Saturday, December 31, 2011

Turning of the Season

"Here we come to a turning of the season
Witness to the arc towards the sun."
- The Decemberists 

Happy New Year, all!  I imagine that some of you have already crossed the line into 2012.  I've still got a few more hours left to 2011.  I'm heading out pretty soon to take the 10:30pm yoga class - finishing at midnight, of course! - but right now I'm happily relaxing at home with a cup of tea and some good music.  (The lines that I put up at the top of this post are the first lines of one of my favorite albums this year.)  Just enough time for a blog update!

Compared to 2010, this past year was significantly less dramatic.  2010 was all about change, change, change - finishing/quitting grad school, getting to teacher training, finishing teacher training, moving cross country (again), and starting my new life as a yoga teacher.

This year, I've just kept on that trajectory.  If 2010 was a year for change, then 2011 was a year for expansion.  It's been a full year of full-time yoga, and it's been fantastic.  All together, I must have spent at least 2 months out of the year travelling - weeks of guest teaching in Kentucky, Virginia, Alabama, and Rhode Island, plus a really solid visit to teacher training in Los Angeles, plus the wonderful craziness of Bonnaroo Music Festival (which was definitely a highlight).  In between trips, I have been firmly planted in Baltimore (up until recently), just teaching and teaching and doing my thing, trying to learn new things and get better at my craft.  I made some wonderful friendships, all over the place but especially in Baltimore, that are sure to last for a very long time.  A good year!

There have been some ups and downs, some personal frustrations, but overall it's really been fun.

I think Abraham is totally onto something: "The basis of your life is freedom; the purpose of your life is joy."

(Tangent: Heard of Abraham?  Here's the best summary.  It is woo-woo as all hell and I'm not sure if I believe half of it, but my god, most of the stuff that comes out of Esther Hick's mouth is just spot on.  I get such a kick out of it.)

I know I haven't updated since my move to Rhode Island.  If I had to summarize my feelings about my new job/location in two words, they would be: "fucking fantastic."  It's great being close to home and close to Boston again.  I've seen lots of my Massachusetts yoga family this month, and I hope to see even more Boston people next year!  The West Roxbury advanced class Tuesday is back on my permanent schedule, which makes me so happy.  (My schedule requests to my new boss Molly were as follows: I need Mondays off completely, Tuesday mornings off for advanced class, and Thursday nights off for swing dance class.)  The studio has a permanent staff of four teacher right now (plus a rotating cast of visitors), and three of us are all around the same age and experience level, so we are getting along great.  It's like having siblings - we do fun things together like going out to dinner, seeing movies at the mall, and baking a tray full of brownies in the shape of Santa hats for the annual Solstice party.  Attendance at the studio has been booming this month, and we all anticipate that January will be even crazier - people around here just can't get enough of the yoga!

So onwards we go into 2012.  And if I had to take a guess, I think this year will be more about home.  After all the adventuring that I've done in this last year, I really like where I've landed at the end of all of it, and I'd like to stay here for a while.  I'm making plans to do crazy things such as leasing my own apartment, one bedroom thank you very much, and buying furniture - my own TV set, my own couch!  I know, craziness.  I also have plans to make friendships outside of the yoga studio (see for example Thursday nights) and explore all the lovely restaurants that Providence has to offer.  I also have a fantasy about rescuing a puppy, but we'll have to see about that one.  I seem to have committed to some hang-gliding plans for the summer, so that should be exciting.  And yes, I will keep this blog alive!

Best wishes to all for a fun and/or sweaty New Year's Eve and a very happy New Year!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Disperse and Come Back

The last time I wrote, I was enjoying the scene and sights in Mobile, Alabama.  Since then, I feel like I've spent every week unpacking and repacking my bags.  I extended my stay in Mobile when another teacher fell sick and got back to Baltimore just in time for a weekend house-sitting gig.  Once that finished, I had to immediately pack up all the things in my apartment to make space for my friend Lauren's return.  (I had been subleasing from her while she was at teacher training.)  Now Lauren and I are sharing her apartment temporarily, although I've only been here for half the time, because I went home to Massachusetts for Thanksgiving just a few days after she got back to Baltimore.  

And the big news - might as well say it here at the beginning of the post - is that I'm only going to be in Baltimore for six more days.  I'm teaching my last class here (for now) on Saturday morning, then I'm driving up to Philadelphia to spend the weekend with a friend from California, and then on Monday I am driving to my new home in Providence, Rhode Island!  And yes, of course I will still be teaching yoga.  I'll be at Ocean State Bikram Yoga in Pawtucket, just outside Providence.  It's a beautiful new studio that just opened in last summer.  I visited as a guest teacher last August and had a great time, and they've been saving a spot for me there ever since Labor Day.  

This week is bittersweet.  I feel sad about leaving all my great friends and students in Baltimore, but I'm absolutely thrilled to move back up to New England.  I grew up in western Massachusetts, I went to college in Cambridge, and I got started on my yoga path in Boston.  (Providence is only about an hour from Boston.)  By the time I left Boston in 2008, I already knew that I was going to be a Bikram yoga teacher (eventually, in the future).  So I have a lot of ties to that area, and it will be amazing to live up there again and be closer to both my families - my parents and my yoga family.

I was living in my first apartment in south Boston - okay, technically Dorchester - when I started thinking like a yoga teacher.  I started thinking about the dialogue and the teaching and the students, and I started dreaming about the view from the other side of the podium.  I had wonderful supportive teachers at the downtown Boston studio, especially Jill, Brad, and Tomo, and I also started venturing out to the West Roxbury studio where I met Diane, Teri, and so many of the other people who have become my friends and mentors.  The teachers let me tag along with them to lunch every week, and I picked up some priceless information at the lunch table over pickles and pizza.  I've visited that block on Centre Street almost every time I've gone back to Boston over the past three-and-a-half years, and it's always been a home to me.  So yes, I'm happy about this move - I feel like after all these years of wandering and exploring and growing, I finally can go back and be home.  At least for a while, until my feet get itchy again!

Meanwhile, the past couple of weeks have been amazing.  The best part has been taking class with Lauren.  I've probably mentioned her here before.  (Let's be honest, I'll talk about her to anyone who stands still for more than a minute.)  She was a beginning student of mine just one year ago.  She came in with a Groupon and came just a couple times a week.  Then I tricked her into signing up for the 60-day challenge, and the next thing I knew, she had turned into a serious, kick-ass yogi!  She's lost over 100 pounds with the help of the yoga - it changed her life completely.  In June, she decided to become a teacher, and I helped her study dialogue by the pool all summer.  This fall, she rocked out teacher training.  (Bikram loved her and her amazing backbend.)  And on November 23rd, she taught her first class!

At teacher training, people always talk about how you "close the circle" when you teach your first class.  Well let me tell you - there's a whole other circle that closes when you first take class from somebody who used to be your student!  She's taught 6 classes now, I've taken 3 of them, and each one has been better than the last one.  I don't think I've ever been so proud of somebody other than myself!  This may be how parents feel.  My first yoga baby....

I'm sharing Lauren's apartment right now, so we've been seeing each other constantly.  This means I have been hearing all about her teacher training withdrawls!  She misses her TT friends so much.  I remember what that felt like.  All day long I hear, "oh, Tereza commented on my Facebook photo".... "oh, I got a message from Mithu".... "oh, Yael taught 2 classes today".... It is heartbreaking!

But I keep trying to tell her (and she probably doesn't believe it yet, but eventually she'll find out on her own) - she hasn't really lost any of these people.  They are still there, and she will see them again.

This is what we do, as Bikram teacher.  This is how we are.  At teacher training, you learn to live in this giant yoga bubble.  You're always surrounded by other yogi, trainees and teachers, from all around the world.  And after 9 weeks, you disperse.  Everybody catches an airplane, and the group spreads out to all the corners of the world.  And it's very sad, when that bubble pops.  You feel like you'll never see those friends again.

And then... you see them again. All of our paths criss-cross across the globe. At one time or another, all those connections come back.  When I went to Kentucky last summer, I ran into Mike from Malaysia, who now lives in New York.  The last time I was in Boston, I saw Ben from Australia in a yoga class.  Every time I got back to visit training, I reconnect with other people who I've known - half the staff of this last TT were from my training!  Every time I go to a seminar or a master class, I see familiar faces.  I have friends and teachers who I only get to see once a year, but I always know where to find them and I know that their doors are always open to me. My friend Teri's rule is, don't even ring the doorbell, just let yourself in. The last time I went to her house, I punched in the door code and harassed her cat until she came back from grocery shopping. It's a family.  

This weekend, I went down to D.C. for a couple days of yoga with the international champions, Joseph and Yukari.  This was the first time I've met Yukari, but I've known Joseph for years.  The funny thing is, I can't remember how I met him.  I've seen him at seminar and trainings, and I've seen him compete many times, and at some point I guess I introduced myself or someone introduced me.  So now whenever I run into him, once or twice a year, we say "hey!!" and "how are you?!" and have a nice hug.  Yoga family!

Lauren came down with me for the advanced class on Sunday, and she couldn't believe that Joseph and Yukari were here in D.C., because she had just met them a couple of weeks ago in LA. All day it was, "I can't believe you're here!"  The class was at the Tenleytown studio, where neither of us had ever been, but of course we knew a couple of the teachers there.  I knew the owner from a seminar, Lauren knew her son from a posture clinic, and I knew one of the other teachers (Yasmin) from our mutual friend Charlie Hubbard.  I even ran into a student who reads my blog - Hilary Glassman, here is your shout-out!

Lauren and I had a couple of great classes - the champs absolutely killed us or maybe we just killed ourselves.  They were so gracious and helpful, with lots of tips and encouragement for everybody.  Lauren was amazed at how much attention they gave us, how generous they were with their time and energy.  

