Thursday, July 2, 2009

First Class: Completing the Circle

Today I officially completed Bikram Teacher Training by teaching my first class. I was walking on air when it was over and couldn't stop thinking about when I was going to get the opportunity to teach again. I didn't anticipate many people in the class since it was the first 11 AM our studio added to its schedule. There were only 7 people in class, 3 of whom were teachers. This was fine because I really didn't see faces or bodies - my mind was focused on getting out the dialogue and that's all. The dialogue did come out, but a little too much of it came out: my class went over about 15 minutes. Yikes! I felt sorry for my students at the end, but was thankful they all worked so hard. I managed to keep most of my left and rights straight and only confused one posture with another (at the beginning and then I caught myself). Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with how my first class went, but I know I still have a lot to learn. I look forward to the day I don't have to concentrate so hard on reciting the dialogue and not having to think about the right and left side. I also need to liven up Pranayama Breathing, too! Rosario gave me some wonderful feedback to take with me and I'm so grateful to have her as a mentor. I know that I will continue to learn from her for a long time.

The first class is now checked off the list and my circle is complete. When class was over and I quietly left the room, I couldn't help but let the tears flow freely. I became overwhelmed with relief that training was officially over. It was a long, arduous journey but I'm very glad to have taken it. Now it's time to focus on being the best teacher I can be. I hope to inspire students to love the yoga as much as I do. 90 minutes or 9 weeks: worth it. Definitely.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Week 9: Bursting Out of the Yoga Bubble

Week 9 ended just a few hours ago with the annual Teacher Training Talent Show. More than 30 acts proved that we have many gifted and creative yogis among us and a good time was had by all. Bikram, unfortunately, left early and did not get the opportunity to witness another side of many of his students. We're so conditioned around here that many of us, myself included, asked where the sign in tables were. Even after our last day of two classes and lecture, I wanted to make sure to sign in because there was still going to be a make up class Saturday morning and I certainly did not want to have to take it.

I started our last week on a shaky note when I woke up on Sunday to back spasms. During Week 8, I could feel my lower back getting more and more tired, and I tried to take it a little easy. I found that difficult to do here with two yoga classes a day and hours upon hours of sitting in uncomfortable chairs or sleeping on the floor. On Monday my back muscles calmed down but were now so tight that I did not have very much mobility in my back. I went to class Monday morning and for the very first time through training, I had to sit out a couple of postures. I made it to class 88 and the last week (my goal during training was to do every posture of every class!). Oh, well. What can you do? Stretching in the hot room felt great and doing extra Cobra and Wind Removing postures (per Bikram's lecture on the 26 postures and how to relieve acute back pain), helped my back muscles relax. By Wednesday, I was fine and eager to complete the week on a strong note.

Craig Villani, the Director of Teacher Training, showed up on Wednesday and we enjoyed two of his classes and an evening of lecture. We were all disappointed that he showed up so late in our training, but grateful to have his expertise for at least a couple of days. His classes were two of the best classes we had and he firmly treated us like the teachers we were soon to become. Basically, he emphasized that we lead by example in the yoga room and that we teach with compassion and understanding.

We had been told repeatedly the last couple of weeks that Week 9 was going to be fun, but it proved to be our most challenging week yet. It felt like the staff was running behind and they tried to cram more into one week than they really wanted to. We, unfortunately, were on the receiving end of that and had four very late nights (or early mornings) in a row. Once, we were dismissed when the sun was already up and I crawled into bed for a nap at 6 AM. Sign in for morning yoga class is at 8. By Wednesday, everyone was exhausted and we looked like the walking wounded.

One highlight was the Advanced demonstration and having Emmy lead it. Her son passed away last week and it was wonderful to see her doing what she loves to do and being with those she loves. She is truly an inspiration to all who know her.

