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...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Week 3: Things are Getting Hotter

One of my fellow teacher trainees aptly expressed the unique passage of time here at training by saying, "Minutes are long and weeks are short." This is true, especially when you're holding a posture in the yoga room with the heat cranked up and no air is circulating or when you're sitting in the lecture room during the hottest part of the afternoon and you're fighting to stay awake while sitting in a pool of your own sweat. It's also true when you look back at a week of eleven yoga classes, five nights of posture/dialogue clinics, a week of a super-condensed anatomy class and wonder how the week could possibly be over. We are a third of the way through our training here and in six weeks we will be teachers.

Bikram was traveling this week, so we had a break from our mandatory late nights. Our nights ended at 11 all week and we appreciated getting a normal amount of sleep. I heard of many people staying up after posture clinic ended to study dialogue and again, I'm so very happy to not be one of them. This week we covered the rest of Half Moon, Awkward and Eagle and the pace is only going to increase as we continue to move forward delivering our dialogue in front of our mock "class." Two out of the three times, I did well and once I blanked for a few seconds before finding my place and continuing. It is true that the more we get up in front of people and deliver our dialogue, the more comfortable we feel. Most of the clinic rooms are in emptied out suites, but one room (our lecture room) has a stage and a headset microphone for us to use. I'm looking forward to trying out some dialogue there.

We completed the first of a two-week crash-course anatomy class and we have our first exam on Monday. Dr. Trapani is an interesting guy who loves to tell jokes and share his extensive knowledge of nutrition and natural health care. The material he covered is very basic for our needs and I think everyone should do well on the exam if they were awake and paying attention. Flashcards are a great study tool for anatomy!

It's hard to believe that we have taken 32 yoga classes so far. Taking doubles every day is not that bad (so far!) and I look forward to class most of the time. We have had some awesome visiting teachers such as John Salvatore from New York and Martha Williams from Minneapolis. I've discovered that my two hardest classes of the week are Monday and Saturday mornings - the first and last class of the week. I'm Mondays I'm stiff and on Saturday I'm tired. Yesterday morning I really had to dig deep because I was pretty exhausted and it seemed like no air was circulating around us. What makes it even more difficult is when many people around me are sitting out, leaving the room, goofing around with their ice-filled water bottles (don't ask!), crying, or hyperventilating. I really had to focus and stay on my own mat. We now have a "sick bin" outside the door and I think it's been used a few times since they seem to have cranked the heat a bit. I heard that a humidifying system was installed last weekend and though I haven't been able to confirm if that is true, it really was juicier in there this week. It feels like Long Beach! I'm home!

All of this yoga definitely has its benefits. I can now get back into Fixed Firm and Toe Stand thanks to a knee that is feeling a lot better. Before I got here, I was a little worried about how my knee was going to hold up since it started bothering me in February. I think all the yoga helps to stretch everything out and the rest of my body is holding up ok, too. I'm being careful about what I eat and I'm doing my best to keep my electrolytes in order. So far so good - no dehydration or cramping and I have good energy. Fewer and fewer yogis seem to be in the lunch line and I've even started skipping the lunch the hotel provides and opting to make or get my own lunch. Our daily choices are a cold sandwich or some variation of over-cooked vegetables over rice, couscous or polenta. To say the least, our lunch is not very interesting and we're all disappointed about this. If we were living in apartments, preparing our own food wouldn't be as much of an issue but I'm not going to repeat myself about our food situation.

Dan and the kids visited yesterday and we had another nice afternoon at the pool (Thanks, Dan, for quizzing me with my flash cards!). Now that I got a good night's sleep and had the opportunity to see my family, it's back to work. Today is dialogue day. I'm going to spend the rest of the day brushing up on dialogue I'll need to deliver this week and learning some new dialogue to stay ahead of the game. The weather is supposed to cool down to the 90's this week, so I'm taking that as a good omen for upcoming Week 4!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Week 2: Settling In

Today we completed our second week of training with our 11th yoga class of the week and CPR training. Our days are so full that the days begin to blend into each other around Wednesday. We are up by 7 and busy until anywhere from 11:30 PM to 3:15 AM. A short day was one where we got to go to bed the same day instead of the following morning. Claudia and I finally made it to the pool last night since we were dismissed from our evening lecture with Bikram. The nights here in the desert are beautiful - clear and warm with a view of the stars. It was so nice to be outside for a change.

As of right now, taking two yoga classes a day has been bearable. I always keep in mind the need to pace myself because we have a total of almost a hundred classes to take while we're here. What's funny is everyone already seems to have staked out their favorite practice spots in the room. I tried practicing near the front in order to see myself in the mirror but soon found out that wasn't the place for me. I found the front of the room a little too competitive and worked my way to the back of the room. I then found the back of the room to be too crowded with people trying to get out of the teacher's line of vision. I think I like the third or fourth row from the back (out of about 10 rows) and I've even gotten used to not being able to see even a hair on my head in the front mirror. When I get back to Long Beach, I don't think I will ever be peeved when someone sets up in front of me again.

