Celebrate good times, c’mon!

Of course, after the 60 day challenge comes the 60 day challenge PARTY! We gather, we eat, we share stories, we take goofy pictures. What’s not to love?

One of several aforementioned goofy photos: group shot from the end of the night

One of several aforementioned goofy photos: group shot from the end of the night

Regardless of whether or not I did the challenge, I love going to the challenge parties. They are the rare chance for us to come together and share. As a teacher, I have the friends, the time, and the spaces to talk about and reflect on my yoga practice a lot. But for most students, this may be the only time the whole year (or ever) that they share the journey of their practice, and that, as a teacher, I get to peek inside their world from their eyes. On the podium and in the studio I see glimpses: when they have a tough day, when they can finally grab both feet in Bow Pose–but rarely will I be able to know why it happens or what it means to them.

At these parties, I finally get to hear their story. And there were SO MANY GREAT STORIES. One student shared how, having watched past challenges, this was the first time she found the courage and did it herself, and how much it has helped her running. Another made his speech, carrying his young son in one arm and with his wife and young daughter beaming with pride nearby. One student even wrote a rap song about what this yoga means for her and performed it with her daughter, with lyrics that were both hilarious and touchingly honest and vulnerable. One Challenger’s husband– not a yogi–came up and made a speech about how her yoga practice had inspired him to take better care of himself and be more active. Hilariously, one student admitted to not telling her husband when she had finished her challenge, all so that she could keep coming every day. Over and over, people shared how much better they felt– but even more, they shared how much it had affected their relationship with their family, their loved ones.

Me and one of my frequent students, Reema, who shared her new personal mantra

Me and one of my frequent students, Reema, who shared her new personal mantra

Caught up in the mundanities, it’s easy to forget sometimes how much impact we have as teachers. One student I didn’t even know mentioned me and how much my classes had helped her. Another student said that she took on a new mantra based on something I had said off-hand one day while students were really struggling in class:

LESS DRAMA, MORE PRANA. In other words, think less, breathe more. Although I had appropriated this from one time another teacher said this while I was practicing in a class over a year ago at a different studio (I did give her credit), these words were given a whole new life as they took on meaning and power for more students.

Just like the yoga: it’s a ripple effect, one drop repeating over, growing and widening. We may not know, or see, or be aware of what it’s doing– all the same, it is happening.

I did it! Fourth challenge (if BYTT counts), second time at BYSJ

I did it! Fourth challenge (if BYTT counts), second time at BYSJ

between harmony and happiness

60 days of monkeys!

60 days of monkeys!

 

I did it! I finished my daily 60 day challenge. No doubles. Just yoga, every single day. I haven’t decided how to celebrate yet…

in sickness and in health

Cock Pose requires quite a bit of strength... though my knees are still far from my armpits, it's taken a while for me to even keep my arms straight and to lift my legs using strength rather than momentum.

Cock Pose: though my knees are still far from my armpits, it’s taken a while for me to even keep my arms straight and to lift myself using strength rather than momentum.

Yesterday, a bunch of teachers practiced advanced in Aptos with Zeb Homison, the 2014 US Asana Championship. I love when we get the chance to break from our normal yoga routines and gather– naturally, most of the time it’s for more yoga.

Shortly after my last post, I got sick (as did quite a few other teachers). I still kept up my daily practice, albeit armed with tissues. I managed to teach most of my classes, albeit armed with tissues and tea and throat drops. I have a renewed gratitude for my voice. Over a week of constant concern about the ability to be heard, about whether, when I open my mouth to speak, sound would come out. Even one of the work-trade students noticed I wasn’t my usual chipper self. Yesterday, she pronounced me well and back to full form as we danced around the front desk prior to my evening class.

51 days down, 9 to go!

“Keep it Light”

Yesterday was day 30 of my 60 day challenge. 30 consecutive days of yoga, and I am halfway there!

And it has been a challenge, emotionally most of all. I was deeply reluctant about signing up. My practice hasn’t been the same since I came home from Australia (never take breaks, kids, that’s the lesson… just kidding). Over the holidays I struggled and suffered and dragged myself through every single class. My hip flexors were chronically, painfully tight and class only seemed to make them ache worse. Standing Bow almost always sent me into a physiological and psychological nosedive. Any corrections, and my faith in myself and my abilities crumbled. Teaching was fine, but practicing was a nightmare. I started to wonder whether I would ever be able to handle the heat again, and my mind quickly devolved into an identity crisis.

