December 5, 2009
This is a blog about budo, not yoga..
I stand five feet and seven inches above the surface of the earth. I’m not that tall by most standards. Average height. The ground is not so far away. Or so I thought.
My mind is consumed lately with the idea of falling. I am learning to fall, slowly, with my sensei. I am learning that the most important thing is to put my chin on my chest. I am learning that you can either control how or when you fall – but never both. I am learning that falling is not so scary. I am also learning that falling can take your breath away. I am learning that falling is an art as much as the intricate kata that I am studying.
When I began my budo training nearly eight months ago, I knew that I would learn to fall eventually. I studied with my teacher, sort of rejoicing that we spent almost five solid months learning other things besides Newton’s 3rd Law. But I knew it was coming. My friend joked with me that everything would change and my perception of the art would be altered when I started facing my body going down to the ground. He was right.
Falling is a different world.
I tell my yoga students that one of our most primal human fears is falling over backwards. We spend a great deal of our time controlling our falling. Walking, afterall, is just graceful, controlled falling. We see kids fall, see babies fall, see leaves fall. And we all avoid it.
Several weeks ago sensei pulled out the mat and said now we fall. I was anxious, but trusted that, like everything else he had taught me, this too would be paced and I would learn it gradually. I have learned a few falls. First, a backward fall. Then the forward rolling, and most recently a side fall. I’m still finding my way with all of these different falls.
I watch my teacher toss himself over on the mat so beautifully. It’s wonderfully graceful and he always comes out so nicely. I remember the first time I saw him take the otoshi (forward roll). I thought surely he did not expect me to do that. Oh, right, he does. Of course. We started with the backfall, which is still our mainstay. For some reason in practice, the backfall does not spook me. But in application when I am actually being thrown, I often grab desperately for my teacher’s keikogi, his wrist, his back, anything I can find. I curl up like a cat. Oh god, the ground, where is it?? My mind screams, and down I go. I am getting better at these and have even enjoyed them a bit recently. But you really cannot explain or understand this until it’s your body going down, carrying that veritable wrecking ball of your teacher’s body drop. You really have no idea what your body and mind will do. Hopefully, with good training, you’ll tuck your chin and go down, keeping the arms extended in front. You might even get a good slap. But all the while, even with proper execution, the monkey brain can be screaming NO NO NO!!! Or at least, that’s what they tell me.
I’ve experienced good and bad falls. Thankfully, none have been injurious. I’ve come away with a sore neck and some sore shoulders. But overall, the falls aren’t that bad. Recently my teacher threw me on a fall I’ve been bailing out of so fast I had no time to even try to bail out. There’s learning all around.
I’m learning to face some of my fears. Falling is giving me the courage to throw my uke with authority, execute the technique with a little confidence, and even face the unknown.
I know in my head how far I am from the ground (or mat). I know how to fall, from a technical standpoint. I know how to move and what to do. The next step is to get my mind to stop working, stop analyzing, and just take the fall.
January 22, 2009
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.
January 5, 2009
I was at the studio this morning, after teaching the 5:30 am class, and was trying to decide whether I wanted to use my spare hour to do yoga alone or go get coffee. I struggled for a short moment. I wanted to think, to be quiet, and to be alone. So the question stood whether I wanted that in the form of a little sweat and stretching, or in a cup of milk and caffeine. I stood there in front of my packed bag of clothes, looking at the shorts and top I had brought along for my “solo yoga”, and decided the yoga was better than the caffeine. So I dressed, grabbed a mat and towel, and headed back into the hot room.
This doing yoga alone thing is kind of a new ritual for me. Today is my second time to do it. When I teach early, then stay to teach the 9:30 am class, I have a gap of time. Prior to this new ritual, I would spend that hour or so eating breakfast and inhaling coffee. But given my new career, I’ve found that my body needs more yoga time. That empty hour or so was the perfect opportunity. I’m already at the studio, I have access to the room, and I like to do yoga alone. It’s something I miss from time to time. I started doing Bikram alone in my apartment in Colorado nearly nine years ago. It’s kind of interesting now, all this time later, to once again practice alone. Now I have one of the best heating systems around available to me, a huge open studio, and plenty of mirrors. It’s quite the contrast to the way I started out, but I’ll take it. It’s nice.
