Saturday, December 11, 2010

Things are settling down for me a bit. I feel much more optimistic about my yoga practice tonight. I don't know why, but the teacher with whom I've had issues is not teaching at our studios, at least not in the next month or so. It's a bit of a relief to me. I was just having a very hard time feeling okay when I took classes from her. I have been trying to remind myself that it is always MY practice, no matter what, and I'm going to continue trying to convince myself of it!

One of my teachers told me that the 2 year mark is a bit of a watershed for many Bikram yogis. She said that at this point, you either choose to move deeper into the practice or you move away from it. She said she's often seen people go on to take up some other sport or activity after about 2 years of dedicated practice. She said studio owners seem to have a 5 year shelf life, too.

I was trying to explain to her what I'm struggling with, internally, about my practice. For the first year or so, it felt like everyone was like, "yea! Good for you! You're doing yoga, and you're coming to class a lot! Awesome!" Then, sometime in my second year of regular practice, it started to feel like some of the teachers and regular students were more like, "Can't you do any better than that? Why aren't you trying harder? You need to work harder! You're not doing it right!"

And, yeah, after a while, it's reasonable for teachers to push harder, expect more, etc. It's just...hard sometimes.

One thing that's helped me a lot lately is being reminded of the physical benefits of the practice. I SO took it to heart the first time I heard, "As long as you're doing your best, you're getting the full physiological benefit of the posture." One of my facebook friends has a sister who owns a Bikram Yoga studio. She had posted an article about the health benefits of yoga, and while I know most all of that stuff by now, it really helped me to read it all again. I'm not doing yoga with pretty pretty postures as my goal; I'm doing yoga because it's really freaking good for my health--physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cold Snap/The Winter of My Discontent

It's chilly outside now, and the yoga studio's heating system hasn't been fully adjusted to cope with the change in the weather. We had a cool class tonight. The room was 96 degrees F when class began, and it warmed up as we went along. By the time we were on the floor, it was just about exactly perfect by Bikram's standards.

In a lot of ways, I missed the higher temps. I was feeling a little rusty anyway since I'd done no yoga for a couple days prior to class. I was so stiff in my back, my hamstrings, my shoulders. Trying to stretch my creaky old body in the "cold" room made me long for that sweaty, delicious and simultaneously unbearable heat.

Yet I had a so much more stamina than usual. It's very frustrating to me. I sweat so heavily when the room is 105 or higher. And our local studios are often much hotter than 105. I've bitched and moaned in previous posts about the studio floor with radiant heat. It's like being on a hot pizza stone. Lying on the hot hot hot floor, sometimes I feel as if my blood will just start to congeal like a fried egg. It's seriously stolen my peace more than once.

When the room is "too" hot (but how hot is too hot?), I sweat gallons, and I feel so depleted, so exhausted, so wiped out that I have to really force myself to continue doing postures. At the hottest of the hot studios, I almost never have a "good" class, and by "good" I mean a class where I feel strong most the way through, able to do some semblance of every posture, every set, without having to dig deep and summon up strength and will and guts and determination. When you practice every day, is it normal to need to dig deep every single day? Was I crazy to think that I could do this yoga sometimes without hurting and suffering?

When did my teachers stop saying that "Relax, it's only yoga," thing?

My cold class today was so much easier than normal. It makes me wonder about how often we seem to push through extremes in temperature and humidity. Whenever I'm having a hard time, somebody's always ready to chime in and tell me that it's all in my mind. I dunno. I think I am just finding my threshold, finding the place where it's a challenge but not a beat-down. For my body and my mind. I feel like such a whiner, but damn it, I've been slogging along and digging deep for a long while now. I was hoping, by now, to be a little more fireproof than this.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

No guru, no method, no teacher?

It's been forever since I've blogged. I've lately had some complicated feelings about my practice, my life, and my health. It's difficult to sort out, to put into words. There's been a little bit of drama at our studio that didn't involve me directly, but it...gave me pause, I guess. I've had some conflicting and complicated feelings and thoughts about yoga, the world of Bikram yoga, and the community at my studio. Kind of messy stuff.

I began practicing Bikram yoga regularly during a very stressful time in my life. My partner was incredibly ill, our finances were (and still are) a mess, and I was struggling with depression. Yoga reduced my anxiety, gave me a little island of peace. It was tough but it always made me feel better. It was one place in my life where I could feel really free and focus on myself.

