Branching out: my first demonstration

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a demonstration for the 11th anniversary of Bikram Yoga San Jose. Trees run deep in BYSJ’s visual ideology, and I like to think of this studio as the roots of the south bay yoga community–out of this studio have come three more studios. It’s an amazing place. In every detail you can feel the attention and love of the folks at the heart of this place– particularly Michele, the studio owner, and Chris, Michele’s studio co-pilot (not his official title, but certainly the most apt).

I started teaching here on January 1, 2013, and this budding relationship was one of the most rewarding parts of my entire year. So it meant a lot to me that Cynthia (who choreographed the routine) asked me to help out for the anniversary–a way of reciprocating the love.

We dedicated this demonstration to Chris, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in August and has had a rough time of it but has also displayed a tremendous fighting spirit throughout. We were lucky enough to have him present during the demo.

Anyways, enjoy (especially me falling out of a few, ha!).

The participants (from left to right) were: me, Dawn (a fellow teacher), Cynthia (owner of Bikram Yoga Mountain View and 2007 International Yoga Asana Champion), Jason (fellow teacher and Invitee to the upcoming Nationals), Michele (our wonderful BYSJ leader), and Michelle (manager and student at BYSJ).


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!

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.

Bikram Yoga Focus: I need your help!

Most of you probably don’t know this, but for fun I’ve been taking a class on Sport Psychology. For this class, I have to complete a project related to one of the topics we study (ugh, work!)–and I’ve decided I want to study the concept of focus as it relates to our wonderful 26&2. So I am reaching out to you, my fellow yogis reading this, to help me!

If you can, please take a class and fill out the two surveys below sometime by the end of Tuesday, May 28th (that’s five days’ worth of possibilities). Feel free to read the questions before class if it will help you answer afterwards, or not. I would really, really appreciate your participation. And do pass this along to anyone you think would be appropriate–the more, the merrier!

As you fill the surveys out, feel free to consider different aspects of class, e.g. heat, number and type of people (i.e. small/big class, friends or didn’t know anyone, people with lots of extra movements, et cetera), where you were in the room, what time of day, your outside stress levels, what you were thinking about, mental imagery, dialogue, who was teaching, and so forth.

Here are the links to the two surveys:
Focusing in Bikram Yoga (Based on Single Class):

Focusing in Bikram Yoga (Based on General Practice):

I promise to share what I find afterwards. Sincerely, thank you!

Embodying True Focus, my friend D. taking Rajashree's outdoor class in NYC last summer

Embodying true focus (and beauty and awesomeness!), my friend D. taking Rajashree’s outdoor class in NYC last summer

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!

determination, effort, and 30 days down

A mini-celebration… gratitude for reaching the halfway point of my challenge today. 30 days down, 30 days to go!

I have met with my fair share of challenges so far: a few utterly ego-busting classes, new pain sensations from one of my vertebrae, struggles to hydrate while teaching full-time. But so far, this challenge has also reacquainted me with the need for patience (one posture at a time, one day at a time) and renewed my compassion for those new (and old) students in the throes of a particularly overwhelming class.

As I continue, I find myself increasingly looking for guiding wisdom to inspire me each class. I hope this one, taken from the Dalai Lama in The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living, resonates for others as well.

It takes a long time to develop the behavior and habits of mind that contribute to our problems. It takes an equally long time to establish the new habits that bring happiness. There is no getting around these essential ingredients: determination, effort, and time.

knowing why and wanting to try

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with two other teachers, talking about the decision to include the medical benefits of the posture while teaching.

While looking over the dialogue for Standing Separate Leg Head-to-Knee, I mentioned how I really want to nail (i.e. successfully include in class) this one fantastic tidbit of additional dialogue about all the benefits of the posture:

Good for eight things:
       Marriage between the pancreas and kidneys, thyroid & pituitary glands;
       Extension of the oblongata & medulla;
       Opening the throat & crown chakras.
Good for the digestive & endocrine systems, metabolism, body chemistry, immune system.

Me in Dandayamana-Bibhakptapada-Janushirasana

Me in Dandayamana-Bibhakptapada-Janushirasana , so everyone has some idea what we’re talking about, not because mine is perfect!