The idea of having to go through that every day…… Shudder. BUT, inspired by my friend Chris, who has brain cancer and is currently undergoing radiation and chemotherapy yet again, I mustered up my determination and committed to the challenge.

And it definitely has not been easy. My hip flexors feel better (thanks actually to keeping up a regular advanced practice and being diligent about my after-class hip-stretching homework). I still have had some really rough days–for instance, one where my teacher-friend hugged me when I burst into tears after class, or another where a different teacher-friend hugged me because I cried through the last half an hour of class (I love my teacher-friends). And every Standing Bow still feels like a psychological roller coaster. I have also had some anxiety flare-ups, and while practicing helps, the difficulty breathing also makes practicing even more challenging and even less fun.

This time around, I do not push. Right now, for me, pushing only leads to failure and frustration.

Cynthia taught my class yesterday afternoon, and during party time she reminded us to “keep it light.” To let go of the struggle, the suffering, the resistance that only makes what we fight against stronger. My practice has felt heavy, I have felt heavy. This was the perfect time, and the perfect reminder: I become preoccupied during Standing Head to Knee that Standing Bow is just around the corner, and I fear it coming. Keep it light. And for now, that’s the best I can do. In Standing Bow, I pour all of my energy into changing the pattern, all of my focus into remembering that I can feel strong and good in the posture. And when I waver, I remind myself that how I might feel now is not how I will feel forever or even tomorrow. Keep it light. This stayed with me for the rest of my class.

At BYSJ, we begin the year with a pack of Angel cards which have themes for meditation written on them. We invite everyone to choose a card to act as a guide or intention for the year. Mine? Exactly what I needed.

My 2015 Angel Card

My 2015 Angel Card

Release
1. allow or enable to escape from confinement; set free.
2. allow (something) to move, act, or flow freely.

Yes, please. 

September: A Retrospective

Recipe for Inspiration
Lucas Miles, an American-but-Auckland-based senior teacher, visited Melbourne and did a posture clinic & class at Bikram Yoga Preston. This was my first opportunity to meet him, and I’d heard quite a lot and was looking forward to meeting him. I really enjoyed his master class—his approach is both laid back and highly practical, and he has a lot of insight into the postures and practice. I particularly enjoyed his discussion of balancing action, relaxation, attention, respiration, and duration when practicing: each mutually influencing and necessarily in proportion with the others.

Luke having me demonstrate the Spine Strengthening series. Here, clearly pointing out our area of focus for Locust posture. My favorite (not)!

Here, clearly pointing out our area of focus for Locust posture. My favorite (not)!

Me in Cobra. Luke: "Contract HERE, guys."

Luke having me demonstrate the Spine Strengthening series. Me in Cobra. Luke: “Contract HERE, guys.”

 


Hot Stuff

I completed our studio’s September consistency “challenge”: practice four times a week for four weeks. I say “challenge” because I normally do five to six times a week normally. Still, I dutifully tracked my classes (6, 5, 5, 4), and fit in class whenever I could so long as I wasn’t teaching. For the most part, however, I have been teaching quite a lot in order to save for my upcoming adventures. All in all, I was in the room for 76 classes this month.

Out of the Box (into another box)
In a break from our normal, hectic schedules, Claire and I took a field trip out so I could see and practice at Bikram Yoga Tullamarine (another local Melbourne studio I’d yet to visit). Such a beautiful studio—you could see the love and thought that had gone into the planning of the space. Succulents everywhere, natural light streaming in, comfortable couches and chairs, lots of reclaimed wood and secondhand furniture. After, Claire and I enjoyed lunch.

Claire (fellow teacher), Annemarie (teacher and BYT owner), and me after class

Claire (fellow teacher), Annemarie (teacher and BYT owner), and me after class


Yoga Playdate

After much organizing, a few of us Bikram teachers tried Anti-Gravity yoga together. I loved it as much as, or perhaps more, than last time. This time I was surrounded by friends who would laugh with me. It made for great photos.

Bikram Yogis do Anti-Gravity Yoga

Bikram Yogis do Anti-Gravity Yoga

Claire and her husband Tim-- don't they make a nice couple, hanging out?

Claire & Tim– couples that hang together, stay together?

Australia, Here I Come!

A quick announcement of exciting things to come. One month from now, I begin a new adventure: teaching Bikram Yoga in Melbourne, Australia for the next four months. Yes, Australia. Specifically, Bikram Yoga Werribee & Yarraville.

