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!

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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!