This weekend Z and I passed the half way point on our 30-day Bikram challenge. To celebrate, we both had a few really strong practices in a row. At the half way point, I feel strong, balanced, and have reached new territory with my stretching.
Lately, I’ve been working on switching my grip to the non-dominant hand half of the time. There are a few poses where switching the grip is easy for me, and I’ve done it for months, including standing deep breathing. After the sit-ups, I’m also pretty good at alternating the side that I turn to. With poses that are extremely challenging for me, like standing head to knee, switching the grip is not something I’m usually able to think about. In those poses, getting a grip at all is still work enough for me.
I’m also consistently grabbing my toes after the sit-ups. That might seem like a simple thing, but for a long time, I just reached for my feet and pulled my toes back. I was focusing more on the stretch in my legs than proper grip. I’ve also read that it is fairly easy for yogi/nis to injure their toes by pulling on them if the toes aren’t “active” in the posture. Lately, I have felt stronger shifting into the proper pose, which means grabbing the big toes with the “peace fingers” or first and middle fingers to pull myself into the stretch after the sit up.
In terms of flexibility, I’m also making noticeable improvements with standing separate leg stretching pose. Last summer, I was practicing yoga regularly at an Iyengar studio in Moscow, Idaho. The teacher–Jeri–who became a friend, was incredibly talented at getting students warmed up properly and safely into difficult poses, like Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana. Throughout the summer and previous year of practice, standing separate leg stretching was a cinch. I could easily touch my forehead to the floor in that pose–felt my spine lengthening and felt a wonderful stretch through my legs. Shortly after I began Bikram again (when I moved to SLC in late summer), I suddenly lost the ability to touch my forehead to the floor.
I suspect that the cause was my hamstrings. They had gotten tight from running and overstretching. When I first moved back to the area and returned to my Bikram practice, I overstretched my hamstrings and the pain told me to take it easy for about two months. Last year I also trained for and ran in the Bloomsday race in Spokane, WA. (It was an amazing experience, and I highly recommend it.) Nothing improves my fitness quite like running, but it definitely tightens my hamstrings. I continued to run about three miles a day throughout the summer and fall. (I haven’t ran much in the past month. The cold weather and winter air pollution has been a deterrent, and the 30-day challenge takes up all extra time.) Through all that running, my hamstrings were steadily tightening.
During the 30-day challenge, I suspected I would regain the ability to touch my head to the floor. I had been careful with my muscles and my injured hamstring has felt recovered from the overstretching. At some point last week, I finally felt my forehead touch the floor, and then I pushed even harder. That’s the thing about yoga: your body can always do more than your brain can. Though the distance is mere inches, it seems like the forehead will never touch. Some poses are really difficult, and you feel a million miles away from the final expression. When you feel yourself finally get into that pose, you realize that your body has way more to give that you originally thought possible.
That’s the lesson at the half way point. My body consistently surprises me with perfect balance in one pose or a deeper stretch in another. I’m constantly surprised by what my body can do. On days when the balance is off or my body feels stiff, I listen to that. I back off. And, by being gentle, I am rewarded.