June 24, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - "Raise your left hip up in line with your right hip. Bring the left hip back and the right hip forward. The hips are now in line, parallel to the front mirror and the floor," I said to my students. Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee is one of the poses I go in detail in. It's one of my favorite poses in the Bikram series, so when I see a good posture that I know can be made better with a little adjustment, I always help a student create a more beautiful pose.
June 24, 2022, 11:30am to 4:00pm - class 1301 with Breanna Brown - Today was Day 1 of the Miami Yoga Bootcamp, an intensive week-long training course with drills and yoga classes. This week the focus was on Leg Behind the Head, Goodbye Pose, Om, Full Tortoise, and Handstands. Handstands aren't my strong suit, but I agreed to do the bootcamp anyway. Normal people go on an exotic trip somewhere when they mention they're on vacation. My idea of a "fun" vacation is a bootcamp. Many of the preparatory exercises, such as wall-walking and handstands, were straight from Jedi Fight Club, but there were new exercises, such as Mary Jarvis balance beam exercises, sprinkled throughout. We worked on easier poses, such as Elephant, to prepare for harder ones. The drill class was two hours and the yoga class was an hour and a half, so today's training was three and a half hours. I ate very little in between the morning and afternoon sessions because they were only an hour apart. I didn't get to eat a full meal until dinner. Roughly half the attendees met in person and the other half, like me, were virtual. Even though we were on Zoom, Breanna watched us all like a hawk.
June 25, 2022, 12:30pm to 5:00pm - class 1302 with Breanna Brown - Day 2 of Miami Yoga Bootcamp. More people joined the bootcamp in-person, so now the split was two-thirds in-person, one-third virtual. Drill class included wall-walks, handstands, Mary Jarvis balance beam exercises, Frog, and various prep work for Compass, including Leg Over Head against the wall. Unlike yesterday, today I decided to refrain from eating lunch food or drinking Pepsi between sessions. Good thing, too, because the yoga class was another tough one. The style of the yoga class was patterned after an Esak Garcia e84 Intermediate class tailored with the poses and exercises we are practicing this week. Elephant pose was easier today. Expectations are high because we're all very experienced yogis. Another very tiring three and a half hours. Sadly, I upset my vertebrae at the base of my spine during backbending and walked a little funny for the rest of the evening.
June 26, 2022, 8:00am to 9:30am - class 1303 with Breanna Brown - 136.8 today. Day 3 of Miami Yoga Bootcamp. Today was thankfully a lighter day for virtual bootcampers as there were legal issues with broadcasting the afternoon drills session with special guest Ugi The Contortionist. We continued practicing handstands against a wall. This was especially challenging to me as handstands have never been something I was comfortable doing. "You've got to overcome your fear," Breanna advised. Even if I never do a handstand in the championships, this portion of the class will likely strengthen my arms and wrists for Eight Angle. We held ourselves up in Elephant for 20 seconds today.
June 27, 2022, 11:30am to 4:00pm - class 1304 with Breanna Brown - It's Day 4 and the midway mark of the Miami Yoga Bootcamp. The base of my spine is still feeling the effects of my overzealous backbending on Saturday. Drills included various handstand exercises using props. Breanna mentioned something about pressing up rather than kicking into the headstand or handstand. I think I found my abdominal muscles in my headstand because I experienced the uncanny feeling of effortlessly floating my legs over my head. We did more handstand and leg over head practice that culminated in Eight Angle in the afternoon class. We also practiced Mary Jarvis balance beam exercises.
June 28, 2022, 7:00am to 12:30pm - class 1305 with Breanna Brown - Day 5 of Miami Yoga Bootcamp. An early start. Unfortunately, I had to teach a class in between the sessions, so I missed the tail end of the first class and the start of the next. Thankfully, I have access to recordings of each class for later review. Our group of eight has shrunk to five. "Suck your stomach in!" Breanna said to me at several points during our training. I didn't want to admit that I really am sucking my stomach in. At 54, I will always look like I'm not sucking it in! I still can't do a legitimate handstand yet, so Breanna suggested I start by pressing my scapulae against the wall and kicking up. I still can't touch the wall with my feet yet. We dissected the parts of Eight Angle; Breanna teaches a very different way to enter the pose than the way I learned it from Tony Sanchez*. There's a lot more risk involved with getting your leg up in Elephant pose first and all the extra energy to keep yourself lifted before you even get into the maximum expression of the pose seems like an inefficient use of energy, especially if you have one or two more poses after this in your championship routine. However, the entry of this version of Eight Angle does look very pretty when done right and serves as a building block to Om, which we will work on next.
* Tony Sanchez was Bikram Choudhury's best friend and "right hand man" for many years when Bikram first started his teacher trainings. Back then, Bikram and Tony used to practice yoga for many hours together each day. Since Tony won the IYSF World Championship in 1994 and 1996, I have great faith that Tony's versions of the poses are just as valid as any other version in the championships.
June 28, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - Many students don't have Toe Stand in their practice, so if you have an entire class doing Tree in the second set, it's best to break down the elements in Tree so that everyone fully understands the "why" of what they are doing. "Let's dissect Tree," I said. "It's not about getting into the pose quickly and freezing like a statue. It's about learning how to balance on your foot every step of the way. First, you lift your foot off the ground, hold it with your other hand, and stand up straight. That's your first balance point. Next, you place one hand up in prayer. That's your second balance point. Next, you place both hands together in prayer. That's your third balance point. Lastly, you stretch your spine up towards the ceiling. That's your fourth balance point. You're testing your balance in each of these different poses that all represent Tree. Your Tree will be different than your neighbor's Tree, but they're all Tree." Some people believe that a good yoga teacher simply recites the dialog and gets out of the way so you can do the poses. My belief is a good teacher teaches you something new about the poses every time you go to class. To me, it's quite torturous to hear the same dialog over and over again without a correction or two every now and again. If you don't correct, then everyones assumes they're doing it all right when they may not be. They might feel a temporary sense of satisfaction, but, years later, they will feel cheated that they didn't get the necessary corrections to help them improve their yoga over time. "I like the advice you give in class. It's very helpful," one of my students said today. Another student, an older gentleman, surprised me with his flexibility. Typically, a lot of male bodies cannot do Spine Twist very well, but he did a good one.
June 28, 2022, 6:00pm - Bikram 60 - Even in a 60-minute class, I find myself teaching lots of alignment cues. I just speak a lot faster. Whoa, she just did Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee in an alternate bind just like I do! Whoa, another lady just did Toe Stand without touching her hands to the floor like I do! You see a lot of amazing things in an express class. I love the energy in them.
Like Jedi Fight Club, the training philosophy at Miami Yoga Bootcamp centers around extreme conditioning. Other training philosophies include extreme repetition, as Coach Suzanne Elliott prescribes, or extreme preparation, such as what I do when I practice floor postures on hard floors to get my body used to the pain. Perhaps a highly successful yogasana competitor adheres to some of all three. I tend to believe that extreme conditioning can often lead to fatigue and injury and extreme repetition can lead to monotony and complacency. Of course, extreme preparation has its issues as well. This is why I combine my extreme preparation philosophy with stretching and conditioning exercises and creative visualization to practice my routine. I noticed that the work we did in our drills and yoga classes kind of melded into one another. What would start as a yoga class ended up as additional practice of the drill exercises. This is why I counted all of the sessions as one big class with a short break in between rather than two separate classes.
June 29, 2022, 11:30am to 4:00pm - class 1306 with Breanna Brown - Day 6 of Miami Yoga Bootcamp. Two hours of drills and a two-hour 84 Asanas class to total four hours of training today. I will never know what compelled all of us to agree to three sets of eight wall-walks and three sets of palmstands against the wall for one minute or longer as just a warm-up exercise! Not eating much or anything before the long training sessions can make your body feel loopy and depleted. Feeling the effects of the intense training, I didn't backbend as far as I could today. I was basically saved by the bell in the 84 Asanas class when the studio's video feed stalled and I couldn't see what everyone was doing. I had to rely on my memory of the poses, but when you're exhausted, it's difficult to remember every detail. I couldn't even get my arms through my folded lotus legs in Fetal Lotus pose, a normally easy pose for me. Just like the previous five days, I've been lying in Savasana for at least twenty minutes after class. The takeaway from all of this is we get to catch a glimpse of how hard Breanna trains for competition. It's wonderful to see that she's a nice, down-to-earth person who doesn't have an emaciated body like many yogasana athletes, but she's also tough coach who tells it like it is. No doubt she learned this from her time with Esak Garcia.
June 30, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - Happiness is... a full class of eight students at 6am. The new students followed along with the experienced regulars. Some felt depleted halfway into the class. "Some people think yoga is all about meditation and sitting still, but this is physical yoga. It's hard. Every posture works different parts of your body and are designed to improve your strength, balance, and flexibility," I said. It was good that they sat and rested when they felt tired or dizzy because part of the class is about learning how to deal with the heat, or what I call heat management. You can get into a fight or flight mode in the heat, but you always want to stay safe. "Killing yourself," as Bikram says, is not about pushing yourself over the edge in your yoga, but about testing your limits. What you can do today will be different than what you can do tomorrow or the next day. Learning to accept yourself as you are each day is one of the most important lessons in yoga.
June 30, 2022, 2:30pm to 4:30pm - class 1307 with Breanna Brown - Day 7 of Miami Yoga Bootcamp. Our class on the last day of the bootcamp was a combination drills and yoga class. We did handstands, Compass, Leg Over Head, and Mary Jarvis bar work as part of our e84-style class. Comparing this experience to Jedi Fight Club, it's similar yet different. It's certainly equally challenging, perhaps more so. Even though I attended this bootcamp virtually, it was still quite a challenge and Breanna kept me on my toes as she watched me and others like a hawk. Even though I still can't do a proper handstand, the exercises I practiced have enabled me to find more confidence in attempting to do these kinds of poses. The Leg Over Head exercises gave me useful insights on leg placement and body part mechanics to decrease any aggravation in my joints. We got to practice Elephant, Eight Angle, Compass, Sleeping Yogi, and other Leg Over Head poses. The handstand work will develop your arms and shoulders very rapidly. By the end of bootcamp, your muscles will be rock hard solid. Lift your arms up horizontally and you will see immediate development, the fruits of your labor from the week. If you are into intensive training, then you will certainly find the challenges you seek here and I highly recommend it for all you Type A personalities. I feel a sense of relief that training is over because I haven't been sleeping or eating well the past week. A smoothie in the morning or in between classes and a full meal at the end of the day doesn't work for me. I feel really depleted with so little food. My meal philosophy has always been two meals of equal size every day and that's what I'll do to prepare for the championship. Reviewing my videos from last year's national championship, my body was in elite shape and I was damn impressive. I hope to be excellent like that again.
July 1, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - "Thank you! That was a great class!" one of my students said at the end of class. She loved my alignment cues. I always make sure I give enough alignment cues so that everyone has a chance to try something. I never assume that everyone knows the words to the class. When you do that, you get complacent with your job. You assume everyone knows what to do and you risk having the newbie do something not quite right or nothing at all. I feel that many teachers would rather have a student do nothing rather than something "to keep them safe," however, you have to look at all of this from a student's perspective and the only way you will know how a student truly feels is if you are a perpetual student yourself. As a student, I want to get my money's worth because $20 to $30 is a lot of money for a single class. I want to make sure that I'm doing something when everyone else is doing something, so if a teacher doesn't give me an alternate way to do a posture that's inaccessible to me, I feel as if I'm not getting my money's worth. If you just tell the class, "go ahead and get into the posture," that's not helping the newbies. Every time you do this, these people will feel as if you are stealing $1 from them, because the class is costing them about $1 a posture. How would you feel if someone was stealing $1 from you several times in class? Give your students their money's worth. I always do.
July 2, 2022, 10:00am - class 1308 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 132.4 today. I forgot my water bottle, but it was a good experiment to see if the need for water in class is just psychological. Typically, after Eagle, I press the mouth of my water bottle onto my forehead to cool myself down. I try not to drink water in class because it upsets my belly during the inversion postures. After class, I practiced Full Spine Twist. I was able to grab my knee with my hand, but I couldn't wrap my other arm around my torso. I could also wrap my arm around my torso, but not grab my knee with the other hand. One or the other, but not both. Doing just this would score me about as much as I would normally get in Spine Twist, maybe a smidge more. There are still a few more weeks to prepare. I've progressed amazingly well in a posture that less than 1% of all practicing yogis can do.
Perhaps the real secret to making a 60-minute class feel like a 90-minute class is to push yourself to the point of exhaustion in every posture and not touch any water for the entire duration of the class. Towards the end of class, you will probably feel like curling up into a ball and dying, but, if you can survive, then you've pushed yourself just as hard as you would have in a 90-minute class. This, of course, assumes you already push yourself to the point of exhaustion in a 90-minute class. I know when you've pushed yourself to your maximum when I see that steady stream of sweat pouring out of your head and hitting the back of your front heel as you come up in Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee. I've only ever seen a small handful of students achieve this. Most people take the 60-minute class because it's shorter, so there is less emphasis on holding a posture for the proper duration and a greater chance of resting and skipping a posture without anyone noticing. You get to be more of a fly on the wall in a 60-minute class because the teacher is concerned with ensuring that the class finishes on time. The onus is on you to do every posture. It takes a disciplined mind to complete everything in a 60-minute class to the point of exhaustion. This is why the 60-minute class is considered an advanced class. It is actually for people who do their yoga well.
One of the salient points about yogasana competition I haven't brought to my readers' attention is the execution score column on the scoring table. The execution score is your overall score for how close to perfect your postures are. If your score is 80% or higher, you are doing postures that are in line with your abilities. If your score is lower than 80%, you are probably doing postures that are at a higher level of difficulty than you should be doing. Your final ranking is not affected by this score. It is just for your reference. I'm usually ranked in the top three in this category, meaning I'm doing postures extremely well and within the parameters of my abilities. Scoring high in your final ranking is about choosing a routine that showcases your strengths and allows you to take some risks to score higher. There has to be a flow between the postures. You cannot alternate between standing and sitting postures in your sequence because you will consume too much time and energy between the postures. Your sequence should tell a story that flows smoothly from beginning to end.
July 4, 2022, 9:30am - Bikram 75 - A yoga teacher can ask for nothing more than a packed class full of dedicated students on a weekend holiday that is known more for gluttony and sloth than for fitness and health. Fourteen students devoted their energy into a bonafide Bikram class. As many of you know, it doesn't matter if you take my 60-minute, 75-minute, or 90-minute class, because they all feel like 90-minutes after you're done. You get alignment cues from a USA Yoga coach who practices yoga every single day. I feel so blessed to have taught this class today. From the first-timers to the advanced students, everyone gave it their best effort.
July 5, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - "Stretch up to the ceiling with intention, like you're shooting a cosmic beam of energy out your fingertips," I said to one of my students. The idea with Triangle is to feel a stretch across your chest as you try to lengthen both arms in opposite directions. "Take a peek at your side body and note how narrow you can get if you keep stretching your arms apart," I said. Turning and twisting your body "like in Spine Twist" is only a valid correction if the arms are not yet perpendicular from the side view, that is, the narrow view you can only see from the front mirror or a teacher can see. Thus, first you need to balance on your legs and then you use your strength to pull your arms apart and create flexibility. I recommend trying to look at your body in the side and front mirrors to check your angles and test your balance. The arm aiming towards the ceiling should be perpendicular to the floor from the front and the side. The palm should be facing the side mirror.
July 5, 2022, 6:00pm - class 1309 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 133.5 today. There was a marvelous energy in the room as all five of us pushed ourselves and each other through the grueling heat. One of the ladies standing behind me was at least as flexible as I am and had a really strong practice. I felt the cold water drip after the first set of Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, which was unusual. While I can't explain this phenomenon scientifically - perhaps because maybe only a handful of people have ever experienced this - I believe it might be what happens right before your body shuts down and you're fighting to stay alert.
July 7, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - A new student joined my class today. She had not practiced hot yoga since before the pandemic, but she was keeping up with the rest of the class just fine. It's like learning to ride a bike. Once you know it, you know it, and she did a beautiful Standing Bow with great poise and confidence.
July 7, 2022, 9:30am - class 1310 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 133.7 today. It was hella humid, but no matter. The six of us pushed ourselves through and competed our class like bosses. In between the first and second combo set of Standing Separate Leg Stretching, Triangle, and Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, I did the Dr. Claudio Gil Araújo squat without the use of hands and came right back up. That was my "rest" in between sets. For the rest of the standing postures, every time I felt like I was about to go down, I just laughed it off and continued. I must've looked a little crazy in class, but no matter. Sometimes you just have to face your obstacles head on and just laugh at them.
July 8, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - 133.3 today. One of my therapeutic yoga students took my Bikram class today and was very grateful to have taken my class. One of the owners took my class and said it was the best class he's ever taken. What makes my class special? I teach more than the dialog. Yes, I can recite the dialog like everyone else, but I also add my experience to all of it. Without experience - the right kind of experience - a student will never learn how a teacher's instructions can apply to them. They may be able to do a halfway decent posture, but what does every posture truly do? What can it do for them? Although you might not think this is something you should or can teach your students, you really can and that will make your classes special.
July 9, 2022, 10:00am - Bikram 60 - Do you teach at any other times? Normally, you like to hear that as a yoga teacher because you know the student likes your teaching methods and wants to take more classes with you. Only at 6am? Oh... Normally, you don't like to hear that because you would've gotten a repeat student had the time been different. That's what everyone said today: "6am? Oh..." That means they won't come. I've learned that it takes a special type of student to go to a 6am class. It has to fit into your schedule and you have to be ready for it, because 6am yoga is no joke. It can be the most grueling thing on earth and can bring you to your knees. It takes a dedicated teacher as well, because most teachers would never want to teach at 6am, let alone take a class at 6am. It's just too difficult for most teachers to fit into their schedules. To do 6am yoga, you have to go to sleep early every night and wake up at 5am to get ready for class. Teachers have to wake up earlier than that, so they can prepare the studio for class. It's truly a commitment.
"What the hell kind of sorcery is she teaching us?" is sometimes the kind of look I get in class when I teach something new that my students have never tried or done. You must realize that no matter how often you practice - me included - there will always be someone who knows something or who has developed experience in something that might be beneficial to you, so to close your mind off from new possibilities is never a good thing. Accept that there will always be people who will think intensely about something and draw valid conclusions based on their knowledge and experiences. That's how science is done and how we grow as a society. We hypothesize, experiment, and, when we can get consistent results and applicability across different bodies, then we know that what we say is true.
July 12, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - I taught a new student to point her toes inward in Fixed Firm. The insides of your feet should be touching your hips. You can keep your knees spread apart, but once you are comfortable touching your hips to your mat, begin bringing the knees closer together. My kids liked the Sushi Rice I brought home from Mom's Organic Market. One serving fed all of us.
July 12, 2022, 6:00pm - class 1311 with Cat Long - 132.6 today. I couldn't do Kapalabhati in Root today, because I tweaked my knee over the weekend practicing Full Spine Twist. That same tweak prevented me from getting my hands in prayer in Toe Stand.
July 14, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - "The secret to a deeper backbend is to lengthen up as much as you can before you begin backbending," I said in class. "Stretch your fingers up to the sky, keep stretching beyond your fingertips, and then backbend. Look behind you. Keep your legs straight, root your heels into the ground, and push your hips and thighs forward with all your might. Keep trying to look towards the floor behind you. Keep stretching beyond your fingertips and touch what you can see. Keep aiming your fingertips lower and lower and try to point to the ground."
July 14, 2022, 5:30pm - class 1312 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 132.9 today. The humidity made class really tough today, but I managed to push through it. Unfortunately, getting up after class posed a great challenge. Sitting up, I felt dizzy and the need to lay back down again. I did this five times before I finally mustered up enough strength to stand up. Nothing in the class was too unusual. I had hit a peak of 166bpm in several prior classes. The temperature wasn't too outrageous. Something just depleted me. I must've pushed myself a little harder here and there and that drained my energy.
