Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking Backwards

"It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting."  - From The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I can't resist taking a moment to reflect on 2010.  This was one hell of an eventful year!

January - March:  Waiting for my real life to begin!

I started off this year living in California, only semi-employed, finishing up the last pieces of my Master's degree and counting down the days until teacher training.  Those months were fun, I guess.  To tell you the truth, it's all kind of a blur now.  I seem to have done quite a lot of yoga and blogging.  A bunch of us were running the Bikram101 blog, which was really good fun.  (Although really, 101 day challenge?  I doubt I'll ever do that again.  I like my yoga, but I like a day off now and then!)  There were some gems in there; if you missed it the first time around, it's worth going back and reading from the beginning!  (TheMissus and I both went on to become teachers before the end of the year, which was exciting.)  I also remember a lot of driving.  I drove to LA almost every week.  I miss seeing Emmy and Bikram and my LA friends, but I don't miss all that driving!

I think those months were all about anticipation.  I wrote myself a note at one point that said "savor the anticipation," and I think I did a good job of that, but I got impatient towards the end!

April - June:  Teacher training.

I may as well have been in an alternate universe for those months.  The yoga bubble barely ever made contact with the real world.  I didn't even know that the "oil spill" wasn't really just a "spill" until it had already been gushing for weeks and weeks.  I had seen references to the spill on the headlines of USA Today when I was walking back and forth from the ice machine in the morning, but I had no idea what was going on until I finally googled "oil spill" over the weekend.  "Holy shit!!"

Teacher training was pure wish fulfillment.  It wasn't perfect by any means, but I got tons out of it.  In the end, I got everything that I had wanted and more.  Most importantly, I got the certificate!  And then I got the heck out of Dodge.

July:  Back to the real world: do they have a support group for this?!

Oh my goodness.  I dove into teaching full-time right away, and that was great, because the yoga room was the only place where I felt normal after training!

Teachers always laugh about this because we've all been through it, but seriously, that reintegration period is wild!  I just remember that I had no idea how to live without a rigid schedule anymore.  You mean, I can cook in a real kitchen?  I can go to the grocery store any time??  It was too weird.  I couldn't remember what I used to eat, or when I used to do laundry.  I barely remember how to drive my car!  You know all those stories about people who finally get released from prison after years and years, and then they end up committing petty crimes just so that they can go back to prison because they can't handle life "outside"?  It's kind of like that for a couple weeks.  Part of you wants so badly to go back.

But you move on...

August:  On the road again!

Cleaned out the beautiful house in Santa Barbara (which I still kinda miss) and hit the road with my sister for an epic cross-country road trip.  If I had to write a "short list of reasons to live," the National Parks would be pretty high on that list.

After driving across the country and up and down the east coast, I settled down in the city where I'm living now and got down to business, just teaching, teaching, and teaching.  The interesting part about moving to a new part of the country?  Nobody there had ever known me before I was a yoga teacher!  I didn't meet them as a yoga student or a grad student or a dancer or a waitress or anything else.  I really did just walk in there every day and say "Hi, I'm Juliana, I'm your yoga teacher," and that was my introduction to a whole new community of people.  And oh my gosh, I was a baby yoga teacher.  Ok, I'm still a baby now, but I was a really new baby then, only a couple months old!  But I didn't tell anybody that (unless they asked).  I just taught.

That seemed to work out pretty well.

September - December:  New equilibrium?

Here's the interesting question.  After all your dreams come true.... what do you do next?

As it turns out, life just kind of goes on.  The incredible, life-changing new job is still sometimes just a job.  There's laundry to be washed, groceries to be bought, dinner to be made.  Still have to take out the trash and buy toilet paper.  Still practicing yoga all the time.  Still teaching.  Still learning.

Back when I was in training (more than six months ago, now!) I always thought "oh, it'll come with experience" was kind of a bullshit answer.  I had all these questions about teaching class, because there were so many important things - how to correct, when to correct, how to know how much an individual can do - that we didn't really go over very much.  They just told us that once we got used to teaching, we'd figure that stuff out.  I didn't find this very satisfying.  I didn't want to just "learn by experience," dammit, I wanted someone to teach me!

Well, here I am, learning by experience.  And I am absolutely eating my words, 100%, because learning by experience really works.  I still seek out feedback sometimes, and good feedback is still really helpful, but I also just... well... figure it out!  Because I can tell when things are working well, and I can tell when they're slightly off.  For example, if I give someone a correction and she responds by sitting out the next set of the posture, I learn, "Okay, that wasn't the right moment for her, she was already doing the best that she could."  Or if I give a new student some encouragement during her first class, and then she comes back again and again and again, and she thanks me for being her first teacher, then I learn, "Okay, that worked!"  (Honestly, the yoga itself does most of the work with the new folks; my job is just to pass along information and not scare anybody.)

Speaking of experience, I've taught somewhere in the ballpark of 230 yoga classes this year, at 13 different yoga studios.  Not bad!

I'm finding my place in my new community, and it feels good.  And it's such a joy to finally be a real part of the big yoga teacher family!  I spent so many years trying to get somewhere.  Now I'm there.  Wow.

My plans for tonight?  Teaching yoga, of course.  10:30pm to midnight.  I'm pretty excited.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry and Bright

Hello to the internet!!  I know, it's been a while.  But I have been busy and without internet connection.  Now it is Sunday afternoon, the day after Christmas, and I actually have some time by myself!  I am camped out in the basement of my favorite coffee shop/ juice bar/ hippie restaurant, in my hometown, finished with yoga class for the morning, awaiting the "blizzard" that's supposed to come in this afternoon. Mmm, life is good.  I love the holidays.  I think the only thing I'm missing is hot chocolate....

Aaaaahh.  Hot chocolate success.  Wobbly table fail!!!  Fortunately, the splash narrowly missed my laptop, and I still have most of my hot chocolate left in the glass.  Now where was I?

Oh yes, the holiday season.  This holiday season has been festive and busy.  I hit the road on the 17th and basically did a little yoga tour of the eastern seaboard.  I drove up and down (found some good new back routes), stayed with studio owners, taught at one familiar studio and 3 where I'd never taught, got feedback, ate lots of Cheddar cheese (for some reason), went to a Solstice party, quoted The Birdcage incessantly (long story), and then finally drove back to my hometown for a belated Chanukah at my Mom's house and a timely Christmas at my Dad's.

Here are some highlights, mostly yoga related, not in chronological order:

-  I taught a Thursday morning class for my friend Maria, at her beautiful new studio in Natick.  She is definitely in "my generation" of yoga teachers - she went to training a couple years before I did, but our birthdays are only a month apart - and it was cool to see her in charge of her own yoga studio and doing a great job of it.  The lovely Danielle surprised the heck out of me by showing up for class, and she has the cutest little baby bump you have ever seen.  Glowing, literally glowing.  It was great fun to have these two rocking teachers in my class, along with several regular students and two first-timers, young men (teenagers really) who gave it the old college try.  I felt really comfortable in Maria's space, and it gave me a good chance to incorporate all the feedback that I'd gotten on my class recently.  It was very satisfying.  I had so much fun teaching that class.

-  I made it to Diane's studio in West Roxbury to teach a class.  (Diane had never taken my class before, and she is really good at giving feedback, so I was really excited to finally teach for her.)  This was on Monday night, when there was a giant snowstorm all over Boston, so it turned out that making it to the studio was really the hardest part!  Holy crap.  It was dark and snowing, traffic was a mess, and I had no idea where I was going.  After about 10 wrong turns, assistance from 3 Dunkin Donuts patrons, and one very distressed phone call, I arrived in the studio parking lot about 75 minutes later than I had planned on.  (We switched class times and I taught at 7 instead of 5.)  So that was a bit more drama than I had planned on, but I still got to teach class and it went fine.  I was thrilled to spend some quality time with one of my favorite people ever, and the blizzard just made it, well, cozy.

- Speaking of West Rox, advanced class last week was awesome.  Surprising new progress on full wheel: I actually went back and grabbed one of my ankles from standing!  And then the other one!  But NOT at the same time.  That will be the next step.  (In case you're not sure, that is exactly what it sounds like: stand there, bend backwards, and grab your ankles.)  It was very exciting.  So was lunch.

