February 29, 2012

More Fear

Getting on the National Road 6 in Siem Reap via tuk-tuk was only slightly less scary than walking across the street in Phnom Penh.


Crossing the street in Cambodia is one of the scariest things I've ever done.

This is why:

February 22, 2012

In Transit

Yesterday was the first truly difficult travel day of the trip.

Nothing about it was extremely troubling, but nothing went exactly according to plan. Instead, it was filled with constant readjustments that were required due to cultural differences, third world realities, and lack of preparation on our part.

We made it out the door on time, and arrived to the chaos at the ferry port with plenty of time to spare. We were ambushed by porters who took our bags without permission and then we were stopped and aranged our tuk-tuk from the boat's landing station into town. It was only when he asked for money that I realized it was a scam.

I originally thought he worked for the boat company, as our tickets indicated that transport was included from the lake to the town of Siem Reap. When he tried to charge us money we walked away, annoyed. Unfortunately, despite the promise printed on our tickets, there did not appear to be any boat-related transport waiting for us at the port upon arrival. So we walked through the masses of tuk-tuk drivers hassling us and eventually convinced one to take us for free if we would give him additional work the next day. Upon arrival at our hotel, we saw the branded tuk-tuks of the hotel and realized transit was likely included with our stay, so we quickly dug into our pockets and paid him $5.

The boat was advertised as 5 hours. However, despite a 7:30 AM deparature, we did not arrive until at least 2:30 and we didn't check in to our hotel until 3 PM. On the boat, we were hassled by the porters who demanded payment for carrying our bags (despite our initial statements that we didn't want their help). I refused to pay, comfortable that my small bag had all of my valuable items -- I had had my fill of 3rd world money scamming at that point and was certain I could replace all of my clothes if my bag mysteriously disappeared. E2 and K were more generous than I was and paid the extortion fee. I should probably thank them as my bag arrived without harm as well. There was free water on the boat, so when they came around with sodas I forgot to ask how much (big 3rd world mistake). I enjoyed my coke but found myself being woken from a nap with a demand for 6,000 riels. Not an unreasonable price, just something I didn't expect since the water and bread had been *included* snacks and the soda was not (of course this distinction should have been obvious? right?)

The boat ride was long, but pleasant. Miles and miles of water and boats and fishing and river life unlike any I've ever seen. Between stints of gazing at the world speed by, I read IQ84 and found myself grinning. I don't know if I've ever read a Haruki Murakami book *except* when I've been on vacation. I love the otherworldliness of his writing, but it must be too hard for me to follow in my real life, as I completely associate his voice with the blessing of uninterrupted time and the parallel worlds of foreign cultures.

I'm actually here. In Cambodia. With friends. With access to the Internet everywhere we've gone. This modern world is the future -- I feel so lucky.

After the chaos of the ports and the boat, the dusty tuk-tuk ride bounced us over dirt and pot-hole filled roads through the country full of true Cambodian life. All types of construction on stilts to avoid the seasonal flooding. Lotus plantations.

For the first time in my life I saw a team of women laying roads. Beneath their conical hats they were wrapped from head to toe in fabric to shield their skin, eyes, mouths and noses while shoveling gravel and pouring tar in the 95F heat and ridiculous humidity. Sometimes, when I travel, I feel very close to my dad, knowing that he's with me in spirit. At that moment, as I stared in awe, I could feel him with me, watching these women manually doing the labor he used to manage with machines, shaking his head in amazement.

Finally, we arrived at our hotel and it is an oasis of calm and beauty. Good Job E2 on the selection. We ate a late lunch, relaxed by the pool, and once we were regrouped we went into town for our first experience of the frenzied collection of night markets, restaurants, stores, and tourists. I don't know if I've ever been anywhere with this many tourists. E2 claims there's only slightly less tourists than when she went to the Great Wall. It was overwhelmingly bright, loud, crowded, and bizarre.

And that was before the power went out.

Pitch black. A collective gasp from the crowds. I grabbed E2 and K's hands in case we needed to stay together. K, who's been traveling for 30+ days in Southeast Asia (and doesn't like to be touched) commented, "Oh, so we're holding hands now?" Perhaps my first instinct (that there may be a need to run together and/or keep in physical contact to avoid a stampede) was a bit strong. Apparently, the power goes out quite often here.

