Tuesday, December 2, 2008

no yoga. doctor's orders.

Apparently practicing while experiencing spells of vertigo isn't such a good idea. Imagine that.

As loathe as I am to admit it, I am pretty type A when it comes to my physical fitness. (I was gonna say I'm a typical American, then I realized most of us 'merikans think fitness is part of the following phrase: "How'm I gonna fit'n this?") I tend to muscle through aches and pains, minor illnesses and headaches, and bouts of depression and anxiety.

Last week I gave myself the Friday after Thanksgiving off (my first day off in I don't know how long, after teaching a full 30-student class on Thanksgiving morning), so I opted to enjoy some free time with my better half instead of practicing. I felt obligated to practice Saturday morning to make up for that day off, even though I felt a little under the weather. Usually a practice makes me feel better.

Not this time.

Every time I transitioned from the floor to standing I thought I was going to fall over. Once we made our way to the floor series every sit-up made things worse. I went home after class wanting nothing more than to stay in bed for the rest of the day. I didn't, though. The fellow and I went to a train show, then had an amazing Mexican lunch. Then I rested.

I wake up each morning still feeling these dizzy spells. I went to my doc's office yesterday and she ruled out an ear infection, but she couldn't pinpoint anything else that could cause the vertigo. She's treating me for a cold, in hopes the vertigo is tied into the under-the-weather feeling. Now it's wait and see. And no yoga until the dizzy spells pass.

I keep telling people yoga is so great for your immune system and overall physical function. Now look at me. Doc says yoga is great as a preventative measure, but sometimes you have to listen to your body and take a break.


I reckon this is one of those teaching moments. Can I learn to let go and accept that I need to rest, that my body needs to rest? Can I find other ways to calm my mind? As I walked my dog this morning I realized I could use this as a perfect opportunity to deepen my meditation. It also doesn't hurt that walking the dog feels good, and today the weather is spectacular.

Friday, November 14, 2008

another friday night with bill

Moyers, that is. Though I have almost an hour until he arrives in my living room via Southern Oregon Public TV.

As the mercury drops, the attendance at our studio skyrockets. I could probably start charging money to hold spots open for regular students at this point. Next week we add two more classes to the schedule to accommodate the crush of cold-weather Bikram fans. (These would be the antithesis to fair-weather friends, I reckon.)

I am trying to stay positive, given how much more time I now have to spend at the studio. As the schedule expands, I have more demands, so to speak, from my staff. I am the only person with a "flexible" schedule, so I get to teach all the shit classes no one else wants. Hurray for me! How's that for working for yourself?! Woo!

I experienced a complete lack of pain in my once-injured, now-hampered shoulder. This was my first pain-free day since we returned home from our vacation in August. Tremendous. I acknowledged the lack of pain as I practiced yesterday, trying to keep from hyperventilating in class from the joy of unencumbered movement. I then proceeded to teach a class at warp speed. Amazingly it was a small class; only five students. Usually small classes require so much more energy on my part to keep things moving. On this night I had four regulars (one fellow in the cold-weather crew, whom I hadn't seen in months) and one visitor from out of town. Everyone was so strong I felt like I didn't even need to be there. I didn't have to supply the energy; they had more than enough to share. I imagine my joy at my healing shoulder also helped propel the class.

This morning, however... well, the pain wasn't back in full. My shoulder did pipe up a time or three, reminding me to practice some more patience. Instead I woke feeling tremendously dizzy, as I would after a night of drinking. Except last night I didn't drink. It took everything I had to keep myself upright as class began. I literally made contact with every inch of both feet, commanding them to stay connected to the floor. I let go of performance anxiety, focusing more on keeping my breath calm and staying on my feet. Eventually the dizziness passed, and I finished strong. That put me in a good mood. And I need to be in a good mood, considering I'm teaching the next four classes straight. Yikes.

First of four this afternoon. Ten students, including one newbie who wasn't new to yoga so she already had lots to say about the practice before it even started. Fortunately she kept an open mind and gave an honest effort.

I find myself dancing on this thin line between being a taskmistress and flaunting my anarchic self. Problem is: freedom of expression can look a lot like hippie dancing, if you choose to look through those lenses. I know I've written before about finding some freedom within discipline. I think what needs to be redefined is "discipline" itself. We can insist on the first entry in Merriam-Webster's dictionary, which defines discipline as "punishment." Or, we can drop in and choose one of these three:

4: training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
5 a: control gained by enforcing obedience or order b: orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior c: self-control
6: a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity

The first definition on that list can also define yoga itself. Not just hatha yoga (the physical practice) but all eight limbs. We practice our yoga to reacquaint ourselves with our true bodies and minds, to "correct" the shitty training we've received in self-loathing and doubt.

Speaking of the eight limbs, the second definition on that list can almost fit for Pratyahara, the fifth of the eight limbs. It is open referred to as "withdrawal of the senses." It is here that one can meditate without distractions, achieving the ultimate in self-control. With practice, one can effectively focus on one singular sense (hearing, for example) at the expense of the other senses in an effort to quiet the mind altogether.

As for the final definition... suddenly I'm feeling like this entry is too long. I should tackle this some more later.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

do i contradict myself?

29 students this morning. WTF?! Makes sense, I reckon, as today was really our first legit autumn day. Woke up this morning to grey skies and drizzle.

But 29 students? Damn. Days like these unnerve me a bit, considering we have a small studio. 29 students back east in the big cities feels like a small class. 29 students here means no extra room for anyone, including the teacher. A few students expressed concern about the crowded room. I always worry that a large class will lead to disappointed students.

And I am always wrong.

Yes, the room got hot. Yes, people had to adjust some, especially for full locust. But everyone left the room smiling. Several students complimented me as they left for the day.

Even with my worries, I fucking love teaching big classes. Sure, it's swell now that I own the place to see all those paying customers. Before that, though, I loved teaching a full room. With all those bodies in the room, it is damned near impossible to have a dull, slow class. It's the larger classes that give some credence to all the hippie bullshit about people's energy. As people move and breathe that movement and breath will affect those around them. (Hopefully in positive ways.) I get more from the students in larger classes, I think, than they do from me.

We also had a visiting teacher come to practice. He had heard good things about the studio from other travelers, and definitely felt the advanced praise was true. He also invited me to teach at the studio where he teaches when I travel.

All that said... I still can't shake this nagging feeling that buying the studio was not a good idea. And right now I don't care to elaborate further.

Friday, October 31, 2008


I can't believe I've made it to almost 7:30 on Halloween night and I haven't listened to the Dead Kennedys at all.

I decided to take a bit of a risk today. I had announced that this morning's class would be a costume party class. I thought it would be fun, somewhat light-hearted and markedly different than what many students have come to expect from our studio. I canceled the afternoon class to allow folks to attend the town's Halloween parade if they so desired, and to get their kids ready for trick or treating. (That was a concern for some of my parents, so I took it seriously.)

People responded rather well to the idea of a Halloween costume class. Some chuckled at the idea of practicing Bikram yoga in a costume, but we always suggested simple ideas and played up the fun aspect of the class. Folks definitely got to talking, though, so I felt good about the idea.

I found some cat ears and a matching tail, wore all black and essentially looked like a lost member of Josie and the Pussycats. Another student also wore cat attire, though she took the leopard-print leap. We had a very charming devil, a ballerina, a hula girl, and a princess. One of our stronger students wore brown and pinned fallen leaves to her clothes and into her hair. Totally awesome. Another wore a totally mismatched outfit, messed up her hair and called herself "Pippi Longstockings with Alzheimer's." (Yes, I am not the only politically incorrect yogi in my town.) The winning costume, in my humble opinion? Me. As in: a student who came as me. Drew the tattoos on and all. Fucking awesome.

A fair number of students came sans costume, but certainly appreciated the festive atmosphere. We also had not one but two newbies. Oops. What a day for your first class!

My co-worker (employee?!) wore a toga-like outfit and presented himself as the untrained mind. He created a Bikram-style throne at the front of the room, and had fruit and juice on ice surrounding the throne during class. He basically tried to create as many distractions for us as we practiced. At first I felt it was a little too goofy, but I eased up a bit. Fun, laughter and humor should also be part of our practice. Besides, it seemed my regulars were enjoying themselves.