July 15, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - The reasoning behind not demonstrating postures while teaching a Bikram yoga class is you're supposed to be studying your students at all times, examining their poses and providing alignment instructions to help them achieve their best poses. While I agree somewhat with this philosophy, the truth is many teachers don't even look at their students. They let their most experienced students do their own thing, recite the dialog, and ignore the newbies with the belief that not correcting the newbies' bad ways is better than correcting them for fear that they will not return to their class again. As an experienced teacher, I never fear this. I don't teach Bikram yoga to be loved. I teach it because I want everyone to achieve their best alignment, to get the most out of their poses and my class, and to enjoy healthier lives. It's cool when I see regulars signing up for my classes because they know what I'm about. No frills, no fluff, just the tough stuff... because Bikram yoga is hard... and the hard way is the good way.
July 16, 2022, 8:00am - class 1313 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 132.2 today. There are many options for Bikram yoga in or near Philadelphia, but the reason why I keep gravitating to The Bridge is the sunny studio and the amazing teachers. Most hot yoga studios are dark and murky. This one is bright and cheerful. The teachers here have years of experience and always take time to posture correct the newbies. I had to be extra careful with my knees today. As luck would have it, I banged my good knee into the wall a couple of times over the past few days and now it seems to be in a worse condition than the knee I tweaked while practicing Full Spine Twist. I also banged my right elbow in the dark the other day and now it is noticeably weaker than my left. I feel as if I am experiencing déjà vu as typically I have one good joint out of four when I compete in the championships.
July 17, 2022, 8:00am - class 1314 with Cat Long - 132.0 today. I practiced Eight Angle before class. Even with my bad right elbow, I got into the pose and noticed how easy it was to drop my right shoulder down to get both shoulders in one line. Holy Ganesha, is that all there is to it? If I had just practiced in front of a mirror all this time, I could've just done this and stop losing half a point every time? Class was slow and steady and I achieved a peak of 154bpm, much less than the crazy high bpm from a few days ago when it was super hot and humid outside. I sat in Root during Kapalabhati, but I favored my left side because my right knee felt like it was about to pop. I'm asymmetrical in Root at the moment. Hopefully, everything will correct itself within the next two weeks.
July 19, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - A new student attended class today. He was a former wrestler with a huge upper body. Unfortunately, his various shoulder and knee surgeries and injuries left him with limited mobility. "Before COVID, I could do all those things, like backbends and Triangle," he said. I could tell that his injuries frustrated him. "Don't worry," I assured him. "If you keep doing this, your mobility will return." I gave him some alignment pointers to help him with Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee and got him to try Fish instead of Fixed Firm, since he had tight hips and bad knees. "The idea of Fish and Fixed Firm is to get that little preparatory backbend in before Camel," I said. One of my favorite students was in my class today. She did a tremendous backbend and Standing Bow. I got her hips to come down more in Half-Tortoise. I did the correction Sandy used to always do to me to get my hips to come down completely. "You've got a lot of room there in your lumbar spine, so I know you can come down all the way," I said.
Sometimes you have to do things hundreds of times before you finally realize that the right way was well within your reach all along. That's how I feel about Eight Angle. I mistakenly thought for the longest time that shoulders parallel to the floor was inaccessible to me, but now I can do it again and again. Just get into the pose and drop the nondominant shoulder down. Perhaps my shoulders are stronger now after two Jedi Fight Club-style week-long trainings, but I doubt it. There was something in my brain that told me I couldn't do it until, one day, I just could. This is exactly what I see in a lot of my students' poses. I know when they can do better and I just help them over that psychological hump so they can do it.
July 19, 2022, 6:00pm - Bikram 60 - It was dangerously hot outside, so I had to manage the temperature of the room by judiciously cracking open the front and back doors at various times. My students appreciated that. I kept the room at exactly 105.
July 20, 2022, 5:30pm - Bikram 90 - It was even hotter outside today than yesterday, so I had to manage the temperature of the room again as I didn't want any of my students feeling nauseous or passing out. Heat is a good thing, but too much heat is never good. One student looked like she was being very conservative with her practice. "Would you like to try getting into a deeper Camel?" I offered, to which she agreed. She went back a little and then came up again. "At one time, I could go deep in my backbends," she admitted. She admitted that previously she may have been doing her backbends a little dangerously, dumping everything into her lower back. "The secret to a good backbend is to always lengthen your spine first before you backbend. You might not be able to get a deeper backbend at first doing this method, but you'll stay safe and be able to practice this yoga forever," I said.
Morning championship routine practice was baby steps as I wanted to find out where I was at after a three-day rest from yoga practice. I am quite certain I damaged the integrity of my knees by practicing Full Spine Twist over the past few weeks. At one point, I could barely walk and needed frequent breaks to sit down. I felt weak overall this morning. I didn't have much energy since I didn't eat anything yet. Evening championship routine practice was much better. I could bring my shoulders level in Eight Angle. My Spine Twist and Archer looks really good. My body looks symmetrical in Root.
July 21, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - 131.7 today. Every runner, golfer, racket sports athlete, and martial artist I've encountered has wonderful posture when performing their sport, but also very tight hips, so when it comes time to practice Half-Tortoise, I notice that very seldom do they touch their hips to their heels. The interesting thing is they all have more than enough space along their spine to enable them to touch their hips to their heels. The big problem is they've been conditioned to keep their spine erect all their lives, so much so that it seems unnatural to curve their spine any amount. When I push their hips down and remove my hands, most have the ability to keep their hips on their heels. It's as if their muscle memory is what's hindering their ability to get into their deepest poses in the first place. There is no doubt that you can gain many benefits from learning, and being very good at another sports discipline, but just like anything else in life, keep an open mind when you are practicing yoga because you might surprise yourself with how flexible you really are.
Morning championship routine practice was better than yesterday. I felt stronger today and there were glimpses of my championship form.
July 21, 2022, 5:30pm - class 1315 with Kaitlin McKendrick - Today was one of the hottest days in recent memory, so I expected to feel dizzy at some point in class, but I didn't. I just kept going from beginning to end. "There is no tomorrow!" I kept saying to myself whenever I felt like I was about to tap out of a posture. Just do it... just fucking do it... because if you don't, you're going to regret it for the rest of your life! At the end of class, I did Kapalabhati in Root. When you do Kapalabhati in Root, every sharp exhale causes your pelvis to rhythmically push the ankles into the mat, increasing their flexibility over time. My knees were feeling it here and in Fixed Firm. I will forego evening championship routine practice this evening as I feel I did a good job with Root.
July 22, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - 130.9 today. Five students, including one from California who has taken classes by the great Bikram teachers, including Craig Valanni (Craig was a teacher Chris Fluck frequently mentioned in his classes). "Is it necessary to bring your arms and elbows up in Pranayama?" he asked after class. "No," I replied, "there are many teachers, such as Tony Sanchez, who don't even bring their elbows up more than parallel to the arms. It's not necessary. It looks nice, but it's really a nice preparatory stretch for the postures later on in class. Think about how every backbend is followed by a forward bend in class. The arms raising up is a tremendous backbend of the wrist when the elbows are up high. To counteract, we have the arms and wrists straight in Half Moon and Awkward and then a forward bend of the nondominant hand's wrist when we go into Eagle. You get a backbend of the wrist followed by the eventual forward bend of the wrist in this "warm-up series."
July 23, 2022, 8:00am - class 1315 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 130.1 today. The heat hit me today and I sat down in Standing Separate Leg Stretching. Not wanting to just relax, I did similar as well as more difficult poses while on the ground: Separate Leg Stretching and Pigeon. Hopefully, I'm on the tail end of my knee recovery. When I press on my knee, I hear and feel crackles, which are most likely crepitus. I was able to do Locust in Lotus, Kapalabhati in Root, Extended Bound Side Angle in Triangle, and alternate grips in Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee and Spine Twist.
One of the things I learned on my pilgrimage to 14 different temples and mosques in India was how to live modestly and make the most out of situations where there were little to no creature comforts of home. We learned economy of movement, because if you moved around too much in the sweltering 90 to 100 degree heat, you would feel dizzy and fatigued. Don't take unnecessary steps and don't move when you don't need to. When you see my championship routine, it is the living embodiment of that philosophy. This is why it is the most precise and compact routine among all the competitors. Short, simple, and sweet, but also smooth, vibrant, and beautiful to watch. It embodies all that is yoga and India and also flows like any good story or dance routine. I've worked really hard to make it look easy to do.
Why I Never Listen to Health Nuts
I have met many people from all walks of life who have told me that I should do this or that in order to be more healthy, but when I look at them, I see fat, unhealthy people trying to tell a person who is more healthy than they are what to do. This doesn't sit well with me. One person chastised me for drinking too much Pepsi and I told him I drink juice as well. He said that that was equally as bad with all the sugars in juices these days. I asked him what he drank and he replied water. Water?! I looked at him as if were an alien that dropped out of the sky. Then why is he still fat? And why does he feel he knows so much about health when he's not healthy himself? This is not an isolated example. When I go to any so-called expert trying to sell health products and am measured on a variety of devices, they expect to sell stuff to unhealthy people, so when they meet me, they really can't bullshit me because the numbers on their devices don't lie. It's funny when they try to bullshit me and I reply, "So, do you use this stuff, too?" because if they did, and if I were a mean girl, I'd tell them that it's not working for them!
I don't listen to health nuts, health fanatics, or even health enthusiasts. I listen to what I know and what works best for me. I know that what works best for me isn't necessarily going to work for anyone else because very few people strive to be an elite athlete. Sure, a lot of people say they want to be thin with a low bodyfat percentage, but few have the motivation to do so. I have had dozens of women come up to me privately and say, "I wish I looked like you," but, trust me, it's hard for even me to look like me without dedication to my craft. Motivation to be the best and dedication towards achieving your goals are the keys to your success. If you are sitting there and mulling over my words, you've already wasted enough time. Just go out there and do it! Drink your Pepsi. Drink your juice. Eat whatever you want. Just be willing to work your butt off to be great. Don't be afraid to be great.
July 24, 2022, 8:00am - class 1316 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 130.4 today. During the floor series Savasanas, whenever I feel the heat getting to me, I put a hand towel over my face to force myself to account for my breathing. When you are in a dire situation, sometimes you don't focus on the important things. By covering your face and limiting your ability to breathe, you force yourself to calm down and focus on your breathing. After five long breaths under the towel, removing the towel so you can fully breathe makes you appreciate your breathing so much more. You will feel a renewed energy and a newfound ability to continue on to the next posture.
July 24, 2022, 3:00pm - USA Yoga Workshop "Therapeutic Yoga Workshop with Rajashree Choudhury" - Like Bruce Merkle's and Keri Palasz's workshops, this was a very different workshop than many of the USA Yoga workshops I've attended. We practiced different breathing and stretching exercises, self-awareness, and techniques for helping us be more present in the moment. "Effortless breathing is asana," Rajashree said. She talked about how our bodies change over time. "What I could do at 20, I know I cannot do at 60 and I have to accept that, but I can feel the same energy and balance," she said. She led us through a guided meditation and also discussed the chakra system.
I dare say that the Seniors (50+) category is quite possibly the most intriguing category in the USA Yoga National Championship and I'm not saying that just because I'm in it. Some people might erroneously think that doing well here is a walk in the park, but it's not. While the average score of all its competitors may be lower than the more popular 18-49 category, you have many seasoned professionals in this category, people who were once fierce competitors formerly in the 18-49 category. The more you watch these Seniors compete, the more you realize that most people at 50+ cannot do anything that these Seniors can do. People get old, lazy, and fat. Most lose their strength, flexibility, and balance as early as 30. Some will reminisce of their youth when they could do amazing physical things, but here's the thing... these Seniors are still doing these things! And sometimes better than most people their age or any age! You want to talk about competitive fire and spirit, sure, you get that in the 18-49 category, but the real stuff is in the Seniors category where most people would've lost that competitive fire and spirit long ago. Once a person has endured the trials and tribulations of life, that often changes his or her body. The fact that there are people who still have that competitive fire and spirit at 50+ is a sight to behold and that's why this category is more amazing than any other. Watch it closely.
The Government of India released an image purporting to show the dangers of eating too much junk food versus healthy fruits and vegetables. I modified the image to show a third option. It's a shame that the very place where yoga started has somehow lost its way. There is a common belief that people just get enormously fat after they get married and turn 40. The same holds true here in America. It doesn't have to be that way. You can be athletically thin like me at 54 and look like the third option and you don't have to limit your diet to rabbit food.
I will soon be releasing my championship practice techniques for how I practice while taking a 90-minute Bikram class. Stay tuned!
July 25, 2022, 9:30am - class 1317 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 131.7 today. This morning was a little hard. A bout with blood in my stool from stress. Dizziness, labored breathing, and 150bpm heart rate 20 minutes after morning yoga class isn't good. Nobody ever likes to talk about these things, but some of us athletes go through the same fears and anxieties as everyone else. We just find a way to hide it well. Overall. training is going well. My knee is getting better and I'm feeling stronger each day, but this year I don't have any of my senior teachers to talk to. They all passed away. I had a good class today. I could touch my forehead to my knee in Standing Head to Knee and Standing Bow was achievable. The rest of my practice looked good as well. I practiced Shoulderstand Lotus, Archer, and Eight Angle after class.
If I see myself in a mirror, I can correct my shoulders in Eight Angle without a problem. The challenge is to do so without a mirror. Can I do it before the semi-finals on Friday?
July 26, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - 131.7 today. Summer classes typically have light attendance. Sometimes we teach small classes of one to four students. It's still a class, but a very specialized class where students can ask questions and we give them very specific knowledge that helps them get the most out of their poses. "I don't really feel it in my upper back," said my student in Locust. I assisted him in feeling more of the goal of the posture by lifting his legs up higher and encouraging him to maintain that height on his own. By doing so, he could now begin to feel the muscle engagement move from his glutes up his spine towards his upper back, where he's supposed to feel it. The dialog does say to raise the legs at least 45 degrees. Once you exceed 45 degrees, you will start to feel the upper back muscle engagement.
One USA Yoga coach recommends rote repetition to get your routine permanently ingrained into your body. I do agree with this approach somewhat, but you do not always have to do repetitions physically. Sometimes mental repetitions can prepare you just as well as physical repetitions. This is how I won my sushi competition years ago. To the surprise of many of my fans at the competition, I had never physically created the sushi I made at the competition. I just knew they would turn out well, because I went through every step of the process in my head dozens of times each day until I could do the movements in my sleep. This is how I train for the yogasana championship, with a combination of physical and mental repetitions. If you do this all correctly, both will complement each other. The dangers in doing too much physical repetition is fatigue and boredom. Once those set in, doing your routine will feel like a chore rather than something enjoyable.
July 26, 2022, 6:00pm - class 1318 with Kaitlin McKendrick - I churned my way through the entire class. No rests. All but two of my postures looked textbook perfect.
July 27, 2022, 12:00pm - class 1319 with Justin Riley - 131.7 today. Class was briskly paced. I got through it with no issues. The lady practicing behind me was fantastic. It was a very different style of class than I was used to, since it had music, so I didn't sweat like crazy.
USA Yoga National Championship (July 28, 2022) - When I saw the 2022 USA Yoga National Championship program guide for the first time, I knew this was going to be a big deal. Held at the State Games of America in Ames, Iowa, 19 competitors were on the roster, five more than last year, including the return of some phenomenal yoginis who were medal winners before the pandemic. This was the level of competition I wanted to see. A medal must be earned, never guaranteed, and this was trial by fire.
I formed a "dream team" of the best photographer and videographer I knew. They saw firsthand what the competition was all about and all of the trials and tribulations on the road to a championship. This was not an easy time for me. I was stressed for weeks, but didn't show it. I'm normally a rock. But when I saw how close the other competitors' regionals scores were to mine, my heart raced.
"I could lose in the semi-finals!" I said to myself. I didn't want to. That's why I prepared myself the way I did. I prepared for several hours each day, loosening up or strengthening some part of my body, improving my body awareness, rehabbing injuries, eating right, and working on my breathing.
When we landed in Des Moines, my first goal was to get food. Many reviews said that pork tenderloin is a big thing in Iowa and Smitty's has one of the best pork tenderloin sandwiches in the state. The mixture of seasonings (ketchup, mustard, pickles, and onions) tasted great with the breaded pork, but the rest of it had no real flavor whatsoever. I can't say it was bad, because it wasn't. It just wasn't the amazing thing I expected.
Throughout the day, my hormone levels were out of whack and my emotions rose and fell like a rollercoaster. Self-doubt set in. What if I'm not good enough? If you think this is easy for any yogasana competitor, think again. We are human beings like anyone else. No matter how much we prepare, we will always wonder whether or not we are good enough.
Our suite was nice, but lacked the stellar view of the river we had last year. One good thing about our hotel was that it was in the middle of nowhere, so there were no distractions. It was 3pm and the pork tenderloin would hold us over for the rest of the day.
Time to get to work. For seven hours, I worked on strength and flexibility exercises on the hour, every hour, along with two-pose sequences followed by my complete routine. My team and I took one break in between to venture out to the Hi-Vee for dinner options. I got to a point of flexibility where my thighs were perpendicular in Rabbit. That was the goal. Your first posture paves the way for the rest of your routine. It has to pack a punch. I worked on the entries of all my postures, never practicing each one in full. Too much repetitive practice will lead to fatigue and even disdain for a posture. I sought a gentler approach to my practice. A smooth entry almost guarantees that the posture will end up looking good.
USA Yoga National Championship Semi-Finals (July 29, 2022) - I started the morning with preliminary stretches and a quick 26+2 practice. You can actually do one set of slightly modified versions of all the postures in a few minutes. For certain people in specific circumstances, this might be beneficial. I ended my morning routine practice with Eight Angle. My first Rabbit in the morning did not have perpendicular thighs. Over the course of the day, my Rabbit got deeper and deeper. It looked like my Rabbit.
After the semi-final round, I felt I had escaped with a top ten ranking by the skin of my teeth. I watched the first two competitors take the stage and felt a sinking feeling in my belly because they were really good. Holy shit, I didn't want to watch anyone else after those two for fear of psyching myself out. I went to the practice area and worked on my flexibility exercises over and over. All these ladies flew all the way here not just to compete, but to put their best foot forward and win.
These were legitimate champions, each and every one. Every one of them could be number one in the right circumstances because the point totals were so close to one another. These were not ladies who took a break from their yoga during the pandemic. These were ladies who built themselves up into powerhouses… just like me.
I had to shake myself out of my stupor and refocus. It's a lot harder this year, but I could do this! I needed to calm myself, so I spoke my prayer again:
All that you know, all that you taught me is here in this fractured body.
All that I am is because of you, my teachers, my friends.
All that I do, I do to honor those of you who spent the time to fix me.
To make me be the best version of me. This is for you.
This is for you Sandy. This is for you Noelle. This is for you Joel. This is for you Dad.
Thank you all.
I started trembling. Tears started rolling down my cheeks.
I am not afraid to show my best in front of others.
I wiped away my tears. It was not the time to weep.
I am not afraid to inspire.
Let's get to work.
And with that said, I stood up. This was my moment to shine. “Are you ready?” the athlete ambassador, and stage director, asked me. I nodded. “Stand right here. That way you have a straight line to the steps.” The steps were close, but seemed so far away. You need nerves of steel to walk up on stage, demonstrate your postures, and have the harshest judges in America nitpick your every movement. A twitch, a muscle spasm, an extra breath… any are enough to warrant a deduction. Most people can't handle the pressure.
But Sandy and Joel made me bulletproof. All the times I made mistakes in class, all the times I fucked up and they let the class know I fucked up, all the times they physically corrected me in front of everyone as if I were some moldable clay that would do as they wanted, those are the moments when you realize that people like that picked on you for a reason. They didn't pick on some weak-willed person who might run off and never do yoga again. They picked on someone they knew who wanted not just to be better, but to be the best. They knew my physical limitations and they made me go beyond what I could normally do. They made me bulletproof.