Upon our return to the hotel, the generator stopped and it went pitch black as well.

While reading last night, the power went out twice.

I'm an even bigger fan of my headlamp purchase than I thought!

February 20, 2012

Phnom Penh

We started with my favorite thing to do in a new country: walking without purpose. All told, we did 5+ miles with a couple of leisurely stops ($7 mani-pedi and lunch) on the first day.

The independent monument. The riverfront. The traffic is a crazy combination of tuk-tuks, motos, cars, bikes, and more going in each and every direction. So, crossing the street is an act of courage (or

For dinner we met up with K and a friend-of-a-friend of her's, A. A is working on the international criminal tribunal persecuting the Khmer Rouge. He's been living in Phnom Penh for 7 months and was a great host, explaining all about the culture and taking us to Romdeng restaurant for a delicious Cambodian meal (the restaurant trains and employs former street kids) followed by the obligatory visit to the rooftop lounge at the Foreign Correspondence Club.

Additional highlights included the Royal Palace, the National Museum, the Genocide Museum, and several great meals of Khmer food (including fried tarantulas).

Overall, Phnom Penh is much less foreign, less difficult to manage, and more expensive than I thought. I very much enjoyed this visit.

February 19, 2012

Cambodia: Day 1

Calm. That was my first impression of this country.

The masses with signs waiting for their friends and family were still. Easy. Smiling.

The taxi line was almost silent. A motion to beckon us forward and a second one to advance the next taxi in line. A gentle placement of our bags and firm but gentle closing of the trunk.

The chaos and confusion of an arrival in a foreign land was so diminished. In short, I loved it.

Our taxi driver spoke reasonable English (which is good because neither E2 nor I had a word of Khmer). Quietly, but helpfully, he suggested places to go. Close to the end of the ride, he reiterated that it was important that we visit a few of the sites because we needed to learn about the Kmer Rouge genocide.

It was a sobering moment.

He seemed so young and small and gentle. And, then, I realized, everyone I'd seen had been young: all the people waiting at the airport, all the people in the street (in fairness it was late at night). I had been told that the missing generation from the genocide would be apparent.

But, still, I wasn't prepared. I've never arrived for a vacation and had my first interactions with a local defined by atrocities in their recent history.
Cambodia: Arrival

First, the tropical birds and their singing chorus. Then the geckos. Then the meep-meep-meep of tiny horns in small cars zipping down the road, and finally, the cacophony of high pitched barking dogs.

My first sunrise in Phnom Penh. 6:20 AM here. 3:20 PM at home.

The sounds of sunrise were much more impressive than the view, as all I could really do was watch the sky change colors against the outline of a partially constructed concrete and rebar building across the street.

I'm sitting on the balcony of our hotel in Phnom Penh with a mean case of jet lag. Despite traveling for approximately 24 hours straight between departing our house and arriving at the hotel, I was only able to sleep a totally of 4 or so hours last night (I'd guess).

Given how long the travel was, I expected to be more destroyed when we arrived, but I surprised myself by arriving in reasonably decent condition. I actually think I owe my 10 day Bikram challenge a little bit of credit as I found myself more in tune with how I was feeling than I typically do on flights. I stood up and did miniature versions of camel, side angle posture, bow-pulling pose, and forward bend on several occasion. Also, in addition to the large bottle of water I brought, I downed the small bottle they gave us and I took a glass of water every time liquid was offered. Bikram definitely put me in the habit of drinking more water than I ordinarily do.

12 hours on Korean Air from SFO to Seoul was a very pleasant international flight. Bibimbap for the first meal = delicious. The remainder of the meals were edible (which, sadly, these days, is a fairly good performance).

I took the time to bask in uninterrupted consumption of media for pleasure: 2 french films, 1 Italian film, 1 American film, 1 600 page Vogue, 1 Vanity fair, and half a national geographic. Talk about indulgence! This is another reason why I love to travel. My brain gets exposure to things outside its everyday experience -- I can actually feel myself thinking differently.

We had a very tight connection in Seoul, which was exciting. Incheon was overwhelmingly huge and more crowded than any airport I'd ever been to (or perhaps just the mad dash made it seem that way).

Then just 5.5 hours for a second Korean Air flight, some fitfull sleep spells, a quick e-visa clearance through immigration, handing the customs form to agents, and we were outside in the humid air.

