Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Laundry = EXCITING!

Massive excitement today: just got approved with my two roommates to rent this AWESOME 3 bed/2 bath house that we REALLY wanted. It's in a perfect location, ridiculously cheap for what it is, and so big and beautiful! I am in love! Signing the lease Friday.

Of course, I think the MOST exciting part for me is THIS:

THAT'S RIGHT. I'm a big girl now. I will have my OWN washer and dryer, inside my own house, that I don't have to pay to use! This is the best living-situation development ever. And you guys who commented on facebook cracked me up because you all had the exact same response as I did: "This will make it so easy to wash all the yoga towels!!!!"

I will also have a fireplace (don't know how to use it), a dining room that is not in the middle of the kitchen, a place to park my car (that is not a 5 minute walk from where I actually live), and a small backyard with a lemon tree and an orange tree. Yippee!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

BRR! It's cold in here!

One thing that annoys me sometimes: once I'm acclimated to the nice hot yoga room, my body decides that 105 degrees really is the ideal ambient temperature, and I am cold for the other 22 1/2 hours of the day. It's a lovely 70 degrees outside today and I'm wishing I'd brought an extra sweater into my office!

I'm SURE that I'm not the only one with this problem, right?

The upshot was that last summer, when I was working in a restaurant in Boston and it was swelteringly hot and humid, I was the only one in the building who was actually comfortable. When I started to say, "hey, it is a bit warm in here," everyone else was passed out in the walk-in fridge trying to recover from heat exhaustion. I was kinda smug about that.

The sweat reflex sure does operate on a hair trigger, though! I bike for like 5 minutes in warm weather... or stand outside at a bus stop in the sun... and my body is like "Woooohoooooooo, here we go, time to sweat!!" and I'm like, "No no no, not NOW, does this LOOK like a yoga studio to you? We are wearing too much clothing for this!"

Daily practice; this is what is comes down to. Gotta love it!!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Back on the road - Home is where the YOGA is!

Seems I got to have a change of scene,
Cause every night I have the strangest dreams...

Got restless this week and drove down to LA on a whim on Friday.  The one great joy of being a grad student in summer; I have to put in all my research hours, but it doesn't exactly matter when I do it.  I wasn't in lab or on a big deadline this week, so when I got stir-crazy, I just hit the road!

I have to say, it is amazing the difference that a year (or 11 months) makes.  I just remember that the first time I went to Bikram headquarters in LA, at the end of last August, I found it to be such an unfriendly place.  I didn't know anyone, no one talked to me, none of the teachers seemed to care who I was, I was scared to talk to the "famous" people... it was depressing!

And now it is SO different for me.  Totally relaxed, comfortable, easy, flexible.  I know half the desk people.  We have long conversations about our careers (engineers unite!) and their pets (very photogenic puppy named Eggroll).  I always know someone in class.  I don't even get down there that often, but people remember me and are always like "oh yay, you are here!!"  The teacher at 9am on Friday (who I hadn't seen in months and months) got up on the podium, glanced around, and said "Hey J!!!  Wow, what's up?  How long are you here for?!"  He then kicked my butt in class, but was super cool about it when I went DOWN - "Don't worry J, it's just the headquarters, there's crazy mojo here."  My LA buddies pester me for my phone number in the locker room and offer me couches to sleep on anytime I want.  I practiced Emmy's advanced at noon, and the class was hopping, maybe 25 people, and the energy was awesome, tons of real pros, from senior teachers to a 12 year old kid, lots of hard work, lots of joking around with people, lots of friendly familiar faces.  I pretty much chilled out by the door and did my thing, and my postures went a lot better than I expected, which was a bonus.  A couple of the guys taught me these hilarious "Indian push-ups" after class and I am still sore two days later.  I thanked Emmy on the way out and chatted a bit with Craig and Juan in the parking lot.  I felt like I was back home, for some reason.  Got caught in traffic on the way back up (Friday afternoon in July, duh), spent half the day driving, and it was TOTALLY worth it.

I love, love, LOVE the Bikram community.  Seriously.  These are my PEOPLE.  (And all of you guys, my lovely readers, those of you who I saw in class for years, who I talked with online for months, or who I have never even met or spoken with - you are all included in this, of course.)  And you have to understand... I am not spectacularly outgoing in other settings.  I stay home with my roommates on the weekend and make avocado-kale salad for dinner and watch So You Think You Can Dance and Harry Potter movies.  I am not really that cool.  But with the yoga people, at the yoga studios, I'm kinda different.  I'm an extrovert, I get to know everyone, I find out about everything that's going on... I get IN there.  At advanced seminar, my roommate said, "holy SHIT you've moved fast out here... everyone I've said your name to already knows you!"  I really enjoy being like this!  It is a very unexpected side effect, but I've been seeing it for a long time, and I like it a lot.

