 season. The changes will open up possibilities for some competitors. For example, there is no longer a "hips perpendicular to the floor" deduction in Twisted Staff, which makes the posture more accessible to people whose hips don't turn that way.
The AYSF (Australasian Yoga Sports Federation) holds the World Yogasana Sports Championship in January that is judged by many of the same judges as the IYSF. The scoring is a bit more harsh for missing categories.
The IYOC (International Yoga Olympic Commitee) holds another world yoga competition with many different categories, including asana, flow, dance, and more. Your routine must have a posture in all six categories in order to qualify for a medal.
October 17, 2021, 8:00am - class 1209 with Chalise Saunders - It was my first class with Chalise. She taught a very technical, dialog-driven class. She sounded a lot like Leo because she regularly referred to her students as her "friends." I like that she emphasized stretching the spine up in several postures, something I've said that I don't hear enough of from other teachers. I had to skip Locust because of my rotator cuff and collarbone injuries.
October 19, 2021, 6:00am - class 1210 with Chalise Saunders - A crooked pelvis, an injured collarbone and rotator cuff, cervical spine disc degeneration, lumbar spine contusion, nerve damage in a pinky and ring finger, and more. You look at any of my routines and you will not see any evidence of that, because I work extra hard to make my movements fluid, even silky smooth. Today felt better than Sunday and I could see glimpses of my old championship self again. I will see where this goes, but it'll be a day to day examination to see if I feel strong enough to compete in the IYSF championship in one month. I was chosen to represent the USA out of many top competitors - the best of the best - so I cannot f*ck this up. I know there will be a handful of people reading this who will scoff at the championships and probably even say, "Oh, but I'm better than you," but none of these people showed up when it came time to prove it! To them, I say, I represent you, too. I represent your boldness, your fears, and your inner desire to do this and, if I am ready, I will not disappoint. USA Yoga did right picking me to represent the United States. As I told my brother today, "Us Dins have basically one big strength among us, which is crazy f*cking willpower."
October 21, 2021, 6:00am - class 1211 with Kaitlin McKendrick - Another rigorous, well-paced, therapeutic class from a teacher with a superb voice. I was able to do Locust on Tuesday and today. My shoulder still hurts like hell. At the end of class, a fellow student walked up to me. She had a gentle demeanor and a cherubic face. "I love watching you practice," she said. I thanked her. "You're a teacher, right?" she asked. I nodded and said, "I am." She gets it! It's important to see what others do in class. That's part of the learning process for many students. At one time, I looked up to my more advanced classmates, too, and I watched, studied, and complimented their practices, hoping that one day I would be like them. You will only end up being as good as the best student in class, I always felt.
October 26, 2021, 6:00am - class 1212 with Chalise Saunders - I worked through my injuries very carefully in Locust. In place of Fixed Firm, I did two variants of Fish.
November 2, 2021, 6:00am - class 1213 with Chalise Saunders - My Dad's funeral was yesterday in New York, so I didn't know how I'd do in class today. Surprisingly, I did quite well. One of the students said to the teacher about how special our 6am group was. I couldn't agree more. I have seen more yogasana champions come out of the 6am classes than any other times during the day. There is a very special discipline, dedication, and self-awareness that develops from a crack of dawn practice.
November 3, 2021, 9:30am - class 1214 with Kaitlin McKendrick - "I love practicing next to you. You're so calm!" a classmate said to me after class. "She's a professional!" Kaitlin added. The student gasped when she recognized my name. It's always nice to be appreciated.
November 4, 2021, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - "What a beautiful class! I hope you’ll be teaching again. I love your instructions and delivery," a student said. As a yogasana champion, there are things I know about alignment that most Bikram teachers won't learn or understand until they have at least two decades of experience. This is because I've crosstrained in many disciplines, including kung fu, aikido, weightlifting, and archery. What I've learned from each of these disciplines has found their way into my yoga. As an artist and photographer, I can see things no one else can see. I make comparisons to things that nobody else would consider. If you want to be great at yoga, you have to strive to be great at everything.
November 5, 2021, 9:30am - class 1215 with Kaitlin McKendrick - As a Bikram purist, I prefer the 90 minute class, but sometimes that's not available, so I've developed techniques to make a 75 minute class feel just as invigorating as a 90 minute class. The secret is what you do in between many of the postures, especially between postures that have just a single set and the next posture. Consider the break after the one set of Eagle. Before you come out of Eagle and go for your water, strike a Phoenix pose and hold it for 5 seconds. There's plenty of time for water. If you have one set of Balancing Stick, stretch your fingertips and toes in opposite directions with intensity for 5 seconds, relax and breathe a normal breath, and repeat the stretch with intensity for at least 5 seconds. In Triangle, get into your pose, hold it until the teacher calls "Change!", and reverse the order of the steps you took to get into your pose. Do it in a strict way. Don't miss a step. In Tree and Toe, continuously stretch your spine up towards the ceiling when you get into your deepest pose. If you have one set of Fixed Firm, go into Tabletop and do a forehead to knee on each side twice, extending the leg back after each forehead to knee. If you have one set of Head to Knee with Stretching, get into your deepest compression or stretch in each part, hold for 5 seconds, relax and breathe a normal breath, and repeat the deep compression or stretch and hold it until the teacher decides to call "Change!" In Spine Twist, continuously stretch your spine up towards the ceiling when you get into your deepest pose. You only get one set of Pranayama and Kapalabhati, so I recommend performing a controlled set of breathing before and after class. You do not need to use your arms or sit or stand in any special way. Just breathe! Of course, all this would not be possible unless the teacher had perfect timing, like Kaitlin does, so be sure to take your Bikram classes with experienced teachers.
November 9, 2021, 6:00am - class 1216 with Chalise Saunders - What if you developed tremendous body control such that when you fall out, it doesn't look like a crumbling pile of bricks? Suppose you were able to spring back in a circle and land with your feet together? I can do that. "That's pretty neat!" Chalise remarked when I maintained control after falling out of Standing Bow. I do a similar thing in Standing Head to Knee where a fall out looks like a gentle, graceful bow, like a dancer would make. Many people who see this believe I must've been a dancer in my past. I discovered that Chalise is a fellow Evolation Santa Barbara graduate. I've been practicing Root Pose during Kapalabhati. This is just one of the many things I do to ensure that the beginner's class is anything but beginner for me.
November 10, 2021, 9:30am - class 1217 with Kaitlin McKendrick - I didn't drink any water during class!
November 11, 2021, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - "I'm going to go home and sign up for all your classes!" one of my students said. She liked my warm-up exercise before Fixed Firm and my creative visualization while in Fixed Firm.
November 12, 2021, 9:30am - class 1218 with Kaitlin McKendrick - First set, alignment. Second set, depth. This is how you can train yourself to observe perfect alignment in every posture every time. Again, I didn't drink any water during class. This is when I know I'm feeling strong and have passed over my personal hump.
November 14, 2021, 8:00am - class 1219 with Chalise Saunders - No water again today, which is impressive considering Chalise tends to make us hold postures for a long time. One of my classmates comes to my class on Thursday mornings and is rapidly becoming a big fan of mine. She was impressed to discover that I'm competing in the world championship. "We're so lucky to have you here at the studio," she said. "I like practicing with you in class because I could feel your energy flowing from you. Your energy keeps me calm." Another classmate, a long-time Bikram Yoga practitioner, admitted to me, "You have a great practice."
November 15, 2021, 9:30am - class 1220 with Kaitlin McKendrick - I had another strong class today. I held Standing Bow with my foot over my head for the entire minute-long duration on each side.
November 16, 2021, 6:00am - class 1221 with Chalise Saunders - I felt a bit wonky today during Eagle. I couldn't wrap my legs on the left side, first set! I later felt the muscles around my solar plexus knot up in Head to Knee on the floor. These might be signs of overtraining. I'll have to ease up tomorrow.
November 17, 2021, 9:30am - class 1222 with Kaitlin McKendrick - I dialed back my intensity 10-20% on each posture and ended class safe. Last night, I felt instability in my knees for the first time in years.
November 18, 2021, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - In Head to Knee with Stretching, one of my students requested that I lean into his back to flatten his spine onto his legs during the deep stretch. I have not seen this kind of self-motivated desire for betterment since... well, me, back in 2015! I mentioned that one of my favorite teachers (Sandy Robin) used to work on my back this way and the world-renowned Tony Sanchez stood on my back during advanced teacher training in 2017. I practiced my world championship routine before and after class. I could lift myself up in Eight Angle, something I couldn't do earlier in the week on Sunday.
November 19, 2021, 9:30am - class 1223 with Kaitlin McKendrick - My last class before the championship. I'm not at my optimal weight, but that's okay. I'm a little heavier than my usual championship weight, but I'm also a little stronger. A professional yoga athlete knows there's a fine line between being at the right weight and being strong enough to do what you need to do.
IYSF World Championship of Yoga Sports T-1 Days (November 19, 2021) - How do you make a championship routine look silky smooth? You practice hard... and, by that, I mean you maximize your intensity and the way you train. I took on some rather extreme training practices when I first competed. When everyone else was practicing their routines on their well-cushioned, no-slip mats, I practiced without a mat on a hardwood floor. I practiced over and over again on hardwood until my knuckles and ankles were beet red and sore. Why did I do this? I reasoned that if you want to be the best, you will train hard again and again until you master your movements and learn how to deal with pain. That way, when you finally step onto a well-cushioned, no-slip mat, your movements will look smooth and effortless. If you only train on well-cushioned, no-slip mats, you will only get so far in your training. I don't encourage my students to train this way. I have to put in the extra effort because I'm training for something that requires ultimate precision and where my performances will be judged for their correctness, fluidity, and grace. You get one chance to impress the judges.
I practiced my routine four times before the championship: November 19 at 3:44pm, 5:52pm, and 9:17pm; November 20 at 11:07am. I do not believe in training for the sake of temporarily elevating your skill. I believe in training so you can attain a sustained level of skill. You should be ready to perform your routine in front of qualified yoga judges at any time, not just when a contest calls for it. You should be ready under any conditions - warm or cool - or after digesting any food, including - dare I say it? - White Castle hamburgers, because a champion does not necessarily follow any specific regimen. A champion follows her heart.
