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!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Solid, Concrete, One Piece, Lamppost, Unbroken (Week 3)

The third week of Teacher Training was the best one yet. Bikram is away until the beginning of week 5, which means we were dismissed by 11:30 each night. Never underestimate the power of a good night's sleep! It's amazing what it does for your mental and physical well-being.

This week was all about posture clinics and anatomy lectures and of course yoga -- a double daily dosage of it.

As I mentioned in previous posts, there are a total of 16 posture clinic groups, each made up of 24 people. The composition of the groups is based on last name, so I'm in group 3. Two groups are put together for each session and the pairings change each time. Two or three "judges" also sit in each posture clinic to provide feedback. They are typically visiting teachers or staff members.

This week I delivered three postures: Awkward (all three parts in one go), Eagle, and Standing Head to Knee. I was the first one to do Awkward and the judges were impressed with both my dialogue and delivery. My homework was to work on being more "dramatic" in order to step outside my comfort zone. I dialled it up for Eagle and once again managed to impress the judges (a new set this time), who asked how much of the dialogue I knew. I admitted to knowing all but the last two postures and so my homework for this one was karma-focused: Help another student who is struggling with the dialogue.

As an aside, the vast majority of people arrive at Teacher Training not knowing any dialogue. Memorization is no easy task -- I put in a lot of effort beforehand to get as far as I did. It's paying off now, as I don't have to cram it all in and can focus on my delivery instead. Many of my fellow trainees are struggling, though. Some are ESL or don't have any public speaking experience, which adds to the pressure. I feel very fortunate to be in a position where I can help others.

Back to posture clinics: Standing Forehead to Knee is my favourite posture to say, given all the exclamatory sentences. Each time we move to a new posture, there are a handful of keeners in my group who want to go first -- I am part of this crew. I really wanted to get this posture out of the way before the weekend and with only 45 minutes left in posture clinic, I knew I had little time to spare. So I rushed past the others and gave my best delivery yet. I punched all the bold phrases -- "YOU DON'T HAVE THE KNEE!" I was rocking the dialogue when one of the judges jumped in and tried to distract me. She started doing the pose and falling out, huffing and puffing along the way. I ignored her and continued with my delivery -- "Solid, Concrete, One Piece, Lamppost, Unbroken." The judges couldn't identify anything I need to work on, so instead presented me with a challenge: Deliver the next posture, Standing Bow Pulling Pose, while performing Triangle. Now saying the dialogue on its own in front of a group of 50 people is hard enough, but doing it while performing a different posture altogether is INSANE! A challenge I readily accept!

Other students have been asked to step outside of the room and scream the dialogue from the hallway (to work on projection), or to say the dialogue while doing jumping jacks (to energize them), or to hold water bottles in their hands (to focus their nervous energy). The tactics have been on the outrageous side, but they work! We've gone through four postures and already I can see marked differences in people's ability to delivery the dialogue. It's amazing to witness the transformation.
Trainee delivering Awkward Pose while performing jumping jacks.
Time outside of the hot tent and posture clinics has been spent in anatomy lectures this week. The material is being taught by Dr. Jim Preddy, or "Dr. P" as he's affectionately referred to in the Bikram Yoga community. Dr. P, an ER physician from Las Vegas, started teaching anatomy at Teacher Training in the spring, after he performed some miracles on Brandy Lyn (2010 Bishnu Ghosh Champion). He is an awesome teacher and has the power to make a relatively boring subject come alive. He is also very entertaining, especially when he's answering superfluous questions posed by trainees who like to hear the sound of their own voice. Another interesting tidbit about Dr. P: He use to be a cheerleader for UNLV.

So far we've covered the skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems. Much of the material has been over my head (cranial bones?), but Dr. P keeps assuring us that the tests are very easy. Our primary focus should be on learning the dialogue. Still, I find myself a bit concerned about anatomy. We have our first test on Monday, so I'm devoting most of my Sunday to colouring my anatomy colouring book.

Dr. P. His t-shirt says "98% Chimp."
The yoga classes have been great this week. The temperature in the hot tent has fluctuated quite a bit, with some rather cool classes followed by a couple of real scorchers. All classes have been 90 minutes and my practice is strong again, like it was back home. I'm able to do the classes without falling asleep or having to sit out entire series of postures. It feels great. Of course all of this will change when Bikram returns in a week.

This is me, getting into Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose.

We completed 32 classes in 20 days and are one-third the way through training. Six weeks and 66 classes to go!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

With your smiling, happy face (Week 2)

Week two has come and gone and while I have a few battle wounds to show for it, I still have my smiling, happy face. Training is going better than I expected (even though I was told not to have any expectations) and I'm surprised by how much I'm truly enjoying this experience. Scary that two weeks have already past. I really do want time to slow down so I can take everything in.