Back in town now, things are a lot more chill, not so many excited yogis rolling around as there are in LA, but I've been finding them.  Been getting to know new people, and been discovering new sides to people I already knew.  Spent the morning at the studio today, signing in classes, practiced at 10am, talked shop (and politics JUST a bit) with a couple teachers, then hung out with a friend and went through advanced series.  It was nice.  I looked at apartments yesterday, getting ready to settle in for the next year.  This can be a home, too.  I feel like a snail; I just carry my yoga practice around on my back, in my spine really, and I can be at home anywhere I land.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Like your hair is on fire!

I see that my theme lately has definitely been balance.  And I always wonder, geez, is there really anything new left to say about this concept?  It's basically the definition of yoga.  Asana and savanasa, struggle and relaxation, strength and flexibility, kicking and stretching (equal and simultaneous, 50-50, the harder you kick, you can balance forever...)  You know the drill!

However, I've been remembering something important about balance lately: it is an incredibly active process.  You can't always just sit back and wait for it to find you.  Even though this word "balance" has these rather calm and relaxing connotations for me, you ain't gonna get there by just sitting back and waiting.  You have to KICK.  AND stretch.  Balance comes from a combination of active processes.  Even in the simple act of standing still, balanced on your two feet, your body is making hundreds of tiny adjustments every second to keep you in equilibrium.  It's physics, it's chemisty; just because you're in an equilibrium state, that doesn't mean that there's not a LOT going on!

The Tibetans have a saying about meditation that I am absolutely in love with: we should do our (meditation) practice "as if our hair was on fire."  That's the level of immediacy and urgency that they bring to their practice.  

The idea (and I'm paraphrasing horribly here) is that we are here in this painful place (an unbalanced life, a world full of pain), and we need to get out of it, just the same way we would immediately try to escape from a burning building.  Don't be complacent.  Your hair is on fire!  You've got to do something about it!  And as Bikram says... (I just love this)... "What you waiting for??  Somebody come and help you?!"  It's all up to you.

You've got to balance like your hair's on fire, and this is the only way out of the burning building... through your asana practice, through your meditation (moving or still), through the yoga of your life...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"The posture REALLY begins when..."

" becomes easy."

Huh.  That was not the answer I expected.  And it came from a post-class discussion with Juan, the mastermind of the awesome bloodbath class that I talked about in my last entry.  This is the guy who tried to make us miserable just so that we would fight.  But after all, my favorite dichotomy in Bikram yoga has always been: "Take it easy, sweetheart"/ "KILL YOUR SELF!"  So I think he is onto something here.

(First, a moment of "Boooooo!" to technology.  I just spent almost 30 minutes writing and editing a blog post when I wasn't connected to the internet, and the whole thing disappeared into thin air when I hit "publish."  LAME!  I am so bummed!!!  Ah well.  I'm so much less inspired now, but I'm just gonna try to recall what I was talking about....)

Back on track: I am not saying (now or ever) that you don't have to struggle in yoga class.  Of course you do.  You have to struggle harder.  Kill your self!  But the thing is, on the other side of the struggle, there is something else, someplace quiet.  Easy.  Like fighting through a tornado and abruptly finding yourself in the eye of the storm.  That's the whole reason why we struggle.  We're not just beating our head against a brick wall here, not for no reason.  Maybe we are hitting our heads again bricks sometimes... but it's not a wall, it's a door!

I took one surfing lesson when I first moved out to California.  I sucked at the paddling parts.  But I was really struck by the experience of standing up on the surfboard.  It's like this: you're in the water, paddling like a maniac, working like crazy, and it's really loud, the surf is in your ears, the water choppy, the water is in your ears, you set yourself up, you push up on the board... and then suddenly, stillness.  Quiet.  Suspended animation.  After all that struggle and work and noise, you are suddenly, unexpectedly, in this totally calm state of balance, standing there like you're just standing on the street, as the ocean moves under you.  It reminded me of yoga.

I think we've all had little tastes of this in our personal practice.  Third part of awkward, anyone?  It's a bitch if you've got bad knees, but otherwise, once you figure out the mechanics, it's a piece of (cheese)cake.  Emmy said at seminar that "this is a wonderful posture for meditation" because "it's the easiest one in the series."  If you haven't felt the ease in this posture, I bet you've found it in another one, in a posture that you had to struggle to achieve at first but that you do now without a second thought.  Think of that.  Now imagine being able to do the whole series that way.  What a thought...

I remember at the judge's clinic (at seminar again), there was a discussion of how long competitors need to hold their balancing postures.  One person's answer was so good that it basically ended the entire discussion.  He said, "When the judge knows you could hold it forever if you want, the posture is done."  So the posture finishes, and begins, when it is controlled.  Calm.  Easy.