IYSF World Championship of Yoga Sports (November 20, 2021) - It has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of the world championship this year. There were a lot of seasoned competitors and, from what I saw, everyone came to win. This stuff normally doesn't impress my kids, but when they were watching it, they realized that what they saw was pretty amazing. "Can you do that?" they kept asking me of postures in other competitor's routines. "No," I replied. "That's why I have to do what I do perfectly." My training regimen this morning was very unorthodox. I didn't want to psyche myself out or overtrain, so I did house chores. I figured that if I could feel myself doing my house chores more fluidly, then I'd be ready for the championship. Everything went pretty well, except for one posture. I lost points in Eight Angle for not dipping down low enough and not holding it for the requisite five seconds. Still, it was a pretty good effort considering I have a broken collarbone and pinched nerves along my neck and scapulae. Issues with bursitis and overstretched ligaments in the knees did not stop me from stellar performances in Rabbit, Spine Twist, or Archer. I now rank number 7 in the world against the very best competitors from 11 countries.
|World Finals Scores
The bridge between Archer and Eight Angle has the potential to be strikingly beautful, so that is what I will work on for the upcoming year. This will require me to think about performing Eight Angle in a different way.
November 24, 2021, 5:30pm - class 1224 with Leo Eisenstein - I lost my energy during a couple of standing postures, but still did floor versions of those postures. A beginner's class, practiced with the highest intensity, can certainly take down a yoga champion. What do I consider "highest intensity"? When someone near you glances your way during a pose and has that look on his or her face that says, "HOLY SH*T!!!" That's when you know your poses look impressive. "I like that thing you do with your hands, making them into fists," Leo said of my Camel. I drive my fists into my back. "That's a Mary Jarvis thing. Did you learn that from Mary?" "No, I discovered it independently," I said to Leo. "Ah, very good!" he said.
As one yoga championship year comes to a close, another one begins immediately thereafter. The USA Yoga qualifier video is due on December 1. I recorded my video on Thanksgiving Day. Let's just try to do everything a little bit better, why not? Let's try to be the best this year!
Yoda's famous quote is a simple lesson in commitment and the power in giving something our all, not just giving it a try. Unfortunately, lazy people have watered down the word "try" over the years to the point where "try" no longer means "try hard." My "try" is pretty much "do." When I'm not dealing with collarbone issues, I can get my chest down more and make my upper body be parallel to the floor in Eight Angle. I can lift my head up, too. When I feel strong, I could get my legs parallel to the floor so that my heels are in line with my elbows. The icing on the cake is to get my shoulders parallel to the floor. Only a tiny percentage of the world can do something like that. Devoted followers of mine know I've trained with the upper echelon of yoga champions at The Jedi Fight Club with Esak Garcia. In that training environment, we lived and breathed yoga a grueling 14 hours a day with hours of backbending practice. We learned something more powerful than Yoda's quote, because each and every one of us in The Jedi Fight Club knew that "try" meant "try hard." We learned the meaning of Esak's "Change Your Mind" philosophy. In his words, "You have the power to change your mind. By changing your mind and your thoughts while practicing hatha yoga, you are able to accomplish miracles in your body and in your life."
December 2, 2021, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - Students attending my classes receive the benefit of hands-on instruction. A gentle press against the back automatically straightens and lengthens it in certain postures. "Remember that nothing in this class should cause pain. This is a therapeutic series," I reaffirmed. I focus on alignment and breathing every day, whether it be in a class I take, a practice I do at home, or a class I teach. I took my yoga practice to the nth degree by becoming a world champion. So smooth, so clean, and so effortless. That's what my yoga is all about. That's what I hope everyone achieves in their yoga.
December 9, 2021, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - Does your spine feel a little torqued after Camel? Come to my classes to discover an easy tip I give to relieve the stress and tension you might feel after a deep backbend. I helped my students get into their deepest Rabbits today.
December 16, 2021, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - Stretch up and bend! That was the idea behind many postures today.
December 19, 2021, 10:00am - class 1225 with Chalise Saunders - "You have a gorgeous Triangle," Chalise said. I owe that Chris Fluck. My entire practice is based on my admiration for the teachers who had the greatest influence on each of my postures.
December 23, 2021, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - One of my new students did an incredible Inverted Locust pose today during Locust. Inverted Locust is basically the forerunner to Scorpion. Your legs stretch straight up towards the ceiling in a gravity-defying pose.
Unfortunately, I am no less victim to age and frailty. Sitting in Lotus for an extended period of time or perhaps carrying a 30 pound Christmas gift up a flight of stairs tweaked my knee. It's a minor setback that may cost me a couple of weeks of training.
December 26, 2021, 3:30pm - class 1226 Bikram 60 - An unsolicited compliment always brightens a teacher’s day. “Thank you SO MUCH for class. That was one of the harder 60 minute classes. I like your quick transitions,” a twenty-something said to me after class. I practiced with my students. I strongly believe that when a teacher takes a class with her students, everybody works just a little bit harder in class, especially if that teacher is a world yoga champion. It also brings people’s attention to the fact that here is a teacher who puts her money where her mouth is. One of my teachers said to me long ago, “You can practice a strong class while you teach? You will be an awesome teacher indeed, but be careful because you will be hated. Not everyone can do what you do and your abilities will make certain teachers very envious.”
I have an out-of-shape friend who has flu-like symptoms of coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue. He hung out with me for several hours last week and wonders why I don't have the same symptoms he still has. "You should try hot yoga. You'll sweat it all out," I said. "I stretch in a steam room and sweat in a jacuzzi," he replied. "There's a lot more to it than that. In your exercises, you have to work yourself up to a near death experience. The heart rate builds up and you become more resistant to ailments," I said. "I run up and down flights of stairs for my job and feel pretty near death," he said. He wasn't understanding me. "Yes, but the near death experience has to also involve sweating in a hot room at the same time," I said. "I delivered 700 cases of beer running up and down flights of stairs in 95 degree weather for five summers. I did roofing, played tennis, ran with weights, etc. I probably sweated out a Great Lake!" he replied. "That's in the past. Your body changes over time," I said. He loves to compare anything I do today with what he's done long ago, more than 30 years ago. "I maintain a fitness level where I am always just a few weeks of training away from being able to still do all that," he said. Ummm... not with that big belly of his! We were all great 30 years ago, but it takes phenomenal focus to do the same today as you did when you were young. Don't be like my friend. Do what I do... Breathe. Believe. Do!
December 28, 2021, 9:30am - class 1227 with Cat Long - It was lovely to be in a packed studio today. I drank no water as usual during class, did some poses with advanced grips, and ended with Kapalabhati in Root. Somehow my knee that bothered me last Thursday isn't bothering me now. My recurring shoulder pain still bugged me throughout class, but the forward compressions seem to have alleviated much of the pain.
My high rankings this year are all the more incredible when you realize the adversity I had to go through. Not only did I have to fight through recurring injuries, but I also had to deal with an ex who had been a huge distraction during my training, so much so that I found out in the end that she never really understood or respected my achievements as a professional yogasana athlete. Anyone who wants to endear themselves to me has to experience a yoga class. In the eighteen months I've known her, she's made every excuse to avoid yoga. I discovered over time that we had very little in common and any activity I would get her to try, she would trivialize it. Spending time with her would take away from my training time, so I trained a lot less than I had wanted to. Still, I managed to eke out rankings of number four in the USA and number seven in the world. Although I like to deny I have any natural talent, I somehow managed to muster up enough to be able to achieve my high scores.
January 6, 2022, 6:00am - class 1228 Bikram 90 - "Before you bend over, stretch up as high as possible first," I said in Half Moon. In fact, every posture requires you to stretch your spine first before you engage in any depth. All teachers should say this, but few ever do. "We all could bend over pretty far without much effort, but to bend over while lengthening... that's much more difficult," I added.
My scores for this season's USA Yoga video qualifier were pretty good. Along with our scores, we received a notice saying that there will be serious penalties in the future for anyone who mutes their videos or shows evidence of coaching during their qualifier routine. It's no secret that there are athletes who will do whatever it takes, including cheating, to win. This tarnishes the sport. That's why something like this should only be done in front of a live audience. Look at the IYSF World Championship. Some of the athletes have filming assistants in the background who are likely also acting as their coaches, giving them corrections along the way. I take pride in the fact that my rank is legitimate. I had nobody to film me other than my iPhone on a tripod.
|Video Qualifier Scores
To make video submissions more legitimate, have everyone wear a wireless earbud, such as an Airpod, so the judges can hear how an athlete breathes. I dare say that many of the top competitors doing the fancy poses are not really breathing correctly. They are struggling to maintain stillness. In other words, they really aren't doing yogasana.
I have a jock friend who believes that the definition of an athlete includes only those who handle a moving object, such as a basketball or a football. "So you would consider curling an athletic sport?" I challenged. "Well... there are exceptions," he said. "Why can't an athlete be someone who has elevated him or herself to the highest level in their sport? What if stillness is the absolute achievement rather than movement? We have all kinds of sports. Gymnastics is arguably one of the most difficult sports and has no handling of a moving object other the the athlete's own body," I countered. "Yes, I see your point," he said. My kids also believe what my friend believes, that only ball sports are true sports. Yogasana is still a fledgling sport. It has a lot of challenges ahead in order to make it a legitimate sport in the Olympics, but little by little, day by day, it comes closer to being accepted and understood.
I'm ranked #1 in the USA in the 1st National Yoga Olympic Games (https://www.yogaolympic.org). For the past year, they invited me to join it, so I finally entered. There are actually a lot of superstars on the entire list (Esak Garcia, Imelda Turner, Wayne Campbell), so I'm honored to be among this esteemed group. While not officially a part of the Olympics (yet), this organization seems to be on the right path towards getting all the necessary countries together (5400 athletes from 210 countries) and creating a unified system with eight different competitions emphasizing varying skills.
January 10, 2022, 9:30am - class 1229 Bikram 75 - "Don't do anything quick in this class," I said to my students. "There is no sitting down quickly in the second part of Awkward. There is no ZHOOM wind-up in Eagle. There is no quick sit-up after separate leg Head to Knee. Move slowly through all of the postures, so you can experience the therapeutic aspects of this yoga."
January 11, 2022, 6:00am - class 1230 with Chalise Saunders - On the coldest day of the year with a wind chill factor of 8 degrees, I wake up and go to yoga to begin my preparation for the World Championship of Yogasana Sports this weekend. This championship is run by Dev Kapil, a world-class yogi who practices what he preaches every single day. Working to exhaustion without skipping postures, creating beautiful textbook poses, and not drinking any water throughout class, I move through the postures as if a higher force was doing them and just using my body as a human vessel. In this championship, there are many more postures we can select from the accepted posture manual. There are versions of spine twist I have never seen before and all of the Bikram class postures are included, although worth very little as most are considered beginner's postures. There will likely be many Asian competitors as Dev's fitness club is located in Singapore.