Today as I stood in front of the mirror, I was critical of myself. Too tired, Karen. Not enough yoga lately, Karen. You need to work on your posture, Karen. These shorts look awful on you, Karen… Blah Blah Blah. It’s interesting that I spend a great deal of my time when I teach encouraging my students to let these things go. I tell them, Meet your own eyes in the mirror. Face yourself. Let it go. I could learn from my own words. Maybe we teach the things that we really need to learn first. I dunno. But I did it, I started. Breathe, breathe, breathe.. Inhale, exhale. Again. I did my hybrid Advanced Class/Beginning Class warm up. I did my Salutes, my backbends, and I worked. I didn’t feel particularly excited to be practicing. The humidity was low in the room and I felt dry. I had fairly shaky balance, my legs giving way as I worked on head to knee pose, my body not wanting to bend the way I wanted. It was there that I was taken back to the Training room in Acapulco.
It’s been a while since I’ve talked about Training. I went through a time when I got home of thinking about Training constantly. Part of me wanted nothing more than to get back on the plane and go back. Those formative nine weeks changed me forever. The further I get from Graduation, the less I really want to go back. Being home is better, and I know it. Nobody is meant to live in that situation long term. Teacher Training was but for a season and that’s OK. But there are days when I’m taken back to that hot room and it all comes rushing back. Today was one of those days.
I remember those nine weeks as a very complex emotional journey. I spent the time separated from all of my friends and family here at home. But during that time I built up a new support system. I took care of me for the first time in a long time. It wasn’t fun or easy or particularly comfortable at times. In fact, there were times that were painful and I wanted out. But the time passed and looking back, I have no regrets.
I read a note that a friend of mine from Training wrote today on her Facebook page. She said that we leave such an intense season of change to return home where we require a season of rest. Our hearts, minds, spirits, and bodies must recuperate from the intense therapy we have given them. (my interpretation) I agree with her. When I came home, I was spent. My body was irritated and creaky. Over 100 Bikram classes in nine weeks left me sore and weary. But now, a little less than two months out, now that I have rested a bit, I feel much better. Some days I still feel like I am recovering. There are times that I practice and my body complains. There are times when I feel like I’m back in that hot room in Mexico, and I feel sentimental all over again.
The physical recovery is only one side, though. Physically Training was very demanding, exhausting, and difficult. But that’s only one part of it. Emotionally and Spiritually I feel changed as well. And maybe that’s really where the recovery is happening now. The body, the most acute need, had to recover first. Now the mind, spirit, heart, and soul can have some time to breathe. As I stood on my mat alone today, I wondered at all the things that I’d been through. It seemed petty and small to feel so frustrated with my inability to hold my posture in that moment. I remembered the early days of Training when that posture wasn’t even happening for me at all. How far I have come indeed.
But in the yoga room, and in my life anyway, I completely believe body and mind are intricately connected. When the body hurts, or even reaches new depths, the mind and spirit react. Yo-ga. Union. Hatha: Ha (sun) tha (moon). Opposites. Union, togetherness. All connected, and all the same. Just as there is no *perfect* posture, there is no right or wrong emotion on the mat. It is what it is. This is perhaps one of my great lessons from Training. Just letting it be. If I am happy, or if I feel pain, if I celebrate holding my head on my knee, or if I whine because my back aches – it’s all the same. Yoga, uniting, bringing together the mind and the body.
I will keep looking inward on my way as I practice. I will have many more mornings in that room alone, I hope. Maybe I’ll pick up some more insights. I will continue to allow my soul, body, and spirit to rest and recuperate. As Sean reminds me, I will continue to respect myself and afford myself a little kindness and balance. I will continue to appreciate the lessons learned in Training, and continue to be thankful for the work that was done.
November 28, 2008
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.
October 20, 2008
Wow, well I am really over halfway done with Training. But I didn’t have time to really write much this week, so I’m catching up now. Thanks to all of you who have stopped by to see the pictures. I wish I could have gotten them up sooner. But they’re up now, and as you can see, this place is pretty amazing.
So, thoughts on Teacher Training from the midpoint… Wow, what a ride. I say it over and over and over and over, but wow.. what a ride. If I think back to the day I left Houston to come here I can hardly believe all that I’ve been through. Getting here was such a big deal, and then the hurricane hit. It was a whirlwind for about two weeks. Training started and the madness ensued.