- I stayed at Teri's house up in North Andover for a few days along with my friend Ignacio, from my teacher training.  Ignacio was my neighbor until recently, but now he is up in New England and boarding with Teri for a while.  Now, Ignacio doesn't decorate - he is "not that kind of gay" - but he's very good about cleaning, so we decided that he is officially Teri's houseboy.  Does anyone remember the Hank Azarea character in The Birdcage?  Agador Spartacus?  That is exactly his new role in the household.  I didn't realize that so many people have watched The Birdcage, by the way.  Pretty much everyone knew what we were talking about and could produce a quote to prove it.  The Solstice party ended with four of us in the kitchen quoting The Birdcage and rolling around on the floor for probably 30 minutes.  It is a very funny movie.  Although we all feel sad for the Nathan Lane character when he dresses up in the suit with the bright socks on.  ("One does want a hint of color!"  Awww.)

- I spent a lot of time holding the world's largest cat, Mr. Sweetie.  I know a lot of cats are big, but this is no joke; he is a 30 pound cat.  (I suspect that he has a weird pituitary gland.)

Please be clear: he is not FAT, he is just BIG.  If you stretch him out, he is about 3 feet distance (36 inches.)  The kids love to hold him, and he's very docile, but it's hard for them because he tends to outweigh them.

- Then I went to my Dad's house and spent a lot of time with two very small cats.  Here they are.

Their names are Romeo and Olive, and they are freaking adorable.  I've never really considered myself a cat person, but I am falling in love with cats all over the place!  These guys are very sociable and will come right up and sit on your shoulder.  They also like to chase toy mice and sleep.  For a while, Olive slept on my lap while Romeo slept on Olive, which was just absurdly cute.  Here is Romeo again with my sister:

Awwwww.  Baby! 

- This is so not a food blog, but I must say, my sister and I did a great job producing a vegetarian Christmas dinner for 10 people.  Here is the broccoli cheese baked risotto that we made, which was a big hit.  Even my cousin's baby liked it, and he is the pickiest eater out of the group.  Great success!

- If anyone is looking for a geeky new obsession, check out the new(est) Doctor Who series!  I got my sister the second season for Chanukah and we watched the "Christmas Invasion" episode, which really got me into the Christmas spirit!  This series stars David Tennant (I think he is the 10th Doctor now?) and he is delicious.  Great hair.  In the Christmas episode, he has a swordfighting duel against an alien leader while he is wearing pajamas.  I think this may be the best scifi I have ever seen.  Campy, dramatic, clever script, great acting, and lovely eye candy.

Alright, that's enough of that for now.  Hope all of you have been having terrific holidays so far!  And I hope this "blizzard" lands so I can stay in watching movies and then go skiing.

May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.... :)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Great Standing Bow Disaster of 2010 (Championships)

My routine for championships did not go exactly as planned.

As many of you know, last weekend I competed in the regional yoga championships for my area.  I spent a decent amount of time working on advanced postures and getting my routine ready.  I did lots of those backbends down the wall, which I've never done consistently before - they seemed to make a difference! - and I made a lot of progress on crane and full standing bow, which are kind of my dream postures.  Neither posture ended up being ready for stage this year - I need to lock my elbows in crane and get my foot to STAY under my chin in full standing bow - but they are both a lot closer now.

I ended up choosing to do my two "back-up" postures as optionals, peacock in lotus and full cobra, which are still pretty respectable postures.  I'd done full cobra on stage before, so I didn't need to worry about that one.  I'd never done peacock on stage, or any kind of balancing/strength posture for that matter, so that was still a good challenge for me.  (I discovered some new muscles in my butt that should be useful for all the lotus postures, too.)

I ran through my routine for an "audience" a few times during the week leading up to championships, and it felt really solid and good.  I was able to nail all my balancing postures, no problem, and I was hoping that the little extra burst of adrenaline on stage would help make everything a tiny bit better.  For example, I was about half an inch from being locked out in standing bow, but I had a feeling I'd be able to do it when it really counted.

Dun dun DUN....

I drove down to Richmond (the location of the championships) on Friday afternoon and spent the night with an awesome lady from my teacher training.  (Thanks Marcia!  Love the TT connection everywhere.)  I got up early enough to take class on Saturday morning before the event.  Suzanne Elliot from Florida taught.  She was one of our judges for the day, and I already knew her from my visit to San Diego in October - we visited training at the same time - so it was fun to see her again and she taught a great class.  I had a sweaty but rocking class.  I actually held standing bow for the full length of time for three out of four sets, which is virtually unheard of for me.  (Irony!  Foreshadowing!)  I finished class feeling really relaxed and energized.

With the aid of my trusty new GPS, I navigated around a major Christmas parade and made it to the theatre without incident.  Our event was at a cute little dance theatre, 200+ seats.  Being onstage in December (in a leotard!) reminded me of my Nutcracker days; I felt like Tchaikovsky should be playing.  All the yogi and yoginis were hanging out backstage in the dressing rooms or on the stage warming up.  I tried out my balancing postures on the stage, which went fine, and then spent the rest of the free time stretching and socializing.  The backstage socializing is always the best part.  It was a fun chance to meet new people and to catch up with some awesome yogis who I hadn't seen for a while.

Once the event started, we all had to be very quiet backstage, which made for a more stressful environment, lots of nerves in the air!  We all get nervous for each other.  I tried not to watch very much before my turn, because I didn't want to psych myself out.  When my turn came, I did a quick pranayama and a little dance, put on a big smile, walked out onto the stage, and bowed to the judges.

First posture: Standing head to knee pose.  Standing head to knee is often considered the toughest of the seven postures, because it is such a psychological test.  The moment you doubt yourself, you fall!  I had a teeny wobble when I went to pick up my foot, but I quickly pulled myself together, got into the posture, held it quite comfortably while I counted to 5, and came back out step by step.  (The dreaded dismount.)  Success!

Here is a very blurry picture that was taken by a friend's iPhone from the back row:

(There was an official photographer who took non-blurry photos, but I have to pay to get those.  Might do that later.)

Second posture: Standing bow pulling pose.  Because of the way I chose my sides for head to knee and standing bow, I had to change directions in between poses and face the opposite side.  So after finishing standing head to knee, I turned a quarter turn to the right, paused for a split second facing the audience, and then turned again to face the other side.  In retrospect, this may have been my fatal mistake; I think that it freaked me out when I had to see the audience again in the middle of the routine.

I confidently announced the name of the pose and picked up my foot, and then everything pretty much went to shit.

In the past week, I have done a few humorous re-enactments to describe exactly what happened next.  For the purposes of this blog, since you can't see my attempts at acting, I have prepared a series of pictures.  Here is what happened:

 Here we go, standing bow!

 Uh oh, what's this??

It was like the connection between my brain and my leg had been completely severed.  Despite my best efforts, I just couldn't seem to get my leg to respond.  I might as well have been holding a dead fish in my hand.

However, you are allowed to take a second chance (for only half the points) if you really fail at a posture, so I figured I might as well take another whack at it.  When's the next time I'll have a chance to do standing bow on stage in front of hundreds of people, right?! 

Okay, for real this time!
  Tragically, my leg is still doing its "I'm a dead fish!" act.

 Just make a standing bow!
ANY standing bow!!

 Aw.  Fail.

Here is a close-up of my thoughts at this moment.  The image below is a panel from my favorite online blog/comic-strip, and it sums things up perfectly.

(Click picture to see original comic.)

But hey, I'm still on stage, so...

Third posture!  Bow pose.  No problem.  I am once again in control of all my facilities, and I am able to do a perfectly fine bow pose.  I followed this with a respectable rabbit pose and a nice long stretching pose.  Stretching is always a good one for me - knees locked, backs of the legs on the floor, spine mostly straight, eyes forward, forehead to toes.

Sixth posture, peacock in lotus.  Goody, more balancing!  Actually, this posture went okay.  I was pretty determined to not fuck this one up, because frankly, one huge fuck-up per routine is enough.  I got my knees up, held the pose still for the requisite 3 or 4 seconds, and got back out with control.  No face-plants, hooray!

Seventh and final posture, full cobra.  I took my sweet time with this one, because at this point I didn't really care about the clock and I was still on stage in front of a whole ton of people.  I might as well do something nice before hanging up my leotard until next year!  So I gave myself a moment, took a deep breath, came up niiiice and slow, put my toes to my lips, held it for a bit, and then came back out niiiiiice and slow with a big grin on my face.  Ta-daaaa!

Blurry full cobra:

Aaaand, scene.