January 12, 2022, 12:00pm - class 1231 Bikram 60 - Everyone felt the intensity of my class as I practiced with them. There are three flows in this class. Some call them supersets, but if you teach it right, a three-posture sequence will flow. Flow is an art form. You have to include breathing cues as you direct your students through each posture and from posture to posture. If you teach the Bikram 60 class right, the entire class will feel like one big flow.
January 13, 2022, 6:00am - class 1232 Bikram 90 - It's not every day your teacher gets to practice with her students and demonstrates postures in class! I showed my students the finer points of Rabbit, one of my signature postures.
January 14-16, 2022 - The World Yogasana Sports Championship 2022 was held this weekend and my ranking in the IYSF secured me an invitation to participate in it. I just learned of this particular championship last week, so I was not in optimal shape for it. The rules penalize missing categories much more heavily than USA Yoga or IYSF, so the scoring is much stricter. I was the sole Master's Female (50+) contestant representing the entire USA. The contestants were mostly from Europe, India, and Australia, where some of the best yogis in the world reside. My fiercest competitor was a Belgian ranked number 9 in the IYSF. As usual, my neck wasn't cooperating with me today, so I couldn't get my head turned 180 in Spine Twist as I normally do. If I did turn it all the way, I probably would not have been able to do a very good Eight Angle or Bow. I didn't get to practice my routine before the competition at all, instead opting to do classic conditioning and therapeutic yoga exercises just before my performance at the competition. My ranking of number 3 in the world is pretty good, considering I had just a week to prepare.
The test of a true champion is challenging yourself again and again in competition against real opponents from everywhere. While some people may still remark that championships are just for self-aggrandizement and not related to the spirit of yoga, bear in mind that this is yogasana. These events help make yoga interesting to a number of people who might otherwise never care about yoga. This ultimately makes yoga more inclusive and accessible to everyone. The contestants are there to motivate and inspire their audiences. Some might make poses look super easy. You see them and think you can do it, too. You get your friend to film you doing these same poses and you end up looking like a hot mess. That's when you know it takes a lot of work to do what these athletes do. Thousands of hours of work. Most people with no motivation will likely give up and make excuses as to why they can't do it. You will see the serious ones in your yoga classes and they will grow with you, like trees in a forest.
Another injury I sustained recently is a knee clicking issue. Now when I squat down, a sharp pain shoots through my left knee. It may be the result from any or all of the following: Rabbit, Root, Triangle, Lotus, or Roman chair sit-ups. Certainly my therapeutic yoga knowledge will help me heal faster than usual, but I will have to wait and see what the long-term prognosis is.
January 20, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - Working with my regulars, I was able to get one student to stretch his body longer in Balancing Stick and another to make a more perfect Spine Twist.
Reviewing the IYSF Rules and Postures Clinic course has confirmed what I believed to be true: Most competitors should not be doing Standing Head to Knee or Standing Bow. I know some competitors want to feel confirmation, like they are part of "The OG Club," for doing these particularly difficult postures, but about 80% of competitors can't do this posture well, so why do it? Do something else that can score you more! Judges want to see poise, control, and steadiness into and out of each posture. They don't want to see you struggling in a posture.
January 23, 2022, 8:00am - class 1233 with Chalise Saunders - In place of Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, I did Lizard and Pigeon. Why? I couldn't stand up anymore, so instead of resting, I did a more challenging pose on the floor. In place of Tree, I did the leg part of Full Spine Twist. No knee or hip issues. I stood up again to do Toe Stand. In the second set of Wind Removing, I did Fish. I felt a weird creak in my right hip after Fixed Firm, so I thrust my leg out forcefully behind me and crack-CRACK-CRAACCCKKKK!!! It felt better. Want to confront the reality of your body? Most people just need to do Rabbit to see the big belly in front of them. The people who truly care to change themselves will do something about it. Practice each pose to the point of exhaustion, then do it again and again, every pose, every day you practice. I did Kapalabhati in Root. This was a decent first day of training for the Northeast Regional Championship coming up in five weeks.
January 24, 2022 - Half Moon and Full Spine Twist practice.
January 25, 2022, 6:00am - class 1234 with Chalise Saunders - Except for Standing Bow, everything looked and felt strong today. Extended Bound Side Angle in the second set of Triangle. Pyramid in the second set of Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee. Spine Twist with Bind. Kapalabhati in Root. 1-2-3-4Yoga!
January 26, 2022 - Half Moon and Full Spine Twist practice.
January 27, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - Lots of adjustments in class to help my students achieve deeper stretches. I helped one student achieve his best Rabbit. "Be fearless... be fearless!" I said to him as I held his feet and he got his thighs close to vertical. I felt like I was channeling the methods of my teacher, Sandy. I explained the true purpose of the "kickstand" in Spine Twist and how it can be used to ensure perfect alignment in the posture.
January 28, 2022, 9:30am - class 1235 with Kaitlin McKendrick - A stronger Standing Bow today. I feel my flexibility coming back. My shoulder and scapula are still messed up, but I'll have to work around them. I was impressed to see a full class of students on this snowy morning.
One of my friends said this about the yoga competitions I participate in: "In all my years of yoga practice, I never saw yoga as competitive." I explained my position like this: "Oh, no... yoga is certainly not competitive, but this is not yoga, but rather yogasana, which is styled much like a gymnastics competition. The root of gymnastics is not competitive, either, but gymnastics competitions make it a competitive sport where medals are won based on one person's form compared to another. Yogasana is like that." The same could be said about running, bodybuilding, figure skating, crew, and even skateboarding. Yes, you can participate in these sports for the sheer enjoyment of it, but there are competitions in each of these sports where arguably the best athletes try to outdo others on a public stage. The truth is there are likely people who are much better than the top athletes of any sport who do the sport for themselves and not for a medal and that is exactly my point with yoga. It can be for yourself or for the glory of winning a championship and allowing others to see how much you enjoy being a practitioner and an athlete in that sport.
January 31, 2022, 9:30am - class 1236 with Kaitlin McKendrick - It was broiling hot in class today. Those of you who've practiced with me know that I don't wear much in class. Wintertime in a small studio warrants a tanktop, but the heat prompted me to remove it right before the second set of Standing Head to Knee. I saw a glimpse of the body that rocked Nationals and the World Championship. My midsection is usually the last of my bodyparts to get built up. In my off-season period, I get to eat all the stuff I like. Now I have to eat carefully and intelligently. Kaitlin sang a song at the end of class, which is always a treat because she has a beautiful voice.
One of the great teachers in the Bikram Yoga world - Joel Pier - is gone. I took over 130 classes with this amazing man. He was a teacher and friend and always encouraged me to continue on my yoga path even when I felt like it was easier to just stop. I always learned something new in every class he taught. He noticed things in my postures that have made me work that much harder to improve upon them. I can honestly say that he has had a major influence in my life as a yoga teacher and yogasana athlete. It was through his guidance (and criticism) that my Rabbit posture is what it is today. In times of extreme pain, sadness, and depression, he knew just what to say and do to keep my motor running in class. He also had a gift like Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid. Anyone who has ever felt Joel's magical push against his or her thoracic spine knows just what I'm talking about. Rest in Peace Joel Pier, your energy has made the Universe a brighter place.
I may not be the strongest or the most flexible or the most balanced, but I have three qualities that weave their way into all three aforementioned qualities to make me great: focus, steadiness, and stillness. Against competitors with much more challenging routines, if I use all of my abilities to flow through my "easier" routine, I will fare pretty well against them. My best yoga is yet to come.
February 3, 2022, 6:00am - class 1237 Bikram 90 - I practiced with my students today, gave everyone extra alignment tips, and answered questions along the way. "That was a great class!" one of my students said.
February 4, 2022, 9:30am - class 1238 Bikram 75 - I practiced with my students again today and gave them intricate step-by-step instructions for some postures. "I'm a stickler for details," I told them. "Ohh, I like that!" one of them said.
February 5, 2022, 10:00am - class 1239 with Leo Eisenstein - "Many people think the 60-minute express class is easier than the 90-minute class, but it's actually harder, because we're doing all of the same postures in 60 minutes," Leo said. To me, it's not harder, just different. In some ways, it's harder because of the increased heart rate from the quickened pace, but in other ways, it's easier because of the skipped sets. Most people don't give it their all in every posture, so the express classes will feel easy to them and then they get lulled into a false sense of security.
I don't fancy myself a trendsetter by any means, but the current crop of USA Yoga West Coast Regional yoga athletes have adopted the kind of timing I've been known for in the championships - quick, efficient, and precise - just like a katana blade. I saw more sub-2:40 minute performances than ever, but nobody was able to do a complete routine with zero time deductions in less time than my monster performance at Nationals. From the looks of it, Kim Tang is coaching an army of quality athletes who are well-conditioned and focused. My new favorite athlete is Mary Byrne, who demonstrated a phenomenal Rabbit and Full Spine Twist. Her physique reminds me of mine when I was her age.
As if achieving the goal of competing in the Nationals wasn't enough, the USA Yoga National Championship this year will be a part of the State Games of America 2022, an Olympic-style event featuring competition between State Games medal winners from across the nation. There are 53 sporting events represented at State Games including archery, fencing, judo, swimming, track, weightlifting, and yoga.
February 6, 2022, 8:00am - class 1240 with Chalise Saunders - After class, I practiced Archer, Shoulderstand Lotus, and rudimentary elements of Full Spine Twist and Sleeping Yogi. I felt a tightness in my left hip release after repeated pushes.
February 7, 2022, 9:30am - class 1241 with Kaitlin McKendrick - After class, I practiced Archer, Full Spine Twist, and Sleeping Yogi. I'm still working on releasing the tightness in my left hip. There's a definite potential for faschia tissue release. I should be able to do Full Tortoise at some point.
When you can reach a point in your practice where you are doing the yoga postures, your postures look textbook perfect, you feel like you are no longer in your body, and you are no longer bothered by pain and discomfort, then you have attained a point of perfect peace within yourself. Your vision blurs slightly and something subconscious controls you. Some athletes in other disciplines call this "being in the zone." You just do it... and that's what I mean all along whenever I say "just do it." Not the Nike meaning of it, but rather the yogic meaning of it. Something inside you just drives you forward towards your goals. The human spirit is stronger than most people think, but in order to tap into infinite human potential, you have to ask yourself how badly you want to be the best at everything you do.