Everyone left the room elated, joyous. My risk definitely came up a winner.

Monday, October 27, 2008

living among the crazy honkies

So maybe this blog won't focus so much on the day-to-day minutiae of teaching yoga classes. Some classes inspire an urge to write and share and record, good or bad. And some classes are just there. What doesn't change is the discomfort (for lack of a better word) I often feel as I transition into the yoga community at large, and perhaps the greater community known as my new hometown.

It's fuckin' easy to be a scumbag and work in the bicycle industry. You can wear the same hat all year, go days wearing the same pair of pants, have all sorts of ridiculous tattoos, avoid worrying about how much you drink (booze, coffee or both), swear at your leisure... and very few people will pay you any mind. Sure, some bike shops insist on a more "professional" demeanor, but more often than not they'll ask that of their sales staff and let the mechanics get away with a bit more. Hence my lack of resume in the sales arena.

It is also easier to foam at the mouth about politics in general in the bike world. Not always easy, but certainly easier than doing the same in the yoga world. It is quite possible to find kinship with other cyclists about issues of justice and environmental concerns. For some it's part of the equation: caring about the planet equals riding your bike.

Try to do some of this at a yoga studio, however, and you may be met with blank stares or outright hostility.

My better half made a valid point as we discussed recent events. He suggested that some folks consider their yoga class as an escape from the troubles in their world. So perhaps they'd prefer a space devoid of politicking. Fair enough, I say. What I don't think is fair is the assumption that we all agree about the world, and that we all agree that if everyone would just meditate and get all spiritual we'd be okay.

I may practice yoga and meditate, but I am a ridiculously pragmatic person. If something is broken, I want it fixed. I worry about the repair before I worry about why it's broken or who might have broken it. If the bed needs to be made, I make it. If dishes are dirty, I wash 'em. Get the picture? So if I know people are hungry, I ain't gonna wonder what forces made 'em hungry. I'm gonna feed 'em. If I see someone being mistreated, I'm not gonna try to "dialogue" with their superior. I'm gonna want that person to back the fuck off.

And if people aren't working and things just aren't going as we hope, I ain't gonna chalk it up to Kali Yuga and call it a day.* How the fuck does that help anyone? Yet I work with and teach and, in some cases, totally adore people who feel completely comfortable doing such a thing.

Many people have mentioned that the town where I now live is "a place of healing." It is for this reason that many people do not feel compelled to get involved on a civic level, because they are not here to connect with people and create a vibrant working community. They are here to heal themselves. With bodywork and acupuncture and crystals and mineral baths and some good things and some more quackery. People want to write love poems to "Mother Earth" as opposed to collecting trash from the side of the road. They want to create prayer circles instead of engaging civic leaders and politicians about injustice. To them, it totally makes sense that we're living in a time of vice and the world moves through cyclical patterns which means we just have to sit this vice time out. Without doing anything to alleviate anyone else's suffering. 'Cause y'know, man, that's like working against the gods. Man.

I can be okay with people stepping back for a spell to take care of themselves, especially if they're in ill health. We're no good to anyone else if we can't take care of ourselves and work from a place of good health. I only hope once these folks "heal" they'll feel compelled to bring that healing to others. But I don't see signs of that, at all.

What is it about yoga that attracts these selfish people? That's what they are to me: selfish. They want peace of mind and contentment for themselves, but they refuse to work to bring that to others. I know not every person practicing yoga acts from this selfish place. It's just that this is all I see right now. I find it reprehensible, and I don't know what to do to counteract it.

* Folks, this seriously came up in conversation. I am not making it up.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

ballad of a radical yogi

Taught an odd class today. I've been off for the past few days, physically and otherwise. The time of the month certainly doesn't help, to put things euphemistically and cryptically. And it's Sunday. I am officially taking all the rest of my Sundays off. No work, just the paper and some coffee. Yup. That is my executive decision.

I cannot relate to many other yoga practitioners. At least not many of the folks in my town. I often wonder if I'm imposing my own little wall of protection. I just can't relate to people who aren't informed about the issues of the day, who live with little regard to the other inhabitants of their planet, and who don't at least try to act in accordance with their ethics. I could let shit like this slide a bit in the bike industry, because one couldn't assume that because someone likes to ride bikes that same someone is all for alternative transportation, fair wages for all and treading lightly on the planet. (All that seems safe to assume, but it ain't.)

In the yoga world, though... well, I just can't understand folks who practice yoga and don't think past the ends of their own noses.

I had an interesting experience the other night as I attempted to socialize with some yogis. I found myself surprised by their by-the-book behaviors (of course we're gonna listen to reggae, use phrases like "negative vibes" and refuse to acknowledge that some people might simply be reprehensible) and their lack of interest in the affairs of the day. This seems to be unique to my newly adopted hometown. Everywhere else I've lived I've managed to surround myself with thoughtful, passionnate, involved individuals. Their spiritual practice was part and parcel of their commitment to a just, sane world. Not so much here.

I excused myself from the social event early, citing a lonely dog at home as my reason. I walked home feeling dejected about my decision to operate a business in a place where I still feel so alienated.

Today's teaching didn't help any, either. I found myself confronted by a student about a sign I put up in front of the studio, endorsing a mayoral candidate. Said candidate happens to practice at the studio, but I'd known of him as a candidate long before I posted the sign. I wanted to know more about all the candidates before I stated a public opinion. Yes, I am biased towards my student... but of the many individuals running for this particular office, he is one of two who I'd be happy to see victorious in November. I don't think he is perfect. I also don't think Barack Obama is perfect or my first choice, but I'm dancin' with the one what brung me.

Anyway. This confrontation left a bitter taste in my mouth as I started the class. It made little sense to me to have such a conversation right before one begins a yoga practice. But it does make sense if people don't practice to clear their mind or stay present or contribute to an overall movement towards peace and justice. If you practice because it keeps you in shape or whatever, who cares about the consequences of your actions, right?

I don't want to change who I am in order to make my business successful. I have this hope that if I infuse my actions with my sense of ethics, like-minded folks might gravitate towards the studio. And perhaps it won't seem so odd for us to make public statements about current affairs.

The words look and feel so empty on the screen, though. I don't know if I have the energy to fight this fight on my own.

Friday, October 17, 2008

friday night with bill moyers

Yesterday: AM practice hampered just a tiny bit by the pesky shoulder whatever-the-fuck-it-is. (Hurray for life without health care! Let's keep guessing!) Honestly practice helps it feel somewhat better.

PM teaching. Six students, only one fellow. Two of my crazier ladies attended, as well as two younger women in the midst of helping a third student through her current boy drama. Said third student opted against practicing in favor of potentially running into her crush. Ha. One lady flew solo, free of all the intense female energy. My poor, poor token fellow. He'd been ill for a spell, so I'd missed him in class. And then he shows up to crazy lady fest.

I took advantage of my smaller, energetic class to play around a bit with setting intentions for practice. Normally I just ask students to set a simple intention, to keep them focused. In this class, I asked everyone to think of the one posture s/he hated or dreaded, or a part of the body that either hurt (due to injury) or created a shitty self-image. (No, I didn't say "shitty" in class.) We often focus entirely too much energy on the negatives, even as we practice yoga. So instead of accepting that dread or that self-loathing, I asked my students to meet that awful posture with love, or to treat that body part with love and respect. It is in this space that the possibility for healing those old, nagging injuries arises.

My token fellow left the class telling me I'd given him exactly what he needed. One of the younger ladies told me my words helped her conquer her fear of camel pose. I am glad that I can take risks and feel a modicum of success.

Today: AM practice with the still-nagging shoulder. Plus I was tired for whatever reason. The room was particularly cool, yet I managed to have a pretty kickass class. Felt better afterwards, but still wanted nothing more than to walk my dog, shower, and sleep for the rest of the day.

PM teaching. 16 students today. Whoa. One late arrival, and still one other person arrived well into pranayama. Whatever happened to punctuality? Now a good 90% have cell phones. Ain't they all on the atomic clock? WTF, people?!

I had two students, one lady and one fellow, with an amazing amount of uncontrolled energy. Both were fidgeting in dramatic ways, and I worried they would distract others. I tailored my class banter towards awareness of one's energy and how one contributes to the overall class. I also asked my students to be mindful of entering and exiting postures. I cast the words out into the lake, in hopes the proper students take the bait. Never works that way. I had a few compliments about the banter, from students who already practice with such grace. I suppose folks get what they can when they hear it.