Then I went backstage and did a perfectly normal standing bow in the hallway just to see if I could.  (Of course I could!)  At the intermission I put on some clothes and went out to find my friends in the audience.  My friend Eleanor came down from Baltimore with another yoga geek friend, which was awesome.  (Thank you for coming and I can't wait to see you up there next year!)  I sat with them in the back of the theatre for the second half of the event, and they were very tolerant of my un-yogic sulking.  (I joked about it a lot, but I admit that I was kind of bitter for the rest of the afternoon - every time someone did standing bow, no matter how well or poorly they did it, I was like, "Well they did better than I did!!"  Sulk, sulk, sulk...)

I continued to feel depressed about my inability to perform on stage - the one time when it "counts"!! - until the next afternoon.  Then I watched a Christmas parade, bought a hat, had some hot chocolate, taught a yoga class, and realized that what happened on stage didn't really matter.  I tried analyzing what happened, but just ended up running around in mental circles - "Did I try too hard?  Did I not try hard enough?  Was I over-confident?  Was I over confident?  Did I care to much?  Should I have cared more?  Am I thinking about this too much?!?"  Oh, whatever.  Forget it!

The fact is, I'm still really happy that I competed, because it gave me such good motivation to develop my practice.  I liked doing a little bit of extra practice after class, and I'm going to try to stick with that next year.  (Christmas vacation, of course, is an anything-goes time zone!)  I'm really excited to get back into a regular schedule of advanced class.  I feel like I'm on the verge of lots of tiny breakthroughs.  It's been almost six months now (!!!) since I finished teacher training, and my traumatized body finally feels "normal" again (thank you hamstrings), so it's time to move things forward!  By this time next year, I will be best friends with crane and full standing bow, and you can hold me to that.  Also, all the students and teachers at the studio were really sweet and supportive of me competing, and now a whole bunch of people are interested in doing it next year.  Yay, we can be a team!!  That will be so much fun.

Plus, it's kind of hilarious when things go completely wrong.  Nothing got hurt (except for my pride), I definitely had a new experience, and I managed to get people excited about competing!  And it makes a good story!

Next on the agenda: I'm heading up to Massachusetts for the holidays next weekend, hooray!  I'll have several great opportunities to teach for different studio owners and get feedback on my class while I'm up there.  (I'm psyched and just a little bit nervous that D is finally gonna take my class!)  Maybe I should go crack open that old dialogue...


Footnote:  Just for the sake of my poor bruised pride, here is a picture of my standing bow pulling pose that I took 2 days after the competition.  It's not totally locked out here, but please note these two developments: my grip isn't sliding down and my shoulder is really on my chin.  (Those have always my two biggest issues in this posture.)  I'm happy about this.  I can't wait to do it on stage next year!!


Footnote #2:  This post was written under the influence of "Hyperbole and a Half"Amazing hilarious blog, definitely worth a read.  Don't try to read it while you're drinking water.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Giving and Disappearing

Just a quick post before I hit the road for the weekend, inspired by a pair of quotes that I've read recently.

First, I am in love with an Annie Dillard quote that Hannah mentioned a couple days ago in this awesome post:

"[T]he impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive.  Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.  You open your safe and find ashes."

These lines really speak for themselves, but I'll mention one reason why they resonated with me so deeply.  I spent most of my life, and certainly most of my yoga career, simply collecting knowledge and information for myself.  I was a learner; learning was what I did.  Teaching never occurred to me.  But then gradually, this certainty came over me - I actually needed to start teaching.  I had all this information to spend, and it was burning holes in my pockets.  That's what led me to the career that I'm in now, and as I've said before, that turned out to be the best decision ever.
Sometimes I notice people who do attempt to hold knowledge to themselves, in an attempt to make themselves more powerful or influential.  And I do think that this is destructive behavior.  The more we can share our skills, wisdom, and information, the better off we all are.

The second quote is from (again) my Zen quote book:

"When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself."  - Shunryu Suzuki

This is one of those great Zen principles - the idea of immersing yourself so fully in your task that your self, your ego, disappears.  We do the exact same thing in yoga; what did you think "kill your self" was supposed to mean?  Kill your smaller self, destroy your ego, leave no trace of yourself.

And again, this really makes sense to me in the context of teaching.  Before we were "set loose" on the world as teachers, we were reminded a thousand times of one crucial fact: "It's not about you."  When you teach, you can't be thinking about yourself.  You can't stand there thinking, "Do I sound ok?  Are they looking at me funny?  What do the students think of me?  Did I miss a word?  Am I doing this right?"  No way!  It doesn't work if you just try to say stuff that "sounds smart" or "sounds like a yoga teacher."  In order to teach, you really have to forget about yourself and think about serving the students.

In other words - and this is another comment from one of the visiting staff at teacher training - I don't want my students to get home and think, "Wow, that was a great class from J!"  I want them to get home and think, "Wow, I just had a great class!  Hey, who taught?!"

(Of course, Bikram is the exception that proves the rule.)

And now (for my next adventure), I'm driving off to Virginia so I can balance half-naked on one leg in front of a bunch of people tomorrow afternoon.  I guess that would fall under the category of "giving freely and abundantly"?  I will be sharing my love of yoga with anyone who cares to come and watch.  Hooray!!  Should be fun.  My only goal is to relax and have fun, and I plan to be successful.  :)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Welcome to your new life, Terry Two."

If you don't know the source of that quote instantly - off the top of your head, without pausing to think about it - you should probably go out, pick up a copy of Bikram's blue book (i.e. this one), and read it.  Cover to cover.  If you have it on your shelf gathering dust, pick it up and crack it open.

I've had a copy of the book since 2007 (and it actually lived on my bedside table for a year), but I'm telling you, every time I read it I still find something new.

I picked up the studio copy of the blue book and re-read the first 50 pages over my lunch break a couple days ago. And it turns out that reading it as teacher is a totally different story, because I am even more amazed at how complete it is.  Please forgive me for stepping onto my soapbox here, but this is really good stuff.  All the concepts that I'm always trying to explain to my students, over and over again?  It's all in there.  In like, the introduction.  In the first 6 pages. 

For example, here's a paragraph from the 2nd page:

"This Hatha Yoga is for everyone and every body.  It doesn't matter how well you do each posture, only that you try the right way.  Even if you can only do part of the posture, you will recieve one hundred percent of the benefit medically if you try the right way.  I explain this by giving you step-by-step instructions for each posture." 

The book also show the crazy, fun, and gentle side of Bikram that you don't get to see so much in the media.  He's really kind to his new students, no weird aggressive drill-sargent stuff whatsoever.  He tells his newbie student:

"All beginning students are scared, and it is the biggest obstacle you must overcome to make progress.  Don't fright, don't scare, I will take care of you.  Okay?  You do just as much as you can honestly do the first day.  You don't have to be a hero.  The best you can do is all that I ask.  That is perfection in Yoga, the best you can honestly do on any particular day."

Now that is a nice little opening speech!  Much better than the lecture filled with rules that you often hear: "stay on your mat, don't fidget, don't drink you water until after the 3rd pose, only drink in between sets, don't move when people are balancing, don't leave the room..."  None of that!  Just "do your best, don't be scared."

The book is also very funny, especially when it's describing what the postures feel like to beginning students, the "ideal" versus the "reality."  After explaining how the postures SHOULD be done, the book also explains what will probably happen on the first try.  For example, here's what it says about pranayama:

"After a couple of inhalations and exhalations, you'll swear your arms had been poured full of lead.  You'll begin to cheat by cocking the wrists and flapping your arms like waterwings.  Soon even your hands will grow heavy... By then your toes will have crept apart, your knees will have bent (not necessarily both in the same direction), and as you try to correct those problems you'll forget if your chin was supposed to be going down while the arms were going up and whether you were inhaling or exhaling and why.  You will understand the meaning of eternity at last, for surely you've done many more than ten cycles, and yet the class just keeps going on and on."

Now that is spot on.  Don't you remember your first class?  That is definitely what I felt like when I first started!  But then the book also gives a very lucid explanation of what it means to breathe through your throat, and I've gotta say, there are students who have practiced for YEARS who still don't know how to do this properly.  But it's right there, on page 7, in black and white.  This book is like a free posture clinic; it can answer your questions about your practice that you didn't even know you had!