I was good with sixth place. I know I could do better. I know the semi-finals are just an estimate of how everyone will do in the finals. The order can and will change. I learned that the hard way when I let my guard down at number 3 in the semi-finals and ended up number 4 in the finals last year. I won't let that happen again.
Many competitors surprised me by not making the top ten. Two were ranked above me in the Northeast Regionals two years ago. My fellow Jedis did not make the top ten. Other competitors were trained by coaches who had a lot more experience than I. They also did not make the top ten. Suzanne Elliott and Holly Raymond asked me if I would sign up for their yoga workshop the next day, but, unfortunately, my available funds were depleted from the trip, so I couldn't do it.
Both coaches, Suzanne Elliott and Kim Tang, have done a superior job with their athletes. Kim has her legions of fans and followers. Her athletes are always well-prepared. Suzanne appears to concentrate on a single protégé in Holly Raymond and her choice may well be cemented at the top of the 18-49 division for many years to come.
|National Semi-Finals Scores (6th place)
We had dinner at Culver's, a fast food burger and frozen custard restaurant that serves "fresh, not frozen meat." It seems to be what Wendy's strives to be. The burger was delicious and the buttered, toasted bun was a welcome change to the bland food served at most fast food restaurants.
USA Yoga National Championship (July 30, 2022) - We visited Pappajohn Sculpture Park where we took pictures of the various statues by famous artists, such as Mark Di Suvero and Robert Indiana. Later that afternoon, I was very sore from my prep work yesterday and today. Everything hurt... neck, right scapula, lower back, knees, wrists, and the list goes on. Even with the aches and pains, I continued to relentlessly train. I trained as if my whole life depended on it. When self-doubt would set in, I trained even harder. There was a moment during the day that distracted me, but I focused on the task at hand. The State Games of America is where elite athletes showcase their talent. I am honored to be a part of it. Hopefully, my muscles will be okay for tomorrow.
USA Yoga National Championship Finals (July 31, 2022) - I knew it would be a challenge to climb up the rankings. Yoko Jackson is a force to be reckoned with. A pre-pandemic superstar in the 50+ division, Yoko has the tools to rattle the 18-49 division. Jennifer Vanderhart and Nahoko Nakayama always find their way to the podium each year. Jennifer was a powerhouse in the 18-49 division not long ago and Nahoko is always a crowd favorite. Dominique Well was exceptional this year and showed excellent work in the semi-finals. Others whose names I didn't recognize also scared the daylights out of me as they ranked high in the semi-finals. Even tenth-ranked Donna Stallard is a force of nature. She walks onstage in the most unassuming way. She is slow and steady and makes time appear to stand still when you watch her routine. Do not be fooled. She is a master at work who finished fifth place last year. If you underestimate her, rest assured, she will beat you severely.
I had to go back to basics. I worked on my strength and flexibility exercises, entry and exit points, and breathing. Any time I felt I tired, I stopped and reminded myself that there is no tomorrow. I had to continue training. Relentless training. Thousands of Spine Rolls, Half-Tortoise Butterflies, Beach to Shoulderstand Lotus transitions, and other exercises to condition my spine. I said my prayer again and again. Each time, I developed more fortitude. I asked Lord Ganesha to remove any and all obstacles that would block my path towards my goal. I asked Lord Krishna to give me strength.
I am not afraid to show my best in front of others.
I am not afraid to shine.
I have a tanktop that says "Shine On." I didn't know what the hell that meant until the moment I was called up onstage. When it came time to perform my routine to the audience, I took my time. I didn't rush. Rushing can make you skip crucial steps worth fractions of points that could affect your rank. Most of these steps are undetectable to the untrained eye, but these judges look for these steps like a hawk. I had to move slowly, because my knees were shot. They hurt like hell and the sad truth is just before my first posture - Rabbit - I felt my knee give out as I lowered myself down. I tilted over to the right, but quickly regained my composure.
You want to talk about nerve-wracking... imagine all eyes are on you and it is dead silent in the room. The bright lights are on you. Everyone is waiting for you to do something. The moment you move, you are on the clock and you are judged. Your job is to make time stand still. Your job is to show perfection. Your job is to make the audience believe, even if for a brief moment, that they can do what you can do. If you can do that, you are not only a yoga champion, but a yogacharya, or yoga master.
My performance time was 2:38, about 30 seconds longer than my usual time. I wanted to make sure I didn't lose any points for timing, so I counted to eight on each pose and then I counted to eight again. Every posture I performed, I wanted to make it look as if I was moving through butter. I'm not as flexible as everyone else. I'm not as balanced as everyone else. I'm certainly not the strongest one there. But the synergy of what I have is truly amazing when it all comes together.
The six postures in each competitor's routine are supposed to demonstrate strength, flexibility, and balance, but I know that the contest is about more than just those three qualities. There are intangible qualities that you must demonstrate, too, and I believe that is where my strengths lie. There is stillness. Stillness is focus and calmness of the mind. There is flow. Flow is the connection between the postures and the path through the story that you tell with your routine. There is quality of breath. How you breathe reveals your strengths and weaknesses. Without these three very important qualities, the qualities of strength, flexibility, and balance do not make yoga. Yoga is all six of these qualities and more.
I beat very formidable challengers who ranked higher than me in the semi-finals. I could've caved in, but I didn't. I went to work conditioning my body on the hour, every hour. I worked around injuries and soreness. I reminded myself that rest time had to wait. My mission was to make my body a well-oiled machine.
I am proof that you are your own best teacher. I didn't have a fancy coach telling me what to do and I didn't have other athletes to train with. Us Dins have one very formidable trait among us and that is relentless willpower. You beat us down and we will get right back up. We won't stop until we are done. I promised myself I wouldn't let my guard down again by feeling complacent in the semi-finals and I didn't. I went to work. Whether I finished 1st or 10th, it didn't matter to me because I had proven that I could be in the same league with the best.
This is why 4th place feels sweeter this year than the last. I didn't achieve my medal like I had wanted, but I didn't have my secret weapon - Full Spine Twist - available to me. Once I get the mechanics of that posture down, I will be a very formidable competitor.
My friend Alison, a fellow Jedi and co-owner of the yoga ranch I did my Jedi Fight Club training at, also won 4th place in her division. I was the only Jedi who made it into the 50+ finals and the only Pennsylvanian in the top 10 in both the 18-49 and 50+ female divisions. I proved that a little girl from Brooklyn with no athletic ability can work hard to become the number 4 yogasana champion in the United States, two years in a row. Don't be afraid to be great.
|National Finals Scores (4th place)
We had dinner at Jethro's BBQ, a local chain that served heaping family platters, such as The Iowa Platter with four different meats, four sides, and your choice of Texas toast or cornbread muffins. Six different sauces provided ample variety for the most discerning palate. It was so good to eat this after the grueling few days that passed. We flew home the next day and all throughout the day I couldn't help but feel that I was part of something truly special. Even though my rank was the same as last year, it was against some fierce competitors who all upped their game. With the addition of several heavy hitters and battling through a myriad of injuries, that made my final rank feel all the more sweet.
While it is difficult to foresee what an 18-49 competitor would score when he or she enters the 50+ division, it is equally difficult to predict how the reverse situation would score. We all lose a little strength, flexibility, and balance as we age, but how much? We can run some statistics on this, but there isn't enough data yet, so I'm going to make an educated guess and say that all you need to do is subtract 5 points from an 18-49 competitor's highest score and that is likely the highest they will score as a 50+ competitor and add 5 points to a 50+ competitor's highest score and that's likely the highest they will score as an 18-49 competitor. We are talking about an age difference of at least ten years, so someone moving between the junior and senior divisions in just a few years will probably show a similar score in both divisions.
August 2, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - One of my students used to attend classes taught by my old mentor, Sandy Robin, for eight years before moving to the suburbs. She said she saw a lot of Sandy in me. "I remember Sandy used to tell us not to drop our bodies down until we could see our foot coming up over our head," she said in Standing Bow. Yes, Sandy taught old style Bikram, the way it was first taught, rather than the diluted stuff some of the youngsters teach today. In some ways, it's easier. In some ways, it's harder. It's all Bikram yoga.
August 2, 2022, 6:00pm - Bikram 60 - 129.7 pounds. I just saw something amazing. One of my students successfully did a textbook Camel. Two weeks ago, she didn't even attempt it until I encouraged her to do so. She said she felt better doing it recently and just tried it. Long ago, she did Camel like a champ. "Baby steps," she said with a smile.
August 4, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - One of my students returned after a two week break. He apologized for not being as flexible as he was prior to his vacation. Yoga class does not care if you are young or old, fat or thin, a beginner or a world champion. Yoga class is for everyone and we often create our own internal scripts for a what a class is all about even if the reality is not like that. A yoga class is what you make of it. This is why there are different levels of people attending the same class. A rank beginner might find solace in knowing that going to a weekly yoga class will help him or her breathe better. An advanced yogi might find joy in touching her feet to her head in Cobra. The important thing is to find happiness in what you are doing.
August 4, 2022, 5:30pm - Bikram 60 - A former Division 1 athlete attended my class today, but she had to be extra careful with the postures because she had back surgery. "You had that look like you really wanted to dive right into it, but you have to be careful," I said to her. Indeed, I never force anyone to do anything in my class. I make recommendations and you can choose to listen to or ignore them. It all depends on how easy or intense you want the class to be. Another student who appeared to be a seasoned practitioner tried all of the advanced cues and really pushed herself hard. She seemed very pleased with the class. A yoga class is what you make of it, as I said earlier in the day.
August 5, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - A class of six makes the little studio in Bryn Mawr feel full. Five ladies and one gentleman followed my instructions and survived what could possibly be one of their most challenging classes yet. Although it's never advertised that way, my classes are pretty hard. You will definitely get your money's worth by taking my class. You may not like me when it's all over, but it's undeniable that you will get a fantastic workout on every part of your body when you are done. In the end, you and everyone else will simply describe the experience as "amazing." After class, the studio's camera crew interviewed me for a promotional video. "That was brilliant. You should be a broadcaster on top of all the things you do," the studio owner said.
One week after the USA Yoga Nationals, I felt much better now than last week. Instead of tossing and turning and waking up in cold sweats thinking about my competition, my sleep was peaceful and quiet. Initially, it wasn't that way, however, as all the repetitive exercise had taken a toll on my body. I couldn't move very well for two days. All my muscles and joints felt tight and I walked with a slight limp, yet somehow I managed to teach a full week of classes fom Tuesday to Saturday. As exciting as the trip to Iowa was, it put a severe dent in my finances, so I took up a lot of extra work to try to make up for the loss. If I'm chosen for the world championship, I don't know how I'll go because it's an in-person event this year held in Switzerland.
August 6, 2022, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - 130.3 today. Perhaps the best compliment ever to a teacher: "I've been to many Bikram classes and you're the only one who speaks the entire dialog," a student said today. Its easy to teach the way I do if you've had three of the best teachers in the world guiding you. "Nobody ever says to tuck my chin to my chest in Rabbit. Is it in the dialog?," she asked. "It is," I said, pointing to the words in a copy of the Bikram dialog manual. "I always say it and you can trust me because I just finished the national championships with the best score in the world in Rabbit," I said with a sincere smile. Lots of cheers followed. Another student said that I looked in fantastic shape and that I must be super-healthy. My readers here will note that I'm not always super-healthy. I like having an off-season just like many professional athletes and enjoy all the wonderful foods in life, especially high-carb and high-dairy foods. "I love my ice cream and I love my Pepsi," I admitted to her, but only in the off-season. When push comes to shove, I can get my body to an elite level of conditioning. As more and more people are coming to realize, I always put my money where my mouth is. I teach this yoga because I believe in it and the proof that all this works is I practice what I preach.
August 6, 2022, 10:00am - Bikram 60 - Initially, only a handful of students signed up, but ten people suddenly appeared in the final minutes before class started. Everyone was stretching and bending like a champ and the body heat generated in the room caused the temperature to skyrocket upwards to 111. I had trouble knocking the temperature down to keep the heat manageable. At one point, I had the thermostat set to 73, but it still read 117. Opening the doors provided some relief. When we got to the Floor Series, the room started cooling down. One person thought it was too hot, but the rest of the class thought the room and the class felt amazing.
August 9, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - My knees are starting to feel better. I wore knee braces for a couple of days to take the stress off of my knee joints. I really did a number on my knees this year. I'll have to carefully consider what I need to do for future championship preparations.
Some people think that they can be yogis just because they've lived a "hard life." A hard life is when you don't even have a dollar a day to spend on food. In India, when we had to go to the restroom, we learned how to use the “toilets” there, which were basically stepping into a pool of running water at your feet, squatting down, and urinating in the company of others. Your home was made of concrete and you slept on the concrete floor with no air conditioning, no windows, no carpet, and no laundry machines to wash your clothes. You washed all your clothes by hand. You ate vegan because sometimes that's all you could afford, not because you could afford to. You live on the top floor of your building? You'll need to climb steps to get to it. There are no elevators. There are also no handrails. In America, good luck climbing the stairs if you're over 40! You look around and you see all the 40+ people in India happily climbing up and down the stairs without a need for a handrail. Healthwise, they must be doing something right! Many are even genuinely happy. It is odd that people who live a less complex life are often happier than those who don't.
August 11, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - In my hands-on adjustments today, I noticed I could have pushed against a body part a lot more because the student had a lot of space to go between one part of the body and another. The is especially true in Paschimottanasana on the floor, however, I chose to refrain from pushing hard because I felt the student may not be ready to move so far forward in his progression yet. Working on every posture slowly, day by day, will be more beneficial in the long run than the one big all or nothing effort to achieve the perfect posture.
August 12, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - 132.0 today. Midway into Standing Head to Knee, the studio owner stopped me for a moment to whisper something. "Three ladies from Philly are here and want to take your class," he said. "Could you spend a little time with them after class for the time they missed?" "Of course," I said, nodding. I could tell that these were three very sophisticated ladies who knew the Bikram series because they jumped right in and completed the class like pros. The average Bikram teacher would've turned them away, but having taught in a lot of suburban studios, I learned that it's always best to be as accommodating as possible. After class, we practiced the postures the ladies missed and I fielded their questions about the postures. They knew about the yogasana championship and said they were honored to learn from me. I was honored to have them as my students. It's not every day you get to meet yoga students who know about the yogasana championship.
Some of you might be wondering what I must've looked like when I was 22. I recently unearthed my fitness regimen and body measurements from that time 32 years ago before I started bodybuilding. All of my pre-bodybuilding measurements, except for my forearms and my waist, are exactly the same as now! My forearms were 10 inches in 1990; they are 9.5 inches now. My waist is two inches larger than before. It's a little embarrassing to admit that, since I did have a 36-24-36 figure at one time. Every other measurement is the same. My biceps are 11 inches. My thighs and calves are 19 and 13 inches, respectively. According to my fitness log, I was able to do leg presses of 570 pounds. I was even able to do one Amazonian leg press of 750 pounds, which was the full stack of weights on the leg press machine. Was I much bigger as a bodybuilder? No, but I was more of a toned bodybuilder like Rachel McLish than a mass bodybuilder like Iris Kyle. Nowadays, the toned bodybuilding category is called Ms. Fitness where the bodybuilders look like elite Bikram yoga teachers. Just like in competitive yoga, not everyone in bodybuilding follows one set regimen to achieve their goals. Legendary bodybuilder Frank Zane won the title of Mr. Olympia over a much larger Arnold Schwarzeneggar by focusing on symmetry, proportion, fluidity, style, and grace.
August 15, 2022 - I am almost feeling back to normal. My knees are feeling stronger each day. My arms and shoulders still look jacked. My yoga has been mostly therapeutic yoga in the past couple of weeks. I bought a vegan sushi bowl from Mom's Organic Market the other day. "You know, you don't have to eat that anymore. The competition is over," my son said. "I actually like this. It does taste like sushi, but without the fish," I replied. If I just purchased a filet of salmon from a seafood market, I could turn the sushi bowl into a phenomenal dish! This is technically my off-season again, and I've indulged in more soda and ice cream, but I still find myself gravitating towards healthier options like juice and yogurt when I have a choice.
August 16, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - 131.3 today. Four ladies pushed themselves to their edge today, slowly and therapeutically. One of them, quickly becoming one of my favorite students, wanted to do a little more in Camel, so I assisted her not only in Camel, but Full Camel. She once had the flexibility to touch her fingers to her toes. "I think you could get your head to touch your feet, but don't rush it! Little by little, day by day," I advised. I also assisted her in Deep Stretching. "Sandy Robin taught me hands-on assists. She pushed me hard every day, to the point where I went beyond what I could do, and that was enough to land me fourth place in the nation in the yogasana championship," I said, to the admiration of the class. If you think about what a yoga sequence is supposed to do, it's basically a prescription for your body. While the 26+2 sequence is suitable for all body types and is wonderful as a general health regimen, my championship routine was carefully designed as a prescription for my body. I believe that's why I appear so comfortable performing it. I'm not doing it for anyone else. I'm doing it because it feels right for my body. Other competitors might be doing their routines for points and that's why they bend, wobble, and shake in some postures.
My knees are almost back to being 100%, so it might be time to revisit Full Spine Twist training. I got to the point you see here in June. I was able to touch both hips to the ground and touch my knee with the fingers of my right hand in July. There is a spine stretch that needs to be done before turning my head and wrapping my left arm around my torso. The ironic thing is I have the flexibility to do Full Spine Twist, but I don't want to force it, because I would've caused permanent damage to my knees.
August 18, 2022, 6:00am - class 1320 Bikram 90 - 132.4 today. I practiced class alongside my student, reciting the dialog while performing each posture. I taught the transitional push-ups you can do in between the Floor series postures and the special way I prepare for Locust.
August 19, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - One of my students is a fan of Chris Fluck. "He was my first Bikram teacher," he said. "I remember Chris asked me in one of my first Bikram classes, which was better, strength or flexibility? At the time, I didn't know. He responded that strength was better, because you can use your strength to develop your flexibility," I said. "Makes sense!" he responded. Bikram Choudhury was a bodybuilder, so the poses in the 26+2 were chosen by his guru to suit his body. He had issues with the flexibility of his hips, so I gave him some exercises to try to help him develop greater hip flexibility. "I wasn't as flexible as I am now when I first started," I admitted.
August 21, 2022, 8:00am - class 1321 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 130.8 today. I had a bout with a stomach allergy this morning that left me dehydrated, but that didn’t stop me from going to class and pushing myself as hard as I normally do. I skipped the left side of one set of Standing Bow and did floor variants of the second sets of Triangle, Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, and Tree/Toe. Dehydration on top of dehydration is never a good thing, but don’t let it be a crutch or an excuse. Commit to your practice and finish what you signed up for.
On one of my temple visits in India, we offered flowers and sweets as puja to the deity whose massive sculpture towered over us. I handed my box of goodies to the temple worker in the same humble way I've always known, with both hands outstretched, eyes closed, and my head bowed. It is the very same bow I use at the start of all my championship routines. I don't recall where I learned to bow like this, but I'm sure my mother, once a devout Buddhist, had some influence on me. The temple worker collected all the goodies from my box, placed something inside it, and returned the box to me. When I opened the box, there was a single flower. "That is a very fortunate sign and you will be blessed with extremely good luck," our native-speaking tour guide told me, "especially since your box touched the god's foot." The god whose likeness towered over us was Lord Ganesha, remover of obstacles and god of success.
August 23, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - A mom and her daughters joined my class today and I was very impressed that they all knew the 26+2 sequence. Earlier in the week, they came to the studio to take a Vinyasa class, but their class was cancelled and they ended up speaking to me. They felt I had a nice vibe, so they returned to take my class. The mom liked it so much that she wants to take evening classes with me to fit her fall schedule. "Why do I emphasize alignment so much?" I said in class. "Because with proper alignment, all your postures will improve. What you do in one posture affects the next one and even the ones you do when you return to class the next time. My class is hard, but if you stick with it, magic will happen." The studio owner must've liked my advice to my class, because he wrote "@clarejdin is magic" in his Instagram post.