The other teacher, B, responded that she doesn’t like to say the medical benefits because every time she hears them it always comes off sounding awkward and fake. For teachers to suddenly start using scientific terms and getting descriptive disrupts the rhythm of the dialogue’s usual commands. Plus, most people don’t understand what you’re talking about anyways–after all, how many people casually reference the oblongata or medulla, or understand what the chakras symbolize?

Both incredibly fair points.

I love them though, because when executed well the medical benefits motivate the students. Particularly in this posture, which is

  1. Physically uncomfortable (hi, throat choked!)
  2. Technically challenging (you have to touch your forehead to the knee!), and
  3. Mentally exhausting (everyone just finished Triangle, it’s 45-50 minutes into class, and everyone just wants to be on the floor already…. or at least ASAP).

So for me saying the medical benefits are a fantastic way to mentally get my students to want to try. Some don’t know why they’re being told to do all of these things, so they don’t care. Others know why, but are too tired to care. For both, this reminder–that they will personally benefit in a lot of ways if they just keep trying–will get them to overcome their exhaustion or whatever obstacle they’re facing.

Since my responsibility as a teacher is to get my students to try, the medical benefits are a very powerful tool that I can’t afford to ignore. The harder part, of course, is actually managing to say it. Those words are a frickin’ mouthful, and if it takes me too long to say it, their inclusion will extend the posture so long that the students give up anyways. Thus defeating the purpose. But that’s the fine line we walk as teachers the whole 90 minutes, between challenging people and pushing them too far.

It’s going to take a lot of practice to get it down–with a lot of awkward attempts during which students will just have to bear with me–but after all, worthwhile things are rarely easy!

As a fun post-note, I got to take class from B this morning, and during this posture she said “If you want to know all the medical benefits, ask Jessica.” Ha! This made me smile, which was exactly what I needed at that moment. There’s a new way to include the benefits for you! I really admired and enjoyed the spontaneity of it. It was a sign of active teaching–she knew what was right to say for that class, in that moment.

giving thanks

I love the spirit behind Thanksgiving: practicing gratitude and appreciation for all the many little (and big) ways we are lucky in our lives. It’s important, not only from an ethical standpoint but because psychological research also tells us that this focus literally wires our brains to be happier. How’s that for positive reinforcement?!

To that end…..

10 reasons I am so grateful for Bikram Yoga

1. All the many, many ways it’s improved my body–my flexibility, my weight, my balance, my muscles I previously never knew existed.
2. It helps me let go of the impossible search for perfection.
3. I’ve learned how to recognize stress in my mind and body, and how to release it through conscious breathing.
4. I finally truly appreciate the value of water. Holla at my yogis who I KNOW hear me on this one–in our very lucky, privileged lives we take water for granted. Bikram yoga changes all that. H20—that sh*t’s AMAZING!
5. I know how to help my body heal from physical injuries.
6. To yoga, for being the only thing keeping me from completely losing my sh*t when times get tough. Over and over and over again.
7. I learned how to finally feel at home in my body, instead of disconnected and awkward.
8. Thanks to yoga, I have had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful, supportive, loving people and to have become a part of a global community.
9. I have become more forgiving of myself, my body, and others. As a result, I am a better human being.
10. For helping me completely re-imagine the limits of possibility. Never ever would I have believed I could or would be doing what I do now, nor how much I love it. I would have thought it all completely bonkers. And I would have been utterly, tragically wrong.

Why are YOU grateful for Bikram yoga? Or, if you’re not a practitioner, what are you grateful for? Share in comments, or just take a moment and think about it. I promise you’ll feel better for it.

intentions matter

demonstrating Standing Bow Pulling Pose to a student after class in my badass new  Swift Tank (Title Nine) and Skull shorts (Onzie). Both really comfortable and highly recommended for comfort on and off the podium!

Just like in your own asana practice, every time I teach I set an intention–a teaching skill I intend to practice or a certain message I want to emphasize. I’ve really been challenging myself to practice giving students individual feedback and corrections.  It’s a skill that incorporates several variables, as you have to:

  • see their bodies and what they’re doing wrong, or right! (the easy part),
  • know their names (harder, especially in a big class and/or with lots of newbies)
  • time the moment so it won’t interrupt the class or take away from other students, and
  • read that person psychologically and phrase it in a tone that will be effective for that individual (veeeeery different depending on when in the class it happens and based on individual temperament)
  • find the courage to make mistakes (hardest part for me, because I like my comfort zone!)

