Saturday, May 31, 2008

11 pounds

Our group dinner was great last Sunday night. I was sorry that several people could not join us for a variety of reasons, but we all enjoyed each other’s company quite a bit. Everyone really gets along in grand fashion and I could see us all enjoying each other’s company outside of our current setting. We met at a little Italian restaurant not far from the hotel and spent several hours laughing and just relaxing and eating like you would back home. It was really very nice and only the second time I was off the hotel grounds in the last 8 weeks for anything other than groceries. I’m glad I did not blow it off because I was so tired!

Remember when I was talking about “the beast” and everyone having his or her own struggle to pass through? Well, Craig mentioned the same thing during a talk today. He gave credit to someone else for saying that if you truly understand the beast as well as the mind; you don’t actually have to fight it at a certain point. Instead of fighting, you can just kiss it on the cheek and it will go away. He said it was one of his favorite quotes and I am going to attempt to track down who said it and read up a wee bit more on exactly what was said. As with any discipline, more advanced practitioners can generally perform whatever they are doing with an ease and grace that makes it seem much simpler than it actually is. That’s the point though! In the beginning we “try to hard” and make it seem like a giant task when in fact relaxation is what is called for to effectively complete the task at hand. It actually doesn’t just look easy, it is easy and we are the ones that make it difficult! Bikram actually said the same thing to some one in class regarding triangle pose. He said the gentleman was trying too hard and that it was just as bad as not trying hard enough. I guess I find myself doing that quite often, especially in triangle, not to mention several other areas of my life. I need to observe and correct in a much more timely fashion and begin by letting go just a tad and not holding on quite so tight. You can’t control everything, can you? I guess a better question is, you can’t control anything, can you?

I thought we had great fun with Sheri in posture clinic Monday this last week. I felt it was a relaxed, friendly, positive and fun clinic. The tone seems to have changed to a happier, more encouraging environment around here and I noticed it immediately. She seems to frighten some people because of her direct and unyielding approach but I sort of liked it. I’ll bet she’s successful outside of yoga. While the staff seemed far more pleasant, my fellow trainees seemed to be steadily getting more and more angry. I’m not exactly sure why, but I can both see it on peoples faces as well as feel it in the air. I think a part of it is because people let their guard down once we were finished with dialogue in posture clinics and now we are required to perform dialogue in a “mock class” setting where each trainee is required to perform 3 postures in a row with the entire 16 person group as demonstrators instead of only 3 individuals. It didn’t really bother me that much, but people seemed to have had a rather violent and angry reaction to the change in the program. Granted, I probably could have done without what amounted to a third class every day, but the recitation of the dialogue seemed like no big deal to me. I had forgotten parts, chunks in fact, but just attempted to keep going just like one would have to do in an actual class. Perhaps it was because our studio directors sort of prepared us for this eventuality prior to our departure or because I really just started to relax a bit and have some fun. It seemed to me invaluable as we were afforded the opportunity to stand in front of a larger group of people and see what it feels like to direct a group “with the cameras rolling”. I actually hope we do some more!

There is a gentleman here from Scotland where apparently there are no studios. Someone told me that he had been performing his yoga with space heaters and a book prior to his arrival here. Craig referred to him as “Scotland” in several classes and had some fun with his accent and the nickname stuck. I must tell you though that I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and we were together in posture clinic the other day and I asked him to tell me what his real name was and that I no longer wished to refer to him as “Scotland”. He told me Steve and from now on that is the only way I will refer to him. He played several songs on the piano during the talent show as well as represented his group reciting the final posture dialogue in front of the 300 trainees and every teacher in the house. He did both like he had been doing them for years and that is what earned my respect. I guess I just didn’t know him very well and not that there is anything wrong with a nickname given out of affection, but in my mind, I feel he deserves much more due to his talent as well as his courage. Way to go Steve!

Speaking of the final posture clinic, as I said it was performed on stage, in the lecture hall, in front of the entire group, teachers and trainees alike. I had volunteered to be a back up as many in my group rattled off the dialogue over the last several weeks like they had been studying it their entire lives and I thought it would be a nice gesture to show my support. Somehow, the next thing you know, I was installed as the main player and started to get a little bit nervous and have second thoughts about the whole deal. After all, I had months to prepare for the first posture in front of Bikram and this was going to be in a day or two! Everyone was great though and offered their help in every way imaginable. Thanks Kris and Spencer for the last minute prep. One thing I have noticed over the time we have been doing these posture clinics and reciting the dialogue was the fact that the person performing the dialogue usually thinks they do far worse than what they actually do! I was pretty amped up when I went up there and forgot a line in the beginning of the pose, but otherwise everyone said I did great. I’ll have to take their word for it. One thing I am absolutely certain of however is that everyone’s eyes & smiles sent a charge through my body that I must say I had not felt in some time. The minute I was done everyone jumped off of the floor and rushed me for handshakes and hugs. I was honored to represent our group and I'm oh so glad I did it instead of attempting to wiggle out of it. It is another in an ever-growing list of moments produced here that I will remember for as long as I live! Thanks guys for both offering and creating such a special, special moment for me.

Posture clinics have now turned into lectures on different aspects of teaching class as well as timing and how to handle different things that may come up during class. I’m sure that it’s just basic stuff, as the depth of individual things that can occur during any one class has to be staggering. For example, one day this week, Bikram taught half of the class and did not feel well. You could tell something was up because the pace of the class was very, very quick. All of a sudden he walks off of the podium and towards the back where the teachers are situated. He calls on a gentleman from Vancouver and tells him to take over the class. Now here you are as a visiting teacher, all sweaty and possibly disoriented from participating in class and suddenly you are thrust up in front of everyone and told to finish it up! I guess there is no way to prepare everyone for everything that possibly can happen, but they started going over some of the basics.

Have you ever worked really hard outside, maybe on the farm or as a laborer, and then after all of the work has been performed and you are done for the day, you have an ice cold beer. That first one is always the best one and tastes like nothing else! We had a bit of designed relaxation Friday evening with volunteers arranging and participating in a talent show that was enjoyed immensely by everyone. After weeks of incredibly hard work, we really got to enjoy each other’s company and got to see a different side of some of the people participating in this training. Honestly, to me, it didn’t matter what people were doing, it was a load of fun. I mean just a hoot! There was plenty of music, dancing, skits and Craig was a good sport and participated in a little juggling act that had everyone in stitches. We laughed, clapped, cheered and whistled for several hours and truly had a great time. Bikram bought pizza for everyone prior to the event and although I could not see him from where I was seated in the lecture hall, I think he enjoyed himself as well. By the way, that anger that seemed to permeate the air earlier in the week was nowhere to be found!

I don’t know if I said this before or not as the last 2 months have bled together to create a tapestry that has me somewhat confused with regards to anything time related, but if you practice this yoga, take the time to teach someone you love pranayama breathing. Even if you have attempted to get them to a studio and they chased you off their porch with a broom, do it. People’s lives would be improved simply by performing this one aspect of Bikram yoga. Go tell your folks you love them and you have a gift for them. Let your Dad laugh at you and then get your Mom to start doing breathing exercises every morning. Everyone can easily do it and it’s really important!

Apparently I have put on 11 lbs during my time here, although to look at me before and after, you would have no idea. In fact you would swear that I lost 20 pounds. That’s what I thought after looking at myself in the mirror recently! My clothing fits like a bed sheet and my face seems visibly thinner! It really seemed as if every three weeks I have looked thinner and thinner and thinner. I told myself that I would not step on a scale until I returned home, but curiosity got the best of me this week. I weighted in at 198 the day I left home and yesterday weighted in at 209. Incredible, considering to me anyway, my body looks completely different.

