Bikram questions answered

KF at Planned Obsolescence, who is currently taking yogalates (Yoga plus pilates) classes, is thinking about trying Bikram. She wrote recently:
There’s a Bikram yoga studio just a few blocks from my condo, and I’m seriously considering going there to check it out when I get home. But I’m got certain kinds of anxieties about Bikram, anxieties that I could stand to have dispelled before I go forward with this. Mostly these concerns have to do with the heat: while the studio I’m now attending is heated, class temperatures generally fall somewhere between 80 and 90 degrees, I think, and I can definitely tell the difference between hotter days and less hot days, and between hotter areas of the room and less hot spots. Generally speaking, hotter = more mashed-potatolike feeling at end of class. So this is why I’m concerned: the Bikram place near me says that its studio is heated to 100 degrees, and that’s a hefty number more degrees. Will there be nausea? Danger of passing out? Brain-deadness?

These are good questions, the questions most people have before trying hot yoga. How hot is it really, and will I die? Most Bikram studios are heated to 105 degrees, and humidified to about 40% humidity. The precision with which these conditions are reached depends in large part on the climate of your area (esp with the humidity-- classes in Florida are going to be much more humid than those in Arizona).

Yes, it is hot. You are going to sweat. A lot. Possibly more than you thought you could. It's actually good for you to sweat -- it helps detoxify the body and it is essential to your body's cooling system. Sweat will be running down your face, down your neck, off your fingertips, etc. You don't want to wipe away the sweat during class, not only because it's distracting, but also because leaving it on your skin helps your body regulate its internal temperature.

Every Bikram practitioner has experienced moments during a class when s/he feels pretty awful. As your body is adjusting to the heat and detoxifying, you might occasionally feel a little nausea or dizziness. When that happens, you stand still, kneel down (if the class is doing standing poses) or lie down in savasana. When you feel better, you rejoin the class. During your first class, your main goal is to stay in the heated room. Even if you were just lying down for most of the class and focusing on your breath, you would be gaining health benefits. All certified Bikram instructors repeat these instructions to their students at the beginning of class, and no one is ever asked to do a pose if they feel bad. If you feel bad, you lie still until it passes.

The good news is that even the worst sensations pass fairly quickly. And many students don't feel that way at first -- it might be much further on in your practice, and then you suddenly have a struggling class. Every day is different. This yoga teaches you to be very aware of your body, of how much you slept, what you ate, etc.

There are also some things you can do to make your first few Bikram classes easier:
  1. Really, really hydrate yourself for the whole day before class (this is one reason I don't recommend doing a super-early class at first, since most of us don't drink water while we sleep). I aim to drink at least 2 liters of water during the day, 3 or more if the weather is hot, before going to class in the evening.
  2. Add an electrolyte supplement to some of that water an hour or so before class: a packet of Emergen-C, or ElectroMix (both made by Alacer) is especially helpful, and doesn't have all the sugar of Gatorade. But Gatorade is available at every minimart and drugstore. So if that's what you've got, drink some.
  3. Plan your eating. The conventional advice is not to eat for 2 hours before class. I think that's true if you have normal blood sugar, a sensitive stomach, and if "eating" means heavy food (a full meal, or meat & fat). For myself -- a vegan with low blood sugar issues -- it's actually important for me to eat a little snack fairly close to class time. Class is 90 minutes long and if my blood sugar is too low heading into it, I'll feel sick. So I eat a banana and some soy milk, or part of a Clif bar, something like that, 30-60 minutes before class. But I wouldn't eat anything that requires significant digestion (broccoli, even brown rice) since you want your stomach to be ready to move. You know already how sensitive your stomach tends to be, and how your blood sugar is. Don't be afraid to tinker a little bit with the conventional recommendations if it works for you. Most people can handle a little fruit before class, and it can help a lot with the lightheadedness in the heat. Bananas and oranges are especially useful for the potassium.
  4. You'll want to have a liter of water with you in class -- most studios sell water there, but I recommend if you can, to prepare your bottle ahead of time. Freeze a bottle that's half full and then add water to that. You want about half ice, half water -- this will keep your water chilled during the class.
  5. Don't gulp water -- sip it very judiciously during the water breaks (which occur at set intervals in class). Gulping (esp if it's iced) will make your stomach cramp. The water in class is really for your mind more than your body -- it takes 20-30 minutes for water to be absorbed into your body, so the water you drink during class isn't enough to compensate for what you're sweating out. That's why you have to drink a lot beforehand.
  6. If you're suffering from the heat, splash some of your water on your neck or on the back of your head during the water break. It's way more refreshing than drinking it!
I love this yoga, and I have experienced first-hand the health benefits that result from regular practice. This system of yoga was designed to heal injuries, improve your alignment, improve the health of your internal organs, and balance the nervous system. It is challenging, no doubt about it. But the effort you put into the yoga is more than repaid in the benefits.

