Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Proof is in the Pudding

30 Day Reading Challenge... DAY TWO!

Well, I haven't read any of my anatomy book yet today, but I am planning on doing so before bed.  Since it's past 10:30 and I am teaching at 6am tomorrow, this puts me a little bit behind schedule... but I will persevere!

Here's an interesting question that was brought up in the foreword to my anatomy book: will modern science ever accept the "proof" that yoga is an effective form of medicine?

This passage is written by Dr. Timothy McCall from Boston, and I think he sums up the situation especially well.  He writes: "In a medical profession now itself dominated by a near religious reverence for the randomized, controlled study, knowledge acquired through thousands of years of direct observation, introspection, and trial and error may seem quaint."

He's got a point.  How are we ever going to get a randomized, controlled study of yoga?  Where would the money come from for a true, long-range study?  Who would be the control group?  And how would you manage to "hold everything else constant," in the case of a holistic therapy that treats all the systems at once?

Very simple example: Say that someone starts practicing yoga, then changes their diet, then loses weight.  How can you ever, in an objective and scientific fashion, determine the true thread of cause and effect?  Maybe it's true that the weight loss came from the diet change (although in the case of Bikram yoga, the crazy calorie burning effects will also help).  But where did the diet change come from?  Did it come along with the yoga, or was it a coincidence?  Can you prove it?  Oh, and where does the thyroid gland come into this equation?

When people ask us for proof, we point to anecdotal evidence.  Now, in the world of the "randomized, controlled study," this is not considered hard, solid proof.  But my god, we have some great anecdotal evidence!  Each Bikram yoga studio - and there are hundreds of Bikram yoga studios - has dozens of students who will testify to the changes that they've seen.  And teacher training attracts the ones who have really experienced miracles - the ones who were virtually crippled and now can walk, the ones who have stopped taking dozens of pills, the ones whose whole lives have changed.

One girl from my teacher training, a good friend of mine who was in my group, had been crippled by rheumatoid arthritis when she was in her early 20's.  She walked with a cane.  Her family had to help her use the bathroom.  She couldn't grasp a doorknob to open a door on her own.  I would never have suspected any of these things about her - I had no idea, until I read her testimony in our yearbook after graduation - because now she is completely fine.

Yoga did that.

Dr. McCall says that it is a philosophical question: "When you have an intervention which appears safe and effective - and when its side effects are almost entirely positive - should one wait for proof before trying it?"

I say, hell, just try it.

As we say in Bikram yoga circles - and I really want to get this on a t-shirt one day - "This shit WORKS!"

Monday, February 21, 2011

Breaking out the Books!

Last week, in a burst of impulse shopping inspired by some yoga teacher message boards, I ordered TWO shiny new yoga anatomy books from Amazon.  They arrived in the mail a couple days ago, and I felt like it was Christmas morning!  The first book, Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff, is a heavily illustrated book that I've looked through several times before.  The first two chapters are the best bits of this book.  Chapter one is about breathing and chapter two is about the spine.  There are so many good tidbits in there, and I found this book really illuminating the first time I read it; I clearly never understood the mechanics of pranayama breathing until I saw the pictures in the first chapter.  It's a fun read, and pretty easy to get through.

The second book, Anatomy of Hatha Yoga by H. David Coulter, is more intimidating.  It's a manual for yoga students and teachers, fairly dense, and heavy enough to make a good doorstop.  I've consistently heard two things about this book: it has excellent information and it's very hard to get through.  Most people tell me that it's a really good reference book to have on hand, but I'm not sure if any of my friends have read it cover to cover.

Well, you might be able to guess where this is going.  I wasn't planning on setting any challenges for myself, but I started reading the second book today and I loved it.  So now...

30 Day Reading Challenge - DAY ONE!

Over the next 30 days, I am going to read this book from cover to cover.  I could use a good fun challenge.  And this Coulter book is about 600 pages long, which means I only need to read 20 pages a day, which seems manageable.  I got through 20 pages today and it wasn't too hard at all.  Once I got out my pen and started "interacting" with the text (i.e. scribbling marginalia all over the place), I had a grand old time.  I felt like I was enjoying coffee with a friend named David, a friend who just happened to be an anatomy professor with extensive interest in yoga.