I've been thinking about this for the last couple of days, especially in standing head to knee, of all postures!  That one has always been my nemesis.  The last part stresses me out.  I'm fully capable of doing it and holding it, but as I was saying on hannahjustbreathe the other day, it is the ultimate mind-fuck.  I make myself fall all the time.  But lately, I've been going into it with a mindset of "fight back, fight harder" along with "it's so easy," and wow.  Today in class, I went into the final position, somehow relaxed, took a couple breaths, and then came out step by step when I decided I was done.  Both sides.  I am knocking on wood right now, big time!!  But it was pretty cool.

One of my favorite moments in Bikram's first book is when he talks about how it can be frightening at first to freeze in a posture with no one to help you, nowhere to go except inwards.  He says, "don't fright, don't scare.  It is so peaceful in there, so good for your mind and your body to forget the outside world for this time you do Yoga.  You hear my words now, but I know you don't understand them yet.  That's okay.  You got to feel the understanding happening in yourself, like a flower unfolding, to understand."

Further up and further in...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fight Back!

I had one of the greatest ass-kickings of my entire yoga career on Thursday night. Seriously, I'm still sore. It was epic and brutal and beautiful! It's not that I'm a masochist, not really, it's just that there is something totally awesome about having your ass handed to you on a platter by an experienced and talented teacher.

The ass-kicker in this situation was the infamous JUAN. This was the first time I'd ever taken his class, though I'd seen him demo postures at advanced seminar and practiced in the same room as him a handful of times in LA. Juan is someone who I had heard of before I even moved to the west coast, generally in context such as "Watch out for Juan!" He has a seriously killer practice - the one time Bikram got him to compete in the championships ("I don't know why I did that," says Juan), he placed 2nd internationally. (Esak Garcia placed first.) He is known for talking like an auctioneer and being merciless.

Needless to say, I LOVED the guy. He's actually quite cool - insightful, sarcastic, smart, and very low key and quiet when he's not on the podium. And I seriously loved his class. I would take it every day if I could.

My absolute favorite moment in the class was during the balancing series. My body was (sadly) not at its best for his class - legs were super weak for some reason - and Juan was holding all the poses really long. Standing head to knee felt inhumanly long, actually. His dialogue at the end of the first set went like "now slowly bring your elbows down to your calf muscles, eventually elbows should go below - *claps* - nevermind I'm talking to myself, you all fell out." I did, shamefully, fall out, though I'm sure it had been WAY more than a minute. I wish I was conditioned for better stamina!! So anyway, standing head to knee nearly kills me. Standing bow, I suck, I even get called out for the fact that I can only balance for like 10 seconds cause my legs are just NOT with me anymore. Then, at the beginning of balancing stick, he says "Fight BACK!!" I swear to god, it was like he reached inside me and flipped on a switch. I was like, "oh, that's right! I need to fight!" and then I held every one of his 30-second long sets of balancing stick and just powered through the rest of the standing series even though my heart was racing the entire time. It was awesome.

For some reason, when he told us to fight back, I just had this moment of perfect clarity - of course he's destroying us right now, but it's only to make us wake up so we can do better. And it totally woke me up. Thinking about it now, it makes me think of the simple mechanics of our bodies - how in order to stretch one muscle group, we have to contract another. Newton's law - equal and opposite reaction for every action. You can't stretch or strengthen anything without having some kind of resistance to pull against. And Juan, he just gave me that resistance. I guess I just really needed someone to start pushing on me so that I could have something to push against, so I could get somewhere.

I did better in class yesterday, too, just thinking of that directive: fight back. I took class from a teacher who I really don't like, and instead of getting distracted or dragged down by her energy, I used it as resistance to push against, and told myself, fight back. And it helped. Lately, these last few months or even longer, my practice has often been something that just happens to me, and not in a good way. But there's no reason to go along with something that you don't like. You can change your own experience just by your will. You can fight back.

It might seem weird to be talking about yoga in such combative terms (though I suspect a lot of you crazy Bikram yogis understand me perfectly already). And I don't think class needs to always be a fight, not by any means. But you know, Emmy said something cool at advanced seminar about the pacing and structure of the class. She says that the standing series is supposed to be pretty fast-paced and energetic, and it should have a "warrior" feel to it, because you are literally going to war against all the aches and problems and imbalances in your body (and in your mind). Then the floor series is, as they say, the "real yoga." I loved that, though - in the standing series, you have to just do battle. It makes sense to me.

And this fight back is a great reminder for life in general. Don't take the backseat in your life. Trust the process, but don't let everything just happen to you. Be a warrior. Change your own world. FIGHT.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The yoga sutras tell me to stay in school...

