I did something to my body yesterday in yoga class. Something, something.. no idea what exactly.

I have these days where I do a lot in a day. Many times I teach two classes, I will practice a yoga class, and even train once (or even twice) with my budo teacher. I consider it amazing that I am fit, well and capable enough to do that much. Some see it as crazy, insane, even nutty. You’ve done what today? For me, it just is the practice. The practice of teaching, the practice of practice, the practice of training. I differentiate between practice (yoga) and training (budo) simply for clarity’s sake. Ultimately, it is all practice. Practice practice practice.

I’m a firm believer in do. Do what you can do. What you cannot do, you strive for. But what happens when you cannot do because your body says no? The most obvious answer is that we stop, rest, recuperate and come back slowly.

I’m not good at resting. I’m not good at stopping. I’m not good at slowing down.

As I sit here typing, thinking of my day with no yoga, no budo, no exercise or practice other than putting away laundry and tidying up the house, I feel like I have not done today. I have not pushed myself. Or have I? Is the inability to do, and the requirement to not do, my practice? In theory this should also work in the reverse, right?

I’m trying to see it that way.

Having pain in my body, of any sort, is not overly alarming to me. I know the difference, quite well, between injurious (bad) pain and irritation and sensation from hard work. I know when my back aches whether it’s going to hurt for a day or two or a month. I’ve experience both ends.

I’m not afraid of whatever thing has happened in my body. I’m not really worried that I’ll be immobilized or in pain for an extended time. No, I’ll get a massage tomorrow, take a very gentle class, use the steam room, take hot baths, and continue on with my life.

The anxiety for me lies in the desire to keep pushing. I want to train hard, practice hard, and push forward. But I cannot do that. I have to back off. I have to exercise enough humility to know enough is enough. Maybe for a day, maybe for a week.

That’s my practice for now – to not do.

Do not try, just do.

December 2, 2009

After teacher training, this should be a piece of cake.

Friends, I am back to boldly proclaim that I am doing a 101 day Bikram Yoga Challenge beginning January 1, 2010.  It’s simple, 101 classes in 101 days.  You know the drill.  Funny enough, I did 102 classes in my nine weeks (63 days) at teacher training.  This should feel like a vacation, right?

I’m gearing up for 2010.  It’s going to be the best year EVER.  I’ve been setting goals, making plans, and this challenge just makes it even sweeter.  Or is it sweatier?

Here is the blog that inspired me.

I’ve got 30 days to prepare for it.  The challenge begins January 1st and ends April 11th 2010. Who’s with me?

Spiritual or not?

November 26, 2009

Bikram yogis like to think of themselves as the workers, the pushers, the knee-lockers.  We are the ones who sweat and sweat and sweat.  We endure the heat, push our bodies to bend, and breathe in spite of our pounding hearts.  We are rarely (if ever) seen as “Spiritual Yogis” and rarely do we label ourselves as such.  Bikram himself says, “you are not ready for that kind of yoga.  First you must discipline the body and mind, only then can you reach the spirit.”

This morning as I was practicing my yoga, on a holiday, sweating and bending, struggling through my little pains and my big pains – I thought about this.  How can this not be spiritual?  There is no other single activity I have devoted more of my time to on this earth than Bikram Yoga.  I have practiced longer than I have been married or been a mother.  Perhaps the only other activity that would come close is my own personal spiritual observances:  prayer, reading, meditating.  But in the recent months and years, as my life has shifted over to what it is now, the Spiritual Karen and the Yogini Karen are becoming harder to distinguish between daily.

I recently passed my one year anniversary of teaching.  When I asked the boss lady how many classes I had taught in my first year she gave me a number that stunned me.  425.  Four hundred and twenty five classes since I returned from Teacher Training.  That’s a lot of hours of teaching.  And not teaching alone, but in addition, I practiced another 242 classes in that year.  That’s a lot of time, or dare I say, devotion?? Funny enough, that’s just at one thousand hours in the hot room in a single year, forty one solid days.

