“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. 

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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?

lead by example

Have I mentioned before how unbelievably wonderful and lucky I am to be situated within my particular local yoga community? We’ve got amazing studios, world-class teachers, and perhaps even more unique, the studios and studio owners work togetherAlthough I’d like to say that was universally true within the global Bikram community, more often than not local studios compete with each other–often with full-time teachers getting caught in the crossfire. It’s disappointing, but often true. But not where I live!

Our yoga community is kick ass, which is the #1 reason I live in this area despite the astronomical cost of living.

A few of the teachers I admire, and oddly my only photo despite the 32 hours we spent together over the 3 days.

A few of the teachers I admire, and oddly my only photo despite the 32 hours we (and about  15 others) spent together over the three days of the seminar.

And although it’s all well and good to be thankful (wasn’t there a holiday for that or something?), I am especially appreciative at the moment because this past weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a three-day seminar with Craig Villani hosted by my home studio. What distinguished his visit from many other posture clinics I have attended–each of which were inspiring and informative–is that instead of focusing almost solely on technical aspects of the postures, Craig focused on technical aspects of teaching. As a result of these three days, I have a better vocabulary for analyzing my strengths and areas to improve on as a teacher. I can already tell the information I learned will be invaluable.

This weekend helped me reexamine what to work towards in terms of teaching, especially in terms of strengthening my connection with the students. I’m looking forward to getting started!

And for those of you familiar with Awkward pose and Craig Villani’s infamous reputation of holding the second part of the posture for an unholy length of time, this weekend also made me re-examine (and renew!) my dislike for Awkward! My thighs stopped cooperating pretty quickly. I understand the need for the posture, the benefits of the posture, but uuuugh.

In the spirit of renewal, I’m will post more often–I don’t promise to be profound or even necessarily interesting, but at least more timely! Happy holidays, all.

Spine Twisting: #26 for a reason!

I did something stupid.

I should’ve known better and I DO know better, but I didn’t think it through…

My left hip/back has been off for a while now–the muscles just chronically tight. As loathe as I am to admit it, yoga was making the problem worse. As a result, the past couple months since training I’ve really had to scale back, both in terms of how often I practice and how hard I push when I do practice. It’s very frustrating for my athletic, die-hard, perfectionist (AND YOGA-CRAVING) personality.

Anyway, long miserable story short, I’d spent all day at work with it bugging me. So I decided to stretch it out– a dash of half-tortoise, then a dab of spine twisting. I felt a vertebrae shift into place (aaaaahh), then twisted a little further and felt something else move abruptly… in a not-good way. I took some Advil and went to bed, content that it would have solved itself by morning.

HOLY BEJEEZUS was I wrong.

I couldn’t get out of bed. I sat up (cue STAB-YOU-IN-THE-BACK, SUCKER-PUNCH-YOU-IN-THE-GENITALS-FOR-GOOD-MEASURE PAIN), and spent 20 minutes trying to get my muscles to relax enough to lay back down. I couldn’t life my left leg an inch off the bed. My back and hip muscles (in technical-speak, it’s most likely my psoas and some angry surrounding muscles to boot) were permanently contracted in a Holy Crusade-level of rage. I spent two days in bed, not moving (can you think of a more fitting or more brutal punishment for me?).

That was ten days ago, and tonight was the first night I dared to take class once again. [I’ve been teaching plenty, secretly jealous of my students every second of the way.] I’m happy to be back, even though there was very little I could do. Exhibit A: Half Moon–5° to the right, 5° to the left, a massive 10° backwards, and oh hey we’re just gonna hang out here in pada-hastasana ’cause actually pulling would be the WORST. IDEA. EVER. And that was only the first posture!

Super-frustrating to feel like my practice has taken a gigantic step backward, but I know it’s only a setback and not truly backward. Now, I will be more patient, more careful, and probably have an even better foundation by the time I’m back up to speed. Also, it makes me a much more compassionate teacher…. right?

The moral of this little parable?