Last week (ok, and for a bit of this week, too) I was in my disgustingly predictable "post yoga-bubble slump." This is what happens to me every time I have to return to the "real world" after being totally immersed in yoga yoga yoga for a while. I come home to my life as a grad student and question whether I really want to be in grad school, or whether I should ditch the whole endeavor, take out a credit card, get myself to the next teacher training, and become a kick-ass traveling Bikram teacher.

I dragged myself out of my hole last Saturday, took class, and then went to this REALLY fun raw food potluck at another yoga studio downtown. It was a blast. I spent all night eating and having great conversations with random people - two of my favorite activities ever!!

The yoga studio that was hosting the potluck has an awesome yoga bookstore, which of COURSE I had to spend some time browsing. So there I am, on the edge of the yoga crowd, amidst the books, thinking "what am I going to do with myself?" I pick up a translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, open it to a random page, and just start laughing. No magic eight ball could have done a better job at giving me a direct answer to my question. The sutra that I opened to says, "The practice of concentration on a single subject is the best way to prevent the obstacles and their accompaniments." Which means... what? Well, the commentary explains:

"The point here is that we should not keep changing our object of concentration. When you decide on one thing, stick to it whatever happens. There's no value in digging shallow wells in a hundred places. Decide on one place and dig deep. Even if you encounter a rock, use dynamite and keep going down. If you leave that to dig another well, all the first effort is wasted and there is no proof you won't hit rock again. Before you start digging, analyze well and find out which spot is good. Then, once you decide and begin, you should not question it further. Go right at it, because it will be too late then to think whether it is worthwhile or not; you should have done that before."

Hah. I actually really like this! It's a very, very old-fashioned kind of sentiment; just pick something, and then stick to it no matter what. Reminds me of the days before we had the luxury of career choice, when if your dad was a baker and your last named was Baker, you were going to be the town baker. These days, it is so common for people to cycle through jobs and careers every 5 or 10 years, and for the most part that suits me really well, but you know... there is also a lot to be said for just making a decision, committing to it, and then just digging deep, using dynamite if you have to. I especially like how it says: "you should have done that before." So merciless, but so TRUE.

Bringing the scale down a bit, I'm sure this is great advice for asana practice as well. Don't second-guess yourself! Once you're in the room, once your in the set-up, once you're in the posture, you should not question it further. Instead, "go right at it." Dig deep. You're already there. Nothing to do but blast on through.

As a friend of mine said - (I don't know where he got this from) - "Once you've gone too far, that's a good time to keep on going!"

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Stupid bee joke

I feel like I still do some of my most inspired writing in comments on other people's blogs.  I just posted a little story in a comment thread on Mei's blog, and the more I think about the story, the funnier it gets.  Maybe that is just my sleep deprivation talking, but let me just retell the story here for posterity.

The subject was BOOBIES, and it reminded me of one of the last classes of advanced seminar.  My friend Abby had gone shopping at Hot Topic and got loads of funky stuff, including a yellow plastic bracelet that said "I LIKE TO LOOK AT BOOBIES" on it.  She thought the bracelet was a great present for Bikram, so she ran up to him when he came in on Friday and handed it to him.  He was all like "what is this, I don't want it," but he took it up onto the podium and read it into the headset.

"It says, I like to look at boobies... hmm... actually you guys, that reminds me of a joke!  So from normal bees, you get honey.  Right?  So from what kind of bees do you get milk."

I yell out "BOOBIES!!!!" at full volume because 1) I have no shame and 2) I am the only person in a room full of 300+ yogis who can't keep their mouth shut when they know the punchline to a stupid joke.

I just love myself sometimes.  And Bikram.  And Abby.

I miss Boss.  Those were great times.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Exhale breathing and YOU GO DOWN

(I love that line!!)

Let the records show that I was down for the count in beginner's class this morning!  Down to my knees twice during standing series.  Perfect storm of low blood sugar, high humidity, and lack of pacing on my part.  I killed it during standing head to knee, got my head right onto my knee and held that for a good 15 or 20 seconds, and then in standing bow the room was legitimately spinning.  Good times!!  A friend of mine was teaching, and I quietly asked her to grab me a Vitamin water for sugar when we hit the first savasana.  Never done that in my life, but it made me feel better right away, even if it was just the placebo effect (which is highly possible).

The funny thing was how, as my body became less cooperative, my mood steadily improved.  I started off class feeling fine physically, but in a deep mental funk.  Once the postures started working and the blood started pumping and the heart started racing, well, I couldn't quite stand upright, but all my other worries were completely gone, and I finished class in a great mood.

After class I told my friend, "whoa, that was crazy, it's been a year since the last time that happened to me," and she said "oh yeah, I've never seen you do that, I knew that something was up!"  We had fun laughing about it.  My response to "going down" is "whoooooooaa"; hers is "hooooly SHIT."  She said, "Isn't it great how we can still be humbled by the beginner's class like that?  I mean, not great, but..." and I said, "Oh yeah, it is great."

