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...

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