There’s a REASON we practice class in the heat, and there’s a REASON why the postures come in the order they do. This way, they are SAFE and effective.

…..I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget that one again!

you don’t need to suffer

In the Bikram world, we talk a lot about pain, about suffering.

Your neck might hurt a little bit…. your back is going to hurt like hell, don’t be scared ….. elbows are supposed to hurt…. For goodness sake, it’s nicknamed the “torture chamber!”

There’s this masochistic mentality in Bikram yoga that the more you suffer, the more you gain. It’s one cultivated by Bikram himself (too many examples to list), and it trickles down and shapes every teacher and many students. I know I’m guilty of this a thousand times over. Students rave about how the teacher “kicked their ass,” how they “died,” even that the teacher was a Dominatrix or a Nazi.

Bikram yogis, like many athletes, find pride in the toughness, in the difficulty of the task. As teachers, we’ve been groomed to become bulletproof, fireproof.  The problem is that, of course, we treat our yoga practice like it’s a punishment.

Nobody looks forward to punishment. We fear it, we avoid it. So even as we take steps towards healing ourselves by making the decision to come to class and practice, we stunt the possibility of growth by approaching it from a mind and heart full of fear and the expectation of pain. How much change can possibly happen under those circumstances, when you are holding yourself back?

Mary Jarvis, who has taught Bikram yoga for 29 years and owns Global Yoga in San Francisco, pointed out to us recent training graduates that we should never revel in cruelty and that having students think of you as cruel should not and does not mean you taught a good strong class. You do not have to suffer to have a strong class and to receive the benefits of yoga.

Teaching yoga, like practicing, should be about love and healing and compassion. Instead of focusing on pain, she says, focus on the possibility that something magnificent and transformative is happening. And she’s right. As a teacher, I am there to lead the class. If I come with the goal of killing my students I am failing them. I am there to inspire them to believe that they have the ability to change themselves.

I tried teaching class yesterday with this wisdom of Mary’s in mind, in the hopes that it would help me to find that balance between pushing people to their edge (in order to accomplish change) and pushing students over the edge. I have no measurable way to tell if it worked, but I think it did.

What a great way to teach my 30th class!

Week 9 Recap

Week 9 Lessons

Our last day of watermelon by the pool after the last AM class of the week–all the traditions, ending.

  • We will find the answer by experiencing it: I asked two questions on the first day during Bikram’s long-anticipated posture lectures, and he didn’t like either of them. I’m quite sure he didn’t understand my first question. My second, though…. well, it went something like this:
    [In discussing the first part of Awkward]
    Me: “Why is it six inches between the knees and the feet?” (I’ve heard it’s so you’re aligned with your shoulder/hip width.)
    BC: “Because that’s the way I want it. That’s a stupid question. I thought you were smarter than that.”
    Can you say, “OUCH!”?!?
    Later–after the humiliation and embarrassment receded–I realized that (1) had he said that yes, it’s 6″ because that’s the distance between your hips/shoulders, someone less intelligent and dialogue-driven than me would have started to tell students that instead (even if I never would); and (2) he didn’t want “why” questions about the dialogue because he believes it is our responsibility to learn “whys” of the dialogue by practicing with our own bodies and by teaching and watching other bodies. Yoga is not academia. Here, we learn by doing, by experiencing and feeling.
  • “You’re supposed to die. You didn’t do good enough, because you didn’t die.” -BC: Just in case I’d started to feel stronger & better, our last class kicked my ass. It was so hot and humid, it felt like week 5 all over again–even with a bit of that disturbing numbness in my hands. I suppose it was for old times’ sake? In any case, I’ll take it as a sign I did well enough since, as Boss had said in lecture earlier, if we’re not dead at the end of class we didn’t try hard enough. Welcome to Bikram’s torture chamber, here to kill yourself for 90 minutes……
  • “Freedom brings uncertainty. So love your uncertainty. You’ll be 100% fine.” -Balwan: This last week felt like equal measures of terror of leaving the bubble and teaching your first class, sadness at leaving all of your amazing new friends, and relief at not having to keep up the same grueling routine. Balwan’s parting speech to us about our lives post-training was so apt and encouraging, though (and so in line with his wonderful spirit). It was very reassuring. I’ve never liked uncertainty, but teacher training, and this teacher training in particular (thanks, Week 7), has given me ample opportunity to practice equanimity and flexibility. So this quality I’ve been trying to learn, and will continue to practice.

