Long overdue post about posture clinic with Diane Ducharme

The halfway point of this challenge was punctuated by a special event for me; on day 51 I attended a posture clinic given by Diane Ducharme. You may remember a previous post about when she guest taught at my home studio. Her reputation in the Bikram world precedes her. Therefore, I was really, extra, super excited to take her seminar! And at this point I need to give a shout out to my Fairy God-Yogini, Jenn, who made it possible for me to even go in the first place… Jenn, you’re the best! Thank you!!!

For my non-yogi friends reading who don’t know what a posture clinic is, I will explain. Basically, it’s when a VERY senior Bikram teacher leads a group (usually a mix of students and other teachers) through the series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises at a much slower pace- 6 hours, versus 90 minutes for a regular class. It is conducted in a hot room, but the heat is not cranked as high as usual since most of the time you're just listening while the seminar leader answers questions and discusses every posture in detail.

A posture clinic is an appropriate forum to get individual help. It's perfectly okay to ask questions about your own specific challenges, or you can just ask the leader to observe you doing a posture so you can get some personalized feedback. Plus, the teachers authorized to lead these seminars are actually allowed to touch students when they’re giving corrections. Overall, at posture clinic you learn a lot of neat tips – “secrets” as Diane calls them – about every posture in the series, and you also get tailored-for-you, hands-on help with the trouble spots in your practice. What you learn won’t necessarily make the postures any easier, but it will help you achieve better form. And with Bikram yoga, form is key since the emphasis is all on trying the right way.

It is important to note that the format of a regular Bikram class never allows for this level of depth and personal attention. Due to the specific pacing of the Bikram dialogue there’s just not enough time. And per Bikram himself, regular teachers are supposed to refrain from touching students when giving corrections. Therefore, a posture clinic is a very useful tool for anyone who wants to take his or her practice to the next level.

My day at posture clinic started fairly early (for a Saturday, for me). I was up and on the road before 8:30, as I had to travel out to
Bikram Yoga Auburn where it was being held. The sun was shining and the hour in the car flew by (belting out Lada Gaga really helps pass the time). When I got there I was a little nervous since I’ve never practiced anywhere but at Bikram Yoga Northampton. I knew some other people from BYN who would be coming, but they hadn’t arrived yet so I was on my own for the moment. I immediately liked the vibe of the Auburn studio though. It was bustling with eager yogis and it felt bright and homey. The lobby was being staged for a Shakti trunk sale, and in the hot room another class was just finishing up. There was a good energy and I could sense right away it was going to be a fun day.

On the agenda was a regular class taught by Diane from 10-11:30, then posture clinic from 12-6. Taking the regular class first was optional, but I knew it would be a good way to get warmed up. Plus, I had to get a regular class in to count for the challenge anyway (I’m a purist). Soon my friends from BYN got there and it was time to head into the hot room and claim our spots. It ended up that all 5 of us were right beside each other in the front row- I was next to the podium! There were about 60 attendees in all, and we were PACKED in there like sardines! At least, it seemed that way to me; I’m used to having a couple of feet on either side of me when I practice. However, for this event there were strict instructions upon check-in: Mats 6 inches apart! I thought I was going to hate it being so crowded, but it was actually a really cool experience. The group energy from that many people breathing and moving together was awesome! I thought my practice was pretty strong and focused. I tried really hard to maintain good form because I wanted to represent for BYN and be a shining example of the outstanding level of teaching there. :)

After class there was a 30 minute break. Everyone put on fresh practice clothes, refilled their water bottles and munched down snacks. Then, all 60 of us piled back into the hot room and the posture clinic began. Everyone chilled on their mats (well, as much as it's possible to "chill" in a hot room) while Diane shared her “secrets” and gave feedback and corrections to people who wanted her to evaluate their postures individually. This really made the teaching come to life. It's so cool to be able to see someone's form improve right in front of your eyes! I had brought a notebook so I launched into full-on school nerd mode and was scribbling away the whole time. At the end of talking about each posture, we would all get up together and do at least 1 set of that posture so we could try applying what we had just learned right then and there.

