Sunday, December 1, 2013

November 2013 Review

November went well. Too much yoga though!

1. Learn the Ashtanga Primary Series - I made it to Mysore Ashtanga once this month. The authorized teachers are in India, but the shala is still open. Yoga with people working full primary is humbling. Skipping chaturanga and up dog was hard on my ego. I did it anyway. I passed on my second chance to go, opting for home yoga.

I attended an arm balancing workshop at the start of the month. We spent the first 30 minutes talking about chaturanga as the foundation of arm balances, which was a little frustrating. I held planks and resisted my ego. Eventually, I was able to try some of the straight armed balances, but the shoulder problem was limiting.

Yoga anatomy class met 3 times over the month. The teacher has caused me to question my focus on the Ashtanga primary series. The more I learn, the more interest I have in the depth of "basic" poses. I spent a day learning from Maty Ezraty. Despite having 70 experienced students in the room, her workshop rarely left the sun salutations. If it's good enough for her and those students, what makes me so special, that I'd need something more?

Props are starting to play a bigger role in my practice. Instead of avoiding them (Ashtanga...), I am letting them expose work, while reducing the wear on my body. I can have the benefits of a pose with less strain. Awesome. My need for efficiency is satisfied. Decreased physical stress means recovery is easier. That saves energy for lifting or additional days of practice.

I spent some time watching myself do yoga, using a web cam and mirror for immediate feedback. I finally learned what it feels like to stop my scapula from winging out. That work is available throughout the entire practice, not just chaturanga. Fitting it in exhausts me. With props, I am able to enter and hold a full chaturanga, from the bottom. I am still working up to a descent from plank, using the rest of my sun salutation to build strength. I think there may be an issue with how I position my body in plank, that sets up the scapular winging. Maybe I am collapsing my chest as I exhale, maybe I am contracting the lats too strongly, maybe I am just weak. I don't know. The full vinyasa could arrive in December.

Much of my weakness stems from bad posture, especially working at the computer. I am trying to fix it. I switched to a split keyboard and eliminated my second monitor. I have been playing around with different chairs. An exercise ball offers the best alignment, but is tiring. My desk chairs are too large for an aligned, relaxed posture. I might buy a smaller chair and / or a standing desk, in December.

The day after thanksgiving, I took a 90 minute class with the yoga anatomy teacher. My wife and mom went, making it a family affair. I learned there is substantial work available for me in gate pose and cow face pose. We also did a cool thing using a bolster and a block to release the shoulders. I am planning to take a restorative class with the same teacher in early December.

As much as my ego has suffered, my shoulders and elbows are slowly improving. Sustaining a lifelong yoga practice requires pain free asana. Remembering that makes the adjustments to my practice easier to handle mentally. I also think this work is teaching me lessons that extend beyond just my shoulders. At the very least, even without bending my elbows, the mental benefits of yoga are strong.

There were also some minor logistical improvements. I got new yoga clothes. I stopped using a mat towel. I learned to release trigger points in my traps, feet and hips with a pinky ball.

2. Post a Class IV Powerlifting Total - November was another month of light eating. While I am weaker, I am still meeting the scheduled weights on 5/3/1. The hardest part is mental - loss of size and strength from my already small frame, coupled with a diminshed sense of well being. Being hungry is easy now.

Since my shoulder can use more time to heal, I've decided to lift at 148. It means one last month of light food and low strength. Useful, but unpleasant. Fortunately, the holidays will provide ample distraction from dull food and lifting. The immediate benefit to my yoga makes the negative parts (going to bed hungry on Thanksgiving...) easier to tolerate.

Mentally, I am looking forward to resuming a maintenance diet at the end of the year. That leaves 8 months to get stronger in this goal year - plenty of time to post a class IV total at 148. If my joints behave, I'll be in a great position to chase a Class III total next goal year.

Supplementation went ok. I took my multi-vitamin and D3. EFAs were lacking, since I'd rather eat a little more food. I am still eating almost entirely from Aldi.

3. Advance my Profession - My job continues to be heavy on testing, and I still don't have a build server. A few nice steps forward though:

3.1 Licensing of Redgate databases tools for the DBA
3.2 Initiation of a project to sync database schemas across environments, laying the foundation for generated database deployment scripts.
3.3 Solidification of a post-migration database diff as part of the production deployment workflow
3.4 Changes to personal web hosting reduced server fees by $100 a year, and provided a refresher on DNS and Email
3.5 Addition of IE10 in native and metro mode to our supported browsers, meaning new virtual machine software and access to Windows 8
3.6 Increased sophistication of my user admin workflow, along with approval to train a backup admin in December

4. Connect - Based upon my most objective metric - making time for my wife, I did poorly. There were just too many things competing for attention. Taking yoga anatomy class together was the biggest win, but it is not the intent of the goal, and it only met 3 times all month.

I am working to free more time. I switched my Netflix from streaming to discs, to reduce the risk of binge watching. I had my wife hide the gameboy, to recover the hours from gaming. I let one of my magazine subscriptions lapse and intend to lose another soon. I get excited about ideas, spread myself too thin, and then end up missing out. December will be a slower work month, concluding with 2 weeks off. Combined with the other changes, we'll have more time together. Longer term, the key is consolidation of activities.

Outside of the home, I'd say forward steps have been made, but there's still massive growth available. I spent a good amount of energy better understanding how my personality differs from most. While it's a very qualitative area, I did end up with a solid framework to build against.

Communication of my motivations and feelings has been more direct. This puts me in a vulnerable position, but has not harmed any relationships (that I am aware of, anyway!). Judging if it has helped is very difficult. I do feel more at ease, which is valuable to me. I did spend time with a lot of people this month, and expect even more next month.

Overall, a solid month. I would like more of the same in December.

Friday, November 1, 2013

October 2013 Review

October went ok.