Week 9 Highlights

Look at me with that hot little certificate in my hands!


  • Goodbye, deluxe torture chamber: Ok, so as hard as the actual last class was for me physically & mentally, it was also amazing. As soon as we hit final savasana, no one was dead. Everyone was standing, dancing, hugging, and crying their hearts out as one of Bikram’s songs was playing. Beach balls were hit around. It’s akin to simultaneously finishing a marathon with 400+ of your soulmates, only a thousand times more amazing. The hot room will never feel any better than that again.
  • “Ask me why”: Bikram’s posture lectures were so rewarding. Too short, as we ran out of time and he had to speed through things, but rewarding. I learned so many details and insights, even in that little amount of time! I couldn’t possibly summarize it all, so this will likely be something I’ll post about posture by posture [eventually] in the future.
  • Licensed to kill: Best of all, I’ve graduated and am officially a Bikram certified yoga teacher! Graduation was not that exciting (imagine any college graduation, add in typically Indian late timing and disorganization, you get the picture). But it’s over and done, we’ve said our goodbyes, and we’re packed, gone, and (in my case) even unpacked. The last night was a blast–I personally didn’t stick around for the disco/dance party in the ballroom (former known as the yoga room) but headed to a friend’s house where a ton of us were congregating. Then had a late night wandering session with my roommate and finally crashed at 5 AM. But most importantly, after 5 years practicing and 1.5 years of planning for TT, I’ve reached the starting line. I’m a frickin’ Bikram yoga teacher!

Week 5 Recap

Week 5 Lessons

The indomitable Group 7, together through the tears and triumphs of posture clinics!

  • Posture clinic is like having sex for the first time: You put a lot of pressure on yourself, you feel awkward and overflowing with nervous energy, then you get started and you have no idea what you’re doing and just want to get it over with. Then you get into it, love it, and can’t wait to do it again. (Haven’t gotten to that last “stage” yet, but I’m looking forward to it arriving!) This was an apt comparison that had our posture clinic laughing, and I wish I could remember the name of the teacher who said it. Fair play to him!
  • F*ck it!: Again, another lesson learned from posture clinic this week. This teacher pointed out that the nerves aren’t going to go away–at some point you just have to say “F*ck it!” and teach the posture no matter how ill-prepared or pants-wetting scared you may be. I put this advice into practice by jumping up early on to present Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee posture Wednesday afternoon despite never having practiced it with actual students/bodies before. It felt great! I stumbled, kept going, and then it was over!
  • Don’t let your opinion get in the way of a good class: My previous day’s attitude turned into even more sage advice the next day, when one of our clinic teachers really grated on my nerves. He meant well, but he was abrasive and negative. He wasn’t being compassionate to those who were struggling and, let me tell you, I have learned here that I am very protective of my yogis. I don’t get mad on my own behalf, but you’re in trouble if you hurt someone I care about! So yeah, I was getting angry. Then I mentally stepped back, remembered that being angry would not change his behavior and would only hurt me. I made the decision to kill him with love. I would volunteer for my posture (meaning I would act as buffer and one of my less-prepared and less-well-equipped-to-deal-with-him groupmates would be able to wait until the evening to go and have a different teacher for feedback). I would teach my posture with a smile and love, overwhelming the negative energy he was sending all over the room. And I did! Even better, he actually gave me the kind of feedback I’d been waiting for so it was a win-win. I still don’t like him, but at least I learned from him!
  • Becoming “bulletproof”: I wasn’t sure I’d make it through class Friday afternoon. We had almost 600 people (420 trainees + 140ish re-certifying teachers + staff and visiting teachers) in a room estimated at 125° for an approximate 135 minutes. Honestly, the most terrifying part of class has been that my hands keep tingling, shaking, and going partially numb, and it got particularly strong this time around. It’s quite the raja yoga exercise to quiet the terrified part of your brain and just stay. in. the. room. I did it, splurged on some Gatorade immediately after, and felt exhausted but generally grand in about 10 minutes. I win, Bikram! (Disclaimer: credit also goes to my friend on one side who massaged my hand in savasana at one point and the new bff on the other side who gave me some of her water when I ran out).