I remember a lot of it. I remember Orientation, meeting the staff, the welcome dinner. I remember that FIRST CLASS. I remember meeting Bikram. It all feels like a year ago. But really, it’s only been five weeks, so much time and yet so little. I remember how anxiously we all navigated around one another for the first week or so. I remember the rough transition into the heat of the yoga room, the adjustment to the humidity, and finidng ways to cope with the class. I remember thinking I was starting over like a brand new baby with my practice. I remember feeling like I was going to die, wanting to die, and hoping I would die so they would have to carry me out. But I also remember feeling better and laughing at Bikram’s hilarious commentery in class. I remember when my body said, “thank you” and worked harder for me. I remember the glee of making it through without sitting out a single posture for the first time. I remember thinking I’ve never worked harder in my life for anything. I remember thinking I’d make it afterall, then the next day not being so sure. I remember crying through more classes than I can count. I remember all the compassionate arm squeezes, handfulls of ice, and “are you ok’s??” I remember giving up on trying to figure out why I was crying, and feeling so free. I remember the first Posture Clinic with Boss. I remember nailing my dialogue one day, then struggling the next. I remember ANATOMY with NO BOOKS!! I remember my first LATE night with a Bollywood movie. I remember wanting to scream I was so tired, but having nowhere to go. I remember the ache that finally subsided from missing my kids and my husband so much. I remember the day I accepted that I was supposed to be here.
And now here I am, about to being week six, a new person. This is not the body that flew to Mexico so many weeks ago. It’s not the same brain or the same heart. I have a long way to go, and a lot more to do. But being here, at the crossroads, just over the mountaintop – is really, really, really awesome.
If I look back at those goals that I set for myself the first night in Acapulco, I can honestly say I’ve really accomplished most of them. I’ve given my full effort to this experience. And, I’ve NEVER left my mat. All of those little victories are adding up to what I hope will be the start of my new life teaching. But, I’ve still four weeks ahead.
So, in celebration of this landmark, I’ve decided to write a Thankful list. I used to do these a lot on my other blog. I think it’s only fitting, seeing as how I have so much to be thankful for. So here goes.
Things I am thankful for today:
I am thankful that I am here.
I am thankful for this yoga.
I am thankful for my husband and family.
I am thankful for so many people who believe in me.
I am thankful for my studio at home.
I am thankful that Training is halfway finished.
I am thankful for my amazing friends.
I am thankful for my roommate.
I am thankful for the staff here.
I am thankful for this beautiful place that I get to call home.
I am thankful to be able to be included in this amazing group of people.
I am thankful that I *can* do this.
I am thankful for my body.
I am thankful for water, salt, and sleep.
I am thankful for my ipod.
I am thankful for all the shorts I brought with me.
I am thankful for my water bottles and my insulated bottle sleeves.
I am thankful for my watch.
I am thankful for caffeine, crackers, and chewing gum.
I am thankful for blogging, and having the internet.
I am thankful for my Posture Clinic group.
I am thankful that the weekend is always coming.
I am thankful for the pool.
I am thankful that I can buy a new yoga mat because I killed the first one.
I am thankful that I don’t have to wash my own towels.
I am thankful for my maid, the lunch buffet, and the ICE MACHINE!!!
I am thankful for candy. Yes, really. Candy, especially caramels.
I am thankful for the van that carries me to the grocery store every Saturday.
I am thankful for my small, laminated, dialogue that has been through so much.
I am thankful for my alarm clock.
I am thankful for my bed.
I am thankful that I get Sunday off.
and yes.. I am thankful for Bikram.
I could probably go on and on. But I think that should do it for now.
This week should be interesting. We are supposed to have some great lectures this week with Rajashree. I am looking forward to seeing her happy smiling face again! As always, more YOGA, and more POSTURE CLINIC!!! My dialogue is going really well and I only have TWO more postures to learn. WOW. I worked really hard this weekend to get through a bunch. It is nice to know I am almost done.
As always, my love to you all. Here’s to four more weeks!
October 15, 2008
This isn’t going to be one of those fluffy, happy, zen-like Ren blog posts. No, this is not that kind of post at all. In fact, I am quite sure that tomorrow, or the next day, when I have recovered from feeling as shitty as I do, I will look back at this post and wonder why I felt the need to be so verbal. But tonight, sitting in this hallway, I just gotta write. So, if you are so inclined to read my whining, complaining, bitching, and moaning.. then read on dear friends.