1. Learn the Ashtanga Primary Series - The injury to my left shoulder forced substantial backwards progress. I can tolerate 3-4 sessions of yoga per week, and I need to be very careful about when my shoulder is done. I had to modify back pretty far, but am finding slow improvement. I had a few practices that went through Marichasana A, but am far from pre-injury energy levels. I expect a full recovery will take through the end of the year, at a minimum.

I've been using the down time to learn. I took a few Iyengar classes at a couple new yoga studios, including using the rope wall prop for the first time. I learned side crow is now available to me. I have a variety of classes planned for November, including arm balancing, a 6 week yoga anatomy course and a couple day workshop with Maty Ezraty. My wife and I are also exploring the yoga offerings at a local studio that is heavily focused on Iyengar.

I took a video of my shoulders when I do chaturanga. My scapula wing out really far. Chaturangas done like this are called "shoulder shredders". I have ceased doing them and am working on correcting the problem. Maybe by then end of November, I'll be able to do one correctly? It's not going to be an easy change. I have a similar problem in up dog, and am approaching it the same way.

My yoga anatomy teacher says a common cause for the problem is a weak serratus muscle. Watching myself press overhead in the mirror, it's obvious I have trouble firing that muscle whenever I bend my elbow. If I concentrate very carefully, I can get it to fire all the way through the movement, with no weight. My plan is to setup a camera where I can see the video while lifting or doing yoga, then watch my back and side to figure what moving correctly feels like. If my arm is straight overhead, the muscle bulges, so I don't think this is just a strength issue.

I'll keep the home Ashtanga in place 1-2 times a week over the next month. I plan to do Mysore Ashtanga twice over the month, but take it very easy on adjustments and chaturangas.

2. Post a Class IV Powerlifting Total - This month, I intentionally cut my weights and food. The lighter weights have provided a much needed mental break. Eating less is no fun, but is making me lighter. After a month, I've got the food down to habit, and it's really a question of how long I'm willing to tolerate running on fumes. My current plan is to continue through November, then ramp up to maintenance calories plus creatine in December. I expect to bottom out around 156, then settle in at 160 fully fueled. Depending how I feel at the end of November, it's possible I'll decide to lift at 148 instead.

Lifting only bothers my shoulder while pressing. Overhead presses are much worse than benching. I've been doing one arm kettlebell presses and letting my left shoulder dictate how much work I do on each side. It's not strictly on the 5/3/1 program, but the bottom of a barbell overhead press is where I find the most pain. I dislike the sudden loss of strength that comes with all these changes in my program, but it's part of the process.

Supplementation went well. I took my multi-vitamin, D3, and on most days, my EFAs. I've been able to eat almost entirely from Aldi. I don't miss screwing around with protein shakes or creatine. I do miss the extra strength creatine provides.

3. Advance my Profession - My team's biggest software release to date was this month. Almost all my time was spent testing and administering client accounts. I did manage to squeeze some fun stuff in as I worked:

1. Heavy use of canned data sets and SQL scripts to do bulk, repeatable testing of changes
2. Imported an XML file blob into a database column via SQL Script
3. Used SQL to extract the distinct set of values from all instances of an element in that XML blob
4. Used SQL to do a cross apply of that data extract to all records in a table, getting the set of distinct values from all XML in the table
5. Introduced usage of a database schema comparison tool as a final fail-safe check for deployments
6. Initiated evaluation of RedGate database tools to improve DBA productivity, and potentially sophisticate deployment of database changes cross-environment
7. Followed up on implementation of the build server, where sadly, there is no progress

I have no idea what next month will bring here. I'd be happy to see the RedGate database tools start making an impact, and even better, initiate the switch over to a build server.

4. Connect - At this point, I'm still focused on resolving schedule conflicts with my wife. Whenever multiple people are involved, change is harder. We'll see how November goes.

October has seen big improvements compared to September. The new behaviors are becoming automatic, and I expect to hit my stride during November.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

September 2013 Review

Greed got the better of me in September

1. Learn the Ashtanga Primary Series - I injured my left shoulder at the very end of August, by getting overzealous binding during either Marichasana B or C. More than a tweak, the shoulder remains loose and unstable. I don't think I tore anything, but fear of further injury forced me to pull way back on the Ashtanga. No jumping back or through, no binding, and limited vinyasas. I learned an important lesson about how to correctly approach the bind in Marichasana, but if the all the poses come this way, my path is much longer than a year.

Plain and simple - I got greedy and I got hurt. Each pose carries work for the body. It's up to me to find that place and let the work happen. Trying to rush the pose pushes stress into the wrong areas. At best, that means I make no progress, at worst, injury. I should know this already. It's also possible stress from extending my lifting cycle made me more prone to the injury.

The shoulder is slowly recovering. I continue doing yoga 3-4 days a week, but have been attending mostly studio classes, with the instructor who is heavily alignment focused. Provided I move slowly and carefully, I can practice with limited pain. I signed up for a workshop in November, with an expert in the alignment focused style of yoga. While my body heals, I can stay motivated by focusing on alignment, especially in my shoulder girdle.

I know injuries are expected when pushing the body, but it's been frustrating.

2. Post a Class IV Powerlifting Total
- Lifts continue to slowly creep up in weight. Pressing has suffered a little from the shoulder injury, but I've been able to get my reps otherwise. Squats and deadlifts, which form the bulk of my total, are doing great. My projected max on each lift has me right at the class IV cut-off for 165. I am strong enough, but need to be lighter.

Since my joints are hurting, I've decided to take a big step back on my lifts, and use October to get close to my weight class. The strength will re-build quickly, once I resume eating normally. The following changes are happening:

1. Dropping calories by 20%
2. No creatine
3. No loud music while I lift
4. Lower the weights by 25%, increasing reps on my heavy set to 12

With the substantially lighter weights, I may also lift in the morning. I am not as strong then, but it won't matter. I may also be more tolerant of the low calories. For the first week or two, eating less will be miserable. I tried it this month, but had to give up due to everything else that was going on.

