Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bullet Proof (Week 9 and beyond)

It’s been two months since I graduated from Teacher Training, so this blog post is long overdue. I started a draft the week I returned home but just couldn’t get around to finishing it. Maybe deep down I was afraid to because it would signal the end of the incredible journey I’ve been on. Or maybe I'm just lazy. Who knows!

A ton has happened over the past two months and I’ve made some monumental changes in my life, but before I get into all of that, let’s revisit that final week of training.

Now I figured the last week would be a sort of a party week. You know, like the last week of school always was. Boy was I wrong. Week 9 of Teacher Training was probably the most intensive of them all. Lots of late night lectures with Bikram, tough and very hot classes never seemed to end. It was the one week I wanted to pass quickly, which of course meant that it didn't.

The last class on Friday evening with Bikram was the best one we had the entire training, although it was exceptionally hot and I felt like I might have passed out. At the end, everyone got up and hugged everyone. It was one big, huge sweaty love fest. People lined up to shake Bikram's hand and even though my feelings for him had soured over the nine weeks, I too found myself in that line and I graciously thanked him for the experience.

The following day was graduation. The ceremony itself was uninspired and rather disorganized, but it was great to see everyone dressed up. After wearing yoga gear for nine weeks straight and not bothering to do my hair or makeup, many people didn't even recognize me! The ceremony was followed by dinner and dancing. I left the party at 11:30 pm to prepare for my morning flight home. As I was saying goodbye, I broke down into tears and cried for a full hour once I returned to my hotel room. It was the first time while at Teacher Training that I had an outwardly emotional reaction. It was a great release!
Me proudly holding my Bikram certification at graduation.

On November 24, 2010 at noon – two days after arriving home – I taught my first class. I had about 20 students in the class and four teachers. It was the most nerve-racking experience of my life. I had no idea what was going to come out of my mouth, having never strung more than two postures together before. I can’t even remember that first class – it’s a complete blur. I got through it and students later commented that they couldn’t tell it was my first time teaching. The class ran 105 minutes and I was almost completely verbatim dialogue. I did struggle with my lefts and rights quite a bit. My solution for the classes that followed was to write an “R” on my left hand and an “L” on my right as a visual cue. I did that for a couple weeks and eventually got the hang of it.

I have since taught a total of 43 classes. The first 10 were all about nerves, the next 10 were about finding my voice, and the rest have been fantastic! I absolutely love teaching – more than I ever thought possible. Sometimes I’ll go and teach a class after a day at the office that has completely drained me and by the time I finish delivering Pranayama breathing, my mood has completely changed. I’m happy and having fun and the concerns of the day are gone!

For the past two months I’ve had a hectic schedule – work full-time, teach four times a week, and practice five times a week. It’s been challenging, so I’ve made some changes that will allow Bikram Yoga to play a more prominent role in my life. I’ll be leaving my full-time job in mid-February for a consulting gig that will give me the flexibility to teach more. In addition to the studio I’m at right now, I’ve been approached by two others and have been added to their schedule.

Teacher Training also gave me the opportunity to reflect on what I really want to do in my life. Once upon a time I was a doctoral student with a promising career as a health researcher. I left that behind when I decided I'd make more money in the corporate world. While at training, I had so many dreams of those days, which made me think that it’s time to go back. Last week I submitted an application to resume my studies. It's been nearly a decade since I left, but everything came together to support my application and I have a thesis topic that I'm really jazzed about. Fingers crossed!

I’m so excited about all the changes in my life and for the first time in a long time, the future seems full of possibilities! I feel like I'm finally living my dream!

PS: Even though it took me two months to post this blog, I promise to continue to be an active Bikram Yoga blogger. Stay tuned for more!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Last chance -- twist (Week 8)

Week 8 was the first week that went by slowly. I've written a lot about how time here seems to be on warp speed, but not this week. The difference is due to a shift in my perspective. It now feels like I've been here a very long time and that I've gotten everything I can out of the training. The incidents from week 7 also changed the atmosphere around here. Things went from being fun and celebratory, to somewhat gloomy. I wouldn't trade the experience for the world and feel I made the right decision in coming to training, but I'm ready to go home and start the next leg of the journey.