On Friday, we had our last two classes with Rajashree and Bikram, respectively. The last class was very emotional for me and I kept thinking about the fact that it was my very last class as a student. The next class I take, I will take as a certified Bikram yoga instructor. It still sounds strange on my tongue, but I'm looking forward to getting used to the sound and feel of it. The room was packed with extra people - friends and family members visiting for graduation - and Bikram surprisingly managed to tone down his language and his caustic corrections. Maybe there should always be a child in every one of his classes? Before Final Savasana I was already in tears, but not tears of sadness. I was relieved that training was over and I survived the process.

One of my very wise trainees compared training to childbirth: over time, the memory of the pain will subside and I will only enjoy the end result: being a Bikram teacher.

Graduation is at 3 PM today and it's time to celebrate! Yeah, I'm ready.

(Yes, that's Bikram surfing on my back while I was in Paschimottanasana. I tried to get a number, but without a warm up I couldn't quite get my forehead to my feet. I had a lot of fun trying, though!)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Week 8: 90 Minute Class/ 9 Weeks of Training

While I was lying in final savasana during yesterday's evening class, my mind drifted to the beautiful construction of a Bikram class. Being an English teacher, I noticed that a Bikram class parallels the structure of a well-designed piece of fiction. First, there's the introduction or the warm up. Then the conflict arises or the struggle between mind and body. What follows is how the plot unfolds. Both have a climax (Triangle Pose at the midpoint of class), and then the denouement or the gradual wrapping up of class with the floor series. What every reader wants is a perfect ending and what every yogi waits for is final savasana. I took this thought one step further and looked at how our Teacher Training also parallels a piece of writing. We started out slowly, waiting for the pace to pick up. Before we knew it, we were having up to 20-hour days. Posture/Dialogue Clinics ended Thursday night and now we're on the home stretch. Final Savasana or Graduation is just a week away.

The first four days of the week were hectic because we had Posture Clinics twice a day. We each presented dialogue for the last five postures and didn't get a chance to catch our breath until about 10 PM Thursday night when we completed Spine Twisting. There was definitely a collective sigh of relief. During Friday morning's class, I saw people smile and laugh (including myself!) and there was a celebratory feeling in the air. The lectures on Friday included practical information about teaching and the timing of the class. On Friday night, we moved into one of the ballrooms and had our first of the remaining lectures in a much nicer space than the Lecture Hall tent. The staff each shared their experiences during Teacher Training and how they taught their first class. We enjoyed their humorous and frank stories told with humility. Each had a common tip for each of us: teach from the heart and always be humble. The class is always about the students and never about you. Indeed.

On Sunday afternoon, we received several visitors from Long Beach. They were a sight for sore eyes! Four teachers: Rosario, Jeremy, Vicki and AnaMarie visited as well as Chris, a student from home. We enjoyed some Thai food and we all loved having the teachers take a double with us on Monday. The teachers also volunteered to help with Posture Clinic and I was fortunate to have Vicki as one of my American Idol judges during Camel Posture. It was fun having her there.

Looking ahead to Week 9, we're going to have fun. On our own, we're going to practice putting several postures together, including left as well as right sides and both sets. We're all looking forward to practicing dialogue without the pressure of Posture Clinic. Many of us are teaching the week we get home and none of us can be too prepared! We'll now have the chance to enjoy the process we've been repeatedly told to trust. We're supposed to have some fantastic visiting teachers and Bikram is supposed to be here for the remainder of Training. Our final class with Bikram will be Friday night and then we graduate on Saturday at 3. I'm looking forward to that Final Savasana and going home.

In the first picture, next to me is Sookja, Haesook and Claudia. In the second picture, the Long Beach crew!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Week 7: Upside Down in the Yoga Bubble

Week 7 of Teacher Training was a slow, steady burn. There wasn't anything too unusual about it, but it steadily gained intensity as the week progressed. By the end of our last class today, I was thoroughly and utterly exhausted. I don't think I was ever this exhausted even when my children were newborns and I needed to wake up every couple of hours during the night to feed them. The good thing is, I am so exhausted and I don't think I could feel any more exhausted; therefore, I think I should be able to handle anything they throw at us in Week 8.

