Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Over the past few days I have received several comments about my absence here in blogworld. On November 8th I completed my sixty-day challenge. I am feeling good. Since then I have been practicing a lot, but not every day. I am joining a 101-day challenge starting January 1, 2010. But I have let other demands in my life pull me away from writing here on this site. I did not think there were many people reading it.

A few days after I completed the sixty-day challenge, I went to Brooklyn, my hometown, and took a great class at the new Bay Ridge studio. I purposely choose the Bay Ridge studio so I could take class with my friend Caroline Yu.

Caroline's class was fabulous, perfect dialog, high energy and fun. It turns out Caroline has been talking about her friend from Massachusetts who was doing a sixty day challenge ending on his sixtieth birthday.

"And here he is now! Charlie is former FDNY! Doesn't he look great"!

Caroline could not have been more gracious. By the time we got to standing bow, I was on the floor. I was nauseous, dizzy, weak, feeling as creepy as one can feel. But damn, after that build up I had to keep going.

I took the advice we always give our students: "do the best you can, rest if you need to".

The best I could do was not very good. I felt like I was letting Caroline down. Here she has been talking about this accomplished student and teacher, a tough Brooklyn born fireman, and there I am having difficulty standing up. I did struggle to keep going and after Camel my hands started to cramp. I got what we call claw hand.

Claw hand is a result of dehydration. It was actually a relief in a way. At least I knew what was wrong. The same thing happened to me once before when I was practicing in Acapulco as a visiting teacher in Bikram's teacher training. Gatorade, while loaded with sugar and other weird stuff, is very effective for relieving dehydration. After class Caroling gave me a Zico coconut water which helped. She had to open it for me.

Earlier I drove three hours to Brooklyn and went to the dentist. I had some crown work done which was a little uncomfortable. Something about all of that caused me to have depleted electrolytes. I crashed and burned.

Humility is an acquired skill. Sometimes we get opportunities to practice it involuntarily.

Next comment recently came from Upside Down Linda. Linda was more succinct. She left a message on facebook. But I could still hear her Worcester accent: "Charlie (long A) you left us hanging there".

Linda and I were in teacher training together where we fondly nicknamed her Upside Down Linda. She is another very accomplished Bikram instructor traveling around Massachusetts and Connecticut guiding students.

On Sunday I went to Quincy to take a class at Quincy Bikram Yoga. I wanted to say hello and good luck to Chris the owner. Chris has been one of the top finishers in the New England championships for two years now.

And I wanted to take class with Sherie. Sherie has been teaching Bikram Yoga for a few years and is from the Boston area. While I had met her only once, briefly, at an advanced class in West Roxbury, I have come to know Sherie from on-line activity like facebook. She has been traveling all over the world teaching and practicing. And Sherie recently placed third in the Texas regional championships. Sherie complemented the information on this blog.

The last person to comment did not actually comment, Juliana. Juliana, or dancingJ, is a good friend. She has been kind and has not pointed out my blogging short comings. What dancingJ had done is continue to post on her blog quite regularly.

Besides her blog, Juliana has been completing her master's thesis in some brain busting, math intensive engineering discipline at UC Santa Barbara. And in so doing she has totally taken away any stories I could muster up about being too busy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Lock the Knee

In my last post I made an observation. In standing head to knee some constestants in the New England regional championships appeared to tighten their thigh muscles all the way up to and including the gluteal muscles. One of the people following this blog, Jennifer, commented on how she relaxes her gluteal muscles when standing on a locked leg. I have been focusing on that topic since.

When I am in the first part of the posture, before my elbows bend down, my butt is tight for sure. However, a little relaxing goes a long way when getting chest down, head down and touching forehead to the knee. Same applies in standing bow pulling pose. When I set up and lock my knee, the gluteal muscles are tight. However, getting the upper body down parallel to the floor produced a loosening of those muscles (I'm really resisting tight ass jokes here folks).

I have asked a four of my student with a good standing head to knee pose if they tighten the gluteal muscles. All said they had not even thought about it until I asked and then said they were relaxed after focusing on them.

There's a nice discussion in the comments section of the last post as well.

Let's go to the source. What does Bikram say?

Pretty much "lock your knee". Bikram does not get into long discussions about minutiae. As I recall, he doesn't much engage in banter. He will very quickly say something like, "YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT LOCK YOUR KNEE MEANS"?

Bikram does say "Contract the thigh muscle, whole kneecap lifts up".

My kneecap barley moves, oh well.

The original director of my studio, Bikram Yoga Northampton, was Karen. When I was a student there, I once asked Karen about some arcane details in a posture. I always remember her response. Karen replied that Yoga was preparation for meditation. If after class you felt quiet and more relaxed you did it right. Too much attention to too many details becomes a distraction to the meditative aspects.