Jason Wynn taught an excellent class today, #86. He never raised his voice or seemed stern yet he had complete control of the room in every aspect for the entire 90 minutes. I have noticed a distinct pattern with all of the visiting teachers and that is the ones with a quicker paced class, heavier on specific instruction regarding how to perform the postures and then controlling transitions from one posture to another are the ones that seem to allow me to have my best classes regardless of how I am feel. For example, this morning I was so stiff I was unsure what was the best way to get out of bed, grab a leg and throw it off of the side of the bed or just to roll over until my legs fell on the floor, yet after the first 2 postures I felt great and ended up having one of my better classes. Craig actually discussed the issue of transitions during his lecture the other day regarding the “basics” and I am starting to see why it is an important issue to consider.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Week #7

I forgot to send a shout out to everyone who finished his or her 30-day challenge at Bikram Yoga of Bloomington. Great job guys! I hope the yoga gods have touched you in some fashion as that sort of effort rarely goes without reward, if not now, most certainly in the future. Congratulations to everyone!

I have watched a combined total of about 4 hours of television in the 2 months I have been here and have listened to very little music. I turned on my cell phone twice since I’ve been here and have not watched a single sporting event. How on earth have I done without these things all of this time? The Pittsburgh Penguins have rocked the playoffs and are playing for the Stanley Cup. Believe it or not I actually thought about bringing several of my Penguin jerseys here in anticipation of just this sort of thing. I can only imagine the look on the hotel staff’s faces as I walked by in a hockey jersey! Go Pens!

Just a note to document the exact time it happened. Monday, the 19th day in the month of May at 19:43 after class #67, that was the first time I thought I wouldn’t mind going home.

Tuesday was the first rain we have had since our arrival. It was pretty windy and rained very hard at times. It felt great to come out of class and just let the cool rain drench you. Several people just sat on the lawn in front of the “studio” and enjoyed Mother Nature as she replenished the earth with her life giving waters. I looked at a tree and my first thought was that I had been missing out on this experience my entire life. Simply enjoying the rain as it fell, no running for cover, no looking for shelter. The plants seem to say to me “this is how it always is when it rains, where have you been brother”? It actually took quite a bit of the humidity out of the air and was really, really refreshing. It’s as if my senses have been cleaned or cleared or something. I can’t believe how much pleasure I got out of simply standing outside in the rain!

Bikram returned Tuesday (5/20) at 11:30 and we all gathered in the hotel lobby to welcome him back. To me he seemed a little tired and why not. It was quite a week for him flying all over the world to attend to his friend’s final arrangements. It’s good to have him back and one could sense that he was glad to be back as well.

A gal by the name of Sheri Hull taught an excellent class Wednesday morning, class #69. She taught with dead on dialogue and excellent pace. I enjoyed it very much. The following day I actually had her leading our group’s posture clinic. During posture clinic everyone takes their turn and when you get up people generally announce their group number (there are 2 groups together in the room), last name, then first name. When I got up to present my dialogue she said “Frank DiNuzzo, I practiced in Minneapolis for a bit and happen to still be on Herb and Laiki’s mailing list. I’ve been following along with your blog and was waiting to meet you as well as to listen to your dialogue. No pressure, start when you’re ready”. "Oh shit" I thought! I heard several people intimate that she was really tough when she walked in and thought here we go, nice job mister blog man! I made some sort of nervous comment like “as if it wasn’t tough enough” and asking if it wasn’t tough for her. There seemed to be some confusion about whether I was talking about this training or blogging and I said training. She said no, not really and I asked if I could touch her. She graciously played along and let me hold her hand. I sort of went on autopilot from there and to be honest I could not really tell you what type of performance I delivered. Her critique was fair, as I am certain my dialogue was not exact and she mentioned my nervous energy in the form of my constant motion, which has been discussed several times in the past, so I’m sure she was dead on. I like her and talked to her several times after that. She’s in Las Vegas now but has family in Minneapolis and practiced both in Bloomington as well as at the Lyndale studio in 2003. Thanks Sheri for your friendly smile, for your good-natured “ribbing”, for your honest assessment and for an excellent class to boot. Great job! I hope to chat some more before you take off. I also hope you continue to read along for the remainder of my journey here!

Bikram taught #70, which was an evening class. He usually does teach the evening class and it was great to see him back up on his “throne”.

Dale Hall from Canada (Christian’s studio) taught #71 and as it usually happens in life, like magic, the universe opens up and we start to hear what we are ready to hear. He spoke so much during class about us being exactly where we were supposed to be and how far we have come both individually and as a group. He talked about relaxing and not pressuring yourself to be something you are not. It was a great class and I needed to “hear” everything he was talking about. Throughout the week a number of people expressed how much they enjoyed practicing next to me, as I seemed to give of great energy. Heather, during her posture clinic on Thursday morning said those that struggle the most get the most benefit from their practice. Now, this is not the first time I have heard any of these things, but it made me think a bit about my previous post and the “Rudy” comment. I received a number of emails regarding it telling me it’s ok, I should not be worried about it and to just relax, etc. etc.

Just to clarify that earlier post, in case there was a tone of regret to it, as everyone cannot see my smiling face as I type these words. We are what we are and everyone should understand that as well as be ok with that. My personal journey includes performing far above average in any type of physical endeavor for as far back as I can remember. Patience has never been one of my virtues, although I do think I’m getting better. Don’t misunderstand my previous entry however. I, at one time in my practice, used to beat myself up over the level of my performance, as if this were some sort of competition, since that was really all I was ever exposed to. I no longer do that, but to be clear here, to be satisfied with where you are is a pitfall everyone should avoid. We have a tendency to stay where we are comfortable, especially after we have worked hard to achieve something and we must be constantly on the look out for this type of behavior. It’s human nature. Have an able body and think your postures are pretty good? I bet they could be better with more effort and/or guidance! That goes for everyone, beginner to 15-year practitioner. There is a giant chasm between wanting to achieve more on a personal level in your practice and feeling as if you’re a loser because you cannot perform a posture like “the beautiful people” do. I’m far from the point where physically I simply can't improve. I’m just a wee bit tight here and a wee bit chubby there and together it all adds up to hold me back and that is what at times can be frustrating. I just want to become the absolute best I can, nothing more, nothing less, regardless of the amount of time it takes to get there. Capisci?

Sometimes, depending upon the length of time allotted for a posture clinic, the number of postures performed the previous clinic and how far ahead the group is, people are reluctant to volunteer to perform dialogue. As we race towards our final week here and with an extremely tight schedule that requires a choice between extra sleep and extra study, people fall behind. I will admit that I find myself exactly in that situation as we perform the final 2 postures and Thursday’s clinic found us finishing the 23rd posture and still having enough time to start the 24th. Everyone was reluctant to present and you can usually tell because people start to hide behind others or not look directly at the evaluators as if either is going to help. The evaluators get to the point where they start to suggest that they are just going to start calling people randomly. It was at that point that I stood up and said those familiar words, group 4, DiNuzzo, Frank. Having no idea what the correct verbiage was for the posture, I just looked the demonstrators in the eye and started to tell them what to do, start to finish. Of course, everyone knew I didn’t have a clue as they followed along on their printed dialogue sheets and they must have thought, has he lost his mind? I didn’t stop once though, brought them in and out of the posture and as usual was clear, loud and commanding. I turned to our evaluator Heather and apologized for not knowing the dialogue. She reminded me of my obligation to learn the dialogue and not blow it off just because I had finished and told me good job. She said what I was doing was actually teaching these people and once combined with the proper dialogue would result in some excellent instruction. So today, if only for a moment, I conquered fear. Thanks Heather for your kindness and instruction. I meant what I told you about that clinic and it pleases me that a number of us thought the same thing. Nicely done!