Rajashree stood in for Bikram this week while he was traveling out of the country. She taught most of the classes in a loving and fierce manner that I admire. She's a siren who smiles while she sweetly entices you to stay in the postures. Her tactics are deceivingly wicked and they work well. She also lectured on yoga theraphy for a couple of afternoons. She shared her extensive knowledge of how yoga works from the inside out. I'm beginning to understand more and more why yogis have long, productive lives. She explained how Bikram yoga works every gland, organ, ligament, tendon, and muscle in your body in every class.

We were also treated to a lecture from Dr. Anne Marie Benstrom, the famous guru of "The Ashram" in Calabassas. What a vivacious woman of 81 years of age! We enjoyed her anecdotes from her personal experiences and her knowledge of the Chakric System. Some of her ideas I found to be pretty out there, but I think it's good to listen to someone challenge your belief system every now and then.

What's funny is that I actually look forward to going to yoga twice a day. Though sometimes I feel pretty tired and don't want to go initially, I always feel more energized that when I first walked in the door. If it wasn't for the yoga, I don't think we would be able to sit in lecture and posture clinics for hours at a time. Despite my fatigue, I feel stronger than when I arrived and I'm looking forward to seeing how my practice will continue to evolve after I get home and give my muscles a chance to fully rest. I've had some new aches and pains this week, but fortunately nothing to really worry about, I think.

I'm still falling in love with the dialogue. I think it's going to be a long courtship. We covered four more postures this week and we still have five to cover next week. I'm slowly feeling more comfortable getting up in front of forty-plus people and delivering my dialogue. I finally got the ok to give corrections, so that will be a new challenge for me next week. The group of people that I rotate with is a wonderful group of people. Our ages range from 21 to 58 and we represent many countries around the world - Austria, Canada, Australia, Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Russia and the United States. What's amazing to me is that for many people here, English is their third or even fourth language. They have to learn the dialogue in English for training, but many of them will teach in their first or second languages. It's truly impressive. Everyone in Group 16 (the last of 16 groups of 20 people because of alphabetical order) is very supportive of one another and everyone gets along well. That's a good thing considering that we spend up to 7 hours a day together sharing the dialogue challenges, the injuries, the illnesses, and the homesickness. The picture I included in this blog entry is of most of the people in Group 16.

Week 8 is going to be a tough week, I think. Bikram is back on Monday for the remainder of training and we still have several postures to get through in posture clinic. I'm sure there they'll also throw in some Bikram lectures and some more episodes of the Mahabharat. That's ok because after Week 8 comes Week 9 and after Week 9 we go home!

Manali, Bikram's niece who always greets us in the mornings and extends birthday wishes, asked us the other day if we were sad that training is almost over. Some shouted yes while others shouted no. I didn't say anything at all because I'm not sure how I feel about training ending. Being in this yoga bubble will be unlike anything else I'll ever do in my life and I think this experience will definitely be one of biggest challenges of my life. I like my break from the ordinary responsibilities of my life, but that has come with a very high price tag: homesickness. I know that nine weeks is only a blip of time in the big scheme of things, but to me every moment with my family is precious. I'm a stay-at-home mom for a reason: I want to be there for them and with them. Yeah, I think I'm ready to go home.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Week 6: Falling in Love with the Dialogue

Week 6 came and went with a blink of an eye. Even though we had lectures from Dr. Das for three afternoons, 11 yoga classes, and endless posture clinics, the week flew by. This was by far the most exhausting week and we didn't even spend any late nights with Bikram and his endless supply of Hindi movies. What made it exhausting was spending up to 6 hours a day in posture clinics that ended as late as midnight. Emotionally, I'm pretty sick of being here in this yoga bubble and what helped get me through the week was knowing I was going to see my family on Saturday. It's nice to have things to look forward to.