I am currently preemptively missing all of my students and fellow teachers (I hate goodbyes, even temporary ones), but also really looking forward to this opportunity to expand and explore. I love my yoga peeps, yet I also feel strongly that it is the time to push my boundaries more. In addition to quelling my wanderlust, I know that this will help me become a better teacher.
adventurehurt
So stay tuned. Things are going to get more interesting!

impact and inspiration

The past month has found me stumbling and wavering–not as confident, not as enthusiastic, more fearful. It has not been particularly fun, and I have reminded myself (as well as having been reminded by one of my amazing studio owners) to be compassionate and patient with myself as I move forward. Clearly my teaching is evolving, but sometimes the process of transformation is awkward and clumsy, you know?

In any case, tonight was the first of the 60-Day Challenge parties I’ll be attending, and it was, as always, inspiring. Inspiring to hear from the students what their challenge meant to them. For some, it was health-related: astronomically lowering dangerously high cholesterol and triglyceride levels after years of ineffective medication, becoming free from chronic spinal pain, finally healing from decade-old trauma injuries. For others, it was personal: getting to bond with a son or daughter, dealing with being laid-off and figuring out the next stage of life (teacher training, as it turns out!), grieving for a recently passed away brother. Heavy stuff, really.

At the end of the night, as I went to congratulate the Challengers individually, one of my students told me exactly this:

inspiregiveup

Honestly, having him in my class every week was such a gift to ME. It made ME excited to teach, and comforted me when I was having difficulty feeling my connection to students during class. Another student (didn’t even recognize her, honestly!) told me that I was “inspiring” and that she had wanted to tell me.  I don’t share this to emphasize how great I am (goodness knows I’m an expert at not feeling that way). My point is rather that, by sharing these thoughts with me, my students reinforced how much I love my job and made every bit of my struggles worthwhile.

It seems we never realize the true impact our actions have–clearly, this goes both ways, so yet another reason to spread kindness as much as possible!

Introducing Inspiration: Christina!

My friend Christina has been practicing now for 30 days in a row–basically how long the only studio in her state (Indiana) has been open. She is such an inspiration, not only for the beauty of her backward bends (she was always more flexible than me), but for her determination. She is the most stubborn, driven person I know, so naturally I should have known that Bikram yoga would be perfect for her.

I could say a lot about her and what it means for me to have her practice, but I think it means more coming from her, so enjoy this little interview. You can see a video interview with her here. AND she’s ALSO been chosen as the Student of the Month at her studio. Girl is ON FIRE…. almost literally…..

Christina in Half Moon backbend

Christina in Half Moon backbend

1. Describe your first Bikram yoga class.
I can’t really remember my first Bikram class, although I do remember laying on my mat glaring at my friend who brought me mouthing to her “never again.” I didn’t lay in savasana for a second longer than I had to. I just ran out of the room and went into the shower to immediately cool down.

2. What made you come back again?
About 15 minutes after I got out of the shower after my first class I already felt the effects. I had more energy and my body felt amazing! I didn’t understand because just a few minutes before I was fairly certain I was going to die of heat stroke. Once that amazing feeling came over me I knew I had to give it a shot the next day. And I did, and then I was hooked.

3. What benefits have you experienced so far?
I am doing better in class and getting into postures I couldn’t do before. My energy levels are up and I’m sleeping better. I used to take Benadryl at night for allergies and I no longer have to do that. I haven’t noticed a difference in the way my work clothes fit yet, but the other day in class I saw that my yoga pants were loser, so I’m sure the other clothes will be loose soon enough.

4. Any advice for new students?
Hydrate! My first couple classes I had raging headaches afterwards and it was because I was dehydrated. The hydration tablets and powders are great and so is coconut water. Coconut water is a great way to treat yourself after a hard, yet successful class. My final piece of advice: keep coming. It really is worth it, even though you may not believe that while it’s happening.

5. What’s your favorite posture and why?
I really like bow and camel. I like bow because I wasn’t always able to do it so now when I finish bow it’s even more rewarding. I love camel but it’s really hard to describe why. Like bow, I wasn’t always able to do camel, but when I come out of camel and into savasana my heart is racing and lying there I just feel so good—and camel is really fun to do! It’s cool to see everyone’s mats on the floor behind me, upside down.