February 8, 2022, 9:30am - class 1242 with Cat Long - Tremendous focus and concentration in all three parts of Awkward. Remember I called it "being in the zone"? In the yogiverse, it's basically "yogic focus." The funny thing about Awkward is it is probably the biggest variant of what the original Hatha Yoga pose is supposed to be like. The very first Utkatasana (Awkward posture in Sanskrit) is more like squatting on the ground with your thighs hugging your chest. Krishnamacharya created the standing version of this pose most likely because many people do not have the calf and ankle development to perform a low squat like this. That version of Utkatasana (called Chair Pose) required you to sit halfway down on an imaginary chair behind you, but to keep your back flat and your arms raised high. Bishnu Ghosh modified it and made practitioners aim their arms forward instead of upwards to make the pose more challenging. Ghosh trained bodybuilders, so this variation of a squat without weights was particularly interesting to the strongmen who worked out at the Ghosh College of India. One of those strongmen - Bikram Choudhury - modified it again for us crazy Westerners who love a challenge. Bikram tells us to arch our back instead of keeping it flat. Strongmen are also showmen, so they like to show off crazy feats of strength, flexibility, balance, agility, etc. It's the "I can do it... can you?" mentality that devoted Bikram practitioners love so much. Hence why we love Awkward.
February 9, 2022, 9:30am - class 1243 with Kaitlin McKendrick - "That's a graceful fallout," Kaitlin commented when I fell out of Standing Bow and crossed my legs like a ballet bow. Most practitioners fear falling out for some reason. They think they will look awkward and feel embarrassed. There is nothing to be embarrassed about when you fall about. It shows you are trying hard, so push yourself to your limits with each pose and embrace a fallout. I'm always exploring ways of making the 75-minute class feel more like a 90-minute class. Since there is just one set of Eagle, it's important to get all of the lower body joints working as much as possible in the pose and that requires you to sit down all the way so that your thighs are parallel to the floor. Because there is just one set, how deep your second set of Awkward pose is will make up for the lost set of Eagle and that requires you to sit all the way down in Awkward 1 and 2 so that your thighs are parallel to the floor and to sink your hips all the way down to just above your heels in Awkward 3. This requires commitment and a certain degree of flexibility. If you've been practicing for a while, you should be able to do this.
February 10, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - James Pfeffer is a senior Bikram teacher who has had as much of an influence on my beginning Bikram yoga practice as Sandy Robin, Noelle Burgoyne, and Joel Pier. I enjoyed James’ classes so much that I wrote to him saying what a difference his insights had on me. “You and James are my two favorite teachers,” one of my students said to me today. To be placed in the same sentence as James is a real honor and the best birthday present ever.
February 11, 2022, 9:30am - class 1244 with Kaitlin McKendrick - It's rare that I'm the shortest one in class. All the other women looked like five-foot-ten models. We would've made a formidable basketball team... or runway show! I can lift my legs higher in Locust with the simple visual of a balloon attached to my feet. The single leg lift is not Locust, but a preparation for the two-legged lift that is Locust. In the single leg lift, visualize a magic marker attached to your big toe as you reach for the back wall and draw a line up the wall towards the ceiling. The single leg lift is practice for keeping your legs straight and seeing how high your two-legged lift can be. I see too many people not even try to lift their legs up in the single leg lifts. They go up an inch or two and think that that's helping them. It's not. The health benefits begin when you come up at least halfway, that is, when your leg is 45 degrees or higher off the floor.
What is "yogasana" and how is it different from "yoga asana"? They are the same and the words can be used interchangeably. They both mean "yoga postures." In gymnastics, men practice and sometimes compete in six events: Floor Exercise, Pommel Horse, Still Rings, Vault, Parallel Bars, and Horizontal Bar, while women practice and sometimes compete in four: Vault, Uneven Bars, Balance Beam, and Floor Exercise. Lots of people, even non-gymnasts with little to no experience, can do some basic movements in each of these categories, but few can do them with the style and grace of a professional gymnast. The professional yogasana athlete is the same idea. Many people can do various yoga postures, but few can do them with the style and grace of a professional yogasana athlete. Yogasana is still a young sport so many people will not acknowledge it until it gets into the Olympics. I feel that these are very exciting times for yogasana athletes because we are all helping to move yogasana towards its rightful place in the Olympics.
February 12, 2022, 10:00am - class 1245 with Leo Eisenstein - When it comes to losing weight, most people don't trust me because they've never seen me as someone who has ever had a weight problem. "She can't possibly know how it feels to be a heavy person," they would say. That may be true, so take advice from Leo. He admits he was heavy before and has lost over 200 pounds by practicing Bikram Yoga every day. There is certainly something to a daily practice that cannot be denied. For the past seven days, I went from 140.8 to 135.6 with a six-day a week practice. The previous two weeks, I couldn't get below 138 with a three-day a week practice. I've maintained my flexibility by practicing on my own, but the heat definitely helps keep my weight down. The biggest thing I have to worry about is overworking my body. I remember my joints feeling really loose and jelly-like with too much yoga.
February 14, 2022, 9:30am - class 1246 with Kaitlin McKendrick - My lumbar spine felt a little torqued in the past three days, but today it felt a little better. I'm working on stretching my spine before every posture in class. In my backbend, I'm working on reaching for what I can see first before moving my eyes further down the wall, so look at a point, stretch your arms long and straight and touch what you can see, look further down the wall, move your straight arms down more and touch what you can see, look further down still, and move your straight arms down more and touch what you can see. Keep your legs straight with your knees locked, drive your hips forward. Lift your chest up high and keep stretching your fingertips away from your body.
February 15, 2022, 9:30am - class 1247 with Cat Long - My back and shoulder feel better today. The extra long stretches and my continued use of my backbend technique from yesterday are helping me. The bursitis in my left knee is still bugging me, so I sat in Lotus instead of Root for the past two days.
"One percent the right way, get one hundred percent of the benefits..."
"One percent the right way, get one hundred percent of the benefits," Bikram says. Was Bikram talking about effort or posture? Let's first consider effort. You have to be pretty ignorant to believe that a one percent effort will help you achieve the same benefits as someone who puts in one hundred percent effort the right way every day, killing themselves to achieve perfection. The right way is difficult. Nobody wants to really walk the path of the right way for too long because it is so difficult. The older you get, the harder it is to walk on that path and the easier it is to make excuses for not being on that path. Don't hold on to just one percent effort every day. That won't get you anywhere. Start with one percent one day, two percent the next, three percent the next, and so on. Build upon your effort each day until you reach one hundred percent. I believe that's what Bikram is looking for in each and every class. Not some silly people who stay at one percent effort every day for the rest of their lives.
But what if Bikram was not talking about one percent effort, but of posture? Can a posture that is held in a very rudimentary "one percent" way be done the same way for years and give you one hundred percent of the benefits? The overarching answer is no. It will help you maintain what you have now. If what you have now isn't great, then you won't be improving your strength, flexibility, and balance and you are just wasting your time. Change occurs when we are willing to push ourselves to become more than what we are. The point of yoga training is, like any physical activity, to go deeper in your postures over time. If you are doing the same sad-looking Triangle with the thigh of your bent leg not parallel to the floor or the same sorry-looking Camel by never grabbing onto your heels even after a year of continued practice, there is something wrong. You are not pushing yourself enough. Look around in any yoga class for the most physically fit yogis. They will have the thigh of their bent leg parallel to the floor in Triangle and will grab their heels and have their thighs parallel to the front mirror in Camel. They look the way they do because they are constantly pushing themselves. If injuries are holding you back, you need to make sure you do the right things to get your body back into shape so you can eventually get deeper in your poses.
February 16, 2022, 9:30am - class 1248 with Kaitlin McKendrick - Whooop! I fell out in the first set of Standing Bow. When it came time for the second set, I said to myself, "This is for the championship!" and I magically held each side strongly for the full 30 seconds. When you have a goal in mind, your practice becomes much stronger.
February 17, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - "That was a great class. So relaxing! Just what I need to start my day," a new student said to me. She was younger than many of the students who are in my classes. Proof that the class benefits young and old, so long as you are willing to put in the work. I always practice Triangle and Spine Twist with everyone in my classes, because I want everyone to see examples of perfect alignment.
February 18, 2022, 12:00pm - class 1249 with Cat Long - It seems that many people dread Locust, Full Locust, and Floor Bow. They lift their legs an inch or two off the ground in Locust and Full Locust. They can't see their toes over the top of their heads in Floor Bow. They might blame their inability to do much in these postures on their lack of energy by the time they get to these postures in class. The truth is you need to figure out a way to reserve enough energy throughout class so you can give every posture equal attention. You may not be Super-Yogi every day. Some days you might feel sluggish and need to lie down and rest for a posture or two. For those of you who strive to lose weight and keep it off, you need to motivate yourself to do an entire class like a champ, as if your whole life depended on it.
February 19, 2022, 10:00am - class 1250 with Leo Eisenstein - "Alignment creates resistance, breath creates depth," Leo said, as he showed us how crossing our ankles in Wind Removing could take us out of proper alignment. "It starts with the elbows in one line, parallel to the floor." Earlier, he showed us how to grip the mat with our toes in Standing Separate Leg Stretching. After class, we spoke about how some people don't even bother getting their arms underneath their bodies in Locust, which is a shame, because arms underneath the body allows the shoulders to touch the mat. Lifting both legs up from that point on is the start of Locust.
February 20, 2022, 9:30am - class 1251 with Chalise Saunders - There should never be struggle in a yoga posture. Even in Standing Head to Knee, you should be perfectly calm when you touch your forehead to your knee. In fact, touching your forehead to your knee creates calmness, so why not work on achieving this calmness in your pose?
The therapeutic effects of any yoga posture come when you simultaneously breathe and achieve your pose with perfect alignment. Every time you touch your forehead to your knee or mat in a posture that calls for it, you stimulate your digestion with the forward compression, relieve stress, calm your mind, and stretch your hips, lumbar spine, and groin muscles. How many times do we get to touch our forehead to something in the 26+2? 1-2) Hands to Feet Pose - touch your face, and your forehead, on your shins (two sets); 3-4) Eagle - brush your index fingers against your forehead before bringing your prayer hands down below your nose (two sets) (kind of a trick answer as most people won't consider this); 5-6) Standing Head to Knee - touch your forehead to your knee in this difficult one-legged standing posture (two sets); 7-8) Standing Separate Leg Stretching - with your back flat and legs straight, touch your forehead to the mat (two sets); 9-10) Standing Separate Leg Forehead to Knee - most teachers emphasize keeping the forehead on the knee rather than the shin, but both will give you a calming effect (two sets); work on getting your forehead on your knee as it prepares you for a deeper compression in Rabbit; 11) acknowledging your "hard work in the mirror" before the first Savasana by brushing your index fingers against your forehead while your hands are in prayer; 12-23) Sit-Ups during the floor series - every time you press your forehead into your shins during a sit-up, you get a calming effect; 24-25) Half-Tortoise - with your spine straight, touch your forehead on your mat (two sets); 26-27) Rabbit - with your back curled in a forward compression, touch your forehead on your knees (two sets); 28-35) Head to Knee with Stretching - touch your forehead to knee on each leg, sit-up to touch forehead to shins, deep stretch to touch forehead to toes; 36) hands in prayer brushing your index fingers against your forehead to acknowledge your teacher and thank her for class. In total, you have 36 separate opportunities to activate this calming effect. Most people don't even activate the calming effect once! Your goal, as a student, is to get better and better with every class and try to take advantage of all 36 opportunities.
