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??