One of my favorite regulars told me he could retire and live in my class. How's that for a compliment?

A strong class still couldn't stave off my antisocial fatigue, though. I left a dinner party early to spend more time with my dog and watch Bill Moyers. What's this gotta do with yoga? Everything.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

yoga teacher by day, election nerd by night

Blogging is lower on the list of priorities these days. In a way, I wish it weren't. I don't hold any delusions that countless yogis and dharma punx hang on to my every word, but I often find my head spinning with thoughts about my teaching, my own practice, and challenges with both. They should probably end up somewhere at some point, no? I've also put my written journaling on hold, which means the thoughts just keep on spinnin'. So much energy goes into simply maintaining the studio at its current level. I'd like it to grow, but perhaps I should look at my business as I do my practice and accept slow, steady change.

And my shoulder pain definitely doesn't make for easy times at the computer. I seriously think typing exacerbates the pain, as opposed to practice. Still, today I will take a day off after running errands and spending time talking to a web designer to help update our site. I've already taught twice today, so that should count towards time in the room, eh?

6am attendance: four students. I now have a newbie coming for these early morning practices, which eliminates the opportunity to practice with my students. A small class allows for many more corrections and adjustments, at least. My newbie certainly appreciated that. I think the rest of my small class did as well. The opportunity to share my passion for yoga with people who also approach their practices with passion and an eye for growth... I'm not quite sure how to put the feeling into words. I don't think it's possible. I find myself able to focus on the present moment, on the task at hand, without worrying about consequences and final outcomes. How rare to find oneself getting paid to essentially meditate.

9am attendance: ten students. Day two of one token fellow as well. The 6am class, even when I don't practice, definitely energizes me for the rest of the day. I managed to finish class in under 90 minutes. I like those days, if only to allow students more time in final savasana. Overall I think I'm getting better at integrating corrections and suggestions into my dialogue. I'm noticing certain phrases rolling off my tongue with more ease, and an ability to address individual corrections without losing time or focus. This class had strong, steady students, which I'm sure helped create that feeling of ease.

I had a new-to-me student in this class, who asked me my schedule before she left. That always feels good.

I also had two vegans in class today. How about that?!

I think I need a nap, and then: dinner and debate number three. Yes, today I will skip practice so I can see a debate in its entirety. As if I need any help making my decision in November.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

apparently i know "the secret"

Taught twice since last post. Don't remember much of yesterday's class, minus that it went smoothly. No hitches. Nothing spectacular.

This afternoon? Not so smooth. It all started out when a regular student commented that our clocks were off. I actually had noticed this myself, as sometimes I check my cell phone before class for some reason only to find it reads a few minutes faster than our studio clocks. Maybe two or three minutes; not enough for me to panic or stress. But this student noticed. Our cell phone times matched, and those matched the studio computer time. So I reset the clocks to match as well, which moved them up two minutes faster.

I told this student, "Now watch. I bet people show up late today."

Careful what you wish for.

Funny thing is: I still started a minute late, since I had students in the restrooms. But as soon as I shut the door and made it to the podium, I saw a car pull into the back driveway, followed by another car and then a student on bike.

I know I should let this go. It's just circumstance, and perhaps now folks will pay attention to the time. But of course I'm dwelling. It definitely resulted in a messed-up class for me. I was hardly present, and I kept flubbing lines.

That's it. I'm tired of the computer now.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

it's not the heat, it's the humility

Long effin' day. Started with practice, courtesy of an amazing guest teacher. Only five of us this morning. I felt a touch sad for our visitor, but she showed no signs of doubt as she taught. I loved the class... almost needed that new energy, the new corrections and suggestions.

It must be hard for us Bikram teachers to travel and teach. Despite Mr. Choudhury's best efforts, no two studios are exactly alike. Every one has different tricks and techniques to manage the room temperature. Our visitor had taught for us before, so she knew about our stove and our fan. She handled the room with utmost grace, but never once touched the stove. I made it through to rabbit pose before the thought of heat entered my own mind. I plugged away as usual, since at this point I realize I have no control over the temperature. No one else struggled or stumbled; even the one student in class with an injury did what she could with no faltering. After class, and a rest in savasana, I let my curiosity get the best of me: I checked our thermostat. 112 degrees. No effin' joke.

I so wished my struggling student who aired his grievance was in class today. Not only did no one refer to the heat in the room, they all left with huge smiles on their faces, heaping our visitor with effusive praise for her excellent class.

What a difference a strong practice makes.

Taught this evening as well. For whatever reason each class today had scant attendance. Nine students in my class. Not bad for 6:30 in the evening. Again, another hot class, as we still had the residual heat from the previous class. I didn't even bother with the stove.

Tonight saw the return of another struggler. She is so far unable to complete an entire 90-minute class without leaving the room. I try so much to tell her how she will benefit from holding on and sticking it out. Tonight she left at first savasana, and didn't come back. Tonight was most awkward for me, since we talked about teacher training right before class. I found myself surprised that she was considering it at all, since she struggles so much with her practice. I definitely felt a bit of frustration towards her, but I let it go and redirected energy towards the students who did stay.

At one point I watched another student reach for her water bottle at an odd time, only to rethink the drink and leave it alone. I smiled when I saw that.

After class I told my wayward leavin' student that she really needed to stick challenging classes out if she intends to follow through with teacher training. Every class she offers me an excuse for her exits. Tonight I just wouldn't take it. Not in an angry way, at all. I really want her to succeed, to find peace in the practice to the point that nothing fazes her. I decided that babying her wasn't working. Now the real work begins. I'll see where this goes.

I myself felt so damned tired before teaching. These days things feel more challenging. Crazy thing is: every time I get into the room and start teaching, all the fatigue and stress disappears. It's quite a trip.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

the day of unrest

Despite the fact that I shed my Catholic upbringing long ago, I still treat Sunday like a rest day. Perhaps it is because I cannot kick my Sunday New York Times habit. I appreciate sleeping in a little later than usual, pedalling myself downtown to pick up the paper and various items for a breakfast-type meal, and coming home to lounge for hours while reading.

Having to teach on Sunday always throws a kink in that rest-day plan. Sunday has the esteemed position of being the one day when I don't feel like teaching. But imagine the uproar I would create should I shut the studio doors on a Sunday. Just as I treat the Sunday Times-fest as a ritual, so do my students with their practice.

16 students today. One newbie, who carried herself in a bit of an off-putting way. I don't know any other way to describe it. I felt like I had to entertain her, in a way. Despite that, a solid class. Perfect temperature, perfect humidity. No room for complaints! Lately I've been teaching well within the 90-minute parameters, which feels good. I did notice a few folks tending towards overindulgence in their own weakness and suffering. When I see that now I do my best to extend compassion.

The newbie asked for a schedule when she left. I reckon I kept her entertained enough.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

i don't wanna grow up

I was never a huge fan of the Descendents. They always struck me as the band the mewling proto-emo boys listened to while pining away for some unattainable cheerleader. I imagine this distaste stemmed from the fact that whenever one of these poor, sad saps moved their pining in my direction, I became the owner of a mix tape (ah, the good old days!) complete with a minimum of two Descendents songs.

I did, however, appreciate the sentiment of one Descendents track: I don't want to grow up/If growing up means being like you/Then I don't want to be like you After a conversation I had today with a student at the studio, I couldn't help singing this song in my head.

We spoke of the natural transition from yoga student to teacher to studio owner. I shared with him my fear of seeing our humble and funky little studio changed by an outside influence, which drove me to take the risk and buy it myself. Given my age, he said, this just seems like the next logical step.

When someone puts it like that... geez, I dunno.

I've been joking lately about joining the petite bourgeoisie. I've crossed the divide from working poor towards landed gentry. The new suit feels a little unusual. I want to be the mistress of my own fate, and I want to guide my community and keep it safe and intact. I just wish it could be done without all the trappings. If that makes any sense.

This also stems from a conversation I had the other morning with a student who wanted to register a complaint. Oh, boy. That is a sure sign that you've crossed over from peon to patron. I found myself a bit unable to navigate this new terrain, if only because we were talking about yoga. Isn't much of the practice of yoga designed to move one away from the tendency towards complaint? At least I thought so. I practice to make peace with my world as it is; to find inner peace and a shred of contentment no matter the outside forces or influences.