August 25, 2022, 6:00am - class 1322 Bikram 90 - My usual students were out on vacation this week, but a new student appeared. She's in the midst of doing a 30-Day Challenge. Everyone trying to better themselves physically should be inspired by this, because a 30-Day challenge is a serious commitment. She asked me to practice with her in silence and she would follow along. I agreed without hesitation. She had a very nice practice with fluid movements. Without the words, class ended early. I made sure we held each posture to its recommended duration. A typical 90-minute class can last a little over an hour without words, however, the words are there for beginners who don't know how to get into each posture.
August 30, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - Four ladies and a gentleman were in my class today and all were in remarkable shape. One by one, each one pushed themselves into their best poses. When it came time to do Fixed Firm, the male student couldn't touch his butt to the mat. This is very typical of men who have really big thighs and calves. I taught him how to do Fish pose as a substitute. "Once you develop your hip flexibility in Fish, Fish in Butterfly, and then Fish in Lotus, you'll be able to do Fixed Firm like a champ," I said.
Cleaning up my deck one day, I knocked over my water hose holder with the intent of destroying the wasp’s nest inside. My son ran for cover while I stayed put, waving my electric tennis racket back and forth, hitting an errant wasp every so often. He was terrified as I stood in the middle of an angry bug storm, each soldier bee waiting for its chance to sting me for disturbing its home. I led my son along a safe path and we both headed indoors. Every now and again, I opened and closed my patio door and shot one of the insects with bug spray. "Why aren’t you afraid of wasps?" my son asked. It's difficult to explain why, but when you've seen and experienced all that I have, you're no longer afraid of things like that. Stupid little insects are nothing compared to the bad people I've met, having cancer, and being pronounced dead on an operating table. Some people are blessed for whatever reason and are given multiple opportunities to continue on with their lives even after facing unimaginable circumstances. I figure that so long as I live and breathe, I will not be someone who sits idly by while letting my life pass right before my eyes. I will occupy any free time I have by doing as many things as I can, learning new things, and testing the limits of my potential. I will never dwell on my past; I will always strive to be the best in the present.
August 31, 2022, 5:30pm - Bikram 90 - The studio owner mentioned my championship participation in her most recent studio newsletter. Perhaps that's why I had a decent sized class tonight. Everyone gave it their all and sweated their brains out. That's all a teacher could ask for. A student took the time to write a review of my class: "Wonderful teaching! I wish you taught more 90-minute classes in the afternoon, not only at 6am!"
September 1, 2022, 5:30pm - Bikram 60 - "Everything in my class is optional," I joked to my students, all women. They smiled, but knew that class was never as easy as I made it sound. "Nothing in this class should cause pain. If you ever feel pain or discomfort, you need to back off and go back to the previous step. This is a therapeutic yoga class. Remember to breathe," I said. The first three postures are always challenging and I see my Type-A's always pushing themselves to the limit. "Don't do it for me," I said to everyone in Standing Head to Knee. "Do it for the lady in the mirror. Test your balance in all three variations, whether you're standing, grabbing your knee, or grabbing your foot." The 60-minute class moves very rapidly, especially after Balancing Stick.
September 2, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - Today's class was more like a seminar as I answered student questions after many of the postures. I even offered advanced versions of postures for my students to try. "Do you have to keep the upper body and lower body at the same height?" one student asked in Full Locust. "No, you don't," I said. "If your upper body is stronger than your lower body, you're going to naturally lift your upper body higher. Why stifle your progress on the upper body by making the two halves the same? The left and right halves of the body is a different story. You want that symmetry, but the upper and lower halves of the body can definitely be different." While some teachers teach mainly from the dialog, I teach dialog mixed with experience. If you want to see what good postures look like, you need to look no further than the yogasana championships. There, you will get to see all kinds of bodies going deep in the postures. You can definitely learn from all of these masters.
September 3, 2022, 8:00am - class 1323 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 130.6 today. The humidity got to me today at 68%. I found myself sitting and resting in between the Standing Separate Leg postures. My first set of Camel was crap. I couldn’t get myself to backbend. My second set was much better. Rabbit was okay, not the championship version everyone knows I’m capable of doing. I often wonder what the other top athletes in my division, or any division, do in their off-season. Do they indulge in all sorts of joy-producing food, such as ice cream or pie? Do they eat to live or live to eat? Strangely, I haven't been packing on weight this off-season, but there are certain foods and beverages I can't eat or drink as much as I used to for whatever reason. My body just feels sick if I do so. Is this what an optimized body feels like, or is it just because I'm older? I look at my colleague, Nahoko Nakayma, and I see someone who has discovered a path to perpetual fitness. She is the living embodiment of what yoga can do for you as you enter your senior years.
I've been invited to compete in the IYSF World Yoga Championship held in Bangalore, India this year. This is an extreme honor and I'd be foolish not to accept the invitation. I'm proof that if you put your heart into anything you do, you can be the best at it and walk among the giants. Don't be afraid to be great.
Do you need to travel to some far away place to learn some fancy schmancy new breathing technique or posture variation? People who wish to believe will pay a handsome sum to go far away from their home to listen to the words of some "guru" they believe has more knowledge than they have. I have seen people revere and even immortalize people much younger than they because they felt those people were “the real deal.” The truth is you are all the real deal. Your best is inside you waiting to be released. You just need to find the right way to unleash your potential. The right way is never easy and always requires patience, persistence, and continuous practice to see improvement.
September 5, 2022, 9:30am - class 1324 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 132.4 today. Today's class was brutal. A 75-minute class is supposed to be easy, but the humidity got to me again and a full class of 14 knocked the temperature in the room right out of the park at 122 degrees. The only thing that kept me moving forward was the fact that the world championship was right around the corner. I couldn't even stand up in Toe Stand; I did Half Lotus Wind Removing instead. I found myself drinking two tall Hydroflasks of water and lying down on a park bench for several minutes to cool down after class. My knees were weak and my belly was grumbling. My eyes had trouble staying open. My body wasn’t happy. It took me about half an hour to reset before I could make the highway drive back home.
September 6, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - "Are you ready?" I asked one of the studio owners who was taking my class. He nodded. I pressed against his folded arms that were encapsulating his knees in Wind Removing Pose. "Now relax... just relax..." I said. It took a few moments and then I finally felt a release of tension and his spine flattened on his mat. "That's it!" I said. "You get an A+" When we wrap our arms around our knees in the third part of Wind Removing, there is a tendency to tense up rather than relax. You must relax your spine and relax your nervous system. Calm yourself down to allow the spine to touch the mat. It's a wondrous feeling to touch your coccyx to the mat. I helped the other studio owner to get deeper and straighter in Deep Stretching. "Your thoracic spine is here and it's rounded," I said pressing against his spine. "Now lengthen it, shoulders back, and pull and stretch forward," I said, gently assisting him by pushing against his spine.
September 6, 2022, 6:00pm - class 1325 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 132.1 today. Another class where I took half an hour to reset before I could drive. This time I didn't feel totally dehydrated. It was a rainy day today, so although the humidity was high, the summer heat wasn't there. That made the class feel much easier. I often wonder why more people don't come out to do hot yoga on rainy days.
September 7, 2022, 5:30pm - Bikram 90 - "Resist the temptation to look at yourself in the side mirror in Camel and Rabbit," I said to my class. "Don't turn your head. Keep your eyes gazing along the sagittal plane, the line that divides the left and right halves of your body." Especially in Camel and Rabbit, you want to move slowly into and out of these postures to stay safe. "This is a therapeutic yoga class. Nothing should be painful. If you feel pain at any time, you need to back up to the previous step. Listen to your body first and my dialog second," I said, "and everything in the class is optional, but please try. Try to do each posture as best you can. You might even amaze yourself. This is not a competition. There are yoga competitions out there, but this is not one of them. This is your practice."
September 8, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - A small class of three with a new student. The new student recently had a knee surgery, so I made sure to give him modifications to help him get the most out of each posture, especially those that involved a heavy use of the knees.
Why You Should Never Do Standing Head to Knee or Standing Bow in Yogasana Competitions
Many people wish to follow tradition and demonstrate the classic postures of the olden days of competition, the times when we all had to demonstrate Standing Head to Knee and Standing Bow. Now that we have a choice of which postures we wish to demonstrate, the scoring format for the competition has changed dramatically. However, one constant is how the judges evaluate the well-known postures. Two of the most scrutinized and difficult postures are Standing Head to Knee and Standing Bow, so if you do either or both of these, you will be compared to the legions of competitors who have done these postures. If you have a great Standing Head to Knee and Standing Bow, then by all means do them, but most people just aren't very good at these postures. You can see the struggle in their eyes as they try to maintain their balance. Unless you have truly outstanding postures, find something else to do because you will be compared to the great ones. Whatever postures you choose to do, try to score high on every one.
September 9, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - One of my students was new to the studio and wanted to learn from a bonafide Bikram teacher. My teaching is based on my training experiences with some of the best teachers in the Bikram world. It's also influenced by my experiences with a very different kind of yoga, that of Swami Kripalu. It's the kind of yoga that I feel every Bikram teacher should have but are too stubborn to admit they need. Many Bikram teachers need to balance the yang with the yin. In other words, as hard as Bikram yoga is, they need to see the softer, more therapeutic side of what yoga is all about. If teachers really want to teach the truth, they will need to learn from more than just Bikram Choudhury. "Thank you so much. That was one of the best classes I’ve ever taken," the new student said to me. She bowed to me and we saw each other's light.
September 9, 2022, 12:00pm - Bikram 60 - More people were congratulating me on my recent placement in the yogasana championship. The studio owner did a really nice job promoting me, which I appreciate. The class requested music, so I had some dance music and some new age music playing in the background. I'm not sure why people like music during the lunchtime classes, but if it helps people have a more satisfying experience, then it's fine.
September 14, 2022, 5:30pm - class 1326 with Kaitlin McKendrick - I powered my way through class. Standing Bow was a bit of a challenge today and I ran out of gas right before Tree, so I did one side of Tree on the floor, but I got right back up for the other side.
What many people don’t realize is I eat a lot of fatty food, fast food, and what many would consider to be junk food. I also eat healthy food, too, but these meals do not make up the majority of my diet. I’m also very intense when I work out, pushing myself beyond all boundaries until I reach a point of exhaustion. I call that workout optimization. My philosophy is, thus, you can eat whatever the hell you want so long as you work your ass off in a fitness class. Some people eat junk, don't work out or don't work out in an invigorating way, and end up fat. I would never want to eat only "healthy" stuff while doing my fitness classes. Why? Because healthy foods are not always available in certain places. What will happen if you end up going to a place where the only food is fatty, fast, or junk? You're going to have to eat something and instead of placing your body in shock eating nonhealthy food when you've conditioned your body to accept only healthy food, why not work out vigorously and allow your body to accept and process any type of food, healthy or otherwise? If you work your ass off in all of your fitness classes, your body will optimally process any type of food you eat. The only thing you have to do is work on moderation. You should never stuff yourself with any meal, especially if you haven't achieved workout optimization. I hear many complaints from people who work out every day, but are still overweight. Obviously, these people haven't achieved workout optimization for the amount of food they eat. Here'a a newsflash... let's say you get a "combo meal" from a fast food restaurant... you don't have to eat the whole thing! If you learn to save half of the meal for another time, you will be eating in moderation and it will be much easier to achieve workout optimization. If you simply want to get through a class by going through the motions, so long as you eat in extreme moderation, you'll lose weight. If you want to eat more than half of the combo meal, you have to work out as hard as I do. Period. Every single day. Trust me, your life will feel like doo doo, because you will be working out all the time and resting from soreness afterwards, so it's much easier to just cut back on your unhealthy food intake or eat better food and work out not so vigorously.
September 15, 2022, 6:00am - class 1327 Bikram 90 - 133.1 today. I helped one of my students achieve a better Rabbit by teaching him my "leap of faith" technique. I also helped him achieve a better Spine Twist.
September 16, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - 132.5 today. "In all the single-legged standing postures, you must learn to balance first. Strength and flexbility comes with continued practice. Then, when all of that is happening, you come back to your balance. Test you balance in Standing Head to Knee. Even if you are grabbing your knee or your foot or just standing there with one leg down and the other lifted slightly, you are testing your balance. Try to test your balance in all three. See where you're at," I encouraged. "In the second set, see where you can go... and remember to breathe! Always breathe before, during, and after each posture."
One of my students was amazed when she heard I was number four in the nation in yogasana. She happens to be from the very city the world championship will be held in this year. "You're so good you should have your own studio. I'm sure many, many people would come," she said. We had a discussion about branding. "In this day and age, you really have to promote yourself to get people to notice who you are. People almost expect that. There are yoga teachers who are not that good, but they promote themselves well, so they are well-known," she said. I tend to be someone who'd rather have everyone else say how good I am versus tooting my own horn. Just the other day in class, a fellow student jokingly remarked to the teacher about me, "Yeah, we have her in class. She always makes me look bad," to which the teacher replied, "She's a national yoga champion." Indeed, I always feel as if an accomplishment feels more real if others acknowledge it first. You will notice in all of my self-promotions that I never say that I am great or awesome or anything like that. In fact, I will tell you how I went up against the best and am honored to do so. I love bringing my experience with yoga into every class I teach. I'm a teacher who practices intensely, so you will learn techniques that I developed on my own that will help you achieve your best poses.
September 17, 2022, 8:00am - class 1328 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 131.2 today. Before you begin any yoga posture, think about stretching and lengthening your spine first. That simple tip will help you get deeper in all of your postures. It will help you get deeper in your backbends, your forward bends, your tractions, and your twists. When you get deep in your postures, you will most likely breathe heavy from discomfort or perhaps not breathe at all. Do not hold your breath in a posture! That is the easiest way to pass out, especially if you are practicing an inversion. Instead, allow yourself to breathe freely. It might be heavy, labored breathing at first, but the more you practice your yoga, the calmer your breathing will be.
When you stretch and lengthen in Half Moon, you will feel a tension release in your sidebends. A tension release is not a crunch, a crinkle, or a pop. A tension release is more like a vroomph! You might feel a crunch or a crinkle between your joins along with the vroomph. The vroomph usually happens in the lumbar spine. You are tractioning your spine so much that you are increasing the space between each lumbar vertebrae. Do not force your body into making any sounds. These are the sounds that will come naturally as your practice yoga more. Let them happen. On some days, your body will be silent. On other days, it will make all kinds of sounds. A good stretch feels so good, especially if you are breathing during the stretch.
September 19, 2022, 6:00pm - class 1329 with Ammie Morales - Ammie's Warm Vinyasa Flow class has some Bikram postures sandwiched in between traditional flow sequences. The class was pretty fast-paced and offered something for everyone. I liked that we did a Half Moon sidebend while in Tree. A couple of leg balances, including Bird of Paradise and Extended Hand to Big Toe, were pretty challenging, mostly because we were moving quickly. We ended class with a 20-minute Yoga Nidra. It was an invigorating class and definitely something worth trying to keep me on my toes.
September 21, 2022, 9:30am - Bikram 75 - One of my favorite students mentioned how she liked my emphasis on hip alignment in Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee. Some teachers understand that each posture builds upon the next, like a segue in a song. The hip movement you do in Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee will help you understand the positioning of your hips in space in Tree and Toe Stand.
September 21, 2022, 12:00pm - Bikram 60 - "Are you supposed to keep your hips in parallel to the mirror or twisting in Standing Bow?" one of my students asked. "You're really supposed to keep them parallel to the mirror," I said, "but you'll see a lot of yogis twisting their hips, especially if they're doing standing splits. That's not quite right." I've been asked to help teach an upcoming posture clinic in October. The teachers who are a part of this clinic are all exceptional yoga teachers who practice what they preach.
September 22, 2022, 6:00am - Bikram 90 - One of the most frequent comments I hear regularly goes something like this: "Thank you so much for the corrections. I've been doing this for over ten years and nobody has ever bothered to correct me." I feel bad for them, but I also find it troubling that there are teachers who just let their students go through the motions in class. That's not fair to the students who want to be the best that they can be. A yoga "class" should be a learning experience, not a pre-recorded lecture. If I wanted to hear a pre-recorded lecture, I'd just find one on YouTube.
September 23, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 class 1330 - Sometimes tiny classes can be great. You get to practice with your students and they might have special requests. My student asked me to show her some fun stuff, so I showed her all the little things I do in the championship class. I slept on my side all wrong last night and woke up with a terrible pain in my shoulder. Half Moon fixed it.
September 23, 2022, 12:00pm - Bikram 60 class 1331 - I taught another one of my students the "leap of faith" technique and got her hips higher and her thighs more perpendular to the floor than she'd ever thought she was capable. I practiced with my students again, two classes in a row.
September 23, 2022, 6:00pm - Bikram 60 class 1332 - It's been a minute since I've taught a Bikram Beats class, unless you count the impromptu one I did two weeks ago at noon. This class is basically Friday night happy hour for the serious yoga people and there were serious yogis aplenty... to the tune of a packed class! Yes, I practiced with my students again, three times in a day. I haven't done that since my first teacher training. "I really like how you did the postures with us," one of the students said. I overheard another one thanking her daughter for taking her to this class.
A friend of one of my teachers, Noelle Burgoyne, who passed away in 2015 messaged me and sought answers to his questions about Noelle. I responded, "Yes, she will always be in my heart. She was the reason why I became a teacher. Her compassion and encouragement were two traits I always respected and admired. She was also very humble in her interactions with people. There were brighter stars at the studio where she worked in terms of popularity, but one thing I noticed was how much brighter she was without even needing to advertise it. She led by example. I am hopeful she is in a much better place now and can watch over her friends and family. I feel confident that she probably believed in reincarnation, so she is likely among us as a beautiful dove showing others what love really is."
September 25, 2022, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - A small class of five, but we had some very experienced yogis in the room. I love this one yogini who always has a fire in her eyes whenever she is in her poses. I admire and appreciate her intensity every time she's in class.
September 25, 2022, 10:00am - Bikram 60 - Ten people, a packed class, and everybody sweated like crazy. A perfect combination. Two new students had never practiced hot yoga before. One had practiced vinyasa, but not Bikram yoga. The other had never practiced yoga. I helped the vinyasa yogi unearth a very deep textbook-like Rabbit. She couldn't roll forward while gripping her heels, so I had her place her hands and elbows on the ground and roll forward in that position. As soon as she touched the top of her head to the ground, I got her to quickly grab hold of her heels. Voila! Rabbit.
I experienced two intense episodes that required immediate medical attention. The first was Tuesday night, September 27, 2022. I was driving up Broad Street, a heavily trafficked street, when suddenly I felt a loss of vision, grey spots in front of my eyes, and extreme grogginess, like it would be better to lay down. I immediately got off the main road to park my car and tried to walk it off, but it didn't help. I was fading fast. I went back into my car and started blacking out. My energy levels were depleting fast. "Oh, my God, Oh, my God!" I said to myself. I didn't want to die in my car in the heart of North Philly. Thankfully, a hospital was close by. I didn't even know if it was a regular hospital being that it was named "Einstein Medical Center." Still fading fast with my eyes starting to fail me, I walked a normally short distance that seemed like several blocks to get to the ER. I checked in and did an intake almost immediately, since I complained of shortness of breath. I had to wait a while for a hospital room to be available because I later learned that Einstein was the trauma center where they transported five injured people in a fatal open-fire shooting at a nearby high school; this incident happened at the exact time I stepped into the ER! My systolic blood pressure was 200 and over the course of several hours it got down to a manageable level at 161/86, so they released me. "Go see your cardiologist," they said. Normally, something like this shouldn't happen to someone who is typically perfectly healthy. When I got home at 11:00pm, I slept soundly.