We had the typical arrival confusion -- it looked like our hotel had closed for the night when we arrived. But, once we sorted that out, we were fine.

A quick dip in our plunge pool to rinse off, some wine, melatonin, and lights out.

Unfortunately, I woke around 4 AM with some seriously painful intestinal cramping. Immediately, I regretted forgetting to use bottled water on my toothbrush. While I was in quite a bit of pain, I was thankful to think back to struggling on the mat in Bikram -- I could tough this out, I could breathe and focus. This too would pass, I told myself (which was much easier to do once I realized that while it hurt as much as when I had kidney stones, it was located along my large intestinal path, and I didn't have any signs of a fever).

I went outside and did some yoga while staring at the stars, reminding myself to enjoy this moment, to accept it, and to breathe. Eventually, I went back to bed, and tossed and turned 'til sunrise, when thankfully, I discovered that the pain was gone.

Off to Phnom Penh adventures.

February 17, 2012

Bikram 10-day Challenge: Day 12

Yeah, you read that right. I didn't make day 10. Or day 11. But I did make it today for the 10th Bikram Class in 12 days.

Not quite the goal I'd set for myself. And yet, I still feel great. Ten 90-minute bikram classes (aka torture sessions) in 12 days. Despite my chaotic life? That feels like success to me.

How'd I miss day 10? An argument with E that ran overtime. So un-yoga. And yet, so true. Life does stuff like arguments that cause you to lose track of time.

And then, day 11 had no space for a class. So I re-arranged day 12 (despite the fact that it was the last stateside day before a 10-day international vacation) to fit in the class.

And, I did the whole thing, today. Tired (exhausted due to lack of pre-travel sleep, if I'm honest), but committed to finishing out the full 10 days of focused practice before leaving for vacation. I managed to do a more pose-by-pose approach this time around which allowed me to do my best in most poses, although I did opt out after 5 seconds in the first Camel. Man, that pose just wrecks me...

Overall, the big picture lessons I can say I learned are:

1. A big goal is great. Even if you miss it by 10%, you still do more than you otherwise would have done without it.
2. Laundry demands from Bikram are insane. Seriously, I have no idea how anyone without a line for drying or a housekeeper deals with the dripping wet towels and costumes on a daily basis.
3. Starting is the hardest part. Almost every class I took during my challenge I was able to watch a newbie (the first class, it was me!). Since I'd so recently been one, I felt for them. Starting and getting through the first standing series was by far the hardest part for me and based on observations, it looks like that's generally true.

I suppose this is the point where I wax eloquent about feeling comfortable failing. I learned during this challenge, that apparently, the athlete's approach of "this is my goal training plan" but I'll call it success if I hit 85% or 90% is totally unknown in the business world.

How weird.

I think my favorite approach is shoot for the far away stars. Just don't forget to reward yourself if you merely establish something cool in your own solar system.

February 14, 2012

10-day Bikram Challenge: Day 9

8 AM class was the only option that worked with my schedule.

So, I managed to motivate for the early wake up, packed street clothes, busted through the entire series with something bordering on ease, and then showered and headed out for my day.

I pushed to the deepest I've gone in many of the poses, in particular, the backbends. Camel still gave me a bit of trouble with some dizziness, but overall, I was much more comfortable than I have been.

I spent much of the class being thoroughly impressed by a woman in her 60s who was struggling through her first class. She did amazingly well and stayed in the room for the entire 90+ minutes despite her friend's quick exit after pranayama breathing.

And now, I can't believe tomorrow is day 10.

February 13, 2012

Bikram 10-day Challenge: Day 8

Today's schedule didn't allow for anything other than the 6 AM Bikram class.

Yup, discipline is definitely one of the benefits of this challenge. I put myself to bed early and woke at 5:30 to fit in today's class.

It was tough to get out of bed at that hour, but I was rewarded with a pleasant experience -- the room wasn't too warm when I showed up, so I warmed up slowly with the room. I took it relatively easy, but made sure to complete all of the poses. I pushed through both camels in the full posture, which isn't something I've done thus far. Overall, this was the least uncomfortable and easiest experience I've had with the series.

And then, it was 7:30 and I was ready to start my day.