So, is it devotion?  Is all this time a spiritual thing?  Or, am I just addicted?  To be fair, it could be both.  I have benefited more from this practice health-wise than any other thing I’ve done.  It’s helped me in immeasurable ways to be stronger, healthier, happier and more positive.  But it has also served to center me, give me courage, teach me about my limits and help me through incredible emotional battles.  There are days when I need to be on the mat, simply because it is my sanity.  I crave it, I need it, I have to have it.

I do believe you can find spirituality through the physical practice of yoga.  I believe one can find God in the struggle of the hot room just as easily as they can find God in a temple or on top of a mountain.  Our bodies are not only connected to our spirits, but they are infused with our spirit.  Move your body and the heart moves, the spirit wakes up and the search begins.  The courage it takes to hold on in a posture can connect you deeply to the courage required to deal with the junk that plagues our lives.

What I am left with are three basic things.  Practice.  Discipline.  Commitment.  If you break them down individually, they are all virtuous qualities.  But ultimately one leads to the other, which leads to the third.  Without the practice, the discipline fades, without the commitment, the discipline is empty.  And on it goes.  It becomes a circle.

I have learned a few Yoga Mudras, different devotional chants.  I even have a tattoo of the Om symbol on my wrist.  I believe in the power of the spiritual devotion required to maintain a demanding physical yoga practice.  I believe that God can be found in the hot little orange room, and that ultimately the spirit can be fed through the intense refinement of Bikram Yoga.  I believe that sweating can be as purifying as praying (at times) and that each has a distinct place.  I also believe that everyone must find their way to their own “mat” in life.  Spirituality is deeply personal, as it should be.

I truly believe that this yoga practice really is spiritual.  The ninety minutes, while purely physical effort to the naked eye, is as spiritual for me as anything can be.  Many come to the hot room to heal their knees, fix their sore backs or lose a little weight.  Many also come with depression, anger and hurts from their lives, just as I did.  And they come to find that it is the process of healing their knees, fixing their backs and trimming their waistlines that brings them out of the haze of their personal pain.

There are no clear defining lines in any form of yoga that tell us where the physical ends and the spiritual begins.  Maybe that’s the beauty of it.  All I really know for sure is that journey is worth it.

Not-so-obligatory post.

November 13, 2009

I’m here.  Yet, maybe not.

Hi my name is Karen and I do Bikram Yoga.  I also teach Bikram Yoga.  Basically I live, eat, sleep, shower and dream Bikram Yoga.

I haven’t been bloggin’.  Sure you’ve noticed, right?  Haven’t you?  I haven’t been writing.  But I’ve been practicing, and I for sure have been teaching.  I’ve also been doing Aikibudo, but that’s for later on.  Let’s get back to the practicing.

Yes, practice.  Sri Pattabhi Jois says, practice and all is coming. I am no great interpreter of words, but I think he’s basically saying what Bikram always says, get your shit together and just do the posture.  Do the yoga, do the class, just do..  it.  Practice, practice, practice.

Is it really that easy?  Is it really as easy as showing up, unrolling the mat, and then doing..  it??  Yes, it is.  It’s just that easy.  Yo-ga is easy.  Asana, Pranayama..  it’s easy, right?  Maybe.  Some days it certainly feels easy.  Some days I’d rather stay in bed with a TV remote and a cup of hot chocolate.  Some yogini I am, right?

I find myself reflective this week.  Our studio just finished hosting a huge event, including the state yoga championships.  I was, well, involved with that.  I’ve had several amazing friends in town recently.  I’m also rapidly approaching my one year teaching anniversary.  The train is picking up speed on this whole yoga thing.  And when I look in the mirror, I still see someone I don’t quite recognize.  Who is that girl?  I teach with reasonable confidence, and I usually know every single person’s name in my class.  Who is that girl again??  So, I’m pensive all over again.