I woke up the next day and started using my blood pressure monitor. 134/93 at 9:30am. 123/83 at 10:30am. Pretty good. My friends checked up on me and one of them even brought over a meal from a nearby food cart, but, in retrospect, I probably shouldn't have eaten it and last night's fried chicken meal as everything contained vast amounts of salt. I still felt normal for most of the day. Nighttime came fast and I ate another meal - a Jamaican beef patty - that likely contained a vast amount of salt. I went to bed a little before midnight in order to wake up to teach a yoga class at 6:00am. It was then that my life literally flashed before my eyes. I started to doze off and my blood pressure skyrocketed. My heart pounded in my chest and I felt my head and shoulders radiate intense heat, like my head was stuck inside a furnace. There was a ringing in my ears and everything looked orange. I could hear my breathing in my head now as if it were muffled. I started feeling a tingling sensation in my right arm. "No, no, NO, NO, NOOOO!!!!" I screamed. I got up immediately and kept hearing my heartbeat. My chest was visibly pulsating. BOOM BOOM. BOOM BOOOMM! I quickly took my blood pressure and Oh.My.God.Fuck... it was 232/197! I measured it again and it was similar. I stood up and the radiating heat in my head and shoulders intensified, like the furnace went on full blast. I scrambled to get my phone to call 911 and request an ambulance. The radiating heat in my head was not as intense when I sat down, so I squatted down and moved towards my front door that way, scooching down my stairs on my butt. As I waited for my ambulance, I called the only person I knew who knew me for most of my life... my ex. She worked in a hospital, so she knew the protocol to keep her patients calm. She stayed on the phone with me while I cried and said, "This is not how I want to die."
The ambulance transported me to Jefferson's ER. I was wearing only a tanktop, sweatpants, and sandals. It was freezing cold outside. The hospital wasn't warm, either. I thought I saw my fair share of nutty people in the waiting room at Einstein; there were more at Jefferson. I waited a long time for a hospital bed. I slept intermittently throughout my stay there. At 4:00am, I was released because my blood pressure was down to 157/96 . "Go see your cardiologist," they said, parroting the Einstein ER people. Of course, it would help if Penn actually got back to me right away after I sent a message to my care team early Wednesday morning. My first message to them was lost on deaf ears. My second message yielded a response, so on Friday I saw a doctor and got a blood pressure medication called Hyzaar. It was a high-level dosage of 100mg losartan and 50mg hydrochlorothiazide.
Being in an ER for two nights in a row is no joke. Basically, an ER's entire mission is about reviving a person who's about to die, not solving a problem the patient has. As much as I like to coax and even push people to do their very best in my yoga classes, I push myself much harder, sometimes to the point that I break. Unfortunately, I'll have to dial it back several notches to keep myself healthy from now on. Yes, my vitals are back to "normal," but I don't feel normal. I feel run-down. Maybe this is what being normal feels like, but it's a terrible feeling for me. Saturday evening was the first time I was able to see and think clearly again. I had not felt like myself since Tuesday morning before the drive up Broad Street.
October 5, 2022, 12:00pm - Bikram 60 - It's been a while since I taught class, so I wanted to be extra careful as I was very concerned about my heart condition. I didn't move around as much as I normally do. I was able to tutor two of my grade school students the past couple of days, but I had to drive very slowly. While I think stress and anxiety had a lot to do with my high blood pressure troubles, I'm hoping I didn't catch something at the concert I attended last Sunday. There were thousands of people in attendance, so who knows what variant of Omicron may have been floating around. I felt fine driving to the yoga studio, but the class drained me and I felt really fatigued afterwards. A COVID test revealed nothing, but I heard that some forms of COVID are not detectable by our current COVID tests. Argh!
October 7, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - My blood pressure issues got the best of me and forced me to walk out of class during Eagle. I felt woozy and had to lie down to recompose myself. I ate berries and bread during my four-hour rest. I got up and thought I was okay to walk to my car and drive back home. I decided to eat something before I made the trek back. While I was waiting in line at the nearby Qdoba, I felt woozy again and couldn't even sit up straight while eating. I was in trouble. I laid down for many minutes, tried to sit back up, but didn't have the strength or energy to do so. I called the studio owner to help drive me to a nearby hospital emergency room. This was the third visit in ten days! I called my friend to sit and wait with me for what amounted to be a six-hour wait. They still found nothing wrong, even after a head cat scan. They concluded that my medications should be adjusted, reasoning that my blood pressure levels were likely a little higher than normal before and bringing them down to a "normal" level attributed to my feelings of sluggishness. The advice once again was "Go see your cardiologist," but this time to adjust the medications.
I had to write USA Yoga recently to say, "I respectfully withdraw from the championship. I'm working through some health issues at this time. I'm so sorry to disappoint everyone." Nobody is more disappointed in this than I am. I really wanted to compete this year, but all of the stresses of life and work came to a head and my health took a nosedive as a result. I am hopeful to try again next year, but I am fine with my achievements I've earned so far. As many of you know, I worked exceptionally hard to maintain my fourth place ranking this year in a much more competitive field of contestants. Through thousands of conditioning exercises, I made sure there was little question that I'd be at or near the top of the rankings. My goal again was to show my federation that they chose someone who could represent them in the most superior way, someone who does not have to rely on any glamorous poses to win and to prove that achieving close to perfection in more basic poses is a path to victory and self-realization.
I've been to the hospitals and medical offices more times in the past two weeks than I have in the past five years. How do you go from being an elite athlete to a decrepit old woman in a matter of days? Let me start by saying that depression and anxiety can be very debilitating conditions. It can make you sicker than any physical illness. I hate going to doctors. My parents made sure that if I were to go to a hospital, it was only for a life or death situation. Doctors weren't supposed to be our friends because they used twisted methods that cause pain. Surely they're all against Chinese people in some way, so they'll make us more sick! That's what I was taught. Over the course of my life, I learned that that wasn't true. I don't fear doctors any more, but I still try to stay away from hospitals as much as possible unless absolutely necessary. I exercised my ass off all throughout my life to ensure that I was in top shape. In the past, I would've beat myself up by asking myself again and again why I had to go to the emergency room in the first place. "You're so weak!" I would've told myself. "You're fucking worthless..." My mother's words.
Hundreds of times being told the same thing by your own parent can lead to deep depression. You push all the sadness down. You learn to control it. You become a yoga master and you think you've got the answer to your problems. It's never that easy. Stress causes anxiety. Anxiety causes depression. When you have enough stress, anxiety, and depression in your life hitting you all at once, like what happened to me recently, it can be very overwhelming. Your heart can race and you will feel like you're about to have a stroke. Blurred vision. Pounding in your chest. Numbness in your limbs. You.Can't.Breathe... The feelings are very real. Mental thoughts turn into physical manifestations. Most people don't like to talk about such things. They like to place a convenient label on others who suffer from mental problems; they might even use the word "crazy."
"What's going on?" my new doctor asked. In my office, I don't get to see the same doctor every time, especially if I have to see a doctor on short notice. The previous doctor had just two years of experience; she prescribed a fairly strong blood pressure medicine for me.
"I think my losartan dosage is too high," I said, "because I'm usually a lot more energetic. Just two weeks ago, I was the number four yoga champion in the nation. Top physical shape. Now I can't even walk down the block without feeling really tired and winded, like I have to lie down and sleep! I can't drive for more than 30 minutes because I start dozing off."
"I've been studying your chart and vitals and, based on everything I've seen so far, it's obvious you're on too high a dosage," she said. My new doctor had 15 years of experience. She agreed with the emergency room doctor's assessment that my dosage needed to be adjusted because I wasn't used to what "normal" blood pressure felt like.
"120/76 is pretty good," she said.
"But I'm usually 140+ whenever I'm in the doctor's office. My normal blood pressure is usually in the 130s," I revealed. We went back and forth some more on my medical history and how I used to feel versus how I feel now. She reasoned that the blood pressure medication was what induced the issue I experienced last Friday. My body was pushed into fight-or-flight mode while teaching hot yoga in 110 degree heat. The medicine kicked in and brought my blood pressure down too much too quickly with the result being lightheadedness followed by all the symptoms I felt.
"You know what? I recommend getting off this medication completely," she said. "You need to monitor your blood pressure over the next week while your body recalibrates to having no blood pressure medication. If you're consistently above 140, then we'll put you on a lower dose of losartan, like 25 or 50mg instead of 100mg. The 100mg dose would be good if you consistently had over 200 blood pressure, but you don't." This was sound advice. I looked up who this amazing person was and found out she was the Director of Addiction Medicine at Penn Family Medicine. Her goals align with mine: Don't use medication unless absolutely necessary. Medicine should always be a last resort.
October 14, 2022 - Recovery from the effects of blood pressure medication is untrodden territory for many people as some folks stay on blood pressure medicine forever. Hopefully, that will not be the case for me. Today I was able to push and lift myself off the ground while holding the handrails of an escalator at the grocery store as it descended one floor below. One or two weeks ago - even two days ago - I would not have been able to do that. I discovered that my Hyzaar dose was not just too high for me, it was actually the highest dosage available. A small pony would've been sedated by it. The doctor with two year's of experience didn't seem to take into account that I'm not a sedentary person like most people my age; I'm an elite athlete.
October 19, 2022, 5:30pm - class 1330 with Cat Long - It was my first studio class in a month. I had continued practicing poses at home, but it's never quite the same as following the regimental patterns of a class. I made sure to protect my health and safety first. I told myself and Cat I'd "take it easy" and I did. I devoted only half the energy I'd normally use in class. The easier poses, like Triangle, Toe Stand, Wind Removing, Rabbit, and Spine Twist, got my 100%. It all balanced out to more than 50%, but it was certainly much less than the all-out 100% I usually devote to every posture in class. I got up from Savasana without any issues and with no fatigue. I got changed, walked out of the studio, and it seemed like my batteries were recharged. Everything I saw was crazy crystal clear! The pounding headache I had earlier went away. The breezy air felt good. I could breathe again! Not breathing to live, but breathing to feel. I was intensely hungry and ate an entire Chipotle burrito bowl in one sitting.
October 21, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - It felt good to be able to teach again. I had some anxieties about teaching at the very place I almost passed out at just two weeks ago. It wasn't until I got to Locust that I felt a little tired and thought I saw spots flash in front of my eyes, but it was just momentary. I felt great relief that I was able to finish teaching my class and walk out of the studio without any breathing problems or heart palpitations.
October 22, 2022, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - This was the ultimate test. Can I survive teaching a 90 minute class with 30 minutes of pre-class sitting in the room while waiting for the room to heat up? Yes, I did. I had to open the back door to cool myself down every now and again, but I made it. The room never topped 105 and I was fine with that. It's supposed to be 105 anyway. I finished class and felt another personal victory.
One of the X-rays done in my emergency room visits revealed evidence of osteoarthritis in my right shoulder. That certainly accounts for the shoulder pain I've experienced the past couple of years. The pain comes and goes. All those years carrying a big purse over my right shoulder certainly didn't help. I will need to skip Locust pose for a while until my shoulder gets better.
October 23, 2022, 8:00am - class 1331 with Kaitlin McKendrick - I pushed myself a little harder today and felt a bit more tired after class today. Class was packed with 13 students and the humidity was pretty intense even though the temperature was only 105. I skipped the second set of Triangle, but did Pigeon in its place. I skipped Locust due to my shoulder pain. No use in aggravating it further. I ate an early lunch, drove home, and took a nap that lasted 90 minutes. I think I needed it, since I woke up early for class today and didn't go to bed until late last night.
October 26, 2022, 5:30pm - class 1332 with Cat Long - "It's always a treat to practice next to you," one of my classmates said to me. "You have such beautiful energy." The other day, one of my classmates admitted that she looked to me for guidance in class. Even though the mirrors are not supposed to be used for comparison, you could always use them to learn from others who might have the experience you are looking for. While it is true that a fair amount of yoga is learning what works for your body, sometimes you need to see what others are doing to make sure you are doing things right. If you have the luxury of a yogasana champion in your class, by all means learn by watching him or her. I learned by watching Thayne at my old studio. Now people are watching me. In yoga, there is a wonderful, continuous cycle of people learning from each other.
October 28, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - I added some advanced grips and techniques in today's class and my students responded well to them.
October 29, 2022, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - I typically perform an entire series of poses with my class, but today I held myself back. My face started turning red right before Balancing Stick. I didn't look or feel so good. I stopped demonstrating and just gave instructions. I noticed something while teaching Triangle. I was able to fill in a lot more detail if I just stood there and spoke. As many of you know, I believe that a picture is worth a thousand words and when a student sees a teacher demonstrate a posture, that is worth more to him or her than all the words in the world. "You are a master teacher at this point. You don't need to keep demonstrating everything," I said to myself, "and, besides, everyone knows you can demonstrate the postures with the best of the best. You've proven yourself time and again. Focus, steadiness, stillness... these are the intangibles that can make a good yogi a great one. That is what people can learn from you."
October 30, 2022, 8:00am - class 1333 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 135.3 today. Due to the cold weather outside, the temperature in the room started in the high 90s and never touched 105 during class, but that was fine with me. I had a very strong practice today. No dizziness, no fatigue. During Fixed Firm, Kaitlin gave us the option of staying in the posture for one long set instead of two shorter ones. I appreciated that as that reminded me of what Sandy used to do during Fixed Firm. I practiced Full Spine Twist after class and was able to get both hips on the ground and my back arm reaching behind me.
November 4, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - I taught an intense 84-minute class today. I remember one of my senior teachers, Chris, used to tell me that Bikram could teach an intense 84-minute class. Chris did so a couple of times when I took his classes and today I did the same. It might've ended at 79 or 80 minutes had I not slowed down a bit towards the end. It was a small class and everyone did everything right. It's a pleasure to teach all levels of people, but today it was all advanced people. I even answered questions in class! So cool.
November 5, 2022, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - My students thanked me for a “beautiful class” and my “soothing voice.” I kept a watchful eye on everyone in class. If anyone looked like they were dealing with pain or discomfort, I quickly walked over to him or her to see if he or she was okay. That kind of personal attention is always appreciated and necessary in yoga because we teachers want to keep our students safe. As therapeutic as yoga is supposed to be, sometimes a muscle pull or a tweak is inevitable, even for advanced students, but there are always ways to treat pulls or tweaks so you can recover quickly and return to class. As teachers, we don't expect everyone to do Olympic-level poses. All we expect is that you, the student, do the best you can.
November 6, 2022, 8:00am - class 1334 with Kaitlin McKendrick - Today's crazy humidity had a few of us dropping like flies. I sat and substituted a lotus posture in place of the first set of Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, but came back in the second set with near-perfect version with the advanced grip. I practiced Lifting Lotus in Prone.
November 6, 2022, 3:30pm - Bikram 75 - "Thank you for a GREAT class!" two new students said. I showed them some variations of Fixed Firm and demonstrated things you can do when you're feeling that icky stretching sensation near your knees. It was a small class of four, but everyone knew the sequence and gave it their best effort in every posture.
There was a point in time, perhaps just a couple of years ago, in which I would "give away the farm" every time I taught. I would cram an enormous amount of information into every class, thereby making my classes feel more like yoga seminars than yoga classes. Since then, I've learned that students appreciate bits and pieces more so than having an encyclopedia thrown at them. As students, myself included, we need time to digest any new knowledge presented, so having lots of new knowledge thrown at you can be overwhelming. When I limited my new information to one, two, or, at most, three new points in every class, a miraculous thing happened. Suddenly, students were seeing my class as more valuable to them. One, two, or three new things still keeps the class enjoyable. Any more new information makes it feels more like a lecture, which is not what a yoga class should feel like.
November 11, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - I tested a new headset system at the Bryn Mawr studio today. The heater unit in the room is typically very loud, making it hard for some people to hear my voice. In a small studio, it makes sense not to wear a headset, but in a larger space, voice amplification is essential. The amplification helped many people hear me better. I liked that I didn't need to strain my voice to be heard. There were eight students today, a nice size class.
November 12, 2022, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - Perhaps this weekend was an anamoly, because the signup situation was a bit odd. Only one person had signed up 24 hours ago and then people were signing up as late as a few minutes before class. I ended up with eight people, just like my class at the other studio. It was very humid in the studio. I made sure I drank lots of electrolyte water throughout class because I had back to back classes to teach.
November 12, 2022, 10:00am - Bikram 60 - This class filled up as well. In both classes, I managed to end class early, an amazing feat, because I typically end the 60-minute class two to five minutes over time. I was a bit concerned that teaching two classes and then driving off to Hobbytown Tom's River would take a severe toll on me, but I was fine in the end. I felt a bit fatigued at the start of the drive. Luckily, I forced myself to eat something prior to the hour and a half drive.
November 13, 2022, 3:30pm - Bikram 75 - This weekend's signups have been really confounding as I was looking at just one student signing up the night before and then, suddenly, I ended up teaching an entire class anyway.
November 14, 2022, 9:30am - Bikram 75 - Why am I a yoga teacher? What I enjoy most about it is seeing my students have that look on their faces - all happy and giddy - as if they just took the best damn yoga class they’ve ever taken in their entire lives. That’s the look everyone had at the end of class today and it’s this kind of happiness that makes me proud to be a yoga teacher. I had the absolute honor of teaching a yogasana champion from Switzerland. She was doing advanced versions of the Bikram postures in class. I gave her some things to try that are effective in my practice. I taught everyone the secrets to creating their best Rabbit pose.
November 14, 2022, 6:00pm - Bikram 75 - One of my students said, "There’s something about your classes. I love the energy you bring. I don’t know what it is, but I work a little harder in your classes." I just taught six classes in four days! In addition to everything else I do, that's a whirlwind of activity.
November 18, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - A gentle push on the arms over the knees in Wind Removing. Hold it there, so the student can relax his spine more and let it roll right onto the mat. You can feel it happening and your student will feel so good in the process. Your student's spine is transformed. That's the way to do it. Sandy vibes.
November 19, 2022, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - When you teach a packed class, there is always more energy in the room. Students feed off of each other's energy and everyone works a little harder to achieve their goals. Just check out the wonderful Rabbits below. When you learn from someone who has one of the highest scoring Rabbits in the world, you will benefit greatly from her experience. It's like the difference between taking a class taught by an 8th degree black belt and taking a class taught by someone who just got their black belt. Notice how my "leap of faith" technique enables my student to get his thighs almost perpendicular to the ground.
Thinking about how beginning students do their yoga poses, I pondered over the question of whether strict alignment is really necessary, especially in the first one hundred classes. The quick answer is yes, but there is also the more common belief that at least the student is doing something to better herself, and something is certainly better than nothing. I can agree with that. The first one hundred classes are all about waking up your body to accept yoga as your legitimate form of exercise. Those who say that yoga has done nothing for them have either not taken enough classes yet or just don't try hard enough in their yoga classes. Alignment in your poses will come in time. The mere fact that you are doing something to get you closer to your body's potential to achieve a textbook posture is admirable. In Half Moon, for example, merely stretching up towards the ceiling with an option to bend left or right is enough for some people, especially those who could not raise their arms over their heads in the first place! The bend comes in time and, when it does, it's not about how much you can bend, but the quality of the bend. Even if you bend well on one side and find your body twisting on the other, at least you're bending! As said before, alignment in your poses will come in time. Sometimes you are theonly one who will truly know if you are ready to bend the correct way. Once you do, you can then work on shoring up the rest of the pose so that it gets closer to looking like a textbook posture. Do the best you can and understand that improvement will come in time.
In Rabbit, we must establish and maintain a good firm foundation before we "roll forward like a wheel on a base," however, the grip on the heels doesn't have to be a death grip. It can be a lot less intense of a grip to allow you to roll forward more. Is it more important to have your shins and tops of the feet flat on the floor or your thighs perpendicular to the floor? Both are important, of course, but in order to know what the pose feels like with your thighs perpendicular to the floor, you may have to sacrifice the lower leg not being entirely flat on the ground. Get a feel for where you need to be, then back off a little in the depth of your roll. Plant the tops of your feet firmly on the ground and perform the roll. If you stretch and lengthen your spine and suck your stomach in tight before you roll forward, you will maximize your potential to get a really tight curl in your spine to allow you to roll forward more. Practice Rabbit every day and you will get better at it. It doesn't matter if you are thin or heavyset. I have seen both body types perform Rabbit equally well.