We finished posture clinics this week. I delivered Head to Knee with Stretching and Spinal Twist -- the only two poses I didn't have memorized before I came here. I wasn't as confident with them and stumbled more than usual, but made it through just fine. I am so relieved that posture clinics are over! It was difficult to sit for hours and hours on the floor each day listening to people recite the same words over and over again. Now I need to spend some time on my own reviewing everything and starting to string postures together. Only a week to go before I teach my first class! Yikes!

This weekend I spent a lot of money on yoga outfits for my new job as a Bikram Yoga teacher. Now, I had already bought tons of yoga gear prior to this weekend and even before I got to training, so I definitely didn't need anything. But as I blogged about back in the spring, I've got a yoga wear shopping addiction! As soon as I see new styles and colours, I need to have them! While I've been at Teacher Training, several vendors have been onsite and I've bought items from each and every one of them. I've bought so much that I might just have to buy another suitcase to carry it all home. The good thing is I now have different stuff to teach versus practice in. We were told to keep our teaching and practice outfits separate -- which was simply an excuse for me to buy more and more and more and more!

Week 9 is about posture clinics with Bikram, where he'll go through each of the 26 postures and two breathing exercises and explain in detail their proper form and benefits. And of course we still have our daily doubles! I'm crossing my fingers that late nights are a thing of the past, but I wouldn't be surprised if another one is thrown our way before graduation. Speaking of graduation, it's on Saturday afternoon. Not sure how the event will unfold, as the details for most things at Teacher Training are sketchy, including the timing in this case. All I know is that the ceremony is followed by a dinner and I'm catching a cab to the airport at 9am the next day.

I can't wait to be home! I'm sure I'll miss Teacher Training and all the friends I've made here within a couple of days of settling back into my routine, but right now I'm so excited to go home! I'm really looking forward to seeing my niece and nephews, sleeping in my own bed, drinking wine, eating chicken shawarma, driving my car, and -- most important of all -- being on my own schedule. No more signing in four to six times a day! Absolute freedom!

Only a few days to go... I'll see you on the other side!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Welcome to Bikram's Torture Chamber (Week 7)

Week 7 was the hardest week of Teacher Training. Every trainee here would agree. We were pushed beyond our limits both physically and mentally.

The week started off on a high point. I did a bonus class on Sunday morning at Jim Kallett's studio in Old Town. The fabulous Jo from London, England taught. She had led my posture clinic the Friday before and I was able to see in her teaching many of the things she spoke about in the clinic. She was verbatim dialogue but was really able to inject her own personality and style into the class. She called me out by name several times to offer me corrections and commend me on my postures. It felt really good to have that individual attention again. I've missed practicing in a studio!

The advanced seminar took place this week, which meant an extra 200 people were practicing in the hot tent. It also meant that Bikram taught the morning classes, as he led the advanced seminar immediately afterward. I practiced beside the podium on Monday and it was a killer class that ran past the two-hour mark. I had to start rationing water two-thirds of the way through the class to ensure I didn't run out. The class exhausted me and I experienced pain and discomfort in the classes that followed. I retreated to my old spot out of Bikram's line of sight for the rest of the week.

We had double posture clinics every day this week with the exception of Friday. So in total, we spent over 25 hours sitting and listening to people deliver postures. I got through five postures: Bow, Fixed Firm, Half Tortoise, Camel, and Rabbit. I continued to have strong posture clinics and was given a couple challenges that pushed me out of my comfort zone. After Camel, I was asked to deliver the first three sets of Pranayama. I admitted to not knowing any of the dialogue but was encouraged to give it a try anyway. Amazingly, the words came out of my mouth and it felt comfortable and effortless. It gave me a boost of confidence, especially since my first class is only a couple weeks away. For Rabbit, I was given lots of distractions -- all of my demonstrators did something to throw me off. I handled it relatively well and was forced to veer away from the dialogue to offer corrections. My homework for the next posture is to not be so distracted by the distractions. Hmmm... we'll see how that goes.