Then we stayed for a while to do part of the advanced series.  (Note: We've both learned it separately, at different seminars, so we figure it's cool to practice the postures together, and the owner doesn't care if we use the space.)  And despite the train wreck of my beginner's class, advanced felt awesome!  It was the first time I'd done the postures since the seminar, and I couldn't believe how much some of them had improved since then!  I guess there's something to be said for doing the postures EVERY day for a week and then letting your body settle down again - which was exactly what I'd hoped for, so YAY.  As Emmy says: "Frequency, precision, and intensity."  I should write a post just about that sometime, but it's pretty logical and it works for anything.  Get those three things together, and you're golden.  Looks like turning the frequency up to 11 for a while did some good, after all!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Speaking of anniversaries...

I just realized that my Bikram yoga "anniversary" must be right around now. I have no idea of the date, but I'm pretty certain that it was the first or second week of June, in 2004. Damn... five years?! When did that HAPPEN??

I certainly wouldn't say I've been practicing for five years, but as Diane says, your first class is your first class!

So many people have these great dramatic stories about their first classes. Mine was not very dramatic. I was away from home, doing a summer internship in eastern Washington state, and I was still hardcore into ballet. I was 19. A girl who I worked with said, "oh, you should come to yoga with me, you'll be good at it." It was summer and I was in the middle of the desert and I needed something to do to keep in shape. It was about 100 degrees outside, so I didn't really register the fact that it was an intentionally HOT yoga until maybe the 2nd or 3rd class. I just thought they didn't have AC. In my very first class, there was this older Indian (?) guy teaching, and he kept saying to me, "good, easy for you, now lock your knees," or "good, easy for you, now put your elbows on the floor." I woke up AMAZINGLY sore the next day, and all I could think was, "Dammit, Mr. 'Easy-For-You'!! That doesn't feel like it was easy at all!!" I remember that I liked it a lot and I asked tons of questions about the postures after class. I went a few times a week for the rest of the summer, then went back to Boston, and didn't think of it again for months until another friend brought me to a class, and I said, "oh yeah, I've done this stuff before..."

A few years later circumstance opened up, I got really into it, and the rest is history.

I would never, in a million years, have anticipated that I would end up ditching ballet and falling for yoga head-over-heels. If anyone had told me what would happen, I would have been horrified. I wouldn't have understood.

I am so grateful for the way things happened!!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bishnu Ghosh

Almost 60 years ago, a brilliant yoga master and physical culturist named Bishnu Charan Ghosh saw a loud-mouthed six year old kid named Bikram showing off yoga postures to a friend at the gym.  Bishnu Ghosh took Bikram under his wing for the next twenty years and taught him Hatha Yoga, making him into a 13 year old All-India Yoga Asana Champion and a record-breaking weight lifter.  When an 18 year old Bikram had his knee crushed in a weight lifting accident, the doctors told him he would never walk again and wanted to amputate the leg, but he limped back to Bishnu instead, and his guru healed him in six months.  This incident - you could call it a miracle, even - inspired Bikram to become a yoga teacher and heal other sick and injured people.

In his book, "Bikram Yoga," Bikram tells this story:

"In February 1970 I left India and went to Japan, for what was supposed to be six months, to take care of some things there for my guru.  I didn't want to go - I was a king in Bombay!  But when your guru tells you to do something, you have to do it.  That's it.  You have no choice.  As I was about to get on the plane at Calcutta Airport, my guru took my hand and told me something, in English, which he never spoke.  "Promise me you will complete my incomplete job," he said.  He meant bringing yoga to the rest of the world, to the West and America.  And I replied, "Yes, I promise.  I will."  Forty years later I'm here in the United States, still performing my Karma Yoga by fixing Broken bodies and screw-loose brains.

"When Bishnu Ghosh bound me in that oath, I had no way of knowing it would be the last time we spoke.  Soon thereafter my guru talked to all his family and friends, gave them his blessings, and said that he would soon take his rest.  he then performed mahasamadhi, withdrawing his Spirit from his body and leaving this Earth at the age of 67.

"Looking back, I can't help feeling sad, mostly because I miss him every second of every day with every ounce of my heart.  But I'm also sad because I forgot to ask him how long I am supposed to continue teaching Hatha Yoga to fulfill my Karma Yoga!  Do I have to keep doing this for my entire life?  With no guru to answer me, I have to conclude that the answer is yes.  To which I say, "No problem!"

And there it is: the genesis of Bikram Yoga as we know it today.  Even just last week, as Bikram talked about the opening of new schools, the beginning of the franchise plan, the development of the teacher trainings, his main message was simply, "With your help, I am carrying out my guru's incomplete job."