February 12, 2012

Bikram 10 Day Challenge: Day 7

This morning's class was the best one so far -- I made it through the entire series without opting out of any of the poses. I handled the heat much better than normal, so I was able to push myself deeper in many of the poses (no doubt I'll be sore tomorrow).

Waking at 7:30 to go to Bikram took a bit of motivation, but now I'm so glad I did it.

I feel relaxed and energized, all at the same time.

3 to go.

February 11, 2012

Bikram 10-day challenge: Day 6

Showing up for class #6 today meant that I was more than half-way done.

I rewarded myself by buying a fancy yoga mat and a 20 class card (the special for new students is $250 for 20 classes, but you have to purchase during the 10-day trial period). The classes expire in 6 months, so when I get back from Cambodia, I'll have about 5.5 months to get through 20 classes. If I assume a few travel snags, that puts me on track for a minimum of one class per week when I'm home. Ideally, I'd like to do more (possibly 3 or 4), but I like the idea that at I'm financially committed to at least one class per week after Cambodia.

Today's class was the most crowded class I've attended so far (apparently there are many weekend warriors in Bikram).

Z, the new student from yesterday, came back and stayed through the entire class. We waived hello at the beginning and high-fived at the end.

The heat and humidity felt like it was much harder for me than the last couple of classes, but whenever I looked, the thermometer appeared to be in the 104-105F range rather than inching up to 108 or 107 as it had in prior classes. Perhaps all the sweat and exhalation from that many people noticeably increases the humidity? Or, perhaps more realistically, last night's date night full of fancy food and wine made efficiently handling the heat a bit difficult on my system?

I rested during the first bow pulling pose, tree pose (but did tree instead of toe-stand), and the second half lotus pose. I wanted to opt out of more of the poses, or, just leave the room on several occasions, so I was struggling quite a bit.

Tomorrow, my goal is going to be to focus on completing the pose I'm doing. Nothing more, nothing less. I think I get wrapped up in how much of the class is left, how tired and uncomfortable I already am, and I spend too much time thinking about how the class might play out, which interferes with my ability to focus and just be in the current pose.

That being said, I definitely pushed several of the poses today to levels I haven't reached in a long time. How do I know? Oh, my hamstrings, lower back, and shoulders are more sore today than they have been since I started this process.

It would appear, at least in my case, there's something to Bikram's claim that the heat makes it a safer practice. I definitely wasn't trying to push the limits of my strength or flexibility (or even really making myself too sore) the first few classes. Instead, I was entirely focused on surviving the heat.

Tomorrow, I've got 2 options, 8 AM or 10 AM. I'd love to get up and bust it out by 8, but sleeping in may trump. We'll see.

February 10, 2012

Bikram 10 day challenge: Half-way

Today's AM class was tough. I suspect that's always true at this studio, but I found it more difficult than last night's class.

I struggled through as long as I could (no straight leg head to knee for me. Just holding the foot, locking the leg, thanks). Eventually, I opted out of the first triangle pose, but after granting myself that respite, I pushed through all the other poses and I did several of the backbends at an actual "I'm trying" effort whereas before I've just been going through the motions 'til I felt certain I could finish the series.

When I wasn't desperately trying to regulate my nose breathing, I couldn't help but notice that a new student actually managed to leave the room in today's class.

After 5 consecutive days, and after wanting to do so myself, I've never seen anyone successfully do so.

There is mad group psychological pressure and tricks going on in Bikram. Make no mistake. They are geared to make you better in your practice, but they are strong, and not to be underestimated.

The instructor tried to convince her to stay, but eventually, the vulcan mind tricks that worked on me and convinced me to tough it out failed, and she escaped.

In an unfortunate coincidence for her, being new, she made the faux-pas of bringing her purse into the practice room, so she couldn't actually leave for good. And, in all honesty, she probably couldn't have left anyways, because this studio locks the front doors during the class (I wonder how this lines up with fire codes?).

At the end of the class, I was pleased to see the group of people encouraging the new student to come back. I'd been exactly behind her, and I'd watched her rest and try to engage through the remainder of the class once she'd been coaxed back into the room. I told her I'd almost puked my first class 5 days ago, but that I felt much better in the heat now, and that at this point I could make it through the entire series (or, almost, anyways).

I hope she comes back.

Either way, I'm impressed that I've done 5 days straight and I'm excited for the next 5.

