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.