Yet this gentleman wanted to voice his concern that we run the heat too high, and that he's a bit chafed at my co-worker's tendencies when he teaches. In my mind I'm thinking: Well, I would hope that after considerable practice all this stuff won't bug you anymore, because that's kind of the point of yoga. That's the yogini talking, though. Not the owner of a business hoping to make money and retain customers. So what I say can't be that direct or philosophical.

I last wrote about never considering teaching yoga as a potential vocation. When I decided to go to training, I went with the intention of giving back to the community that helped me in my own transition away from anger and frustration and monkey-mind. I wanted to foster that transition in others, and I wanted to help people. How do I reconcile those desires with running a business? I now have to stress over taxes to a government whose policies run completely counter to my own ethics and intentions. I have no choice. I have to think twice before speaking my truth, for fear I alienate someone. Where's the revolution in that?

I don't wanna grow up, for sure. But I guess I have to. I definitely think the new frontier for the counterculture is determining how to age without selling out entirely.

None of this should detract from the blissful fact that the act of teaching still moves me. I've been teaching like a madwoman the past few days, since my cohort's up north for the weekend. I love the act of teaching. I love completely losing the moment, all track of time, and just being in the room with my students. I love watching people's practices change, for better or worse. I love getting the thumbs up from a student when I talk about grace (in a fucking Bikram class, no less!).

Hopefully the suit of business owner feels a tad more comfortable as I grow into it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

rebel with a pause

I took a bit of a break from this blog. Life got a little hectic, and I just didn't feel any urge to write about my practice or my teaching. I had an opportunity cross my path, and that opportunity consumed me for a spell. Today, though, I felt a little of the old me back on track.

From this point on, not only will I ponder and dwell on my teaching and on my practice, but I will also ponder and dwell on my business. I am now the owner of a yoga studio. Fancy that.

I am the last person in the world who sets goals. Seriously. For the longest time I had exactly two goals: build my own bicycle frame (done, some years ago) and ride my bicycle cross-country (still on the back burner). I never added to that list, at least not in any significant way. Instead I opted to life life flying by the seat of my pants, going wherever the wind takes me.

When I got bored with a place, I upped and left. I followed leads, interesting stories and people, sometimes the weather. I also lived in a way that I could pack up and leave again at a moment's notice, should the moment arise. Long before I committed to a Buddhist practice I vowed to live simply in material terms. It just felt right.

Still, as I lived and moved and traveled, I kept paring my life down more and more. Paring it down by whittling away excesses of thought, old emotional baggage that doesn't fit or work, outdated or no-longer-useful ideas about what I should do and how I should act. Eventually this whittling gave me a basic framework for how I wanted to live. This framework helped guide my wayward travels.

It didn't give me goals, though. The framework meant "now I want a bikebuilding job" or "now I want to live near my friends again while I have a sweet bikebuilding job" or "now I want to move back to the west coast with the love of my life and take this job teaching people how to build bikes." I never planned for any of it.

I also never planned to become a yoga teacher. I just needed something else to do in this new hometown of mine. I had no one else but the fellow and our trusty mutt. I had to do something. Yoga was... is that something. When I wasn't teaching or riding or walking the dog or spending time with my partner-in-crime, I practiced. I practiced and meditated.

More whittling. Obviously. Suddenly life got simpler, again. And if life could simplify so beautifully for me, couldn't it for others? Couldn't I help?

I never planned to be a yoga teacher. I never planned to own a yoga studio. But here I am, with both those acts tucked under my belt. I never chose these acts as goals, but somehow this feels right.

I taught a 6am class this morning. I figured it couldn't hurt to try something new. I had a number of students sign up, expressing interest in the class, but only a fraction attended. I opted to practice with them, as they were all solid practitioners. I hadn't done an early morning class in ages; not since back in the vinyasa-before-work days.

Silent classes offer an entirely different experience. I can let go of attachment to the dialogue and hold the space with my own body. It's a different responsibility, a different honor. I have to present a strong practice without ignoring the other bodies in the room. It's almost more intense, like I don't want to let anyone down. The class appreciated it. Silent classes definitely shake things up for people, almost always in a positive way.

The practice gave me energy to teach my second class. 17 students. (Now, of course, I pay more attention to attendance!) Another strong group. Two students returned to their practices after long absences, but I couldn't tell. No one faltered or struggled unnecessarily. I even had two of my more assertive students present, and still the class felt smooth. Today I felt very aware of the healing aspect of yoga, and I hope I offered that to my students.

I definitely needed a day like today.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

nouvelle vague

Today, I am certain of absolutely nothing. My life can take any one of many paths, and I have no idea which to choose.

So it's pretty much an average day in anyone's life.

How do we justify a searing need for change in the world with the truth that we already have all we need and are all we need to be? I can't help feeling that all too often, the privileged fall prey to inaction and apathy under the guise of "self-realization." Hell, the town where I live exists solely as an example of this egregious behavior. People come here "to heal," as so many say, not to do anything of substance. Apparently if we all meditate, shine our love lights in the right directions and align our chakras, we will achieve world peace. Seriously! That is all we need to do! That, and drive Priuses and eat "free-range" eggs.

And I want to commit to a life here? What the fuck?

Some small part of me wonders if it would be a copout to split town and end up somewhere where everyone thinks like me. Perhaps the best way to be an agent for change is to shake things up for the comfortable.

Fuck. I don't know. I wish I did. All I do know is this: just because I can spend 90 minutes twisting and stretching in a hot room and I can sit for hours on end doing what looks like nothing doesn't mean I've squashed my innate urge to throw bricks.

Finally had a newbie in class today. It's been a while. Though yesterday's all-veteran class pretty much owned. I love having opportunities to deepen practices and really deepen my teaching.

I always get tickled when tough-looking fellows come in to do Bikram. They walk in the room, set up their mats... and promptly step out again to ask, "Does it get hotter?" It's especially great when said toughies practice alongside some of our older and more petite ladies, as was the case this afternoon. He had a great attitude, though; very attentive and focused. Plus he hung in for the whole class. I needed the shake-up of some new blood in the room. I, of all people, don't like getting too comfortable.

Monday, September 1, 2008

"i'll put it in simple words: working men are pissed"

Ah, Labor Day. 126 years of celebratin' the workin' man (and lady, natch). And how do I contribute to that celebration? By workin'. I can only cop to the fact that teaching a yoga class falls into a different category of "work." No more delivering packages for multinational corporations and Ivy League universities. No more turning wrenches for commuting lawyers and professors. No more teaching kids in the inner cities how to turn those wrenches and eventually pick up my slack. No more building bicycle frames for celebrities, world champion athletes and wealthy doctors. No, now I build human frames.

And yet... I miss all that. Folks might assume a move away from the blue collar uniform would be an improvement. For some folks, maybe. For me... I am not so sure. There is something to be said for physical labor, for work that results in tangible outcome and contributes to the happiness and success of others.

As a society we are moving away from human production work. Unless, of course, one lives in China. There some folks labor endlessly on some useless trinkets or machines to steal our leisure time. We make our money in service these days. Service or on the web. In the intangible ether of the internet. What exists for those of us who don't want to serve cheap chemical food and drink, for those of us who don't want to manufacture dollar-store junk or computers?

I am no Luddite. Clearly, or else I would be etching these words into stone. I do, however, live a limited-digital life. I believe in human power for more than just transportation. I believe in rescuing old goods and restoring them to proper use. I believe in losing myself in labor as meditation, with a beautiful end result.

But the world doesn't operate like that anymore. So where do I find my happiness, my fulfillment?

I sometimes sense that usefulness as I teach a yoga class. As much as I value physical labor, I also value work that creates positive change. Work with a cumulative domino effect. Hence the years teaching kids to repair bicycles. I hope that as I teach I create change, on an individual level and across each entire class. I know to avoid attaching my own intention to everyone's practice. At the same time I reckon if each student can find his/her own peace, perhaps s/he brings that out into the world and helps it along in that direction.

How does one of working-class means free oneself from attachment? The two aims seem almost contradictory. Working with other laborers for justice means having a goal. Practicing yoga means letting go of a goal. How do I reconcile these two worlds?