Bikram taught class #72 Thursday night and it was killer. People were dropping left & right. Numerous people were carried out of the room and several others were on the floor spinning, myself included. It was the hardest class so far without a doubt! I don’t know if it was hotter in the room, he pushed us harder or we were just weak from an accumulation of classes, but something definitely affected us all. I felt like I had consumed too much alcohol and had lost the ability to have my limbs respond in a timely fashion. They were several seconds behind my brain’s commands and I really struggled during the second half of the class. I actually caught myself drooling on my leg at one point! I sat there afterwards in the lobby of the training room and cried for about a half an hour. I’m not sure exactly what the reason is but emotionally there seems to now be a release after these incredibly tough classes. It seems as if I have cried more the last 3 weeks than I have in the last 30 years, and that’s not an exaggeration. I drug my ass back to my room, which sadly I have caught myself referring to as “home” here recently, skipped dinner because I was so exhausted and showered in the hope that hot water would refresh me for at least a couple more hour. I figured I would eat after the lecture, even though it meant staying up later, so I would not be completely spent for tomorrow morning’s class.

I may have mentioned before that we are required to sign in for all “events” here and that basically means 4 times a day, 2 classes and 2 other sessions (either a lecture or a posture clinic). Failure to do so results in a punishment, which is the need to perform additional classes. There are 2 long tables at the rear of the lecture hall and 16 sheets, 8 per table, with names in alphabetical order that represent the “groups” you have been assigned to. The sheets go out approximately 25 minutes prior to the event and are removed 5 minutes prior to the start of the event. I generally arrive in plenty of time to “sign in” and Thursday night was no different accept for one thing. I didn’t notice when I signed in that there was something wrapped and sitting above the sign in sheet with my name on it. I guess in retrospect I did see it, but paid no attention to it either because I was still in a fog or simply did not care. Someone came up to me a bit later and said that there was a present for me up at the sign in desk and honestly, I had no idea what the hell they were talking about! As I got closer to the table I recognized the bundle as the item that was sitting there when I signed in. It had a sticker on it that said Frankie D and something like Go, Go, Go just below it. I opened it up and it was a t-shirt that Martha had sent me. She actually sent the entire Minneapolis contingent something as well as some prizes for people who guessed the lyrics of songs during her class here early on. Everyone wanted to know what we got and who had sent it. I felt like a celebrity walking the red carpet on Oscar night! It completely changed my frame of mind and recharged my battery, at least for the rest of the evening! We all had these giant goofy grins on our faces for the rest of the night. Thanks Martha for the simple act of kindness. I’m not sure that the red carpet analogy truly does justice to how it actually made me feel as well as what it did to our spirits!

We found out today that just as we did when we started our journey here, one representative from each of the 16 posture clinic groups would be required to recite the final posture (Spine Twisting) in front of Bikram as well as the other 300 participants in the lecture hall. I’m not sure if that’s because we have finished the dialogue recitation 2 weeks early or if everyone does this and previous attendees have been really great at keeping “a secret” because it really did come out of the blue. They are also now talking about having us recite several postures in a sort of mock class situation. Of course this is type “A” personality central and many think that they are not ready for another show in front of Bikram even though a great number of people have been blasting through their dialogue. We will see what happens as next week unfolds.

I met Melissa’s mom Katie today who is here for a short visit. You may remember her as the woman who had been reading the blog from Florida that I said hi to a while back. I see now where Melissa gets her strength! Katie has taken several classes with us and has yet to leave the room. It’s challenging enough to take a Bikram yoga class taught by Bikram himself, but to take it along with 300 students as well as a number of existing teachers under these conditions is quite impressive. Way to go Katie, nice job!

Lesson #66 is directly related to lesson #52 mentioned earlier. Never judge a book by it’s cover. We all know this one, yet several times during the course of a day we ignore it and do just that. There is a gentleman here visiting us by the name of Joel Pier. He is from Philadelphia, a long time practitioner and at first glance he reminds you of a burnt out 60’s type who did to much LSD back in the day. He has shaggy hair, glasses, is a little soft around the midsection and he carries a bag of rocks around his neck in a small leather pouch and can often be seen with his hand inside the pouch playing with them. He sort of reminds you of the absent minded professor and it would be easy to write him off as some sort of nut case. Every opportunity I had to make contact with him was an experience unlike any I have had in my life. Every now and then you have the opportunity to engage someone who does for you without any expectation of return, without a hint of selfishness. I don’t know this man very well, but in what seemed like an instant, he made me feel better about myself, about my situation here, about where I was on the path of life and just about my life in general. His knowledge catches you off guard and his mannerisms beguile you. The next thing you know you are swept away on a crest of stories, explanations and insight that you find hard to believe has you so enthralled and captivated. I sincerely hope that someday, somehow, I myself can approach his level when it comes to affecting people in a positive way. I made it a point to talk to him a bit more on several occasions and when they announced that he was leaving there was heartfelt sadness amongst the entire group. He started by telling us several stories “for the road”, which then turned into him leading us in some chanting, which then turned into singing and in no time the entire group was clapping and dancing and bouncing around as if we were plugged into some sort of high powered generator. By the time he was finished our hearts and spirits were soaring. The standing ovation he received was thunderous. Bikram himself had referred to him as a “holy man” and now I can see why. Craig refers to him as Sensei Joel. What he did for my spirit during his short stay here is a debt I’ll never be able to repay and the next time I go to Philly to visit my sister I simply must spend more time with him. Thanks Joel for taking the time to offer the tiniest crumb of knowledge to a group of starving children. You won’t soon be forgotten Sensei!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Poem

During my second cramping “episode” in week #3, after the staff had poured electrolytes into me and I had rested in my room, I was still a bit delirious and continuing to cramp during the evening lecture. Christian, one of the staff members here in Shangri-La, made a liquid concoction of sea salt, apple juice, lime juice and water mixed in a jug to get my electrolytes back in balance. The 2 liters were to be consumed in the next hour and a half and I made a comment about its secret ingredients and Christian said that the secret ingredient it was made with was love. I keep thinking about how quickly he said it and my own reluctance to share my emotions in the past. 2 years ago I certainly would not have made a comment like that. A real man acknowledges his emotions and is not afraid to share them with others. A real man does not consider himself weak because he reveals the depth of his soul. You are a real man Christian and I’m glad I had the opportunity to make your acquaintance. It made me think about some of my own emotions and I wrote this last week.

Hello my old friend anger
My new light makes you hide
Your reign as king is over
It’s time that hope was tried

You really do look weary
My faithful little friend
Relax and take it easy
There’s nothing to defend

I know it’s not for ever
This parting of the ways
We’ll play again together
Just much, much shorter stays

You’ll come again from time to time
I’ll never quite be free
I wouldn’t want to lose you though
You are a part of me

I know where I can find you
I see you in my brow
Sleep well my loyal servant
And say good-bye for now

Thanks for the inspiration Christian!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Week #6

I remember telling Julie from the Bloomington studio how I hung on every word she wrote while at teacher training (Fall 2006) and how I would check several times per week just to see if she had posted something new. For me, it was so exciting when she did, but I could not figure out for the life of me why she just didn’t upload smaller bits more often as it seemed easier to me for her to do it that way and at the same time it would have fulfilled my ever growing need for information regarding the training. Well Jules, it’s all crystallized right here in front of me now. I clearly understand why you did what you did! Thanks for caring enough to take the time back then and I can’t wait to give you a hug when I get back! Does it really seem like that long ago?

I’m attempting not to look ahead but I must tell you that I’ve actually started to figure out how many “working days” we have left. We have 14 left by my count, not including Saturdays because what the hell, that would mean adding on 2 extra days. They are like half days because there is only 1 class that day and then nothing else. We can find a way to justify anything in our own minds, can’t we? After careful consideration, I’m ok with this one!

Lisa Ingle rocked #54. There are many instructors visiting here and they all do a tremendous job, but only a handful get to teach. I believe everyone wants to though as it seems like quite an honor to teach in this setting. All of this, of course, is at Bikram’s discretion and all of them teach an excellent class. Some stick out more than others though. Lisa taught a fun, fast paced class that started the week off in grand fashion, Texas style! She told several quick, funny stories and introduced us to both the Texas sit up (yelling out yeha while performing the sit up) as well as the New Jersey sit up (yelling out fuck you while performing the sit up). Apparently there has been some good-natured banter between Lisa and Craig in the past over this and it was a great twist to start the week. Quite entertaining yet oddly enough I have yet to find either versions of this sit up in the dialogue we were given!