Posture clinics were the focal point this week. Someone mentioned that we need to fall in love with the dialogue. I'm not sure if I'm in love with it yet, but I think it's safe to say we've at least reached first base. I understand the importance of the dialogue and respect the need to memorize it well in order to be ready to teach upon leaving here. The staff really kicked up the pace and I delivered dialogue for 6 postures (as opposed to 3 last week). They really had people on their toes with the quick pace and by Thursday and Friday, many people were stressed about memorizing up to two postures in one day. Fortunately, we're still covering postures I memorized before training started, so I just needed to review and work on my presentation. I found that challenging enough, and again, I'm so glad I worked on the dialogue before I got here. I had a range of feedback from the teachers regarding my dialogue. Some said I needed to be more commanding (even going as far as saying I sound like a kindergarten teacher!) while others said I was very commanding and confident. Go figure! I've given up trying to understand what each teacher is looking for. What makes this process difficult, is you rarely deliver your dialogue to the same teacher two days in a row, so the teachers can't really get a feel for your progress. I've changed my attitude about trying to deliver the dialogue perfectly. Now, I'm just trying to have fun and let a little more of my personality show. I did this when I delivered my last piece of dialogue for the week and felt the most comfortable.

I don't think posture clinic is going to be as intense this week because we will have lectures from another doctor and Rajashree. We'll see.

Dan and the kids got here around noon on Saturday and I took a much needed break from this hotel. The Desert Springs is quite the party hotel on the weekends and it was nice to get away from the crowds of drunk people. We stayed at the Westin Villas and had a lovely time. The kids enjoyed the pool and waterslide, and I enjoyed catching up with Dan and not thinking about yoga for a wonderful 24 hours.

I think the next two weeks are going to be even more intense around here because there's still quite a bit they need to cram in and we only have three weeks left. The light at the end of the tunnel is dim, but it's now visible and will only get brighter with each passing day. In the meantime, I'm going to make the most of the rest of my time here and soak up any knowledge thrown at me that will help me become a good Bikram yoga teacher. It's time to romance that dialogue again!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Week 5: Still Alive With Congestion and Flow

Week 5 started with congestion and ended with flow. Reflecting on the week, it again was more difficult than the last and I can't help but wonder if and when our time here is going to get any easier. Each week in the yoga blender seems to be more challenging than the last and by now we're all anxiously awaiting the rebuilding phase. Bikram's approach of breaking us down to rebuild us into stronger, better people is truly unique and as a Western thinker, I find some of his approach difficult to understand. I'm ready to be rebuilt any time now. Will it take place while we're here, or after we leave? I'm afraid I know the answer to my own question, and the full impact of this training will probably not become apparent for many months to come.

I caught the cold that's been going around here and was pretty miserable from Sunday until about Wednesday morning. I knew it was inevitable that I got sick because we spend many hours a day in a giant petri dish - from the yoga room, the lecture hall, and the posture/dialogue clinic rooms with 325 people. Fortunately, I only had a cold and managed to participate in everything. I think I killed the cold with Zicam and high doses of Vitamin C because my cold didn't last very long. I've heard of many people who've come down with the flu and that sounds pretty miserable. Haesook had flu symptoms on Thursday and Friday, but since she didn't have a temperature she still had to take both classes each day and participate in everything else. At least the staff allowed her to get out of her line assignment and take the yoga classes from the back of the room where she could do what she could and mainly rest. I'm glad to say she's doing much better, too.

We didn't get much sleep the first three nights of the week (which made being sick even that much more unpleasant!) and Bikram kept us up until around 3 each of those nights. His usual M.O. is to start lecturing around 9:30 or 10 and then treat us to several episodes of The Mahabharat. On Wednesday night the staff was sent out in full force to make sure everyone stayed seated in their chairs and no one was allowed to sleep. Sitting in a straight-back chair for six hours until 3:30 in the morning was numbing. I've heard that in regards to the sleep deprivation, Bikram is trying to show us that we're actually capable of dealing with more physical adversity than we think we can. By Thursdays, we're not dealing very well. We've noticed that people are grouchiest and the most intolerant by Thursday and Friday. The end of the week is also when the most people sit out postures or have to leave the room. Fortunately, after just a single night of good REM sleep, I usually feel like a human being again.