More Bikram questions, anyone?

vs recommendation letters

I'm trying to understand a justifiable rationale for requiring recommendation letters for faculty applying for small grants in the humanities. (as an aside: when scientists apply for grants do they need rec letters?)

I'm not talking about the writing of rec letters for students getting into school, for grad students on the job market, or even for faculty hiring in general, although there are problems in all of those areas too. We all have read (and possibly written) letters that were clearly dashed off in a hurry, written out of a sense of obligation rather than enthusiasm, or simply to get a person out of your office. I mean, really. The most absurd/pathetic applicants for our recent faculty positions (and I'm talking here about people without PhDs, or with degrees in fields not remotely connected to the job, or people whose personal pathologies were visible all over their cover letters) -- all of these people still somehow managed to shake the bushes and get a positive recommendation letter from somebody. Which in and of itself casts some question on the usefulness of the letters. But when you are hiring someone to a faculty line, or accepting someone into your grad program -- you are entering into a longterm relationship with the person. So the idea of getting a letter from someone who actually has met and known the person has some validity, and yes, sometimes the letters can tell you things (like about someone's teaching) that you can't see elsewhere in the file.

But why require letters for small grant programs? (Small in this context means $250- $5,000 -- amounts that most of the scientists I know would sneeze at but which could go a long way in xeroxing money, microfilm money, travel to libraries.) The granting institution/agency isn't going to ever meet the awardee in person. Yes, their name will be attached to published work deriving from the grant period -- but to find out whether someone is a successful published scholar in their field, you have only to look at the cv. The cv lets you know how efficient someone is in getting their work out. The project description gives you plenty of information about the content and significance of the work. It seems to me that letters let the grant committees off the hook of actually having to know anything about the grant field.

More insidiously, the practice of requiring such grant letters reinforces the conservatism and elitism of academe. People with connections to big-name letter writers (who generally came out of top rank programs) get more awards than people without such connections. People in defined conventional areas of study get more awards than people in newer interdisciplinary areas. There's also tremendous unstated workload for those people in positions of power who are asked to write such letters. Their agreement or decline (or delay) serves as a hidden gatekeeping function for The System. The result is that those who have, get more. And those who don't, struggle.


shaping graduate students

I've been thinking a lot lately about how one learns to be a graduate student. I've been rather frustrated with my grad class this term -- I'm afraid it's been really a rather mediocre experience. My students are nice enough, and some of them are bright. But they're just not doing the work, or doing it in the ways that I expect from graduate students.

At the institution where I did my Master's, it was common practice for faculty to hand out lists of secondary readings that were not on the syllabus, not exactly required reading -- but we were expected to read at least some of that material. Those lists were a set of critical signposts, some help with navigating the topics.

At the institution where I did my PhD, it was assumed that we had the skills to come up with our own lists of critical material. It was expected that you did the assigned reading for class, the extra research for your presentations and essays, and additional critical reading just to learn more about the topic. And, too, in order to not feel stupid in class discussion. Yes, it was a competitive culture that had many dark sides. But to be in a room of smart people who are trying to show off how much they've read about a text? Not that terrible a thing. The showing off could be tiresome, but we all did a lot of work, and it paid off.

Now, the department in which I teach is nothing like either of my graduate institutions. We are far from top tier, and our students are a motley bunch. Some are using our MA as a stepping stone to a better PhD program; others need to stay in this region for family or work reasons and need the credentials. Others are pursuing the PhD in order to teach at junior colleges. A small number of our best students get jobs at 4-year teaching colleges. But almost none of them are heading towards a research-intensive career.