Rajashree returned 5/12 for class #55. As usual she was shiny, sparkling, glowing and all the while she kicked our butts. Her ability to do this, as well as to see the entire room to correct people is simply amazing. If you ever have an opportunity to take a class from her or attend one of her seminars, please make sure you do. You will get a glimpse of what real yoga is all about!

Classes #54 through #60 were great. I remember this yoga now. It’s the yoga that made me happy. It’s the yoga that started to and continues to fix my body. It’s the yoga that made me pull the plug on everything in my life to attend this training. It’s the yoga I can’t stop talking about and want to share with others. I hope this is not some type of cruel joke devised by the staff as part of week 6’s festivities! I’m not sure weather to be encouraged by this phenomenon or to be paranoid at this point. I’ve been told to be encouraged, but…

Juan rocked class #58. He is loud, rapid fire and I found him very funny. I enjoyed his class as well as his sense of humor quite a bit. He’s a very small guy and everyone should ask his or her studio owners about Juan’s story. I would tell a bit about it here but I’m not sure I actually know the truth. Apparently, he went to Bikram’s studio some time ago for teacher training and never left. He actually lives at the studio under Rajashree’s desk, or so I’ve been told. I’m not sure how long ago this was or if in fact it is true. We were not introduced to him as we were all of the other visiting teachers nor did we have an opportunity to thank him for his instruction. If I don't get the opportunity while he's here, I want to say thanks Juan for the energetic, entertaining and most productive class!

Bikram & Rajashree left Thursday the 15th for Bisnu’s final arrangements in Calcutta. Apparently they have what turns out to be a two-day flight stopping at several cities en route to India. Bikram is supposed to return next Wednesday and Rajashree is scheduled to return for graduation. We will see what happens.

I was a bit disappointed today when I realized that many of the things Rajashree pointed out in her lectures that beginners would do improperly with regards to posture are many of the same issues I struggle with during my practice on a daily basis. I know that perfect posture is not the point and I’m well aware of how far I have come, but something saddens me when I look at others that express beautiful postures and yet don’t even seem to be trying very hard while I seem to have to give every ounce of strength I have to express what seems to amount to a beginner’s version of the posture. Remember in the movie “Rudy” when coach says he wished he could put Rudy’s heart into some of his player’s bodies? Sometimes when you are struggling, that’s little consolation. You shake it off though and remember everything is exactly how it’s supposed to be, including me. My lower body will one day cooperate and I will have tremendous stories to tell. Until then we fight the good fight with our happy smiling faces!

I really would like to be able to talk to some of the teachers here for recertification this weekend and get some honest feedback regarding the conditions here. Without offending anyone, I’ve noticed a number of them struggling in class and have seen this pattern happen several times when new teachers arrive. I take two things from this. One is that we have gotten better as time has gone on even if we don’t quite realize it yet and two is that the conditions here are extreme and if one is not used to them they can be overwhelming even for the experienced yogi.

For one of the few times in my life people are not insisting that I use my “inside voice”. I love it! People in this environment actually wish they could use their voice to empower others, as that is the essence of what we are here to start developing. Some can, but just don’t know it yet and others are struggling to find their power source inside. My “instrument” is perfect for speaking to a room full of people and I’m glad I was given this gift. I now must continue to develop my other tools so I have the complete package to offer others!

I remember when I tested for Shodan (1st degree black belt) in Santa Barbara, CA. back in 1989, which by the way seems like a lifetime ago now, one of the requirements was to fight full contact with 2 of my senior instructors while having my back against a wall, no holds barred. My guess is that everyone can intimate approximately how that story ends and without going into all of the gory details let’s jump ahead in the time machine to Friday, May 16th 2008. Now, let’s pretend for a moment that class #63 represents the wall I had my back against and Bikram yoga & Craig Villani represent those two senior black belt instructors. I’m willing to bet you already know where this is going, yes?

I started class off well, doing the full first set of Awkward Pose and falling out with only 4 seconds left in the second set. I started to falter at Triangle and when we went to the floor my world started to spin, but as I insisted earlier I would do, I refused to quit. From years in the auto industry I know that people generally are aware of little warning signs going on with their vehicles that, if addressed at the time they are noticed usually are relatively minor repairs. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, people let them go until something dramatic happens and the resulting issue is far more serious as well as expensive to repair. I say this because it was at this time in the class that I started to feel what I would describe as a noticeable vibration coming from one of the wheels in the front of “my vehicle” which got worse as class went on. By the time we approached Camel I would say it went from noticeable to violent as I stayed in Savasana for the second parts of several of the spine strengthening series postures with the mindset that I must perform both sets of Camel in order for me not to have given into the desire to quit and thus feel defeated. Little did I know that Mr. Villani had a one-minute, second set Camel in mind for Friday evening’s class. He actually didn’t say it was a one-minute Camel until after it was over and honestly, had he announced that those were his intentions prior to the posture, he may very well have broken me right there. Staying with the car analogy, how I would describe what happened next is that my front left wheel fell off my vehicle!

Remember I mentioned earlier that I was hoping for 2 more “experiences” exactly like the “He Man” release from week 3? Well, be careful what you wish for brothers and sisters because this emotional release topped that one hands down! I wish I had a little check list that as these “issues” were released I could mark them off the list and know what was next, big issue or small issue. It’s too bad it doesn’t work that way. It would make the process much tidier. I’m still not sure I’ve completely recovered as I spent the rest of the night and well into today (Saturday) quite disoriented and somewhat confused. I distinctly remember through the fog thinking at some point after class that I needed to somehow destroy the towel I was on because it now had a lot of bad “Ju Ju” on it and with all of the toxic sweat, tears and emotional “upheaval” pouring out onto it, I didn’t want another yogi/yogini using it for fear that the bad Ju Ju would mysteriously transfer somehow to them! Of course, as if the staff knew my personal plight, they played Bob Marley’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” at the conclusion of class. I stayed in the room for about 20 minutes after everyone else then I stayed outside on the grass for about 45 minutes in an attempt to recover before I drug myself up to the room for a shower and some electrolytes.

As if that weren’t enough, we had posture clinic that night and we were working on Full Locust. For anyone not familiar with the posture, imagine lying on your stomach, feet and legs together, arms out to your sides, palms down like an airplane. Then, on command, raising both your upper body as well as your lower body off the ground balancing only on your hip bones. I struggle with these postures due to a weak low back, giant thighs and upper body as well as a spine that at times feels as if it were constructed with rebar. Now, here I am, disoriented from class 2 hours earlier and as it ends up I have to perform about 7 of these postures in a row with one of those being held for 1 full minute. One of my study buddies, Mary Jane, was one of the people they made repeat the dialogue several times and she was the one who had to do the one-minute dialogue. I could tell by the look in her eyes during breakfast today that she felt like she personally was the cause of my discomfort and that perhaps I was upset with her. Nothing could be further from the truth and I’ll have to make sure I talk to her about it. I could have done without the extra Full Locusts but everything happens the way it is supposed to happen, including this. Stay cool Mary Jane, we have more dialogue to get through girl!