February 9, 2012

10 Day Bikram Challenge: Day 4

I learned from yesterday. I had a *very* light lunch and found it much easier to get through today's afternoon/evening class.

It was less crowded and I sat near the door for better access the cooling breeze, but overall, I was just stronger and better able to deal with the heat this time. When I made it through the entire standing series without opting out of any poses, I was fairly certain I could push through the floor series to finish all 52 poses for the first time in a very long time (and the very first time in such heat).

And, I did it.

The instructor, Mary, was very supportive when I thanked her for teaching such a great class and let her know that it was my first time through the whole thing without needing a break at this studio.

I'm hoping to keep this up for the remaining 6 days.

February 8, 2012

Bikram 10-day Challenge: Day 3

Today's class was much more difficult than yesterday's.

First, despite the fact that I finished lunch almost 4 hours before class, the residual food and digestion did not treat me well (and I'd even specifically requested that my business meeting serve mediterranean food, hoping that veggie would be easier). I found I was much more likely to become nauseous in today's 4:30 - 6 PM class than I had in the 2 previous AM classes I'd attended with an empty belly.

Second, this class was crowded, so there was much more heat and humidity than the last one. Also, I arrived close to starting time, so I found a place in the corner, far from the cooling door of welcome breeze that is opened a few times to allow fresh air to bathe the practice. Talk about incentive to arrive earlier!

I did a very ugly bargaining about quitting/leaving with myself a few times.

I would have done so in the first class, but then, Cynthia Wehr, the owner, had me in her sights. She made it clear that she really wanted me to stay in the room and I didn't want to let her down, plus for no good reason I could identify, I inherently trusted that she wouldn't try to keep me there if I really couldn't handle it. After the class, on my way out, she confirmed that she was very happy I'd been able to stay in the room.

I've never had a yoga instructor who was so personally attuned to my struggle. I've also never struggled so much in a class. But that was then, Class 1.

This afternoon, class 3, she was not the instructor (she did her own practice), and I was not the new student targeted for special attention. So I struggled even more and the quitter/protector in me tried to convince the more committed one that I should leave a few times ("It's so hot... this can't be good for you." "40 More minutes? How can you possibly do that? Do you want to?" etc.).

Success. I stuck it out. 3 down. 7 to go.

And, thanks to the re-introduction to the practice at this local studio, I'm even more fascinated by the Bikram practice than ever before. In particular, I'm finding the lessons I learned in my other Yogic studies to be so much more powerful in the Bikram setting than they were in the normal (non-heated) yoga room.

The first time I did Bikram, I was *just* an ex-athlete. It was an awesomely demanding athletic endeavor. It drew me into yoga. I followed through and explored.

And now, after that exploration, I've got 8+ years of regular study of Ashtanga, Iyengar, Power-yoga, Vinyasa, restorative, yoga-shakti, blended-personal-whatever under my belt. I can reach deep and use tools I've built to work through the difficult stuff. And, I'm realizing, it's a good thing I can, because the original Bikram studio I attended was much less militant than Mountain View's.

I have no idea if I could have been a Bikram follower in the Mountain View studio without my previous studies. Of course, I see others in the classes that are clearly just meeting yoga for the first time, and they are inspired and committed, so perhaps I am unreasonable.

But, this time around, what I'm finding is, the heat is a ridiculous equalizer. My original introduction to Bikram was nowhere near as hot as this studio. It was perfect for me then (typically maxing out at 100F), but it didn't require anything close to what this studio requires (often maxing out at 108F). This studio puts me into survival mode and I drop all extraneous thoughts other than getting through the class and the occasionally self-aware thought about how I am doing, how my body frame looks in the mirror (and how to modify it), how I could probably push the current pose further, etc. There is just no space for thoughts about anything outside of my physical body.

If I'm honest, I have to admit that I made many more comparisons of myself against other students in a non-heated yoga room when I was developing a more "traditional" practice. I often felt pride in my flexibility, my strength, my ability to keep up with those doing teacher-trainings even though I wasn't.

But here... sheesh, I'm just happy I manage to stop myself from running out of the room screaming for cool air. Also, I find that I close my eyes in relaxing poses and when they remind us that Bikram is 90 minutes of eye-open meditation, I feel lazy. Because, damn, it feels so good to close your eyes and try to escape in the Shavasana before you have to start moving again... but no, this studio's Bikram is truly about forcing you to be present in a *very* *uncomofortable* reality.