And I just keep telling her - yes.  This is how we are.  This is our family.  Your family, too, now - welcome to the family.  Do you understand yet?  Can you believe it?  I know, it takes some time to sink it.  It seems too good to be true.  But this is who we are, and this is what we do.  Share, teach, grow.  We disperse for months and then come back together.  You'll see your friends again - and the people who pissed you off, too, you'll probably see them again, and sometimes you'll even see them in a better light the second time around.

The next time I write, I'll probably have left Baltimore already.  But Baltimore's been my home for the last year and a half, and now it will always be a home for me.  I know which doors to knock on, and believe me, I'll be back.  I just need to go back to New England now and have some time with another part of my family.  I'm going to meet more students, more teachers, and let my family grow even bigger.

In yoga, you never lose - you only gain.

More later, from the other side of the move!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Our Expanding Universe

This is a long one.  Are you sitting comfortably??


On my drive back to the apartment after teaching yoga tonight, I heard a great interview on Fresh Air on NPR.  Terry Gross was interviewing an astrophysicist named Saul Perlmutter who just last month was (jointly) awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.  His team does research on supernovae and the expansion of the universe.  (Kind of like my little sister.  No really, she is a Ph.D. student in astrophysics.)

Anyway, this Perlmutter guy was doing some research on the rate of expansion of the universe.  Everyone know that the universe is expanding, right?  It has been expanding since the Big Bang.  And according to logic and intuition, that expansion ought to be slowing down due to the effect of gravity - stuff attracts other stuff.  Perlmutter's team set out to measure how quickly this expansion was slowing down, which seemed like a cool project.  But once they got the data and crunched the numbers, they found the opposite of what they had expected.  The expansion isn't slowing down - it's speeding up.

This is a cool result which certainly deserves the Nobel Prize, but the really funny part is how nobody can explain exactly why the universe is expanding at a faster and faster rate.  There are lots of theories, all involving something called "dark energy" which basically - to my understanding - fills up the empty spaces in the universe and is multiplying.  I think there must be a Doctor Who episode in there somewhere.

In my favorite part of the interview, Terry Gross asked Saul Perlmutter what the physics community would do if they ended up disproving some theory or law that had previously been validated.  What if, for example, they found that part of Einstein's theory has been wrong and they had to go back and revisit it?  Now, until this point in the interview, Perlmutter had come across as the type who doesn't really get out much - he spoke with the sort of halting, breathless speech pattern of either a non-native English speaker or a total geek.  (Possibly he is both.)  But when Terry asked him that question - what if something we "knew" was true turned out to be wrong? - he answered with the enthusiasm of a little kid:

"That would be our favorite thing!"

He went on to say how wonderful and exciting it would be for all the physicists if one of their theories were proven wrong, because then they could go back to the original problem "and get another crack at it."

What a fantastic worldview, right?

Now back to me (in case you are wondering where I am going with this).  I was not listening to this broadcast while driving my little Toyota Corolla around a city in the northeast, as you'd expect.  I was listening to NPR on the Mississippi Public Broadcast, in Mobile, Alabama, driving around after yoga class in a big Ford pick-up truck.

Let's talk about questioning assumptions and changing worldviews.  Because I am a bleeding-heart liberal hippie, lifelong vegetarian, born and bred in Massachusetts, blue-state registered Democrat, city girl since age 17, and a goddamn professional yoga teacher, and I just discovered that Alabama is friggin' great!

If you would like a soundtrack for this part of the post, here is a video of the band from St. Louis that I saw live at an Irish Social Club in midtown last night.

Now here are some things that have been awesome in Alabama!

- Went with studio owner Lucille, her husband Bill, and fellow teacher Devra to a first-Friday-of-the-month Art Walk in downtown Mobile.  (Which by the way is pronounced Mo-BEEL, as in "automobile," not mobile as in "mobile phone.")  Downtown Mobile is actually pretty cool, and the city has clearly put a lot of work into sprucing it up and making it an attractive place to visit.  Lots of pretty lights and cool old building with intricate ironwork.  Lots of local art and small bars.  One really kick-ass chocolate shop, as well as a roasted peanut shop a little farther down the street, right across from the independent movie theatre which apparently serves beer - payment is on the "honor system."  There was an art exhibit called "Paper Cuts" where everything was made out of hand-cut paper, and it pretty much blew my mind.

-  We ate dinner that night at a restaurant called The Bike Shop.  It used to be a bike shop, and in fact there are bikes hanging from the ceiling and I think you can still buy a bike there.  Now they sell delicious Mexican food, and you can also order off the sushi menu from the Japanese place next door.  Huge beer list, and I got lucky that they had my choice on tap.  Delicious huevos rancheros.

- The scenery, of course, is beautiful.  Big old houses, giant oaks and magnolias, and there are some great drives that go right along the Gulf of Mexico.

-  Some of these radio stations are way better than the pretentious hipster one that I listen to in Baltimore.  There are some good mix stations and MPB plays some awesome bluegrass and jazz on the weekends!  And come on, we are just a stone's throw away from New Orleans.

Great used book store - got three nearly-new books for $18.  Some Sherlock Holmes, the first book in Song of Fire and Ice, and a non-fiction collection from the author of Fight Club.

- I don't eat (much) seafood, but I learned that the blue crabs that they get on this part of the gulf coast are the same ones that Baltimore is known for!  They are only found in two places in the country - Baltimore, and here!  Although 'round here I don't think they soak them in Old Bay seasoning.

- I had one of the best vegetarian sandwiches I've ever had in my life at the Mediterranean sandwich shop downtown.  Grilled vegetable gyro with hummus and feta cheese, in fresh pita bread.  For like 7 bucks.  I could eat that every week.  Also found another Mediterranean place that did a great Sunday buffet.  Also ate at a Waffle House, just because.

-  On Sunday afternoon I went to a Renaissance Faire, of all things!  It was right near the Jersualem Cafe where I had lunch with Lucille and Devra, and one of the yoga students had mentioned it to me that morning.  So I paid my $10 admission fee and spent the next few hours wandering around the fairgrounds being deeply entertained.  Little kids whacking at knights with a stick, belly dancers, arts and crafts, lots of real swords, fried gator on a stick, an actual jousting tournament, homemade root beer, the best fire show I have ever seen, and also - for some reason - camel rides.  Here is a sentence I just never expected to hear: "Why don't you want to go with Bubba and them on the camel?"  Great mixture of accents - about 80% Southern accents, with the remaining 20% talking like they're in a Game of Thrones episode and shouting "Huzzah!!"

Have you run out of music yet?  Here is another track.

Pokey LaFarge & The South City Three "La La Blues" from Filipe Bessa on Vimeo.

- The music you are listening to is by Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three.  I saw them play on Sunday night at a neighborhood hangout spot called Callaghan's Irish Social Club.  It really is a social club - it's the spot where everyone who lives in the neighborhood hangs out.  They have live music at least once a week, and everyone knows everyone.  I mean, I ended up hanging out with a woman named Lisa (friend of a friend), and she could pretty much say "hi" to everyone who walked by.  It was a tiny place and super cool - wouldn't have been out of place in South Boston.  Lots of friendly people, and I loved the music.  I ended up chatting outside with Mr. Pokey LaFarge for 5 minutes during the band's break, and it turns out they had just come down from a tour in the northeast.  Besides playing the Newport Folk Festival, they'd also played the Iron Horse in Northampton (about 10 minutes from the house where I grew up) and they'd played (wait wait don't tell me) Club Passim in Cambridge.  We had a fun chat and I explained to Pokey about Smoots.  (This is an MIT/Boston thing - look it up.)  He is from St. Louis, but his band has been touring all over and they were loving the vibe in Mobile.  I told him about the Bike Shop and the sandwich place.

- After the band finished, I ended up going along with Lisa and a few other women to a late-night place downtown.  Two of these girls, Elizabeth and Tracy, were recently married - to each other!  Tracy told me all about it at Callaghan's - they had a ceremony down here in Mobile, and she said that everyone was a little "curious" about what the wedding would be like, but they just did it "really traditional."  They had to go up to NYC to get legally married, so that was their honeymoon.  They love the south.  "The only bad part is that it's pretty conservative, but everything else is great!"  We all piled into Elizabeth's Prius and went out for drinks, dancing, more music, and pool.  There was one guy at the bar who kept trying to grind with all the girls on the dance floor, and Elizabeth just went up and started dirty dancing all over the place with him (she was a great dancer), just totally winding him up, to the great amusement of all the spectators, which only got better when Tracy stormed through like "What the f**k?!  My wife is dancing with an asshole!" and then went outside for a cigarette.

Oh yeah, and I have taught some yoga out here, too!  The yoga studio - Bikram Hot Yoga Mobile - is absolutely gorgeous.  It's a pretty new studio, so the classes are pretty small, but the people who do practice here are totally serious about it.  They're really good.  Lots of the students here have lived and practiced in other parts of the country, but the hot yoga concept is slowly catching on with the locals, too.  Everyone is friendly and welcoming, and they are happy that I am enjoying their city!

I started off this post by talking about our expanding universe.  And all this was just to say, my universe is continuing to expand.  My universe is expanding at an accelerating rate.  Exploring this city has been like a treasure hunt.  I keep discovering these unexpected gems all over the place.  This isn't even the full list.  I'm still here for three more days.

I had plenty of vague assumptions and stereotypes about "The South", and most of them have been proven wrong.  I mean, there is still plenty of conservatism and religion.  There are some gigantic churches, and each day I drive past this sign that says:


which is just deliciously aggressive and Southern.  But still, I'm driving through these tree-lined streets in the big old Ford, listening to bluegrass, on my way to the chiropractors office, and I'm having a great time.  It's just like Sean Perlmutter, our physics Nobel Laureate, said on the radio.  What if something you "knew" to be true were proven wrong?  "That would be our favorite thing!"  Because then you get to start from scratch and rediscover it all.