With that in mind, I again encourage everyone who practices this yoga to go to the very edge as often as possible, stay there until it feels as if the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Most people spend their entire lives running from that place because it can be very dark and quite frightening, but that’s where the magic can be found! Unfortunately, it’s also where “the beast” lives and while I wish I could help in this regard, there are struggles there that only you can endure. I will share this with you from my personal struggles both here and in the past; the beast is a coward and always gives in because he knows where his power comes from. He doesn’t give in just because you knock on his door though. Stand there and look him in the eyes and realize that it was you that gave him this power he now uses over you. It was you that built him up to his current size and strength, but it is also you that knows the exact way to defeat him and that’s with courage, fearlessness and this regular yoga practice. Have the courage to confront the beast and the fearlessness not to quit, ever, under any circumstances. You’ll feel like a different human being afterwards, I guarantee it. I know I do and it’s mainly because you will be a different human being! Remember, if we could do this task of fixing ourselves by ourselves, we wouldn’t need the yoga…

I have been talking about taking a Sunday class since I arrived here and was going to do it today but was afraid teacher recertification would result in some sort of insanely brutal class that frankly I did not have in me, not on my day off. I did however want to prepay for a class t-shirt and they were meeting at the yoga room today for one final time. I went over there and ran into Tatiana who is in my dialogue group. I asked her what she was doing there and she said she was there for the opportunity to do yoga, not a make up class. I told her I had been considering it and she said I should just do it. My exact thoughts were if you can’t face the little challenges, how on earth will you ever face the larger ones? I ran back up to my room, got dressed and returned to participate in what was one of the better classes I've had since I have been here. Thanks Tatiana for the gentle bump. I know you have used your super hero powers of beauty and charm on many a man. Your beauty draws one in, your smile sparkles and your voice encourages, calms & soothes. You’re going to make an excellent teacher because you have the ability to inspire. Let the word go forth from this time and place: I now consider you a little sister. You fool with DePillo, you fool with DiNuzzo!

Speaking of little sisters ~ Happy Birthday Tina!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Half way home

There was talk today (Friday afternoon) about the difficulty factor associated with this training and I stated that I was personally glad the difficulty level was as high as it was. I wanted it to be hard. Extremely hard in fact, so that when it was all over, I can tell stories about struggle, perseverance and overcoming (mostly to students who think they have hit the wall and can’t continue). I also like the fact that 300 other people, my new friends, who attended this training along with me know that the stories, struggles and perseverance are not some braggadocios figment of my imagination. They know because they have shared in the tears, the doubt and the pain. They also will know the triumph of accomplishment that goes along with the successful completion of this course. I’m afraid that I would have very little respect for the lineage, the certificate of completion as well as for all of those that went before me if it were any other way and while we struggle with many aspects of this training on a daily and even hourly basis, I want to say that to a person, everyone feels the same way, at least I would like to think so. To me, it’s like I’m being asked to prove that I am worthy to carry on the work of spreading Bikram yoga in an effort to help people eradicate some of the pain and suffering in their lives. I’ve never really been one who longs for the approval of “the group” but this seems like something worth putting tremendous effort into. For as long as I can remember I’ve had to prove everything to myself (whatever the topic was). Here’s what you’ll find if you muster up the courage to test what “they” say. “They” say, don’t touch that or you’ll get shocked and what that really means once tested is 30% of the time there is no shock at all, 30% of the time there is somewhat of a shock, but nothing to fret about and 30% of the time your ass flat gets shocked! We have some high voltage running through this deal and it makes me feel alive to be participating in it and to prove to myself that it is worth every drop of expended energy I have utilized so far and then some! Push me to the breaking point and let’s see how I respond. I know this for certain, from now on when I run into another who has completed this training (or participated here along with me) there will be a certain understanding that we share that goes far beyond what words can describe and frankly it may be one of the things I look forward to the most.

Here’s a story for you. A fellow named Mark from Las Vegas was a bystander when a fight broke out and the participants crashed into his leg, injuring his knee rather severely. I know for sure he dislocated his patella as well as some possible ligament damage and perhaps a broken bone. This happened 3 weeks prior to teacher training and when he notified headquarters they told him he should still attend if he wanted. Bikram, being intimate with knee injuries (for those that don’t know Bikram himself severely damaged his own knee weight lifting as a younger man and rehabilitated it by performing yoga) focused right in on Mark during several postures that required a bit of knee flexibility. I actually had a chance to talk to Mark during the first week or two and saw that his knee was noticeably swollen. In a scene out of some sort of televangelist church healing, Bikram insists that Mark could go back into a difficult posture on the knees called fixed firm. With Bikram’s “strong encouragement”, Mark did and Bikram throws away Mark’s knee brace saying he no longer needed it. I talked to Mark afterwards and he said he was icing his knee and it was still fairly sensitive. Several classes later, Bikram actually stands on Mark’s knee while he is in that same posture. It was absolutely incredible. I wish I had a camera to document the incident with before and after pictures although the longer you are around this yoga the more incidents like this you witness. You’re a stud Mark and inspire me to get my stiff kneed, tight-hipped self back in fixed firm every time I perform it now.

Someone finally mentioned my nervous habit of constant movement. Courtney called me rain man yesterday as I sat there rocking in the lecture hall chair buffing my nails. That sounds a wee bit weird, doesn’t it? Just because you’re away from home doesn’t mean you can neglect personal hygiene! Anyway, I had actually almost stopped that behavior, or at least slowed it down quite a bit and don’t know if it has started again because of the pressures placed upon me here or if I am regressing towards some sort of complete elimination of the habit. We will see, as only time will tell. I have been a constant ball of energy and have rocked back and forth for as long as I can remember, even as a child. I distinctly remember telling high school teachers when threatened with punishment for this behavior that my mother couldn’t get me to stop, what sort of chance did they think they had? By the end of the semester there were always several others exhibiting the exact same behavior, which got me in even more trouble!

100 classes seems out of reach in my mind at this point, although Melissa read the blog and courageously offered to perform the classes with me. After she calculated that we would have to perform a double on one Saturday, as well as do a class on every remaining Sunday the desire to reach that goal evaporated like water on the sidewalk during a hot summer’s day. 95 classes will have to suffice! Thanks Melissa for the offer…

Week 5 was tough in many ways. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. I’m not sure who said it, but someone here said that Hatha yoga is confrontational in its nature; you confront yourself. That statement is so true and at times you can lose perspective. The emotional releases continue to turn on and off and can at times be not only overwhelming but quite confusing as well. I said I would like a couple more of them before I left and someone has seen to it that the hits just keep on coming! That being said, I received some words from home via email that said keep on wretchin’ and stretchin’, rockin' and lockin’. I loved it and it made me smile at exactly the right time. Thanks for the encouragement as well as the kind thoughts & words!

The subject is sleep deprivation and I have always been a stay up late kind of guy, as was my father. Generally speaking however there was a little bit of sleeping later the following morning that went along with it. Not here. The morning class starts at 8:30 sharp, no exceptions (that is except for the Saturday class which starts at 8:00 sharp). Bikram is know for lecturing late into the night on a variety of subjects and apparently not only is he going to do that, but he has also added a new twist, movie marathons. The DVD is a 94-hour compilation of something called the Mahabharata and if I understand correctly it is a mythological depiction of the creation of the earth, human beings and India that apparently is well known and taught in India from childhood. The first installation on Thursday evening went on until approximately 2:30 am and Friday’s installation went on until 4:08 am. Bikram almost seemed gleeful as people staggered out of the lecture hall towards their rooms for a quick nap prior to class. I had a surprisingly good class on Saturday with only about 2.5 hours of sleep but feel like I’m in another dimension right now! It sort of reminded me of Sabat sensei’s Japanese movie marathons during my martial arts training days (poor quality, bad acting, subtitles and all) but without all of the sake!

I really like the fact that no one gets paid to be here. No offense to anyone who thinks it should be otherwise of course as I have no say in the matter, but visiting teachers don’t have a horse in this race. Actually, we are the horse they have in the race and while some teachers seem to be somewhat negative in posture clinic and exhibit an air of superiority and condescension, most are truly helpful and positive in their reviews as well as kind with their criticisms. At least that’s been my experience. Incidentally, apparently far more people here have been reading this blog than I expected, teachers included! I’ve been approached by several people this week and told they have been following along. I guess I never thought of that when I initially decided to do this, I just wanted to relay some information to the people back home. A bit of a slow learner, I guess that’s where the whole “World Wide” part comes in regarding the name World Wide Web! I’ll have to remember that for next time and of course I hope I have not offended anyone with any of the observations I have documented so far.