For the first time ever in my yoga practice, I often catch myself *just* breathing with a calm mind (usually right before I freak out about how difficult the class is).

I feel like I'm learning more about myself, my honesty with myself about how uncomfortable I actually am in any given moment, and what I'm capable of than I've learned in a very long time.

Also, I'm just so grateful such a challenging practice opened so close to my home. In the locker room today, I chatted with a runner who had done her first Bikram class -- she asked me for confirmation, "I mean, this is harder than a half marathon, right?" I hadn't thought about it on those terms, but when challenged, I had to agree. If you don't put a pace goal on a half, and you just have to finish -- oh, hell yes, a Mountain View Bikram 90 minute yoga session is much harder (**full and fair disclosure, at your edge race pace, I think a half is probably slightly harder because you can slack between poses in the class, but that's not what this woman wanted to discuss**)

In short, I don't know where this will lead, but I fully expect to finish my 10-day self-challenge of Bikram and, given the benefits I've already experienced, I suspect I will be developing a long-term relationship with Bikram Yoga Mountain View.

(Today's pose summary: skipped 2nd triangle, 1st tree, 1st 1/2 lotus, 1st camel -- 48/52 completed. Touched my forehead to the ground in separate leg stretching and sat all the way down in fixed firm.)

Here's a video of how hardcore the owner is (a year ago, 3 years after she won the world yoga championship) to help you understand where some of my awe for this studio comes from:

February 7, 2012

Bikram Challenge: Day 2

Today was much easier, no doubt partially due to the heat acclimatization from yesterday's sweat-stravaganza. Also, the class was much smaller, maybe half the size of yesterday's (less body heat). We probably maxed out around 107F, but most of the class was at 105-6.

The instructor from yesterday just took the class as a participant -- I can see why she was the 2007 World Yoga Champion. Yikes. I had no idea some of the poses could be extended so far.

I am happy to state that I attempted at least one of all of the 26 postures and made it through both of most of them.

I fell out of one of the standing bow-pulling poses and decided it was a good time to take a standing break. I also opted out of the second tree pose for a kneeling break. On the floor, I rested instead of doing (i) the 2nd half lotus pose (man, that pose is *very* physically demanding); and (ii) the first bow-pulling pose. Also, I only did 5 seconds of the first camel with just the slightest backward lean with my hands on my lower back. I managed the entire second camel, but again, only with the slightest backward lean with my hands on my lower back.

So, of the 52 poses, I was able to get through 47. Yesterday, I probably only made it through 40 or so. I'd be thrilled to be able to complete the entire series by the end of this 10-day series.

This morning, I wasn't too sore, but now I can feel it. I suspect tomorrow's class will be a different challenge with the added obstacle of soreness.

In an interesting alignment of my life with pop culture, I listened to William Broad's interview on Fresh Air about his new book The Science of Yoga.

I was pleased to learn that Bikram does not include the poses he found to be the most dangerous: inversions that place the neck under extreme pressure in unnatural bends such as plow or shoulder stand (which many of my prior yogic studies have incorporated in their finishing series).

I was also amused to learn that most forms of yoga slow the body down and, if all other variables remain unchanged, will result in weight gain, not weight loss. I can confirm that during class, Bikram does not slow the body down. I took my pulse several times during today's class and it was right where it is when I'm in the middle of a run.

Finally, I have to say that Bikram definitely results in one type of awareness that I don't get from other yoga studies. Staring at your body in a mirror while contorting yourself, sweating heavily, and wearing very little clothing for 90 minutes means that there's no way to kid yourself about your current state of fitness. You can see how much you are struggling. You can see the actual form of your body in the various poses. This is a nice dovetail with my 2012 goal to get down to racing weight. I can visually see that some of these poses are more difficult than they could be, partially because I have excess mass getting in the way.
10-day Bikram Challenge: Day 1

I've done Bikram in the past and have always enjoyed it. It's a demanding workout and yet, you get the extra benefits of yoga (a breathing practice, some relaxation at the end, stretching). For some reason, I've been struggling with returning to my yoga practice, so when I saw that a new local Bikram studio had opened, I figured the answer was clear.

