Sunday, October 21, 2012

From Bikram, With Love

I have just returned from my annual teacher training visit - and it was great!

I was there for the 5th week of training, from Monday morning until Friday midnight. (That red-eye flight always seems like a great idea at the time.) It was such a good visit that I'm having a hard time writing about it because I don't know where to start! I tried to write a blog entry last night, and after 2 hours I had only written a few mediocre paragraphs, so now I'm starting all over from scratch. Ha! This may get terribly long, so bear with me.

First of all, the trainees are doing amazing. They are on the ball this year. On Monday they were working on delivering triangle pose, and they were strong. I sat in a clinic room with Johnny Salvatore that afternoon (yay!), and he did a great job of putting them at ease. I asked them, "Did all of you learn this before you got here?!" and they were like "Noooooo!" (Although some of them did actually learn the whole dialogue before training - you can always tell.) Lots of people with a good attitude, lots of people willing to embrace "the process." I saw plenty of familiar faces, including my two rock star students from Rhode Island, Briana and Stephanie. I met quite a few blog readers, which was super cool - you guys are always too sweet, making me feel like a celebrity. And I was totally bowled over when I reintroduced myself to a guy named Jason from Kentucky - apparently I taught him just once, in his first yoga class ever, back in June 2011 when I was visiting the Lexington studio, and now he is in the middle of teacher training! Small world, right?! I love the yoga family.

The beginning of the week was all posture clinic - double clinic Monday, double clinic Tuesday, and afternoon clinic on Wednesday. They started from triangle pose on Monday, and on Wednesday we got  almost halfway through cobra - fast! Bikram kept telling them, "oooh, you are behind the schedule," which I thought was pretty funny since they are way faster than any class I have seen.

On Monday I didn't contribute much to clinic since I was pretty dead from travelling, but on Tuesday and Wednesday I was able to lead or at least co-lead, so I really got involved. I feel like posture clinic management gets exponentially easier every time I go back to training - when I first started visiting, it was so weird and awkward, but now it's mostly comfortable and fun. (Still exhausting, though.)

My favorite clinic was the one that my friend Ignacio and I ran together on Wednesday afternoon. (Ignacio was lead, but he was nice enough to let me basically co-lead, hehe.) We've both been trained by a lot of the same people (in particular Diane and Teri), and we share the same philosophy for posture clinics. First of all (for me), you have to create a safe and friendly environment. If you stress people out, they have a very hard time performing well. (They're gonna be nervous already anyways, no need to torture the poor children.) Second of all, we made it clear that while the trainees have to learn the dialogue, we're not expecting them to be perfect. Dialogue study is a lifetime practice, and they absolutely have to keep studying and learn it as well as possible... but when they get up to deliver, they need to forget about perfection and just teach! And then we were able to give them quick but (hopefully) helpful feedback on their dialogue and/or their delivery. It was awfully fun. A lot of people who had been scared to go up because they didn't feel "ready" ended up jumping up there and delivering very respectable dialogue for cobra.

Bikram taught three nights that week (score!) and lectured on Wednesday and Thursday. I stayed for the whole Wednesday night lecture and said "hi" to Bikram at midnight during the break. I'm never totally sure that he will recognize me, but he always does - he looked at me for a couple seconds, and then it was, "Oooooh myyy God!" and a big hug. :-) He made a big fuss and told the room that I was "the best dialogue in 20 years of teacher trainings!", which is ridiculous (he also says, "Quincy Jones, my best friend!" almost every day), but terribly sweet. A few minutes later, I figured this would be the right time to put on my big girl pants and volunteer myself to teach a class at training... and to make a long story short, it worked out! I got myself on the schedule to teach the Friday morning class!

Now this is the part that I really want to talk about.

I've taught the big class once before, last year. And it was great, but it was terrifying. There's just no getting around that. It is overwhelming to teach a class of 400+ people who are all studying to be yoga teachers. When I look back on my post from last year, I can see that I was totally thrilled, but I didn't know what to make of the whole experience. I hoped that one day I would get another shot at it.

This year I felt so. Much. Better. I still got the nerves and butterflies, but it was a very small fraction of the terror that I felt the first time!