I am discovering Alabama for the first time and it is just my favorite thing.

See you Friday, Baltimore!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Life Is _______?

There's a popular quote by Helen Keller that says "Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing."  With apologies to Hellen Keller, I just have to say that life is a fucking blast!  What a trip!

I just feel like sometimes I'm having way too much fun.


- I got to visit teacher training, run around LA for a couple weeks, and teach class to 400+ people a couple weeks ago.  That was very exciting and hasn't quite worn off.

- We are having a beautiful fall in Baltimore and I've just been driving around the back roads with the windows down admiring the colors and listening to an awesome mix CD that my friend Liam made for me when we were visiting training.

- I invented an awesome crockpot recipe for pumpkin curry and it came out great.  Before everyone asks, the ingredients that I used are: one sugar pumpkin, 2 cans chickpeas, 1 can tomatoes, 1 onion, some garlic cloves, curry spices, and coconut milk.  Basically just saute the onions and garlic in oil for 5 minutes, add the spices, then throw everything except the milk in the crockpot and leave it all day.  Then add the milk.  It is super delicious.

- One of my best friends came down from Philly and my sister came up from College Park, and we had an awesome evening last night.  Went out for sushi, then discovered a Greek festival at the church up the street.  Drank ouzo and danced to the live band with all the Greeks.  Then went back home when we couldn't stand up anymore and watched the Princess Bride.  This is my idea of a perfect weekend.

- Bought a plane ticket to go down to Mobile, Alabama on Tuesday to teach for a week.  Just because they had a need, and just for fun.  I've never been to Alabama and I am excited!  I'll be teaching with my good friend Lucy, who I met ages ago through her wonderful blog.  I've never bought a plane ticket on such short notice - only 6 days in advance - and it makes me feel very free and spontaneous.

- Taught a billion classes as usual.  Lots of beginners, some of them even more hysterically funny than usual.  Very enthusiastic, too - makes my day.

- In between teaching classes today, went out for brunch at favorite restaurant and wandered through the shops in my neighborhood.  Had interesting chat with a couple of old guys in an antique store when I walked past and heard one of them say to the other: "Have you ever seen the Mahabharat?"  Attempted to see Chef Gordon Ramsay, who is at a restaurant across the street shooting Kitchen Nightmares.

- SAW CHEF RAMSAY!!  After teaching class!  Stood on the corner with a bunch of neighborhood kids and tried to watch through the windows.  Eventually he came out and we got to see him up close!  He was super sweet with the kids.  He went up to them all mock scary - "Don't you kids have homework to do?"  He is fucking gorgeous in person.  One of the little girls asked if she could take a picture with him, and he said "Yes, of course."  Immediately after the picture was taken, the girl started SOBBING with happiness.  It made my night!  Hoping to see him again tomorrow and actually shake his hand!  He is a very sweet man - his production assistant calls him a "cupcake."

All in all, just way too much fun.

One of the other teachers at my studio was telling me this week, "I'm just so happy every morning when I wake up and I'm pain free!"  (She's been practicing for years, but lately she's had some real breakthrough and is now in the best shape of her life.)  I told her, "Yeah, I know what you mean - I'm happy every morning when I wake up and I'm a yoga teacher!"

And I mean, it's not like everything is sunshine and roses, 24 hours a day.  Sometimes I'm tired, sometimes I'm sore, sometimes I get frustrated or bored with certain things.  Blah blah blah.  But overall?  I just feel like I have some good karma going on and anything can happen.  Life is a fucking riot and I am just happy to be here for it.

Now I must finish my pumpkin curry, eat some pumpkin ice cream, watch another episode of True Blood, and set my alarm for 4:55am. That's the wake-up call for teaching the 6am yoga - UGH!!  So early!  But hell, I don't really mind.  Even with the shitty early morning parts, I wouldn't trade this life for the world.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Teaching the Big Room

As posted earlier today (here), Friday was a big day for me.  I taught a class at teacher training for the first time!  Excitement!  And I know that everyone just has one question - How was it?

It was awesome.

Oh, you want more detail than that?  Okay.

It was really awesome.

Sorry, sorry.  I do have quite a lot to say, and I will get to it in just a second.  But in all seriousness, teaching a big class like that - or teaching any class, for that matter - is an experience that defies description.    There's nothing to compare it to.  Have you ever stood up on an 8-foot tall stage in a chandelier-filled hotel ballroom, looking down on 398 sleep-deprived trainees, and told them, from the side you should look like a Japanese ham sandwich?  You have?!  Great, then you know exactly what it's like!  Oh, wait - you said that you haven't?  Well, then, I've got nothing.  There's nothing in the world that's quite the same.

I will, however, give you a bit of a breakdown.  I'm going to go behind the curtain a little bit - "breaking the fourth wall," as they say.

First, I must say that it was a huge honor and privilege to teach the class.  To everyone who thanked me throughout the day on Friday and told me "great class," thank you all, each and every one of you.  I wish I could hug you all, again.

Was I nervous?  Oh hell yes.  I got a phone call at 8:30pm on Thursday telling me that I was scheduled to teach at 8:30am on Friday, and I proceeded to quietly freak out for 12 hours straight.  I don't even think I slept - I just lay in bed with my eyes closed and pretended to be super relaxed.  (I stopped feeling nervous at approximately 8:34am, when the class actually got going.)

I was also excited and confident, because I had a plan.  I decided to set low expectations and manageable goals.  My first goal was "don't throw up and don't fall off."  That was actually my mantra for the better part of Friday morning.  Whenever another teacher asked me if I was nervous or excited, I told them, "I'm just going to try not to throw up or fall off the podium!"

I did not throw up or fall off the podium.  Goal number one: achieved!!!

My next plan was "smile and say the dialogue," because those are the two things that I am good at.  Know your strengths, right?  This plan may appear simple and obvious, but I did actually put some thought into it.

(This is about to get slightly technical and teacher-y, but bear with me.)

See, in a normal class situation, I am teaching a class that is completely based on the dialogue.  Most of the words that come out of my mouth are straight from the dialogue.  But on top of that, I try to do a lot of individual corrections and explanations, which is where the real teaching comes in.  I've spent the last year building up my ability to interact with the room and give corrections/instructions from within the structure of the dialogue.

For teacher training, I had a hunch (which turned out to be 100% correct) that I would not be able to see the room the way I normally do.  In a class of 5 people, I can pretty much see everything.  In a class of 20 people (normal size), I can scan every body in the room in every posture.  In a class of 40 people (big), I don't see everyone all the time, but I know exactly where my "hot spots" are (the beginners, the newbies, the experienced students who need extra attention) and I can still keep a good handle on the room.  In a class of 400?!?  All of that shit is out the window!  I have no idea how to keep an eye on 400 people at once, let alone assess how they are doing and who needs attention.

Hence, the plan - just smile and say the dialogue.

I played it totally textbook - might have been back in posture clinic! - and I think that was a good choice and a huge success.  I got resoundingly positive feedback from all of the trainees, all along the lines of "it was so nice to meditate on the dialogue," "that really helped me study," and "thank you for the straight-up dialogue."

The trainees were also really happy to have somebody smile at them, since they've had a lot of people yelling at them.  I can get tough if I need to, but man, they were freaking exhausted - end of week five, shit is hitting the fan in posture clinics, Bikram had them up late the night before - and they just needed somebody to be nice to them.  Nice is my default setting.  No problem.  A lot of trainees later told me that they would have sat out, fallen asleep, or left the class if I hadn't been giving them positive energy.  (Now to be fair, plenty of people still did sit out of postures, but what do you expect?  In a class of 20, you might have 2 or 3 people sitting out of a posture.  Scale that up to a class of 400.  Adjust for sleep deprivation.)  I pretty much just plowed along and kept the class moving, with various forms of encouragement (mostly in the less-than-creative form of "good! second set!")

Smile and say the dialogue.  Goal number two: achieved!!!

So those were the goals.  And once I got up on the podium, I managed to have a lot of fun.  I spent all of pranayama telling myself to relax and breathe.  That was the mantra in the back of my head the whole class - keep talking, relax, and breathe.  I actually saw the room much more than I'd anticipated, although it was still a lot like being a brand new teacher.  (All new teachers are blind.)  I couldn't take in the whole room at once, but I did have a sense of its energy.  I saw lots of individual bodies around me, I recognized trainees from the posture clinics, and I was able to call out some names.  That was honestly more than I had expected to do - I was mentally prepared for total new-teacher blindness, which thankfully never happened.  And I could see the group doing postures together, which was totally, totally different - visually different, I mean - from anything I've experience in my career.  It was really cool and I'm dying to see it again.

There was one posture where I really wanted to teach, and that was cobra, for a lot of reasons.  It's a widely misunderstood posture.  I'd heard Bikram yelling at the trainees about it all week, and I'd heard other visiting teachers tweak it in slightly the wrong direction, so I knew that a lot of trainees still didn't get it.  And they had just finished learning the dialogue for wind-removing pose, so they were about to spend their whole weekend studying cobra.  So I thought - aha!  This is a perfect opportunity to clarify something about cobra.

Here is the point that I made, in between the first and second sets of cobra.  The dialogue says, "distribute the body weight all over the hand-palms, equally the same."  This means that all of the body weight should stay in the palms of the hands - that's how you get your chest up so your elbows are at a 90 degree angle.  Even if you're really flexible and strong, you still need to keep the weight on the palms of your hands - that's how you work your upper back and get your shoulders down.  It's not "a little bit" or "10%" or "cheating" - these are common misconceptions - it's all of your body weight on your palms.  I told them exactly this, and I think that some of them were awake and listening, because they did it better in the second set.  And a couple of people mentioned it specifically after the class.  It was the only posture that anyone - teacher or trainee - mentioned in their feedback.