Bishnu Ghosh passed on July 9th, almost 40 years ago, so this is the day when we recognize his life.  There is more information on him HERE.

Thank you, Bishnu, for the great work that you did in your lifetime, and for the setting in motion the wheels within wheels that would change all of our worlds...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Advanced seminar report - PART 2

Hi guys!

First, housekeeping: a couple of you left comments asking to see pics, but didn't leave me any contact info! Can you leave me your email addresses? I will delete them after I read them. (I am fast.)

Seems like a lot of people want to know about the franchise. Not surprising! Dunno what else to tell you guys, though... basically, the lawyer got up and said that the reason for the freeze was that you can't have affiliation agreements and franchises at the same time, and it took them longer than expected to get all the legal stuff sorted out because they have to do separate contracts for each of the 50 states. He said, "Don't blame Bikram, blame me!" He also said that it took a long time because Bikram kept arguing with his lawyers to bring the prices DOWN. (Bikram says, "I don't need your money!!") The franchise will be priced way below market, and he's hardly charging the existing studios ANYTHING for the first couple years, which is great. As soon as they go public with all their legal stuff, which should be next week, all the people who've been waiting can start opening studios. And I DO think that we will start seeing changes (good ones), because a portion of the franchise money will be dedicated to advertising/public image.... so hopefully we will finally see things like a new Bikram yoga website (!!!), a little more positive visibility in mainstream media, etc. They mentioned doing some cool things like having class packages transferable between studios, so you could buy like a $50 class card from your home studio and use it while traveling (like a Starbucks card)... things like that.

And of course, one of the more long term and serious goals of the franchise is to really crack down on the "knock-off" studios that are teaching Bikram's system at lower prices with non Bikram-trained teachers and hurting the business to the legit studios. They said that they will be more aggressive about brand protection in the future. Long term quality control.

The other big goal is just to create more unity (uniformity) across the studios, which right now are a VERY loose network. Not so that everyone will be clones of each other, but so that every studio can employ the BEST practices.

Okay, moving on!

Storytime: one of Bikram's friends who visiting us was a bodybuilder/actor named Roland. (His last name is Kickinger, you can look him up.) He was this REALLY sweet, kinda quiet, well-spoken Austrian guy who goes around promoting Bikram yoga (among other things.) Hung out with him at the pool with some girlfriends and he was a wicked flirt and too funny. The best part was when he got into the (kiddie) pool and got his (massive) upper into one of those plastic blow-up inner tubes, and then floated around going "Haaaaaalp, I'm traaapped in this pink toooooob..."

The other "celebirty" moment was when Anil Kapoor, the Bollywood star who plays the gameshow host in Slumdog Millionaire, came and visited during class. Hilariously, he got up on the podium with Bikram and was wearing this solid BRIGHT GREEN t-shirt. (NO GREEN!) Bikram and 300+ yogis just about died laughing, and made him take it off. I seriously have never seen Bikram laugh so hard.

Friday was an all-Bikram day, as Emmy and Raj had already left. I was sleepy in the 8:30 beginners class. He said that he was tired, too - not a morning guy! I actually kinda liked that. I had this really strong feeling of Bikram being right there with us, all of us kinda sleep first thing in the morning, but just doing our thing, working hard, getting it done.

Saturday was the BEST day. Ida from Canada taught beginner's so that Bikram could sleep in (hee), and then Bikram came and did our final advanced with us. And he seriously TAUGHT. When we got to the headstands, forearms stands, scoripon, and handstand, he came down off the podium and worked hands-on with maybe 10 different people to show all of US how to help EACH OTHER. So we didn't just learn the technique for doing the postures, we also learned the technique for spotting and teaching the postures! It went on forever, and Bikram was totally in his element. It was so cool to see him teaching like that, and I learned SO much. I really felt like, "YES, I can definitely go home and show this to my friends and it will totally help us to help each other improve."

Then he demonstrated the bhandas, which I had never seen before and which was REALLY cool. For those of you who know advanced, that the funky stomach thing that we try to do at the end but we don't really know how to do it. (That's how it's always been when I've done it, at least!) I didn't get a clear picture, but it's insane to see him do them... he sucks his stomach ALL the way in and then isolates all the different abdominal muscles, one at a time, alternating, doing waves, etc. (There a picture of him doing it many years ago HERE.) And he actually EXPLAINED them in a way that made me feel, "oh ok, I understand this concept and technique well enough that I can go practice it on my own now and get better at it."