November 24, 2022, 8:00am - class 1335 with Kaitlin McKendrick - “Are you okay?” Kaitlin asked me after class. “I felt like I had no gas left in the tank,” I replied. Returning from a number of days without yoga, I was a bit overzealous in my practice and didn’t distribute my energy very well, so I skipped postures and rested throughout class. What I did do was pretty good, except for Camel in which I felt nauseous. It was technically my worst class ever as I was trying to fight the urge to blank out. I must have had hydration and sleep deprivation issues as I fell into a deep sleep for an hour and a half when I got home.
November 25, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - Today's class transformed from being a two-person class to seven people in the final minute. Quite honestly, I have no idea how everyone magically appeared last minute while I was setting up my headset and amplifier system. Everyone was happy after class. I taught another student the "leap of faith" technique and now we have another award-winning Rabbit. Little by little, day by day, I'm going to fix all the various issues Bikram teachers seem to be ignoring, perhaps not because they don't care to, but because they have not yet experienced the poses as they should be experienced for themselves.
November 26, 2022, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - "Thank you for a great class. I will definitely be coming back!" a new student said. As a teacher, that's what you'd like to hear after every class. Students may not keep their word, but it's nice to feel their enthusiasm, if only for a moment. Another full class today. When you practice this early in the morning, the rest of your day feels like heaven.
November 27, 2022, 3:30pm - Bikram 75 - One of my students had recent knee surgery for a torn meniscus, so I taught her Fish in place of Fixed Firm and Supine Rabbit in place of Rabbit. "Thank you for the modifications!" she said. I also taught the class how Half-Tortoise should be done, not passively as in Child's Pose, but actively stretching.
Tis the season for the world yogasana championships! The International Yoga Sports Federation Championship (World Cup of Yogasana Sports) is coming up on December 3 and 4. The Australasian Yogasana Championship follows in January. Somewhere in between is the International Yoga Federation championship. You will see a lot of amazing yogis doing amazing poses, but did you ever notice that almost all of them are quite young? When you're in your teens, you're very flexible. When you're in your twenties and thirties, you're quite flexible. When you're in your forties, you're somewhat flexible. And, for some odd reason, when you're in your fifties and beyond, you're stiff as a rock in many cases. Practicing yoga allows you to regain some of that lost flexibility from your youth. I feel it is the senior yogasana championships that people should be focusing on because the senior athletes represent longevity. To see someone fifty years of age rock it as well as many younger competitors is an amazing thing. I hope many of our younger competitors will continue to maintain their practice throughout their lives.
December 2, 2022, 9:00am - Bikram 90 - One of the best questions asked of me in recent memory is, in Standing Bow, do you consciously stretch your shoulders apart or do you relax the shoulder of the arm that is securing the kicking leg? You do the latter. The tension created between the kicking leg and the foreward stretching arm is what creates the stretch across the shoulders. So long as you commit to an equal and opposite stretch and kick, your body will naturally create a Y shape that will stretch your arms and shoulders apart. Standing Bow develops balance, increases the size and elasticity of the rib cage, and firms the abdominal wall and upper thighs.
December 2, 2022, 12:00pm - Bikram 60 - "Thank you! That was a great class and you're a great teacher!" a student, who was new to me, said. Many students were taking on the holiday yoga challenge at the studio. It was amazing to see the high level of participation in the event. It harkened back to the days of the downtown studio when they had their 30-day Bikram challenge and offered prizes for those who could complete it.
December 3, 2022, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - Today I truly witnessed human beings going above and beyond their capabilities as I watched some of the dozens of athletes competing in the IYSF World Championships and also in my own morning yoga class where ten excellent yogis established their own mind-body connection. The human mind is vast and our potential for greatness is only limited by our imagination and how hard we work to rehabilitate from our injuries and proceed forward on a path to better health and fitness. Case in point, I have never seen a class taught by any teacher where everyone is doing Floor Bow in unison. There is always someone resting or lying in exhaustion. The energy level in today's class was high because everyone was acting as a single unit. Those of you who know me know that I teach a very vigorous class. I will make you work hard in every posture. Why? Because I want you all to be great. I want you all to feel what I feel when I practice yoga. I want you all to regain that lost flexibility you had in your youth. It warms my heart when someone comes to me months later and says, "Because of you, I can touch my toes again" or "Because of you, I can sit and walk without pain."
December 4, 2022, 3:30pm - Bikram 75 - A drop-in student was in my class today. She had practiced at the famed Bikram Headquarters in Los Angeles. The other two students were familiar faces. One of them was one of my first students from the downtown studio. "Your teaching has become a lot more sophisticated," she admitted. "It was great before, too, but it's so much better now." I see everything through the eyes of a yogasana champion now. I look for nuances in students' poses. I know when they're breathing correctly or giving the posture their all. I see lines of energy whenever I see someone stretch. It's a beautiful thing when I see good alignment and good effort.
If you would like to see yoga as I envision it, please see Rocio Enciso's performance at the World Cup of Yogasana Sports. Her steadiness and control in all of her poses is the definition of elegance and her finalé, Scorpion Pose, made me cry because it was so beautiful. At first, it looked like she was just doing a Handstand Pose and then she moved slowly and steadily into Scorpion. You could see in Rocio's eyes that burning desire to touch her feet to her forehead... and she does! It was the most dramatic moment in the championship.
One of the USA Yoga competitors chose to represent her home country of Canada at the World Championship. At one point, I thought about representing a non-USA country, too, because of my ethnic heritage and background. Apparently, I could’ve represented Canada, because my mother is a Canadian citizen. I could’ve also chosen to represent China had my mother and her friends and their anti-American-born-Chinese ways not left such a bad taste in my mouth. Experiencing so much national origin discrimination among the native Chinese growing up, I hesitate to be their champion. The United States of America is not a perfect nation, but we’re a nation full of misfit toys all working and playing together. If you meet someone who has your ethnic background, but was not born in your country, keep an open mind and eliminate your national origin discriminatory thoughts, because if you make someone feel alienated, you might just fuck up your country’s chances of having a future Olympic contender.
December 7, 2022, 7:00am - Bikram 90 - "I saw an amazing thing today," one of my favorite regulars said. "You said 'just try' and everybody kicked out in Standing Head to Knee! People who've never kicked out before kicked out! " The student mentioned how I should teach a private multi-week class focusing on just a handful of students who can grow with the teaching, because, apparently, I teach a lot more information than other yoga teachers. She said that, given my level of experience, I could teach students what the championships are looking for in postures, but keep the class for non-competitors. Sounds like a great idea.
December 9, 2022, 9:30am - Bikram 90 - One of my students asked me more about Standing Bow. "Do you aim your fingertips towards the center when stretching?" she asked. "Only towards the end should you do so to maintain your balance," I replied. I repeated my advice on keeping the arm in line with the torso as much as possible. "The kick is what's driving th posture. The kick is what's making you tilt forward and down," I said. I demonstrated how ridiculous the posture looks when you have your arm parallel and a light kick in the opposite direction. "Anyone can do this," I said, "but, if you want to do it right, you have to continue to stretch your arm and your leg apart equally and in opposite directions." I can say it's in the dialog, but some teachers will also quote the dialog in other ways. Who is right? Technically, nobody is truly wrong, although some Bikram teacher training snobs might take issue, which brings us to this...
There are teacher training snobs who will always say how their training is better than everyone else's "because you're getting your knowledge from the source." Okay, now hold on. "The guru" is teaching most of the classes and giving you his unfettered thoughts on a variety of topics, but that's just a small portion of the training. The rest of the training - the larger part of it, such as dialog recital and posture clinics - is taught by his colleagues and, in some cases, somewhat senior teachers. This is like going to college and getting classes taught by teaching assistants! In other words, you're really not getting it from the source. A massive group of 300 students is divided into cohorts, just like in business or law school, and each cohort is led by, basically, a teaching assistant for the entire nine weeks. You live and breathe with these people the entire time. Your teaching will be greatly influenced by who is leading your cohort, not by "the source." If you are ever so lucky to actually speak to the man himself, that would be a different story, but how many times do you ever actually get to speak to a teacher in a college course? (Unless you're that one annoying person who's always asking questions!) This is why I've come to the conclusion that going to any other 26+2 teacher training will give you basically the same experience as "the source," except you are getting classes taught by the same person who is teaching your posture clinics. You will ultimately learn the postures more quickly with fewer chefs spoiling the broth. In the end, like the two friends in Siddhartha, no matter which path you take, the end goal is the same: to be a great teacher.
December 10, 2022, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - Today's class was another truly extraordinary group of dedicated yogis. What impressed me the most was nobody rested. Everyone showed a sheer determination to march onward even though some looked depleted. I believe it may have been because everyone saw me doing many of the poses with them. When you lead by example, you guide others through your behavior. Your intention is to inspire others to copy your behavior. It is extremely difficult to teach and perform the poses at the same time and I've only ever seen a small handful of teachers do it.
December 11, 2022, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - Seeing that I was ahead of schedule in my class, I slowed down in the floor series and gave every one of my students helpful tips and adjustments to improve their postures. My mantra is very simple: if something agrees with you and you like how it feels, then do it; if it doesn't, don't.
December 11, 2022, 10:00am - Bikram 60 - "That was a really excellent class! I still remember all the tips you showed me months ago at another studio," one of my students said. "Keep coming to class. I've got a thousand tips to share," I replied with a smile.
December 16, 2022, 9:30am - Bikram 90 - Five students, including one with lumbar spine issues. When you have lumbar spine issues, you need to perform a lot of tractions and twists. See my entry for January 2, 2021 for more details.
December 17, 2022, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - Seven students, all women. What a powerful class! I showed one student two variations of Fish in place of Fixed Firm. I taught another the importance of sucking the stomach in before performing any forward bend to strengthen the abdominal muscles and guard against muscle cramps.
Most people naturally lean towards their dominant side when performing any physical movement, such as opening a door, holding a small object, or throwing a ball. In yoga classes, we often perform a rightside movement first followed by a leftside movement. It is vital that you practice leftside movements first before the rightside in your private yoga practices, especially if you are rightside dominant; do the opposite if you are leftside dominant. That way you can counteract the effects of being one-side dominant and condition your spine and body to be more symmetrical.
December 21, 2022, 9:30am - Bikram 75 - One of my students asked me what she could do about an aggravated hip. "Don't backbend as deeply as you normally do. Concentrate on tractioning and lengthening your spine moreso before you bend back," I replied. As you are pushing your hips forward in a Half Moon Backbend or Camel, you are aggravating your hips. Focus on tractions for one or more weeks to give your hips a chance to heal. In the meantime, you can continue to strengthen your spine with traction movements.
December 21, 2022, 12:00pm - Bikram 60 - One of my students introduced me to her friend as "the Olympian." That has a nice ring to it. I've only been invited to the Olympic trials in archery and yogasana isn't in the Olympics just yet, but soon will be now that India has declared it a national sport. Her friend used to practice at one of my favorite studios in the city - Bikram Yoga Northern Liberties - which is now defunct. "That was the most intense Rabbit I've ever done!" another student said to me. Indeed, my instructions are usually quite detailed in postures like Rabbit.
December 24, 2022, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - It was miserably cold this morning, so much so that attendance in both of my morning classes flipped. This class was the smaller of the two; many more signed up for the 10am class. Still, there were some mighty practitioners in the class. One student was someone I've known from my time at Bikram Yoga Philadelphia. She said she always enjoyed my classes. I saw a near-perfect Rabbit today and those who know me know I don't dish out compliments like that very easily, especially with Rabbit.
December 24, 2022, 10:00am - Bikram 60 - A new student joined the class. She was concerned that she wasn't very flexible as it was her first Bikram class, but she did very well. Her forté is pilates and I mentioned to her that pilates activates a very different set of muscles; her long limbs and strength would be her advantage in developing flexibility in yoga. "Don't worry, in three months, you'll be doing the class like a pro," I said.
December 26, 2022, 9:30am - Bikram 75 - A full class with 14 students. It was lovely to see everyone feeding off each other’s energy. People tell me how I inspire them, but I am equally inspired by my students every day. One of my students wrote on her Instagram story: "You are such a deeply talented teacher. My mom raves about you and she’s right. I wish everyone could have you in their life. ❤️"
December 27, 2022, 9:30am - class 1336 with Cat Long - 137.5 today. It's been a while since I formally practiced in a class, but I knew it had to be done. No more law school stuff, no more stressors. Focusing solely on myself and drowning out the visual noise in the room is one of the ways I get my students to achieve a stronger practice. You basically blur out everything around you and perform each posture as if you're in a trance. Performing each posture perfectly is the goal. The only blemish in today's record is Standing Bow, but, make no mistake, my Standing Bow is still pretty strong. After class finished, one of my classmates said to me and another student next to her, "I feel so honored to be between two strong practitioners." She later said to me, "Thank you for showing us the advanced poses. We don't get to see that often."
December 29, 2022, 9:30am - class 1337 with Jean Schaller - 135.9 today. To a Bikram practitioner, Ashtanga is like a wakeup call. If you think you're good at yoga and you've mostly practiced Bikram, you will find Ashtanga to be seriously challenging. That's probably why Esak added Ashtanga to his Jedi Fight Club training and why he chose one of the foremost Ashtanga teachers to lead these classes. Some Ashtanga postures are divided into progressively more difficult levels from A to D with D being the most challenging. I can do C and some D on a good day, but even if you can do just A or B level postures, that's pretty good. In Ashtanga, you flow between poses and then you hold your pose for a hard count from 1 to 5. You perform a vinyasa flow in between posture series to loosen up and prepare for the next series of postures. Bikram has a lot of pauses and Savasanas between postures; Ashtanga has just one Savasana at the end. I found myself cramping up during an assist in a posture I am normally pretty good at. "Gosh, I haven't practiced this one in a while," I said to myself. You will sweat a lot in Ashtanga and you will feel exhausted but good. Your muscles will also ache the next day because they're not used to this kind of movement.
December 30, 2022, 9:30am - Bikram 90 - There were a couple of new faces, a face I hadn't seen in a while, and a number of regulars. I gave special attention to the ones with injuries I knew about. One lady was especially flexible and could create inspiring postures with the best of them. "That was so good! Thank you for class!" she said to me. This past week has been especially vibrant at the studios I teach. Every day the classes have been filled to capacity. It's almost as if people are starting early on their New Year's resolutions.
Even though I withdrew from the IYSF World Yogasana Championship due to health reasons, I entered another world yoga championship based out of Turkey and won Gold. Thank you and bless you IYF! I was trying to figure out how to introduce my victory to the world and decided that the usual Facebook and Instagram posts were a good start. The IYF has attracted some of the brightest names from the IYSF world, including Imelda Turner, Almania Colombo, Erik Persson, Wayne Campbell, and now me.
December 31, 2022, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - You can't ask for anything better than a full class on New Year's Eve day. Everybody practiced with fiery intention. Nobody skipped a posture. Their Triangles were among the strongest I've seen in the dozen or so studios I've taught at.
December 31, 2022, 10:45pm - class 1338 with Kaitlin McKendrick - Our small but mighty group practiced with quiet dignity and grace through a selection of soft rock songs. I got deep into many postures as I normally do and never let the heat bother me. After class, we were treated to Brut and a dessert tray with chocolate covered strawberries and pastries. I ate two red grapes. Any alcohol would've impaired me on my drive home.
I don't believe in "New Year's resolutions" because we should all be living a life of kindness and compassion to ourselves and others every single day. To live a life where you take plenty of missteps and then expect to make up for your shortcomings on a single day every year will always lead to a cycle of temporary fixes and reverting back to old habits. Live a good life and strive to be the best at everything you like to do every single day.
January 2, 2023, 9:30am - class 1339 with Kaitlin McKendrick - "I always love that Clare has a smile on her face when she practices," Kaitlin said to the class. It's easy to smile when yoga makes you feel good and you can see your abdominal muscles again. Kaitlin sang a song at the end of the class, which is always a treat because she has a Broadway-quality voice. "I like practicing next to you because your postures are so strong," one of my favorite students said to me after class. On the other side of me, a newer student said, "It was actually in your class, Clare, that I had a breakthrough and I've been committed to this ever since."
January 3, 2023, 9:30am - class 1340 with Cat Long - "I love that you're always smiling when you practice," a classmate said to me after class. "It's a pleasure to have you in class," said another. "I can't help but sneak a peek at you from time to time to see how a posture's done." The good news is the shoulder pain that has bugged me for the past three months has decreased greatly. I attribute that to the arm stretching we do in yoga.
January 4, 2023, 12:00pm - class 1341 with Kaitlin McKendrick - I test my balance on the bare floor in Standing Head to Knee, not to show off any special ability, but to practice my pose in absolute stillness. It's "easy" to do yoga poses on a mat. It's an entirely different matter to do them on a bare floor. Once you can get a textbook posture on a mat, try to do it on a bare floor. You will take your practice to a whole new level if you do.
January 5, 2023, 5:30pm - Bikram 60 - Prior to class, a new student and I spoke about the appeal of hot yoga and its apparent level of difficulty for beginners. "Oh, try all of this without the heat," I said, "because it's all quite easy with no heat. What the heat does is force you to focus more on your poses." If you can learn to manage the stifling heat in hot yoga and do your poses well, you can basically do anything.
January 6, 2023, 9:30am - Bikram 90 - An amazing class as always,” one of my students said. “It seemed it went very quick today.” “When everyone’s doing the right things, it’s easy to move through the class quickly,” I said.
Now that yoga is an official sport in India, I’ve watched several televised programs on yoga sports in India and let me tell you that the amazing things we’ve seen coming out of the United States barely graze the surface of what they are doing in India and other countries. We are in for a wild ride as the United States is known almost solely for yogasana. There are many other categories, such as yoga flow, yoga artistic, and yoga athletic that our athletes will need to consider if we are going to compare favorably to our eastern counterprts.
Until recently, I didn’t really acknowledge that there was more than one yoga federation. For a relative newcomer in the world of yogasana competition, there was only one federation that I concerned myself with: IYSF. It was only in the last year or so that I had started discovering a world outside of IYSF. There are different federations in other sports, such as boxing - WBA, WBO, WBC, IBF - so why not different yoga federations? The four boxing federations sometimes have the same champion representing one or more of them. Why not yoga? My first foray into a different yoga federation was when I entered the Australasian Yoga Sports Federation’s championship last year. It was a smaller federation than IYSF with many of the same judges, but its rules and regulations were sometimes more demanding than IYSF’s. Just like some boxing champions are ranked at the top in more than one federation, the ultimate goal for a yogasana competitor is to succeed in all of the yoga federations. The more you compete, the more experience you gain. Just like other sports, you can be an undisputed yogasana champion by being at the top in all the yoga federations.
I was recently asked who among all the yoga practitioners and champions has a complete Bikram practice, one in which every one of his or her poses is pretty good to awesome. My meant-to-be modest answer was "me." I know many people who are great at Standing Bow and Standing Head to Knee, but that's usually where their greatness ends. Some of them can't do Eagle, Triangle, Rabbit, Spine Twist, or other poses well. When I say "me," I am drawing upon my experience of seeing not hundreds, but thousands, of practitioners in Bikram classes all over the world. I am not the strongest, not the most flexible, and not the most balanced of all, but the combination of what I have along with many intangibles creates a powerful synergy that all comes together in my practice and my championship routines. The goal for me is to try to be awesome at everything and that will likely take the rest of this lifetime to do.
January 7, 2023, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - I showed my class a technique I use to relieve tension in the back after deep back bends, forward bends, and tractions.
January 13, 2023, 9:30am - class 1342 Bikram 90 - Today I practiced with my class. I haven't practiced while teaching for a while, so it was somewhat difficult for me today, but I managed to perform a decent number of poses. Hopefully, I'll regain my stamina soon.