I'm amused at how different Bikram is from other forms of yoga. The copyright, the trademark, the owner control, the strict adherence to the timeline of 26 poses at a specific heat and humidity, the lawsuits against former instructors who try to go off on their own and modify the style, and, of course, the World Yoga Championship. I've read and heard many practitioners of more traditional yoga styles complain and speak poorly of Bikram.

But, for me, I have nothing bad to say -- it was a great gateway into yoga when I started my practice. It was much more like the sports I'd grown up with than traditional yoga, because the physical demands and the discipline are front and center as opposed to spirituality. Since I'm having such a hard time motivating to get back to a regular more traditional yoga practice, I figured if Bikram worked once, perhaps it would work again.

So, Yesterday, I started a 10-day Bikram Challenge. The deal I made with myself is that I have to show up for a class every day for 10 days.


I've never gone to a Bikram studio this hardcore. The owner was the 2007 World Yoga Champion. She ran an amazing class yesterday and managed to motivate me to stay for the entire 90 minutes despite needing to kneel or lie down to opt out of at least 15% of the poses. The packed room often hit 108F. No one left. We all struggled through as best we could.

I now know why Bikram refers to his studios as "torture chambers."

I'm excited about this challenge. Yesterday's class showed me that I definitely haven't been pushing myself as much as I could physically. I pride myself on not getting injured and listening to my body. What yesterday's class showed me is that I definitely err far on the side of comfort when it comes to athletics. Showing up to struggle for 90 minutes on a daily basis is going to be great for me: physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Today, I'm a bit sore, but ready to return.

February 5, 2012

Failed: Fast, Early, Better (Working on often)

E and I were discussing the roots of the "Fail early, Fail often, Fail better, Fail fast" meme of Silicon Valley tonight.

I suggested that it must have started with Beckett:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. -- Westward Ho, 1983.

E suggested it was a riff on the storied political phrase:

Vote Early, Vote Often.

The truth is likely somewhere in between. E had no idea of the Beckett quote, and my only exposure to the political phrase was thanks to Gangs of New York.

We are a good sample for the edges of Silicon Valley (him, on the super-techy-bleeding-edge side, me on the blend of semi-related fields with tech side).

The fact that a combination of both of our suggested sources is necessary to get to the full meme hints at how we much we need seemingly unrelated intellectual neighbors to get to the heart of the mash-up hack-it 'til it works culture of Silicon Valley.

But, to bring it back to the completely personal level, I just want to talk about my failure today. I failed early and fast. I was supposed to run the Kaiser Half Marathon. My training hadn't been fabulous, but last weekend's 10-miler with several long mile-plus track intervals in the middle convinced me that a 2-hour-ish half marathon was not going to be a problem today.

It started well (aka fast). 8:55 for the first mile. 8:44 pace for the second (this felt too aggressive, so I hit the lap button at 1.8 and backed off, telling running buddy H that I'd see her speedy self at the finish and letting my breath come back to me).

Unfortunately, once I slowed, I realized I needed a restroom, stat. Typically, this is something race organizers have planned for. But not this race. I'll spare you the details, but after 15 minutes of hoping the next corner would have an aid station with bathrooms, I had to re-route my course. Once that was done, I realized I needed to get to the finish in an unreasonable amount of time to keep my other social obligations for the day.

So, I accepted failure somewhere around 4.6 miles in (early). I ducked under the tape and jumped into the 5K lane. My 4+ mile loop wasn't included in their course, so I had about 2 miles to go to hit the 3.1 goal. They were all walkers. Mainly families with children, either in strollers or toddling along. Some families pushing elders in wheelchairs. It was a side of the running/walking community I've never interacted with and I couldn't believe how awesomely supportive they all were of one another (yelling back and forth as they zigged and zagged between running and jogging). Also, many of them cheered for me as I passed them in my constant run. In particular, parents encouraged their children to try to keep up with me for a couple of minutes.

I felt so lucky to experience such a gorgeous day in Golden Gate park with such a supportive group of people. Middle of the pack runners who don't fail never see this.

I ran those short few miles at approximately my goal half marathon pace and crossed the 5K finish line with the *slowest* officially recorded 5K I've *ever* completed (I was surprised to see that they didn't count my first loop on the electronic chip and just tallied my start and finish times for a 5K time).

In short, I totally failed. And it felt awesome.