Saturday concluded with another long day of lounging at the pool, watching fireworks off the rooftop (since it was the 4th of July!), hanging out at the hotel sushi bar with yoga girls for hours, and going dancing (and having just a couple drinks) at the hotel club. I have to say, it was pretty hilarious talking to people at the club, because all the people I talked to were yogis. So girls, picture yourself doing the thing where you're drinking a beer at a loud club and having a shouted ear-to-ear converstation with some random guy, except this is the converstaion: "So what do you do?" "I own a studio!" "Great, where?" "Canada, here's my card!" "Nice, do you know my friend T?" "Yeah, she's teaching for us! Are you a teacher?" "No, but I compete!" "That's great!" Etc. It was kinda surreal. Danced with some of the yogis, too (they played Thriller!), and let me tell you, some of those yoga champs know how to get DOWN, Dirty Dancing style! It was ridiculously fun.

Sunday was ROAD TRIP day! After getting a total of 3 hours sleep on Saturday, what with the dancing and the packing, we somehow loaded 4 yogis and all their luggage into my sweet little Corolla and hit the road at 7:30am to Joshua Tree National Park! Took a driving tour of Joshua Tree, (got out of the car for dorky yoga pictures), then drove to Santa Monica, walked around the promenade and down to the beach, then got dinner at Planet Raw (I'm not a raw foodist, but my friend who IS was super excited about it). Then I dropped the other 3 off at the airport and drove 2 hours up the coast back home - about 9 hours of driving for me in all! PHEW. It was totally worth it.

A few favorite Bikram lines:

"They made this yoga room like high school sex, just get it done fast and put it wherever you can."

"What is going on??? Why are you guys here???"

On the creation of the teacher training programs: "Teacher training? We already have a teacher training. But 20 years for one teacher!"

On yoga history: "They changed the way you WANT to do it, so the reality is gone."

On full standing bow: "This is good posture for concentration. You have to concentrate very hard like a... I dunno, like what?" (someone says, Bengal tiger!) "No, tiger doesn't need concentration, he just eats everything. Is like crocodile! Concentrate like a crocodile." (So now we have Bengal Tiger strength, English bulldog determination, and crocodile concentration... I like it!)

On not making money off his studios: "Long story short, whole country though I am an idiot!"

On his public image: "People think I am very, what you call? Oregon? Not Oregon. Oregon is a state." *confused pause* "Arrogant!! They think I am very arrogant, they say 'Whoa, don't fuck with him.' Good, I like it, it works perfect!"

"You just have to know the..." *2 1/2 second pause before everyone simultaneously fills in: "TECHNIQUE!!"

At the end of long lecture: "I have only made ONE point so far!!"

Repeated: "Did I make my point?"

The Boss doing his thing!

One of my road trip friends gets help in handstand

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Advanced seminar - VIDEO!

This is fun!  It's the local news segment that they filmed during advanced seminar...

You should be able to see it HERE.

Advanced seminar report - PART 1

Soooo... went to advanced seminar last week!!

I loved it. Absolutely loved it. Would definitely do it again. It was so priceless to spend the entire week practicing yoga with just Bikram, Rajashree, Emmy, and 300+ super-dedicated all-star yogis. The schedule was basically yoga class from 8:30am until maybe 1:30pm, with a break between beginner's and advanced, and then on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday there were lectures in the afternoons, and then in the evenings we had some movie nights, a dinner, a "hot chocolate" night (which was my favorite!), and some more talking from Bikram. We only had advanced classes scheduled for Mon-Fri, but check-out wasn't til Sunday morning and Bikram was in a GREAT mood, so by popular demand we got to do beginning and advanced AGAIN on Saturday! Six days in a row!! Actually I missed the classes on Monday, didn't get there until 2pm Monday because I was at a wedding, but I still got five days of beginner/advanced in a row! That's a lot of yoga...

My personal practice: it started off awesome and then slowly and steadily deteriorated throughout the week. Ha! Ha! Just got more and more sleepy and stiff at the end of the week!! Happy, but tired. Spine kinda bailed on me. Wasn't too distressed by it! Doing that many days of advanced will do odd things to your body for sure. I think the payoff will come the NEXT time I practice advanced series... and in the months to come, because I definitely came home with tons of motivation and inspiration. I'm hoping to evolve again. :)

Bikram was in an amazing mood the entire week, the happiest I've ever seen him. One of my friends, who's been teaching and practicing for years, said she couldn't get over how positive he was about everything. He kept saying that we were all sooooo good, that this was the biggest advanced class ever (300+ people!), and that there was nowhere else in the world where you could see so many people in one room doing perfect postures!

On Monday I went to the judge's clinic where they talked about the future of the yoga championships, and there was a lot of cool information. We heard about some changes that they're going to make to the competitions, such as: transparent scoring on a 10 point scale! Just like at the Olympics. Rajashree talked about the main goals of the competitions, which are to raise participation in yoga with the younger generation, encourage yoga as a legitimate form of healthcare, and to promote and establish our group identity. Then Bikram came down and talked for a bit about some of the cricticism of the yoga competitions, and why we do them in the first place. Everything he says makes so much sense... I always feel like none of his critics would last more than a minute if they ever actually SPOKE with him and HEARD what he is saying. He says, "the world improves because more good people compete with each other. Then you demonstrate on the stage how good somebody can do it. What is wrong with that??"