I think this will be good for me.  I like having goals and intellectual stimulation.  Gotta keep myself on top of my game.

Also, this might give me something to blog about, since I've totally been neglecting my blogging lately...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reasons to Live! (Yoga Teacher Edition)

My Bikram yoga blogging buddy The Missus used to write a weekly post called "Short List of Reasons to Live," which was exactly that: a round-up of all the good things that had happened recently that made life worth living.  I am stealing this idea from her for my title, although I left off the "short" part.

In response to my last post, MLJosey wrote a comment asking "What kinds of student feedback make you feel especially valued?"  I thought that was a great question, but I didn't have a short answer to it.  It sounded to me like a good idea for a whole post!

So.  As a teacher, what kind of feedback makes me feel valued?

First of all, I will say that as a teacher you have to be prepared to get all sorts of feedback.  This was something that they tried to impress on us at teacher training, and the idea really stuck with me.  As teachers, we don't have complete control over the experiences that our students have in the hot room, because every person is going through a unique, individual experience.  We know this from our own practice.  Think of a time when your favorite teacher was teaching, but you just weren't at your best and had a crummy sort of class.  Now think of a time when you had a teacher who wasn't doing anything special, but maybe something just clicked in your body and you had a really terrific class.  See?  The kind of class that you have doesn't always depend on the teacher.

This means that, as a teacher, you might see some people coming out of class elated and some people coming out looking kinda defeated, and you have to remember that it's not about you.  Not always.  You never quite know what's been going on in someone else's body, or in someone else's life.

Oh yeah, and anytime there is a significant heat issue going on in the room, most of the students will ignore your contribution completely.  This appears to be a universal fact.  During my first month as a teacher, I taught a handful of classes at the LA headquarters while they were having issues with their heater.  I would come out from teaching feeling pretty good about myself.  ("Hey, lookit this, I'm actually teaching yoga at headquarters and I didn't forget the dialogue!")  Then all the students would come out and say to me, "Augh, the heat, the heat, the heat, it isn't hot enough, this is terrible, not hot enough, absolutely terrible!!  When is the heater going to be fixed, when is it going to be hot again?!  Oh, but thanks anyway for class, you were good."  HAH!  I was so irrelevant.  It was a good lesson for me: I cannot control all the variables that go into the class.

With all of that said, the teacher still does have a huge influence over the class.  A good teacher might pull you out of a funk, show you something new, say something in a way that you've never heard it before, and turn your day around.  (A bad teacher might do the opposite.)  Teaching matters!

Here are some of the things that make me feel good:

- You want to take my class!  It's always nice when students are happy to see me (instead of being like, "Oh shit, it's you again!")  Of course, sometimes students end up liking me just because I was their first teacher.  Don't you remember imprinting on your first teacher, just like a baby duck?  We all have our pets, our babies.  That almost doesn't count; if I'm your first teacher, then the deck is stacked in my favor.    But every now and then I'll get more experienced students telling me that they came because I was teaching, and that's a great compliment.  Earlier this week, some girls from a college field hockey team came and told me that their team is going to start coming for yoga on the weekends, and they wanted to know, "Can you teach the class?  We want you!"  Well, shucks.  I am terribly flattered.  Better not let it go to my head.

- You laughed at my joke.  Hooray!

- You learned something!  This is great.  I love it when students tell me about their new discoveries.  If you hear something new in class that really helps you out - whether it's something about the posture, yoga, or life in general - let you teacher know!  Like I talked about once before, I'm always doing my best to say things that will be helpful, informational, motivating, and maybe even inspiring, but I have no way of knowing whether I'm getting it "right"... unless you tell me!

- "Your smile was the only thing that got me through that class."  Enough said.

- My correction helped you!  This makes me so proud.  I gave a long-time student a little correction in class this morning and suddenly she was able to lift her hands off the floor in toe stand for the first time.  It was so exciting!  That moment alone would kind of make my morning, without anything else said.  But then after class, we were talking again about her big moment.  She was amazed at what a big difference the little details make.  She told me that was still thinking about a correction that I gave her ages ago in triangle ages ago and it was making a huge difference.  Then another student wandered out of the yoga room into the middle of our conversation and said, "Oh, yeah, your little corrections have made a huge difference for me, too!"  Oh man.  I am gonna sleep sooo well tonight.