I am thrilled about that.  Because I really felt like I was out on a limb there, standing up on the big stage and saying, you don't understand this pose.  It was the only time in that class when I deliberately took a risk - the rest of the time, I was absolutely playing it safe.  Next time I teach one of those classes - oh please let there be a next time! - I want to take more risks like that.

Here is a testament to how nervous I was: after the second set of rabbit pose - that's 10 minutes from the end of class - I suddenly found myself thinking, "Oh thank god, I'm going to make it!!!"  I haven't had that thought since my first week.

And here is a testament to how awesome it was: I was high as a kite for like 3 days.  Especially walking around on Friday afternoon.  Trainees, you guys made me feel like a celebrity.  It was like Christmas, Chanukah, and my birthday all at the same time.  That kind of fame is fleeting, for sure, but it was an awful lot of fun!  Thank you all for being so kind to me.

In closing, this YouTube video sums up my feelings.

I feel happy of myself!  Thumbs up, everybody!  For rock and roll!

The Big Room

See that little person way up on the podium?

Yeah, that's me.  :)

This is my big news for the week/month/year: I taught a class at teacher training on Friday morning!  It was awesome.  I'm still pretty high from it.  There are almost 400 trainees in this class, plus the room can accommodate a couple hundred visiting teachers, staff, and guests.  These pictures don't even capture the scale of it.  These teacher training rooms aren't just big, they are huge.  The room is 13 rows deep, and about 3x as wide.  That's why the podium is so tall.  Huge.  Yoga.  Room.

I am going to write a nice long post about what it was like to teach the class, so check back later.  I just wasted a whole bunch of time messing around with my blog layout to make the text area wider, which resulted in a bunch of other changes, so let me know if it looks okay.  

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Postcards from the Edge of the Bubble

Alright folks.... this is just a quick dispatch from the yoga bubble in Los Angeles!

I'm right in the middle of my (hopefully!) annual visit to the Bikram Yoga Teacher Training.  This is my second time visiting.  I graduated Spring '10, went back to visit the Fall '10 training in San Diego, and now I am back exactly one year later to visit the Fall '11 training in Los Angeles.  I got here last Wednesday afternoon - the middle of the 4th week, for those who are keeping track - and I will be here for all of week five.  Woohoo!

Here's the tally so far:

Classes taken: 6.  (I skipped the Thursday night class, but then took the Saturday make-up class because one of my friends from my training was teaching.  Eddieeeeee!)

Classes with Emmy:  1, hurrah.  "Don't just wave your leg around in the air.  What are you doing?"

Classes with Bikram:  None yet.

Bikram sightings:  1 brief.  I did have the chance to say hi and give him a hug.

Anatomy lectures:  Er.... some.  Learned some good stuff but also took advantage of the "come and go" option.  Ah, the luxury of being a visiting teacher.

Free chiropractic adjustments:  1, awesome.  Lumbar spine goes pop.  My right hip is now in its socket correctly for the first time in some while.

Bollywood movies:  None.  Again, the luxury of being a visiting teacher.  The trainees had one late Bollywood night and they were pissed.

Visits to Traders Joe and/or Ralphs:  Approximately 10.  (Feels like.)  Both are walking distance from hotel!  Win!

Chocolate-covered peanut butter pretzels eaten: 1 bag.

Beaches visited:  2.  Malibu Beach and Manhattan Beach.  Great success, very windy.  Still have sand in hair.  Saw about 20 kite surfers - very cool.

Let's see.  This post is not very profound.  The profundity will come later, once I get back home and process everything.  I do have to say that it is great to be here meeting all the trainees!  A bunch of blog readers have come and introduced themselves to me ("Are you the Dancing J??") and that is super awesome.  Keep doing that.  Actually, if you're a trainee, quit reading this blog and go study triangle pose. This one could be a long week.  Don't ask me, I don't know anything, I just have a hunch!

I will also say that one year, for me, makes a big difference.  When I first revisited training in 2010 (blog post here), it was kinda rough.  By "rough," I mean "totally weird and confusing" and "I had no idea what the fuck I was supposed to do."  But the second time around feels much better.  I've spent enough time teaching now - and not just teaching, but also giving feedback, getting feedback, and spending time with senior teachers - that I actually feel like I can offer something beyond a friendly face.  I feel much more comfortable on the other side of the notebook.  I actually led a posture clinic room on my second day here - a prospect which I found frankly terrifying - and it was fine.  It was actually quite fun!  Challenging, for sure, but fun.  To my own surprise, I found that I had a good amount of helpful feedback to offer and I was able to give said feedback without blabbering like an idiot.  (Lessons learned from the last time around: talk slowly, be clear and specific, don't scare the children.)  We polished off balancing stick, did ALL of standing separate leg stretching, and finished up with 3 triangles!  (It was an afternoon clinic.)  The students are doing great and it feels good to be involved in their "process."

That's enough for now.  I may be opting out from some of the sleep deprivation, but I suspect that I will still be working hard this week.  More later... reflections and pictures will come next week!

P.S.  For all the TT blog junkies, I refer to you Brian Keith's blog.  It is fantastic!  I met him this week and he is such a good guy.  (Brian, I hope we will chat more this week if you're not dead on your feet!)  And his sidebar has a complete index of all the Fall '11 blogs.  Eat your hearts out.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"Really Into Suffering" - Or Not

I spent last weekend camping and hiking out in Shenandoah National Park, in the mountains of Virginia.  It was absolutely beautiful out there - crisp mountain air, wonderful hiking trails, hardly any crowds, leaves just starting to turn orange.  I went with a friend and my sister and we had a great weekend.

We also had a cold weekend.  It was much colder than we'd expected - we were prepared for it to be down into the 50's or 40's at night, but it clearly went down into the low 30's, because we woke up on Sunday morning and saw snow.  When we made camp on Saturday night, it was cold, rainy, and windy.  It took us ages to get our fire started, and the wind actually blew some rain up the side vents and into our tents, so that everything was covered with a thin layer of water.  Long story short, it was the coldest sleeping experience ever.  It would have been fine with a nice all-weather sleeping bag, but we only brought our mid-weight sleeping bags, and the sleeping bags got wet on the inside.  Oh, and we pitched our tents on a slight hill.  So my friend and I spent the night with our sleeping bags pressed up side-by-side, trying to keep warm and trying not to roll down the hill.  It was totally worth it, but man was it cold!

A few days ago, I was in the yoga studio parking lot before class trying to organize my sleeping bag and tent (which had been hastily flung into the backseat of my car when we broke camp on Sunday morning).  I got talking with one of my students, Hugh, who was also there early.  Hugh is totally into camping, so he was interested to know where I had gone and how it was.

I told Hugh about our lovely cold-weather camping adventure, and he said, Hmm.  It sounds great, but his kids probably would not like it.  He has two young boys - ages 7 and 10, I think - and he wanted to take them somewhere over the weekend.  But, he said, the boys were not fans of cold-weather camping because "they are not really into suffering."

I thought that was great - hilarious and to-the-point - and for some reason, it stuck in my head.  I've been thinking about those words for the last few days, trying to unpack the implications.  Little kids, we have decided, are not really into suffering.  What about the rest of us?  Are we really into suffering?

Well, yes.  Kind of.  I mean, we don't really like it when it's going on, but we sure love to brag about it as soon as it's finished!  We come back home, out of the cold, and we just love to tell our friends how it was so cold.  Back in Shenandoah, on Sunday, we hiked up to a summit called Mary's Rock and literally sat in clouds of snow.  There were six other hikers up there at the same time - three 11-year-old boys and three middle-aged men.  (All of them were awesome.)  As we climbed back down, out of the wind and snow, one of the adults grinned at me and said, "This will really be something to tell them at the office on Monday!"  Snow hiking!  We get bad-ass wilderness points.  We get bragging rights.  Sweet!

In hot yoga class, people do this all the time, especially the new folks.  They're proud of themselves for surviving - and rightly so! - and they run right out to tell their friends about it.  I remember one lady who valiantly struggled through her first class.  After the class, while recovering in the lobby, she asked me how hot the room had been and how many people had been in the class - she wanted to text her daughter to brag about what she'd just endured.  Adorable.

Almost everybody does this, at least to some extent.  It's not limited to newbies, either.  Bikram junkies - you know who you are - we have all done this at some point.  After the brutal class, there is the Facebook status update: "Forty people in class today, 70% humidity, only sat out once."  Go, you!  (Yes, of course I have done this.  I probably wouldn't even sit down.)  There's also the overachiever version: "Just did 10 classes in a row - without drinking any water!"  And the teacher training version: "175 degrees in the yoga room, fingers and toes went numb after eagle pose, girl behind me puked, and half the class left the room including Bikram."  Ohgod.  Really?  Are we really proud of this?

It sure is fun to glorify our suffering sometimes, and it's totally fine and normal - up to a point - but is this really a great idea?

Hugh's two little boys are "not really into suffering," and this seems like a more reasonable approach.  Even Bikram says it, in his book: "You don't have to be a hero or a martyr."  Just do the best you can, one class at a time.

Here's the other interesting part.  The more we pay attention to our own suffering - you know, ohgod ohgod, I'm done, I'm dying, fuck all these turtles, stick a fork in me, I'm done - the more we actually suffer. I'm not against some creative internal cursing in class - that actually helps.  But if you clutch onto your suffering too tightly, you can prolong it.  If you lie on your mat chanting, it's too hot, it's too hot, it's too hot, you might not even notice it when the room cools down.  You'll miss out on the relief.  You can create a whole world of suffering for yourself inside your head.  In the meantime, reality might be doing something completely different.  The teacher may have taken pity and turned the thermostat down when you weren't looking.  Anything can happen!