Today, I do not have the answer.

21 students this morning. Autumn is coming. One fellow took his first class yesterday, and did very well. He definitely likes the yoga. I also had two travelers; latecomers whom I welcomed with open arms. One might think that since the room was already busy I'd take a pass on them. Instead I figured why the fuck not? and I added them to the mass. One was a former studio owner, which was a pleasant surprise.

As it's been a while since I'd taught such a large class I felt a bit clunky, out of my rhythm. No one seemed to mind. It did dawn on me yesterday that one's perception of a teacher really stems from one's perception of one's class. If you feel good and strong, then you love the teacher. If you're distracted, tired, achy, then the teacher sucks. So I'm slowly learning to let go of the need to please or entertain the class. Folks seemed happy, regardless.

Post title courtesy of the Minutemen.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

the story of the blog title, the glory of man

The Minutemen. Also known as the greatest band in the history of the world.

I wanted to find some way to keep this on my main page permanently, but I couldn't figure out how to make that happen. Not today anyway.

Big weekend class this morning, full o' regulars. Nothing unusual, and nothing terrible. Just a class, as always. It was really hot inside and really cool outside. It definitely made for a challenge in monitoring the temperature.

Oh... I did have one interesting situation. We have a diabetic gentleman who comes to the studio as often as he can. He does not live nearby, so his practice is hit-or-miss. I had him faint in one of my early classes, which honestly was a great experience for me to have as a new teacher. Seriously. Today he definitely had a hard class. He actually left the room at one point. Normally I find that really off-putting, but considering our history together I let it slide. He took a while to return, which led me to step out of the studio for a second to check on him. Fortunately he sat right by the door, and took the sight of me as a sign he should (and could) return. So he did. And he proceeded to stay in savasana for the rest of the class (he returned after the spine strengthening series). As I got the rest of the class into the final savasana, I noticed him sit up very quickly and ready himself to leave. Apparently he fell asleep in class. Ha! He told me after he'd left the room, "I didn't sleep so well last night."

I find myself on the fence about what to do in such situations. I wish folks would let go of their patterns (reaching for water incessantly, wiping and fidgeting, leaving the room in the middle of the practice), but at the same time I know it helps to let folks figure shit out on their own. I was inspired in a way after reading (and finally finishing!) Sit Down and Shut Up by Brad Warner. In one chapter he addresses the very American tendency Buddhists have to turn the practice into a "hey maaan, just do what you like maaan... like sit however you want and meditate maaan" type of spirituality. Which is really bullshit. There is a way to sit zazen, and it should be followed.

Discipline need not be a bad thing. It can also be supplanting negative patterns with positive ones. I know I struggle with the notion of discipline (and rules and structure) because its itchy fabric irritates my sensitive anarchist skin. But I, of all people, should know that living life without a little structure can lead to madness or worse.

The key is: how does the tattooed anarchist Bikram teacher express discipline in a positive light?

Friday, August 29, 2008

labor days

I've been teaching doubles for the past two days, and tomorrow I teach again. I do believe it was the right thing to do post-vacation. I needed to reconnect with my students and with my own self as a teacher. It puts a damper on practicing, but whatever.

I also taught my first official private class yesterday morning. Today we practiced again. We have a woman who travels to our studio once a year for an extended "vacation" because she loves our space so much. I don't know if I should state her name here in my blog. I have no illusions about having a huge audience, but again, this is a public space. I will say that she was born with serious medical issues that affected her entire life. Unlike many students of yoga, she's starting from yards behind the blocks, if you can pick up what I'm putting down. Yet she does not let that influence her outlook. She has a profound love for yoga, as it has given her greater health benefits than any surgical procedure. She's willing to put so much of herself into her practice. When she is in my class, it changes how I perceive my students. I won't lie. When I see one of my regulars, a burly outdoorsman who fidgets and breathes loudly and basically distracts, in class with this woman, I have to use every ounce of my own strength to keep from yelling, "BIG GUY! Quitcher bellyachin'! If that little lady can do locust without all that fuss, so can you!"


I appreciated her willingness to let novice teacher me lead her in a private class. Since she's lived her entire life advocating for her own health, she had no qualms about telling me what to do. And I loved it! Really. How fortunate I am to have a student so willing to let me learn, and pay me for it. She wants teachers who are willing to work with her, to adjust her and allow her body to develop the muscle memory it needs to simply do what the rest of us take for granted. I honestly felt blessed to work with her.

Also, working with a body that could, in some respects, withstand so much manipulation let me learn some more about what the yoga does overall and in individual postures. I feel more confident about adjustments and corrections I'll make in my regular classes.

Other teachin' stories: I also got to teach one of the greatest newbs ever. He's actually a bit of a legend at our studio, as he called us several times a day trying to get all the details he'd need to practice with us. His voicemail messages prepared us for him, for sure. He'd taken a few classes with us before I got to teach him, though I personally experienced him as I practiced only once. Dude is a motherfuckin' trip. He came to our studio, claiming he'd practiced Bikram before. But Dude had no idea. Apparently he'd practiced with someone claiming to be a Bikram instructor... who taught an hourlong class, with music and no heat. Dude (I will call him "Dude" from here on out. Why not?!) had no idea about our pranayama. Still doesn't. I almost want to film him practicing, 'cause it's out of this world. Cruel and un-yoga-like, I know. I should be sympathetic, because hell... we all have our first classes and what-not. But Dude is seriously on some next shit. I just wish I had words to describe him.

He is also a mega-talker. Shoulda figured that out from the legion of voicemails. It makes for an interesting front desk experience. When I taught he asked me why our studio doesn't play music during class. I gave him the Bikram line, to which he responds, "Well, what if I brought in my own music? Like, with headphones?"

How does a yoga teacher respond to that question?! For reals! Next shit!

I tried to explain the need for the dialogue, especially in a Bikram beginning class. Dude says, "Well, once I figure out all the postures I can just do the class on my own." Not in a dismissive way, at all; more like: "I can come in a do the yoga on my own time with everyone else!" ?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! I'm thinkin': why you comin' here and spendin' money then, Dude?

It is hard not to laugh. Again: so uncouth and I am sure the spirit of Krishnamacharya wants to poop on my head (at the very least). But I swear on Buddha's baby toes, the laughter comes from a place of love. I am genuinely tickled to experience Dude in my class and at the studio. Such unabashed self-confidence in the face of the crazy Bikram beginning series inspires awe and happiness.

Enough of this hippie-love bullpucky for tonight.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

another day, another asana

12 students. No newbs. It's hard to teach after you've spent part of the previous night crying instead of sleeping. I won't get into that here. Class still felt good, despite that. My students were strong, and I kept a good pace. I can't say much more than that.

I did have a really interesting conversation after class, and it helped relieve, a bit, some of the stress that caused the tears. Again, won't get into that here.

I am teaching my very first private class tomorrow morning, before my usual 9am. I am excited.

Not much into writing today. Probably because of this awful headache I have right now. Computerin' probably isn't helping.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Back from vacation. Actually I've been home for three days. Taught this morning and yesterday morning. 12 students yesterday, 11 today. Some folks seem happy to see me again, others probably never really noticed I was gone. One person in particular almost seemed annoyed at having to deal with me.

For whatever reason things have been off since I've returned. I know the reason, to be honest, but I don't care to divulge in a public forum. Suffice it to say: things are different now. I am not sure of my place at the studio anymore. I don't like this feeling, at all. Perhaps it will pass.

So of course my teaching felt off, not so strong these last two days. Yesterday I surprised myself by getting through the entire class and remembering all the dialogue. Today I had one momentary lapse, where I forgot my place in the series but managed to sail on through with no delay. No beginners for me either day, though yesterday I did have a strange woman who insisted on letting herself into the studio well after class began. When I told her that sorry, class has begun, she said, "What? You mean I can't come in?" "No, no I'm sorry. Class has already begun," I repeated. She then shrugged at me and huffed off. Unusual.

I don't know. Not really feeling it these days. Perhaps it will come back soon.

Friday, August 15, 2008

happy birthday to me

Yesterday morning I taught 12 students, and today 14. The average of those two numbers is... 13. Ooh.