Supplementation went ok. I took my multi-vitamin, D3, creatine and protein every day. I have not worked the EFAs back in. My skin is starting to show the effects, so hopefully that will motivate me to figure it out.

3. Advance my Profession - I did some new stuff in SQL. I upgraded to the latest version of the security scanning software. I followed up on the build server, which is promised for October. That's about it. September was extremely heavy on testing, for one of our biggest releases to date. My motivation to do new stuff was limited, due to feeling frustrated over my shoulder.

4. Connect - Problems with my shoulder impacted this goal quite negatively. It's hard to be pleasant towards others when I don't feel that way myself. It's also possible I've over-extended myself by lifting to hard, and that's impacted my mood. The only real victory was time recovered from the home firewall blocking hobby and entertainment websites.

My wife and I have started talking about our schedules each week. It's forcing us to face how little time we've been leaving free, but we haven't made great steps towards resolving it yet.

Overall, transitioning to the new goal set has been rough. I think October will be better.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Goals for 2013 - 2014

This year my focus narrows, with an emphasis on complementary goals.

1. Learn the Ashtanga Primary Series - I am hooked on yoga, especially Ashtanga. It provides a great mental and social outlet. Physically, it's doing kind things for my body. The most difficult aspect of this goal will be access to instruction. I've been told a year is a very conservative time frame for what I am trying to do. This goal sets me up to work towards intermediate series postures next year.

Habit: Practice yoga 5x per week - mixing home, led and mysore classes
Education: Attend an Ashtanga workshop
Achievement: Earn all primary series poses from an authorized teacher
Expected Benefit: Physical and mental centering, social outlet

2. Post a Class IV Powerlifting Total - Lifting weights is one of my longest standing hobbies. Again, the hook is the positive effect it has on my mental health. I am more alert and driven when my lifting is going well, probably due to the structural requirements it places on my schedule, especially food and sleep. The strength is also useful in furthering my yoga practice. Greater strength at a lighter body weight is especially valuable.

At a bare minimum, this goal only requires a 5% increase in peak strength, coupled with a 5% reduction in body weight. More practically, I'll target 10% for each, ensuring sufficient safety margins for contest day. Provided I stay on task with my recovery, I will have no problems. This goal sets me up to chase a Class III total next year.

Habit: Lift all year, using 5/3/1
Education: Get coached on my squat, deadlift and bench form
Achievement: Total 694lbs+ at 165lbs, raw, in a powerlifitng contest
Expected Benefit: Physical and mental strength, schedule structure

3. Advance my Profession - Professionally, I spent most of last year coasting on the direction of my company. Results were under-whelming. Tedious, repetitive tasks have piled on to my plate, with the fun stuff getting cast aside for "later". No more.

This goal is about actively pulling the complex, interesting stuff back into play. Challenging, but I have 40+ hours a week to work on it. The potential reward is also huge. Outside of making me more valuable, it enables one of my favorite activities - getting paid to play with new technology. I have no idea where this goal will lead.

Habit: Eliminate repetitive tasks, using time savings to specialize
Education: Attend Tech Ed 2014
Achievement: Sophisticate my team's SDLC. Ideas:

o Fix security scan of authenticated web application workflows
o Apply at least 3 lessons learned from Tech Ed 2013
o Get a build server for Test and Production deployments
o Proof of concept automated regression testing of web application XML interface
o Integrate regression test proof of concept into the build workflow

Optional: Earn money outside work, exceeding 10% of my salary

4. Connect - I spent the last two years focused on being more social. While I ended up around many more people, often my presence was only physical. I have a tendency to wander off in my own mental space, even while actively talking to others. This goal is about changing that pattern. It's going to be especially difficult, as I've spent my entire life indulging my introversion. Fighting it stresses me out. Connecting with others is a significant part of the body of work in yoga, and I'm hoping that helps me here.

o Set aside dedicated time for my wife at least 2x per week
o Build pursuit of goals around relationships
o Limit non-social aspects of hobbies (reading, web, etc.)
o Be present and authentic with everyone
o Focus conversation on people's interests and values

Overall - I am motivated and optimistic that narrowing my focus will increase my ability to reach my goals. I expect the simplification to leave me a happier person.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

August 2013 Review

August was a productive month, a nice end to the goal year.

1. Move better - Lifting and yoga went well.

My lifts keep slowly moving up on 5/3/1. I really expected to hit a wall this month, but I had PR rep sets on squat, bench and deadlift. I don't understand how this works, but awesome.

I am still figuring out my yoga instruction. The two local teachers with Ashtanga experience have not panned out how I'd hoped. I enjoy their classes, but one has transitioned to a heavily alignment based style. It is good long term, but not causing much change in my Ashtanga. The other keeps teaching when I am working. Thus far, I don't think it's realistic to ask the studio owner to offer an Ashtanga class. I need more interest among the teachers at the studio first. I'll keep inviting them to the led half-primary class.

I did make it back to the led half-primary class. The teacher is fantastic. She has aggressive adjustments down, knows the practice deeply, does her own personal practice, and understands how to break down what her students are doing and clearly communicate fixes. The main down side is the class is at noon on Saturdays, an hour away, eating a 4-5 hour block out of my day.

Home yoga has improved substantially, just through trying to do it. I find my best ritual is getting up early, having tea while I do something introspective, taking a short walk, then doing yoga. It takes awhile.  Mental chatter remains a problem, but turning up the music and keeping my breath on count helps.

Physical progress is steady, but slow. I see the most change when taking classes at the yoga studio, especially when we hit poses that are not part of the Ashtanga sequence. Positions that felt impossible a few months ago, I am easily slipping into. It's pretty cool. I am still working on getting my headstand in the middle of the room. At this point, my only barrier is fear of falling, but it's tough to get past.

