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.