One of my teacher friends made a comment about the "reality" section a few days ago, saying "teachers should know that shit inside and out," and I really couldn't agree more.  (I am still working on this, by the way.)  It's basically the text version of Bikram's week 9 lectures at teacher training, where he goes through the postures and discusses them in the context of a very new and struggling student.  I think it's so important for us to remember what our students are going through, so that we can address them with compassion and understanding instead of just thinking, "Dang, what's wrong with that guy?!"

My favorite new discovery this week was a very simple little sentence hidden in the middle of page 43.  In the middle of the paragraph, there's this one short line: "With Yoga you add to yourself, and thus to the world."  That's a big deal.  Think about it...

Now I'm gonna hop back off my soapbox - thank you for your indulgence - and go stretch my poor body, which is feeling awfully creaky today.  My last request is that you go and read something written by Bikram, instead of just written by me, because an awful lot of the stuff that I talk about is really from him.  And then let me know about your favorite parts... cause you'll probably find something that I have missed...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"A" Apple, "B" a Bat, "C" a Cat

A couple days ago, my studio owner and I had Jim Henson on the brain.  (One of our mutual friends posted a note about him on Facebook, and we are both slightly compulsive Facebook stalkers.)  In case you live in another country (or under a rock) and you are not familiar with Jim Henson, he was the guy behind The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal (which I still need to see!) and all kinds of other brilliant stuff.

We had fun with our Jim Henson theme.  When she was teaching standing separate leg head to knee pose in the morning class, my studio owner S was like, "Turn your hips 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 times... I sound like The Count!"  ("Vun, two, three...")  I carried this thought into my evening class, and in between sets of balancing stick I told my class: "You know, this is really like Sesame Street yoga if you think about it.  Make the letter 'H'!  Make an 'L' as in Linda!  Make a 'T' as in Tom!  This posture is brought to you by the letter T!!"  That actually got everyone laughing, and for second set my dialogue went something like: "Your-body-should-look-like-a-T-as-in-Tom-THIS-POSTURE-IS-BROUGHT-TO-YOU-BY-THE-LETTER-T-body-down-leg-up-chest-down-leg-up-stretch-and-stretch-stretch-stretch!"

I rarely improvise with my dialogue, but this was a great hit...

But in a certain sense, in all seriousness, this is totally Sesame Street yoga.  That's one of the things that I love about the instructions.  Bikram takes a truly challenging subject - classical yoga asana practice - and breaks it down so that anyone can understand it.  You can take any average idiot off the street and say the dialogue to them, and they will do a pretty respectable approximation of good yoga asana on their first try!  No joke.  We've been getting a huge influx of beginners at my studio - I taught a class a week or two ago with 40+ people and 17 first time students - and it's taught me one thing: the dialogue fricking works.  We get people from all walks of life - it's not like I'm teaching rooms full of professional athletes or rocket scientists here - and pretty much everyone can pick this stuff up.

Bikram definitely teaches this way on purpose.  At training, he always told us, "No one else can make it so easy!  So simple, just like 'A' apple, 'B' a bat, 'C' a cat, 'D' a dog, 'F' a father."  (He always skipped the letter 'E', and he never used his favorite 'F' word, even though we all thought we knew what was coming...)  When we studied together, my roommate would always say, "I looove how Bikram breaks it down Sesame Street style!"  So simple.

And why do we make it so simple?  Well, that's the point.  The yoga is meant to be accessible to everybody.  It's actually easier to teach a class for advanced students full of jargon and Sanskrit and technical language.  But that's a form of discrimination; if you teach that way, you discriminate against the raw beginners and the people with no yoga background.  Bikram also told us that he intended for the dialogue to be a universal language: "No discrimination."  That's a big deal!

On that note, I've gotta go put together a 7-layer dip for a yoga party.  Our studio finished an awesome 60-day challenge today (which I should talk more about later), and we are having a potluck tonight after class to celebrate.  Hooray, I'm so hungry.  More later!

Edited to add:  Just for fun, here is one of my favorite old Sesame Street videos.  So many great moments in this one.  "Dum, dum, dum, cha cha cha."  "Me just, uh, sauntering by..."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pointing at the Moon (I Have Rediscovered "Zen")

Okay, so I'm still kind of wrapped up in this little Zen quote book that I picked up at the used book store last week.  I'm not actually reading it straight through - that's not really what you do with a quote book, right? - but I'm picking up bits and pieces that are really resonating with me right now.

I was tossing ideas around in my head for a few days before I got around to reading this little definition on the first page of the book:

"Zen is a Japanese translation of a Chinese translation (ch'an) of the Sanskrit word (dhyana) for meditation."

Oooooooooooh.  Okay.

This makes great sense to me, because all this meditation business comes back to the same damn thing!  I've gotten used to talking about meditation in the context of yoga and Sanskrit (though I could never quite keep track of all those foreign words that Bikram would tell us in the middle of the night).  At the same time, I had a vague idea of what "Zen" meant that was floating around in the back of my head, but I hadn't give it any thought in a long time.

But language is just language, and all these words are pointing back to the same thing.  "All talk, as the Chinese masters of old say, is at best a finger pointing to the moon.  The finger is not the moon and cannot pull the moon down."  So that's all that we're really doing when we talk about "Zen", "meditation", "dhyana," or even "yoga"; we're just pointing fingers at the moon.

Of course, here I still am, writing more words.  But pointing is still fun and helpful.  "Look over there!  Look!  It's behind that tree!  Can you see it?"

I've caught a common thread, in my yoga and in all this "Zen" stuff, that talks about meditation through action.  Everyone's heard of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," right?  "Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine. (Shunryu Suzuki)"  That's your basic Zen, right there.  You simply meditate by immersing yourself on whatever task is at hand, so that your ego disappears, your self disappears, and you are pure concentration.  Bikram says exactly the same thing.  People ask him when he meditates, and he says "I meditate while I'm waxing my cars.  I meditate when I'm teaching yoga, when I'm shopping, watching old Hindi movies, driving, dancing, singing, talking, eating and spending time with my kids. (Orange book, pg 78.)"  Same, same.

A lot of people have this mistaken idea about meditation, that it involves being very still and thinking about absolutely nothing.  Well, I guess that's one kind of meditation, but it's certainly not the only kind! In the kind that I understand, you're not thinking about nothing.  You're thinking about something, with such focus that everything else falls away.  You don't necessarily need training to do this.  You do it naturally when you're totally concentrated on a task or physical activity.  You might get this feeling when you're running, playing sports, working on a math problem, writing, or dancing.

In other words, "The practice of Zen is forgetting the self in the act of uniting with something. (Koun Yamada)"

A lot of people get this feeling at yoga class, which is really what we're going for in there.  We give you so much to concentrate on, so many instructions to follow, that you cannot think about anything else.  It takes such tremendous focus to stand on a locked knee for 60 seconds that everything else falls away, you forget your job, your problems, your life, everything!  And that is your meditation.  When five, ten, or even 90 minutes go by where you don't think of anything else - you just listen to the words and move your body - that is meditation, that is yoga, and that is Zen.  We can't just tell you, "Okay, start meditating!" - that doesn't really work on you guys - but we can keep so busy with all those instructions that you end up meditating without even realizing it.

And my Zen?  These days, I practice, I teach, I practice, I teach.  I work with my body, I walk the neighbor's dogs, I go to the store, I eat good food, I write, and I teach.  I like browsing the antique stores before going back to teach a class.  I like the feeling of the cool Fall air and the sight of the colored leaves.  I like spending time with other wonderful yoga teachers and students, and I like spending time with the brand new students and welcoming them in.  It feels great.  I am having so much fun.  It's supposed to be fun!!  I'm pretty certain about that.  And right now, it really, truly is.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Bikram yoga.  It is repetitive.

Everyone knows this.  If you've done it more than once, you know that the class is the same, the postures are the same, the heat is the same, the words are the same, it's the same damn thing over and over again!

If you're a student, even just a casual one, you repeat the same postures, in the same order, every time you come to class.

If you're training for competition, you repeat the same routine and the same advanced postures over and over and over again.  There really are no short-cuts.  You just do it again, and again, and again.

If you're studying to be a teacher, then WOW, repetition has to become your best friend, because it's the only way you're going to cram those 40+ pages of text into your brain, word by word.  You say the dialogue out loud all day long - in the shower, walking to class, walking to lecture, in your sleep.  In posture clinics, there are plenty of cases where the only "homework" for the struggling teacher-to-be is more repetition.