I’ve maintained a pretty darned disciplined practice in spite of the momentum of life.  My kids are growing up so fast, my husband is nearing the end of his Master’s degree, life is so good.  I love teaching.  The room is my refuge many days.  Whether I’m behind the mic or on the mat.  I just love it.  The yogini is still there.

Six months ago I started practicing Aikibudo. I have at my disposal an incredible sensei and we train twice a week.  It’s a long story, but the budo is such a part of who I am now that I can’t remember exactly what it was like before I was doing it.  The yoga practice and the budo practice compliment one another in amazing ways.

I’m grateful, that’s the bottom line.  I’m grateful and I have to laugh a little bit sometimes that I get away with having such a cool life.  I mean seriously??  Family, yoga, budo, friends..  That’s my life and my work?  Wow.

I can’t believe I’ve been teaching for almost a year.  I can’t believe I’ve been doing budo for six months.  I can’t believe that in general my biggest concern when I get up in the morning is how I’m going to juggle my practice(s) around my teaching job.

So when I get to my mat (either one) and I feel a little tired or a little grumpy, I’m drawn back to that gratitude.  I chose this life.  I chose to pursue yoga, teaching and most recently budo.  I chose to walk the path.  I’m stronger, healthier, wiser, and more courageous because of it.  All I have to do is practice.  Just do the practice – and all is coming.

 

 

I’m having a sort of off day.

I was sick for a while. I lost my voice, got sick, then got better. Then I got really sick again, then I got well. I hit bottom on Sunday evening when I just couldn’t talk anymore. The pain in my throat had gotten to critical level. I was sick, really sick. I proceeded to – as all enlightened, health-conscious yoga teachers do – drug myself. I rarely take medicine, let alone hardcore nighttime cold medicine.   But there I was, late that evening, standing in the cold and flue medicine aisle at the store.  I wanted the kind of relief that would put me so far to sleep I wouldn’t care how badly my throat hurt.  I got it.  I took that blue liquid and no more than 20 minutes later was as high as a kite.  No lie, I was done for.  You know how those packages say, Never operate machinery while using this medicine?  I now know why.  I barely made it up the stairs to my bed.  Dave must have covered me.  I slept very soundly for five hours.

Then I woke up.

The throat that was sore when I went to sleep now felt like razor blades had been forced down it.  If miserable sore throat were a condition warranting immediate medical care, I would have gone to the ER.  It was that bad.  I woke up crying, begging for relief.  I woke up Dave, who dutifully went down to the kitchen and got my Cepacol and crack Tylenol Severe Chest Cold Nighttime.  The Cepacol made my throat burn, it did nothing for the pain.  I took the Tylenol, prayed to God for mercy, and tried to go back to sleep.  It was a rough few days.

Then I woke up, and I felt human again.  It got worse before it got better.  I coughed, I moaned, I groaned.  I had no voice, nothing.  But it got better.

That was two weeks ago.  My voice is completely back.  YAY!  But as things go, I’m starting to feel, well..  off. I’ve been practicing more, trying to get in more classes with the teaching schedule.  It’s good.  I just don’t know what’s up with me.

As a student of yoga, and as a yoga teacher, I know that the mind and body are one.  I’ve had a lot on my mind lately.  My practice has been bringing up some emotional issues.  As I deal with those, sometimes setting them aside for a time, sometimes not, I find my body reacts.  I’m betting that these aching shoulders and tight hips are more than just surface issues.  So why am I so stubborn?  Why can’t I just rest and let myself recover, heal, and restore?  Why do I keep gnawing at myself day after day?

My body is telling me something.  I don’t need another bad chest cold to get my attention.  I don’t need to lose my voice again to understand that the energy in my body is moving differently.  What I need is to go back to yoga preschool.  I need to work a little slower on my mat, give myself some room to breathe, and relax.  I need to (as per the usual) heed the words I tell my students.  I need to take care of me.