On Wednesday we heard a LOT about the future of the Bikram yoga franchise, which is being launched SOON - they said next Monday. So in less than a week, the "studio freeze" will be lifted, all questions will be answered, and everything will start moving forward. The franchise lecture was more than 3 hours long, and it was 5 minutes of Bikram talking, 10 minutes of his franchise lawyer talking, and the rest was ALL questions and answer from the studio owners and teachers to the lawyer and Bikram. Everything sounded really good and I am excited to see how everything unfolds!!

On one evening (I think it was the hot chocolate party), Bikram said, "To teach 26 and 2, you don't need me anymore." It knocked me over. He said that he used to worry about the future of Bikram yoga, but "I'm not worried anymore," because all his staff are so good, and he sees students always improving, and the teacher trainings are going great... It made me so sad to think of a day when we'll do Bikram yoga without Bikram at all (though hopefully this is very far in the future), but it was so beautiful to see his happiness that after 51 years, Bikram yoga is alive on its own, and his faith that it is going to keep getting better and he doesn't need to be responsible for everything anymore.

Then he hopped on stage with a famous Bollywood singer and gave us an EPIC disco dance performance!

Very exciting news: Bikram says he's working on his advanced series BOOK and wants to get it out this year (which he used to say he would NEVER even consider doing), AND he is talking about starting a TEACHER TRAINING for teachers to be certified to lead the advanced series! Oh man. This is awesome news.

Let's see... this is not a very chronological report...

Emmy's classes were so wonderful. We had her ALL day on Wednesday, for beginning and for advanced. She says: "You guys could teach me a lot of things." A pause. "Not about Bikram yoga, but about other things." The whole room burst into spontaneous applause. 84 years old and she still kicks our butts. We were all wrapped around her finger.

I love the dichotomy between Bikram and Emmy. Here are the quotes I have written from them in my notebook, side by side.
Emmy: "Precision, frequency, intensity."
Bikram: "I saw a boy mastrubating in a walnut tree today..." Proceeds to tell long and dirty story.

One day - I don't even remember which one - I definitely found my absolute fatigue point! It was so funny. First we did a long beginner's. Then a little break. Then a long advanced class, where we left out a couple of the beginner's postures in the beginning: awkward, eagle, head to knee, standing bow. By the way, for those of you who know advanced - we did THREE sets of plow series. And the first one was incredibly long and slow. But I did learn a whole lot about plow series. Then - they did warn us about this - some camera guys from the CBS news came in after class, and as a demo, Bikram wanted us to do the opening sequences of the advanced class again. So we went BACK TO THE BEGINNING, and that was pretty hard, but at least he had warned us. So we do the three opening sequences for the camera - salute to the gods and goddesses, salute to the sun, half moon - and the Bikram says, "ok, awkward pose!" At that point, for the first time ever in my life in a yoga class, my brain said "you have absolutely GOT to be shitting me right now, he is TRYING to KILL us!!!!" Oh my god. I couldn't believe it. That awkward pose was one of the hardest things I ever did, and then he says, eagle pose! And then... standing head to knee! Just one set. First side. I'll never know how, but I f-ing NAILED it - got right in, held the head on the knee for a while until he said change, and then did a step by step dismount. Then standing bow, one set, first side, my bad side. Nailed it. Then one set balancing stick, then I think tree (I really don't remember), and then he said "ok guys, great job, thank you, see you at 9 for hot chocolate" and I literally just FELL to the ground and laid there for a little while. It was so awesome. Beyond the body, beyond the mind, just pure technique, pure yoga.

I have more to report but that's enough for now. Let me know if there's anything in particular that you want to hear about! Here are a couple of pictures for fun. (They're on facebook, too.)

Full standing bow, me and my friend Maria. I'm in the purple top.

Me in pregnancy pose - help, I'm stuck!!

The best picture of my friend EVER!!

My happy, smiling face...

Pictures are up!

I just posted 118 photos from seminar on my facebook page and there will probably be more eventually... now it is very late at night... if you want to see them and you don't already have me as a friend on facebook, leave me a comment with your facebook name or your email address and I will send you the album and then promptly delete your comment.  I don't mind sharing stuff with you guys (that's an understatement), I just don't feel like making ALL my personal information accessible here!

The seminar?  Yes.  It was amazing.  It will take me all week to talk about it.  But I promise that I have lots of good stories.  Stay tuned.  :)

A teaser...