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.  :)