Saturday, July 14, 2012

The yoga bubble: Part 2

The answer as to how I’d cope with two classes per day, along with lectures, posture clinics, and late-night Bollywood movies for the next nine weeks was, somewhat unexpectedly, remarkably well – which came as something of a pleasant surprise after my first class with Bikram pretty much tore me apart. As the days and weeks progressed it became apparent that there was something to be said for the rigorously scheduled days we were confronted with, most of which went something along the lines of: 

• 08:00-08:25 - sign-in

• 08:30-10:00 - yoga class

• 10:00-12:00 - free, but basically shower/shovel as much food down your throat as you can/learn dialogue

• 12:00-12:25 - sign-in

• 1230-16:00 - lecture/posture clinic

• 16:00-16:30 - free time, but basically ‘get your shit together for…’

• 16:30-16:55 - sign-in

• 17:00-18:30 - yoga class

• 18:30-2100 - free time, but again: shower, eat, learn dialogue like your life depends on it (because it does)

• 21:00-21:25 - sign-in!

• 21:30-00:00 - lecture/posture clinic

• 00:00-stupid-o’clock - Sleep if you’re lucky, otherwise … Bollywood movie!

The lectures during the first two weeks of training actually consisted of us stepping up on stage and presenting half moon pose to Bikram while three other students practiced the pose. And yes, by that I mean all 400-odd students going up one by one.

My intention was to get up and get it done as quickly as possible because I thought that if I left it more than a few days nerves would start to set in. And anyway, I figured the sooner I got it done the quicker I could get on with learning the dialogue for the next posture in the sequence. Did I mention dialogue? In Bikram Yoga you have to learn a set dialogue for all 26 postures and two breathing exercises. I know - intense huh?

But intending to do something and actually doing it are two different things, because they would only accept students ready for half moon in batches of 20, which meant it was all a bit of trial and error looking over to see when a new batch of students was needed, and then basically legging it as quickly as possible to the special 20 seats set aside for those about to present. I can’t tell you how many times I pegged it across the room only to find myself the unfortunate number 21. It was like a really shit version of musical chairs without the music. Eventually my little core group (or the British Invasion as we were later dubbed) started strategically planning were to sit so we were as close as humanly possible to the pre-half moon seats.

And after a couple of days … BOOM, success!

Getting up and presenting half moon was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done - not because I had to stand up in front of 400 people but because … well, it’s Bikram, isn’t it? You’re standing up in front of the man who created this yoga, who put his name to it, who knows it inside out and you’ve got to try and impress him. So, y’know, it’s a BIG DEAL.

Anyway, eventually my turn comes and I step-up onto the stage, take the microphone and say “hello Bikram, my name’s Tim and I’m from Bikram Yoga Chiswick.” He nods and says “begin please.” So I do as I'm told and begin. My biggest fear was that I would just go blank and the words I’d worked so hard to memorise - that I’d actually taught on several occasions back at my studio in preparation - would just go flying out of my head. We’d seen it already with a few other students where nerves had taken hold and their confidence fell away and I was petrified it would happen to me. But with no other choice I took a deep breath and began.

“Everybody together. Feet together at the line, heels and toes touching each other. Arms over the head sideways, palms together…”

And then I was off. The words just spilled out of my mouth like they’d been fighting to be released for so long and I’d finally said “oh go on then - get out” to them. And as they came I got more animated, gesturing with my free hand, changing the tone of my speech when saying words like “come down and push, and push, and push,” truly believing that I could get my three students to do the very best half moons imaginable with just the power of my voice.

Then before I knew it I was done. My students came back up, stopped in the middle and brought their arms down by their sides. I lowered the microphone and turned to face Bikram who sat in his chair with a look on his face that I simply could not read. Would he smile and say well done? Or would he wave his hand in the air to indicate it was OK, but could've been better? Worse still, had I completely misjudged how I thought I'd done and he would tell me I was awful?

The seconds that followed felt like an eternity … and then he said the following words, words I will never forget:

“Excellent. Faultless. I have no correction. Thank you, Boss. NEXT!” 

The next thing I know I’m handing the microphone to someone else and taking my place ready to perform the posture for the next student. Obviously, I was deliriously happy for the rest of the day, and quite frankly the rest of the week if I’m truly honest.

Any time I felt l like I was struggling at training I’d always think back to Bikram’s words in the lecture room that day and take a little strength from what he said to me. Because when your guru, the man who started it all, tells you he has no corrections you know you’re doing something right, right?