What I learned was… a ton! Way too much to reiterate here! Plus, all the notes I took relate to my own practice anyway. They range from little bad habits that I need to ditch to a few big adjustments that have entirely changed certain postures for me. I also wrote down some verbatim Diane quotes because she has a great sense of humor and isn't afraid to tell it like it is! Here is one of my favorite little gems she told all of us about
Awkward Pose (Utkatasana):

“If you are tucking [your glutes] on this posture I can guarantee you will need knee surgery someday because YOU ARE FUCKING IT UP!”

Did I mention Diane likes to curse? Yep, the lady has got her F-bombs and she’s not afraid to drop them (when necessary, for emphasis). Personally, I fucking respect that.

In all seriousness though, this was an amazing day spent with an amazing group of people. And I actually got so much more out of it than just cool tips to help me with my practice. I will never forget the intoxicating hum of 60 people all doing Deep Breathing (Pranayama) in unison. I will never forget the woman in the back row wearing the bandanna and the brown tank top who absolutely LIT UP and exclaimed, “I can do it!” as Diane coached her through the full expression of Toe Stand (Padangustasana) for the first time. I will never forget the claps and the “Oohs!” and “Ahhs!” of all of us yogis who were genuinely moved as we witnessed people reach new personal bests. I will never forget the good times shared over post-clinic margaritas and guacamole with some of my BYN friends, Chris & Christine. And I will never forget the kindness and generosity showed to me by Jenn which allowed me to be a part of all this.

My fist posture clinic was an awesome experience I will always remember, and it certainly won't be my last! It's changed up my practice for the better, and it's strengthened the connection I have to this yoga and to all those who believe in it and practice it. I would highly encourage anybody who has the opportunity to take part in one to do so!


Toto, I don't think we're blogging in Kansas anymore.

Fear not my lovely 10 followers; I have not abandoned you or this blog. I’ve just been feeling kind of mentally exhausted lately by everything pertaining to the challenge (par for the course during this leg). I feel a little guilty since I posted a bunch of back entries from my journal right off the bat to get everyone up to speed, and then suddenly I found myself struggling to find my voice on here and start blogging in real time.

I’m still getting to class everyday – and still enjoying my practice – but lately it’s everything else that seems to be weighing on me. I JUST did laundry- how did I go through all my yoga towels already?!?! Ugh, I can’t take packing my yoga bag AGAIN! I’m sick of drinking WATER- I really just want a tall, non-fat, no whip, White Mocha from Starbucks! It’s like I still want to practice with all my heart, but I wish somehow everything else I need to do could take care of itself. I would like to be magically transported by bubble each day to the studio in a perfect state of hydration with clean yoga clothes, towels and mat in hand. And then after class I would like to click my sweaty heels together 3 times and end up back on my couch, showered, rehydrated and ready to blog. (Gosh, it was about time I worked in a Wizard of Oz reference! Favorite. Movie. Ever.)

Like The Wizard though, I’m just a real person behind the curtain. I obviously don’t possess the supernatural powers necessary to make all of that stuff happen on it’s own. So when something had to give these past couple of weeks, it was unfortunately this blog. I did sit down to try and write a few times, but nothing worthy of posting was really coming together.

On the other hand, although I pulled back on writing my own blog, I'm not feeling that I've become withdrawn at all from this experience as a whole. I’ve still been avidly following my other favorite Bikram yoga blogs, and I've been having a lot of great discussions with my teachers and other yogis at my studio about our practices. Also, a few of my best friends have even tried Bikram over these past couple of weeks, and I know at least one of them is already totally addicted and loving it! (How many classes your first week, Nina? Four? Five?!) Her frequent YRQs (yoga related questions) and the resulting talks have been a great source of joy for me. Collectively, my yogi friends, teachers and fellow bloggers have been like my Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion, and I’m so grateful for your support and accompaniment on this journey!