The rules of posture clinic became stricter this week. On Wednesday we were told we could no longer clap and cheer for our group members before or after they delivered their postures. This really changed the mood of the clinics -- they went from fun and celebratory to serious and gloomy. The reason for the change is that in real life your students won't clap for you after you teach a class. While I agree with that, this isn't real life -- it's the yoga bubble where we should support and encourage each other while we can. In Wednesday's posture clinic there was a tense and emotional situation that actually brought several trainees -- including myself -- to tears. I won't get into details, but it created a negative vibe that carried through to the end of the week.

Friday morning's class pushed many trainees over the edge. Some things were said in the class that were rather contentious. People reacted by shouting and getting up and leaving. I chose to lie down, close my eyes, and bring myself to a happier place. After class people were incensed. It had already been a very difficult week and many felt this was done purposely as a test. Just before the evening class, we were told we had the night off. The crowd roared with excitement. It was a good way to end a week where many of us came to appreciate why they call it "Bikram's Torture Chamber."

I spent the weekend with Heather, Jane, Jana, Jayna and Bettina -- the Fabulous 5! We headed over to Fashion Valley Mall for some much needed retail therapy Friday night and then did our usual laundry and grocery run on Saturday. Saturday evening we checked out the Gaslamp Quarter and had a fabulous dinner at the Red Pearl Kitchen. The Gaslamp is by far my favourite part of San Diego and I'm sorry it took me eight weeks to discover it! Sunday we went to Ecinitas, which is a coastal beach city in northern San Diego. We had lunch at a local Mexican eatery and then sat on the beach and enjoyed the crisp, clean ocean air. I'm so thankful for my weekends and the company of my new friends. It's what keeps me going and what I'll miss most.

Week 8 is here and I have only 14 days left in San Diego! It's scary to think of going home. I've been here so long that I can hardly remember where I came from. I'm ready to start the next chapter of this incredible journey though and am certain this experience will inspire many more positive changes in my life.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Hold it there, freeze (Week 6)

Another week past in the blink of an eye. We are officially two-thirds the way through training and the remaining three weeks will undoubtedly be over before we know it. I'm enjoying this experience more than I ever thought possible and am starting to think that my breakdown will happen once I leave the yoga bubble and have to integrate back into the real world. I'm trying to hold on to each moment as much as I can. Just like in Cobra pose, I want to "hold it there, freeze."

Week 6 was all about posture clinics. We had them everyday and on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, twice a day. I delivered four postures: Wind Removing, Cobra, Locust, and Full Locust. The latter was my best yet -- I finally achieved the right balance between dialogue and energy. Felt great!

Spending so much time in posture clinic meant that my group really bonded. We're quite an eclectic bunch -- each of us coming from different places and stages in our lives. The one thing that unites us is our love for Bikram Yoga and our desire to share the yoga with others through teaching. Regardless of where we are with the dialogue, we support and cheer each other on and it's amazing to see how close we've become over the past several weeks.
Group 3! Best group ever! (I'm on the bottom row, second from the left.)

On Friday evening we had a dress up Bikram Yoga class to celebrate Halloween. With little time to prepare and a lack of imagination, I simply wore a black and orange yoga outfit. Other trainees, however, went all out. There were the Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, Miss Piggy, and the usual suspects -- devils, witches, and zombies. Even Bikram dressed up! Kudos to the trainees who kept their costumes on throughout the class! Later that evening we had a pizza party and danced to Bikram's Lounge CD. A fun time was had by all.

Halloween dress up class.
Bikram's Halloween Costume
Halloween dance party!
One last thing that helped make Week 6 memorable is that I got my teaching schedule for when I return. I'm teaching seven classes my first week back! I wasn't expecting so many classes, but am thrilled that I'll be able to get up on the podium that many times. I'll be feeling my groove long before Christmas rolls around.