Christina in her favorite posture: Camel Pose!

Christina in her favorite posture: Camel Pose!

Interview and images from The Hot Room Indianapolis. Check them out on Facebook— it’s a new studio, but clearly already creating a thriving community. So excited for this particular addition to our Bikram yoga worldwide family!

speaking with a kind heart

How to Always Speak With a Kind Heart

your heart is a weapon the size of your first-- keep fighting, keep loving

I’m practicing this while teaching–it’s something I’ve done intuitively, knowing that the military drill sergeant style of teaching was never going to be effective for me.

It’s so important when giving corrections, or trying to engage an overwhelmed student trying to flee the hot room. Mostly, my students just seem to need to know that I hear them and am here for them–then they can and do what I’m asking. Or, even if they don’t, they’re less angry and more open-minded.

Now I’m consciously trying it, and seeing these principles reflect all around me.

To point, I had a student earlier this week who had a class that could have turned disastrous. She started to leave the room during Tree pose, to which I firmly, kindly asked her to stay on her mat so I could see her and make sure she was okay, and reminded her that we would be on the floor in a minute or two. She left, and fainted just outside the door. I made sure she was okay, had an experienced student look after her while I continued teaching, then checked back up on her and asked her how she was doing. It turns out she’d thrown up, but said she felt much better. I made sure she knew to rest outside for a few minutes, but I let her know that I would come back out in a few minutes and would ask her to come back in–even if just to lay down on her mat for the rest of class. When I did, she came back in with no resistance. She lay down for a few postures, but by Fixed Firm, she joined us of her own volition (no individual encouragement from me).

After, I talked to her–she was in her first five or so classes (which I’d known beforehand), she hadn’t been to class in five months (which I hadn’t known), and she hadn’t eaten much earlier in the day. But she wasn’t angry or even upset about what happened. I think she felt a little silly, but not too embarrassed. Most importantly, however, she planned to come back.

What does this have to do with the article, with speaking kindly? Everything.

I’ve seen this situation enough times, and dealt with it myself, to know that when the teacher becomes aggressive about staying in the room that it rarely ends well. Even if the students spoken to stays and is fine, others in the room start to feel trapped or may lose faith in the teacher and not work as hard for the rest of the class. More often, it leads to a confrontation in which the student alienates her/himself from their practice.

On the other hand, when you approach the scared, suffering student with compassion, the student knows the teacher cares about how they’re feeling and listens more. It keeps the student in a better place, psychologically. Even if they still leave the room, they’re more likely to come back whether in a few minutes or another day (I’ve extracted promises and shook hands with students who still decide to leave–they smile and come back the next day). I’ve never seen kindness fail.

Happy Love Thursday!

60-Day Challenge: Pow!

I finished my 60-day challenge yesterday! So grateful to have done it, also secretly glad it’s over. Just when I thought I was sailing towards the end, I caught a cold and struggled through teaching and practicing for the past four days. I am, however, overwhelmingly relieved that I have not lost my voice and that I was able to complete it!

like a champ

like a champ

The transformation from this time last year (when I accomplished my first 60-day challenge) to now astonishes me. It was still hard this time–I imagine that, like class itself, the challenges never get easy–but much less daunting. Last year, I was proving to myself that I was capable of doing it. This year, I was maintaining that dedication, so my approach was methodical and patient. Lots of my fellow challengers fell behind and had [consecutive] days of doubles or even triples in order to stay on track. I think I only did maybe four doubles; otherwise, it was a day-in, day-out time- and energy-management goal. I didn’t try to kill myself, ever. To make this practice sustainable for me, consistency and compassion are crucial.

In other, more inspiring news, this weekend was also the USA Yoga Asana National Championships, and I had the joy of coming home from teaching this morning to get to watch the Champion’s demonstrations–including Cynthia Wehr, who owns my home studio. Every time I see her perform, it’s absolutely breathtaking. She’s such an incredible human being–everyday, she’s so humble and sweet I think we all forget a little how privileged we are to have her. To have her teach me, to have her take my class, to practice with her. But boy, did watching this remind me! Especially her smile and quick exit…. never the glory-seeker, Cynthia. Just a beautiful mensch, inside and out.

Anyways, if you have time and would like to see the pinnacle of yoga asana grace, watch the champions or even the finalists. Even when they fall out of postures (they ARE like the rest of us, if only a little!), they do it with such charm they will astound you yet more.

Happy March, everyone!