February 21, 2022, 9:30am - class 1252 Bikram 75 - "Click you heels like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and swing them out so they're about half an inch apart. Now your feet are straight and ready for Tree," I said to my students today. If you try to achieve two hips and shoulders in line with the front mirror, you will certainly need to stand on each foot correctly to achieve proper alignment. Starting off with toes and heels touching is not the way. This correction applies to any of the single-legged standing postures. I practiced my postures during and after class. I practiced my championship routine after my practice.
February 22, 2022, 9:30am - class 1253 with Cat Long - I like practicing next to seasoned Bikram practitioners because it keeps me energized in class. The two yogis next to me looked like they had been practicing for years. In the past week in Standing Bow, I've seen not just my foot coming up over the top of my head, but my hand, too, and my kicking leg in one straight line with my standing leg. Cool! Never let it be said that yoga keeps you safe from injury. I got a friction burn on the hardwood floor that led to bleeding on my knee when I was doing Kapalabhati in Root. A minor injury.
"The right way is the hard way..."
I put myself through a lot of self-torture when I train for a championship. I believe that the right way is the hard way, but not only a hard way, but the hardest way. When I trained for my first championship, I practiced my routine over and over again on a hardwood floor while every other competitor in the civilized world likely trained on a mat. I had no idea what to expect, because all of the pictures of the yoga champions I saw looked like they were doing their routines on a matless surface. I suffered through an immense amount of pain on my neck, shoulders, elbows, knees, ankles, and feet. Bruises, blood... no problem. I reasoned that this is what an Olympian would do, so I was willing to suffer to be the best. When I arrived at the Northeast Regional Championship in 2020, I saw the mat taped down on the center of the stage. The tape hid the corners, which explained why all of the pictures looked like the yogis were performing on a matless surface. My elite physical conditioning enabled me to come out of nowhere to earn fourth place in the championship. I continued training on a matless floor and even demonstrated postures in class without using a mat. Because I suffered through all of this, I believe that is why my movements in my championship routines look silky smooth and that is why I'm one of the top yogasana athletes in three different world federations. The woman who started the championships was impressed by my routine. When you can elicit this type of response, that's when you know you're the best.
February 23, 2022, 12:00pm - class 1254 with Kaitlin McKendrick - The less I weigh, the deeper I can get in Rabbit. We create shapes in yoga, some of which look like letters. Standing Head to Knee looks like an upside down L. Standing Bow looks like a Y. Balancing Stick looks like a T. Camel and Rabbit look like a D. It's not just about creating cool shapes with your body. It's more about breathing while getting your body into these shapes. As my body changes through training, the letters become more clearly defined.
February 24, 2022, 6:00am - class 1255 Bikram 90 - I made my students laugh. I made then smile. I encouraged them. I practiced with them. Four solid yogis all around me. You can't ask for a better morning.
February 25, 2022, 9:30am - class 1256 with Cat Long - After class, I practiced Archer, Eight Angle, and Root. My Eight Angle was my strongest one yet. It's T-1 day before the USA Yoga Northeast Regional and, even though I'm not at my optimal weight, I feel strong. My shoulders are plates of armor. My arms are ripped. Instead of always going first because of my last name, this time I'm going last. They reversed the order of the names. I recognize all of the names. We did this dance once before. If I perform my routine as well as I know I can, then... well, who knows? Oddly, there aren't as many competitors this year in the two regional events this month. I suppose many people don't like the idea of travelling to Iowa for the State Games of America and performing in front of a larger crowd. I revel in it. I would love to perform my yogasana routine in front of a packed crowd of thousands. I want everyone to know that I am a USA Yoga athlete and this is what you can do with hard work and dedication.
English Bulldog Determination and How to Make a 75 Minute Class Feel Like a 90 Minute Class
The format of a typical Bikram 75 class is two sets of everything but Pranayama, Eagle, Balancing Stick, Tree/Toe, Wind Removing, Fixed Firm, and Head to Knee with Stretching with a flow from Standing Separate Leg Stretching to Triangle to Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee. One teacher I know actually keeps two sets of Balancing Stick in his Bikram 60 and Bikram 75 classes, which is great, because the more yoga, the better. However, given the parameters of Bikram 75 and its missing 15 minutes, what does the extra 15 minutes actually give you? A slower, more therapeutic pace. The chance to sweat more and remove more toxins from your body. That could mean an additional pound of sweat from your body! It takes a while for your body to reach its peak heart rate. Typically, this occurs first in Balancing Stick and then in Triangle. More than likely, you will not achieve the same peak heart rate in Triangle in the Bikram 75 class versus the Bikram 90 class. You just haven't "killed yourself," as Bikram says, to get to peak heart rate in the Bikram 75. The 60-minute Bikram 60 class is a bit more rushed. Missing is a full 30 minutes from the Bikram 90 class, but because the start of Bikram 60 and Bikram 75 are the same, the same peak heart rate is achieved in each, but is still going to be slightly lower than your peak heart rate in Bikram 90.
To make up for the lost bpm in your heart rate, you could practice your 60- or 75-minute classes more intensely, but few people are dedicated enough to do so. This would require you to go deep in your postures. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor in both sets of Awkward 1 and 2 before your one set of Eagle and it goes without saying that your hips should dip all the way down so they are just an inch above your heels in Awkward 3. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor in Eagle. You should definitely kick out in Standing Head to Knee, have your kicking leg rise high above your head in Standing Bow, be perfectly parallel in Balancing Stick, and so on. You get the idea. Don't be afraid to sweat. Don't be afraid to push yourself hard so you can sweat. Most people are so afraid to sweat. They fear that others around them can smell what they ate the night before. Well, the truth is they can, but once you complete your class, your pores are going to be so well cleansed that you smell less of garlic, onions, or other spices you might love. In order to make your Bikram 75 class feel like a Bikram 90 class, you need to practice with world-class intensity, focus, and "English bulldog" determination. I would even advise that you come 15 minutes before a Bikram 75 class and spend the time practicing all the posture sets that are missing from the Bikram 90.
February 26, 2022 - USA Yoga Northeast Regional Championship 2022 - The championship was mine to lose as last year's number 1 in Pennsylvania was not participating and contestants were dropping out last minute. My biggest competition today was Sarah who ended up beating me by a fraction of a point with her solid routine. My first three postures were decent. My final three postures were great in practice, but I tried to push myself a little too much in Eight Angle today by getting both shoulders parallel to the ground and that resulted in a lower score than usual. I reviewed my recorded performance and, sure enough, there was too much jitter in my shoulders as I fought my way to make them level. My final score earned me 2nd place. I dedicated my routine today to my Dad and Joel Pier.
|Northeast Regional Scores
Many people wonder how yogasana championships relate to yoga. They turn their noses on the concept of competition against peers and adamantly say, "This is not yoga!" As I mentioned before, the championships may not be the filtered version of yoga that many Westerners find comforting, but if you study the source of where all of this came from, competition was always a part of any event that requires physical activity, including yoga. For as long as humans have walked the earth, there have always been games and competitions. It's a natural part of being human. You have this push-pull dichotomy of pushing yourself to be the best that you can be as well as trying to see if your best ranks up there with the best. It's a powerful motivator to earn a medal for your achievements and receive validation for all your hard work. As many new competitors who've entered this sport know, competing in a yogasana championship is not as easy as it looks. We athletes make it look easy so we can inspire you to be your best so that someday you might compete in these championships, too, all for the ultimate goal of spreading the message that yoga is for everyone and that this is what you can achieve when you conquer your mind.
February 28, 2022, 12:00pm - Bikram 60 - "Leo was talking about the championship all last week. I saw your name in the studio newsletter," one of my students mentioned. A curious thing happens when people find out you did well in a yogasana championship. They trust you more and listen to your instructions more closely. Suddenly, you’re seen as a health and fitness expert because you took your practice to an extreme level. I feel that’s why many teachers fear entering a championship. If they don’t do well, they might lose some of their credibility. Ultimately, the best studios are going to have yogasana champions practicing in or teaching their classes. These are the people who care so deeply about their yoga that their passion for it inspires everyone around them.
Everyone asks me what meal subscription plan I'm on. Many of my friends are on Blue Apron, HelloFresh, and Freshly. Until recently, I felt that being on such a plan was for the insanely rich, which is certainly not me. Also, the idea of receiving a bunch of grocery items and cooking everything myself defeated the whole purpose of the plan for me. Isn't the idea of being on a meal subscription plan to save time? Enter CookUnity, a meal plan with meals prepared by world-class chefs, like José Garces, Einat Admony, John Delucie, Marc Forgione, and Leah Cohen. I must admit, the fact that they had José Garces on the list won me over. Every dish uses top-notch ingredients. Some shrimp dishes have as many as ten medium- to large-sized shrimp! There were even specials for an upcharge, including charred Spanish octopus, rack of lamb, and braised short rib. So far, I am very impressed with this meal plan and recommend it to anyone seeking convenient restaurant-quality meals.
March 3, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - “I really like your cues. They get me thinking,” one of my students told me today. The first time she attended my class, she left early, right after Triangle. I wasn’t sure she liked my class, but it turns out she really did. One of the paradoxes of the hot yoga teaching world is your students might look angry and miserable, gaze upon you with the heat of the burning sun, and wish you dead, but they will later tell you that your class was the best they’ve ever had.
March 5, 2022, 10:00am - class 1257 with Leo Eisenstein - 134.8 today. The studio was packed, so it was hot as hell. I left my water bottle in the changing area downstairs, but I didn't need it. I avoid drinking water in class because it affects my practice. Leo congratulated me on my placement in the championship. He has the rare distinction of teaching every athlete who represented Pennsylvania in the championship. "I have a chance to win it all," I said to him. "Oh, don't worry, kid, I have no doubt. You always put in the work!" he replied.
March 9, 2022, 9:30am - Bikram 75 - Before class, I had some time to spare, so I tried to do an aikido roll on the hardwood floor. It was a little clunky, as expected from someone who hasn’t practiced aikido in over two years. I definitely don’t miss it. My class looked really strong today. Another congratulations from a student who heard I placed second in the regionals.