If you're a teacher, then your job consists of saying the same instructions over and over and over, almost every day, often two or three times a day.  And you guys know - I've talked about it enough - that there's so much else that goes into teaching, and it's such a joy, but still.  I have said, "From the side, your body should look like a Japanese ham sandwich" a lot of times!!

So yes, monotony is a fact of our yoga life.  But today, as I was browsing through the (awesome) antique bookshop down the street from my yoga studio, I found a fantastic little book with bits and pieces of Zen-type wisdom, and in the book I found this quote:

"Monotony is the law of nature.  Look at the monotonous manner in which the sun rises.  The monotony of necessary occupations is exhilarating and life-giving."
              - Gandhi

Wow.  Instant clarity!

And we all know this already, in our hearts, but it's good to be reminded.  Because yes, life is monotonous.  Every day we wake up, we do work, we eat food, we go back to sleep.  The earth turns on its axis.  The planets go around the sun.  The seasons come and go.  The tides come and go.  We breathe air, in and out.  Monotony is not just a necessary evil in life; it is also life-giving and therefore joyful.  Our hearts beat out a rhythm, that same monotone beat, keeping our bodies alive.

Just because something happens every day, that doesn't make it less miraculous.  Every day, the sun rises.  Every day, our bodies turn oxygen into life.  Every day, we get another chance to do our work and do our yoga.  What a gift, to do the same necessary and beautiful things over and over again.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hello, Shoulderblade-Scapula!

Right before I left for San Diego, I finally sucked it up and registered myself as a competitor for this year's regional championships...

(For those of you just joining us, or for those who are new to the concept of yoga competition, please refer to this post that I wrote up last winter: Yoga Competition?!  I was very organized and did a whole little mini-series of posts on the international championships last February.)

Everybody on the same page?  Great.  So I was a huge wimp last year and didn't compete.  I was still in grad school at the time and my practice was at kind of a low point, so I had a good excuse.  But this year I'm a fricking full-time yogi, so I had no excuses at all.  Time to dig up a leotard and get my butt on stage!

The championships for my region are happening in one month.  Plenty of time, right?  Sure.  Starting this week, I'm doing beginner's series pretty much every day, advanced series 2 or 3 times a week, and practicing extra postures on my own almost every day.  Also need to start actually doing my 3 minutes routine...

So far it's totally been worth it.  Okay, "so far" I've only been practicing for comp for 4 days!!  But to my total surprise, I've already had a little breakthrough.  I've started practicing some extra backbends, working on finding my upper back muscles, and I'll be damned.  I found my shoulderblade-scapula muscles!  I can actually move my scapula forward and glue my shoulder onto my chin in standing bow!  (Finally!  Finally!  Finally!)  This has always been a goddamn struggle for me.  I mean, I think every teacher who I've ever practiced under has been like "J, shoulder to chin, shoulder to chin," and it still was fricking killing me.  I can do it in a do-or-die situation (which I discovered at teacher training when I was trying out for demo and Brandy said "Anyone whose shoulder isn't touching your chin, you can leave, you're not in the demo."  Magically, my shoulder stayed on my chin that time.)  But normally, in class, there's this big fricking gap that just comes and goes and generally drives me nuts.

But now... I can actually move my shoulder forward to the right spot and glue it there!  I have a muscle that does it!  And it's easy.  And it took me, like, 3 days, I shit you not.  I'm so baffled.  But delighted.  Definitely not complaining.  Shoulderblade-scapula, you will not defeat me anymore!  Folks back home, you will be so surprised when you see me practice again.  Even my studio owner was already like, "Um, whoa, what did you do?!"

I sure hope I haven't jinxed myself by writing this post.

And that's probably the second-most exciting thing that's happened to me all week.  (The most exciting? I had 18 first-time students in my class last night!  I love Groupon.)  Aah, the glamorous life of a yoga teacher.  Now I'm off to Trader Joe's... I need me some microwave pad thai!

Friday, October 29, 2010

In the Middle! (BKTT Fall 2010 Visit)

"Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am!  
Stuck in the middle with you..."

Hello blog, I've missed you!

I spent the last week and a half - Oct 16th to 25th - in San Diego visiting the Fall session of teacher training.  And whew, it was quite a trip!  I won't even try to tackle the whole thing in one post.  I guess I'll just start in the middle and go from there...


It was equal parts cool and weird to come back to training as a visiting teacher.  I mean, I really liked being a trainee.  I liked having a room number and having a group and having a line to stand on.  There wasn't much thought involved in the whole process; someone tells you where to go, and that is where you go!  Being a visitor, especially as a new baby teacher (as opposed to an important senior teacher) is totally different.  You just kind of float in and out whenever you like, and occasionally wave your arms around saying "Hey, does anyone need anything?"

I spent most of my time floating in rather than out.  I did every single class with the trainees, double classes Monday through Friday.  (Next time, I think I might sleep in once or twice.)  I went to all the lectures and took notes.  I even... yes... stayed for an episode of Mahabharat.  (It wasn't until 2am rolled around and I was the last visiting teacher standing that I realized that it was time to exercise my free will and go to bed "early.")  I did enjoy going out to dinner at P.F. Chang's and coming back to lecture "late" (i.e. after the end of sign-in).  I did enjoy having the freedom to walk around the back of the room and sneak out to the bathroom any time.  I enjoyed practicing at the back of the tent, where I could basically spy on the entire teacher training class at once.  (Forget about "focus one point in the mirror."  Never even saw a mirror.)  I loved seeing familiar faces from my training and spending time - as a teacher! - with some of my other favorite teachers who were there.

But it took me a while to get a handle on the whole concept of "you are not a trainee ANYMORE."  I got in trouble with Bikram when he lectured on Monday night.  It was the first time I'd seen him since I left California.  He was giving one of his usual yoga lectures, asking lots of questions to the audience, and I couldn't help answering them (to myself!) in the teacher's section.  But naturally (this will surprise NO ONE), I managed to answer a question a little too loudly when no one else was talking, and Bikram was like "Who said that??"  I tried to look around and look innocent (never works!) but the girl next to me waved her arms around and pointed me out.  (Thanks Jo.)  Bikram found me and pinned me down with his 100-yard stare for what felt like a very long time, while I sat there beaming up at him with my best shit-eating grin.  Finally he said, "You are not in the training.  Idiot!!" and went back to his lecture.  Hehe, oops.  I got a big hug from him at the break...

I sat in on posture clinics every day, and in that situation there is NO confusion about who is who.  The teachers are on one side of the room, sometimes on a couch, holding notebooks, and the students are on the other side of the room, muttering dialogue and looking nervous.  Actually, these guys didn't seem too nervous - a lot of them were really good!!  I had the chance to give feedback in all of the posture clinics (sometimes only a little bit, sometimes a lot), and that was a big learning experience.  Here is a big secret about posture clinics: occasionally, the person giving you feedback is just as nervous as you are.  Giving feedback is weird and uncomfortable at first, just like saying the dialogue.  It reminded me of learning to teach (which makes sense).  The first time I taught, I couldn't get past the weirdness of being on "the wrong side" of the podium and I didn't enjoy it very much.  Once I got over that, it became really fun.  Giving feedback is kind of the same way.  The first time I sat in posture clinic, I was acutely aware of mind-numbing weirdness of being on "the wrong side" of the notebook.  Once I got over it... it became fun.  It's just like teaching the class; it's just one more opportunity to help other people.  The biggest difference between giving dialogue and giving feedback is that the dialogue is set ahead of time.  So for me, saying dialogue is very easy.  But when you're giving feedback, you've got to think on your feet!!  Very, very interesting.

And just when I felt like I was getting the knack of it, it was time for me to leave!  Whoops.  Next time, maybe I'll try to save up extra cash and stay for two weeks...

The whole "visiting teacher" thing is such an open-ended process.  So different from training.  (Did I mention that yet?)  I mean, training is so finite.  It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  You arrive, you get oriented, you go through your weekly schedule, week one through week nine, you get a graduation certificate, you take a picture with Bikram and you leave.  "Bye!  Nice meeting you!  Have a nice life!"  Visiting is the opposite.  You just kinda plop down in the middle of everything, after it's already started, and then you leave before it's over.  It's such a tease!!  It's like... like re-reading the Harry Potter series by only reading the 4th book.  You vaguely know what happens in books 1-3 and 5-7, but you only get to read that one book!