It's all about noticing what's actually happening.  Don't get stuck inside your head.

Here's an example which I've just been dying to use.  In the dialogue for fixed firm, near the beginning, there's a line about the knees and feet.  "If your knees or feet hurt, you can open your knees."  [Yes, dialogue nerds, I am fixing the typo.]  One of the teachers at my studio has changed the line just ever so slightly.  (Unintentional, I'm sure.)  This teacher now says: "If you have any knee or foot pain, you can open your knees."

Now, this is so nit-picky that I feel bad about even bringing it up, but I see a big difference between those two lines.  If you ask someone, "Do your knees hurt?" - that's the correct version - you are asking them to assess their present situation.  The word "now" is implied.  Do your knees hurt now?  But if you ask someone, "Do you have any knee pain?" that is a totally different question.  That isn't a question about now.  That is a question about a person's history.  That will make the person think about how her knees felt this morning, yesterday, last week, last month, last year.  Any knee pain?  Yeah, in February my knee really bothered me.  Guess I'd better not do this posture.  Whoops.  Wrong question.

Your body is different every day.  And if you're paying attention, you can see differences from day to day.  Your past suffering doesn't matter, is not relevant.  Do your knees hurt now?  The answer can change, but only if you're asking the right question.

As Bikram likes to say: "Don't listen to your fucking brain!"  (I love that.)  Your brain may be totally into suffering.  Your body might tell you a different story.

My teachers in New England pointed out something really cool to me last month - something that I had already witnessed, but hadn't completely noticed yet.  As a teacher, I know that everyone comes into class with a different story.  Some people aren't too concerned about their stories - they just get in there and do the class as well as they can.  Some people are really concerned about their stories - they can't do the class without telling the teacher a laundry list of their (perfectly normal) aches and pains.

Which students do better in the class?  Well, by now I'm sure you can guess.  (If you think about it, it's obvious.)  The ones who are constantly retelling their tales of woe will have a hard time.  They tend to give up pretty early in the game.  But the ones who are open-minded and give it a fair try will end up telling a totally different story.  A new story.  A story that starts with these words: "I used to."  As in: "You know, I used to have so much back pain that I couldn't put on underwear, but now I am wearing underwear again!"  That's a true story.

Absolutely wonderful.

The lesson, I think, is simple.  Pay attention to your body, take care of yourself, but don't be attached to your suffering.  Don't glorify it.  Just let that story go.  Before too long, you'll have a new story to tell.

"I used to...."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Without a Doubt

I used to agonize over decisions.  I'd rather see one clear course of action than two possibilities that both looked good.  Never mind choosing between a rock and a hard place; I'd be stressed out if I had to choose between a water mattress and a feather bed.  Two great internship opportunities?  Two suitable apartments available on Craigslist?  Two careers to choose between?!  In that last example (which refers to grad school vs. yoga, by the way) it only took me two years to figure my shit out, and I worried about it the whole time.

Before I went to teacher training, I hadn't even decided what I would do with myself when I got my certificate.  I knew that I wanted to teach full-time, but when, where, and how?  Should I stay in Santa Barbara and try to make it work as a California yogi, driving up and down the coast to different studios, popping in to see Bikram on Saturday mornings, trying to convince other teachers in Santa Barbara that they really ought to have a look at that dialogue?  Should I go overseas?  Should I pull up roots and make a fresh start?  What should I do?

And then one day, I woke up and realized that I knew the answer.  Of course I was going to move.  I was going to find a studio owner who I trusted and move to wherever she happened to live.  Of course.  There was never a question.

Three months later, Baltimore.  Decide what to be, and go be it.

Since then, I haven't really had trouble making big decisions.

You know how, when you are trying to make a tough decision, people tell you that you should "sleep on it"?  That's pretty great advice.  When you sleep, your subconscious does its best thinking.  With your conscious mind out of the way, your brain pulls apart strands of information, rewires the data, and makes new connections.  If you ever take a look at the science of sleep and dreams, it's incredible how much activity your brain accomplishes when you are drooling onto your pillow.  Your subconscious is smart as hell and it can do a lot of the heavy lifting for you if you give it a chance.

But when I'm trying to make a decision these days, I don't sleep on it.  I practice on it.

This works.

Sometimes, the best way to find an answer just this: get in a hot room, listen to someone else's voice for 90 minutes, sweat your brains out, balance, stretch, and twist.  Do this until you've completely forgotten the question.  By the time you remember what your question was, you'll already know the answer.

In the yoga room, the right way is the hard way.  In life, not always.  I think that the "right way" is usually just the way that feels right.  The right decision is the one that makes you feel peaceful and happy.  When you can get your mind to settle down and step out of the way, it's simple to notice how you feel and figure out what that tells you.

It also helps to understand that there are no mistakes, not really.  Even if there are two roads diverging in a wood, who can say that they won't come back to the same place?  Maybe one of them is just the scenic route.

Or as it says in my beloved little Zen cookbook:

Everything is leading you, pushing you,
instructing you, bugging you to supreme,
perfect enlightenment.  This means
there are no mistakes.  You might do it
differently next time, but that's because
you did it this way this time.

I paraphrased from this in my yoga class this morning, because I really love it.  It reminds me of that bit in How Yoga Works when the girl teacher says that, in order to do a yoga pose right, you first have to do it a thousand times slightly wrong (though not if your teacher has already corrected you).  It's all part of - dare I say it? - the process.  Doubt has nothing to do with it.

You already know what to do.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Planet Bikram

Just in case you missed this...

I was reading the news online yesterday (at the crack of dawn while I was waiting for my 6am students to show up) and I saw an arresting article from the UK Telegraph.

It appears that astronomers have discovered a second planet that is in the right zone to support life.  (The first was discovered in 2007.)  It's in what they call the "Goldilocks zone" - not too hot and not too cold for the presence of liquid water, which is a prerequisite for life as we know it.

"But," the article says, "its hot sticky conditions mean it would be likely to feel like a steam bath and an uncomfortable place for humans."  The temperatures range from 85 - 120F and the air is humid.

Holy crap.


Forget about the 747 taking off - we need to commandeer a space ship and go colonize ourselves a planet!  Unfortunately it's 35 light years away, so it's gonna take us some time to get there, but at least yogis are patient.  Right?

The planet is also more massive than Earth, so any life forms would probably be "shorter and squatter."  Bikram is not a tall guy.  Insert your own joke here.

Yay for Planet Bikram.  I'm so delighted.

Full article is here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Chance in a Million

Here is a strange but true story.

I spent the end of August and beginning of September guest-teaching at the lovely new Ocean State Bikram Yoga in Providence, Rhode Island.  I taught plenty of classes, had a great visit with Diane up in Massachusetts, went to the Salisbury Reservation with Teri, went to the Horseneck Reservation by myself, and spent "hurricane day" watching three consecutive Harry Potter movies with a fellow yoga teacher.  It was a great visit.

I drove back to Baltimore on Tuesday and it rained.  The whole way.  (In fact, several days later it is still raining and there's some sort of "flood watch.")

It sucked.

But!  There was a bright spot in the middle of that shitty 9 hour drive.

As I was driving down the New Jersey Turnpike (in a light drizzle, rather than a torrential downpour), in the middle lane, minding my own business, the car in the left hand lane started swerving into the center as if he was going to cut me off.  Thinking "this fucking idiot is trying to kill me," I beeped my horn several times to say "hey! I'm driving here, don't kill me."  The car keeps swerving over and I keep beeping my horn.  As the car pulls ahead to pass me, I look over to see the driver waving his hand in the air and grinning at me like a lunatic.


It was somebody I knew.  A friend of mine from Los Angeles who works at the Bikram Yoga Headquarters and helps out with the teacher trainings.  His name is Balwan, and in addition to being an utter fucking lunatic, he is a good friend of mine.

Who - did I mention? - lives in LA, and therefore had NO business driving around the Jersey Turnpike in a car with Pennsylvania plates at 2pm on a Tuesday.

So anyway, Balwan passes me and pulls into the center lane.  I switch lanes and drive past HIM to make sure my eyes haven't deceived me.  Sure enough, I look over as I pass and there is Balwan.  Waving and grinning.  I grinned and waved back, and finished passing him.  Then he came by and passed me again.  (More waving.)  We repeated this duet several times.

Then I reached for my cell phone and called his number.  He picked up right away.

"What the fuck are you doing here?!"

"Juliana!!  We should stop for a second!"

"I thought you were some asshole who was trying to kill me!"

"Yes!  I had to get your attention!"

Sigh.  "What are you doing here??"

"Oh!  Ah - we should stop for a second!"

Okay, okay.  I wanted to stop at one of the service stations, but those are few and far between, and Balwan (having come to New Jersey from India by way of Beverly Hills) does not really understand about toll roads.  So we ended up exiting the turnpike, paying the toll, and driving to the nearest gas station we could find.



We had a big hug in the rain and went into the gas station to talk for a second.  I couldn't really stay, since I had to teach a class at 5:00, but neither could he, since he had a flight out of Philly at 4:30.  (It was already like 2:00.)

Make long story short, Balwan was visiting a friend in Philadelphia for two days.  While he was on the east coast, he decided to go up to teach at class at the Bikram studio in New Haven, Connecticut.  Then he had to drive back down to catch his plane.  So while I was driving from Rhode Island to Maryland, he was driving from Connecticut to Pennsylvania.

I asked him if he had recognized me by my car (which is the same one that I drove in California) or by my bumper sticker (which says Bikram Yoga for You/ 26 + 2).