I hurt. All over from the top of my head to my toes. My skin hurts, my back hurts, my joints hurt. My hurt is so deep nothing touches it. Tiger balm? Ha. Advil? Not a chance. I just hurt. I don’t have any yogic insights into why I feel this awful, other than the MASSIVE amount of yoga I’ve been doing. Of course, that is part of it. But I suspect, as many of you probably also do, that my hurt probably also comes from some other place. Emotions, grief, shit in the past. Who knows, right?? I just hurt.
Emmy talked about Pain in week 2. I remember when she came and she went on and on about it. I was hurting then, a little. I had a stiff, sore, aching lower back. I thought surely my sore tailbone was pretty awful and I’d only get better from there. HA.. Yeah right.
I sit on the floor hours and HOURS a day. If it’s not in the yoga room, it’s in posture clinic. If I’m not sitting on a floor, I’m sitting in a chair for hours, in lecture. My body longs to rest supine. Alas, those opportunities are few and far between. Now, I know, this is my journey and all that and I’m supposed to be getting stronger. I am, I really am. I did sign up for this nine weeks. This complaining is not about how I want out of my current state here in Training. I just don’t want to hurt. Or, at the very least, I’d like to not hurt quite as much.
I’m trying to just let go. Tonight in class I was humbled by having to lay out of a few of my favorite postures on the floor because my body just said no. It just refused to do it. Process. All part of the process. I trust the process. I do.
So, I’m OK. I will get over this and move on and something else will come up. I will likely wake up tomorrow and be excited again. But right now, after this long stressful day, I just want to cry. It’s not even the Training getting to me. I have said before I like it here and I do. It’s just this body that’s a little bit worn down. Not so good to need a weekend already on Tuesday, right??
Tomorrow’s a new day, thank God.
October 11, 2008
WOW, week four is over. I am almost halfway! WOW.
I know I haven’t been writing much, or saying much, or *ahem* posting any pictures. Bear with me, it’s all good. I’ve always been really honest here on this blog. So, I am going to talk a little bit about how I’ve been feeling this week with true candor, well.. because I can.
Before I came here, I got SO much advice, information, insight, whatever.. about how this Training was going to be. I read so many blogs, heard so many stories about it. I was SO sure I knew how it was going to be. Well, as per usual it isn’t at all what I expected, or what I was told, really. OK, OK, maybe a little bit like what I expected. But overall, not really.
The truth is.. are you ready???? I am happy here. I know! That’s good huh? I feel so incredibly in my element. I have been a little afraid to say it. I’ve been worrying that if I say that, it will change. But, I don’t want to live in fear that this will or won’t change. I want to share it, so you guys know how I feel. I’m all good. I’m sore, exhausted, cranky, hot (duh), and homesick.. yes, I am. But 85% of the time (or more) I am happy here. I love it here. I love the classes, I love posture clinic, I love my friends. And at the risk of sounding truly annoying, I really really really love the yoga. I better, right? Ha.
The good thing about being happy is that no matter how horrible it gets, and it can get pretty bad at times, home base is good. I feel safe here, I feel healthy, I feel STRONG. My body is a machine. Even though they tell us we’re not supposed to necessarily focus on our practices improving during Training, mine is. I’ve been well and strong since Day One (save that nasty ear thing and a small cold), and have never left my mat. I have really done well with my dialogue and I feel good about going home to teach.
Oh, and I have an awesome roommate. I do. She rocks.
So, in my heightened state of bliss, I fall deeper and deeper in love with the yoga. I am getting it. I understand more every time I go into the room. Of course, I have my days when I want to tear my hair out, or rip off my clothes and run screaming, or just scream. I have those days, trust me. I have days when I sob and cry and miss my kids so badly it aches. I have long nights with movies in Hindi that I neither understand nor care to understand. I have days when those precious 3 or 4 hours of sleep just aren’t enough. Yeah, I have those. But, I signed up for this, on purpose. And no matter what, there’s always a weekend coming. And, the best part? At the end of this nine weeks, I will have a whole new life. I will be a teacher (or a teacher in the making, at least), and I will have my certificate. I’ll have crossed over that invisible chasm and have survived the Torture Chamber. I will be a completely different person.
For all of that, I am thankful and very happy. And, that is the truth.