After my disappointment with the teacher who leads advanced class, going to yoga class started to feel stressful, started to create anxiety for me. I often found myself in this teacher's class. (My studio has always kept the teaching schedule varied and confidential because in the past, some popular teachers had over-crowded classes and some teachers' classes were avoided and empty. There are times of day and days of the week when more students attend, so mixing up the schedule gives both teachers and students the chance to experience variety).

There was never any resolution to our 'conflict,' and I felt very much as if the teacher was scrutinizing my postures all the time, trying to find fault, justify her stance that I wasn't ready for advanced class.

I try to focus on my own stuff, and keep reminding myself that my practice is mine, and I don't need to prove anything to anyone.

Yet, almost immediately after the incident, I felt a sharp increase in the amount of stress I held in my body. I had stiffness, aches and pains I hadn't experienced in a very long time. I came down with a very nasty sinus infection that still hasn't cleared up completely. I have a weird rash on my face (always good for a girl's self-esteem, ha). I got digestive problems, and I vomited during classes several times in the last month or two, even when I didn't drink water during class.

And about half way through October, there were some incidents among other staff members. A couple of decisions were made that hurt some people I care for. It upset me. I've been feeling a lot of disillusionment. I have less faith in several teachers and staff members. I've started to feel like I might be in the wrong place. I have been questioning whether or not to leave this studio, or to leave the Bikram yoga practice. I think I still have deep faith and connection to the yoga, to the series. I believe in the power of this yoga. But I don't know if I want to go to teacher training anymore.

I guess that one of the issues I'm trying to digest right now is that I do not perceive the most influential people in my studio to be supportive. The whole "tough love" thing works a lot better if the criticism, attacks, or challenges come from a teacher or guru or mentor who is also able to demonstrate some measure of care or respect for a student. I want, and think that I need, less tough, more love.

And while my practice and what I do with it are certainly MY responsibility, I wonder if there is anywhere in Bikram world where I might feel encouraged again, feel welcomed. I feel as if going to teacher training now would be like being beaten with a stick. Maybe it's not for me.

So, I am slogging along.

I got to take a class from a senior teacher recently, and she said, to the class as a whole,"You're trying too hard, and you're making it hard. Do this, as an experiment: Come to class and just go through the motions, let go of trying. Then see what happens in your postures."

So, I am going to go through the motions for a while, see what happens.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Just rambling

I got sick at class today. Boo.

I am starting all over, from scratch--again!--with standing bow. I love love this posture, but I have been on a mission to systematically remove my quirky alignment issues, one by one. Found a big one today, and correcting it means relearning the balance for the posture, distributing my weight differently. Exciting to see clearly what needs work and how to go about changing it, working on it. It's a mini-bummer to see that I've not been doing the posture as well as I'd like, but it sure is nice to know how to improve.

I'm not quite sure about my future in the advanced class (a continuing issue I might write more about in the future). Yesterday, after the last class, I was alone at the studio to do the cleaning and did some simple asana that are not part of beginning series. In my non-Bikram teacher training, I learned a lot of the postures that are part of advanced series. I'm slightly foggy on the sequences in AS, and I would not want to try to do any of it on my own anyway. But I did a few of the postures that I felt I knew well, and it felt good.

One of my dearest yoga buddies (another student who wants to do competition but was not welcome at advanced) and I were chatting recently, and we've decided to work together on some things. A kind teacher has offered to meet with us a couple of times to not only give us some individualized instruction, but to also take some pictures of us in various postures. It's so sweet.

I am feeling a little better and maybe a little bitter about the not very encouraging teacher.

But I am so so grateful for the community and the goodness amongst yogis. I really love the studio owners, and some of the teachers are just downright incredible human beings, so helpful, so caring. I'm so glad to practice yoga with so many good folks, so many cool people who take classes at our studios. I feel close to a bunch of you yoga bloggers and blog readers too now. In a way, we're all doing yoga together. It's pretty freaking lovely, really.

You Might Not See It...

There are so many ways to teach Bikram's Beginning Series! It's pretty mind-boggling, considering that Bikram yoga classes are all taught from the same dialogue, how individual teachers bring their own energy, mood, perspective, wisdom, experience, etc, combine it with Bikram's instructions, and create their own unique classes.

Since I want to teach Bikram's Beginning Series someday, I'm paying more attention to how teachers teach. Tonight, after a really lovely class taught by a very gentle, upbeat, and kind-hearted teacher, I was a little surprised by what he had to say about why he taught the way he did.