This past weekend Bikram's own Good Witch of the North even descended upon me in the form of senior Bikram teacher Diane Ducharme. I took a seminar with her and it was such an AMAZING day! Her passion for this yoga is invigorating and it has certainly compelled me to get back in the blogging spirit.

New posts coiming soon. I'm still with you my pretties, and this little blog too! :)


Journal entry from day 40. Original date: 2.9.10.

So day 40 was a little bittersweet. The sweet part was that I had an awesome class in terms of seeing some progress in a few postures. I fully executed Standing Head-to-Knee (Dandayamana Janushirasana) and held it until it was time to come out (when kicking the right leg), I touched my head to the floor for the first time in Standing Separate Leg Stretching (Dandayamana Bibhaktapada Paschimottanasana), and during the floor series on both sides of Head-to-Knee (Janushirasana) I was able to lock my knee and get my heel off the floor. Also, Jenn was teaching and all my favorite studio buddies were practicing tonight. To me there was a great energy in the room.

But now the bitter part: Since about Sunday night my shoulders and upper back have been bothering me. I have some general soreness and even a little pain when I move certain ways. I don't think this is the result of something specific I did; I tend to agree with my teacher Audrey who said, "Doing this much yoga just tears your body apart to make room for healing." Well, this afternoon at work I took an OTC pain reliever to soothe my torn up body. It masked the soreness/pain alright... so much so that I think it was the only reason I was able to push myself tonight. That was not my intention when I took it, but I still feel like I cheated or something. Oops.

Anyway, I won't make that mistake again. Because I know I'm going to pay for it tomorrow. I can already feel the rebound soreness setting in. I just hope I didn't REALLY injure myself. I'm going to take it easy until I start to feel good in class again without the use of Motrin and the like. I really like pushing myself though, so that kind of bums me out. But I know it's the smart thing to do. Take the good with the bad and live and learn, I guess.

Journal entry from day 33. Original date: 2.2.10.

I graduated to the final step of Standing Head-to-Knee (Dandayamana Janushirasana) tonight! Woo hoo! Jenn was teaching and during second set she told me I was ready to try touching my forehead on my knee. I've had a sneaking suspicion I might be ready, but I guess I just needed someone to tell me to go for it. Of course as soon as I looked down I fell right out, lol. But it was still awesome! It's the little things I tell ya! :)

Journal entry from day 32. Original date: 2.1.10.

I fall deeper in love with this yoga everyday [sigh]... That's all. :)


Journal entry fron day 25. Original date: 1.25.10.

I’ve been hearing this term on some of the blogs I read: “yoga truck”. Metaphorically speaking, to say that you’ve been “hit by the yoga truck” means to have experienced a particularly difficult class. Well, I believe tonight was my first real and true encounter with the yoga truck. It may have been circling my block before, but tonight it was coming for me, and it NAILED me.

So let me set this up for you: Normally at this time of year the air here in New England is very cold and very dry. But today in good old Western Mass it was a balmy 53 degrees and rainy and damp outside- bizarre weather for late January. I was soaking this up, as I hate winter and am desperate for spring to come, but I did not stop to think for a second that it would have any bearing whatsoever on my practice tonight. Was I in for a rude awakening!

I have not practiced Bikram in the summer months yet, so I was not prepared for what was in store for me. But by the time we were into the floor series it was really starting to get to me how miserably, insufferably, unbearably hot I was. Hot, and bothered. Normally by this point in class I’m fully acclimated to the heat. I still sweat, of course, but I don’t really FEEL hot. Well, not tonight! My skin was on fire and ripping it off actually seemed like a good plan to try and get some relief. In every posture where my body was sort of folded close on itself – Wind Removing (Pavanamuktasana), Half Tortoise (Ardha-Kurmasana) – I could just feel the heat radiating off of me. And there was no escape. Even in Savasana I was painfully aware of how hot every inch of air was around me. It was almost suffocating.

I hated it.