We're progressing through the standing postures in our dialogue clinics. I only delivered Balancing Stick and Standing Separate Leg Stretching this week, though I was prepared to do more. They warned us that the pace of the clinics would pick up this week, but that didn't turn out to be true. Between Bikram's lectures, Emmy's lectures, and a guest speaker who talked about the importance of fascia (connective tissue), we didn't spend a lot of time in clinic. Each time I get up to deliver dialogue, I'm a little more comfortable but I'm no where near where I want to be as far as being comfortable in my own skin in front of a class. My yoga American Idol "judges" tell me I'm good with the dialogue itself, but that I need to be more confident and own the words. I know exactly what they mean, but I also think it's pretty ridiculous to expect novices to feel confident and comfortable after only having delivered dialogue in front of students just a few times. I'm finding it difficult to own the words when the words are a script written by someone whose English is his second language. Now I understand why the strongest person in my dialogue group is a professional actress. I take what the teachers say with a grain of salt because I know the confidence will come with experience and time.

Before we leave each of us will receive a Bikram Yoga Spring 2009 Yearbook. Very fun. We had to get our headshots taken this week and next week we have to submit our small group photos. The theme has something to do with laundry (maybe because we've had to be very creative in doing our laundry here at a hotel without a coin-op laundry facility?) and each group has to submit a picture related to laundry and a line of dialogue. Our group's theme is: Before air drying, twist like ropes. I think we're going to pose in Eagle posture with some rock climbing rope intertwined around each of us. There's also going to be a Talent Show and the staff already has people signing up for that. I think I'm going to be an enthusiastic audience member and enjoy the show.

I've heard of many roommate conflicts and I'm so grateful that Colleen is such a wonderful roommate. Claudia and Haesook are also wonderful neighbors through the adjoining door and I honestly have no complaints. Everyone is supportive of one another and considerate. What more could we ask for? It would be very difficult to be here without them.

The yoga has been pretty good this week. Usually for the morning class I'm in survival mode and I don't push myself too hard. I'm too stiff and afraid of injuring myself. This week I noticed that I had more strength and stamina in the afternoon classes and was able to go further into the postures. Yesterday morning's class, our 11th and final one for the week, was tough as usual. By Friday my body is pretty tired and my muscles are going on strike. Instead of letting my tiredness win the battle in my head, I tried another approach and gave it my all. I had a day and a half to rest, so why not? It felt great during class because I had something else to focus on instead of my own fatigue. During camel, the woman next to me started bawling (it's not unusual here to hear someone sobbing) and of course this got me going. At the end of class, the teacher put on a Bob Marley song and that was the trigger for me to really let the waterworks going. I had a good, cleansing cry that I knew needed to get out - I just didn't know when it was going to happen.

What were the tears for? I don't really know. It was probably a combination of a lot of things and a result of all the conflicting feelings I've been dealing with since I got here. I think that perhaps if I had gone through this experience when I was younger and didn't have a family, I would have enjoyed it more. I feel like I haven't fully enjoyed being here because I'm always thinking about the people who depend on me at home and everything I'm missing. My children's lives are very full and I chose to be a stay-at-home mom to enjoy being around them for what seems to be the very short time they're with us. Our family is very close and we never quite feel right when one of us is missing. Dan is wonderfuland is doing a great job of being mom and dad, and though he never complains, I know that my absence has been very taxing on him. The kids are holding up well, but Julia still cries when we say good bye on Saturday nights. On the brighter side, we only have four weeks left, I'm more than halfway there, and we will probably all appreciate each other more when I return home.