Week 5 Highlights

Sunday morning brunch, back to “normal”!

  • We ploughed through postures: I taught 7 postures this week and we had 6 posture clinics in a row. This really didn’t feel like a “highlight” at the time, but it does feel like quite the accomplishment! It also explains the absence of posting, as there was no time for any words that do not derive from Bikramish.
  • Rajashree arrived: She taught us three times this week. While her class is not my favorite, I greatly prefer her energy/style to Bikram’s or Emmy’s (this feels like blasphemy, but it’s true!). I believe in compassion and, as Raj puts it, “kill[ing] them with a smile.” She is the moon to Bikram’s sun; they are polar opposites. I’m so happy she’s finally here! My friend and I were joking last week that her theme should be the old Savage Garden hit “I Knew I Loved You” for the following apt lyrics: I knew I loved you /Before I met you /I think I dreamed you into life. Yes, yes we really were looking forward to the reprieve that her presence would bring.
  • 5 weeks, 55 classes, and 15 postures delivered: We’re over halfway done with training!
  • Chill weekends: Goooooood food, good friends, heart-to-hearts, haircuts, car-washing, swimming, a massage, and lots of dialogue. Resting up for week 6, the rumored “hell week” (cue maniacal laughter). No better way to spend our respite.

“Either you enjoy it or, if you’re stupid,  you don’t enjoy it.” -Bikram

Boss is back! Let this be a lesson for “hump” week. I’m going to enjoy every single moment, even the ones I hate. (Yup, you read that one right.)

Week Three Recap

Week 3 Lessons

Image

If flowers can grow in the gutter, I can conquer the dialogue.

  • How you teach reflects your personality, and you will end up teaching the kind of class you like to take: I have learned so much about teaching in posture clinics, not only from presenting postures myself but from watching my fellow teachers-in-training.
  • “This is not a place to be alone.”
    This message has been repeated many times over the past week in many different versions, especially in relation to studying the dialogue. Almost every students who has really been having a hard time learning the dialogue has been studying on their own. That has to stop, because it doesn’t work. We have to succeed together or fail together. We are not and should not be alone. PS people need to lay off flipping out about people touching their mats, waters, towel, etc. during class. Personal space does not exist. Deal with it.
  • Pain is Good, pain is important: Emmy Cleaves, Bikram’s right hand women, is 80+ years old and in the most amazing shape. She still leads (i.e. teaches while taking) the Advanced series. She talked to us about pain–how pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong, how pain is all how you experience it (and store it in your body), how to deal with your pain or pain your students may encounter.
  • “You have to suck before you get good.” -Kat (Staff)
    Hi, my name is Jessica. I am a perfectionist. Before I came here, I didn’t want to practice my dialogue with any teachers before I could say the pose perfectly. That’s not an option here, and I wish it was something I could have gotten over sooner. The first hundred times you say the dialogue, you are going to make mistakes. You will forget lines, you’ll switch lines, you’ll completely blank and panic. The point is to just keep going. This is a particularly relevant note for me to remember because I am very, very hard on myself about memorizing the dialogue 100% verbatim. To me, anything less than perfection is a failure (another thing I don’t deal well with). But perfection is not the point. It’s a work in progress.
  • A Sign of Things to Come: I felt great after class Friday afternoon. It should’ve been a warning sign–BC’s told us time and time again that he’s always most afraid when good things happen because he knows the bad is coming (thankfully the opposite is true as well–be glad when you suffer because the good is coming). Saturday morning class was brutal. For the first time since Week 1, I sat out parts of the practice. I probably sat for a good 25 minutes out of the 90. Every time I got my head above my heart, I would almost pass out. People all around me were dropping like flies, I could see constant traffic heading out the door, and one yogi two rows behind me had two staff members at her side cooling her down for ten minutes before assisting her out of the room. No bueno! It was so much hotter and more humid than it’s been to date. And I can sense this is what they’re planning to make it like from here on out, so it’s time to really buckle up for the ride.