Our students aren't professionalized when they arrive, and the culture in the department doesn't seem to be doing a good enough job of it. The graduate student association sometimes holds orientation sessions, and the faculty offer sessions on professional topics like preparing conference abstracts or getting ready for the job market. But no one is telling them how to behave in class.

I should make it clear that I don't expect that my students would behave the way I did when I was getting an MA. Their backgrounds and goals are very different from mine. But, what I do expect is that they come to class ready to discuss the material. That if I give them focus questions, they will at the very least have prepared something to say in response to those questions. I've been trying a whole range of different strategies (focus questions, informal writing, even group work) with only limited success. It's been frustrating to feel that I'm treating them like my undergrads, when I expect much more initiative from graduate students. And I tell them so. I try to make my expectations very clear.

I guess next year I will have to be even more blunt. But should one have to tell graduate students that they actually need to do the reading? That in a seminar you're expected to talk?


new toy!

Sometimes, doing administration pays off.

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I had learned from our computer support person that some faculty in my department have both desktops and laptops -- this is not something that's widely known, since there isn't funding for everyone to have two machines. But there is more funding available for computers now than there used to be -- my first PC at the U I had to use for six years, which meant it was pretty well outdated by the time it was replaced. Nowadays we are on a better upgrade schedule, and apparnetly there's enough extra room in the budget to help out some people with special requests.

So I waited until my Chair was feeling indebted to me for some crap administrivia I was taking on -- and then I sent him my request for a laptop, pointing out all the many ways I would use it in the classroom as well as for my research. (I've been stuck using a loaner machine whenever I want to make presentations in class, which is a royal pain).

He approved my request, and then I had to wait for the purchase approval, the UPS screwup, and the installation & setup by our support folks. And today I finally got my new machine!

So I'm blogging from the couch right now, fully enjoying the benefits of our home wireless network. I still have to do a lot to get this machine set up the way I want it, plus copy my bookmarks etc from my desktop(s). But it's going to definitely improve my research, my teaching, and maybe even my blogging!



In women's locker rooms, especially in situations when you've been all in one class together (as compared with the huge random locker room at my gym), there's frequently some friendly conversation and occasionally the sharing of certain items. I've given away tampons, and received ibuprofen, all in the general friendly spirit of the changing room. Hair elastics seem to be another popular item for losing, offering, or borrowing -- one that I'm exempt from, since I have hair short enough to allow me to reply only with a blank look when someone asked "can I borrow a brush"? That was over 10 years ago, and until today remained the oddest locker room request I'd heard.

But today, as I was getting dressed after my post-yoga shower, a woman who was a complete stranger (not only had I never talked with her before, I'd never even seen her at my studio before) said "would it gross you out if I asked to borrow your deodorant?"

Um, yeah. It would. And did.

I said no, I really couldn't do that, and she seemed to understand, though she complained that she would have to go to work without deodorant. As she zipped up her bag, it got me thinking -- would it have been any different if it was one of the women I talk to at yoga? Deodorant just doesn't seem to me to be something you share. Am I just overly squeamish?

random Saturday night thoughts

Spring break has been wonderful. I'm sorry that it has to end. Though if it didn't, it wouldn't really be "break," I guess.

I'm busy trying to wrap up various house projects this weekend, and get some things ready for the remaining weeks of the semester. There are few things more draining for me than sorting through piles of paper. When it's all shredded, recycled, filed, or acted upon, I'll be really happy. But right now I'm still in the dreary stages of picking up each document and figuring out what needs to be done with it.

Today was day 46/60 on the yoga challenge!! I'm excited because in the last few days Standing Bow, which used to be one of my favorite postures, and then became one of my really struggling ones, has started to be fun again. One of my teachers made a comment about how to visualize your kidneys in the pose and it all started to work so much better.