- You like my energy.  Thank you.  I am basically a professional Energizer Bunny.  I consider it my job to have the most energy in the room, because I'm the one who keeps everyone going.  Sometimes this means I have to sacrifice other things, like going to bed early instead of going out swing dancing (sniff sniff).  It is a full-time job, making sure that I save up enough energy for the times when I need it, and it is nice to be appreciated!

- You are listening.  You don't have to tell me that you're listening.  I'm watching you.  I can tell.

- You are improving.  You don't have to tell me about this one, either.  I can see it.  Sometimes, I can see it before you can.  I love to watch people transform from ordinary newbies into real yogis.

-  You feel better!  This is one that I can't take credit for, because the yoga series is doing most of the work.  But it's so great to hear about good results.  "I felt more relaxed after class."  "I had so much energy!"  "My arthritis pain started to go away by the end of half moon."  "I slept really well - lots of dreams."  That stuff is so cool.

See, I told you this was not going to be a "short" list.  I could go on and on.  But I'll end with one more story, a simple one and a good one.

I was at the desk one morning a few months ago, waiting for the students to come in.  The first to arrive was a woman who had just finished her first month of Bikram yoga.  She had taken almost 20 classes in her first month and had decided to sign up for the annual membership.  I was the one to set up her account for the next year. As she handed me her credit card, she gave me a huge smile, eyes tearing up just a little bit, and said, "I know you probably hear this all the time, but I just wanted you to know, you guys are changing my life."


No, it's not something that I hear every day.  I can still picture the way her eyes looked when she said those words.

That's a good reason for me to be alive.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Teacher Training vs. Teaching

It feels like it's been a while since I said anything about teacher training.  But I have had lots of thoughts about it recently.  It's been almost 8 months now (what?!?) since I graduated, and here are some of my recent observations.

Similar:  As a trainee and as a teacher, you typically spend a minimum of 3 hours a day sweating in a hot room, with a day-and-a-half off per week.

Different:  As a trainee, you never really have to do more than 11 classes in a week (unless you have a make-up class or you on demo team in week 9.)  As a teacher, I am sometimes in the hot room (counting both teaching or taking) for 11 classes in one weekend.  "Weekend" as in "three day."  This is one of those weekends.  Basically, the amount that you sweat at TT is nothing compared to how much you might end up sweating as a teacher.

Similar:  Hydration and sleep are top priorities at all times!

Different:  As a teacher, nobody makes you stay up late watching strange Hindi movies.  Now I only stay up moderately late, and I'm watching episodes Doctor Who instead of Mahabharat.  (And by the way, David Tennant, how sexy is his hair?!)

Similar:  Dialogue, dialogue, and more dialogue.  Talk, sleep, and breathe dialogue.

Different:  When you are a trainee, everyone around you is dialogue-obsessed.  You hear it in the stairwells.  People are practicing wind-removing pose in the parking lot.  (I have pictures of this.)  When you say the dialogue, you have a whole room of people checking to see if you're doing it right.  When you're a teacher, no one is checking (for the most part).  There are plenty of times when no one in the room knows if you're saying it "right" (nor do they care).  This means that it is up to you to keep yourself honest and stay on track.  (And if you happen to have a dialogue trophy sitting on your desk, it is up to you to uphold the high standard for the whole studio, so don't slack!)

And then here are some more differences:

Opposite:  At training, you are always saying your dialogue for a bunch of people who already know it.  You basically just recite the dialogue.  At best, it's role-playing.  As a teacher, you are giving instruction to a bunch of people who sometimes have no clue what they are supposed to be doing.  You have to actually teach using the dialogue.  This is a whole different ballgame.

Opposite:  At training, everyone tells you what to do.  When you are a teacher, you are responsible for telling everyone else what to do!  It's the difference between being a passenger on the bus and driving the bus.

Opposite:  In posture clinics at training, you're always kind of worried about "How am I doing?"  When you teach class, you stop thinking about yourself.  You think about your class and think, "How are they doing??"  (And also sometimes, still, ".... but really how am I doing?")