Monday was the hottest day on record in San Diego, with temperatures soaring past 40 degrees -- and that's outside the tent! Inside the tent was a whole other story. While I don't know the exact temperature, my guess is that it was approaching 50 degrees, with the humidity close to 100% (the humidity is around 90% most days). As soon as I entered the hot tent, the sweat began to pour. You can only imagine what happened once class started. People went down fast and quick and over 100 people had to leave the tent. I managed to stay, having come prepared with an arsenal of liquid refreshments that I drank before, after, and during most postures. It's a survival game here, so you need to do whatever it takes to make it through.

Inside the hot tent on the hottest day on record in San Diego. Temperatures soared!
This week the amazing Emmy Cleaves joined us. Emmy taught all of our morning classes, gave two lectures, and led two posture clinics. She is in her mid-80s and has been practicing the yoga since 1973, making her Bikram's most senior teacher. I found Emmy to be an absolute delight and enjoyed every single class she led, hanging on her every word. She's completely opposite to Bikram. He has more of a tough love approach, while Emmy is like a kind and caring grandmother. Among her many words of wisdom was not to go at 100% in the two classes we are taking daily while in training. We will simply burnout. She said that more flexible people should work harder in the morning classes, while those who are stronger, should give more in the evening classes. I fall into the latter camp and I find that I have much more energy and flexibility in the evening. My morning classes are very challenging -- I can hardly move and am so tired most days from only having had three or four hours sleep the night before. Emmy gave me justification for being a bit lax in the morning. Speaking of morning classes, my neighbouring yogi told me that I started snoring at the start of yesterday's class! Embarrassing, but it shows just how tired I am. I can sleep at the drop of a hat these days.

Emmy Cleaves instructing a fellow trainee on how to do Triangle Pose properly.
On Tuesday we finished delivering Half Moon in front of Bikram (in record time!) and broke up into our dialogue clinics. We met in our smaller groups for the first time on Wednesday evening -- a day I was feeling dizzy and nauseous. I thought I might have to visit the nurse, but decided to wait to see if my condition worsened. I went to posture clinic and even though I felt awful, I volunteered to be among the first to deliver Backward Bending/Hands to Feet Pose in front of Jim Kallett. Jim is another senior Bikram Yoga teacher and I believe he actually edited the teacher's dialogue. I was shaking when I went up to deliver the pose, both from my nerves as well as whatever aliment was afflicting me at the time. I managed to get the whole thing out, only stumbling once. Jim's feedback was positive. He said I did a good job and that I'll be very good by the end of training, as I gain mastery over the dialogue. So neither Bikram nor Jim have identified any areas I need to work on... yet! Amazingly, I felt better after delivering the dialogue. My dizzy spell slowly faded.

Thursday evening we watched another Bollywood movie, but first Bikram introduced us to his friend Bappi Lahiri who was visiting. Bappi is a Bollywood music director and pioneered the use of disco music in Indian cinema. He's a pretty big deal, so it was great to have him speak to us. We listened to some of his music and the crowd went wild -- everyone was dancing and singing (see the video Heather took). The energy in the lecture tent was electrifying. The film we eventually watched was called Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sadness) and starred my favourite Bollywood actor, Hrithik Roshan. The movie was the best we've seen so far, but ohmygoodness are these Bollywood flicks long! They are so long that just when you think they are over, the word "Intermission" flashes across the screen and a whole second part begins, with a new plot and everything! This particular movie was 211 minutes. That's a long time to sit in the world's most uncomfortable chair, even though I've invested in many pillows and other props to make it more tolerable. Needless to say the next day I was a zombie, as were the other 376 trainees.

Teacher trainees dance and celebrate in the lecture tent.
Because I was so sleep deprived on Friday, I found it hard to follow Bikram's afternoon lecture, which ran over three hours. Apparently it was his best lecture to date, but I was unable to focus. I questioned my ability to do the evening class and was fully prepared to sit the whole thing out. Before class began, another trainee squeezed his mat between me and my neighbour. I was irritated and explained to him in a rather harsh tone that I had arrived early to ensure I got a good spot on my assigned line. (Our posture clinic groups need to shift the line we practice on daily to ensure we move around the room.) He asked me to please move my mat over to accommodate him. I did so begrudgingly. The class began and despite thinking I wouldn't be able to do it, I had a fairly strong practice. During first savasana I looked over at the guy who had squeezed in beside me and saw his little cooler with his assortment of beverages and his thermometer to gauge the temperature and I started to feel bad for lashing out at him. A few floor postures in, he turned to me and apologized and I told him that I had been the instigator and that I was sorry. It felt great to find common ground and that feeling helped me finish the class very strong. The positive energy continued when staff announced we had the night off! Just what the doctor ordered: sleep!

Since this training began, I haven't felt I made a mistake in coming here. I imagined I'd have regrets and moments of despair and, in speaking to others, these thoughts are commonplace. I'm sure my time will come as the pressure and intensity of the training builds. Having a good handle on the dialogue has helped take a load off my mind, so too does rooming on my own. Although these two things also alienate me from the other trainees. So there's good and bad in everything, as I'm learning. More on this some other time. For now, I'm proceeding into week 3 with my smiling, happy face!