Karen made a good point. However, like many in Bikram World, I like to examine details too, it's fun. But I am going to recommend that we do not over think the lock your knee thing. Play with it like I am doing. I have been waiting until I am in a locked knee position and the I bring attention to my glutes to see what's going on.

My next post will be about attention, focus and consciousness.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Standing Head to Knee

When I started my sixty day challenge I was hoping for improvement in Standing Head to Knee more than any other posture. I can, on a very good day, touch my head to my knee. But getting my elbows below my calf muscles, and keeping them there, eludes me.

The posture begins with feet together. With weight on the left foot, bend down and grab the right foot just below the toes ten fingers interlocked.


This is where we try to get students to start learning to balance on a locked out leg. Bikram talks quite a lot about how important this element is. Straighten out the standing leg and tighten up the thigh muscles completely. The quadricep muscles should remain tight and contracted throughout the posture.

This weekend I attended the New England regional asana championships. The first place women, Michelle, was a great example of how to lock your knee. Michelle's stance was solid as a rock all the way up to her hip, including the gluteal muscles. Very impressive, very difficult!

Michelle making it look easy.

There exists a relationship amongst muscle groups called an agonist/antagonist relationship. From an anatomical perspective, the purpose of muscle is to move bones. Muscles are attached to the bones in a way that for movement to happen, as one muscle or group of muscles contract, a muscle or muscles must relax.

When you lock your knee and tighten up your thigh muscles, the muscles in the back of the legs loosen making it easier to bend forward, which is what you are about to do. But not until you kick out.

Slowly, gently, right leg lifts up and stretches forward toward the mirror. Keeping the standing leg locked becomes a little more challenging and more important. When the kicking leg is exactly parallel to the floor, kick your heel forward and turn your toes back to your face. When you kick you heel forward, kick from the hip. Get your hips square to the front wall. As you pull and turn your toes back you should feel a nice deep stretch on the underside of the leg.

Now, bend your elbows down toward the calf muscles. Here, sucking your stomach in will engage that agonist/antagonist relationship I wrote about above allowing you to round your spine more. The tight thighs loosen up the back of the leg and tight stomach helps opens the lower back.

Elbow should graze the outside of the calf muscles.

Now here is the yet to achieve part of my practice: elbows below the calf muscle.

Bikram says one should bring the upper body down, tuck your chin to your chest and touch your forehead to your knee only when your elbows are below the calf muscles. I have had other teachers suggest that I try to touch my forehead to my knee when elbow are close to being below the knee. And that got me into a bad habit.

My good friend Terri, another contestant in this week's New England championships, gave me coaching at the beginning of my sixty day challenge.

"Do first things first" said Terri. She convinced me that I had to get my elbows below the leg and keep them there first. What has happened is I fall out less frequently because I am not going ahead of my ability.

Guess what?

My elbows are getting lower. When all else fails RFD: read the freakin directions.

Thanks Terri!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Play to win

Yesterday I went to the New England Yoga Asana Championships. Rajashree, Bikram's wife, is the energy behind bringing Yoga Asanas to championship competitions. Raj was at our New England regional event. It was an inspiring day.

Participants perform five compulsory postures, Standing Head to Knee; Standing Bow Pulling; Camel; Rabbit and Stretching. Then the participant performs two optional postures of their choice.

Three judges (five at the National and International level) score the postures based on how precisely the postures are executed. Grace in the postures is included in the score as well.

There is a men's division and a woman's. First, second and third place finishers are acknowledge and the first and second place finishers go to the national championship event in Los Angeles in February.

The real value of this endeavor is the benefit the participants receive from doing a lot of Yoga in preparation for the competition. I think a display of excellence inspires everybody as well.
A few years ago I was part of a company that did personal growth seminars, Momentum Education:
Momentum's motto is "Play to Win".

The owner of Momentum, Robin, is a good friend of mine. Sadly, Robin is sick, she has cancer. Robin is approaching her treatment with courage and an attitude consistent with her teaching. She is playing to win.

So yesterday's champions (all the participants are champs) plus Robin's courage gave me a big lift this morning.

My back and right elbow hurt today. Somehow, that was a minor point. I did discover that an elbow injury interferes with a lot of postures. I could not extend my right arm to full extension. The pain was present in Pranayama Breathing, Awkward, Standing Head to Knee, Standing Bow, big time in Locust and it interfered with Floor Bow and Spine Twist.

I took my own advice and did the best I could. I kept thinking: "Play to Win".