Today marks my 34th revolution around the sun. I think it sounds so much cooler to say that as opposed to birthday. Also, today is the day I owe my mom some thanks. Dad, too, because obviously she couldn't do it alone (*rimshot!*) but especially because her tiny frame popped my ginormous 10-pound newborn body out into the world. Thanks, Ma!

The light, fun feeling still pervades in my classes. Yesterday I kept telling people they had to listen to me because it's almost my birthday. Luckily I had a fun group who understood my silly sarcasm. I did take many opportunities to ask my students to think about their patterns in the room. I asked them to avoid taking any water before standing separate leg stretching, to avoid the water retreat as they dipped their heads below their bellies. As we transitioned into triangle one of my most favorite regulars turns to me to ask, "Now can we have some water?" I also had a second-timer in the room, who had a magnificent sense of humor. He was struggling, all right, but somehow he managed to keep a smile on his face. I did take an opportunity or two to show him some minor corrections, which at one point left me standing right next to him as he practiced. I asked him if I made him nervous, and he says, "No! I feel like I have my own private teacher!" He also asked me, very plantively and almost desperately, if it was okay to have some water as we moved into savasana. That got everyone laughing, and fortunately he got the joke.

Today was still fun, but less in a humorous way and more in a loving way. Seriously. One can find and feel love in a hot Bikram room. Several students arrived to class with cards and gifts for me. Surprise, surprise: all the gifts were edible! A wonderful homemade Thai cucumber salad, several bulbs of garlic, a cantaloupe, and succulent just-picked blackberries. I brought one gift-giver to tears. I had some idea how profound the yoga can be for some people, but to really see and feel how it shifts was amazing. I asked students to give me the gift of honest effort in the room, and they delivered in excess. I did have one new student. He said he'd taken Bikram before, but it must have been a while because he struggled to keep up. I did not mind. He tried and he stayed in the room, and that's all I could ask.

I also joked with the students about savasana. So many of us struggle far past our own edges in asanas for a myriad of reasons (pride, ego, wanting to look good in the room). I asked them to apply that same effort to savasana, as if they were competing for the championship. Hey, it worked!

My own practice nearly tanked yesterday. I had a burrito for lunch, followed with an iced latte. I think the caffeine kicked in at the worst time. I couldn't keep an easy breath in standing bow (also known as my most challenging asana), so I sat out second set. Oof! I have to lead by example, though. If I insist that my students listen to their bodies and play at the edge, I cannot push myself past my own cliff. At least I found it humorous.

I feel compelled to write about a few interesting experiences from the past week, but I don't quite know how without exposing too much in a public forum. I also feel I might need to step back from things for a spell before I launch into anything. Perfect timing, since tomorrow I run away for eight days on vacation. I cannot wait to practice yoga on the salt flats.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

aw, damn

As of August 11th, I had eleven posts on this blog. I had to go and screw up the flow by skipping a day. No matter, anyway. Soon I will be far away from such technological advances as teh internetz while I vacation in the desert. But is this a blog about my vacation? Nope.

Tuesday afternoon: I can't recall how many folks I had in class. We're coming up on a bit of a hot streak, and that affects attendance at a Bikram studio sometimes. At least it does at our studio. One of my challenged students practiced... or should I say, showed up and struggled. She didn't do an entire set of pranayama; instead she chose to fix her hair. She didn't do the transition from half moon to backbend. Apparently keeping her arms above her head throughout was a challenge. That came up several times in class. In general, she just wasn't playing her A game. I use that phrase because outside of the studio she is an athlete, a competitor. Sometimes I find myself surprised that the athletes struggle the most in class. Of course, as soon as I type those words I realized I was that same struggling athlete when I started yoga. Perhaps I need to be a bit more sympathetic.

I tailored my class banter towards finding a place of stillness and paying attention to how we meet our obstacles in the studio. I firmly believe we have the same approach to obstacles in the studio as we do outside of it. If we come upon a difficult (for us) asana in class and we choose to sit it out or drink or fidget, we probably run from our difficulties in day-to-day life. I encourage students to explore what happens when we acknowledge the challenge and simply let it go. Besides, all those extraneous movements (and that extraneous thinking) works against us, especially if we want to keep cool.

Wednesday afternoon: 13 students! On the 13th, even! Here we go again. I occupied an incredibly unusual space between giddiness and resistance. I did my best to let the giddy side take over in class. It definitely helped to have a student compliment my new shorts as I started class. Right off the bat I could keep things light.

The resistance stemmed from my own very challenging practice that morning. I just wasn't getting what I needed, and I also spent a lot of time worrying about my students instead of practicing myself. Not a great place to be.

When I taught, though, I found humor and exploration and fun. I used that awesome Frances Moore Lappe quote (It is not possible for us to know what is possible.) and it struck a chord. I also found myself singing students into one savasana, which prompted a hilarious comment from a student.

Both yesterday and today I taught a "new" student. I use the quotation marks because she is new to the studio, but apparently not to the yoga. Fuck, I even have to qualify that sentence. I say "apparently" because she told us she'd practiced at a number of Bikram studios, but her practice doesn't reflect that. Just typing that feels like an insult, but I don't mean it that way. She told me yesterday that she studied with a well-known vinyasa teacher back East, and that explained a lot for me. When she is in my class I find it a challenge to teach her, because she feels more inclined to do her own take on a lot of the postures. I certainly respect a vinyasa practice (hell, I still practice it myself) but I never do Bikram asanas in a vinyasa class. I hope that folks who come to our studio will honor our 26 asanas, as we teach them. Now I feel an urge to approach her in some way, to see if I can express to her that I'd really like her to try the asanas our way. Y'know, for shits and giggles. I've noticed that when I stress out about exercising a little more discipline in class, students actually respond better than I expect. If I'm lucky, this will be one of those times. If not, well... she can certainly find another studio. Yeah, that's harsh, but that's life.

Monday, August 11, 2008

what can be said about a monday?

16 students today. No newbies; one traveler who has visited the studio before. She had a great sense of humor, which I certainly appreciated.

Monday morning, especially after a restless, sleepless night, meant a quieter class at first. Really, though... I have the same intention every class: keep 'em breathing. Eventually I animated some, made some corrections, and chose to teach one posture (standing separate leg stretching) in an accent. I don't necessarily want the reputation of the comic teacher, but in those moments the humor feels appropriate.

I had yet another struggler today. He is a regular struggler. I taught his first class, and he left the room then. I know this practice, and the successful completion of each class, means a lot to him. I would like him to find some space in the practice. Again, we can wreck our bodies for 90 minutes, or we can kill our egos for 90 minutes. I should hope folks choose the latter.

I might need some help in really sussing things out on this blog. Perhaps a writing workshop, as corny as that sounds. Lynda Barry's new book interests me, but of course I worry about falling into the buying trap. I know I have so much stuff spinning around in my skull, but every time I sit at this computer it can't make its way from the head to the fingertips.

I didn't intend to list the minutiae of each class I teach. I want to examine how someone like me makes her way in the world of yoga, especially in our charming culture. But I can't find the words. Especially not now, since one of my houseguests finally woke from her slumber.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

weekend update

16 students today. I took all of yesterday off. A bit of a misnomer; really all I did was practice at home instead of at the studio. Woke up with a quick but challenging vinyasa sequence, and wound down my day with a sweet yin practice. Today I spent an hour in yin mode before teaching, which had remarkable consequences.

I found myself surprised at today's turnout. This weekend has been miraculous in terms of weather. Honestly if I weren't gettin' paid to be inside, I'd sure as hell stay outside. So I had a relatively full room. In this full room I opted to, once again, stumble over my words (at the very least combining "best" and "breath" into "breast" allows for some comic relief) and generally maintain a very light atmosphere. I think folks appreciated it. I have a feeling one student found it challenging. I reckon if you're struggling to stay in a hot room and find your flexibility, someone's witty banter might not rub you the right way. I felt I could sympathize a touch, recalling how I felt in a class where the instructor chose to wax poetic about every other posture as opposed to checking in with students. But really, whose challenge is that? Certainly not the instructor's.