March 10, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - It's nice when the sun comes out at the start of class. Yet another congratulations from a student who heard I placed second in the regionals. Word travels fast.
Rehabilitating from injuries is never fun. I must've torqued my lumbar spine a little too much in recent weeks, so I've been experiencing lower back pain. It's nowhere near as bad as my shoulder and rotator cuff pain, but it's there and a reminder to dial it back a tad before I proceed forward. Ironically, it's the extra weight in my midsection that's preventing me from achieving the Olympic-level spine twists I did last year.
"That man looks fat compared to how thin I was," one of my friends said about Tim Mizerak, the 54-year old senior men's yogasana champion. "Wait a second... you're comparing your 25-year old body from long ago against someone who is 54?" I said to him with an arched eyebrow. I shook my head in disbelief. He was about to turn 54 and his belly looked like a basketball. I don't understand why some people try to compare their past selves to what I and other yogasana champions do now. "Back in the day, I could bench press XYZ pounds or run a marathon or do a Full Spine Twist or...," I'd hear them boast. They speak as if their bodies in their twenties or thirties are somehow comparable to a yogasana champion's body in their fifties. As if! I look at them now and wonder what the hell happened to them - overweight, immobile, lethargic - sadly common among people in their forties and beyond. Everyone is strong and flexible when they're young, but to be strong and flexible when you're older, that's beyond amazing. Every year, I do the impossible again and again. I take this broken, battered body and make it do one more amazing thing at the yogasana championships... I think I can, I think I can... just to be an inspiration for those who cannot.
March 17, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - Some people think yoga is just for women, but would it surprise you to learn that most of my students are men? Maybe it's my cadence or the sound of my voice, but men seem to fill my classes moreso than women. Many men seem to be more open to corrections while many women seem to shy away from them. I always demonstrate certain postures, such as Triangle, in class. I want people to know that I'm not just a talker, but a doer. I want people to understand alignment over depth. I want people to give it their all in class. What makes me happy is seeing people trying to be the best versions of themselves.
March 19, 2022, 9:30am - class 1258 with Leo Eisenstein - The class was packed and hot as hell. My back and neck still felt like crap, but you wouldn't know it looking at how I did my first four postures. However, from Standing Bow until Toe, everything was a little wonky. The floor series felt like relief compared to the first half. I criticized myself to Leo. "Don't be so hard on yourself. You did great. You do the class in a very intelligent way," he assured.
The USA Yoga Southeast Regional Championship aired this weekend and unlike the West Coast and Northeast regional athletes who mostly had sub-2:40 times, the Southeast athletes mostly exceeded their 3:00 time limits. The two that had sub-2:40 times had stellar scores. Yoko and Nahoko are forces to be reckoned with. It will be interesting to see how the top athletes in the country will be judged in front of the same judges on the same day. It will also be interesting to see how well we do on a public stage in front of a live audience because performing a routine virtually in the comfort of your own home is a very different experience than performing onstage.
March 23, 2022, 9:30am - class 1259 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 135.6 today. "That was a strong class today," Kaitlin said to everyone. The truth is strong students use their synergies to build each other up in class. If you have ten rank beginners or inflexible yogis in a room, you have a class that looks awkward and lethargic. If you have ten experienced yogis in a room, something magical happens. Everyone pushes themselves a little harder. Nobody tries to hide. Everyone tries to listen closely to the teacher. Everyone aims to do their best. "There's a frickin' yoga champion in the room. I can do what she can do!" they say to themselves. "C'mon, Clare..." Kaitlin said, encouraging me to kick up higher in Standing Bow. As soon as I let go of the shackles of my mind, my foot stretched up higher over my head. Standing Bow is about finding your split while standing. The only one who can prevent you from doing your best pose is you.
People may wonder if I'm telling the truth about losing three pounds (or 2.16% of your weight) with a Bikram yoga class. The picture to the right shows proof. If you push yourself hard, you can lose this same weight, too. [Note: Take your body weight before class and multiply it by 0.0216 to see how much weight you can lose. A person who weighs more than I do should lose more than three pounds.] You will gain two pounds over the course of the day, but do hot yoga again the next day and you will lose another three pounds. In other words, you will lose one pound a day by doing hot yoga every single day. You don't even need half a brain to understand the weight loss benefits.
March 24, 2022, 6:00am - class 1260 Bikram 90 - If you start Floor Bow with your heels touching your glutes, you will achieve a more aligned pose when you kick up. "That's a good tip!" one of my students said to me. I learned that on my own as I became more intimate with the poses.
March 26, 2022, 8:00am - class 1261 with Leo Eisenstein - 134.4 today. "It's so nice to practice next to you," one of the students said to me after class. She liked how I focused on my alignment. When I'm under 135 pounds, my linea alba is clearly defined along my abdomen, which helps with my alignment. Your body gives you all of these visual cues the more you practice yoga. Are you beginning to see what the phrase "You are your own best teacher" means?
March 28, 2022, 9:30am - class 1262 with Kaitlin McKendrick - Before you move your arms back in the Half Moon backbend, be sure to let your head drop back as far back as you can, then reach up to the highest point you can, as if your whole life was depending on you to stretch your body, arms, and fingertips up to press a button on the ceiling, and then move your arms back. Imagine the button that you are pressing is moving along the ceiling and then down the back wall. You need to keep the button pressed to supply oxygen to the room so you can breathe. You need to continue breathing to keep the posture strong. Do not bend your arms or your knees. Do not release the stretch, otherwise you will die. Only if the teacher says "change!" are you allowed to release the stretch. Use this technique for every posture and you will sweat as much as I do in class. Sounds morbid, I know, and I do not recommend this method for everyone. It is my way of pushing myself to the extreme to achieve the best results for me.
Your optimal weight is the weight that you looked best at in the past ten years. You should never exceed 10% of what your optimal weight is. Take your optimal weight and multiply it by 1.1. You should never, ever exceed this weight! Many of us like to think that obesity, or morbid obesity, is something we could never be, however, if you are used to your body being a certain way and you somehow are 10% beyond your optimal weight, you are in the obesity category for your body. So, a simple calculation for all of you:
||N is your optimal weight
10% over that weight is N x 1.1
||129 is my optimal weight
10% over that weight is 129 x 1.1 = 141.9
At 141.9 or more, I look obese. I call it my obese weight. Some of you might think I look "medium" at that weight, but as someone who exercises regularly, I look fat at that weight compared to how I usually look at 129. Calculate your own obese weight based on your optimal weight in the past ten years. If you are over this weight, you need to work on achieving your optimal weight again. Only a couple of times within the past 10 years have I ever been my obese weight. Both times were after surgeries that lasted 3.5 and 5.5 hours. Those kinds of surgeries took a toll out of my body, but I recovered and trained my body back to shape again.
One last thing to note is optimal weight versus competition weight. If you are entering a sports competition of any sort, that's a whole different level of physique you need to achieve. For that weight, I offer the following calculation:
||N is your optimal weight
98% over that weight is N x 0.98
||129 is my optimal weight
98% of that weight is 129 x 0.98 = 126.42
At around 126.42, I am at my peak competition weight and look lean, wiry, and defined. That weight represents my optimal weight minus 2%.
March 30, 2022, 9:30am - class 1263 with Kaitlin McKendrick - Is falling out a good thing? There are times I can hold a strong posture forever and there are times I fall out trying to hold a strong posture. Can you believe that doing either of these is equally admirable? If you don't even try to do your best in every posture, you're wasting your time going to class. I see students who go through the motions, not really caring. That's not yoga. I see students who have that look - that fiery determination - to achieve more than what they normally can achieve. They drop their bodies down more in Standing Bow. They stretch their bodies apart more in Balancing Stick. They push their hips forward so much their thighs are perpendicular to the floor in Camel. I watch everyone in class for a moment I can learn from as I am sure others watch me for a moment they can learn from. The power of a class is that everyone can learn from each other and we can all grow stronger as a result.
March 31, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - The most difficult postures in the Bikram series are among the most beneficial. Eagle, Standing Head to Knee, Standing Bow, Fixed Firm, and Camel are the postures in which everyone looks different doing them because of differences in physique, flexibility, and balance. I've seen many people cheat in their poses by substituting flexibility for strength. As an example, just because you can do a standing split in Standing Bow does now make your pose strong. There has to be a continuous stretching out of all your limbs.
Today marks a wonderful new holiday in our free world, the International Transgender Day of Visibility in which President Biden proclaims, "Transgender people are some of the bravest Americans I know, and our Nation and the world are stronger, more vibrant, and more prosperous because of them. To transgender Americans of all ages, I want you to know that you are so brave. You belong. I have your back." So, to all my transgender friends, thank you for being you.
I was thinking about the Lia Thomas controversy and how much bullshit the media has portrayed transwomen athletes as being bigger, stronger, and faster than natal women. What they are saying is people born as men are inherently more athletic than people born as women. That's a really sexist statement if you think about it. There are certainly women who can outrun, outswim, and even outtennis (yes, I made up that word) men. If Lia has a biological advantage of being a physically larger specimen than many women competing against her, did anyone ever think about the disadvantages of being so tall? Surely, anyone with a modicum of intelligence can deduce that certain body shapes are better at swimming than others. More body mass means a larger surface area and that equals more resistance in water and therefore more power needed to propel such a mass forward. If you are smaller, I argue that you have an easier chance to propel yourself faster than a larger person. Lia did well in swimming because she's good, not because she's a transwoman. Her times weren't the record-blowing stats that conservatives would have us believe. Nobody seems to talk about Alex or Gretchen Walsh, the swimmers who have the same powerful physiques as Lia, or Katharine Berkoff whose father is an Olympic gold swimmer. Isn't that an unfair biological advantage?
April 2, 2022, 8:00am - class 1264 with Leo Eisenstein - An amazing thing happens when you do great postures in class. People notice and are inspired by you. “Thank you for practicing with me. It's an honor to practice with you. I love your energy and congratulations on the championship!” a fellow teacher said. “You’re so graceful. How many years have you been doing yoga?” another of Leo's regulars asked. He had an eye for gracefulness as his daughter was a dancer. We struck up a conversation and he mentioned he was trying to inspire his daughter to try yoga. I lent him my book, 123 4Yoga, to see if that would help. Gracefulness comes over time when you develop your muscle control to an exceptional degree. You don't need to be a dancer to be graceful, but it sure helps.
