Thursday, February 25, 2010

"The right way is the hard way."

Last night, I walked out of the train and into a soggy, dirty, mess of a town. Despite some workday text messages with the boyfriend about practicing yoga, I was thinking the whole ride home that it'd be so much easier to just to heat up some leftovers, make a fire, and sink into the couch to watch that "Say Anything" Netflix that's been sitting around for a few days too many.

His enthusiasm, however, hadn't flagged. He'd turned on the space heater an hour before I even got home. Then he built a fire while I tried to make a treat bomb (fill this with peanut butter, banana and various treats) for our dog, who is slightly hyper and needy.

The fireplace and space heater were blazing, so in sweatpants, long-sleeve shirts and hoodies, we began CD "class." Just like in the studio, he did really well. I saw him kicking out in standing head to knee, and wondered if his standing leg was locked (I know I've seen a lot of beginners, especially guys with tight hamstrings, kick out despite a bent standing knee). It was locked! I was so proud.

Half-moon has been a "comfortable" posture, at least mentally, for a long time. That first bend to the right feels so, so good. The particular twists and turns of my scoliosis (which has returned only after lacking a regular practice for nearly two years) make the right side "easy." Even at home, when it's not "studio-hot," I can get some good depth...

But the left side, oh man. It's so hard. Those same twists and turns conspire to keep the left side stiff. Recently I even identified "fear" as a sensation as I start that bend. I am not sure what it is I am scared of. The word has popped into my head a few times as I start to bend to the left, when I feel the first twinge that my shoulder blade and spine are shifting... Because of my spine's rotation, it is extra hard to pull my left shoulder and ribcage forward and my right side back. Sure, it would be easy to plop down, and have nearly the same silhouette as the right side, but it would be wrong.

Bikram says in the orange book, among other places, that there is only one way [to do things], and that is the right way. And the right way is the hard way.

In the not-studio-hot room at home, I have no choice (after typing that, I hear in my head Bikram's voice from the CD: "is like Indian marriage, no choice") but to focus on my postures' form, and not worry about depth. I had no idea until I sat down to write this how much I relied on the heat to help me attain "depth" in the postures. Stretching has become harder, but I am focusing more on correct alignment, and I'm feeling new muscles.

So although maintaining a practice can be hard, both mentally (motivationally? is that even a word?) and physically, I know it's the right way to do things. Today I feel lighter. It actually feels like my spine is longer, like my ribs are further from my hips (three-quarters of an inch instead of a half-inch, maybe). The walk in to work today was pleasant, despite the rain. My neck is a little sore, my abs are a little sore, and my back is a little sore. I'm happy to feel my body like that, because those are all little reminders that I was doing things the right way. At least for one night. :)


  1. How is the CD? I've been wondering what it would be like to hear Bikram's voice.
    Good for you and your BF to keep your practice up at home. When I practiced Iyengar yoga, I found it difficult to hold the poses for the length of time I knew I should. It was so much easier to come out when I wanted, without someone there to tell you to keep holding.

  2. OMG, Catherine. Yet another thing we have in common! I have the SAME curvature and it affects me the same way in half-moon. I'm still working on it to make sure I'm "doing it correctly," but that's something I really strive for.

    It sounds like yoga has helped with the curvature, but it still affects your practice. Can you elaborate just a little more? I have less soreness in my upper back because of the yoga, but I still feel the same tendencies in my practice.

  3. Hi there! The CD used to annoy the hell out of me. I can't remember why, though, and now I love it. No doubt it had to do with wherever I was at the time, because (obviously) the CD hasn't changed.

    If you want to hear his voice, just search "Bikram" on Youtube! The "60 Minutes" interview shows up easily there. At, under the "In the News" tab at the left, there are links to all sorts of media coverage about the yoga. (If you search "60 Minutes" on that page, it's easy to find.)

    Funny you mention that about having a hard time holding postures for a certain length of time; one thing I find frustrating about the CD is that very often, one side is held longer than the other. Luckily I know that, though, so I try to get into each posture as quickly and efficiently as possible.

    I hope you're doing well!

  4. Oh, hello there to you too, Miss Yolk!

    Honestly, what really reinforced and catalyzed my efforts with my scoliosis and yoga was seeing a chiropractor a couple times a week, for a few months. He got the bones to go where they belonged, and yoga reinforced that with stretching and developing muscles to hold the bones in place. That said, a lot of people prefer to avoid chiropractic. And that's TOTALLY cool.

    I definitely was looking for quick relief (chiro) from pain, even while I was willing to do the hard work (yoga) to stay pain-free. For me, the pain from scoliosis has mostly hurt my lower back and sciatic, radiating into my hip and butt. Ew. Where in your upper back is it? That's so interesting to me... What do you think yoga has changed in order for you to experience less soreness?

    I've found that really focusing on alignment in half-moon (the "hard" side), half-tortoise, and rabbit, as well as all of the spine-strengthening postures, kept my spine feeling happy. :)

    Also - even though they might be more difficult, sometimes even painful, work extra-hard at pulling in those forward bends! I try to think of gravity as my friend - like my back is a length of fishing line, and my head is the lead weight that pulls it taut.

  5. Thanks for the follow-up, Catherine! I have considered going chiro, but the money thing holds me back. It's not covered under my insurance.

    Interesting point about the forward bends. Rabbit is awesome for scoliosis, I think--if you do it right, your spine can't help but go into alignment. I remember the first time I did rabbit in Bikram. I heard this weird "szzz-EEK!" sound as one of my vertebrae in my upperback seemed to pull itself forward. Probably into alignment. It freaked me out, but it didn't hurt at all.

    Our problems must be different, or perhaps mine is less severe. I get extreme tension/numbness in my upper-left part of my back, beginning at the spine and going out and up to my shoulder. I also get sore in my lower back after standing a lot, but it's not as bad as my upper back.

    Still don't know exactly HOW yoga helps, aside from probably correcting the posture slightly (so far, only slightly. I think.) But when the muscles are less tense overall, there's bound to be less effect from the scoliosis! Interesting discussion--I could go on and on, it seems :-)

  6. My right side is far tighter than my left so I know what you mean about feeling imbalanced. And with my knee injury, I understand the fear and the hesitation you feel before you go into a pose or when you are in a pose.

    One of my teachers taught us, "In these poses, you should struggle NOT suffer." I think it is a great distinction. If we feel sharp, make-your-face-grimace, lose-your-steady-breathing pain, then that is suffering and you back off. But if you can maintain the pose at your edge, experiencing the pain of stretching and realigning while still maintaining a calm breath and face, then you stay in it and go for it!

    My mom always taught me never to take shortcuts as a kid. I hated it. But now I'm grateful to have learned the lesson because if you take a shortcut, at some point, you'll have to start over again. So why waste time and postpone the inevitable? Or as one of my other teachers likes to say, "Don't build a house on rocky foundation."

  7. Hi There just found your blog n I'm your new follower. Just started blogging about my new yoga adventure, Bikram. Enjoyed reading your older posts. Glad to hear someone is using Bikram's CD. One of my first Bikram teacher recommended it. Half moon is one of my favorite pose. YES the right way is always the hard way ... no way of escaping it. Looking forward to your visit to my blog and be yoga blog friends.

  8. Thanks Catherine! I will check out his voice.
    I hope the home practice is going well for you.