At the end of Week 6, we will be 2/3 of the way through. It's nice to have something to look forward to. Speaking of things to look forward to, Rosario emailed each of us this week to inform us of when we will be teaching our first class. I've been assigned to teach the 11 AM class on Thursday, July 2nd. That news makes this all worth it!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Week 4: Stay on Your Mat

Week 4 was a wild ride. It began with a class I thought I wasn't going to live through and it ended with a rejuvenating evening with family and friends. Staying on my own mat is what stands out for me when I reflect on Week 4 of training. Whether it was mentally or physically, I was definitely challenged to stay on my own mat but somehow I managed to get through another week of call it what you want - Bikram Teacher Training or Indian Boot Camp.

My first challenge was homesickness. Homesickness set in full force around Tuesday and I really started to wonder what the heck I was doing here when the people I love most in the world were away from me. I spent most of the day reflecting and keeping to myself because everything and everyone seemed to irritate me. Instead of vocalizing this, I tried to look inward until I came to peace with my feelings. I really had no idea what it would be like to be away from Dan and the kids for nine weeks until now - a month into a nine-week commitment. Everyone has told me that the middle weeks - 5, 6, and 7 - are the toughest and I'm starting to understand what they mean. I have a really good life at home and I miss it. It's as simple as that. It was, however, wonderful to see some familiar faces from home. Joe from the Long Beach studio visited us and took a double with us. Mayu, one of our teachers from home, took several classes and helped out with posture clinics. Betty and Judy were in town for the long weekend and both stopped by to visit for a bit. Dan and the kids also came out for their weekly visit and I loved every second they were here. I'm so fortunate to be able to see them so often and my heart goes out to all the parents here whose children are too far away to visit.

Yoga also challenged me. I had to learn go deal with distractions and to stay in the zone. I started to let the people around me lose my focus in the room and I didn't stay on my own mat for a few classes. This forced me to regroup and to remember that an important part of this yoga involves having enough discipline to ignore even a parade coming through the room.

I'm sure that being sleep deprived exacerbated my homesickness and my lapse in focus. Bikram returned this week and we were back to our very late nights - or early mornings, rather and three nights in a row we were dismissed at 2:30 or 4:30 AM. It was funny to take in the expressions on the faces of the Starbucks morning shift workers as they watched us trudge through the lobby at 4:30 as they were opening for the day. We're all becoming quite good at sleeping on the floor or in a chair during a marathon Indian movie. One trainee sleeps with her eyes open and never gets busted for sleeping during lecture or posture clinic. I envy her.

We're moving along with memorizing and delivering our teaching dialogue and the pace is going to speed up beginning this next week. We take our second and final anatomy test tomorrow and then we're going to start having posture/dialogue clinics twice a day. Instead of covering two to three postures a week, we'll probably cover four to five. We've all been assigned to a small group for these clinics and my group started getting together to practice together in the evenings. It's definitely helpful to recite the dialogue in front of people in the postures. We're slowly becoming more comfortable delivering our dialogue in front of groups of people. Everywhere through out the hotel, there are small groups of yogis talking to themselves or standing in postures. The hotel staff will really think we're crazy when we get to the floor series!

We had a nice variety of visiting teachers come through this week. My favorites have been Diane from Boston and Ulysses from Mexico City. Diane is a true posture clinician who stresses doing the postures 100% correct for your individual body. Ulysses treated us to a challenging class taught half in English and half in Spanish. He described pain in a way that stood out. He said that pain never goes away - your relationship with it changes. I've been thinking about this ever since he mentioned it in class the other day.

This Wednesday marks the halfway point in our training. I have such mixed feelings about the training overall that I'm not sure if I'm happy or sad that we're almost halfway through our time here. There are many things about the training I don't understand or agree with and there are many other things that I love and look forward to. I guess I'm still in the Bikram blender and it's not quite time to stop mixing. I need to keep in mind that I just need to continue to trust the process and before I know it, the process will make sense to me. It's a little hard for this control freak to do, but I'm taking it one day at a time. Trust the process... Trust the process...