I also went through this interesting process on Thursday afternoon, since I had the whole day to think about Friday morning's class. At first I was thinking, "What do I want to tell them?" Because there's so much that I wish I could tell them. There are just a million things that I'd love to help them understand. So I spent a while tossing ideas around, trying to think of a few things to say. And then I read Bikram's letter. They've got a note printed out, from Bikram, that the staff gave me before the class. (I hope I'm not giving away any big secrets here - if I need to take this part out, I expect that someone will let me know. I also don't know when this procedure started - for all I know, no one has gotten this note except me!) Anyway, it's no big deal - all this note says is, "Please just say the dialogue." Obviously we are teaching corrections and stories and philosophy at our own schools, because the students are coming in so well prepared. But for training, Bikram is teaching the philosophy and corrections himself. (In the three classes of his that I took, I'd say at least 75% of the classes were devoted to individual corrections.) So he just needs the visiting teachers to say the dialogue - with energy, and crystal clear.

I read this, and thought about it, and it made so much sense. And it really took the pressure off. Just say the dialogue - well that's easy! I teach a dialogue class. I've been studying the dialogue continuously for the better part of three years. I know how to do that.

And then I realized - wow, it was so much my ego that wanted to add something "special." Pure and total ego. And I think a lot of teachers fall into that trap, especially at training. They want to make the class better by adding something special of their own. But what the trainees really need is the purest, simplest class possible. Just Bikram's words, Bikram's dialogue, that they are working so hard to cram into their brains in a very short period of time. They don't need a show. They don't need to hear what I, Juliana, think about the yoga or the training process. They just need dialogue, energy, and love.

Just say the dialogue. Show, don't tell.

I realized that I had been talking a pretty good talk in posture clinics, so now I needed to follow my own advice. The biggest piece of that was realizing (or remembering) that my class is not about me, it's about the needs of the students. And the other piece - also kind of difficult! - was remembering that it's not supposed to be perfect. I was tempted to pull out my dialogue and hide in my room to review, but I didn't! I'm so proud of that. I didn't open the dialogue once before the class, although I did carry it around for good luck. I told all the trainees "You're more ready than you think, just do the best you can." So for the Big Class, I had to follow my own advice or I would know I was a hypocrite. I had to just... trust myself.

And I did exactly that.

What can I say about the class? I did exactly what I intended to do, and I'm really, really happy with it. It was still a little disorienting being up on that big podium, with all the mirrors and speakers and people, and it was very fucking hot and hard to breathe up there, but I did exactly the job that I set out to do. And my god, but the trainees rose to the occasion!! Trainees, you rock my world. We were all on the same team that day, one hundred and ten percent. Bikram's words, my voice, your bodies. The trainees were so tired, so beat up, so exhausted, but I looked around the room during triangle pose and it looked like almost everyone was in the posture. And I didn't see anyone come out early. It was insane - I'm a little emotional just thinking of it. That wasn't me, that was us - all of us together. Dialogue, energy, and love, love, love.

I had to go out very quickly and sit down after the class! But then all day long, people came up to me and said, thank you for giving us exactly the class that we needed. Whew. It was very powerful, and actually very humbling, too. They were all very sweet to me, but even more interesting, a lot of them understood exactly what I did, and said, thank you for not adding any extra stuff and just teaching the class the way that we are studying it. So perhaps by sticking to the dialogue, I have made myself memorable?! There are worse things, I guess.

I also have to say that all the other visiting teachers and staff were very kind to me. I didn't get any catty or weird attitudes, and a lot of certified teachers turned up for the class. The staff members gave me kudos, the New England folks gave me shit-eating grins from the back row, and Nicole Duke and Cynthia Wehr (who both taught the Big Class that week) gave me some much-appreciated pre- and post-class support. Yoga family at its best!

Gotta say one more thing here, mainly addressed to the trainees. A few people asked me, "Is that how you always teach your class?" The answer is "yes and no." The biggest difference is that in a normal class, I make lots of corrections, I give a few more explanations between the postures, and sometimes I explain a philosophical point or two. Another difference is that normal classes don't require the same level of energy - I would never drive a 20-person class with the same power that I used for a 500-person class, it would be like running over them with a steamroller! But as far as the dialogue is concerned, that was absolutely my normal class. I did not study beforehand at all. In the two-and-a-half years that I have been teaching, I have kept the dialogue as my closest friend, because it makes a beautiful foundation for the class. Start with dialogue, energy, and some love - and then when you throw in the corrections, the explanations, the occasional jokes and stories, then you will feel that you are really teaching a class. That's been my approach, and so far it seems to work great.

Now I think it's time to call it a night. I had an amazing time in LA, but wow does it feel good to be home. Tomorrow I have my first legit day off in two weeks, and I am heading up to Mount Monadnock for a day hike to enjoy the fresh air and fall colors. I just need to look up the directions before then and figure out where Monadnock is.... take care of yourselves, yogis, and I'll probably write more soon.

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