April 3, 2022, 8:00am - class 1265 with Kaitlin McKendrick - I stood there in Tree after completing my right side. I knew that if I reached for my left foot, I'd likely keel over, hit my head on the floor, and Kaitlin would have to call an ambulance. I stood there, waiting with my eyes closed, waiting for my breathing and heart rate to return to normal again. I pushed myself to the extreme today as I always do. I squatted down to retrieve my hand towel and covered my face to restrict my senses and my air flow. "There is... no... tomorrow..." I said to myself, hearing Apollo Creed's voice in Rocky III in my head. There is no tomorrow. With that, I stood up again and performed Toe Stand on both sides and the rest of the class. After class, I worked on some additional stretching exercises. As I picked up my things to reset my space for the next class, the lady next to me told me she had been watching me. "You're amazing. You're so flexible like Gumby!" she said. I thanked her. As a yoga athlete, I am an ambassador of yoga and all the good things it provides my body and mind. I am living proof that yoga works.
April 4, 2022, 9:30am - class 1266 with Kaitlin McKendrick - There was something about the humidity in the room in the past few days that caused little clouds to form on top of the floor. Much to my surprise and delight, I saw a number of clouds roll towards my mat and gradually hover above it, dancing in circles. It was interesting to see how these clouds swirled about as if they were tracing lines of energy in the sweat silhouette of my body on my mat towel. On March 26, I mentioned how your body gives you additional visual cues the more you practice yoga. When you are in Standing Head to Knee, instead of concentrating on your knee in the mirror, look at the line that runs down the middle of your body. It's called the centerline. The more you practice hot yoga, the leaner you will become and the more you will see this centerline. Look at and concentrate on your navel in Standing Head to Knee. Be sure that your standing leg and centerline are straight. We have a tendency to bow the hip of our standing leg out too much. Plant your foot down, rock solid on the ground, and extend the energy up your leg, engaging all of the muscles from your calf to your hip. Suck your belly in and breathe.
April 7, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - "It's much harder when we do it your way," one of my students said today after Half-Tortoise. Indeed, Half-Tortoise should not be a walk in the park, but an active stretch from beginning to end. I am an ambassador for doing things the hard way every day because I want everyone to make efficient use of their time in class. We only have 90 minutes in class together, so we need to make the most of that time. I explained the concept of the centerline and how it appears to us in all our poses. I also explained how "feet together, toes and heels touch" doesn't always give us perfect alignment in poses that call for that. A good teacher knows how to make adjustments for differing body types because not everyone is built the same way.
Why I Compete
All throughout my life, I was never content with being second-best or an also-ran, so I always put tremendous effort in whatever I did because sometimes you only get one chance in life to be awesome at something, so why not put your best foot forward every single day to try to do awesome things? Many people might be suprised to learn that I have two master's degrees (with a third one on the way) from two prestigious universities. My undergraduate degree at Boston University was completed with more honors and awards than anyone in my graduating class: Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude, distinction in my major, the college prize for academic achievment, Who's Who in American Colleges (back when it meant something), and the completion of my first master's degree in that same four years. I was only 21 years old when I completed both my bachelor's and master's degrees! The icing on the cake was all those credentials easily led to my admission to the PhD program at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the most prestigious schools in the world. I don't talk about it much because I've been traumatized by the experience of growing up in an Asian home where my worth was measured by my grades. If my mother had her way, I'd be married to someone she chose. Can you imagine being married to another Ivy Leaguer, making a ton of money together, and not having much fun? That wasn't the life for me.
I do not compete to try to prove I'm better than anyone. I compete because when I watch or read about sports or when I hear my friends tell me about sports, I just think to myself that I could be participating in a sport, such as yogasana, and working hard to succeed in it at the highest level. Why watch history when I could make history? Why be average when I could be elite? I compete because I'm not afraid to show my best to others and I'm not afraid to inspire others to believe that they can do what I can do, too. When you show your best to others, even if you are last place in a field of fifty, you are still among the best in the world. When you inspire others to compete, the sport grows. When you promote yourself in a sport, you are an ambassador to that sport. When that sport is linked to a strong practice, people will be attracted to the underpinnings of the sport and, hence, more business for yoga studios. It's a win-win for everyone.
April 8, 2022, 9:30am - class 1267 with Cat Long - 134.3 today. I touched my forward to my knee, but fell out gracefully. I held my best Standing Bow. Even though both my scapulae and rotator cuffs are sore, I did all the postures without complaint, pushing myself as hard as possible, especially in the second set. The CookUnity meals are really helping me keep a consistent level of food in my body and they taste great, since they're prepared by world-class chefs. After class, I worked on stretches and Full Spine Twist.
Sometimes what you know is enough. Sometimes you don't need to search for eternal truths when the answers are already inside you. This is how we should approach our practice each day and everything else we do in life. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Know your potential and your limitations. With enough practice, you can go beyond what you believed your potential was and now the bar is set higher. What we believe dictates how we behave. Your mind says this is what I can do today. Why not change your mind and do more than what you believe you can do?
April 18, 2022, 9:30am - Bikram 90 - "I watched your championship videos and you looked so good in them. Your Rabbit is amazing!" one of my students said before class. She asked me to help her with Rabbit in class. "The secret to a good Rabbit," I said during Half-Tortoise, "is to prep your spine in Half-Tortoise and Camel. Think about elongating your spine in these two postures. That will prepare you for Rabbit. When you curl in, you want to start with the longest spine possible."
April 18, 2022, 5:30pm - Bikram 90 - Many students who regularly take Leo's class on Wednesday evenings were in my class today. I showed them my championship way of doing Spine Twist. Two students stayed after class to practice more advanced postures. One of them did Shoulderstand, so I showed her how to add Lotus to Shoulderstand.
April 21, 2022, 6:00am - class 1268 Bikram 90 - Teachers always talk about how Triangle is the most challenging posture in the Standing Series, but the truth is every posture can be the most challenging posture in the series if you push yourself hard in every posture. "No, no, no, get your hands in prayer, I know you can do it!" I said to my student in Eagle. I already showed him the secret to getting his arms to twist better in the pose. These are the little things you don't learn from most teachers, especially those who stick to the dialog. There are always things you pick up when you practice yoga regularly. The teachers who teach you new things and challenge the way you're used to doing things are the ones you can benefit the most from when you are seeking to attain that "next level" in your practice. We yogis always speak of non-competitiveness in yoga practice, but the truth is if you want to achieve a better physique, you can't do your yoga practice in a half-assed way. You have to put your all into it. It has to get your blood pumping. It has to make you feel like you just went through Hell and back. When you get to an inversion like Standing Separate Head Forehead to Knee, if the sweat coming out of the pores of your body and dripping off your head feels like a cool stream of water, you know you've done your practice right.
April 28, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - "Relax!" I suggested to a student in Standing Separate Leg Stretching. "You have to relax this part of your spine," I said, tapping his curved thoracic spine. Instantly, his spine stretched and grew another two inches as his forehead got closer to the ground. We typically ball up and hold ourselves tight when we feel stressed. The moment we relax, we allow our spines to achieve what they were meant to achieve in our postures.
May 1, 2022, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - "I know this is a tough class and I'm going to help you get through it. If, at any point, you begin to feel dizzy or out of sorts, stop and sit out for a posture or two. We want to keep you safe here. Ultimately, this is a therapeutic practice," I told my class today. Amid all the words I've written about pushing yourself hard and to your limits, you still need to take care of yourself in class. Many people don't want to be world champions; they just want to get through the day. "This is your class. The mirrors are here not for comparison or judgement. They're here to help you learn how to drown out the visual noise in the room," I said. Every time the temperature went up a few degrees, I brought the thermostat down. Everyone was giving the class their all and generating a massive amount of body heat. A funny thing happens when you keep teaching the truth. Students look at you more as if they seek guidance from you.
May 1, 2022, 10:00am - Bikram 60 - Even in a smaller class, the temperature kept rising. I really don't like going above 105 in my classes because, at some point, the heat isn't working in your favor any more. When the room reaches 110, it's time to lower that temperature by five degrees! After class, a student was curious about my Jedi Fight Club tanktop. It's quite difficult to explain what it exactly is, but the best impromptu description I've come up with is "a group of dedicted Bikram Yoga people who take their practices to the extreme. We do backbends and wallwalks all day long."
May 2, 2022, 5:30pm - class 1269 Bikram 60 - It's always awesome to teach other teachers because we get to compare notes. "In Standing Head to Knee, why does one of my teachers tell us to grip this way?" she'd ask. "It's probably how his guru taught him to do it, because he didn't have enough flexibility at the time," I responded. It's actually a lot harder to keep all your fingers, including your thumb, in an interlocked grip under your foot. Another teacher tells students to "release thumbs and drop elbows," but that also reduces the challenge of the grip. I like to keep the grip in a true interlocked grip, especially in Standing Head to Knee in the standing series and Head to Knee in the floor series. On a good day, I can grab my wrist beneath my foot with my leg straight in Head to Knee.
Why Teacher Training Will Never Beat Experience
I believe in immersive teacher training, the kind that requires you to live, breathe, and experience yoga 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a number of weeks. As a hot yoga teacher, you may have undergone the most intense training of your life (until you meet the Jedi Fight Club, of course), but don't romanticize it. Your training gave you two classes a day in the morning and evening plus blocks of time between classes before lunch, after lunch, and after dinner. You might learn posture mechanics, anatomy, or philosophy during those blocks of time. After eight or nine weeks of intense teacher training, you rarely see these teachers continue their regular practice ten years after they earned their teaching certificates. I don't see them practicing much in their thirties, less so in their forties, and perhaps never in their fifties and beyond. They lose their enthusiasm for it. They cite other circumstances in their lives that prevent them from practicing, but here's the thing... yoga is a lifelong practice! You committed to teacher training so that yoga can be a permanent part of your life. When you are 40, 50, 60, or older, you should be more enthusiastic about yoga than ever. This is where the real training begins, because the more you practice yoga, the more experience you will gain and the more you will learn about yourself and others. Experience is not just how many years you've been teaching - because anyone can memorize and recite dialog - but also how to improve your own practice by learning the little nuances you need to know to take your practice to higher levels.
May 5, 2022, 6:00am - class 1270 Bikram 90 - Today's class was plain vanilla dialog. One of my students was rehabbing from a knee injury, so we had to be extra careful not to agitate it in class.