I’ve written before about learning this delicate balance.  Teaching Bikram Yoga can be an exhausting job.  It’s hours in the hot room, sweating, and talking non-stop..  On the other side of that, there’s the emotional expenditure.  I walk in and very carefully encourage my students, I use the energy in the room, I try to discern how to best teach, how to motivate, when to push, and when to give compassion.  Often it’s the latter that wears me out the most.  We tell beginners and experienced students the same thing.  Every day is different, every practice is different.  Be kind to yourself and breathe.

I still need to learn these lessons.

So take me back to preschool.  I hear they have snacks.

Losing it.

January 4, 2009

Well, it happened to me.  The New Teacher lost her Voice.

It happened about two weeks ago.  I really really really lost it right before Christmas.  I had not been feeling my best over the weekend, fighting off a nasty something or other, and a sore throat.  Well, I woke up at that particularly lovely hour of 4 am to greet my amazing 5:30 yogis and was SO hoarse.  My throat was sore, but I taught, then went back to teach 9:30.  Somwhere around 40 mnutes into class I didn’t know how on earth I was going to finish.  Thank the Gods above for the microphone.  I surived that one but was whispering as I left the studio.  It’s been nearly two weeks and though my voice is back, mostly, I still can’t sing..  at all.  And yes, I can usually sing.

Anyway.

I lost my voice.  I have gotten the lecture, so please..  I know.  I KNOW how to use my voice.  I’ve had plenty of voice lessons.  Diaphragm, I know, I know.  Really, I think I lost my voice because of whatever something or other I had.  Either way, it was gone.  And if there’s anything you can NOT do without a voice, it’s teach Bikram Yoga.

This too shall pass.

So, I’m fine, and I only missed two of my classes thanks to the Holiday time.  By the way, my Holiday was great and I hope yours was too.

So I think I’ve lost count of how many weeks I’ve been back from Teacher Training.  I’ve also lost count of how many classes I have taught.  Teaching is going so well.  I really love it, like, a lot.  I love love love love it.  Of course, it does not hurt that I have the best studio to teach in with the best fellow teachers and bosses (shameless plug)..   In all seriousness, I feel great about teaching.  I feel so supported at BYTW and feel like I’m learning as I teach, and that’s the point, right?

Every day is different when you teach.  Much like when you practice, you can never really tell how the class will go.  I’ve had some rough classes.  My worst on record, I believe, was a Friday 5:30 am’er where I was so sick by the middle of class I barely made it home.  That was no fun, but a learning experience.  I’m learning more than ever to take care of myself and respect my physical limits.  And yes, I do have some.  Teaching can be exhausting,  It’s hard to find the balance between teaching class and finding time to take class.  I’m still working it out, but mostly I get in the room as much as I can and not worry about the rest.  Some days, like today, after teaching a double back to back class, I just do not have it in me to take a class (let alone an Advanced Class).  So it is what it is.  I get plenty of yoga, and plenty of heat.  I still crave more yoga, as I always have.  Maybe that will never end.  But one day at at time, I make my way.

It’s a New Year, and I’m still a New Teacher.  I feel great, but still learning, and that’s why I’m here.

Namaste.

Eleven days ago I completed Teacher Training.  I completed the last classes, my last few lectures, and walked across the stage to accept my certificate from Boss.  Only eleven days ago.  It’s amazing to me how long ago that seems.