Since that is the case, someone explain the whole “ours was worse than yours” thing to me. I don’t want to upset anyone or make any enemies, but it is my understanding that everyone does two classes a day in addition to posture clinics to learn as well as deliver the dialogue, correct? Everyone had to attend all lectures given also, correct? Any omissions on the sign in sheet were punishable by make up classes, correct? Now, while I would not want to sit on the floor of the headquarters’ studio after class for posture clinic or lecture, I also wasn’t real thrilled to have diarrhea for 3 weeks while my intestinal track became familiar with the many different microbes it was being exposed and introduced to in this wonderful vacation paradise. I’m not sure if the Mexican people coined the phrase Montezuma’s revenge or not, but I have a feeling that it was someone just like me who couldn’t quite figure out what the hell was happening to their body after a short stay here. Combine that pleasant overall experience with the imbalance now created in your system with regards to electrolytes and fluid retention and you have a wonderful physical treat awaiting you during and/or after class.

I know we have maid service, our own bathrooms and only 1 roommate but a rental car in California, LA restaurants, Universal Studios or maybe a Dodger or Laker playoff game has got to be worth something when it comes to creature comforts, not to mention the relatively low humidity in southern California’s desert climate. Speaking of rental cars, you should see how the Mexican people drive! You thought LA was bad, at least the road signs are in English! Apparently a red light is simply a suggestion (or the beginning of some sort of race to the intersection, I’m not quite sure) and horns are constantly sounding as vehicles speed towards the intersections completely ignoring the “2 lane system” as we know it.

I know, I know, the bloody shuttle van and the parking lot for lunch. Counter balance that with calling cards that don’t work properly, email issues here at the hotel, cell phone issues, exchanging money and the fact that it costs $800 bones a piece and a stop or two (plus hotel charges here at the beautiful Fairmont Princess) to get a friend and/or family member here instead of Northwest’s nonstop, $296, 7 day in advance flight and a stay at a Comfort Inn. Ah! Don’t forget the language barrier for those of you not up on your Espanol. You should have seen me attempting to return a 16-piece set of silverware I accidentally purchased because I could not read the label the first time. All five of the people gathered around me were looking at me as if to say, stupid gringo. The manager kept counting out the pieces and intimating that the count was correct, there were 16 pieces there, what did I want, all the while I was trying to say I just wanted 1 spoon, 1 fork and 1 knife thank you very much! I still haven’t figured out what type of meat I have been buying. All I am certain of is it’s not the chicken skins hanging in the meat department where all of the “fresh” meat has an odd, bright red color to it and sometimes you can actually find the seafood lying on the floor and watch as an employee picks it up and puts it back on the ice with the others on display. Apparently there’s a completely different sets of government regulation in play here!

And let’s not forget the buffet food. Actually, the buffet food is great and I can’t tell you how tasty the fresh orange, grapefruit and papaya juice is, especially right after class. I have been attempting to bribe someone to get a juice dispenser in my room. Freshly made omelets at your request every morning from the man who will make whatever style egg you want! All this happens after swimming in a saltwater pool to cool down a bit after class. Forget the Epsom salt baths, baby! Freshly sliced fruits sit in giant bowls just waiting for you to shovel it on to your plate. Chicken, fish, vegetables, greens, pastries, guacamole, ripe avocados, soups and even oatmeal, bagels and salmon all for the taking, and guess what, you don’t have to wash a single plate! How cool is that! Sign your room number and you’re off to the next segment of your training!

East coast, west coast yo! Can’t we all just get along? It’s been a while since I’ve watched Saturday night live but I remember Dana Carvey’s depiction of “The Grumpy Old Man”. If you don’t remember Wikipedia says, he was an embittered archetypical grandfather figure with white hair, glasses, and a sour sneer. He would usually appear as a commentator complaining about the state of the world, mainly in regard to the many modern conveniences. His complaints always included differences between today and "his day" (In my day, we didn't have safety standards for toys. We got rusty nails and big bags of broken glass for Christmas! That's the way it was, and we liked it! We loved it!"). I’m just having some fun here in a sleep deprived sort of way, but the training is the training and while there are many differences I think that the experiences are very similar and in the end I can’t believe for a moment that the brain trust has not made “adjustments” based on the different environments in which the training takes place. Everyone seems to focus on the Acapulco factor. Believe me when I tell you that I have not been on vacation for the past 5 weeks! Did I mention that the buffet was open for something like 5 hours every day?

He's back

Bikram returned for Tuesday’s evening class (#46). He was up to his old antics, yet at the same time I got the feeling that he was telling us he wanted to see us do better. We are at the half way point and he wants us to continue to improve, as do I. Bikram actually participated in class with us that evening and said the best thing for the extreme sadness he was feeling after loosing his childhood friend Bisnu was to get back here and to perform yoga with us.

He actually interrupted the class numerous times for a variety of reasons and I have to say that the teacher (Michael from Bend, Oregon) did a fabulous job of maintaining the continuity of the class. He did a masterful job of balancing both the feedback and energy Bikram was providing and yet at the same time not allowing that same energy to overwhelm his efforts to guide us through the 90 minutes. I took the time to tell him afterwards what a great job I thought he did and the class has come to be called the “Fuck You” class as Bikram told Michael at some point during the class that his presentation was far to nice and he needed to toughen it up, to which Michael replied by starting to curse at us in a quite humorous fashion. It really was a brilliant interaction that made everyone feel better with the unease over how to address Bikram’s recent loss. Nicely done Michael!

That evening, Bikram treated us to some film footage of him and his friends performing feats over the last number of years. It was really fascinating to watch and everyone enjoyed it quite a bit. It covered everything from US and Japanese television show performances to events held and filmed at different locations. They filmed a variety of performances ranging from elephants walking on top of yogis to Bisnu driving a motorcycle over Bikram while lying on a bed of nails. Bisnu was also shown performing feats of strength like snapping a metal chain over his shoulder. Quite impressive overall and it reminded me of many a martial arts demonstration I have both seen and participated in. This footage reminded me of material I have seen of Shaolin Monks performing feats of strength and agility to show what could be achieve with the development of focus and concentration. I guess, in all honesty, I did not realize that yogi demonstrations were like this and viewing this footage has changed my impression of yoga once again. I don’t know if I have already written this or not, but one of the first things I resisted about participating in yoga was I thought it was for women and men who could not make it in the gym. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Wednesday evening we were treated to a beginning and advanced demonstration of Bikram yoga by a group of longtime practitioners that included national champions as well as many that placed in national competitions. I can’t tell you just how exciting and inspirational it was to watch. Beauty, grace, strength and agility were all on display and it was everything physically one as a yogi aspires to. There certainly is far more to yoga that performing asana (the postures) in a perfectly prescribed fashion, and someone like myself may never realize that level of expertise, but it was magnificent to behold. Several Mexican television stations were present filming in the lobby of the hotel, which is unbelievably beautiful with its marble floors, mood lighting and open spaciousness. Hundreds of people filled every nook and cranny as Bikram started to give his introduction. Flip the switch brother and stand back, it’s Bikram time! Like he has done too many times to count over his lifetime, he guided the uninitiated through the story that is Bikram/Hatha yoga, as only he can do. I know there is a perception that, at times, there is a lot of Bikram worship that goes on and that turns some people off, but just like watching a legendary cellist or a world renowned tenor perform, you must respect both the passion he exhibits, as well as the technical expertise he has cultivated over a 50 year period for performing as well as spreading the practice of yoga around the world. It was simply incredible to watch the way he captivates an audience. You see this during his classes, as he is always the performer, but turn a camera on and watch out! He then brought out about a dozen participants who performed on command as Bikram quickly explained the health benefits of each posture performed. They almost did the entire beginning series prior to moving on to a demonstration of a number of advanced postures. I made it a point to address many of the participants and thank them for sharing in the fashion that they had. What was really nice was that you could tell that they appreciated the sentiment and to watch their eyes light up as we talked was a little extra bonus. You could feel both the passion for their yoga as well as the heartfelt gratitude for saying thank you. Overall, it was a night I’ll remember forever.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom…

Monday, May 5, 2008

Delayed return

Monday started out in grand fashion as I actually felt pretty good taking into consideration that we did not participate in a class yesterday and several of my body parts are a bit creaky and stiff! Again the thought crosses my mind that I should be taking the Sunday class and this week I intend on doing my best to motivate myself to do just that. We’ll see how that works out later in the week.