It's good to be home, though.  Back in the real world!  Back to teaching and taking class, doing laundry, paying bills, going to the grocery store, buying Halloween candy for the trick-or-treaters... all that good stuff.  :)

I'll probably write more about training later, but I would be remiss if I didn't give a shout-out to all the great people who I saw in San Diego!  First of all, many thanks to Cira, who let me crash at her guest room all week!  Many thanks also to all of the visiting teachers who let me use their hotel room showers after class - phew, you guys are lifesavers.  It was awesome to see my fellow Bikram Yoga Boston alums, Heather and Mary, along with Aaron and the other future BYB teachers!  And all the bloggers... Josie (with her happy smiling face!), Johan (who gave me a Cheezit as soon as he saw me), Brandy (I really do want to come visit!), Jane (of course I would come find you!), Chrissy (total rock star of course)... Also, I saw Henri from my studio (I can't wait to take your class!), and Phil, Katie, and Becky from some of the other area studios - they were all rocking it out.  And class of Spring 2010, very good representation!  There were at least a dozen of us floating around that week, which is a great showing!  We are the best class.... so far.  These guys will hopefully be even better, which is as it should be.

Happy Halloween weekend, all.  Bust out some good costumes for your classes on Sunday... I will be teaching in costume for sure...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I need this shirt....

My friend Tomek from teacher training just made a website to sell T-shirts that he designed.  All I can say is, WOW.  I cannot stop laughing at his artwork.

Here is a teeny version of the design that Tomek made for his first shirt.  (You can see a bigger version by clicking.)

I have so many questions about this picture!  For example, why is the second guy wearing a party hat?  (Because he locked his knee.)  Why does he look like Lord Voldemort?  (Not sure.)  Why does the first guy have a black eye?  (Maybe somebody punched him because he didn't lock his knee.)

The last shirt that made me laugh this hard was one that I saw on the bargain rack at the LA headquarters (the old one on La Cienega).  That t-shirt featured an unhappy stick figure doing the kicking-out part of standing head to knee - the part where you make your legs look like a "perfect upside-down L like Linda" - and the text above the picture said: "See you in HELL, Linda."  I stood there and laughed at that for about 5 minutes.

In any case, I think I like Tomek's shirt even more.  It says "Lock the knee Lock the knee Lock the knee" on the back.  I want one immediately.  You can giggle over the artwork and order a shirt for yourself at, if you are so inclined.  These would make fun Christmas presents for the special Bikram yoga teachers in your life!  (But Mom, please don't buy me one, I've already ordered it myself.)

Incidentially, the "yogavangelist" term is totally up for grabs if anyone wants to make that idea into a t-shirt.  It'd be a good one!  (Just give me 75% of the profits after you do all the work.  Just kidding.)  Who wants it?  Teri, you want to go into business with me?

I'm still in love with Teri's t-shirt idea from ages ago.  She said that someone should make t-shirts for teacher training graduates that say "See you in the back row!"  (Because when you're a trainee, you practice in the middle and the front of the room, but when you go back to visit as a graduate, you practice in the back row.)  I thought this was totally clever and I ran around trying to tell everyone "See you in the back row!" but they told me I was a total dork because I hadn't even gotten to training yet.  "No, J, you can't say that right now, you're not going to be in the back row!  We're going to see you in the front row!"

And though this is a very fluffy blog post, that thought does lead me into one piece of news: I will be in the back row at teacher training next week.  Hooray!!  I'll be there for all of Week 5.

A lot of people (or maybe it was just Hannah, repeatedly) have asked me, "What do you do when you go back to visit training?"  Well, to tell you the truth, I've never done it before, so your guess is as good as mine!  Ha ha.  No, but really we just go to help out and re-live our glory days.  We can take all the classes with the trainees (and Bikram, hooray), we can go to lectures (and Mahabharat, or maybe not), we can sit at the sign-in desk looking moderately important, and we can help out with posture clinics.  Since I am a lowly new graduate, residing at the bottom of the totem pole, I will probably be "helping out" in the sense of "sitting around listening and taking notes while other people give feedback," but that's totally cool with me.  That's where you've gotta start!  Oh, and I will be saying hello to a bunch of old friends who are now trainees (hi Mary! hi Heather!), attempting to meet all the bloggers from this year (who have been keeping me very entertained for the last few weeks), seeing friends from my teacher training class, and spending time with the awesome senior teachers who go to training to help out.

I am very excited.  Still-awake-at-1:30am-on-Sunday-night excited.  Or maybe that's just the effect of teaching 3 classes today?  Who knows?!

More stories soon...

Thursday, September 30, 2010


It always starts the same way.  You take the first class.  Maybe you love it right away, maybe you hate it, maybe you're not sure.  But for some reason, you go back for the second class, then the third class, then the fourth, and then you're hooked.  Maybe it's been a few months now, and you don't know what number class you're on anymore.  Maybe you've signed up for a 30 Day Challenge.  You've bought your first pair of Shakti shorts.  You have a Spot at the studio.  All the teachers know your name.  You plan your schedule around the yoga class times  You have a separate pile for yoga laundry.  You're starting to feel really good - your spine is straighter, you sleep better, and your skin is glowing.

And now everybody knows about it.


Because you can't stop telling them!

I refer to this phenomenon as "yogavangelism."  As in yoga evangelism.  Noun.  "Yogavangelism, n.  The irrepressible urge to extol the benefits your yoga practice to everyone you meet, including your close friends, your immediate family, your distant relatives, the grocery store clerk, the Starbucks barista, your tax accountant, some guy at the bus stop, your cat, and your golfish Goldie."

And it's totally awesome.  It's good for the yoga studios, which get most of their advertising by word-of-mouth.  It's good for the people who you manage to drag into the hot room with you.  (I had to be dragged into class on several separate occasions before I started going on my own.  Thank you, Amy from Kennewick, WA and Anita from MIT!)  And it's great fun for you when you can get more of your friends involved in your little obsession, not to mention the good karma!

Yesterday I tried to post a Facebook update on the topic of my new car insurance, and within minutes the topic turned to Bikram yoga.  Everyone wanted to know: "Did you recruit your insurance agent to come to yoga??"  There's no escape!

I do end up inviting an awful lot of people to yoga, because the "what's your job?" topic inevitably sends me in the direction of yoga.  When I was helping my sister shop for cars, all the car salespeople would ask us both about what we did for work, and then I'd end up spending the whole test drive answering questions about yoga.  "Is it good for diabetes?"  "How long are the classes?"  "What if I'm out of shape?"  "What if I have a knee problem?"  (I bet this drove my sister nuts.)  So I recruited the heck out of all those guys, and I really hope that at least one of them will end up in a class sometime!  I also nag my parents about yoga periodically.  And I've very proud of my friends who have become addicted since I introduced them to Bikram - shout-out to Cat from MIT and my roomie Alex (aka Slappy)!

On the other hand... I'm really not the world's most fervent yogavangelist these days.  I haven't been for a long time.  I prefer to just plant the seed of an idea - "Hey, there's this yoga class..." - and then let it grow in its own time.  I don't pressure anyone into coming.  If someone shows a spark of interest, I'll fan the flames a little bit, but that's it.  I'd rather let people come in their own time, on their own terms.  When the time is right, they'll show up.  You know that saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear?"  I think it might work in the other direction, too.  Students come when they're ready, when their seeds are starting to grow.

I remember one lecture during my teacher training when someone asked Bikram a question along these lines.  One woman was concerned that not everyone would want to listen to her message and do yoga.  She wanted to know, "What do we do about the people who don't want to learn the things that we have to teach them?  How to we convince them to listen to us if they're not interested?"

Bikram's response?  "Tell them, eat shit and die!!"  (A favorite Bikram phrase.)

After the laughs died down, he explained himself further.  He said that when he was young, when he first came to this country, he felt the same way.  He said that he wanted to "stand in the middle of the road" and shout to everyone about how wonderful it is to do yoga.  But after a while, he realized that "it doesn't work."  Some people just aren't interested.  Forget about them.  They're not your students, at least not yet.  As a teacher, you do still wish that everyone could do yoga, but you don't lose sleep over it.  You can't spend your nights crying over the students that you don't have.  Instead, you have to focus all your energy on the students who are in the room right now.  That's how you teach a good class.