"Bumper sticker?  Oh!  No - mm - when I am driving, I will look to the side to see who is in the cars, and I looked and saw that it was you!"


"I could not believe.  I had to drive past several times to be sure."

"And then you tried to kill me."

"Yes!  Mm - I had to get your attention!"

"I can't believe you saw me."

"I cannot believe either!  You know, in India things like this would happen sometimes, but in United States, this never happened to me before."

Several traffic lights, one U-turn, and one tollbooth later, we were both back on the Turnpike and Balwan zipped past me at about 85 miles an hour so that he would catch his flight.  (Who taught him driving, Bikram?)  I can only assume that he made it, since this was the last that I heard of him.  I will have to ask him when I see him at the training in October.

The life of a yogi....

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Wealth Management (Having Doesn't Mean Anything)

I spent a couple weeks this month house-sitting at a gorgeous house in a nice part of town.  A house with an outdoor Jacuzzi, a well-stocked fridge, a turret that you can climb up into, and two cute (though high-maintenance) dogs.  A house so great that I think of it in capital letters: The House.  Woe is me, life is so hard.  Seriously, I love my life.

Near the end of first week, one of the occupants of this house popped back in for a couple of days (to do some work), and we ended up having a series of intriguing conversations.

This guy - I'll call him "B" just in case he doesn't feel like appearing in a yoga blog - works as a wealth management consultant.  I'm not sure that I've got the title correct, but I got the gist of what he does: he works with people who are super-wealthy (a very technical term referring to people with so much money that you use at least 8 digits to describe their wealth) and he helps them figure out how to manage these frankly ridiculous amounts of money.  (This explains The House.)  B is a sweet, thoughtful guy, and although his wife (a regular student of mine) has not yet persuaded him to make an appearance in the hot room, he is curious about the whole concept of yoga and Bikram yoga and What Do You Do To My Wife In There.

So B and I poured some wine and got to talking.  He told me - in very general terms, of course, no confidentiality breached - about some of the clients who he's been working with.  One client recently inherited an 8-figure sum of money.  Wow, right?  Well, B was visiting with this guy in the hospital after he had pretty significant, life-threatening heart problems.  The client is only in his 50's, he's got more money than most people even dream of in their lifetimes, and he's lying in a hospital bed.  And B is convinced that the money is what put the client in that hospital bed - the stress of it!

Now let's think about this, seriously.  Beyond, "Oh, boohoo, cry me a river."  What's really wrong with this picture?

B told me that some of his clients are well adjusted and handle their wealth beautifully - giving to charities, doing good works, raising happy families - but many are not.  They are so overwhelmed by their financial wealth that it starts to overshadow everything else.  He said that when he first meets with a client, he makes sure to ask them some simple questions: What are you doing to take care of yourself?  (Are you eating properly?  Are your kids happy?  How are your grandkids?  How's your stress?)  Are you healthy and happy?

He says that these questions will stump the new clients every single time.  They haven't thought about it. "Or maybe they just never expected me to ask them those questions."

Wealth management!  What does it mean, really?  What is wealth?

These are such great questions that are so easy to overlook.

Here's the yoga perspective.  First, let's just suggest that "stress is the root cause of all diseases, even communicable ones."  I believe that's from Bikram's guru, Bishnu Ghosh.  Very old idea, definitely relevant to the questions.

Second - and I know you've heard this one before, but that won't stop me - "Having doesn't mean anything if you don't know how to use it."  That's from Bikram.  All Bikram teachers - and many Bikram students - have heard that line so many times that sometimes it almost loses its meaning, going all singsong like a nursery rhyme.  Boss calls out, "Having doesn't mean anything if you don't know how to...?" and every teacher trainee still awake shouts out "Use it!" with varying degrees of enthusiasm, depending on how many hours she slept that night and how many times Bikram has already asked the same question that week.  (Yes, of course this is primitive brainwashing.  "I wash your brain!  It is filthy!")  End result: we can all repeat those words in our sleep.

And still, that statement is probably one of the truest things ever said.  We have everything - food, clothing, shelter, water, possibly $15,000,000 - and still we're stressed and unhappy.  In other parts of the world, the people have almost nothing, and many of them still manage to be happy.  What are we missing?  We have everything we need, but we don't know how to use it, so we still see problems everywhere.  I told all of this to B, local neighborhood wealth manager, and he was nodding his head in absolute agreement.  He'd never heard it before - all news to him! - and he thought it was spot on.  From what he'd seen with all his clients, all these lost souls with incredible bank account balances, he had pretty much figured out the same thing.

What's the answer?  If you want to learn to use everything you have, what should you do?

Well, that's easy: yoga.

I am a yoga teacher, what did you expect.

But seriously.  It doesn't have to be yoga, but you have to do something to take care of yourself.  That's first and foremost.  If you're not taking good care of yourself, then you'll be no use to anyone else.  Forget about self-sacrifice and just be good to yourself.

And don't make the mistake of thinking that your problems will all be solved if you can just get something else - some more money, a different job, a new relationship, a new apartment.  Yes, some of those things are great.  (I got a new job and it changed my life.  I'm moving to a new apartment and I'm very happy about it.)  But you can't keep waiting to be happy tomorrow, because then you'll always be waiting.  Stop that.  You have so much already, I guarantee it.  Wherever you are, whoever you are, you have something.  Most likely, you already have everything you'll ever need.  You have your body.  You have your mind.  You have your spirit.  Those three things will be with you for your entire life.  That is your wealth.

Just figure out how to use it.

Didn't I tell you in the beginning that I love my life?  I meant it.  I really did.  I have a job that doesn't feel like work.  I have amazing friends, family, and teachers.  I have a great spine.  I have a messy apartment with some used furniture.  I have some ice cream in the fridge (mostly gone).  I have blue car (a Toyota Corolla named Callie), and in the trunk I have a hula hoop, a beach chair, a grassy towel, some road maps, cashews and Pedialyte (in case of emergency) and a kite.  I have a sunburn from a weekend on a boat.  I have a gig in Rhode Island at the end of this week and some new CD's for the drive.  What more could I ask for?  I have everything.

So do you.

Monday, August 8, 2011

90 Minutes off the Grid

I read a great article from the Wall Street Journal this weekend about "The Heady Thrill of Having Nothing to Do."  It was written by Scott Adams - the creator of Dilbert - and I'm very sorry that I can't link you to the full text, because apparently WSJ articles become "subscriber content" after a couple of days.  But here's how the article began:

We've won the war on boredom! If you have a smartphone in your pocket, a game console in the living room, a Kindle in your backpack and an iPad in the kitchen, you never need to suffer a minute without stimulation. Yay!
But wait—we might be in dangerous territory. Experts say our brains need boredom so we can process thoughts and be creative. I think they're right. I've noticed that my best ideas always bubble up when the outside world fails in its primary job of frightening, wounding or entertaining me.

There's been plenty of other text - whole books! - written on the perils of modern overstimulation.  It seems that our brains are being significantly rewired, if not completely turned into mush, by our relentless addictions to Facebook, text messaging, Twitter, and the like.

But Scott Adams puts a slightly different twist on the idea.  He basically says - You know, it's too bad we never have to get bored anymore, because our brains do their best inventing when they are temporarily under-stimulated.  Then he says - In a world where no one every gets bored and creativity dies, all the movies are going to be lifeless, derivative sequels, all the television is going to be unscripted nonsense, all the politics is going to consist of tedious, partisan bickering.... oh, wait.  That sounds suspiciously familiar.  Oh damn.

We've been raised to multi-task, and I am not sure this is so great after all.  I find that I have to deliberately force myself to single-task.  If I want to read a book, I first have to power down the laptop completely and go sit on the porch.  If I'm even in the same room as my little MacBook, the actual book will end up on the losing side of the battle.  And I love books!  (I have been reading a lot this summer.)  I always feel great after focusing all of my attention on one thing - and I like doing it! - but single-tasking takes a conscious act of will.

Now here's where yoga comes to the rescue!  For at least 90 minutes of your day - assuming a 90 minute yoga class, of course - you are forced to turn off your fucking iPhone and pay attention to just one thing. Off the grid.  No email, no updates, no texting, no nothing - just you, your body, and the teacher's voice.

You're still being stimulated, of course, but in a totally different way, because your attention has to stay in the room.  As Bikram says, we are trying to "bring the mind back into the body," which is the hardest thing in the world to do, for even one second.

Maybe you don't achieve that perfect meditation.  (Who does?)  That's okay.  You'll still get the benefits that you need, because at least you've removed yourself from all that outside chatter.  It's a 90 minute mental vacation, in more ways than one.  Maybe sometime during the second set of pranayama, after repeating the same inhale-exhale exercise fifteen times, your brain gets a little bit bored.  Well, Mr. Adams is saying that this is also good.  This is what your brain needs in order to be creative.

This surely helps to explain why so many great thinkers are famous for retreating from civilization.  For Henry David Thoreau (the obvious example, sorry), even working at a pencil factory in Concord, MA in the 1840's was too much of a distraction.  God knows what he would make of the internet!  Thoreau brought the Bhagavad Gita with him out to Walden Pond, but you know, those long epics can get boring after a while.  Maybe he got bored with Arjun and Krishna's eloquent but repetitive back-and-forth after a while (many yoga teacher trainees can relate to this feeling) and just sat around staring at the trees, and that's what gave him all his beautiful new ideas.

Of course, now it's 2011, and it's tough enough for us to switch off a laptop for more than a day, nevermind building a log cabin on a freaking pond in Massachusetts.  But at least we can go to yoga and do the same exact sequence again, listening to the same exact words as last time, freed from the outside world for 90 minutes.