January 14, 2023, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - One of my students remembered me from my early days teaching at the downtown yoga studio. She remembered that my sons were very young back then. My, how time flies when you're having fun! I love how my students are maintaining their youth with yoga. Many of my colleagues and friends get more creaky with age, but my yoga friends are staying young with their consistent practice. It's a beautiful thing to see.
One of my favorite teachers, Tony Sanchez, warned us at Teacher Training that we shouldn't "give away our talents for free." I've been guilty of giving away too much in this blog. Come to my classes because I guarantee that most teachers won't have my knowledge or experience... and what a wonderful wealth of knowledge it is, combining yoga, archery, martial arts, and competition! If you can't come to my classes in Narberth, you can always pay for a Zoom session or a prerecorded class.
Here I am in a scene in Human Playground on Netflix:
January 16, 2023, 9:30am - class 1343 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 135.2 today. I met a new student today who was returning to his long-time Bikram practice. We discussed the philosophy of doing the best you can in class and the results will come. “Sometimes I think I’m terrible,” I said to him before class. That seemed like a shocking revelation to some, but I want people to see how hard I practice and I hope they can be inspired by it to work harder in their practices.
January 19, 2023, 5:30pm - Bikram 60 - "Umm... whoaaa... everyone is doing their poses really well!" I thought to myself. There's a reason why some long-time Bikram practitioners see the 60-minute class as the advanced class. You basically do most everything twice and in supersets. If you're not very mobile or flexible, this can be a damaging practice for some people. These students were all quite experienced, however, and moved through the class like pros.
January 19, 2023, 7:00pm - Bikram 75 - I'll need to slow down when teaching this particular class. It's late at night and everyone's trying to conserve their energy before the night ends. I usually teach my classes in a rapid-fire pace, which works well when I teach morning classes.
January 20, 2023, 9:30am - Bikram 90 - Today I was compared to Michelle Yeoh, a resemblance I can actually agree with. I used to think she wasn't that pretty, to which my complimenter said, "Are you kidding? She's beautiful!" Indeed, Michelle was once a beauty pageant winner some 40 years ago. Amid all the heavily made up faces we see on television and social media, my complimenter's remark was made when he saw my bare face just after a shower at the yoga studio. Barefaced beauty is the best kind of beauty.
I submitted a leave of absence - what professors at my university would call a sabbatical - from Focus Bryn Mawr today. Today and next week will be my last classes I will teach there until the summer, so I can focus on my studies. I'm teaching more classes and students now than ever before. My classes are usually packed at Bridge Hot Yoga, so I'm at a good place there. I will continue to coach Focus co-owner, Tico, for the national championship. He has the energy and drive to be the next big thing in the Men's 18-49 category.
January 21, 2023, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - "Lower back, middle back, upper back. Total spine is backward bending as you reach back and touch the wall behind you," I said. In between postures, I spoke about alignment and the importance of how to position certain body parts to achieve perfect alignment. I was delighted to find a number of students paying rapt attention to what I had to say. When students listen, that makes teaching a joy.
January 24, 2023, 9:30am - class 1344 with Cat Long - A stomach bug prevented me from achieving all that I could today, but I pushed through most of the class and rested during Full Locust, Bow, and one set of Rabbit. I lay there with my fingers tingling. “Uh oh, that’s not good…” I said to myself, fighting the urge to black out. Stomach issues can lead to dehydration and dehydration can lead to tingling in your toes and feet. Coupled with feelings of nausea and vomiting and you just have to lie down and turn to one side to rejuvenate your body.
When IYF solicited me three years ago, I thought it was a joke because I had never heard of the IYF before and thought there was only one yoga federation. It wasn’t until I learned more about the different federations both inside and outside of yoga that I began to realize that the IYF was a fledgling but legitimate organization that was trying to establish itself in the yoga world. To be successful at anything, all it takes is people who believe in you. You plant a tree and hopefully it will grow. I spoke to one of my IYSF colleagues about the IYF, formerly known as the Yoga Olympics Federation.
“Fake or not, I don’t care,” she said. “When I won, they awarded me a medal and a certificate all the way from Turkey. It is the best medal I have received. The design and cut were great. I attempted the postures as per their guidelines and didn't expect to win.”
It turns out IYF wasn’t fake. The’ve done a great job promoting their federation in Turkey as a legitimate sport. In many respects, IYF is a model organization that other yoga federations will look to for guidance on expanding yoga to include more categories than just yogasana. Its 1,400 participants this year is a testament to all of the possibilities a yoga federation can be. “They have other categories like yoga flow, yoga acrobatic, yoga dance, etc,” my colleague said.
Last year, I was the sole competitor in my division. This year, there were seven. By contrast, the AYSF, the second most popular yoga federation, had only four competitors last year. The largest IYF divisions were not yogasana, but yoga flow. Yoga flow requires a strong command of asana combined with the creativity and musicality of a theatrical performance. There's a lot to like about IYF and I am very proud of my Gold medal in the Senior Women's division as it was against legitimate competition.
January 26, 2023, 5:30pm - Bikram 60 - Allergies or acid reflux led to a sore throat, but my voice was still good during class. I drank hot tea all day.
January 26, 2023, 7:00pm - Bikram 75 - My voice started fading and sounding more hoarse towards the end of class. I ended up barely able to speak. My throat was sore, but not as bad as last night. Still, I managed to eke out a good class, but I couldn't end the class with the relaxation mantra I normally do. I know I don't have a cold, since I'm coughing up clear for the past few days. I started feeling a lump in my throat last Saturday and the major cause of it was overworked vocal cords, since I taught four classes in three days. That, coupled with a lot of soda the past few weeks, probably messed something up in my throat and stomach.
January 27, 2023, 9:30am - class 1345 Bikram 90 - I lost my voice and couldn't speak, so I used pre-recorded audio in class and walked around adjusting people and performing postures next to my students. My voice was fine Wednesday when I went to AAA Hobbies to speak to one of the managers there, although I had some issues with GERD that day and the previous night. At the end of Thursday, my voice was weak. Today, I could barely speak without straining. I had to call out sick the next day, which is terrible because I like teaching the fast-paced 60-minute class I was scheduled to teach.
February 2, 2023, 7:00pm - Bikram 75 - After four days of voice rest, my voice came back yesterday and was a little stronger today. My volume was low, but thankfully there weren't any people who were hard of hearing. One student complained of lower back issues, so I gave her alternate poses to try during class, including some Yin poses. Another student did the reverse kali mudra grip I showed her in Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee.
February 4, 2023, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - A packed class this morning with 14 students on one of the coldest days this winter. What amazes me is there are students travelling from the city and other students travelling from as far as Conshohocken bypassing many other hot yoga studios along the way just to take my class. That's frickin' amazing!
February 4, 2023, 10:00am - Bikram 60 - A good size class here as well. A student who hadn't taken a Bikram class in 15 years took my class today and said she felt great afterwards.
Many of my harshest critics may look at me and my championship routines and say they can beat me, but can they really? At my age or any age? The answers are most likely no. It’s easy to judge others and much harder to judge yourself. You might be able to get up on stage and give a once in a lifetime performance, but can you repeat it over and over again consistently? Can you make your routine look beautiful? When you’ve trained and conditioned your body to perform your routine consistently and flawlessly, the judges can see that. Displays of superb flexibility will not win points if you can’t hold your poses for very long. Competitors often wonder how or why they received zero on a posture. Make no mistake, once you've entered a competition and received scores for your efforts, you will see how hard it is to score what I score. I know many people who could do more outstanding poses than I can, but to bring it all together and perform a routine in front of a live audience, that takes nerves of steel, iron willpower, and unwavering focus. Even if you have all that, you have to have the talent to back it up. The best athletes make their craft look easy. They inspire the average person to believe that they can do it, too, and they can... if they are willing to put in the thousands of hours of conditioning and discipline to be great. Don't be afraid to be great.
February 6, 2023, 8:00am - class 1346 with Kaitlin McKendrick - My first class back after my recent health issue. I dove right in as if nothing happened, but the intensity got to me and I had to sit out during Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee. You learn to be humble after moments like this and classmates get to see that you're human, too. I took a moment to scan the room. I've seen this one lady in class many times. She's always outrageously beautiful, as if she's made for television or movies. Then I realized who she was. She's on television every single day and most of you have probably seen her, too. There are other celebrities who appear in our studio from time to time, since the studio is located in an affluent area. It's always lovely to share space with all of these wonderful people.
My youngest son had never seen me as an athlete. His conception of an athlete was someone who played ball sports, such as football, baseball, or basketball. With the proliferation of team sports in schools, it's easy to make the connection that the only sports that mattered were team sports. It wasn't until he held my medal in his hands that he began to realize the awesomeness in his mom. "They wouldn't give a medal to just anybody," I said to him. He acknowledged that. "But I thought you were number 4," he said. "That's in a different federation," I responded, "and just like there are multiple federations in other sports, there are multiple federations in yoga." "Ohhh, I see!" he said. "My goal is to be number 1 in all of the federations, to be the undisputed champion," I told him.
February 7, 2023, 9:00am - Championship Training - Tico and I discussed sequencing his six postures so they all flow from beginning to end. The goal is perfection in the poses rather than trying anything too high-risk and fancy.
February 8, 2023, 12:00pm - class 1347 Bikram 60 - I was an emergency substitute today. I was in my yoga outfit practicing postures with my class and giving full dialog through it all, just like I did in my online classes during the pandemic. After class, one of my students said to me, "I've never been able to do Toe Stand before, but today I was able to do it through your instruction. Thank you!"
February 9, 2023, 7:00pm - Bikram 75 - "Are your shoulders forward or back in Rabbit?" one of my students asked. In classes of seven or eight, it's a beautiful thing to have enough room to demonstrate the postures to your class. This is how Sandy used to teach me and how I teach everyone. Every class you teach should be special. "Watch this," I said to him, as I sat on my heels and stretched up before curling down. "Ah, the arms are straight!" he noticed. I came back up. "Yes," I said, "and the tops of your feet are flat as you get your thighs perpendicular to the floor." There was a comment about physical limitations, to which I replied, "They said I couldn't do it. My 'Asian build' with my short legs and long torso... but I proved everyone wrong by achieving the highest score in Rabbit in the world." The class cheered and appreciated my instruction. These are the tidbits you can only get from someone who practices what she preaches.
February 10, 2023, 9:30am - class 1348 with Cat Long - 136.4 today. I turned 55 today. Many of you had mistakenly believed I was in my late 30s or early 40s, but part of that misconception lies in the fact that my athletic ability convinces everyone I must be younger than I am. How is she in such great shape in her 50s, some of you may be thinking? Yoga has a lot to do with it. I had vast discussions with various people about this and the overwhelming majority understand that flexibility is the most important thing we can develop and maintain in our old age. See this article about the sit-rise test if you don't believe me. I felt strong today and finished class with a little fatigue, not the nauseating exhaustion I experienced in recent months. I didn't feel tired at all during Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee and I had a lot of height in Floor Bow. This is going to be a tough year for me in terms of competition preparation, especially with what happened last September, but we'll see if I can do it again.
February 11, 2023, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - Another packed class this morning. I gave lots of assists today to help everyone achieve their best postures. "I like demonstrating the postures as well as teaching them," I said. In any class, you will see me practicing any of the postures alongside a full class of students, just to show you that I'm not just a voice, but that I can practice what I preach. "You're a wonderful teacher," a new student said to me.
You showed me that I can rest my face, at the brow bone, to press the pineal gland, but a certain teacher kept telling everyone to touch the knee to the hairline, which is for most about three inches further. I would be interested in any comment you could make about that.
Other than Bikram’s cronies telling the teacher that the aim is to touch the hairline to the knee, there is no real reason to touch the hairline to the knee other than to create another “impossible goal” in our series where we are all supposed to be striving for something even more “desirable” in our flexibility during a forward compression or forward bend. There are many articles describing the forehead to knee contact as simply touching the “third eye” on the forehead to the knee, or basically the stimulation of the pineal gland. Here is a basic commentary that doesn’t say much other than praising the pose to help you stimulate the pineal gland.
Here is an example article on how touching the forehead to the knee stimulates the pineal gland.
There are many articles like that. Of course, there will be yoga scholars who question why we should even do this. Here is an article that claims it doesn’t matter if you touch your forehead to your knee. I wouldn’t take such an extreme view on this as this latter article does. Yes, you will be building up your abdominals, but the pose has always called for the forehead to the knee and there are countless images of yogis doing so. I believe Ghosh Yoga’s philosophy on making yoga more accessible to everyone is just their way of winning more students to join their collective.
Stimulating the pineal gland is the way :)
February 13, 2023, 9:30am - class 1349 with Kaitlin McKendrick - The studio was warmer than in recent memory, but I was able to complete the class without crazy dehydration and exhaustion issues. I didn't even need much water after class, so that's a win. I did Toe Stand without touching my hands to the floor.
February 14, 2023, 9:30am - class 1350 with Cat Long - Another strong day. 105 degree heat. I did Toe Stand again without touching my hands to the floor. I'm practicing Root as I did back in 2021. I'm also working on Full Spine Twist. That pose might not happen for the Regionals next month, but perhaps for the Nationals. Ironically, the Nationals will be in Philadelphia this year. Unfortunately for me, a new level of competition has entered the Women's 50+ division. Ayanna Brown has dominated her 18-49 division for several years. Now that she is entering the 50+ division, the competition level has increased dramatically.
February 15, 2023, 12:00pm - class 1351 with Kaitlin McKendrick - I like that Kaitlin was pushing me today in Eagle and Locust, coaxing out a better pose. If you practice with intensity, a 60-minute Bikram class can feel like a 90-minute Bikram class. Unfortunately, most people don't practice with any sort of intensity. They operate from the mindset of, "I just want to get through this class and go home." Don't be afraid to push yourself hard. Only by pushing yourself hard can you hope to get better. Don't be afraid to be great.
February 16, 2023, 7:30am - class 1352 with Tico Betancourt - This was a silent class where Tico practiced with me and another student. I was a little wobbly during Standing Head to Knee and Standing Bow. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the best at these postures. Even though I say that, many people have already seen me doing a full Standing Head to Knee with detailed precision. If you want to be the best at anything, you should always self-criticize yourself. After class, I spent an hour with Tico, coaching him to be the next yogasana champion. He's very much like the male version of me, someone with tremendous muscle tone and flexibility he developed because of his strength.
February 16, 2023, 7:00pm - Bikram 75 - "Besides Tico, do you have others that you're coaching?" one of my students asked. "I tried to get a couple of 50+ men to compete, but they're not ready yet," I replied. You need a certain mindset to be able to compete. Not just anyone can do it. Most people are afraid of failure or looking bad in front of others. The interesting thing about yoga classes is you learn how to deal with looking bad in front of others. Everyone has off days and can fall out of any posture on any given day. Anyone can look completely awesome one day and completely awkward the next. Every day is different and your performance depends a lot on the events that happen to you every day. What makes a champion a champion is the ability to filter out all the bad stuff and focus on the task at hand. In recent weeks, more and more people are learning how to properly get into Toe Stand with my instruction. People who've never been able to do it before are doing it now. What's the secret? Come to my classes and find out. The sit-rise test by Dr. Claudio Gil Araujo is a real thing. People who can't do it well will likely not live as long as those who can.
February 17, 2023, 9:30am - class 1353 with Kaitlin McKendrick - More and more people found out I was competing this year and the fact that the competition is in Philadelphia makes it all the better. I felt good during class with normal energy levels, but after class I felt exhausted and dehydrated. I temporarily lost hearing in one ear and had to sit down for a bit to recover. I like to show a graph like the one to the right every now and again to show everyone that you, too, can lose weight quickly if you practice hot yoga every day. I eat heartily, too, so the fact that I'm doing all of this without being a vegan or a vegetarian should tell you that you can do this, too.
February 17, 2023, 6:00pm - Bikram 60 - My playlist was full of dance music in this music class.
February 18, 2023, 8:00am - class 1354 Bikram 90 - I practiced for half a class here and half a class in my next class, comprising a whole class. It was easy to practice with my students this week, especially since my body is getting used to the daily routine again. I am proof that every Bikram teacher can do what I can do if they set their heart to it. Sadly, most cannot and students can tell who practices what they preach. If you teach this stuff, you should always try to be in reasonably good shape, because students look at you for inspiration. This is why I like working at The Bridge Hot Yoga. Every teacher here is in great shape. We all practice yoga, many different kinds. We devote ourselves to it. "I was going to demonstrate Rabbit, but everyone has been showing such good form, I don't need to," I said to my class. "You have us well-trained," one of my students responded, smiling.
February 18, 2023, 10:00am - Bikram 60 - "Many of you have probably seen my social media post on balance. The moment you recover from an almost-fall is the moment you will say, 'Yoga is worth every penny,'" I said to my class. Everyone nodded. At another point in class, I explained the use of the mirrors. "Remember, the mirrors are here to guide you, not to compare to anyone else. This is not a competition. That's only for those crazy competitive yoga people out there," I said with a smile and in jest. Several people knew what I was talking about. "Thank you for allowing me to take your class," a new student said at the end. "Have you been teaching long?" he asked. "Yes, since 2015," I responded. "There's only one other studio I know that does the 'Sandy sigh,'" he said. "Ah, do you know Sandy Robin?" I asked him. He did, and he knew her son, too, who had owned Bikram Yoga Northern Liberties. "I was Sandy's favorite student," I said, and he immediately knew he was in the right class. There may have been more talented yoginis who took Sandy's classes with me, but I was the one who started out with a broken body and a broken mind - and perhaps the least talent - and was forged into a blade so sharp, it's the reason I call myself 'The Katana.' I have seen many people come and go in Sandy's classes, but I was the only one who stuck around even when she was sick. Sandy entrusted me to teach her morning classes while she was out and I did so with the same fervor and intensity that she did. I enjoyed my Sunday tea time chats with her. I would say that those chats rank among the most wonderful experiences in my life. Whenever I practice yoga and feel so exhausted that I can't move on, I find strength inside me by remembering all her lessons.
February 20, 2023, 9:30am - class 1355 with Kaitlin McKendrick - Class didn't fatigue me as much today, probably because I'm carrying a little more weight today compared to Friday. "If we skip or day or two over the weekend, we tend to revert a little from our continuous weight loss," I told one of my classmates, "and we try to achieve what we were last Friday. Once we achieve last Friday's weight, we proceed with our weight loss from there." My goal is to hit the 120s again. It's my optimal weight, so my postures can look good.
February 22, 2023, 12:00pm - class 1356 with Kaitlin McKendrick - My reputation seems to precede me these days. One student recognized me by name and told me she took a class I taught. Another student turned to look at me and said, "Oh, you're the Clare!" "The Clare... uh oh..." I said with a smile. You usually hope you meet their expectations when you're introduced like that. Can you imagine how much pressure you place on yourself to always show your best in front of others? It's a lot more than people realize and, when you keep doing well, people sometimes almost expect it rather than be awed by it.
Get your best Cobra when you lead with your gaze directed at your ajna. Keep your shoulders and elbows as close to how they started as you can. Stretch and curl the spine back so your forehead points towards the back wall as you lift up. Stop when you feel your belly is about to lift off the ground. Try it with your hands on your sides or behind your back. Come to my classes to see how it's done.
February 23, 2023, 7:00pm - Bikram 75 - "Time always flies by so fast in this class!" one of my students said to me. That's a great compliment, because it shows how well you flow when you teach a class.
February 24, 2023, 9:30am - class 1357 with Cat Long - "The best yoga teachers are here in this studio," I overheard one classmate say to another. Class was packed today. The student next to me introduced me to her sister who stood in the back row. "Clare's a yoga champion who has won medals in different federations," she said to her. I tried to brush this off quickly. "I'm just your average person," I said, humbly. "She's not your average person," she said to her sister with conviction. "Just follow what Clare does," she said. At the end of class, her sister thanked me. "You were a great model for the poses," she said. I thanked her and told her about the three planes that I learned from Tony Sanchez. "So long as you align your postures to the planes, your poses will always be true," I said.