Monday, July 09, 2012

The yoga bubble: Part 1

It’s been a little over three weeks since the end of Bikram Yoga Teacher Training Spring 2012 and I’ve yet to write about my nine week experience in Los Angeles because … well, it’s difficult to put into words, to be honest. Briar, my fellow trainee from Bikram Yoga Chiswick summed it up best with these words “… [I] feel like nobody in the real world understands what we've been through. It sounds trivial if I explain it in a way they understand; pretentious if I give it the justice it deserves.”

She’s right - but I’m going to give it a bash anyway.

My home away from home for nearly 10 weeks.
Training was without doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The days were long, grueling on both the body and the mind. I was left with aching knees and tight hamstrings, I went deaf in my left ear for almost three weeks due to the amount of sweat pouring into it. I fell ill for two weeks with a sore throat, temperature and a hacking cough that I could not shake.

And yet despite that it was the most brilliant, memorable, utterly bonkers and wonderful time of my life - a true life-changing experience. It sounds corny, but I honestly feel as if I returned from LA a different person from the one that had left almost 10 weeks earlier. Looking back, training wasn’t so much about learning to be a yoga teacher so much as it was about learning to be a better person and helping us to unlock the innate skills that all of us possess - allowing us, as Bikram would say, to grow “like a flower petal blooming.”

None of this was apparent from the word go, however.

The first day or so in LA was a bit weird, to be honest. I arrived on the Friday and registration wasn’t until the Sunday afternoon, so I had a bit of time to kill. I checked out Redondo Beach (where The OC was shot) and scouted out the local shops on the Saturday, before meeting a fellow UK trainee named Dave in the evening which, even if he’d turned out to be an absolute arsehole was lovely simply because I’d literally not spoken to anyone aside from the hotel staff since arriving; as it turned out Dave was utterly brilliant and one of the main reasons that I ended up having such a memorable experience at training.

By Sunday afternoon all the other 400-odd trainees had arrived and we set about registering and collecting our trainee binders and anatomy books (gulp!). The atmosphere in the Radisson hotel was genuinely electric because none of us knew what to expect.

My folder of yoga knowledge and my baby dialogue; the latter was a constant companion throughout training and even as I write this it's sitting on my desk within easy grasp.
The real beginning came the following day, however, when we were introduced to the man himself for the first time. I distinctly remember the moment Bikram came into the lecture room - the silence that descended as he strode in, donned a microphone headset and for the enthusiastically uttered the words that we would hear so many times and mimic so often in the weeks that followed: “Check, check! One, two, three, four … HI GUYS!”

Bikram is such a remarkable character, far more so than I thought he would be, and I’ll write more about him another time. What I remember from this first appearance though, was that he was very welcoming, inordinately proud of his new shoes, and wore a very sparkly, expensive-looking Rolex. And a few hours later we were all in the Radisson’s ballroom (converted to serve as a hot yoga room) taking our first class from Bikram.

What I remember most about this class is that at some point about halfway through I had to throw my hand up in the air to call for help; I was cramping up from a combination of too much effort, hyperventilating, and being too hot (not in a good way for a change). One of the staff teachers helped me out of the room and sat me down outside to recover. While I got myself together I couldn’t help but think how my teacher Mandy had told me that she’d walked out of her first class with Bikram years before and now here I was doing exactly the same … and then I inexplicably burst into tears.

At this point one of the other staff teachers came over and asked me what the matter was. Through my tears I tried to explain that I was so far from home, that I didn’t want to walk out of Bikram’s first class and felt as if I was letting myself down as well as my friends and teachers who’d encouraged me to come to training. I expected this teacher to put a reassuring arm around my shoulders and tell me it was OK; instead she looked down at me and said “if that’s all you’re worrying about you need to man-up and get back in the room.”

I had been *this* close to thinking I couldn’t cope with training and giving up before we’d even really started, but those words shocked me into doing exactly what I’d been told to do. This teacher’s name was Kat, and on graduation night I told her this story and thanked her for what she’d said to me; without that shock to the system it’s quite likely I would’ve been on the next plane home.

(The tears, by the way, were not me just being a wuss; we were later told that it was highly likely training would lead to us experiencing what was called an ‘emotional release’ - basically an unexpected emotional breakdown, for want of a better term. Some people had them halfway through, some right at the end; seems I got mine out of the way bright and early)

Anyway, I went back into the room, somehow finished the class, and then staggered out wondering exactly how the hell I was going to manage two classes per day, along with lectures, posture clinics, and late-night Bollywood movies for the next nine weeks.