Bikram's classes are always challenging and entertaining. I think he could easily go on the road with a stand up act and be successful! His blunt and sometimes harsh corrections definitely keep everyone on their toes. I wish I could bring my camera in and take a picture of over 320 people in awkward pose together - it's truly an awesome sight to see. We've had some other wonderful senior teachers this week and we were really fortunate to have Emmy for four of our morning classes. Taking one of her classes is like taking a yoga class and a physiology class in one - that's why most of her classes run close to two hours. What a wealth of knowledge.

The weather is is definitely heating up and it was about 105 here yesterday and today. The yoga room was hotter than last week and we all felt it. Many people needed to sit out postures or leave the room, but I'm proud to say the Long Beach crew has not sat down once. Whenever I feel tired, I just think about Haesook. At 15 years my senior, she has a solid practice every class. Now that's inspiration! The oldest teacher trainee is a lovely woman who is 69. I've never seen her leave the room and she's always smiling at the end of every class. What's tough to deal with is the temperature in the lecture room. The room has a very underpowered air conditioning unit that isn't able to cool such a large room filled with 320 people. It gets so warm in there that it's difficult to stay awake. The trickle of sweat rolling down my back usually shakes me out of my fog for a bit.

Bikram lectured more this week than last week and treated us to only one 4-hour epic Indian movie. I really enjoy his lectures and respect his views on living a yogi lifestyle. He said that since we're going to be "selling" an Indian product (Bikram yoga), we have to understand Indian culture. He's quite the historian and storyteller. I have especially enjoyed his lectures on self-realization, religion versus spiritualism, and how practicing yoga only brings about positive effects in your life.

I'm slowly adjusting to living in a hotel room. I've pretty much given up on trying to cook anything from scratch - it's too much trouble, I'm too tired, and I'm too short on time. The lunch included in our tuition is marginal, but it's easy and it does the deed. For dinner, I've been microwaving ready-made meals from Trader Joe's and having salad,but my biggest challenge is eating enough. What's funny is that last week I was starving all the time and this week I'm not hungry. Last night I didn't eat enough for dinner and I definitely felt it in class this morning. I'm trying to make sure I'm eating enough oxygen-rich foods and I'm using Cell Food and electrolyte-replacement powder so I feel well hydrated. I think we're all drinking more than 2 gallons of water each day. Colleen also introduced me to Kombucha and coconut water and I'm now an avid follower of both drinks. It's nice to drink something other than water sometimes!

Next week we're going to start our two weeks of anatomy and we'll also be breaking into our small groups of 20 for posture/dialoge clinic. It's time to get back to studying dialogue tomorrow after Dan and the kids come to visit for Mother's Day. I'm treating myself to a 90-minute massage (thanks, Pamela!) and should be well rested for Week 3.

Even though I'm tired to the bone and some days wish I were twenty years younger, I am thoroughly enjoying this experience. Bikram said that the training involves breaking us down to only rebuild us into better people. He even goes as far as saying that we will leave this training different people than when we arrived. I think the breaking down process is going to continue for several more weeks before the rebuilding begins. I'm trusting what he said to us the first day in orientation: let go of everything as we know it and not question his methods. In other words, we need to trust his Indian boot camp process and leave our Western ways of thinking and doing things at the door.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Week 1: Warming Up

We completed our first week today with our 10th class for the week. I am very grateful that we were eased into our nine weeks of teacher training with one less class and two fewer lectures than a regular week. This morning's class with Mike was definitely my toughest because my lack of sleep from the week definitely set in even after a normal night's sleep last night. The heat in the yoga room progressively increased as the week went on for two reasons. First, the weather slowly got warmer and second, the heating system in the room was in full swing by Wednesday. Friday night's class with Bikram was definitely the most challenging with the largest number of people not completing the class. About two-thirds of the trainees delivered their Half Moon dialogue for Bikram this week and I'm so glad to have that behind me. Bikram is known to be brutally honest in his critique of each student's dialogue and this can lead to a lot of anxiety. I wanted to get my turn out of the way so I volunteered the first night. Bikram was satisfied with my delivery and his only criticism was about my "high school" haircut. I was fine with the fact that the only thing he didn't like was my hair and I was happy to be able to walk off the stage with my dignity.

Bikram started his lectures and we discussed some interesting topics. We were also treated to a late-night Bollywood movie and an epic Hindi movie. Next week Emmy from Headquarters will be here to teach some classes and I'm really looking forward to that. I will love drinking in more her wisdom that has come from more than fifty years of practicing yoga.

Our everyday life is very scheduled with very little free time. We have a ten-minute walk from our hotel room to the yoga room so our commute takes up quite a bit of our free time. Signing in for proof of attendance is also a process that takes some time. All week our days have started at 7 AM and have ended as late as 3:30 AM the following morning. The hotel has stepped up our lunches and the food has noticeably improved as the week went on. Living in a hotel room has many challenges and we've become very creative in making hotel life comfortable.

Today we ran our errands and treated ourselves to pedicures. I also spent a couple of hours talking to a new yogi friend by the pool and enjoyed the luxury of being outdoors. We had a delicious dinner with Rosario at an adorable little French cafe and it was perfect end to a lovely day.

Tomorrow Dan and the kids are coming to visit for a few hours and I can hardly wait. Keeping in touch has been great even though our conversations on Skype or the phone have had to be brief. Seeing my family tomorrow will help fuel me for our first full week that begins on Monday morning. One down, eight to go!