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.