For the first time since my first Bikram class ever I wanted to leave the hot room in the middle of class. I was playing the mental game of: I don’t really need to go to the bathroom, but I could just to get out of here for a minute. I don’t really need more water, but I could chug down what I have left just to be able to go and refill my bottle. I didn’t give in to this though. I looked around and Jenn and Audrey and some other veteran students were right near me in class, and Charlie was just on the other side of the teaching podium. I could see that they were all slogging though it, struggling just as I was, but they weren’t leaving. So I took a cue from them and kept it together as best I could. If they were going to do it, I was going to do it. We were in this together.

Posture by posture, Savasana by Savasana, we made it through the rest of class. All of us. And afterwards we all parked our soggy butts in the lobby, sucking down electrolytes and swapping war stories. Everybody was all amped up and talking excitedly about just how brutal it was! After telling how I felt like I wanted to rip my skin off, Jenn shared a similar desire she experienced during teacher training. Christine, a fellow Bikram 101 participant who tends to like conditions on the “juicy” side, was saying that tonight she was both loving and hating it at times. And Charlie, ever the wise professorial type, explained that it was actually the high humidity for this time of year– not the high temperature – that killed us.

I loved it.

The tough conditions tonight evoked a powerful group energy. It was palpable in the lobby after class, and I was a part of it. I felt like one of the cool kids. This was new territory for me. Because even though I’ve become friendly with the teaching staff and some of the regulars at my studio, I realized that during classes I’ve intentionally been trying to put a sort of bubble around myself for all these months. I thought that’s what I needed to do in order to focus. I considered other people’s energy a distraction and therefore detrimental to my own practice. Sometimes I did find the solace calming, but other times, particularly when struggling, it was lonely. Tonight I drew off the group vibe to help me get through, and it worked.

The bonds that tend to form between yogis are strong, and after tonight I better understand why. Although classes that are universally brutal for everybody aren’t the norm, the people who are always there mat to mat with you are fighting the good fight just like you are. They have their ups and downs, good days and bad days, triumphs and trials. So it doesn’t hurt to tap into that group energy when you need to. Yogis have to stick together, and tonight we all got hit with the yoga truck together. We all lived to tell about it though, and so personally, I’m grateful. Thank you, yoga truck. Tonight you burst my bubble.


Journal entry from day 18. Original date: 1.18.10.

Wonderful guest teacher tonight- Diane Ducharme. She is a very well known senior teacher and the director of Yoga For You in West Roxbury, MA. She is very closely connected to Bikram himself, and is one of the few people authorized by him to run posture clinics and seminars.

Class was packed!!! My mat was squished way up in the front corner by the crack in the mirror. I made the decision early on not to let this bother me. For me, that’s pretty huge. I’m so glad I did though; I went on to have a great class. The focus that has eluded me for the past week or so was suddenly back. (I got my hands off the floor and into prayer (Namaskar) for a few seconds while in Toe Stand (Padangustasana) tonight. I have never done that before, and I have a sneaking suspicion it actually has more to do with my focus than with my ability level at this point.)

Other than just Diane’s presence, the truly great thing about tonight’s class was getting the opportunity to hear a different teacher say the dialogue. (Non-yogis reading, Bikram teachers lead classes verbally, and there is a very specific teaching dialogue that is recited almost verbatim.) This is the second time in as many weeks that my studio has hosted a guest teacher. Last week was Teri Almquist, the director of Bikram Yoga Merrimack Valley in North Andover, MA. Both times it’s been such a great experience. Different teachers bring different elements to the dialogue, and any slight variation in their delivery can allow you to pick up on something for the fist time.

For example, part of the dialogue for Bow Pose (Dhanurasana) is: “Take a deep breath, look up and the ceiling, and slowly, gently, kick both legs up.” So let’s go over my checklist for this posture, shall we?

1. Deep breath. CHECK!
2. Look up at the ceiling. CHECK!
3. Slowly.
4. Gently.
5. Kick both legs up. CHECK!

Oops- I forgot my slowly and my gently! I should really pick up some travel sizes of slowly and gently and keep them in my yoga bag so I always have them with me. HAHAHA! I kid, I kid! But the point is, despite having heard Jenn, Charlie, Audrey and Jeff say this over and over, I have never done it. Tonight Diane really emphasized those two words and threw in a little blurb about how not to kick harder until the dialogue calls for it further into the posture. Otherwise, your body will exhaust itself too quickly. So I tried it in the second set. Wow- WHOLE NEW WORLD IN THIS POSTURE!