Opposite:  At training, people are always around to tell you how you are doing and clap for you when you do well.  Heck, even if you kinda suck, your group will still clap for you!  As a teacher, you have to chase people down and ask them if you want someone to tell you how you are doing.**  And the clapping?  Not so often.

Here's the thing, though: teaching is great.  Teaching is like a million times better than being a trainee.  Why?  Because you're actually doing something!  When you're in training, it's all just a big simulation, a preview, a teaser for the real thing.  It prepares you, kind of... but really, nothing can prepare you for what it feels like to lead a class.  With apologies to The Matrix, no one can be told what teaching is... you have to see it for yourself.

I had an awesome class this afternoon.  I had been at the studio all day - I took the 9am, taught the 11am, then advanced class right after the 11 ended, and then I barely had time to shove some microwave Pad Thai into my face (thank you Trader Joes!) before students started coming in for the 4pm.  And coming in.  And coming in.  And coming in.  Um.  I ended up having FIFTY-FIVE people in my 4pm class, which might be some kind of record for me.  (Our weekend and evening classes typically have 30-something people, or maybe 40+.)  I have no idea where all these people came from.  It was some combination of Groupons, 30 day challengers, studio regulars, and random people who just decided to show up for some SuperBowl weekend yoga.  I thought this was supposed to happen in January, not February?!

Anyway.  My class of 55 people.  Man, that room got hot.  It was a constant balancing/juggling act to keep the temperature under control, keep everyone moving (or at least alive), and keep the newer folks from bolting for the hills!  One of the new girls ended up sitting outside to get air for a couple minutes, but she was by the window where I could keep an eye on her (I have no problem with this), and she rallied and came back in after some coconut water.  Hooray!  

It was funny, because in the beginning I could feel the whole room being like, "Yo, holy crap, I dunno about this, this is a whole lot of people and it's really hot."  I felt a tiny bit of doubt myself, in a very very small and secret place inside myself, when I looked around the room and thought, "Geez, all these people are here listening to me to find out what to do, and I have to convince them to do this whole yoga class?!"  (I almost never think this.  It's the equivalent of looking down when you're in the middle of a tightrope - you just don't do it.  I take my responsibility seriously, but I can't dwell on it!)

But as class went along and we got onto the floor, there was a definite turning point - I felt it - when everyone was like, "ok, alright, this is actually quite cool."  I got the fans running and started cracking little jokes, and I can't even remember what I said, but the whole room laughed.  Not just once, but a few times.  It was fun.  We were having fun together.  The great thing about Bikram yoga is that yes, it's so hard sometimes that it's almost a sick and twisted joke, but everyone is in on the joke.  After rabbit pose, one woman headed for the back door (which I was standing near, adjusting the fans).  I grinned at her and said, "Oh, stay!  You're doing so great!  There's only 5 minutes left."  (More like 10 minutes - it was a white lie.)  She looked at me and said, "Really?  Promise?"  I said, "Would I lie to you?"  She turned around and went back to her mat, and the whole room surprised me by spontaneously bursting into applause.  Someone even went "wooo!"  It was terrific.  

We finished the class strong, and everyone staggered out looking shell-shocked but happy.  My favorite post-class reaction: "That was terrible and awesome!  SO awesome!"

I'd do that again.

Of course, now I am torn between feeling awesome (because today was really fun) and feeling like I've been beat up by a gang (because today was no joke)!  I am spending my Saturday night on the couch drinking Gatorade and watching more Doctor Who Episodes.  (Exterminate!!)  Just like at teacher training, I have no life.  And just like at teacher training, I am having an unreasonably good time.

Same thing tomorrow!


** Side story to go along with that point: I have found an exception to this rule.  A couple months ago, when I visited Diane and Teri's studios, I discovered the funniest thing.  At both (completely separate) studios, the students are used to periodically taking class from visiting/traveling teachers who are there to get feedback from the studio owners.  And after almost every class I taught at either of those studios, the students would come out of class and tell me, "You did a good job."  Not "great class" or "thanks for class," which are the usual comments - but rather, "You did a good job."  And I swear, they would practically pat me on the arm when they said it.  "Good job, dear!"  It was the funniest, sweetest thing.  It still cracks me up, just thinking about it.  But that is an anomaly...