I got to play with a super cute puppy last night -- the easiest and most fun dog rescue ever. I came home to find this adorable puppy in my driveway. Her tag had two phone numbers and the explanation that she was deaf. I got her playing with our dogs in the yard, and then started phoning. Turned out that her person was out of town, and had left her puppy with her brother & sister in law -- they do spaniel rescue and live across the street from me. But puppy Abby was tiny enough to squeeze through a gap in their fence while they were out for dinner. It was an interesting night for Speedy, who we still call "puppy" even though she's now 3. She took on a big dog role in teaching the puppy a couple of her favorite games, and also in "protecting" me when the puppy tried to climb my leg. The Boss behaved herself quite well, though she's not a big fan of little puppies. She kept demanding that I or Speedy play with her, instead. But everyone enjoyed the long playtime.

We saw 16 Blocks and thoroughly enjoyed it. Ultraviolet was a disappointment. Waiting for my gf to come back from a trip away so we can check out V for Vendetta.


all those hours down the drain

Well, the latest news from my Chair is that, after countless hours of faculty effort (reading files, discussing files in meetings, interviewing candidates, lunches and city tours, etc, etc), we won't be successfully completing one of our searches. There are few things worse for department morale than a failed search. Just as a successful search can energize and bring people together in a renewed vision for a particular area or subfield, a failed search can reinforce suspicion, negative attitudes, and a sense of defeatism.

In this case, I really don't see that it was the fault of anyone in my department; competing offers and candidates' personal situations are outside our control. And there is only so far that we can get our Dean to match competing offers -- we are a public institution and inevitably have fewer resources than some other places. It's frustrating to know that there were probably other good candidates out there who somehow didn't get onto our short list. One of the sad things about doing searches is that you see the awful consequences of the overproduction of PhDs up close.

A failed search does nobody any good. Certainly not my department. We all have to retreat and lick our wounds and somehow figure out how we're going to go about this again next year. It's such a draining process under the best of circumstances -- this will make it even more difficult to get good people to volunteer their time to the hiring process.


Myers Briggs reworked and in color

So I took the personality test that NK did, but came up with a much less beautiful color bar:

I'm a big Myers-Briggs fan, having taken the full test twice in workplace situations and learned a lot from it. This test doesn't exactly tell me anything new about myself -- but because it tracks a few more variables as you work your way through the questions, the results (especially the comparative ones*) are interesting. Plus, the question formats are great -- slider bars and grids you can use rather than simple multiple choice. An interesting interface, in general.

*The comparative results, apparently based on a sample of 30,000 test takers, told me, among other things, that 70% of test takers were less masculine than me; 98% felt they had less agency than I do; and only 2 % are less spontaneous than me.


new perspective

One goal for this break is to work on my sleep debt. I managed about 25 hours over the past two nights. Which leads to my new rule:

After 15 hours of sleep, everything seems better.
After 25 hours of sleep, everything seems GREAT.

No, really, even picking up dog poop this morning seemed like not a bad chore. I was breathing! outside! the sun was shining!

[Don't worry, cynicism and complaints will return soon enough. ]


social report

My gf and I actually went to a party last night, one where we only knew three of the people (one moderately well, enough to be "friend," the other two very slightly, as members of her household) and had met two others before for something like two minutes.

We had a good time.

Now, this actually is earthshaking news, because we are social hermits. What made this easier than usual: it was a surprise 40th birthday party for the person we knew best, so the focus of the evening was really on her; her sister and spouse had created a really fun environment and the surprise worked really well; and most of the people there were teachers or librarians. Our kind of people! At least half of them were even more awkward than we are. And the other half were reasonably funny or interesting.

It's hard to pinpoint, exactly, when my social skills atrophied to their current state. I was always someone who had friends -- a small-to-medium group of friends, with one or two people I was especially close to. And even now, I still have three long-distance friends who I talk to with some regularity. But I don't really have friends locally -- I have colleagues, and acquaintances at the dog park or at yoga -- but that's about it.

It's hard to find new friends, hard to find the time to spend figuring out if they could or would be your friend. Hard to find the time to have friends, even. Between work and my partner and our dogs, my life is pretty full. But as someone who's used to having other people to hang out with, I can't help but feel that I ought to be out searching for a friend. But it feels risky, too much like dating. It feels awkward, especially since most people my age are either wrapped up in children or single & barhopping. I'm neither of those things, and want to figure out some friend-space that's in between.