Some folks tend to misunderstand Bikram's whole "kill yourself for 90 minutes" spiel. Some opt for the "actually go out and wreck your body" explanation. Me? I take it as an invitation to drop the ego and just be. I want to kill this preconceived notion I have of myself based on past experiences and injuries. I want to shed this concept of "Anna" that I and others have spent the last 34 years building, and connect with... this. Just this. Not a me or a female or a yogini or a punk or a poor kid or whatever. Just this. That attempt at connection entails meeting the moment in the moment (if that makes sense). Instead of running away from the moment (or the truth), I meet it head on. I don't pause to wipe the sweat. I don't step away from the meeting by stepping out of the asana or stopping for a sip of water. I just step into the moment. For some people even suggesting such a meeting is beyond a radical proposition. That doesn't mean, however, that I hold the space any differently. I have no desire to make the journey easy (or hard, really). All I have to do is provide the map. It's the student's responsibility to take the journey and accept all the obstacles that come.

So if a student wants to project anger in my direction because I suggest she focus more on the asana than on the lint on her mat, so be it. I may not be responsible for everyone's journey, but I sure as hell will make sure you stay on the path. And I may not suggest you kill yourself for the entire 90 minutes, but at least step out of your own way for a second.

This week may pose a challenge for this journal, considering I have two houseguests this week. One planned, one unexpected; both Bikram teachers. This could get interesting.

Friday, August 8, 2008

all eights

Perhaps today is a lucky day. At the very least I get two entries in.

Taught in the afternoon. Another 13'er! Yes, that just might be my lucky number. Two out-of-towners, and they had a friend come in for her first class. Also had a long-timer pay us a return visit after spending a lot of time recuperating from injuries. Today was fun. I think I've found my stride as a teacher.

Our first-time student smiled as she exited the studio, telling me she appreciated all my detailed adjustments and instructions.

Our long-time returning student clasped my hand when she left the room, and also shared a smile with me. She was so strong in the room; no one would have pegged her for coming back after a long sabbatical. I told her all her hard work for all those years left her with plenty in her yoga bank, so her body didn't forget. She then told me she's visited studios in several states, and she felt I'm one of the strongest teachers she's experienced. That meant a lot to me. Students pay me compliments often (not to pat myself on the back, which I reckon is the most self-serving asana of all), but her words touched me. When you have a student who struggles, for whatever reason, and that student can find his/her way in your class... well, it means a lot to me.

slowly getting the hang of things

For years I resisted my somewhat natural tendency towards routines. Regularity runs counter to the whole punk ethic, right? Reality, though, suggests that I benefit and flourish if I keep things regular. So now I'm trying to work out how to post here regularly. If I teach in the afternoon I'd much rather come home, make a good dinner and relax instead of diddling on the internet. If I teach in the morning, though, I want to get back to the house and get my beloved dog out on a walk while it's still reasonably comfortable outside. I reckon the two-class-a-day small-town schedule cuts another notch on the "wish I still lived in a big city" belt.

My last two classes as a teacher were extraordinarily fun. Quite a relief, since as time creeped towards class time I felt a lot of resistance. I've had a few first-time students, which allowed me a bit more playfulness. I feel a duty, for some reason, to create a safe and fun environment for new students. The Bikram series can pose a lot of challenges for people in general, and I certainly don't want to add to that list of challenges. And personally I appreciate practice that allows for experimentation and settling in to one's body. If I can foster that in a Bikram class, I am happy.

Plus, yesterday I taught in the midst of a thunderstorm. As much as I enjoy sitting and watching summer storms, I enjoyed battling with Mother Nature for the students' attention, and using the rain to ease students into relaxation.

I wish I could say the same thing about my own practice. Something seems to have shifted. I find more joy in teaching than I do in practicing. Today I did everything in my power to keep myself in the room. I felt so much anger rising to the surface of my skin, my whole being. I feel fortunate that my dedicated practice has given me the gift of identifying emotions in my physical body. Instead of wondering why I have that ache in my right shoulder or that hard feeling in my center, now I can acknowledge how I carry my stress or my dissatisfaction. I can start to examine what's going on in my life that contributes to this discomfort, and if/how I can change it. I have an idea of the source of this anger. Yet I'm not in a place where I can disconnect myself from this source.

My practice has so little to do with my physical body these days. Honestly. I've learned, finally, to let go of expectations about the visual expression of the asanas. It took me a long time to live with myself in that space, to ride my breath and stay in the present. I feel like I've lost some of that progress when it comes to staying in the moment. I allow myself to be easily distracted. Unfortunately I don't know what else to do now to take a few more steps forward in the direction of that progress. But maybe that's okay. Perhaps as I needed to let go of physical expectations, I also need to let go of the mental expectations.

And maybe... just maybe, I really do need my upcoming vacation.

Monday, August 4, 2008

i definitely don't sell cheesecake

I had every intention, when I started this blog, to post regularly. Perhaps every day, even. I often start journaling projects (or whatever you'd call 'em) and I start with gusto... only to find the energy fizzling out. That's not so much the case with this, but for whatever reason I didn't have the urge to sit and write for the past few days. I did want to keep a log of sorts of each class I teach, but sometimes trying to find something different to write about challenges me.

It's been almost nine months since I completed my teacher training. Acknowledging the time now makes me think I'm going through some kind of labor, hence my unsettled feeling and my physical discomfort. Ha. The last few days have me questioning why I chose to teach yoga, especially why I chose to teach Bikram yoga.

I had tried several different styles of yoga during my whole yoga discovery process. It's humorous to me to even try to define the styles, since it's all just riffs off hatha yoga anyway. Needless to say I tried playing all the riffs: ashtanga, kundalini, kripalu, vinyasa. Once I started to enjoy the process and the practice of yoga, of course I started to geek out. That's what I do: I get really into something and it consumes me. (This explains how I managed to survive in the bicycle world for well over a decade.) In the course of all that geeking out I learned about Bikram Choudhury, about his style of hatha yoga, about his highly unconventional guru ways. I couldn't hang with what I'd learned. I mean, here's this Indian dude who comes to the States and wants to copyright yoga? What the fuck? It made no sense to me, especially since I have no love for copyrights and that brand of capitalism.

No matter. I find myself at a Bikram studio when I move to Oregon. I had visited another yoga studio, and found myself very turned off by the overly woo-woo dynamic there. I definitely dig the spiritual aspect of yoga, and after spending several years trying to sort out my Buddhist practice, I understand creating a space for meditation. But for me there's a line between sacred space and honky woo-woo bullshit. (Right now I don't know if I have it in me to explain.) The Bikram studio just happens to be a block away from my new home, so I say what the hell? and I try it.

I saw normal people practicing hot yoga in a funky old house. I could dig that. I didn't have to prove myself there. I just had to show up and practice. And it happens that the 26 postures Bikram dialed in for his beginning series are just the right combination of simple but not easy. Again: I just had to show up and practice.

So, I did. After a while my resistance melted, and I found I could use these 90-minute practices to save myself. Literally. I didn't have to worry about the teacher springing handstands on me out of nowhere. (I definitely don't have it in me to rehash how building bike frames jacked up my wrists enough to mess with any serious hand or arm balances in practice.) Every class was just about the same, and all I had to do was show up and practice. As unholy as Bikram the man presents himself, crazily enough he created a beginning series that reeks an awful lot of meditation. Just come to the cushion and sit. Just come to the mat and practice.

I figured: if this simple-but-not-easy series could save a wretch like me, couldn't it work wonders for folks who aren't so terribly fucked up? And could it be possible that a fuck-up like me could help these folks? If I could be saved, really... who else could benefit? It also made sense for me to become a teacher since I now lived in a small town, with few Bikram teachers and few distractions for my city-girl self. So why the hell not?

Now, it doesn't seem so simple anymore. But maybe that's just the nine-month gestation talking.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

begin (almost) at the beginning

12 students today. I'm no longer on my 13'er roll. No straight-up newbies, but one woman who hadn't been in a while. I feel far more courageous these days with making definite corrections and adjustments, but I toe the line at being a touch overbearing. Often I want to demonstrate postures to give students an opportunity to see the form, hoping that if they see it will help them in their own practice. But just as often I stop myself, because frequently I am one of the youngest people in the room. As much as I want my students to experience the whole practice as deeply as possible, I certainly don't want to intimidate anyone. I know I should let go of assuming I know what's in people's heads, but I do know that some students look at me and think, "Of course you can do that!" I only wish they could have seen me when I started practicing.