Haven't you ever had a really great idea in the middle of yoga class?  One of those fantastic ideas that drops into your brain from out of the blue?  Afterwards, you can't say what made you think of it.  You didn't even have to go looking for it.  It just came to you.  That's because your brain was in a different state.

So please, let's just get all the policy makers, authors, CEOs, musicians, senators, script writers, television producers, teachers - and hell, even the comic book artists - and shove them in a hot room for 90 minutes!  Then we'll see if we can't get some creative new ideas around here.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Open All the Doors

"When you do yoga, all the doors is open, PLUS you create hundreds and hundreds of new doors and windows." - Bikram, teacher training, 5/27/10.
For more than a week, the city has been slumped under another "record breaking" heat wave, with heat index values in the triple digits.  It was a humid one.  I'd shower after the morning yoga class, get in my car to do errands, and immediately feel like I needed another shower.  Instant sweat!  Phew!  I don't mind sweating when I'm in my cool little yoga outfit, but sweat-soaked dresses, shorts and t-shirts are another story.  My friends and I have mostly spent our afternoons indoors, hiding in air conditioned basements and watching old movies on Netflix.

Today - it rains.

Not just a little bit of rain, but a full-on, glorious, noisy summer thunderstorm.  I got back to my apartment just in time, and my roommate and I shut off the A.C. and opened all the doors and windows. Cool, fresh air - fantastic!  We let the indoor cat run out onto the porch, since she wouldn't go far with the rain.  When a big noise scared her in the street, she bolted from the front porch, through the house, and all the way out onto the back porch.  (She is still out there happily, crouching under a chair and munching on green things.)  It's cooled down so much that I tossed a light pashmina scarf on over my sundress, feeling slightly chilly from the breeze.  The rain is still coming down - drip, drip, drip - the weeds are already growing at twice their normal rate, and lots of interesting crawly things are coming out of the ground.

And as we threw open all the doors and windows, I felt a little tickle at my memory, and I remembered Bikram, in the middle of another late night lecture at teacher training, saying something about yoga.  Yoga opens all the doors and windows, and then makes new doors and windows.

I love that.  When I think of those words, I can practically feel the breeze that swept me away from my old life and into something new and strange and wonderful.

I've got another one: Yoga is the rain after a heat wave.  Yoga is the fresh breeze, and yoga - ironically! - is the cool air.  Yoga is water in a dry ground.

You come to yoga dry and brittle, tired.  Yoga wakes you up.  Yoga opens up all those parts of your body that have been neglected and underused, and it brings the circulation and vitality back into them.  You thought you were getting old?  Emmy always said, "you are only old when your joints are no longer juicy."  Yoga is the oil can - yoga makes your joints juicy.  It opens up your spine so that the life force can get back in.  Yoga makes you drip sweat out of every pore - did you even know there was that much water in your body? - just to let you know that you are alive and you are growing.  Yoga comes like the rain and makes things change and grow - tomorrow, when we step outside, everything will be greener.  Everything will look new.

The heat wave diminishes, and a new cycle starts.

Yoga is fresh air in your lungs.  Yoga is relief.

Yoga is rain.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Basic Needs of Human Survival

For number 517 (approximately) on my list of "Reasons Why Teaching Yoga is the Best Job," I want to share some words from a musician.

Karl Paulnack, the director of the music division at Boston Conservatory, gives a speech to incoming music students about how music is a basic need of human survival:

"Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.

"If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.”

Yoga teacher trainees, take note.  This applies to us, too.

Every day, students walk into the hot room, some of them for the first time.  Some of them will need saving - from broken hearts, from turbulent minds, from aching souls.  And it's not like the E.R., where the wounds are obvious - you might never even know which people need saving.  But sometimes, you might save them anyway.  It depends - partly - on how well you do your craft.  So practice with attention, with care, and with love.


Note:  I read Paulnack's speech at this photo blog, written by a very talented young lady who is recording her time as a Swedish exchange student - worth a look!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Soon in Your Lifetime

I am visiting a studio in Virginia this week as a guest teacher, and it is really a joy to be here.  The teachers and students have been so welcoming.  I'm staying with a friend from my teacher training, and we've been staying up well past her bedtime looking through our yearbooks and reminiscing.  (When will that get old?)

When I did the "traveling teacher" thing in Lexington last month, I felt that it took me a few days to really get my footing on the podium.  It was tricky to learn all the different names, manage the different room, figure out the different atmosphere.  For just those first couple classes, I felt like I was starting from scratch!

I'm not sure what's different this time - it's probably just practice - but I felt comfortable teaching here from the very first class.  Is comfortable the right word?  Teaching is never truly easy, just like the practice is never easy - it's a mental tightrope, a challenge every time.  But I felt really good - calm, relaxed, breathing normal, everything under my control.  I was able to learn almost every single name within the first 20 minutes.  I had some rapport - when I cracked little jokes, people actually smiled and laughed.  (It definitely helped that my friend was in the class!)  I guess I hit the ground running.  This never happened before!

I sure hope I'm not jinxing myself for tomorrow's classes...

There's a great expression that I heard somewhere (and I am probably butchering it here) that goes like this: "It is the teacher's job to hold up a higher vision for the students until they are strong enough to hold it for themselves."  And I feel that way now, a little bit.  Since all the other teachers here are kind enough to hold up this high vision of me - "Here she is, our special guest teacher!" - I feel myself stepping up a little bit more.  Stepping forward.  Okay, sure.  Here I am, and here is what I do.  Here is what I have to offer.  If you want it, please take it.

The whole point of teaching is that it's a gift, or a prayer, that you give to someone else.  There's nothing to actually hold on to.  And it seems like ego, to ever think of myself as a "good teacher," but it's not about me.  The further I go, the more I want to keep going and learn more.  I'm barely even scratching the surface.

When I was practicing advanced series with some of the teachers this weekend, a little piece of a song drifted into my head, sometime from a tape that I listened to when I was a kid.  And that's the real purpose of this post, typing away half-formed thoughts on a late Sunday night - I just wanted to send these words out into the ether, for you to read over your coffee in the morning.

Soon in your lifetime, something will happen
All at once for a moment, it will flash into view
And from that moment on,
It's all up to you.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Summertime, and the living is easy!  Humid days.  Iced tea.  Warm nights.  Afternoons on the porch.  Dialogue at the pool.  (One of my students is going to the next TT, hooray!)  Fireflies.  Outdoor music.  And summer reading!  Oh, how I love summer reading.

I've just finished the newest (?) Malcolm Gladwell, What the Dog Saw.  It's a nice thick book of his various works from The New Yorker, and it's been keeping me happily occupied.  Yes, XKCD, I am living the dream.  In case you're not familiar with him, Malcolm Gladwell has written a string of non-fiction best-sellers (The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers) that all try to make you see the world in a different way.   Blink, for example, is about the split second-decisions that happen behind the closed door of your unconsciousness, and it's fascinating.  As examples, Gladwell talks about how art dealers instinctively identify frauds, why tall-dark-and-handsome types earn higher salaries, how hospitals should really diagnose heart attacks, and what makes the best car salesman in New Jersey so successful.  It's an awesome book, the kind of book that has me telling me friends, "Oh, I'd lend it to you, but I've already loaned it to somebody else."

Anyway, What the Dog Saw is a loosely strung together collection of essays on various topics - hair dye, football, the Challenger disaster, etc.  One of these essays is about ketchup.  It's called "The Ketchup Conundrum."

Here's the question: "Why are there dozens of varieties of mustard but only one variety of ketchup?"

Never thought about it, did you?!?

For a long time, there was only one type of mustard: French's yellow mustard.  Then, about thirty years ago, Grey Poupon launched a really successful marketing campaign to become a household name, and that spawned the whole mustard section that we have in the supermarket today.  Meanwhile, we still just have Heinz ketchup, plus a few specialty varieties that never hugely took off.  (Apart from Muir Glen at Whole Foods and some supermarket generics, there's not much out there.)

What works for mustard should work for ketchup, right?  They're both just condiments!  So eight years ago, a guy name Jim Wigon from Massachusetts decided to do for ketchup what Grey Poupon did for mustard.  He started a business called World's Best Ketchup, using all sorts of premium ingredients that you can't get in Heinz.  Build a better ketchup!  This guy Wigon poured his heart and soul into the project, all kinds of research and taste testing, but it never took off.  Why not?

Because the flavor of ketchup, as it turns out, is universal.  The human palate recognizes five fundamental tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami.  When the Heinz company developed their ketchup, they ended up hitting every single one of these notes, in a balanced composition.  Heinz ketchup is one of the only products on the shelf that pushes every single sensory button.

So how can World's Best compete with this?  Jim Wigon made World's Best using different sweeteners and more tomato, but in doing so he changed the balance.  The ketchup experts - and shoppers of the world - said that it simply wasn't ketchup anymore.  A quote:
World's Best Dill ketchup on fried catfish, for instance, is a marvelous thing.  But it also meant that [Wigon's] ketchup wasn't as sensorily complete as Heinz, and he was paying a heavy price in amplitude. "Our conclusion was mainly this," Bhuchholz (a ketchup taster) said.  "We felt that World's Best seemed to be more like a sauce."  She was trying to be helpful.
Ouch!  So much for building a better ketchup.

What the heck does this have to do with Bikram yoga?  Oh, I bet you can guess by now!  

Bikram yoga is ketchup.  By a combination of cleverness and luck, Bikram put together a class that hits every single note in the human body, in just the right balance.  

When I first started Bikram, I had done plenty of other exercise and yoga in my life, but I remember walking out of class thinking, "I think I just used every part of my body, and half of those were parts I didn't even know I had.  What happened in there?!"  Because unlike everything else - unlike dance, Pilates, running, sports, hiking, or even other types of yoga - Bikram's class hits every note.  You've heard the spiel before - you're using every part of your body, every system, every muscle, joint, organ, and major gland.  Inside out, bones to the skin, fingertips to the toes, blah-de blah blah blah.  We say it all the time, but man oh man, we say it because it is true!

