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 Toni Rosenwald - I was able to do Locust today, a minor victory. Toni 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 Toni 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 Toni Rosenwald - My knees felt like jelly pudding during Triangle and, thankfully, Toni 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 have a good Standing Bow.
The IYSF 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.
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."