When I wrote the last blog, I was sad about seeing Training end.  I remember writing it, the morning of the last Friday.  I was sitting on the floor in the hallway, as I often did.  I had my breakfast beside me, I felt the cool wind of the morning, and was contemplating what to wear to class that day.  I remember that last day.  I remember Rajashree’s morning class, so full of energy.  I remember the afternoon lecture.  I remember Bikram’s final class and the sheer electricity in the hot room that night.  I remember standing with my Posture Clinic group and goofing off.  I remember laughing, crying, and not quite believing it was really over.  I remember when Bikram ended the class and we all screamed and clapped.  We jumped up and down and hugged one another.  I remember people dancing and cheering.  We did it.  And really, it was over.  That night we had the talent show.  It was exhilarating and exhausting to think of what was ahead.  I remember not wanting to go to bed that night, so afraid I’d wake up and it would be over.  But no matter, I did wake up, and it was over.  The next morning felt strange with no yoga class and I started packing up to go home.  I went to the pool one last time to sit with my friends.  I ate lunch in the sun and thought about graduation.  That night, we all walked across the stage and took that little piece of paper from Bikram.  It is that piece of paper, coupled with our nine week journey, that would enable us to be Teachers.  Nobody in that room had ever looked or felt better than we did at that moment.  We shined as brightly as a million stars.  We did it.  Really, we did it.  Graduation gave way to the goodbye dinner.  I sat one last time with my beautiful friends, and we all felt a little solemn under the warm evening.  As time waned, we started hugging, and crying, and realizing we were parting ways.  I remember getting up to leave, and staying another hour just to not have to let go so soon.  But when my final goodbyes were done, I walked back to my room feeling spent.  I was so ready to go and yet didn’t want the night to end.

I flew out on Sunday, late in the morning.  My flight was short, and deposited me back into a cold city.  I got off the plane and wondered instantly where I was.  I saw my precious babies and my husband for the first time in two months.  It was amazing to see their faces, and feel their embrace.  I felt like a stranger a little bit.  But it wasn’t long before I was mommy again and even now, those 9 weeks seem to have slipped by so quickly.

So, now, I sit here only eleven days past graduation.  I have taught four classes at my studio.  My tan is fading, all of my suitcases have long been emptied, and I’ve adjusted to the cool weather.  I am fully re-initiated into my life here in Texas.  It feels strange when I think about it.  Some days I struggle to understand what just happened.  I no longer spend Saturday and Sunday afternoons in the sun by the pool.  I have a stove, and my own washing machine again.  Nobody makes my bed while I am in class every morning, and I no longer sleep alone.  I don’t have to sign in four times a day, wait in line for lunch, ask for things in Spanish, or give my room number every time I want something.  I don’t have to go to yoga if I don’t feel like it, although I do – unless I am scheduled to teach.  I can drive to the store, instead of take a van, and nobody keeps me up until 2 am anymore.  Teacher Training is over, and I really really really miss it.

There are things I do not miss.  Of course, I love the freedom of being done with Training.  I love having my precous husband and kids back, and having a car, and being able to sleep late.  I love my home studio, my friends, and my really comfortable bed.  I love being home, and I love being a teacher.  But I think I will always miss that hot room, the sun, and Mexico.  It will never be the same, we can never go back, and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.  I’m right where I’m meant to be, a little homesick for Training.  I miss Bikram, just like he said.  Amazing.

But no matter, I am here now, and I am a Teacher.  If there is anything that seals the Training experience, it’s teaching.  Teaching is the perfect completion of the circle (thanks Craig), and it’s like the icing on the cake for me.  After all that hard work, putting on that headset mic and walking into that hot room feels like the best reward.  Hello, my name is Karen, I’m going to be your teacher today.  Please come standing in the middle of your mats and towels, toes on the line… The circle is complete.

But the journey goes on, and I have much to learn.  I have so much more of myself to find.  I have so far to go in my practice and I’m excited to see how it will continue to change.  Even as I am growing, my life on the mat will continue to grow and evolve.  One of the best things about this yoga is that there is no end.  There’s no destination point.  It just goes on and on, if we let it.  I am excited to see what is ahead.  I know there are many ups and downs waiting for me, but the yoga is constant.  Even when every class is different, the yoga is the same.  26 and 2.

We say this little phrase a lot in the Bikram world, Eventually or in the future. It’s kind of a little funny part of Bikram’s “language.” I have adopted it so much, and it means a lot to me.  Eventually, or in the future, I used to think about being a Bikram Yoga Teacher.  Now I am.  Everything in its time.

Namaste.