Just think of it.  In 90 minutes, you stretch and strengthen lots of different muscles.  That part is easy to see.  But there's also tons of stuff happening inside your body, and it's easy to forget about the things you can't see. You're working your cardiovascular system (heart), your respiratory system (lungs), your digestive system, your immune system, and the rest of your endocrine system.  You're working on strength and flexibility, plus balance.  And you're working all the mental aspects as well - your determination, concentration, self-control, patience, and faith.  All of this in perfect balance.

That is Bikram yoga.  There can be only one.  Bikram yoga is ketchup.

And if you change anything?  Take things away, add other things in, try to build a better hot yoga?  Well, my conclusion is mainly this: although it might be delicious in its own way, that seems to be more like a sauce.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Six Months of Joy

Hello my lovely and patient (?) readers!

I have some catching up to do here!  Let's see - when last I wrote, I was teaching in Kentucky, getting ready to head out to Tennessee for Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.  So tonight, I will tell you a little bit about my adventure at Bonnaroo!

Bonnaroo was awesome.  I totally loved it and I will probably go again next year.  For those of you who aren't familiar with this festival, let me briefly explain.  Bonnaroo is a 4-day music festival on some farmland in the middle of Tennessee.  And for those 4 days, Bonnaroo is essentially its own city, kind of like at Burning Man - this year, there were 90,000 people at Bonnaroo, and most of these people are camping out next to their cars.  (The cars are nicely laid out in grids in camps with names like Camp Chewbacca, Camp Stewie Griffin, and Camp Marsellus Wallace.  We got a corner spot in Camp Ed Rooney, which was a prime location, only 10 minutes from the stages.)  It is hot and very dusty during the day, and gorgeous at night.  We never set an alarm clock while we were there - all the acts start in the afternoon, but also, you automatically wake up at 8am when you start sweating in your sleeping bag.  As a Bikram yoga teacher and a fairly-frequent camper, I felt that I was very well prepared for this environment!  I wore a hat, a bandana, and SPF 50, my friend and I carried around CamelPaks and gallon jugs of water all weekend, and we both felt great.

The city of Bonnaroo is a fun and happening place, even before you take the music into account.  There was a surprising amount of delicious and reasonably-priced food - some of the smoothie stands were excellent, and I had the best iced chai tea that I've ever had in my life.  The girl at the chai stand gave me the ingredients but not the proportions, so I will spend the rest of my summer in my kitchen on a quest to recreate the perfect chai.  Some booths were just blatantly selling stoner food - hot waffle ice cream sandwich with hot fudge, anyone?!  The shopping was great - I bought quite a few sundresses, a new backpack with an Om sign on it, and some feather earrings.  There were also rides - a water slide, a Ferris wheel, and a giant slip-and-slide - and lots of hula hoops.

So my friend Slappy and I basically spent the first day wandering around ooh-ing and aah-ing over all this fun stuff before remembering that there was also supposed to be some music involved.  And a LOT of it!  With 2 main stages, 3 music tents, a comedy tent, and a cinema tent, the big challenge at Bonnaroo is getting to see all the acts you want to see!  There were some amazing acts that we missed seeing, either because they conflicted with another group that we wanted to see or because we couldn't make it in.

Here is most of what I did see, in order.  (I am consulting my schedule for this.)  Thursday: Futurebirds, Karen Elson, Beats Antique.  Friday: Bela Fleck and the (Original!) Flecktones, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire.  Saturday: Old Crow Medicine Show, Alison Krauss and Union Station with Jerry Douglas, Mumford and Sons, The Black Keys, Buffalo Springfield, Eminem, String Cheese Incident, Girl Talk.  Sunday: Mavis Staples, Amos Lee, Iron and Wine, Ben Sollee, White Buffalo, Robert Plant and the Band of Joy, The Strokes, and Widespread Panic.

Pretty good!!

That's a wide variety of musical styles (which is the cool thing about going to a huge festival like this) - along with the jam bands (which are a Bonnaroo staple), we had rap, soul, dance, bluegrass, and rock and roll.  It was very cool and I'm discovering my latent love for bluegrass music.  (The Telluride Bluegrass festival is seriously tempting me for next year, if only Colorado weren't twice as far as Tennessee...)

There were a lot of great acts, but there are two that really stand out for me.

First standout: Mumford and Sons.  My god, but those men can play.  That was hands-down one of the best live performances I've ever seen.  Watching those men jam out, it is impossible to imagine anyone enjoying himself more than that.  They are pure energy and joy, and if you ever get the chance to see them, GO!!

Mumford had a 6:15pm spot on the second-largest stage, and Slappy and I essentially camped out at that stage for the entire afternoon in order to get a decent viewing spot.  And we did - we were close up enough that we could actually see the faces of the guys on stage!

All told, there were about 50,000 of us jammed onto that dusty little field, standing room only, jostling around each other with our backpacks and water jugs, trying not to end up standing in a ditch or behind someone really tall.  We stood around like that for a while, waiting for the band to come on, and I was very proud of myself when I started up a half-decent Eagles sing-along.  ("Well I'm a-running down the road trying to loosen my load, I've got seven women on my mind....")  And then the band came on.  And we sang.

Here's the gorgeous thing about being a fan among other fans.  Listening to music is normally a semi-private experience.  You listen to an album in your car, in your kitchen, during dinner, on your iPod, on the subway, in your bedroom.  If you love the album, then you listen to it over and over again, until you know every word.  And that's a very personal thing, right?  When you love a song or a band so much that you play it on your iPod all day, until you know the music inside-out...

Until one day, you go out into a sea of people, in the middle of nowhere.  And the band starts playing, and everyone else knows the words, too.  Everyone in this space has been listening to these songs over and over, in the car, on the subway, in their bedroom.  So the private experience becomes a shared experience, and you realize - how can you miss it? - that all these strangers share the same emotions.  You know, beyond doubt, that our hearts all keep the same beat.  A sea of strangers, thousands of people, stand together, soclose, nearly touching, in a dusty field, at sunset, moving to the music, and singing out: "Love, it will not betray, dismay or enslave you, it will set!  You!  Free!"

It's just the same in yoga sometimes, isn't it?  You come together with these strangers, and you sweat together, you breathe together, your hearts pound together.  And you end up kind of loving and respecting each other, even if you never know each other's names, because you recognize that common bond.  You're having this intense, private experience (that's called life), but everyone else is having the same experience with you, side-by-side.

Not to mention the other yoga-to-music analogy - you can walk up to a fellow yogi and say "eventually, in the future..." and they will fill in the blank.  I know that you guys know the lyrics.

So that was one memorable experience.

Here's the other one.

Saturday night is basically big, loud, chaos.  We saw Eminem on the big stage at midnight, who was okay.  (He spent an awful lot of time sort of talking about himself and shouting, when we mostly just wanted to hear "Loose Yourself."  Which he got around to, eventually, and which was a lot of fun.)  Then I ran around and went to the jam bands and dance parties until the wee hours of the morning.  There was a big blow-up dinosaur at one, and lots of balloons and confetti at the other - fun!!  Then I went to bed at about 4:30am - so early, by festival standards! - because I wanted to go hear Mavis Staples on Sunday morning.  I had heard her once before on the radio and I liked her.

Mavis Staples played at 1:00 on Sunday afternoon, on the main stage.  The last act to play on that stage had been Eminem, and that field had been trashed, but it all got cleaned up overnight, just in time for some gospel music.  There were not too many people there - most people were still sleeping off Saturday night! - so the field was nice and open, great for spreading out the picnic blanket (i.e. sheet), lounging in the grass, and listening to some happier music.

It was a beautiful day.

Mavis Staples.  Look her up.  Her family has been making music for 61 years, and they - The Staples Singers - were basically the musical voice of the civil rights movement.  (Mavis's father was friends with Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Now, according to Wikipedia, Mavis Staples is 71, which I find hard to believe, because she looks about 50 and has the energy of a 25-year-old.  She reminds me of a yogi - ageless!  And she has a presence.  That's the only word I can think of for what she has, and really doesn't even begin to cover it.  When she sings, you feel her, right down to the soul.  Oh my gosh, that's why they call it soul music.  You can feel her soul, and she is talking to you.

She sang some amazing songs.  She sang "Wade in the Water," which led Slappy and myself to dance around like fools doing our best white girl impression of Alvin Ailey.  She sang a gorgeous song from her new album, "You Are Not Alone," and she sang very old songs like "For What It's Worth" ("stop, children, what's that sound?") and "I'll Take You There."  Did I mention that this woman has presence?  When she was singing, "I'll Take You There," she called out, "Our family has been taking you there for 61 years, and we ain't tired yet!"

In that moment, I thought of Bikram.  Two completely different individuals - Mavis Staples and Bikram Choudhury - but both of them getting up in front of a crowd, tirelessly, for decades, repeating the same words, to lead people to a better life.  And I thought of myself and all the other yoga teachers, because what is it that we're trying to do?  We'll take you there.  We want to take you to a better life, a better way of living.

On top of being a singer, Mavis Staples speaks with magnetism of an old-school Southern preacher and the affection of a mother.  When she speaks, your ears perk up and you listen.  So I remember, very specifically, something that she said in the middle of her performance.  She said, "I just want you to walk away from this performance.... feeling joyful... for at least... six months."

Six months of joy.  Gorgeous.  What a brilliant goal.  What a fantastic power.

Just take me by the hand.
Let me, let me, let me lead the way....


Next up:  How Bikram Yoga is like ketchup!  I know you are dying to find out....