It amazes me how my mind has skipped over those two words for all the months that I’ve been practicing. That’s why I think it’s so good to mix it up every so often with different teachers. Not that I would ever trade any of the regular crew at Bikram Yoga Northampton though. They're the best! :)

Journal entry from day 12. Original date: 1.12.10.

It's funny what a difference 2 days can make. On day 10 I was saying things to myself like: Woo hoo- it's already Day 10!!! Double digits, baby! This is going by faster than I thought! Now today, on day 12, I'm having thoughts like: Ugh... is it really ONLY day 12? Eighty-nine more days to go is sooooo much. What have I gotten myself into???

Right now it's hard to forget what day it is because it's still January and the challenge began on the first of the month. However, I hope once February hits I will maybe start to lose track a little. Fixating on the numbers is not a good thing. The point is to make practice a part of my daily life. I do things like brush my teeth every day, but I don’t think about for how many days in a row I have done that or how many days I have left to do it. That would be silly. It’s just a part of life and so I do it. That’s what needs to happen here. (Definitely still celebrating the milestones along the way though- day 30, day 60, day 90.)

Also, Charlie was telling me that I need to stop judging my classes. He’s right of course, but that’s much easier said than done. I haven't figured out how to mentally get around it yet. If I feel great and notice progress I don’t know how not to think of that as a good class. If I feel miserable and am struggling I don’t know how not to think of that as a bad class. Hmmm…

I guess it mostly has to do with adjusting my attitude about the “bad” classes. Just going to class in and of itself is a good thing, I know. Also, to sometimes struggle is good. Struggling means something is happening. That’s where the “work” is getting done. If it were easy all the time there would be no point in doing it.

Well, I knew this would be as much a mental challenge as a physical one. And actually, I now know it is more mental than anything. So this is the type of thinking I've got to fix. Maybe it will happen in the next 89 days, but maybe not... it's a lifetime practice.


Journal Entry from day 8. Original date: 1.8.10.

So I went to tonight’s class feeling pretty indifferent about it; not really looking forward to it, but certainly not dreading it either. The warm-up started and I could not focus to save my life. My Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana) sucked. (For real- I think I’m regressing in this posture. I’ve stopped going for as much depth because I keep having to make so many corrections on form lately. Getting my weight in my heels suddenly seems unfathomable.) I stood up from Hands-to-Feet (Pada-Hastasana) and I could barely remember even doing it. Did I pull on my heels? Did I roll forward on my toes at all? Did I even try to lock my knees? WHERE WAS THE MEAT IN MY JAPANESE HAM SANDWICH?!?!?! (To all you non-yogis reading, “Japanese ham sandwich” is one of the more silly expressions used in the actual Bikram dialogue.)

Awkward (Utkatasana) was mediocre at best, and Eagle (Gurarasana) started off the same. My mind was still buzzing and Jenn’s cheerful and pretty voice was reduced to mere background noise. But then at some point either towards the end of Eagle or during Party Time (Bikram’s cutesy name for the first official water break during class), something changed. My mind finally quieted down and clicked to the “OFF” position. This is a good thing; this is actually what is supposed to happen. During class it should be your body and the teacher’s mind. They do the thinking/talking and you should just be focusing on your posture in the mirror. That way, the whole 90 minutes becomes like a moving meditation. This is ideal.

I don’t know if I quite got into a meditative state tonight, but I was definitely feeling very “in the zone”. Exhibit A: After Party Time I proceeded to ROCK Standing Head-to-Knee (Dandayamana Janushirasana)! For the first time when standing on my left leg and kicking out the right I was able to make a meaningful attempt at lowering my elbows down below my calf. Yay! I was not as good on my right leg kicking out the left, but it was still better than it has been in days (hamstrings have been super tight).