My back pain is gone. My elbow is better, much better.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Eagle Pose

When I first started practicing Bikram Yoga, Eagle Pose was beyond my ability to the point of thinking that I would never be able to do it. I could not balance on one foot very well and I certainly could not get my foot wrapped around my calf muscle. Twisting my arms to the point of getting my hands together in prayer was laughable.

So these days when I practice I always think back to seven years ago when I thought this posture was unattainable. Because now it is one of my better postures.

As you bring your arms up over your head it is not necessary to bring you palms together. Just bring arms up and "WHOOSH" use momentum to wrap your arms together crossing at the elbows and wrists. Eventually, when your shoulders open up, your hands fingertips on both hands will align. Until that happens, interlace your fingers to pull your palms closer together. Hands are in close to the face, almost touching, with thumbs in toward your face, edge of the hands or pinkie fingers towards the mirror.

When I pull my elbows down, the next instruction, I feel a wonderful stretch in my upper back and shoulders. Keep pulling your elbows down.

Sit down! Stay!

Most people pop up as they wrap the legs. Try not to pop up at all. Then, the higher you bring your leg up the more you will be able to twist your legs.

Another instruction that I see people not doing in Awkward is the correction for balancing: "if you are loosing the balance, lean back more". It does work. If you are a little shaky, leaning back just a bit seems to stabilize the posture.

Here on day forty three of my challenge, Eagle Pose has deepened for me a little more. I can sit down a little more and lean back a bit more too creating a little arch in my lower back.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I need a breakthrough in writing regularly, like no kidding.

If we are living with passion and commitment, we will come up against resistance. I have now completed day 39 of my sixty day challenge. Day 28 and day 29 were hard, really hard.

On day 29 I was nauseous (too big a lunch) my knees hurt, my back hurt. By the end of awkward pose I was struggling with breathing. It was going to be a difficult class. But there I was, in there doing the best I can. On day 30, I had a fabulous class, and every day since then has become stronger and stronger.

On Friday night a teacher training mate of mine, Maggie Carr, was visiting from Melbourne, Australia. Maggie was teaching a class near Boston, in North Andover MA.

(Maggie at our LA training)

I have been practicing Yoga for nearly ten years, Bikram Yoga for seven years. I can easily say my Friday night class was my best class ever. And I am still feeling strong and flexible.


Breakthrough is always just on the other side of a breakdown, not just in Yoga, but in Life too. The way one finds and confronts their breakdowns is through committed action.

Commitment is a state of being. It starts with a declaration: "I AM COMMITTED"!

However, commitment without action is just a story. Action makes it real. What will committed action produce?

Breakdown! Count on it. If you do not produce a breakdown in your commitment, you commitments are too small. Get bigger.

So I started this post expressing my desire for a breakthrough with my writing. Step one is make a commitment.

I am committed to posting something meaningful at least three times a week for the remainder of my 60 day challenge.

Step two, let someone significant in your life know about the commitment.

I think that's handled.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Awkward Pose

After the opening breathing, and stretching in four directions, next is a posture where we will use our Bengal Tiger strength.

Setting up in Awkward, the teacher will remind everyone to focus. A one pointed focus and determination is fundamental to this posture.

Keep breathing!

Most students set up correctly, but as soon as they start to execute the posture, they move their feet. Get six inches between the feet and keep them parallel. Knees are six inches apart too. Shoulders, arms, hips, knees, feet and ankles should remain in one line in the front mirror.

And here is another detail easy to forget. Shoulder are relaxed down away from the ears. But stretch your arms forward l
ike you will touch the mirror with your fingertips.

Elbows locked!

The fabulous Yogini above is Tereza. Tereza is one of my training mates and currently the owner and director of Bikram Yoga Prague, in The Czech Republic.
I like her web site.


Next, suck your stomach in, hold it, and sit down without moving your feet. There is a big tendency to turn your toes out. If you keep your feet parallel, when you adjust your knees to six inches, you will open your hips.

The technique you want to copy from the above posture, is the happy smiling face. No kidding, it helps. But get your hips down as i
f you are about to sit on a chair. Once you are sitting in the chair, bring your chest up to create a curve in your back.

Now the next part of Awkward Pose is fun. Think of yourself in a big room with lights, camera, sound equipment and an audience of about three hundred.

This is Rowena. Rowena is one of the most accomplished Yogis in the world. I captured her here before she had her hips all the way down to where her she would be sitting in a chair. But notice her straight spine, shoulders over her hips. There were a lot a cool kids in my teacher training:)

Rowena has made Bikram's dream of having a studio in India happen. Rowena runs Bikram Yoga Mumbai. She has run it from its
inception and Bikram tells me it is prospering.

A real challenge in the third part of Awkward is to keep the spine straight as you go down very slowly. Keep a little gap between your hips and heels, squeeze your knees and thighs together. And smile!