66 classes down and 33 to go. What an amazing ride!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Now the class begins (Week 5)

Five weeks down and four more to go! Wednesday officially marked the halfway point of the Fall 2010 Bikram Yoga Teacher Training session.

Bikram was back this week and with his return came three very late nights. On Monday, he kept us up till 3:45 am watching four or five episodes of Mahabharat, an Indian TV series produced in the 1980s. I wasn't able to keep my eyes open for a full episode, as I drifted in and out of consciousness. Every time I'd wake up though, the same scene would be on the screen:
Krishna, the guy on the right, would be talking incessantly. Apparently this went on for an entire episode and the next day I couldn't get his voice out of my head. The other episodes contained very low-quality battle scenes. The production reminds me a lot of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy TV series with its hilariously cheesy special effects.

On Tuesday night, there was an optional movie, which I opted to skip. It was great to go to bed right after posture clinic. Wednesday and Thursday we stayed up till 3am watching Koi... Mil Gaya and its sequel Krrish. They are science fiction films starring Hrithik Roshan as the superhero... and superhero is he ever! It sure is a pleasure to wake up and see this image on the screen:
I managed to watch up to the intermission of the first film but didn't see anything beyond the opening credits of the second. I was out cold, as were many of my fellow trainees. It's very challenging to do two classes a day, sit through lectures and posture clinics, and then read subtitles till the wee hours of the morning. Luckily I'm able to sleep just about anywhere these days and in all kinds of awkward positions.

In posture clinics this week, I got through Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, Tree, and Toe Stand. Feedback on my delivery continued to be positive and I felt I was able to let go of my perfectionism. Having little sleep helps you to get out of your head to a certain degree. I was given more bodies to work with for Tree and Toe Stand, which I enjoyed. Even though I was struggling to find the words in Toe Stand at one point, I felt like I was teaching a real class. I saw everyone and was able to recognize that people's ability to do the postures varies. Some people can do them flawlessly, while others only go into the first or second parts. Bikram Yoga is a beginner's yoga, so I need to get use to the idea that my students' practice will be all over the map.
Delivering Tree and Toe Stand Pose to a larger group of "students."
Next week we move to the floor series, which is where the real yoga begins! It actually says this in the dialogue after the standing series: "That was the warming up exercise, now the class begins." In many ways, where we are with the dialogue mirrors where I am with my own practice. Up to this point, I've been warming up -- having to sit out postures or even entire series of postures. This week I saw a transformation in my body. I was able to do both the morning and evening classes fully and with a lot of strength. I have no soreness and my body feels limber and strong. I'm still stiff in the morning, but in the afternoon I open up like a flower petal blooming. My back bends are deeper and I can now easily touch my head to my feet in Stretching Pose. I hope things continue in this direction through the end of training.

My mood transformed quite a bit too this week. I felt much more reclusive than previous weeks, wanting to spend my free time alone. I've also been thinking a lot about changes I need to make when I get home and am unsure of which direction things will go. I'm hoping for a certain level of clarity by the time I board the plane back to Toronto. I know what I'm going through is important and while my thoughts are often difficult to digest, I'm trusting that they are part of the transformational experience that teacher training often yields.

I reviewed my notes from the first day of training and I had wrote that weeks 3, 4, and 5 are "breakdown weeks." I've personally not had a breakdown and continue to see this training as one of the best things I could have done at this stage in my life. Not sure what the next four weeks will hold, but I know I'm exactly where I'm suppose to be.

Friday, October 22, 2010

What's cookin'?

Doing doubles everyday at Teacher Training requires a healthy and plentiful diet. Each Bikram Yoga class burns between 600 and 1,000 calories, which gives me a license to EAT, EAT, EAT! Many trainees lose their appetite, but that hasn't happened to me. Instead, this self-proclaimed foodie has become even more food obsessed. When I'm in the hot tent, I fantasize about what I'll eat after class and many of my dreams at night are food related. I simply can't eat enough!