There seemed to be a buzz in the air in anticipation of Bikram’s return sometime today, if the rumors were correct. Would Bikram be teaching the evening class, would he lecture tonight or would we have posture clinics and what would he think about the condition of the group as a whole since he had not seen us in a couple of weeks? One never knows what is next and I gave up some time ago trying to anticipate what was around the corner. ”Stop attempting to steer the boat and just enjoy the ride” is what someone had already suggested. While that is sound advise, it’s easier said than done.

Class was strong and went at a great pace. Just before final savasana (the last posture of class), Craig came up to the podium and announced that a death had occurred in Bishnu Gosh’s family (Bikram’s guru) several hours earlier. Bikram had called and relayed the information that Biswanath Ghosh (Bisu), son of the late Bishnu Charan Ghosh, who was apparently instrumental in Bikram’s early training and development, as well as a close friend, had passed away. At Bikram’s request the announcement was made prior to final savasana and we were not to have class or lectures for the remainder of the day. Everyone was sort of stunned and I can’t tell you how glad I was that some psycho didn’t start to applaud because he/she was relieved that they did not have to participate in a second class this day. We all stayed a bit longer in savasana and attempted to send Bikram, Rajashee and the family members of this gentleman our sincerest condolences and best wishes.

There’s a rather odd dichotomy at work here. On one hand your body rejoices at the opportunity to heal, both with nutrition as well as rest, and yet at the same time it’s like being announced the winner in some sporting event against your rival via default because he was injured and unable to perform. No true competitor wants to win like that. I myself would much rather see Bikram here, tonight, teaching our class and jumping around on his platform as he urges us on. He’s quite the showman and no one teaches a class like he does! I’ll take every one I can get from him during these 9 weeks regardless of how tough they are or what he asks us to do. I picture him in my minds eye treating us to demonstrations like standing on his two big toes prior to Awkward or regaling us with stories about his past feats. What does this do to Bikram’s return? Will he be flying around the world to attend whatever final arrangements the family has planned and will that delay his return here to Acapulco? No one knows or at least that information was not immediately shared with us. We have been spoiled up to this point with the amount of time we have had to interact with him. I believe I wrote earlier that Bikram himself reminded us he normally does not spend this much time with the teacher trainees and certainly had not taught as many classes in the opening weeks before. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say that we all hope his return is not to far off in the future. We miss him greatly!

Happy birthday Judy...

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Recovery Sunday

Sunday morning is here and I am feeling much better as the new day's sunshine brightens my room. I’m still a bit on the stiff side but in much better spirits. I had a great breakfast, very relaxed without any time constraints and lots of laughing. People are starting to loosen up a bit and feel more comfortable with each other. We all have exposed just a wee bit of our underbellies and have come to realize that we are all in the same boat, experiencing many of the same struggles and going through many of the same healing processes. While the “nuts and bolts” of the process can really be overwhelming, there is a certain feeling of compassion and empathy you feel when, say for example you see someone sobbing uncontrollably in a corner after class. You know because you have done it and you also understand that while there definitely is a reason, right now it’s just not apparent to you. You are just releasing stored up emotions, perhaps from last month on the job, perhaps from last year with the family or from that time in high school when that person did that thing to you. I believe I described it earlier as an emotional roller coaster the likes of which I’ve never ridden before and that’s exactly what it is.

I was just talking about how, while the training is testing us in every way imaginable, I would not want it any other way. It’s not some weekend retreat where you pay the money and then get a certificate after 8 hours of training. No sir, we are pushing ourselves, with the help of the staff, to places we never thought we could go. A perfect example is last week (or maybe it was week 3, I honestly can’t remember) I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and took a knee about half way through class in the hopes that the throbbing in my head would at least diminish a bit and out of the corner of my right eye I see the knee of a staff member who suddenly and silently just positioned himself beside me and began to perform the posture. He never said a word to me but through the haze I knew that this was one of those little mental barriers that needed to be broken through and not one of the more serious physical issues (the likes of which I had been dealing with before) and so I got back up and performed the rest of the posture. As suddenly and as silently as he appeared, he disappeared and I continued on with the rest of the class. I say this not to point out how strong I am mentally, or what sort of super yogi I am, but because as I was thinking about this incident this weekend, I realized that it was simply fear holding me back. I had become paralyzed with the fear of pushing forward and perhaps getting physically ill again after the previous two cramping incidents and of course that never materialized. It was all in my head. What could we accomplish without fear in our lives? What heights could we reach? Thanks Luke for the gentle bump. I’ll tell you this much, I don’t envy the staff for having to make these types of determinations. I am pleased however that they are here to gently guide and push us forward so that at the end of this training we will be able to look back and honestly say that individually, we accomplished everything we possibly could within this nine-week period. I realize that I would not be able to make the same type of progress without them, as sometimes all you need is that little bump in order to break another barrier. I also realize that not everyone here may feel the same way about the staff’s “encouragement”. It’s all a matter of perspective and what you're going through at the time.

Skin irritations are beginning to pop up on my stomach. Most likely because of the detergent used here at the hotel on the towels that they provide, but who knows. They look like little measles and can at times get itchy. Julie from BYoB had mentioned that it was commonplace during her training in LA in 2006 and I was hoping to avoid another arrow (like posture clinics on the wet carpet of the yoga room itself) but apparently you can’t have everything. We have had it pretty good here for the first half of training and I look forward to what the second half has to offer. Please don’t misconstrue my words as you read. I attempt to write when I can and often times it’s in the throws of a “Bikram hang over” and while it may seem as if we are participating in some sort of medieval inquisition, I can assure you that there is nowhere else I would rather be than here, participating in this training. The boys at the BMW dealership can attest to that! As I type this I look out my balcony door and observe the waves crashing on the beach. The thunderous sound they make relays the power of the ocean and the beauty of Mother Nature herself. The temperature has not gone below 85 during the day and generally there is not a cloud in the sky. Life is good!

Someone was discussing over breakfast that 2 of her goals from the start were not to have to do any make up classes and not to have to go to the hospital and have anything put into her or taken out of her. Bravo! Those were two of my goals as well and that was one of the things that freaked me out the most about the cramping. I kept thinking that they were going to make me go and get an I.V. for dehydration and I just did not want that to happen. I guess had I been vomiting there would have been no questions asked, I would have just been taken for an I.V., but since I settled down after some electrolytes and rehydration on my own it was not deemed necessary. Incidentally, the cramping seems to have settled down and with any luck it will not be an issue for the remainder of my training here. I purchased extra electrolytes to have on hand should I start to get depleted again and probably will start drinking some midweek even if I feel pretty good just to stay on top of it.

Cinco de mayo has caused the hotel to swell again this weekend with guests. Apparently it’s not as big a holiday here in Mexico, but Acapulco is a favorite holiday destination for the Mexican people, as well as those from around the world and the extra day off makes for a long holiday weekend that people like to take advantage of. It’s not quite as wild as the banker’s convention I wrote about several weeks ago as there is no live music just outside our balcony door every night! Those bankers were a fairly wild bunch!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Rock bottom

As I wake up here on Saturday, May 2nd, my body seems to be telling me that I just slept in someone’s mailbox. Week 4 was one of the toughest so far. We were given Friday night off and I slept for about 9.5 hours, although the way I feel right now that surely cannot be correct! Prior to class last night we were asked if we would prefer a lecture, to which I raised my hand. A lecture over more posture clinic sounded like a good deal to me as apparently it did to many others who also had their hands up. Then we were asked who wanted more posture clinic and several people actually raised their hands. I sort of understood that as I myself would not have minded too much if we actually pounded another one out. That would make one less to worry about next week. Then we were asked who wanted the night off and I just stood there with a stupefied look on my face. In the states sometimes the authorities will offer free 60 inch plasma televisions and super bowl tickets to criminals on the lamb in order to capture them and for some reason, way back in the recesses of my mind, I thought it had to be some sort of trick to ferret out the slackers amongst us! I simply could not raise my hand and stood there thinking I voted for the lecture, I’m sticking with it. I’m not a slacker, I’m not a slacker, I’m not a slacker! Anyway, we were given the night off and catching up on some sleep felt great, except for the whole mailbox thing!