My breathing needs some work. One of the mysore yoga teachers told me I need to treat the poses as a container for the breath. The other told me I need to focus on bringing my stomach up and in as I exhale, specifically during prasarita. I've also noticed I have a tendency to lose my "yoga" breathing as I get tired.

Jumping through and back is getting lighter, but won't really improve until I fix the problem uncovered by my led class instructor. I have been cheating like crazy on Navasana, letting my hip flexors check out completely. They are a short, weak link in the center of my body. They are also a critical area of support for many poses. I work around it by finding strength in the back of my body, leading to mis-alignment and physical obstruction. Fixing this is my top yoga focus for September.

Elbows have been feeling pretty good lately. I think dropping grippers and jumping into most Chatarungas has made the difference.

Diet and supplementation is doing ok, not great. I am getting my multi-vitamin, D3, creatine and protein in ok. It's really the Omega 3 fats I am missing. My flax oil ran out, and I think taking the DHA is a waste without that base of a few grams of ALA. I've got more flax oil now. I also experimented with eating a little less, due to my upcoming goals for next year. I had a few mis-fires, where I tried to be too aggressive given my activity levels. I'll get it figured out by the end of next month, I'm sure.

After a year of this goal, I am definitely moving better. I like the goal, and it's going to be refined.

2. Beat the internet - Again, I am screwing around online more than is optimal. It still comes down to having alternatives that push the internet out of my life. Will power sucks. I did avoid the TV series trap that sucks me into Netflix for days on end. I also configured the firewall in my wireless router to block some of my most time consuming websites. Short of renting an office and disconnecting home internet entirely, this may be the magic bullet.

Time boxing work went poorly. I worked way too much, even worse, on things that make me no better at my career long term. Yuck. The current team structure leads to big peaks and valleys in my work queue. I am trying to address it, but the patterns will be tough to change without a new hire.

After a year of this goal, I have an improved approach to the internet and my work. However, I think the strategy could use some substantial revision.

3. Make my money work - The spending pattern I adopted in May remains sustainable. Not much more to this goal.

After a year of this goal, I am happy with my spending.

4. Socialize - Similar to last month, I just fell back on my baseline activity level. Provided I fill holes in my calendar at the start of the month, it's solid. A nice end to the goal year.

After a year of this goal (two years, really), I have a strong network of people I spend time with. However, that's not the same as connecting with them. This goal needs a quality focus.

Overall, August was an excellent end to my goal year, one of the best months. I have my next year planned out and am already working on it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

July 2013 Review

July was a productive month.

1. Move better - Lifting and yoga both went well.

My lifts are creeping up. I credit the creatine. It's hard to say if this will be a single bump in the trendline, or an ongoing change in my rate of progress. While I hope for the latter, I am happy either way.

Yoga has settled into a "regular" schedule, 5 times per week. There are two variations:

Mysore weeks
- Guided Baptiste classes at the studio 1-2x
- Ashtanga home yoga 1-2x
- Two Mysore style Ashtanga classes at a local shala

Guided Primary weeks
- Guided Baptiste classes at the studio 2x
- Ashtanga home yoga 2x
- Guided primary series DVD at home 1x

Replacing studio classes with home yoga saves time, letting me do yoga more frequently. My synchronization of breathe with movement has improved dramatically. I've got a rough working script memorized for the first half of the Ashtanga primary series. Jumping back and through is my biggest focus, but growth is everywhere. I am getting pretty comfortable with a headstand against the wall and considering moving to the center of the room. I managed to attend one led half-primary class in person and learned quite a bit from it. I've identified two teachers at my local studio with Ashtanaga experience. I am attending their classes preferentially and will start asking for an Ashtanga class next month.

One of the biggest challenges to overcome has been starting home yoga. I had a few mis-fires, including:

- Trying to do yoga while monitoring email (worst yoga ever)
- Deferring my start to do chores, until I got so hungry I was too dizzy for yoga
- Attempting to do yoga a few hours after a large taco dinner, ugh
- Literal cold feet, making it difficult to stretch and jump
- Extending the breath count per pose to 8 and adding postures, exhausting myself by the time I finished the standing sequence

I've started to figured out the details now:

- Use a mysore rug instead of a mat towel or bare mat. This accomodates the coolness of the basement while keeping traction as I start to sweat
- Drink tea immediately upon waking. This ensures I'm hydrated and prevents bathroom breaks.
- Walk for 20 minutes prior to starting, so my muscles are warm and pliable
- Plan to do yoga 45 minutes after waking, setting up everything the night before.
- Schedule an hour for the practice, with an alarm set 5 minutes before any hard stops
- Keep an aggressive pace, holding strictly to 5 breathes per pose, ensuring my body stays hot

Home yoga has still requires a lot of decision making, which makes it hard to reach the same level of mental freedom I get from a studio class. Gradually I expect to internalize the series, turning home yoga into a meditative practice. It's going to take time. I have a lot of mental chatter.

I have put a hold on spending any new money on yoga, so I stay focused on working my plan.

Supplementation has kept on track. Creatine migrated from my protein shakes into my tea. Protein shakes are pushed out by real food sometimes, but that's ok. I put vitamin D back in the rotation. My elbows are still bothering me a little, but have improved. I credit removal of grippers from my lifting program, as well fewer high plank to low plank transitions during yoga.

2. Beat the internet - I did a more screwing around online than is optimal, but much better than last month. It comes down to having alternatives that push the internet out of my life. Will power only goes so far. Avoiding any TV shows on Netflix definitely makes a big difference. Movies are more than sufficient for when I lift, and they do not bring the risk of getting my attention stuck on a multi-season series.

Time boxing work was easy. Summer vacations reduced the load on my time considerably.

3. Make my money work - The spending pattern I setup in May remains sustainable. Not much more to this goal.

4. Socialize - Very basic month here. I went to a couple parties, did yoga, and shared meals with friends, family and coworkers. Given that this was a baseline amount of activity, and I saw people every week, I'm happy with progress made against the goal.