While I LOVE TO EAT, I don't care much for cooking. At home I eat many of my meals out, but that's changed since I arrived here. Since food wasn't included as part of the tuition and I'm trying to stick to a budget, I've discovered the joy of cooking... in a hotel room.

Our suites are equipped with a tiny fridge, which every week I manage to fill beyond capacity. I've also bought several small appliances -- George Foreman grill, kettle, rice cooker. Below are some of the meals I've prepared.
Grilled chicken breast with a side of couscous.
Grilled salmon burger topped with avocado and salsa.
Brown rice with tomato, avocado, seaweed, and egg, with a soy sauce glaze.
Grilled chicken burger, avocado, rice.
Smoked turkey and cheddar cheese wraps -- a typical lunch.
In between meals, I'm constantly snacking on trail mix, energy bars, dried fruit, fresh fruit, and chocolate -- lots and lots of chocolate. The eating truly never ends!

Would love to hear your suggestions for other meal options I can prepare. I still have four weeks of Teacher Training to go!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Learning to let go (Week 4)

Week four started and ended with Triangle. Trikanasana, or Triangle Pose, is the pinnacle of the standing series and also comes at the halfway point in the 90-minute Bikram Yoga class.

As I mentioned last week, my homework was to deliver Standing Bow Pulling Pose while performing Triangle, which I did on Monday. I belted out the dialogue without missing a beat and was praised by my evaluators for pulling the whole thing off while still watching the bodies in front of me. I was given more karma homework after that.

Here I am delivering Standing Bow Pulling Pose while in Triangle.
I delivered Triangle Pose on Friday afternoon, which means I'm officially halfway through the dialogue. There are still another 16 postures in the series, but those that follow are much shorter. We're descending the mountain!

Feedback on my delivery of Balancing Stick, Standing Separate Leg Stretching, and Triangle has been consistent: I need to let more of my personality come through. I'm holding back and not giving it everything I have. Last night I had an "Ah-ha" moment when it finally occurred to me what I need to do differently. Up to this point, I've delivered the dialogue verbatim and haven't fumbled even when distractions or challenges have been thrown my way. So I thought I was rocking it. Dom Emley, who led our Friday evening yoga class, taught with so much passion that he inspired all of us to give 150%. That's when I realized that I don't need to be perfect, I need to be passionate!

When I think back, the classes I've enjoyed most over the two years I've been doing this yoga have been taught by teachers who have had genuine passion and enthusiasm for teaching. Many don't say the dialogue verbatim and instead inject their own voice and personality into the class. If I want my students to work hard and actually look forward to coming to yoga, I need to follow this example.

So my goal for week five is to let go and allow my true self to come out. It's actually a lot harder than you'd think, well for me anyway. All my life I've been super competitive and a perfectionist. I need to abandon these tendencies, at least when I'm teaching Bikram Yoga. I'm also realizing that my strive to be perfect is taking the fun out of posture clinics and will eventually burn me out. Diane Ducharme, a senior Bikram Yoga teacher, asked us the following question: "Do you want to be a perfect teacher or do you want to be a great teacher?" I think I know the answer to that one.

Bikram was away again this week and so we had Dr. P for anatomy lectures every evening. We went through a whole bunch of systems: cardiovascular, lymphatic, respiratory, digestive, urinary, and endocrine. Lots and lots of information, but Dr. P was able to hold my attention the entire time. I took pages and pages of notes, which I'll need to review before Monday's final exam.

Speaking of Monday, Bikram will be making his triumph return and will be staying with us until the end of training. This means many, many late nights. The one thing I've enjoyed over the past two weeks is feeling healthy and alert enough to participate in everything going on around me. I've actually felt like I have a firm handle on this training thing. I'll be singing a different tune this week, as the late nights are extremely taxing. So in addition to letting go and being myself, I need to go with the flow and trust the process. Lots of challenges to work through this week. But like the saying goes, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And that's why I'm here!

Bring on week five!