The week started off great, I felt good physically; I had some strong classes and good posture clinics. I passed my anatomy test with flying colors (96). Then came class #38 which literally kicked my ass. I mentioned to someone that the difficult classes sort of sneak up on you and the next thing you know your ears are ringing, the earth seems to be spinning in the wrong direction and you find yourself lying on your mat wondering when it will all come to an end. Perhaps under different circumstances they would be further apart but because we are participating in so many classes over a weeks period, small issues like your electrolyte intake make a huge difference. If you get behind just a bit, your world can start spinning! I have now figured out a process to get myself back together in a couple of hours when this happens (which seems like once a week, late in the week) but the pace has been so fast during week four that every minute counts in order to prepare for the next event. A couple of hours can really set you back, not to mention the feelings of disorientation!

Everyone’s so willing to assist in times of trouble. These are the types of people I wish to surround myself with in the future. Happy people who are struggling to improve their lives with resolve and joy. Life will always have struggle, but it’s how you respond to the struggle that matters. On that note, I would like to say hello to Katie in Lake Helen, Fl. I told Melissa I would let you know that she is doing just fine. I practiced next to her on several occasions this week and she told me you were reading the blog. She is so strong, inside and out. She glows with strength that at this very moment even she may not realize she is revealing. Don’t get me wrong, there are a variety of struggles she is enduring and I know she can’t wait to talk to you about them, but we as participants do not fully understand the totality of what is occurring here. It will take weeks and months, perhaps even years until everything is revealed to us. You should be very proud of her for following through on her commitment here and while everyone here is viewing this training through a different prism, she most certainly will not be the same person when she gets back. None of us will be! Some stuff will be resolved and other things will just be coming to the surface and that’s a good thing because here, people who truly care about the direction we all are headed surround us. I hope all of the women here who show such incredible inner strength have a support structure back home so they can continue to flourish, grow and teach others what it takes to break free from some of the bondage we saddle ourselves with throughout our lives. My hope is that not a single, beautiful genie gets put back in the bottle!

I’ve taken to crying after Camel pose during class. I have always heard the lines that you may laugh, you may cry etc, etc, but like aftershocks from the earthquakes we recently experienced, little he-man flakes are still falling off and I truly hope it continues. It was like a giant weight on my chest and I could feel it sticking in my throat during the posture. I just wanted it to come roaring out, without getting anything on those practicing around me! I’m not sure exactly what happened, but it stopped after class #39, as did the tears. In all actuality, here’s what I think. It took me 3 years to get deep enough into my practice physically so that emotional issues could begin to release. We hold these “issues” in our bodies and when we allow the yoga to go deep enough, we begin to heal ourselves by allowing these things to be released. It’s sometimes frightening and I say this to you now with all sincerity; do 30 classes in 30 days. Try 60 in 60 and test Bikram’s own words, “Do 90 classes in 90 days and I will give you your life back”. Those are pretty powerful words and you have no idea what he is saying until you begin to peel away the layers that have built up over a lifetime. It’s different for everyone and just to set the record straight, anyone who has ever practiced next to me will agree when I say that I won’t be winning the national (or regional) championships anytime soon! My knees ache during fixed firm, I struggle to straighten my legs in standing separated leg stretching and I feel like one of those beach chairs that take forever to set up when preparing for final spine twisting, but here’s the deal, it just does not matter. Do the best you can while trying the right way and progress will come. However long it takes is exactly how long it is supposed to take. Push yourselves to discover new boundaries and when you think you are going to die in class remember what we were told today in class; if you die while practicing yoga you go straight to heaven. It made me laugh because that is exactly what I was thinking, that I was going to die! To all of my friends at the Bloomington studio, I salute you on your completion of half of your 30-day challenge. I thought about you often during this last month and hope that you were able to reveal “some truths” about yourselves during the process. I look forward to hearing all about your experience when I get back home.

With that in mind, lesson #52 dictates that you never judge the yogi/yogini on the mat beside you. I’ve been thinking about this with all of the stories from all of the different teacher’s visiting here as well as all of the different participants I have practiced next to. It’s human nature to compare but we must break free of the bondage that is judgment. You never know where someone has come from and exactly what he or she has already overcome! I hear all of the stories about the back surgeries, the arthritis, the erratic behavior, the knee and hip issues and so much more. Maybe being isolated like this is akin to “drinking the kool-aide” but the stories of individual triumph are amazing, refreshing and inspiring to hear. We need to remind ourselves of this every day.

I just wanted to take a moment and document something I learned the other day. I had mentioned earlier that I did not think Craig (chief instructor) could break me during his class and was looking forward to improving to the point where I could perform his notorious Awkward Pose through both sets without faltering (which I did during class #38 along with several others). I have always been built physically to go full out, as demonstrated with the two earlier cramping incidents. I’ll go until my body “locks up”, repair myself, then go again. There is an old saying in the sports world that “fatigue makes cowards of us all” and anyone who has ever been told this has a story about sucking it up and refocusing on the task at hand. Now, that being said, not only did he break me, he didn’t even have to say a word to do it! He patrols the posture clinics and just pops in from time to time to observe and offer feedback. Wednesday, he walked into my posture clinic and sat down to observe and I was in the on deck circle. Now, the posture clinics are cozy little gatherings where perhaps 35-40 people gather in a room devoid of chairs or any other furnishings and recite their posture dialogue in front of 2 or 3 evaluators. The tension can at times be palpable. The evaluators give feedback to each individual performing regarding your pace, voice, other speaking idiosyncrasies (nervous habits and the like) and of course the verbatim recitation of the dialogue. I was positioned directly in front of the door when he busted in like John Wayne charging through some western saloon doors. He knelt down and evaluated the gal who was in front of me. She knocked it out of the park (way to go Cheri) and he commented, got up and left. He wasn’t even in the room and I sounded like a drunken college frat boy when I delivered my dialogue and that, specifically is one of the many things we are learning here my friends. It’s not just about yoga asana (postures) but also about the mental aspect of yoga. Not allowing anyone to steal your peace and not creating illusions that hold us back. Realizing that the struggles we face in our day-to-day lives are many times just that, illusions which we create and then assign power to! Perhaps physically I can’t be broken, but if all it takes to throw me off my game is another human being’s presence, I have a ways to go. At least I realize it and will strive to improve and Craig may never know the impact that simply walking in to the room had, but it has started a new thought process that will have far reaching affects.

I get the feeling from the things that he says now when teaching class that he thinks we have improved (not that he doesn’t expect so much more, but we are not loser plebs anymore). It’s quite gratifying to hear that our efforts have pointed us in the right direction. Many people seem to be afraid of him but actually; I think under different circumstances, we could be friends. I like the principles he espouses and I can tell we have traveled some of the same roads in the martial arts. I kind of view him as a kindred spirit. I have some experience with the kohai/dohai relationship and hope to someday be able to talk to him in a different setting about his past as well as a number of other items in detail.

I had talked about participating in some extra classes so I would have performed 100 during my stay here. If my calculations were correct, I would need to perform 5 additional classes to equal 100 and that would mean I would have to start this Sunday as there are only 5 Sundays remaining. I don’t know if I have it in me to start this Sunday. We will see how I feel and perhaps I can talk to someone on the staff to see if my calculations are correct regarding the number of classes we will be taking here. I’m just worn out today and prefer not to think about it…