Week 3 Highlights

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A new pose–partnered Garurasana/Eagle pose!

  • Anatomy Series: So far, we have learned about the skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems of the body. I miss school and learning things, so I have greatly enjoyed these lectures–particularly since our lecturer is both engaging and knowledgeable. I have picked up all sorts of cool facts.
  • Eagle pose: Although my presentation of Back-Bending/Pada-Hastasana and Awkward Pose did not go as well as I would have wished, I totally incorporated the feedback I’d gotten (remember to breathe and vary speed/tone more) into Eagle AND nailed the dialogue. It felt great to end the posture clinics for the week knowing I’d made progress.
  • Surviving Class #32: See above. Saturday morning was hard. It sucked. BUT I stayed in the room (100x more challenging to resist that screaming urge when you’re still in savasana and not doing the postures), did at least one set of every posture, and stayed in final savasana for over the 2 required minutes.
  • Weekend Food: Fish tacos! Caramel crepes! Nutella milkshakes! Smoothies! Delicious paninis! Funnel cakes! So much deliciousness, it’s hard to handle.
  • My fellow yogis and friends: I LOVE the people I have met here! We have a few rotten apples, as is bound to happen in a 400+ group, but for the most part everyone is really friendly. I love getting to hear everyone’s story, and most people have the best hearts. Yogis frickin’ kick ass!

Hydrate.

Hydrate or Die.

Anyone who has taken a Bikram yoga class knows how important it is to stay hydrated. The best way to learn this lesson is to take class and realize you’re dehydrated. Class will be miserable. But you’ll bend over backwards (literally, ha!) to avoid repeating the experience.

Here at Teacher training, taking 11 classes in 5.5 days, the importance of getting enough liquids goes up exponentially. Woe betide the trainee who forgets to hydrate! So, in that spirit, here’s my routine for avoiding that particular potential death trap.

Jessica’s Recipe for Staying Hydrated:

  1. Prior to each class, fill insulated Bikram bottle with 3/4 water, 1/4 ice. This baby comes into the torture chamber! Drink at party time, savasana, fixed firm, and final savasana. If necessary, add sips before triangle and head-to-knee with stretching. Beware stomach sloshing.
  2. Prior to each class, fill Title Nine Camelbak with 1/2 ice, 1/2 water AND (here’s the key) a Nuun* tablet to help me hydrate. Store outside with cover-up and shoes. Drink after class–experience says this will be gone within 5 minutes.
  3. After 5 pm class, return to the hotel room and drink ONE coconut water.
  4. As desired, drink Trader Joe’s sparkling pink lemonade for an injection of sugary goodness. Drinking straight from the bottle is highly recommended.

More generally, all is well in the Bikram bubble! This week is when the real training has started–we’re doing posture clinics, anatomy lectures, even a lecture on pain from superstar Emmy Cleaves. Many, many people have started really stressing out (primary cause: not knowing the dialogue). I’ve had some less great moments–I missed a few lines because of nerves when presenting postures & have been told to remember to breathe–but for the most part I’m still in great shape. Still so SO happy I am here!

*If I ever write a love letter, it would be to Nuun. This stuff is AMAZING. A lot of people swear by Emergen-C, but I think that stuff tastes horrible. By contrast, Nuun has a really mild flavour and very little carbonation, which is perfect after being used to plain water. Plus, no sugar! I have over 144 tablets left–I will not risk running out while I’m here. My favourite flavor is Strawberry Lemonade, but I also enjoy the Citrus and Lemon Lime. All homage to Nuun, O Superior Hydration Tablet!