The more I teach, the easier this becomes. Not only because I feel comfortable enough to know how to keep the rest of the class going, but more because I’ve gotten to know the students. Especially at the studio where I teach the most, because I now have a stable schedule there each week–I teach at certain times every week, and thus I get to know the students that can make it at that time and regularly practice then. It’s much more rewarding! I get to know what each person is struggling with, when they feel low on energy, and even how to make them smile!

Slight tangent: It’s really hard to make folks smile in class! When they do smile, they’re re-energized and the whole atmosphere of the class changes in a great way. As you may know from practicing, attitude is everything. Inevitably, the worst classes are the ones where you feel defeated and negative the whole time because then the postures just feel so. much. harder. Even if only a handful smile and one or two think I’m silly,  it makes all my fumbled efforts worth it. The people who won’t smile have made up their minds, but most just need a little reminder and are really thankful for the reprieve from seriousness.

This morning felt great– I gave corrections and feedback to most of the students and have built relationships with most of them. After class is over, I get to talk to them about how things have been changing for them–and that one-on-one time greatly improves my ability to give them targeted feedback in class. Even if I talk to them for just a minute, I can get at least a partial read on their psychological challenges, their personality (some want to smile and have you correct them as much as possible, others want to be left entirely alone and rue you if you mix those two up), how long they’ve been practicing, and what aspects or postures they find especially difficult.

My class this afternoon wasn’t as stellar, but it was still good. I don’t teach at regular times there, so even though that’s the studio where I practice the most, I don’t know the students as well. As a result, I’m not as confident about offering feedback and I’ve got a lot more names to keep straight! Still, I did give feedback and kept at it the whole class–and it’s crucial that I give myself credit for trying.

After all, as the dialogue goes,
as long as you try the right way,
and don’t give up,
that’s the ultimate destination.

(Does this mean I’m already there? And where is “there,” exactly?)

you learn more than you realize

I love following the public conversation around Bikram yoga. Not only because it’s deeply personal and important to me, but because it’s a highly polarizing topic and my love of philosophy and analyzing media lets me totally geek out (at heart I’m an academic). So of course I had to read this when it popped up in my Facebook feed (thanks, Yasuyo!):

Drugs, Sweat, and Fear: Bikram Yoga and Anxiety

I loved the epiphanies Ms. Spechler shares:

“One teacher, after admonishing us for wiping our sweat, said: ‘Stop responding to discomfort by reaching for things. We scratch. We smoke. We drink. Those are temporary solutions. Practice being still.’ Even now, whenever I feel jittery, I remember that advice.”

As a teacher, boy have I learned more than ever how very, very challenging it is for people to hold still. It’s how you can spot the experienced practitioners from a mile away–they’re a thousand times better at practicing stillness.

I have to admit that my first response, particularly after reading the holier-than-thou comment from the NYC yoga teacher, was something like this:

More wisdom from XKCD.

But after reading from the Orange Book, and thinking about it more, I’ve come to see a different and way more interesting aspect: Bikram yoga was the key. It didn’t solve her problems, it’s not a magical panacea….however much some of us may talk about it that way or wish it were so.

But Spechler tried, and it did open the door. She learned important lessons about determination and taking action. Practicing Bikram yoga was a part of her path towards recognizing and confronting her anxiety. She has stopped practicing hatha yoga (the physical exercises of, in our case, the 26 postures & 2 breathing exercises), which often gets mistaken as yoga itself and not merely one of the eight limbs of yoga. But she’s still practicing and gaining from yoga–particularly raja yoga (using the mind to bring emotions under control, as she works to do with her anxiety) and vedanta yoga (applied knowledge gained through experience, i.e. the lessons she learned from practicing). The  yoga she learned in the hot room has never left her.

Self-realization, my friends, is a long and winding road. And who knows? Maybe somewhere down the road, that path will lead her back into a certain, sweaty chamber and help her a little further along….