Our end of fiscal year work party was held at North Bowl, a retro-chic bowling alley in Northern Liberties, last night. Delicious tacos filled with fried cod or sauteed mushrooms were just a couple of the many items available for food. Much to my dismay, I didn't get to try the funnel cake fries, which I mistakenly believed were regular fries. Close to two hundred people showed up. There were various video games and pool tables all around. A friend from my old office chatted with me and told me how she and others missed my weekly yoga classes in the department. We looked around since it was our first time at North Bowl. She asked me if I was good at pool. "Just a little," I replied. She laughed. "I know that when you say 'just a little,' that means you're really good at it. You're a world yoga champion, you shoot arrows into wild boars, you can do everything!" she said. I had a separate conversation with another co-worker who asked me in private, "How do you have time to do it all? Yoga champion, teacher, computer guru, author, law school. What's your secret?" he asked. I smiled, looked him straight in the eyes, and said, "I'm crazy." You have to be a little crazy to be great at everything. Honestly, I have absolutely no idea why more people don't try to diversify their interests. Some people might not have the capacity or the ambition to be great, but I think most people hold themselves back from their true potential. Don't be afraid to be great.
May 7, 2022, 8:00am - class 1271 with Leo Eisenstein - I felt a little dizzy during Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee. The thermostat read 118. Yikes! Push yourself hard at 105 or below. Push yourself hard a little less when it goes above that. The mirror teaches you how to drown out the visual noise in the room. The heat teaches you how to deal with extreme situations. All that counts is your yoga.
May 8, 2022, 8:00am - class 1272 with Kaitlin McKendrick - It's Mother's Day and the sad thing is I saw two separate car accidents where three of the four cars involved were wrecked beyond repair. What would compel people to drive so recklessly on one of the most celebrated days of the year? I took a longer alternate route to get to the studio, but it wasn't too bad. I think today is a gentle reminder that we all need a little yoga in our lives to recenter ourselves and find some inner peace. One of our regular students brought her mom to class. That was awesome.
May 11, 2022, 9:30am - class 1273 with Kaitlin McKendrick - On Monday evening, Penn Law had its year-end celebration for all Master in Law faculty and students. My fellow students included doctors, engineers, economists, clinical psychologists, and more. We enjoyed wine, hors d'oeuvres of colossal shrimp, beef tenderloin, honey glazed fried chicken, and falafel, and a dessert tray with three decadent bite-sized desserts. Of course, I was paying for it today as I felt a bit sluggish, but I powered my way through. My left rotator cuff has been feeling wonky in the past few weeks. Previously, it was just the right side. Now it's both sides. If you saw me, you'd never be able to tell that I had these issues, because I don't complain about them. I don't grunt or cry in agony like I've seen others do. That's a waste of energy. I just go about my business like it's just another day, chipping away at the big stone to reveal a masterful sculpture underneath.
May 12, 2022, 6:00am - class 1274 Bikram 90 - In Paschimotthanasana (Stretching) just before the final Spine Twist posture, we are asked to grab our big toes and walk our hips back several times to get our legs straight. The problem with this method is the back ends up curved for most people. You want to keep the back flat and straight before pulling on the toes. Even if the knees are bent and you're trying to straighten the legs, the back should still be flat and straight. Perhaps a better way for people to do Paschimotthanasana is to extend the heels forward with the toes flexed back to straighten the legs. Then, keeping the back as flat as possible, reach for the big toes. This, of course, assumes you can grab your toes with your legs straight in the first place. The key is to continually lift your spine up at all times in the posture, maintaining a neutral position with your spine and rib cage no matter what angle you are in. As you fold your upper body onto your legs, there will be a natural curve along the spine. Stomach on your thighs, chest on your knees, and face on your shins below your knees just like Padha Hastasana after Half Moon.
It is with great sadness that I learned that my favorite yoga teacher in the world, Sandy Robin, has passed away on May 9. Sandy’s 6am classes were legendary and I was happy to be a part of a small unofficial group that some have called “Sandy’s Girls.”
I’ve taken more yoga classes with Sandy than with any other teacher. Sandy kept a watchful eye on me at all times in class. In me, she saw someone who had a fire and a desire to take her yoga to an extreme level. Before I went away for teacher training in 2015, I said to Sandy, “Thank you, Sandy, for everything. You've been a great inspiration to me.” She replied, “Awww, thank you! You've been a great student.”
Sandy had a tremendous influence on everything I do in yoga. She knew when I wasn’t doing my best and always let me know. She was a great mentor and motivator. She forged me into the yogasana athlete I am today.
We held our postures for a long time in Sandy’s class, but we didn’t mind. Sometimes a few of us held our postures for one long set instead of two. We watched numerous demonstrations with her advanced girls and I felt fortunate enough to be a part of that demo group for several postures. She knew when I pushed myself hard and knew how to push me harder. She would physically lean on my back in Half-Tortoise, hoist my legs up in the air in Locust, or twist me more in Spine Twist. Like a good gymnastics coach, she always pushed me harder than everyone else in class because she knew I could do it. Sandy was delighted to hear about my 4th place ranking at the USA Yoga Nationals.
Whenever people ask me who taught me such fluidity and grace in my routines and who was my coach for the yogasana championships, I always answer by saying Sandy Robin.
May 14, 2022, 9:30am - class 1275 with Leo Eisenstein - 138.1 today. Leo talked about how some teachers like to just let students figure out how to do postures for themselves whereas he liked to give instructions. He asked me what I do. "I tell them what to do," I said. He agreed. You want to give proper instructions so students don't get hurt. If you're not going to make hands-on physical adjustments, you need to have damn good instructions. My Standing Bow has been looking like crap lately and that's probably because I'm doing a lot of flexibility work for Full Spine Twist. Today I was a couple of inches from touching my fingertips to my knee, the closest I've ever been. Leo says that the instructions don't call for both hips on the floor, but I know that if I'm doing a Spine Twist or Full Spine Twist for the championship, both hips have to touch the floor.
In Half Moon, think of the upper half of your body in one straight line from your navel to your fingertips. Bend your body over on each side keeping this perfect alignment in mind. Stretching beyond your fingertips to maintain the straight line is more important than bending deep. Don't sacrifice depth for alignment.
May 16, 2022, 5:30pm - class 1276 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 138.5 today. Imagine studying for a law school final that many of my extremely smart classmates can't seem to finish, dealing with the loss of two of my most influential yoga teachers soon after the loss of my Dad, dealing with a crazy friend who seems to be in more trouble with the law than he's willing to admit, and missing out on doing one of my cherished hobbies for a third time in a row because my kids refuse to do it, just like they've refused to do aikido, archery, model rocketry, and more. Depression is a bitch, especially when you're trying to regain your championship form. Thus, my weight has been staying in the 138s. It's been a fucking terrible month, but I keep a smile on my face and just do my yoga, which seems to calm me. Many of you know that an extra ten pounds of weight can make a huge difference in how well you do your yoga postures. Balancing on one leg is more difficult, doing anything involving a forward or backward bend is more challenging, and twisting with extra weight makes you lose a fraction of an inch, which could mean the difference between an 8.0 and a 9.0. After class, I touched my fingertips to my knee in Full Spine Twist! That's a positive. I know if I didn't carry the extra weight in my belly, I'd get my hand on my knee. If I can do Full Spine Twist, I have a shot at number one in the championship.
Many phrases get lost in translation in Chinese films. As Cantonese is my first language, I hear things in Chinese movies that aren't translated properly. Some phrases, such as "Jun hai ho yeah! 真係好嘢" get translated to "Incredible!" when the meaning is a bit deeper than that. "Jun hai" translates to "it is truly" and "ho yeah" means "good stuff." Depending on how much you emphasize the words, such as "ho" in "ho yeah," the phrase can mean "it is truly great stuff!" Simply using the singular word "incredible" does not convey the same meaning. There are things that get lost in translation, too, especially when an Indian yoga guru tells us something that sounds batshit crazy. Because many of us were not raised the same way, we project our own values onto what we think the gurus are saying. They might be saying something quite different.
May 18, 2022, 5:30pm - class 1277 with Leo Eisenstein - 138.3 today. Packed class. Hot as hell. Leo kept the humidifiers off because it was already quite humid. After class, I worked on Full Spine Twist. "That's beautiful," Leo commented. "Getting there!" I said.
May 19, 2022, 6:00am - class 1278 Bikram 90 - 138.0 today. A small class turned bigger as two students dropped in late and left early. I always allow students to walk into class late, but these two were new students, so they didn't know the rules of the studio yet. I can see how the yoga can really help them, so hopefully they'll come more often and on time.
May 21, 2022, 8:00am - class 1279 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 137.5 today. One by one, we were all dropping like flies throughout class from the extreme humidity (61%) this morning. Driving in dense fog to get to the studio was pretty much an adventure. I stopped and took a break during the first set of Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, a relatively easy posture for me. I could've taken a break during several other postures, too, but I pushed myself onward. After all, I carved out a big chunk of my morning to do yoga, so why not make the most of my time? After class, I worked on Full Spine Twist. I could graze my fingertips against my knee on both sides.
May 21, 2022, 3:30pm - Bikram 75 - "Everyone in the morning class was dropping like flies because it was so humid, so take it easy and take it slow. The humidity is crazy out there. If you feel dizzy or need to take a break, please do so," I told my class. The funny thing about small studios is there might not be anyone signed up for class until an hour before class starts. I was looking at zero students one moment and then four students signing up as I was commuting to the studio. I saw more sweat in today's class than in the big studio classes where the temperature is at least 12 degrees hotter. No matter what I tried - lowering the temperature, turning off a humidifer or two, opening a door to the fresh air outside - the studio was crazy hot. Everyone had puddles around their mat. Everyone rested when needed, but hopped right back in and did the postures they missed. Everyone got corrections when needed. Everyone got their money's worth. It was a great class.
May 23, 2022, 5:30pm - class 1280 with Kaitlin McKendrick - Today was the perfect humidity for hot yoga. When the humidity is 40% or less, class feels much easier than the hellish Saturday we just had.
May 25, 2022, 5:30pm - class 1281 with Eva Fisher - We practiced our class with soft rock in the background, including James Taylor and Fleetwood Mac. The outside humidity was high again at 60%, so Eva opened the doors every now and again to make sure we didn't suffer. I know there are teachers downtown who want to roast their students with crazy high humidities and temperatures, but the combination is just not good for you no matter what anybody thinks.
May 26, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - Two new students joined my class. They were strong practitioners, but I didn't know much about them yet. At the end of class, they thanked me and mentioned I have a very calming, Zen-like voice. They had seen me use hands-on adjustments several times on one of my regular students. I asked them if they'd like the same next time and they said yes. "Nobody seems to do hands-on adjustments," they said. I replied that many teachers are afraid to, although some don't know how. "One of my teachers, who is no longer with us, always did hands-on adjustments and I do, too," I said. "Wait, who was this?" one of them asked. "Sandy Robin," I said. "I know Sandy! I used to take her class all the time!" she said. "I'm one of Sandy's girls. I'm the only one Sandy trusted to take over her class for her in the downtown studio when she was out sick," I said. With that, my expertise in hands-on adjustments was recognized.