And then, if I teach a really good class... all of my students will go home and tell their friends about it!!  Ahaaa.  It all loops back around.  The yogavengelism is up to you guys!  So get going, get talking, and bring me your friends.  I'm always there waiting for you, ready with the rental towels, the new student registration forms, the intro spiel ("breathe, everything else is optional") and a smile.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Let it Rain, Let it Pour

It's a rainy Sunday evening, which has put me in a writing kind of mood!

There was a ridiculous late summer heat wave all week, so I was excited when I woke up to the sound of rain this morning.  There's no place like the hot room on a chilly, rainy weekend!  So naturally, I managed to spend about 10 hours at the yoga studio, all told, and more than 6 hours in the hot room.  Sheesh.  It never rains, but it pours!

It's been a great week at the yoga studio.  We started our "60 Day Challenge" on Monday, on the same day as the start of teacher training.  We have a student at this session in San Diego, and we are marking off his classes with stickers on our challenge board.  We're doing a slightly different take on the 60 Day Challenge: instead of having students come to class EVERY day for 60 days, they just have to come 4, 5, or 6 days a week.  Basically, they can set their own challenge.  The "ultimate" challenge is 6 days a week for 60 days, no doubles.  Our studio owner set it up this way because she doesn't want people burning themselves out on overly ambitious challenges, and I totally agree!  I love this!  It makes the challenge really accessible and sustainable for everybody.

Anyway, there's definitely been a boost in attendance this week as a result of the challenge.  I feel like there's been a boost in the studio camaraderie, too - there's something about that ritual of putting stickers on a poster that REALLY brings people together!  (I decorated the board myself and I am very proud.)  New students are getting more involved, regular students are recommitting to their practices, and the energy is palpable.

I put my name up on the challenge board and somehow managed to practice every day this week.  In all honestly, this might be the first time I've practiced 7 days in a row since teacher training... no, since BEFORE teacher training, since trainees get a day off on Sunday!  It feels good.  I also did THREE advanced practices this week - an unprecedented feat for me - bringing my class count for the week to 10, the same as the trainees.  Whoa!  I accidentally was hard-core there for a minute!  In the spirit of the "6 days a week" challenge, I think I will take a day off tomorrow.  When it rains, it pours.... but all good things in moderation!  (Burnout is the nemesis that lurks in the corner for a full time yoga teacher, but I am being vigilant against that enemy.)

Fortunately, I've been really energized by teaching lately.  In addition to the 60 day challenge, our studio also did one of those online coupon deals (similar to Groupon).  Basically, a third party website hosted a Bikram yoga coupon for 24 hours, selling a 5 class card for $20 (ridiculously cheap), and we sold over a thousand coupons!!  Our coupon was live on Thursday.  Since Friday morning, we've had a steady stream of new business coming in - some people who are familiar with Bikram yoga already, but also TONS of newbies!  It's so awesome.  Our attendance is picking up pretty significantly, and there are little handfuls of new people in almost every class.  Did I mention that I love teaching new students??  I love them.  They inspire me so much.  I love when they come out of class with that WOW! expression on their faces and start asking me questions.  My new ones were so sweet tonight.  They come to me after class and tell me about what brought them to yoga class - the stress, the knee problems, the tension - and I'm so glad that they're come to the right place.  I know that the yoga can help them to feel better, and I get to see that little spark of hope in their eyes when they start to believe in it, too.

Man, I can't even talk about that topic without getting carried away!

Where was I?  Oh, yeah.  I had maybe 6 brand new students in my Sunday afternoon class today, plus a whole collection of folks still on their first month.  It never rains, but it pours.  (I knew there was a theme in here somewhere!)

One more thing worth mentioning: I passed the 100 class mark last Wednesday!  I have now taught one hundred and something classes.  I think I'm going to lose track now, but that was one milestone that I wanted to catch!  I "celebrated" by recording my 101st class and then actually practicing to it a few days later.  "Celebrated," hah.  I've been talking about doing this since my first week of teaching, but this was the first time I actually had the balls to record a class and listen to it.

So I finally took my own class on Saturday afternoon, and I was pleasantly surprised - it did NOT make me want to stick a fork in my ear or swear off teaching!  It actually sounded pretty good!  The experience was more than a little bit surreal, because it was like having an audio guide to my thoughts; I was thinking the dialogue and hearing the dialogue at EXACTLY the same time, at the same pace, in the same tone.  Hah!  I also laughed at my own jokes, because I'm a huge dork and I totally forgot that I'd said those things!  I definitely found a handful of things to tighten up, but overall it was solid.  I guess  I'm really not going to lose or forget my dialogue any time soon.  Good for me!  (Never hurts to check.)  Also, my timing rocks - the vast majority of my savanasa on the floor were right at 20-25 seconds, and I never time those anymore.  I was amazed.  The recording experiment definitely made me recommit to the clarity and cleanliness of my dialogue, but it also reassured me that I have a strong foundation and I can keep focusing more on teaching.  And it made me want to keep recording, because I had no idea that taking my own class would be so much fun!  My studio owner and I have decided that we're going to "sneak attack" each other - I want her to record my class when I don't know that she's doing it!

Good times at the yoga studio...  good times.

I love the rain...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Invisible Dartboard

First things first: Huge congrats to all the folks who started their teacher training journey this week!  Today is the third day of Week 1, and I'm quietly counting down until Week 5 when I get to go visit.  I'm having fun stalking you all on Facebook, Twitter, and various blogs.  Guys, stop blogging so much!  I'm never gonna get anything done here!!

When I was nearing the end of my teacher training, I started to get a tiny bit worried about teaching.  I wasn't worried about saying the dialogue.  I had that part down cold.  But like many trainees, I was kinda baffled about the parts in between the dialogue.  Bikram gives us all the words that we need to teach the postures.  He even gives us some bits and pieces to say in between the postures.  (I am very faithful about using some part of his "instructions during savasana" in every class I teach.)  But still there are... let's see... 21 short (twenty-second) savasanas in the class, along with a 2-minute long one in the middle and another long one at the end, where we can say whatever we want.  It's improvisation, and you do it for the first time when you teach your first class.  Yikes!

Well, it turns out that I had nothing to worry about.  (Trust the ____... )  After obsessing over yoga for ages and being totally immersed in it for over two months, I found that I have plenty to say.  (If you've read my blog, this is not exactly a news flash.)  I actually got a lot of compliments on this when I had first started teaching, from students and from other teachers.  I thought it was hilarious when I taught these classes that were nearly 100% verbatim dialogue and nothing else (like seriously, saying the exact same thing 4 times in a row) and students would come out saying "I loved how you used your own words!"  How I did what?!?  That is, like, the opposite of what I did!  But they meant that they liked the stuff that I said in between poses.

So where do I get that stuff?

Number one, I steal it.  Hello, this is not news.  Any Bikram teacher who claims not to do this is lying through her teeth.  We steal from each other liberally and enthusiastically.  I took class with a friend a while back who had tons of great stuff that she said in her class.  When I asked her after class if I could "steal" a certain line from her, she said, "Yeah, I didn't come up with that either, I stole it from so-and-so!"  We love to copy each other.  (In some cases this leads to trouble, which is why we have to keep checking the dialogue...)

Number two, I have been brainwashed by Bikram.  No lie.  It's totally awesome.  I've read every book from cover to cover, multiple times, and I stayed awake for every one of those damn lectures, except for that one time when I closed my eyes for 3 seconds and he caught me.  But this makes my life really easy, because I have Bikram's words in my ear all the time.  It's like having a mini-Bikram riding on my shoulder.  And if there's one thing that Bikram knows how to do, it's talk.  I try to keep listening to my mini-Bikram.

Number three, I just come up with stuff.  I guess this is the "personal practice" aspect.  This is the part that I really can't explain or describe very well, because it just happens.  I think of something that I think the students might need to hear - something that I'd want to hear if I were in the class - and I say it.

So here's the giant question.  How do I know if I'm saying the right thing?

Well... I don't.  Not usually.

At first I thought it was like fishing for invisible fish, but tonight I came up with a better analogy.  It's like throwing darts at an invisible dart board.  The darts are my words, these little pieces of information that I know are right and true.  And the students are all holding up invisible targets.  No two targets are alike, and I can't really see where they are.  Sometimes one dart might graze several targets at once, and sometimes it will fly right past them all without leaving a mark.  Sometimes a dart will fall short of the mark completely, and sometimes it will fly straight and true to pierce the very heart, the bulls-eye.  But of course, once the darts leave my hand, they're not mine anymore.  I don't get to see where any of them end up.  I just keep sending them out, with all the energy and honesty that I have.