February 25, 2023, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - "For a moment, I had a flashback to 2015 when you taught the lunch hour at Bikram Yoga Philadelphia," one of my students said to me after class. "Do you remember me from those classes?" she asked. "Of course I do!" I replied. "We're so lucky to have you as a teacher here," another student said. 55 years old and I'm still demonstrating poses while teaching my classes. I remember there was a time when I was scolded, even shunned, for doing so. You win a championship and suddenly everyone wants to do what you do. That's pretty cool.
February 25, 2023, 10:00am - Bikram 60 - "Thank you for class. Such a good teacher!" one of my students said to me after class.
February 25, 2023, 3:00pm - USA Yoga Workshop "Nutrition for Athletes with Keri Palasz and Holly Raymond" - Much of Keri's presentation was a repeat from last May's stellar workshop on nutrition. Holly added a different approach to nutrition from a vegan perspective. She shared her background story on her childhood anorexia and eating disorder and her journey toward becoming a ballerina and a world-class yoga champion. I wrote to her, "Thank you for sharing your story. When I was in my teens, I also suffered from anorexia and an eating disorder. I was 5'8 and 114 to 118 pounds for a long time, up until I was 21 when I decided to do something about it."
February 26, 2023, 8:00am - class 1358 with Fi Garsed - "Open up your chest like a flower petal blooming!" "You'll feel a tremendous stretching, pain sensation underneath your legs!" Haha, I haven't heard these Bikram-isms in a while, I thought to myself. I haven't taken a 90-minute class in a while and it was my first class with Fi, so it was refreshing to take this class today.
February 27, 2023, 9:30am - class 1359 with Kaitlin McKendrick - I walked in just two minutes before class started due to heavy morning traffic. Amazingly, I surprised myself with a strong practice. I couldn't breathe properly at first in Pranayama Breathing because of anxiety, but I quickly calmed myself down by the fifth breath. I was still able to do Standing Head to Knee on the bare floor. I've been able to gently brush my forehead on the floor the past few times in Standing Separate Leg Stretching.
February 28, 2023, 9:30am - class 1360 with Cat Long - Standing Separate Leg Stretching… Shoulder muscles protruding, looking like round baseballs sitting atop my shoulders, as I pull my heels to touch my forehead to the ground. Soon, my shoulders will look like armor plates again. Touch my fingers to the ground in Toe Stand? Don’t need to. I know the secret to lifting higher in the Spine Strengthening Series. Some teachers only talk about it. I’m actually doing it, using my body as a laboratory. I felt a sudden change today after class. I didn’t need to drink any water before final Savasana. Usually, I feel so exhausted and dehydrated that I glug seven to ten gulps before plopping down on my mat, lying in a sea of sweat, exhausted and ready to fall asleep. I’m pretty sure only a handful of people in the world practice as intensely as I do and study the sweat patterns on their mats during class to determine how well they are doing that day. I tell people I’m not that flexible, I’m not that balanced, I’m not that strong. I even tell people I’m not that smart. But that’s my humility talking. I work hard at everything I do in order to make everything look super easy so that when people try to do what I do, they go, “Hey, wait a minute… how the fuck did she do that and I can’t?” The smart ones then try to work towards being like me. They don’t just sit around and marvel over me or think about how they just witnessed an amazing human. They do what it takes to prevent themselves from becoming sedentary beings. I’m 55 years old and I’m doing all this! “I want to look like you,” many women have said to me. Well, you can! You just have to work at it.
March 1, 2023, 12:00pm - class 1361 with Kaitlin McKendrick - Kaitlin placed a new student behind me so she could watch and follow along to what I was doing in class. Since she was new, I practiced all of my postures the traditional way. In Standing Bow, I usually do the champioship method by simultaneously picking up my right foot with my right hand while stretching my left arm up, but I did it in typical stepwise fashion today for the new student's benefit. "Thank you for letting me stand behind you," the new student said after class. "I learned a lot from you. You could bend your body in ways I never can," she said. "We all felt the same way when we started," I admitted. We talked about Bikram Yoga and how every class is the same structure no matter where you go in the world. Unlike fad exercises that come and go or mutate over time, Bikram Yoga has been around since the late 1960s. It still is one of the best movement classes around.
March 2, 2023, 7:30am - class 1362 with Tico Betancourt - This was a silent class where Tico practiced with me. We turned the usual 60 minute class into 75 minutes. After class, I spent an hour with Tico, examining his routine and providing feedback to improve it. He requested to see my routine and I did it without hesitation. Some people have to "warm up" before showing their routine. I don't believe in that. If you want to be a champion, you have to condition your body to such a high degree that you can perform your routine anywhere and at any time. "It's more important to create a smooth, flowing routine than go for points. Your routine will be immortalized on the Internet for years to come," I advised.
March 2, 2023, 7:00pm - Bikram 75 - "That was awesome," a new student said at the conclusion of my class. "I don’t know how you do it, but your classes just fly by. The stress I came in with just went away," another student said.
March 3, 2023, 9:30am - class 1363 with Cat Long - 134.6 today. I feel much better this week than two weeks ago at the same weight. For the past three days, I allowed myself three sips of water after Eagle and four sips at the end of class. This was unlike two weeks ago when I drank water furiously in class and afterwards feeling exhausted and dehydrated. Hopefully, I'll continue this positive trend. My right knee felt wonky today. Hopefully, it'll heal properly before the championship.
March 4, 2023, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - Can you imagine 15 students crowding into a yoga studio that comfortably fits 14? Sometimes we even get 16 students because our classes are so popular. This was a very special day, so I demonstrated a number of postures and walked around giving adjustments to a lot of students. I even encouraged one of my students to compete in the championship because she has really good postures. "We're so lucky to have you as a teacher," two students said to me.
March 4, 2023, 10:00am - Bikram 60 - I'll need to eat something better than sugary cereal in the morning because my energy level dropped a lot during the second class. I normally have an Anabar on Saturday mornings, but, alas, I ran out of my favorite protein bars. Strangely, a student thanked me for "an awesome class," so I'm glad I was still on point with my dialog.
Tim Mizerak, the USA Yoga Senior Men's champion, reviewed Tico's yogasana routine and said, "I met Tico this morning and he said you've been working with him. His routine looks really great - nice job to you both." Tico attended a weekly workshop where some big names in the yoga world were present. When Tico mentioned that I was coaching him, there was a lot of respect in the room when everyone heard my name. Tico is a joy to work with, because he was the first to fully embrace my teachings. Because of that, he is my favorite coachee. My own choice of coach causes confusion to some, but makes perfect sense to me: Sandy Robin. Some may wonder why I wish to continue to cling on to the memory of a teacher who is no longer with us, but if you had the kind of special connection I had with Sandy, you'd understand. When other teachers would simply walk by me with not a single adjustment or correction, it was Sandy who kept pushing me to continue developing my poses. We had many conversations about yoga after class and in her home. She was an amazing lady. It is the trio of Sandy, Noelle Burgoyne, and Joel Pier who continue to guide me even though all three no longer walk the earth. That's why I always dedicate my routines to them.
March 5, 2023, 10:00am - Bikram 60 - I walked into the studio today as the previous class was finishing up. A student was telling the studio owner, "Clare was coaching me last week. She was so helpful." Ten students were in my class today, a good size for a Sunday. One of them enjoyed reading my book, 1 2 3 4Yoga. She said that my voice comes through in my writing.
March 6, 2023, 9:30am - class 1364 with Cat Long - One sip of water today during class. In Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, not only am I doing the reverse Kali mudra behind my back in the first set, I am now attempting Namaskar behind my back in the second set. I was able to do Toe Stand without touching the floor on both sides. I felt my back straighter in Archer today than in the previous weeks. I'm still hopeful I'll get to do Full Spine Twist in the Nationals this year, but I feel like I'm wrecking up my knee again.
March 7, 2023, 9:30am - class 1365 with Cat Long - Cat was amazing today. She practiced with us and pushed herself in several postures.
March 8, 2023, 9:30am - Bikram 90 - Several students thanked me for an awesome class. One of them said she loves the stories I tell. Storytelling is an art and not everyone can do it. Some students don't like the stories that some teachers - even the popular ones - tell. Why? Because oftentimes they have no relevance to the class. You have to talk about things that relate to yoga. If you talk about anything else, you are just letting your ego take control of your stories.
March 8, 2023, 12:00pm - Bikram 60 - The lunchtime crew was a powerful group today. I saw excellent form in all the poses and I was very impressed with everyone's stamina because the 60-minute class, when practiced with intensity, is harder than the longer classes. Some people rest a pose or two when they are exhausted, but nobody was exhausted today in either class.
Is savasana pronounced "savasana" or "shavasana"?
The Sanscrit word आसन is written as śavāsana, but many English-speaking writers omit the diacritical marks. The diacritical mark over the s alters the pronunciation of the s to a sh sound and the diacritical mark over the a is a long a sound, like ah, so the correct pronunciation is shuh-vaas-uhna, however, many followers of Bikram know that he pronounces savasana without paying attention to the diacritics, so that is acceptable, too.
March 9, 2023, 6:00am - class 1366 with Tico Betancourt - A strong class complete with full dialog and Tico practicing with us. At the end of class, Tico practiced Headstand with Lotus, which looked really good. I practiced my last three postures: Archer, Eight Angle, and Root.
Tico's progress has been amazing. His Rabbit is perfect and might even outscore mine. He managed to straighten his legs in Fingerstand and straighten his body in Headstand, so he'll score really well in those postures. Just like the West Coast Regionals where a newcomer won Gold, Tico might just snag a medal in his first competition.
March 9, 2023, 7:00pm - Bikram 75 - "I did some research and discovered you were teaching here, so I followed you here," a new student said. She was a student in my classes at a yoga studio just down the road. She said she liked my teaching style much more so than the other teachers at that studio. Students will naturally gravitate towards the right teacher for them.
March 10, 2023, 9:30am - class 1367 with Cat Long - 133.3 today. I forgot my water bottle today, so I practiced without water. This was not the first time I did this. It was also a chance to prove to myself that I could practice yoga without water. Oftentimes, I feel like we rely too much on water as a crutch when we can practice perfectly fine without it. Sipping water right after Eagle just makes you sometimes crave more water during class. You get a cool feeling, a sense of relief, for a few moments as you sip it... and you want to have that feeling again and again any time you feel discomfort in class. That's setting yourself up to fail. Only drink water if you truly need it.
March 11, 2023, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - Much smaller classes than usual today. Then I found out what might've happened. A sign on the streets where students usually park said, "No parking during ice storm." There was, in fact, ice falling on Narberth's streets that morning. The streets were empty with not a car in sight. Hopefully, this is the last of the "snow" for the season.
March 12, 2023, 8:00am - Bikram 90 - I became a bit of a Chatty Cathy the past few classes, so I stopped telling so many stories even though some students like them. I want to make sure my students get out of class on time because they likely have a busy day ahead of them.
March 12, 2023, 10:00am - Bikram 60 - My new favorite student attended class today. "I've been telling everyone that you are the best yoga teacher among all the studios I visited in the area," she said with a smile. That's high praise from a doctor! She also said that she is trying to get others to join my class.
My training regimen includes thousands of little exercises every single day to keep my body conditioned. Some of you might know the extremely rigorous level of conditioning I do to prepare. Right now, I'm fighting the effects of a big pinched nerve in my neck, but I’m always working through injuries. Just one more week until the regional championship. Working on my flow. I'm glad I found a coachee in Tico who is willing to work just as hard as I do to achieve success. Most people just do yoga for grins and giggles, never taking it that seriously. If they did, they might find the flexibility they're looking for. Remember, everyone, it's never too late to begin again.
March 13, 2023, 9:30am - class 1368 with Kaitlin McKendrick - “Nice, Clare!” Kaitlin remarked of my Standing Bow. I didn’t give up. My body was yearning to quit during class, but I didn’t let it. If you had a pinched nerve in your neck that caused pain down the left half of your body, you might be tempted to rest and relax for weeks to recuperate. I have six days to get my spine back in order. It hurts like hell, but I’ve dealt with this kind of pain before. I’ve dealt with worse. I brought my little water bottle to class, but didn’t drink water during class. I simply pressed the mouth of the water bottle onto my forehead to cool myself down after Eagle. I did my medicine ball rolls in between the floor postures while everyone rested in Savasana. After class, I managed to grab the front of my knee and wrap my other arm behind me in Full Spine Twist! I’m almost there. Since my neck and left side hurts like hell, I can’t get that deep in Rabbit. I may have to call a last minute substitution and do a Half Moon Backbend in place of Rabbit.
March 14, 2023, 9:30am - class 1369 with Cat Long - One of my classmates remembered what I said about synchronizing your breathing with everyone else's breathing during Pranayama. I always emphasize this because, as a class, we should be breathing together as a singular entity. The goal is to create a chord rather than sound like individual notes played at different times. In Camel, the goal is to hold onto your heels and push your hips forward all the way so your thighs are parallel to the mirror. I have a lovely method to help everyone get into perfect alignment. You can learn it in my classes or watch me do it when I'm taking classes. It's an extension to the analogy of being a boat sailing in the wind.
March 15, 2023, 12:00pm - class 1370 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 133.3 today. One of my classmates I hadn't seen for several months asked me to join her for noon class. She has amazing flexbility, able to perform many advanced postures. She recently completed a course at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts and performed a routine showcasing her yoga skills in front of a live audience. "Your calming presence reminds me to slow down my practice," she said to me after class. "If you move slowly, you build strength," I assured. My neck and spine were feeling better Monday evening and Tuesday, but this morning I felt like crap again, like a sharp knife driving into my shoulder blade.
March 16, 2023, 7:30am - class 1371 with Tico Betancourt - 133.4 today. It looks lke 133 is the weight I'll be entering the regional championships with. With everything that's been going on in my life, it's a decent weight to be. There are still periods of intense pain followed by no pain. I would recommend to anyone experiencing this type of pain to continue practicing yoga every day. It may seem like it's causing more pain, but if you do it right and follow the guidance of someone who has studied and practiced structural yoga therapy, you can resolve your issue on your own.
Tico demonstrated his routine to me one last time before the championship. He looked very poised and polished. Look out, regionals! He might just be a medal winner on his first try. Tico mentioned others who have the same characteristics of strength as we do who might be interested in competing next year. One of them was a bodybuilder at a young age, just like me. The regional championship schedule was just released. As I had surmised, the Northeast regional is the most competitive of all the regional championships with 22 contestants, or about five to seven in each category. I recognized some of the names. These competitors have come to play. There won't be any easy wins. However, it looks like the majority of the contestants will be competing in the online virtual qualifier in May. That's a shame, because the point of the in-person qualifiers is to gain experience performing your routine in front of a live audience, similar to what you would see in the national championship.
I'll be co-teaching a posture clinic at The Bridge Hot Yoga on Saturday, April 22, 2023 at 12:00pm. It's a two-hour class where everyone gets to practice each posture once and then we break down each posture and give participants the opportunity to ask questions.
March 16, 2023, 7:00pm - Bikram 75 - Four amazing ladies gave it their all today in an outstanding display of focus and stillness.
March 17, 2023, 9:30am - class 1372 with Cat Long - 131.8 today. My mantra guided me today as I practiced. A number of students wished me good luck at the championship. Oddly, one student I taught at the other studio asked me if the championship was this weekend or next even though I sent her the web site link with all the details of the championship. I tend to ignore these people because it breaks my focus on what I need to do. Anyone who has ever competed for anything at an elite level will understand what I'm talking about. The goal is to avoid any and all distractions and anyone who creates a distraction is an obstacle in your path that you just have to ignore.
Tico convinced me to get an IV hydration treatment before the championship. "Especially for athletes, these B and B12 vitamins will flush all the toxins out of your body before your big day," the nurse clinician said. Tico felt a boost of energy after his treatment. I felt a lot less mopey than usual. I typically feel tired all day after morning yoga. IV treatments might just be a good thing to do.
USA Yoga Northeast Regional Championship (March 18, 2023) - Upon arriving to the championship site, I limited my chatter prior to going on stage in order to stay focused. The judges panel included many new faces as well as yoga celebrity, Jared McCann. I continued practicing my conditioning exercises oblivious to the people around me, except for Tico, my coachee. I gave him several pointers to help him stay focused. He’s a really good student. The best students also make the best teachers and competitors.
I spoke to Jean Agress at the end of the competition. “I want to come to your class someday at Tyson’s Hot Yoga," I said to her. "Oh, you should! It’s a lot of fun,” she said. I figure who better to know about posture than a USA Yoga head judge! “Thank you for continuing to compete. I see the improvement every year,” she said. The scores are puzzling and don’t appear to reflect improvement, but I suppose that’s what happens when you have different judges scoring us every year. They look for different things that are important to them. They might see things differently from different angles. What is a 10 to one judge might be an 8 or a 9 to another. Somehow my last posture got blasted and my normally 29.something final score ended up being 27.something, but I’m fine with that. Just a week ago, I was not in any condition to score even half that, but through perseverance and English bulldog determination, I managed to whip myself back to competition shape yet again. The night before the Northeast Regional, every half hour, I practiced my conditioning exercises thousands of times until I regained my flexibility.
Today, I did not suck, but I wasn’t the best. I could have been, but it wasn’t meant to be. I was operating at 80% and my 80% is still pretty damn good, enough to secure a Silver medal against two seasoned competitors and two newcomers who were as good as anyone I've competed against in the division. It was cool to meet people who travelled from afar to enter the competition. There were even fans in the audience who knew me by name, but I've never met them before. "After today, everyone in the yoga world will know our name," I assured Tico.
|Northeast Regional Scores (2nd place)
After the rapid rehab, I'm still not 100%, but I regained enough flexibility to achieve what I did. Yoga is not PT exercise. It is not simply stretching execise. It is a lot more than that. Quite sadly, the majority of the world turns a blind eye to how beneficial yoga can be. If done properly, yoga really is medicine.
I know a lot of people, especially experienced yoga teachers, who believe that competition is easy just because they see me doing it. "Oh, I'm more flexible than she is," I can hear them say, and that might be true, but yoga competitions are not judged solely on flexibility. This is why some competitors don't quite achieve the scores they had hoped for. They don't account for the steadiness and smoothness of transitions between postures. What they end up demonstrating is their version of what they feel should earn them enough points for a high score. When I go up onstage, it's not about the points. It's about connecting with a higher power and transcending beyond what you can normally do. Breathe, believe, do.
March 20, 2023, 9:30am - class 1373 with Kaitlin McKendrick - 132.0 today. As promised, I gave my championship medal to The Bridge Hot Yoga for display. Through hard work and dedication, I became a yogasana champion and I really could not have done all of this had I practiced so intensely at any other studio. The Bridge Hot Yoga is a special place and is my studio of choice for all hot yoga practitioners. When I practice in class, everyone practices harder around me. They see me putting in an all-out effort every single class, so much so that I lose an ungodly amount of sweat every time I practice. The many dedicated practitioners at the studio help me push myself further and further each class. Students are inspired by me and I am inspired by my students. That's the type of synergy and inclusion you want at a yoga studio. Jackie, one of my friends who used to practice with me at the old Bikram studio downtown said, "Clare my dear, blessings and congratulations! Sandy would be very happy for your hard work and dedication." I responded, "Thank you Jackie! I dedicate my routine to Sandy every time I demonstrate it. People ask me who coached me and I just tell them Sandy Robin did."
March 22, 2023, 12:00pm - class 1374 Bikram 60 - "I like all the little refinements, especially in Rabbit," a student said to me after class.
March 23, 2023, 7:00pm - Bikram 75 - My class of six congratulated me on my silver medal win at the regional championship. Every one of them saw the hard work and dedication I put into my training. The relentless repetition. The endless self-critique and refinement. My body did what it could for the championship. It did enough. My body was not optimal as it usually is in the championships, but I was in the best shape I could be given all the injuries I endured the past few months. Just a week ago, I probably would not have scored half the points I did. What kept me going was reminding myself what our USA Yoga nutritionist told us - "You are all elite athletes" - and always striving to be the best no matter what the obstacles or circumstances.