This gave me the boost I needed to really push myself, and throughout the rest of class I felt like there were so many mini triumphs. My knees stayed locked and my forehead felt closer to the ground than ever in Standing Separate Leg Stretching (Dandayamana Bibhaktapada Paschimottanasana). Bent over in this posture I actually started to go a little cross-eyed while looking down at where I wanted to put my head and I could smell the scent of laundry detergent from my towel. Getting closer! My right side Triangle (Trikanasana) felt… good?! This is a posture, and side, that I tend to hate right now. And the spine strengthening series was downright pleasant; after Bow Pose (Dhanurasana) my lower back felt amazing- almost like it had evaporated into a divine sort of nothingness and was not even there. Hard to describe, but a great feeling! Fixed Firm (Supta-Vajrasana) and all the rest felt great too. Lately these tend to be my favorite postures anyway. Yes, even Camel (Ustrasana)!

So… WOW. I’m definitely on a yoga high right now- what a great class it turned out to be! I know not every one can be like this, but man does it do wonders when they happen now and then. It's so validating! Also, it goes to show me that having a less than stellar warm-up means nothing. There’s always still time to get in the zone.

The soreness and tightness from pushing myself are setting in. The cure for that is to get back in the hot room as soon as possible. So it’s probably a good thing that I’m taking class tomorrow morning. Morning practice is never as strong for me – my head has already known for years that I’m not a morning person and now my body has simply confirmed it– but for the moment I’m still on my day 8 yoga high and looking forward to it nonetheless.


Journal entry from day 7. Original date: 1.7.10.

I was not excited for class tonight at all. I was feeling really tired since I got home so late from Providence the night before. I had been seriously dragging all day at work, and I thought I might hit another wall like on day 5. However, when I got to class there was a sort of fun energy due to a group of 4 young, college-esque guys who were all there trying Bikram for the first time. These guys were jocks- complete and total. Strapping young specimen that just reeked of athleticism. Now, I know it was somewhat to the detriment of my own practice not to be 100% focused on myself in class, but I must admit that I got a secret little thrill from watching these guys try yoga (and it helped distract me from my own tiredness).

Why the thrill? Well, part of it stems from the fact that my whole life I have never been very athletic. I was/am not naturally gifted in this arena, and I also lack that competitive drive. Needless to say, I have never really fit in with jocks. I was always the weak one, the slow one, the one who got picked last for teams in gym class… the one who couldn’t climb up that damn rope to save her own life. (Does anyone recall the opening sequence from the MTV cartoon Daria? Where the volleyballs are flying past her? Minus the glasses, that was/is pretty much me.)

Therefore, it’s a little fun to believe that maybe yoga is the universe’s way of striking a balance. For I know these guys in my class tonight could have mopped of the floor with me if we were all there to play a sport, run, swim, do push-ups, pull-ups, etc. But, as the sign on the front of the building would indicate, we were there to do yoga. Thus, I had a little bit of an edge over these conventional athletes. My practice is by no means amazing, but it’s coming along. I can see my foot starting to come over the top of my head in Standing Bow (Dandayamana Dhanurasana). I can keep my knees all the way together and on the floor in Fixed Firm (Supta Vajrasana). I can look back and see myself in the mirror while keeping my back straight and reaching around to touch my opposite thigh in Spine Twisting (Ardha Matsyendrasana). The jocks… well, let’s just say that they still have some work to do in Bikram’s Torture Chamber before they can reach these little benchmarks. But hey, they tried!

So is it that I take joy in championing my own practice and watching other people fail? Not in the least. While I did enjoy thinking about the progress I have made tonight, there were by NO MEANS any failures to watch. The jocks succeeded just by stepping out of their comfort zones and into the hot room. So I applaud them. After all, that’s where the real thrill comes from- watching people opening themselves up to new possibilities.

I hope the jocks keep coming to class. They seem like a fun crew. Maybe we can forge an alliance of jocks and yogis. Then, when the challenge is over, they can teach me about all the subtle nuances of rope climbing.