July went well overall. August will end my goal year. I expect another low key month.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 2013 Review

June went well.

1. Move better - Lifting went ok, yoga hit an inflection point.

Between the last week of May, and first 3 weeks of June, the only lifting was two deload weeks. One to ramp down for the yoga seminar, one to ramp back up for serious work. The time off, coupled with starting to take creatine, seems to have only made me stronger. I was burnt out. I may get forward progress in July.

Yoga went great.

I took classes at half a dozen different studios, even more teachers, attended the yoga seminar, took a hip opening workshop, and started working the Ashtanga primary series. The seminar, coupled with the instructor's book, changed my perspective on how to approach yoga. Rather than attend guided classes just because "hey, yoga!", I've started seeking classes for the sake of instruction. Ultimately, I'd like to develop a personal home practice, with studio classes as "dessert".

The yoga seminar exposed me to dozens of experienced teachers, all in their student mindset. It drove home how little I know, the shortcomings of my existing approach to yoga, and reset my expectations for what's possible. Applying these lessons will take time, but they are promising.

The new plan includes access to Mysore style Ashtanga classes. I've figured out how to attend 4x a month, learning from someone that's spent a few years studying in India, under the head of the Ashtanga lineage. My first two classes went great. The teachers were very hands on. I picked up several new tricks, including a fundamental improvement to my breathing - something key that has escaped me for at least a year.

July needs to be a simple month "working the plan", thinking about yoga only while I'm actually doing it. Otherwise, I run the risk of my enthusiasm transitioning into burnout. My focus will be memorizing the first half of the Ashtanga primary series, incorporating lessons from the Mysore classes when possible.

Supplementation has kept on track. Adding creatine was easy, just stir it into my protein shakes. My elbows, especially the left one, are still bothering me. The Ashtanga is opening my shoulders and upper back. My hope is that will improve my alignment during upper body work and gradually eliminate the pain.

2. Beat the internet - The first half of the month, I was too busy and barely online. The rebound effect was terrible. I wasted two weeks binge watching Netflix. Shows work great as a tool to help me lift, they are trouble when I start using them as an escape. It's so easy to just let the next episode play. I found my way out by the end of the month, but my free time definitely suffered.

Time boxing on work remains ok.

3. Make my money work - The spending pattern I setup last month is proving sustainable. Not much more to this goal.

Given how well the instructor / peer group pattern has worked for yoga, I do wonder if I should explore a similar investment for my career.

4. Socialize - Tons of activity here the first half of the month. I attended Tech Ed and the yoga seminar. Things ramped down in the second half, but I still shared time with family, friends and coworkers. I also did a lot of yoga. July will be quiet.

Mentally, I am ready for an easy month.

Friday, May 31, 2013

May 2013 Review

May went ok.

1. Move better - An unfortunate reality check leading into the yoga seminar next month.

Lifting stalled out. Removal of the deload week, coupled with extra volume, lead to a chronic ache in my elbow. It was severe enough to make me weaker, force a deload week and require a reduction in yoga volume. Pull ups and poor alignment when pressing appear to be the primary culprits. Until now, I'd been able to recover from my transgressions. I've switched in chin ups for the pull ups, lowered weights a little and really focused on form. Provided things heal, I am going to focus on my lifting more following the yoga seminar. I am tired of doing all this work without getting stronger.

Now that I've worked most of the fake food out of my diet, I am trying to introduce basic supplementation. Initially, I've been focused on EFAs and protein. The goal is 1/2 Tbsp. of flax oil and a 15gram protein shake, twice a day. I am also trying to take 600mg of algae derived DHA. Following the yoga seminar, I'm also going to introduce a teaspoon of creatine every day. Altogether, this will give an extra 400-500 calories and supplement the areas where my vegetarian diet is the weakest. Ongoing compliance with supplementation has always been a challenge for me. I may finally be mature enough to figure it out. I need to make sure the shakes do not push out real food.

Yoga saw minor changes. Warm weather hit, and I now sweat puddles. Halfway through class, my mat is too slippery to hold a down dog. I had no choice but to introduce mat sized yoga towels. At $25 each, the price is robbery, but they work fantastically well. I simply do not slip. The improved stability lets me relax further, allowing my entire body to open. The extra laundry is a hassle, but worth it.

The studio brought in a new teacher, who is experienced and has a significantly different perspective. I was able to take a few of his classes and enjoyed them. He's been scheduled at less than ideal times, but I am learning from him when I can. It's fun working with someone new. I was also able to take a class at a studio in Chicago, and another at the local gym. The alternate classes were slower, and really emphasized the lack of focus on alignment in my normal class.

The studio is starting a teacher training program this summer. I looked into it, but am on the fence. While I want to learn more about yoga and would enjoy the course, I lack enough experience and free time to consider teaching. Without that return on investment, the training is a really expensive luxury. The format of the course is my biggest barrier - one 21 hour weekend a month, for 8 months. That's a draining weekend.

Progress was made towards biking to yoga. I got air in my tires, and then found a brake cable was about to snap and my brake pads were worn out. I now have the parts, but have not made time to repair it. I did figure out how to get the bike in my car, so I can take it to the arboretum. I also determined when I bike to yoga, I will have to use a studio mat. Biking with a yoga mat on my back is really uncomfortable.

2. Beat the internet - This improved.

De-activating my Facebook account made it easier to stay offline unless I had something important to do.

I relaxed the time boxing on work. I am ready to re-focus on my career for a while. My home life is well sorted, right now. I need to start thinking about a lofty challenge to obsess over.

3. Make my money work - Early in the month, I finally got to the meat of this goal.

I made a spreadsheet breaking down my asset allocation. I did some research into what was appropriate, figured out was bothering me about my existing strategy and set a course for the next 3 years. There were 2 significant holes that became obvious once I had all the numbers laid out. I have no idea if what I am doing is optimal, but I think it is good enough.