Once upon a time I was a hater of yoga. For reals. My arrogant punk brain couldn't even fathom trying something that reeked so terribly of hippie bullshit, and my speed-fed, sleep-is-for-the-weak type A personality had no interest in anything that involved holding still for more than a second. I recall my little-kid self watching Lilias! Yoga and You on channel 13 and being a touch intrigued, but even then I couldn't sit still long enough to try it. After wasting my more formidable years on fast living, fast skating and faster cycling, I found my mind and soul housed in a completely wrecked body. Shattered ankles, a loose right kneecap, one royally damaged shoulder and a slight spinal curvature left me in constant pain. Not to mention the damage I'd done to my own heart. (I mean that literally, not in the "oh woe is me!" figurative blog sense.)

I remember moving to Boston to live with my (then) new boyfriend and work as a messenger. We found a completely lousy (literally) hovel of a studio apartment in Allston. I'd ride all day, then come home to pass out on our secondhand futon... only to wake up without the ability to move my legs. It took a few years (it sometimes takes that long for a messenger to get health insurance, if it ever happens at all) to learn that I had pinched nerves and several really misaligned vertebrae. By then I learned to live with the pain, and took it as a consequence of my job and my lifestyle. I met an amazing chiropractor who actually gave me a few free adjustments in hopes that he could help me (and I'd want to become his patient, of course). Finally I'd discovered that I didn't have to live with all that pain. He recommended I add yoga to my daily activities.

Yoga? Seriously? But I felt compelled to give his suggestion a shot, since he'd already helped me so much.

A friend invited me to join her at her yoga class... and it took every ounce of strength in my body to keep from running from the room. At the same time, my colossal ego insisted that I could do all those wacky postures better than anyone else in the room. Crazy, right?

I have a student who I wish could understand where I began with all of this. I see him struggle so terribly, in ways that are so unnecessary. No... they are necessary. I suffered and struggled just as he did, and managed to come out on the other side so peacefully and strong. As a teacher, though... oh how I wish I could help him bypass all the challenges I faced when I started. But then again, it wouldn't be his journey, would it? Sometimes it is all that drama and all that struggle that defines us. Perhaps my place as a teacher is to reassure my students that the journey really is the destination.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

the "all twisted" moniker fits

15 students. For whatever reason I haven't had new students in my class for a while. I had a few new-to-me people; folks who have recently started practicing at our studio. Today I taught one such fellow, but he had such a strong practice I didn't feel I needed to worry about or focus too much on him. I did have one student with major physical challenges due to some serious birth defects. She is so resilient and dedicated. She amazes me. She asked for a few hands-on adjustments, and I actually looked forward to them. I wish I could find words to express how it felt to adjust her, but it seems today's theme is "I am Anna's twisted brain."

The entire class I tripped over dialogue. I told the class to relax their ears away from their heads. I caught that one at least, corrected myself, and joked that separating the ears from the head was an advanced posture. I don't know why I kept messing up my words. It just happened. Maybe my messed-up vision (which has improved immensely) had something to do with it, or maybe the uncertainty of my own place at/in the studio. Who knows? Somehow today I couldn't speak straight. At least I can salvage such days with humor, and the class seems to appreciate that.

I opted to make a lot of corrections, and get a little more fearless with adjustments. The risk worked, since all the students I adjusted thanked me. I spent some time after class working with someone on Locust. My next challenge: how to explain subtle details without talking too much. Again, I don't know if I verbalized that as well as I could have, but I hope it makes sense.

I feel a need to divulge the story of my own path to yoga. So far I've been a bit hesitant, for a myriad of reasons. Namely: I'm not the same person I used to be, so why dwell on that? But then again, technically I'm not the same person I was when I started writing this entry. Sometimes it does make sense to retrace one's steps and see how far one has come. And if someone new stumbles upon this blog, perhaps the backstory will help explain why I write what I write.

Is tonight that night... the night to share the early years? Not so much. Tonight I'll explain the origin of the blog's address.

Kraut were one of the early New York hardcore bands. Like me, Kraut was from Queens. (Yes, I have loads of Queens pride.) For shits and giggles when I toyed with the idea of starting this blog I googled "all twisted" to see what would come up. I always had this song in mind, but I was curious to see if anyone else had used the phrase in a web address.

I like the play on words. All twisted... geddit?!

Monday, July 28, 2008

a short entry about today's class

Another 13'er. Perhaps that's my lucky number. Three teachers in attendance; one new-to-me student, a traveler who disagreed with our hardwood floor. It was a good Monday morning class. When I started I let the class know I felt some discomfort in my left eye, so if they caught me winking they shouldn't take it as flirtation. Everyone got a good chuckle. Always a great way to start.

Except I later learned that the discomfort was something far more serious. Since it persisted during and after class, I removed my contact lens in hoped I'd feel some relief. No luck. I called my eye doctor just in case, and learned I have a corneal laceration. (I strongly suggest you avoid any urge to google that, especially if you have a delicate stomach.) Overall I feel pretty all right, though my left-eye vision is blurry. So I'll quit this entry early and rest my eyeballs.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

today's class

13 students. No newbies. Actually, I had five other teachers in attendance. I can't decide which is harder: teaching new students or teaching teachers.

Today challenged me for a myriad of reasons. I never teach well during my period, and today was day one. (Pardon the TMI, but it's my frickin' blog.) I frequently complain about the meager socializing I do in my new small-town home, but once a month I just don't want to deal with other people. Sundays can be especially difficult, because having to teach means tearing myself away from the Sunday Times. (I read the New York Times/You're not gonna change my fucking mind/It's the paper of record/Until you do better/Don't waste my fucking time thank you Men's Recovery Project) I also got some not-so-pleasant news from my parents shortly before class. Having to teach to a couple of people who may change the course of your working life became a touch more difficult under those circumstances. Sorry for writing in cipher there, but that's the best I'm willing to do right now.

Oh, and I couldn't log into our computer when I got to the studio. I actually recall saying, "I really hope this isn't an omen for my class."

All of that said, it still felt like a strong class. In the end I want students to enjoy themselves, and I think they did. I think students respect me and trust me. That means a lot. I don't want anyone going through the motions. I sincerely want our students, even though it's the same 26 postures every class, to experience something different each time they visit our studio. Perhaps one day they merely carry that slow, steady breath for the whole 90 minutes, or perhaps they feel another millimeter of expansion in a particularly challenging posture. It's all something.

I stopped for a short spell to encourage the class to find themselves in the mirror and not shy away from their own reflections. Some people genuinely fear or dislike looking at themselves so directly. I gently reminded the class that looking forward means their practices have the chance to move forward. Perhaps those in the back could use a student in front as a focal point, if the reflection still scared them. It's times like these that I wish I could share, directly, with students how much progress I've made in my own practice. But it's not about me.

So I'll say I rose to my own challenge. Next challenge: how to manage said studio without losing my mind, or my temper. That deserves its own entry, I think.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

just like dancing about architecture

I can only imagine that somewhere on this expansive planet of ours, a dictionary exists defining irony as "blogging about yoga." Take a centuries-old spiritual/physical practice, and combine it with the internet, and... well, who knows what could happen? At the very least I show a touch of respect for the ages by using a second-hand PC that still runs Windows 98. (I also imagine that somewhere in Washington Bill Gates has just fainted.)

Once I crossed the threshold between practitioner and teacher, I felt a still-unsatisfied need to discuss my journey as a teacher and all the crazy, mixed-up things that come up while on that journey. I plan on sussing those things out here, in hopes of maybe seeing some progress in/with my teaching, and maybe with my own practice.

There's also the very real (to me) fact that I am unlike most yoga practitioners and teachers I know. I come from an immigrant/working class background. I'd be nothing if not for Riot Grrrl, NY hardcore and the entirety of the DIY scene of the 1990's. (To be fair I should throw in a nod towards growing up with hip hop in New York, which definitely influenced a lot of where I went and what I became.) All these pieces together create a completed puzzle of a total gadfly - a definite bullshit detector. It would seem, on the surface, that it makes perfect sense for someone always seeking truth to pursue yoga. To me, though, it seems the way many of us actually engage in that pursuit strays far from the truth.

So this will be a blog about a scumbag who does yoga. Trust me: "scumbag" is hardly a pejorative in my lexicon. (And if you haven't already noticed, I have little fear of using more colorful language.) Perhaps someone else will find it entertaining.