Plus, I was able to cheer all half marathon finishers for the first 2h15m. Watching the winners and early finishers struggle was inspirational. The pure physicality of the men running 1h07m half marathons and the women running 1h18m was impressive. Come to think of it, the reason I couldn't tear myself away 'til 2h15 is that *everyone* was inspirational, from the age group leaders to the eldest healthy folks with their altered gaits but triumphant "I am still a finisher" arms held high to the skinny young men and women kicking past 5 competitors on the last 100 uphill yards -- all of it, was inspirational beyond belief.

So yeah. I failed to reach my goal today. But in allowing myself to do so, I learned more about the running community (particularly the bay area running culture and its various historic races and running clubs) than I'd over known.

And, truly, my body made it very clear it didn't want to do the half today, so while I could have forced it, if I had, I wouldn't have failed early or fast (you know, the graceful kind of failure, when, as soon as it's unavoidable, you admit things aren't going in the right direction and you do something else).

Had I not listened to my body, I might not have failed at all. I likely would have just finished slowly, which means I surely couldn't have failed often (as today is only the Second time I've opted to DNF, and I'm led to believe often requires at least 2 or more.)

And, most importantly, I *definitely* wouldn't have failed better.

I am so grateful for my experience today. The weather was perfect. 4 miles on the half course with dedicated runners opened up a great workout for me. 2+ closing out on the 5K course showed me parts of the running community that made me feel proud and grateful, and watching the finishers was irreplaceable.

Meeting up with H at the end (congrats to her on the 1:48!) and walking back to her car for 2.5+ miles while chatting and catching up reminded me that sometimes, regardless of the failed goals, showing up is all that matters for true success. So, I failed on some metrics. If only every one of my failures could come alongside lessons and alternate successes like these (all beneath perfect weather while walking through one of the most beautiful parks in the world)...

To more failure! Onward!

February 3, 2012


Arvay, I see your tofu eggplant stir-fry over rice with random green bits and raise you last night's left over Saag Paneer over rice with tonight's shiitake mushroom brown lentils.

Like Arvay, food like this is *not* part of my heritage. And yet, here we are.

The Berkeley. She is strong.

February 1, 2012


After months of limping along by running a hard drive diagnostic post-blue screen (which, for some completely unexplained reason appeared to quell the repeat-blue-screen-loop), today, on the third blue-screen of the day, I succumbed.

My laptop is at Computer Care. I'm working from an Asus EE netbook.

Better than nothing? You bet. Close to my normal set up? Even with Dropbox and USB keys of backups, not even close.

Slow and hard to get work done. Easier to waste time on the internet while things load/process/etc.

Suffice it to say, today's day of no calls and many documents to be edited did not go according to plan. I spent too much time on random internet shit (essentially forgiving myself for the waste) and then...

Healthy night was canceled in favor of Fiesta Del Mar.

See, in my spare time today, while waiting for documents to sync from back-up and being frustrated with technology, between internet ridiculousness, I managed to schedule a couple of contractors to stop by.

Oh joy! I learned our bathroom is even more screwed than we thought (the two different sets of tiles in the shower? Yeah, that's evidence of a prior quick fix where they recognized water damage and decided to hide it.) The remodel will *not* be cheap. And since the master bedroom was destroyed to the point of non-functionality, it's not like we can avoid the expenditure.

Thanks, prior owner guy -- your decision to go completely non-professional DIY and drop a pseudo sub-floor on a patio, plumb it, wall it up, drop tile against the drywall without any mortar and call it a master bathroom definitely increased the purchase price in your favor, too bad for us that since purchase it's been destroyed by the one-two punch of water/steam/fungus damage (no fan or airflow? Why would you need that?), and subterranean termites who had easy access since you just dropped the wooden subfloor against the outside dirt around the house.

The contractor actually admitted feeling sorry for us today, "Normally, I don't take on things this ugly. It never turns out well in the end. There's always something else I discover that's been done with cut corners that's fucked up and needs to be fixed and the homeowners are never happy to learn of it."


Not a great day. But, I gave myself permission to slack. I had a ridiculous todo list. I didn't get through 30% of it. And all due to first world problems. I'm working on being totally okay with what that is.

Which means, if I am honest with myself, overall, educational about things I might have preferred to ignore, but not really a bad day.