For the most part, I've completely stopped buying fake food and finished what I had. With my diet consisting primarily of real food, I feel better about working in specific supplements targeted to my lifting.

A strong argument could be made for hiring a coach to run my lifting program. If I have not figured progress out by the end of this goal year, I will look into it.

Otherwise, I think this goal has largely run its course.

4. Socialize - I did not fill my calendar on purpose, but a bunch of stuff happened:

- Friends over to make pizza
- Birthday party for nephew
- Semi-annual work party
- Lunches with co-workers
- Lots of yoga
- Yoga studio party
- Vegan cooking class
- Saw parents for Mother’s day
- Sister in-law's wedding
- Saw the Big Bugs exhibit at the arboretum

The summer months tend to be more social.

June is going to be busy and fun, but rough on my goals.

Friday, May 3, 2013

April 2013 Review

April saw a return to moderate progress

1. Move better - Lifting and yoga are back to normal. I switched to the "high" 5/3/1 percentages and am experimenting with skipping the deload week. My schedule will prevent lifting the first week of June, so I am going to squeeze in 2 deload-free cycles before then. I think the extra work will be helpful, maybe even yield some strength gains. Pull ups are slowly improving. Everything else is holding steady.

Yoga centered on improving my foundation. I won't reap the benefits for awhile. I did manage to keep gains from the yoga challenge. I know how my chaturanga is broken, but not how to fix it. I renewed at the yoga studio for a year. I made space in the basement for "floaty" yoga to DVDs. Until I get my chaturanga sorted, I've cut all double classes and am doing no more than 3-4 yogas a week. I've done a few "long, slow" classes and find they suit me well. My body takes more time to fully open into a pose than a typical vinyasa class offers. The yoga studio has started scaling up its teaching staff, which makes more of these classes available to me.

One weekend I had an experience that convinced me, without a doubt, that yoga is having a mental impact. I think all the affirmations are starting to influence me. I am more aware of my critical thoughts and negative judgements. At times, I am a calmer and more accepting person. I had no intent to change through yoga, but it is positive.

I've been walking a few times a week, with the warmer weather. I plan on regularly biking to yoga by the end of May.

2. Beat the internet - Still struggling with this a little.

I'd regressed to checking my email and facebook multiple times a day, so I de-activated my facebook. There's no good reason for the account. Given how much I'm on the computer, it's too easy of a distraction.

Time boxing work went fine. Nothing unexpected came up, and I tracked what I did. My next year of goals will include a career focused one. I am itching to learn new stuff.

3. Make my money work - More small forward steps

- The cat and I have agreed upon a tolerable middle ground for grooming. She's looking better and I'm spending very little time on it. Total success here.

- I have done well removing the fake food from my diet. My grocery expenses are around $8 a day, but eating a high protein vegetarian diet, without soy protein isolate, is pricey. I could invest 1-2 hours a week making lentils, but that's not worth the 10-20 bucks a week it would save me.

- The pool table is finally gone. It's nice to have the space back

- I harvested $400 in rewards points from a credit card bonus program

- I got a great deal on a year of yoga, lowering my monthly cost by $13.

In May, I plan to update my budget spreadsheet to break my portfolio into percentages of stocks and bonds. Chatter online has me wondering if both are over-valued right now, but given that I don't know what else to invest in, it doesn't really matter. I am far from capable enough to execute a profitable jump in and out of the market.

4. Socialize - I saw some people, but I never got around to filling my calendar. I wanted extra time to myself. May will be more active.

Overall a fine month.

Monday, April 1, 2013

March 2013 Review

Progress during March was limited. Mostly I recovered from doing so much yoga in February.

1. Move better - The yoga challenge wrecked me. I entered into this month exhausted, weak and sleep deprived. It wasn't until towards the end of the month that I started to bounce back. Lifting went ok. I worked on re-adjusting to normal lifting volumes. My strength is still down a bit. I opted to repeat last month's cycle and will add weight again in April. I started working on replacing my chin ups with pull ups.

Yoga had a few small breakthroughs.

- I realized after a year, I am still doing up dog incorrectly. I've learned to correct in once I'm in the pose, but I really need to figure out why I my transition from low plank leaves me in the wrong position.

- Low plank is also wrong, I'm just not sure how to fix it.

- Given the poor performance in such fundamental movements, I've decided to drop double yogas for now.

- I changed how I do bridge, by grabbing my ankles, and it's opening my back bends up significantly. Sometimes when I go into wheel, I'm looking at my mat instead of the person behind me.

- I keep working on landing my front foot between my hands, instead of behind them, when I come into lunges from down dog. My hips are opening as a result.

- I tried to follow along with Kino's intro level DVD. The last third of the last is just too hard for me. I cannot jump back or through from seated yet, and the class relies upon it. I am trying hard to resolve this.

- I tried a long, slow yoga class. It was even harder than the flow class.

April will be focused on keeping my yoga volume up, while preventing lifting from regressing at all. If I get stronger, that's just a plus.

2. Beat the internet - March saw some regression.

I ended up spending a little more time reading a forum that I would like. I was avoiding things I didn't want to do (taxes, for one). The internet is still pretty lame, but an easy escape.

Time boxing work went poorly during the first half of the month. One of our new hires did not work out, and that generated a lot of extra demands on my time. Once the release got out though, I was able to get back in control and resume time tracking properly.

3. Make my money work - A few small steps forward here

- My cat needs to be groomed twice a year, costing $75 each time. The cat hates it. I got a pair of clippers and started learning how to do it myself. Highly entertaining, easier on the cat and eventually will end up saving me money. The cat looks dumb right now, but I'm ok with that.

- I started working on eliminating the fake food from my diet. I rely heavily on pre-made protein drinks, cliff bars, GUs, fake meat, seitan, and soy jerky. It's all heavily processed, not that good for me and expensive. I have stopped buying these crutches and am working on switching them out for real food.

Otherwise not much happening here. April will be more of the same.