There's a fine line between intuition and guesswork.  I know a lot of amazing teachers who never plan their classes ahead of time.  They say that they just know what to say.  It comes to them.  They'll say something in class, without knowing why, and then a student will come up to them after and say, "How did you know?  That was exactly what I needed to hear!"  I've had a few of those moments, here and there.  But it is intuition (vibrational energies align) or just dumb luck (the law of averages)?  Hard to say.  It's probably both.

Earlier this week, I was sitting at the desk after class and chatting with one of the regular students.  We struck up a conversation about the meditation that happens through yoga practice.  I didn't say anything that struck me as particularly new or radical, but my explanation stopped him in his tracks.  He said, "I've been practicing for 6 years and I've never heard anyone put it that way.  That really makes sense."  It was the proverbial "light-bulb" moment for him.  It was a perfect bulls-eye for me.  But... I wasn't even aiming!  I just said something that I knew was true, and it connected to another person.  Fate, skill, or luck?

I just keep practicing.  I have a good supply of darts, and I collect more of them every chance I get.  I send them flying every day, and I doubt that I'll ever really see those targets, but that's no reason to stop.  Because when I do hit those bulls-eyes, when I pierce the heart of the invisible target, I do - sometimes - get to see the result.  The result is yoga glow.  And it's awesome.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"Struggle HARDER!"

Damn, but time flies when you're teaching...

I taught one of my favorite classes ever last Tuesday night.  I actually tried to write about it that night, but couldn't figure out how to translate it into words.  I didn't mean to let THAT much time pass, but then I had a full week of teaching and taking, plus SAT tutoring, plus a fantastic day off yesterday that I spent hanging out on a boat, playing "water frisbee", and jumping off a rope swing into a creek.

But anyway, let's rewind to Tuesday!  My day began innocently enough.  I was teaching at 5pm and decided to practice at 7pm, so it actually felt like a free day, which was terrific.  I slept late, went to the coffee shop, took a walk, called my mom, took care of some car insurance stuff, and made some peanut noodles.

As I was mid-peanut noodle-ing, I got a text message from my studio owner saying that the X State Basketball team had changed their schedule and would be coming to my class that night.  Now, this is great: there's an ENTIRE basketball team that has started bringing them to our Bikram yoga studio once a week - usually on Wednesday nights when I'm not there.  I'd been dying to have these guys in my class.  I thought it sounded like a blast.

This was a lucky break for me!

Naturally, I was pretty excited when I went in to teach the 5pm class.  All the regulars were there - the annual members, the work-study students, a teacher, a teacher-to-be - and then the back row was almost completely taken up by the basketball team.  (They also spilled into the middle and front rows.)  They were all young college guys, almost all African-American, all tall and well-muscled and gangly.  (One of the guys was over 7 feet!)  A couple of them had done Bikram yoga before (last season) but most of them had only done it twice, ever.

Well, any time you have more than a dozen beginning students in a class, you're in for an interesting ride!  When they're all young guys who are kind of self-conscious and not sure that they really want to be in a yoga class, then it becomes even better.

It was the best class EVER.

Before the first exhale in pranayama, I knew that this class was gonna be a good one.  The room was more packed than I've ever seen it, and as soon as I said, "Inhale, head down, arms up, start please," this awesome buzzing sound rose up from the room, and I swear I could actually feel the air vibrating.  I felt the raw energy filling the entire room.  My voice was just another vibration in the air, conducting and directing the energy in the room.  It was fun and effortless immediately, like when your kite gets picked up by the first gust of wind.

Of course, the team was a total mess.  Poor guys.  They're barely more than kids!  And in yoga, they're newborn babies, just trying to figure out if their head is supposed to be up or down, if their mouths should be open or shut.  They seemed kind of embarrassed and awkward, staring around the room, watching their teammates' postures dubiously, startling themselves by falling out of postures, and gaping openly at the ability of the regular students to bend way back.  Some of them really tried hard and did their best the whole time, most of them tried sometimes, and some of them decided that the floor was a great place for a hot nap.  (Our teacher-to-be finally elbowed one of them in the side when he started snoring.)  They were all just collections of long legs and long arms, and the difficulty of the yoga positions had them baffled.  In short, most of them were total yoga WIMPS...

And I just loved teaching them.

Here's the beautiful thing: this class is really, truly designed for these guys.  It's Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class.  It's tailor-made for the students who are kind of wimpy and who are totally clueless about yoga.  When Bikram started teaching this yoga in the United States, in the 1970s, there weren't yoga studios on every corner.  No one had seen this stuff before.  His students were all "sooo bad" because none of them had done anything like this before!  It kinda blows my mind when I imagine Bikram as a young man, teaching yoga classes every day, from dawn until dusk, to people who didn't know the difference between "yoga" and "yogurt."  The class that we teach today has been refined and distilled a bit, but it's still essentially just a transcript of that same original class.

I often think of those early years when I'm teaching classes filled with beginners.  Especially on Tuesday, I was really floored by how easy and fun it was to teach a bunch of really "bad" students.  The dialogue is so perfectly designed for this situation.  It says, "don't be scared," "your back is supposed to hurt like hell," "wait for me, please," and "everybody together."  I tell every class to "struggle harder, don't give up," because it's part of the instructions and it makes perfect sense.  But when you have a roomful of people in front of you who all really want to give up, it makes the words feel authentic and urgent and spontaneous.  "Come on, struggle HARDER!  Don't give up!"  The words resonate.  They fit the situation perfectly, like a key in the ignition of the car.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that the basketball team really gave me a run for my money, but I had way too much fun with them and I wish I could have them in my class every week.

And I'm teaching Sunday triple tomorrow, so now it is bedtime for yogis...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mornings and Nights

Here's something crazy: in a couple weeks from now, probably right around the time that the Fall teacher training starts, I will have taught my first 100 classes.  Phew!  That's an interesting number for me to wrap my brain around...

I've been teaching genuinely full time for the past month, pretty much ever since I visited Massachusetts.  (Full-time meaning 8 or more classes a week.  Usually more.  Like last week, when I had 12.)  I kept waiting to settle into a routine and wondering why I wasn't.  I couldn't seem to figure out the rhythm of my days.  I moved into a new place since the last time I wrote (an awesome new place less than two blocks from the yoga studio), so that's made me feel much more settled, but there still is something weird.

But I think I've figured it out.  Yoga teachers just keep a weird-ass schedule.  No getting around it.  I thought that I was prepared for this after a couple years of service industry.  When I was waiting tables full time, I got used to being on an opposite schedule from the rest of the world, always going to work when everyone else was finishing their day.  I thought it would be pretty similar.

I totally did not take the early mornings into account.  Late nights are pretty normal and easy for me.  But the combination of late nights and early mornings is totally confusing!  I do half of my work before 11am (sometimes starting at like 5:45am) and the other half of my work after 5pm.  (Also weekends.)  This means that my "down time" has shifted, pretty consistently, to the middle of the afternoon.

Unfortunately, there is NOTHING good on TV in the middle of the afternoon!  I need DVR.

Ha, ha.  

So now I'm starting to figure it out.  All those things that I habitually do in the evening - cooking, paying bills, making phone calls, blogging, etc etc - need to get shifted to the middle of the day, and then everything works.  And actually, it can be quite lovely!  I broke in my new kitchen this week with a big pot of corn chowder, made from scratch (even the stock!) with veggies from the weekend farmer's market.  It was a nice day!  I woke up, took class, taught a class, came back home, cleaned the kitchen, started the soup, went back up the street to the studio, taught another class, then came back and finished making the soup for dinner.  SO domestic.  I definitely need to get back to cooking.  But with my house so close to the studio, there are so many possibilities!  I could make bread, let it rise all day, and run back to my house in between classes to punch it down!!  I foresee a lot of baked goods in my future.

Also, I have a question for the other full-time teachers.  Important question.  When do YOU usually practice??  I strongly suspect that I need to start practicing in the mornings.  Like at 6am, because I teach most of the 9:30 classes.  This sucks, because I hate mornings.  But I think that I teach way better when I've practiced first, and then I don't have to worry about missing out on my practice later in the day (which has been happening more often than I'd like, and I feel like my practice is getting kinda shitty).  Thoughts??