I don't think any new friends will come out from going to this party, but it felt good to exercise those social muscles just a little bit.


spring break mix n match

I've been on spring break now for approximately four and a half hours -- and it sure feels great! So far I've eaten lunch, taken a nap, and walked the dogs. My plan for the week ahead is to combine the best parts of the following spring break models:

Hollywood Style: I'm doing hot yoga every day, and gym workouts at least four days next week. Plus I've been drinking homemade smoothies.

Prof Style: I plan on finishing an article and doing some initial research for the next one. I also have to do some filing/sorting/weeding of citations and sources.

Fixit Style: I need to finally hang the wall mirror purchased three weeks ago, and find a replacement sink strainer basket. Figuring out a plan for the yard would be good too.

Homebody Style: It's time for the semi-annual purging of my closet, and some super-cleaning of the rest of the house.

Nerd Style: I hope to read the third novel of an SF series I've gotten completely hooked on, and play on the internet.

Sloth Style: Sleeping, and more sleeping. Naps are good too.

What I'm not doing next week? Sitting in meetings. Or going to the office at all, if I can help it.


yoga update: 35/60

Lest you think that I sail through every day completely blissed out and contented from doing all this yoga...Today was the complete opposite. I was cranky, irritable, tired, and frustrated at everyone and everything, including most especially myself. Yoga class itself was fine, perhaps the closest thing to a calm spot in this annoying day. But there too I had to struggle with my monkey brain.

I've talked to other people who have done or are doing a 60-day Bikram challenge, and just about everyone agrees that right now is the struggling part. The first 25, 28 days for me were easy -- I was a little tired around day 9 but soon picked up from that. My asanas were improving, my body was changing, my mind was clearer. The challenge experience was so obviously a great thing and the yoga itself wasn't hard. And then there was day 31. The most challenging class I've had in two years. One of the meditative things I like about this yoga is that it is the same sequence of poses and breathwork every day -- and yet, it is never the same. Just as two days, two minutes, two breaths are never identical. Learning to relax into the uncertainty, the differences, is part of the practice. Sure, your conscious mind is always trying to rationalize things: it's easy or hard today because of what I ate, how I slept, how humid the air is outside...all of these things are factors, but the basic truth of this practice (of all mediative practice?) is that life is change. And that we humans don't deal very well with change -- we want to cling to the things we love, and we want to avoid the things we fear. We only want the changes we think we can control. Ha! says the universe. That's not the Change plan you're signed up with.

On day 31, I felt sick right away, during the opening breathwork. Enough so that I had to sit down, for fear of vomiting (and since I was standing in the front row, that would have been especially awkward). I got through it, and got through the class -- I eased up on a couple of poses, and sat out a couple of repeated sets. I hadn't felt that sick in a really long time. But in this practice, we believe that dizziness or nausea is just part of the body's detoxification process. It simply means you have to slow down, tune in to what's going on. It always passes. To have that experience in class is very humbling -- it brings you right back to beginner's mind, to the best possible attitude of openness and learning. All students practice together, the experienced and the novices -- and again and again we are all in the position of being awkward, off-balance, uncomfortable. It's a good process.

I haven't felt that physically challenged since, although the past couple of days have been days of struggle. I'm a bit stiff in spots, a bit awkward as my hip continues to settle into a new, better alignment. But if anything, I'd say that this period of mental and physical challenge only refuels my commitment to the 60-day experience. This already has been one of the best experiences of my adult life -- and I'm only halfway there.


score card

  • ounces of water I've drunk this morning: 72 (almost half of my daily goal)
  • days of consecutive Bikram yoga: 29 (today will be day 30! but I won't go to class until evening)
  • inches lost since starting the yoga challenge on Feb 1st: 2.5 (1 waist, 1.5 hips)
  • work-related emails (not from students) festering unread in my inbox: 12
  • hours spent in meetings so far this week: 8.5
  • time spent on research this week: 1 measly little hour
  • lines of poetry I need to read before my afternoon class: 800
  • times I've interrupted my class prep today: too many to count