4. Socialize - I managed to fill my calendar. Lunch with friends and coworkers, a couple parties, some yoga and some time with family. April is looking rather light so far, I need to do something about that.

Doing so much yoga in February  was a mistake. I paid for it this month, but think I am well positioned for progress in April.

Friday, March 1, 2013

February 2013 Review

February was a great month for yoga. Everything else suffered.

1. Move better - I completed 28 yoga classes in 28 days. Yoga improved dramatically, lifting regressed slightly. I need rest. I am tired of so much activity and eating to support it.

I obtained the DVDs / videos from the yoga instructor leading my June workshop and am working through them. I am in way over my head. I will be "worse" at yoga than just about everyone at the seminar. That means I get to learn the most, I suppose.

Next month I'll drop down to 3 yoga studio visits a week, with a double on Saturdays. I'll resume lifting normally. I may try to introduce short home yoga sessions, to start on the Ashtanga yoga primary series for the seminar. I'll return to eating normally as well.

2. Beat the internet - This was much improved over January. Quite simply, I didn't have time to play on the internet.

Time boxing work went fine, but I failed to track my time again. With the extra yoga and new hires, I was too busy to worry about managing time perfectly. I probably did some extra work, but that's ok. I was too tired to do anything else anyway.

Next month I may need to re-focus on time tracking, as I'll have a lot more free time available.

3. Make my money work - Grocery spending remained relatively low. I updated my budget for 2013. I am tiring of my nutritional crutches, which tend to be expensive, so that could lead to some savings next month. With so little free time, I had few discretionary expenses.

I finished the investing book. I'm not sure I see the value in pursuing a more complex investment strategy. The learning involved to gain an advantage would take years. It makes more financial sense to spend that energy on my career. My career is more fun than complicated math, too.

I'm not sure if / when I'll re-introduce video games, now that I've finished the investing book. Scotch might see a minor re-introduction, but given the yoga seminar is only 3 months away, it would have to be very limited.

4. Socialize - Yoga was my primary social outlet this month. I did share a few meals with people, but that was about it.

Next month, I'm hosting a party. I'll also start reaching out to people and try to re-fill my calendar.

February was fun, but I'm excited to return to a more balanced life in March.

28 Day Yoga Challenge

February I participated in a 28 day yoga challenge. The goal was 28 classes at the studio in 28 days. Despite being unable to visit the studio 8 days out of the month, I managed to log 28 classes.

Poses progressed rapidly at the start of the month. As work accumulated, physical growth stalled out. I had 10 days of doubles, so it's not shocking. As the month drew to a close, it also became clear my body relies upon physical re-balancing from lifting that yoga does not provide. Overall though, a number of poses that were my limit starting the month became comfortable by the end.

Most importantly, the month changed my relationship with yoga. I ran head first into my physical limits. This left me with no choice but to drop the expectation that every yoga class will be my "best" class ever. My overall yoga experience has grown as a result.

Amusingly, it's one of the lessons every instructor mentions every class. I've been doing yoga for almost a year now, but the entire idea is in direct opposition to my personality. The only way I was going to learn was by beating myself into the ground and experiencing the merits first hand.

There were a number of smaller milestones.

- I adapted to the heat and am comfortable with the room at 88-90 degrees.

- Doubles have become a permanent part of my practice. Probably once a week on Saturday.

- I got over my resistance to doing yoga with a range of teachers. This meant learning some new flows and poses.

- I managed to keep my weight up, but had to eat close to a dozen pints of ice cream to do so.

- I learned doubles two days in a row is a bad fit for me. The inroad into my recovery ability is simply too deep. The 4th class is also completely un-productive.

- Lifting provides important balance to all the chatarungas and lunges in yoga. My body missed the high rep accessory work, especially rows and deadlifts.

- I learned to jump back from crow to low plank

- I managed to get my head to the floor during prasarita, though I have yet to lift up into headstand.

- Birds and tree became much more stable poses

- I got comfortable with doing extended side angle with my hand on the floor

- I got comfortable with doing twists hand to block during crescent lunge and chair pose

- My forward folds definitely got deeper, though not quite enough to plant my hands on the floor for a floaty jump back into low plank. I'd guess it's a month or two away.

- My back bends opened towards the beginning of the month, but as time went on, strain in my hamstrings removed the flexibility improvements.

- I did a few 90 second planks and started to learn how to pull my weight into my legs

Injury Prevention
- Pain in my left elbow forced me to re-evaluate form in chatarunga. Instead of coming forward and down, I was pushing like a bench press. Fixing that was key to landing my jump back from crow. I am still prone to doing it incorrectly as I tire.

- Low lunge and half pigeon strained my left knee. I have not figured out the solution, other than modifying to different poses.

- I found myself with jaw pain a few times, after clenching during direct ab work. Old habits die hard.

- Heavy use of moisturizer, a file and new skin let me avoid any serious skin tears in my feet, despite all the extra volume

Friday, February 1, 2013

January 2013 Review

January was a great month for some goals, average for others.

1. Move better - Lifting went as planned, yoga exceeded all expectations.

Resetting my weights for 5/3/1 was smart. I found the reduced weights were still a struggle at times. Pain in my right hand and left elbow is gradually diminishing. The rest was overdue. Chins are going well, up to 3 sets of 2 reps during upper body workouts. Progress will be limited next month, since I will only do my main lift and one set of each accessory lift during each workout.

Yoga saw fantastic progress, especially inversions. I practiced headstands every night, in anticipation of the arm balancing workshop. I learned to lift into a tripod headstand freestanding and a normal headstand freestanding (without kicking up). To my total shock, during the arm balancing seminar, I managed to balance a normal handstand off the wall. I also learned the mechanics of a few other arm balances, but lack the strength to hold them.

There were a few other minor successes. I managed a full bind in extended side angle, then to stand up into birds of paradise. I got some new shorts that are less slippery and am now able to do high tree during class. During crescent lunge, when we take the twist, I can now open my arms to a block.

A big factor in my progress was signing up for a June yoga seminar in downtown Chicago. It consists of 15 hours of yoga over 3 days, led by one of the top Ashtanga yoga practitioners in the world. After I reserved the hotel, I looked at pictures from last year's workshop. I am in way over my head. Most of the people attending are yoga teachers, far beyond my skill level. I have to really prioritize yoga until June, to ensure I am not totally out of place at the seminar.

To help build my stamina for the weekend, I signed up for a February challenge at the yoga studio - 28 classes in 28 days. Making it more interesting, there are 8 days where I cannot attend classes. This means on at least 8 other days, I will have to take 2 classes, sometimes back to back. I gave this a trial last weekend, it is actually really fun. My wife is bought in on the time commitment, and I will scale my lifting down to accommodate the extra work. Hopefully I break through the flexibility plateau I've been struggling with. I suspect part of the problem I run into during forward folds is my thighs pressing into my abdomen. I might not be able to do anything about the physical obstruction.

The other big limiting factor I see for the yoga seminar is my back bends. During wheel, I get pain in my lower back, which proves I am not doing it correctly. The yoga anatomy book says I am relying too heavily on my glutes and lats to get up. I need to open my chest further by using my deeper back muscles and release my hips by using my quads and hamstrings more intensively. Unfortunately I don't move like that. My instructor helped me lift into a proper wheel, and it felt much better. One of my big focuses for the month will be sorting the movement pattern out. I think it starts simply, with changing how I do my up dogs. I need to get in the habit of lifting my spine up, out of my hips, while depressing my shoulders down. I will also play around with a block between my legs during wheel.

No serious injuries to note for January. My elbow and hand are still a little tender, but nothing limiting. My jaw is back to normal. I am still getting the occasional skin tear on my toes, but a little New Skin lets me work right through it. I am sure I will come up with something inventive to hurt in February.

2. Beat the internet - I did terrible here. After a few early successes on Craigslist, I started checking it compulsively. $400 of purchases and a few sales later, I may have it out of my system. At the very least, I learned to have the results of boolean searches delivered via RSS, which should make future use much less time consuming. I did sell a few bulky items, including my pool table. Less stuff will lead to a net improvement in my quality of life. I am still disappointed in how much time I wasted online.

On the bright side I managed to stay off of news, message board and comic sites. I have excellent stereos setup everywhere I work / play. I put my Netflix on hold and am not missing it.

Time boxing work went ok, but I got out of the habit of tracking what I do. That leads to an ongoing low level of discomfort, since if I have free time, maybe I could do a little more work. Working from home makes it especially hard to escape that feeling. I know I got all my important tasks done and managed to try some new stuff, but I still feel uncertain without the record logged. I need to resume time tracking. It does not take much effort and improves my home life significantly. It is a primary focus for February.

We did have two new hires in January and may have another in February. My role will change significantly as a result of these hires, so I need to be especially careful about keeping balance in life. I did setup an improved work station in my house, so maybe that will provide efficiency gains to help offset the transition overhead as our team re-normalizes.

3. Make my money work - Grocery spending remained relatively low. I enjoyed oatmeal for breakfast most days. Even after splurging on Ceylon cinnamon and including a breakfast patty on the side, this is a big cost saver. Eating less (now that I am not lifting so heavy) offered additional savings.

Craigslist has been a double edged sword. I spent far less than retail to make major upgrades to my home office. I replaced my folding table with a desk, my headphones with a stereo, my slippers with a plush rug, and the bare light bulb with indirect light. On the other hand, I am out $400. Obviously I think this was a worthwhile investment, but I still no longer have that $400.

Learning to use Craigslist definitely qualifies as skill development for making my money work. At the most basic level, I spent 25% of retail. Realistically, paying retail, I would have cheaped out and ended up buying throw-away furniture. With Craigslist, I get to use nice things, and if I am careful about my buy/sell prices, can recover the money invested when I tire of a purchase. It changes furnishing a room from buying stuff to a re-allocation of assets.

The biggest plus has been practice at meeting new people and negotiating with them. In general, I have a hard time in unscripted social situations, especially if there is underlying conflict (ie a negotiation). With Craigslist, if I fail to deal, I pay the price.

People list their items expecting to negotiate, and they will try to negotiate on anything up for sale. I definitely made a few mistakes this month. I got excited about "big" cash in hand and sold my pool table to a very motivated buyer at his first offer, instead of holding out for a few hundred extra. When I bought my rug, I overpaid by at least $20, because I chickened out when faced with the prospect of negotiating in person with 2 obviously wealthy people. In my head, I needed the rug "today" and was scared of losing it. I let myself get too invested to negotiate properly.

On the other side, with some patience I got 40% off my stereo and 50% off my desk. By calling around, finding someone close to home and scheduling purchases in the same town on the same evening, I was able to get furniture moved for far less than any initial quotes. After declining two low offers for my squat stands, I found the right buyer at full price.

Clearly extending these lessons beyond Craigslist is where the major pay off lies.

Otherwise, I made it further into my investing book. I am still off video games and have actually been whisky free as well (due to the yoga seminar prep). I doubt technical investing is the right choice for me. I may not even go through the trouble of calculating the Beta or expected return of my portfolio. However, learning about financial engineering certainly helps to understand corporate behavior. Seeing as my salary pays way more than my investments, that's a great reward.

In February, I expect to read more of the investing book and continue eating cheaply. With so much time committed to yoga, little else will happen.

4. Socialize - Unless I count people on Craigslist, my social life has suffered. Despite leaving my calendar empty in December, holiday obligations made for a hectic month. I tried the same strategy for January and found empty weekends. I still did yoga and saw family/friends, but almost everything non-yoga revolved around food. February will be dominated by time at the yoga studio. I am not planning on anything else, but my wife is setting up a party for March.

January was rewarding. On to a(nother) month of yoga.