A few students were sitting in the lobby after class, talking about our practices, and a student said, "I always feel like the second I feel as if I've gotten better at posture, I get a whole bunch of corrections. When I was just struggling with the posture, nobody gave me corrections." He was feeling a little discouraged.

Gosh, I think I once blogged about feeling the same way! Once I felt as if I was seeing changes in my postures (during my first challenge), it was like the teachers jumped all over me, expected much more of me, whereas before the challenge, I'd been slogging along there for months with no comments on many of my not-so-great asana.

We were all musing over various corrections we'd been given, and another student asked our teacher about how & when he chose to give feedback.

My teacher said, "I got the shit kicked out of me my whole life, and I don't want to inflict things on others. Some studios demand that you do your teaching in a specific style, but I teach here because I teach best when I'm just being myself. When I give an instruction or a correction and a student isn't doing what I asked him to do, I figure, he either can't physically do it, isn't ready psychologically to do it, or he just doesn't want to do it. If he doesn't want to do it, he's only hurting himself, not me or anyone else, so I just let it be."

I guess the thing that shocked me most was hearing this teacher, a very nice, funny, positive person, say that he'd had the shit kicked out of him his whole life. He is so gentle, so calm, serene. He seems so content, so at peace with the world. I love his classes because his peacefulness permeates the class. He seems so free of suffering and insecurity, yet he's evidently endured some intense hardships in his life.

I guess that I sometimes mistakenly assume that people who are content and happy haven't had the same sorts of problems and obstacles in their lives as those of us who are currently struggling. What a huge mistake!

Similarly, without thinking about it, I found myself making the assumption that B, a woman at our studios who does doubles on a very regular basis and has a beautiful, accomplished practice, doesn't struggle much anymore. It was so surprising to hear her saying what a lousy class she had, how she didn't feel good, wanted to leave the room, was disappointed in her execution of some postures. From a distance, I watch her and think that it looks so easy for her, but it's not.

It's always a challenge. You might not see it unless you look for it, but each of us has our own struggle. We're all human, and we can't live in this beautiful world without experiencing pain and adversity. It's all the more amazing, admirable, and inspiring to see the beauty of someone's practice or feel the calm, positive energy of another yogi or teacher when you consider how much work s/he's done to achieve it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Letting No one Steal Your Peace?

I'm supposed to meet with the studio owner and the adv. teacher tomorrow. I spoke with the owner about the whole incident, and I dunno. Owner described the teacher as "tactless," but seems to think that it's not that big a deal. Owner gave me a lot of the "let no one steal your peace" stuff.

I don't want to be treated unfairly or badly. If I seek to remove myself from classes and a teacher who does that, am I copping out, am I letting her steal my peace?

This feels like a no-win situation.
Either I take classes with this teacher, which pretty much guarantees that I'll be asked to take crap from her --(and by 'take crap,' I don't mean being criticized or pushed hard or challenged; I mean being treated badly by someone who doesn't care about me or my practice one iota)-
-or I miss out on advanced class and competition coaching,
or I go to great lengths to find some other arrangement to move forward with my practice--like starting all over at a new studio, or finding someone else who will help coach me, or putting it all on hold for another year.

I wish things were different. I don't know what to do. Gonna take the dog to the park, sit in the sun, and pray. My problems are little in the grand scheme of things. I'm going to try to summon up some gratitude and calmness.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Focus on Practice

I felt as if I had good stamina today. I made it through my class and my work with no problems. I did all of my postures and felt pretty good about my practice.

When I'm in the standing separate leg head to knee pose, with my forehead on my knee, trying to keep my eyes open and not let sweat drip into eyes, sometimes I find myself looking at the mirrors on the side wall. More than once, I've been unable, for a moment at least, to tell which hips in black shorts and which set of legs are my own. It's a weird feeling!

I am finding that I have the strength and stamina to do a lot more consistent contracting of my muscles; I'm able to keep them contracted throughout postures. In the past, I found it very difficult. It feels great to be able to do it better, do it more.

It's most obvious in the old standing head to knee/lock the damn knee scenario (contracting the quadriceps), but I am seeing improvement in a lot of other postures when I focus on contracting muscles.

Keeping the arms straight and contracting triceps, focusing attention on my arms really helps me keep my balance better in the second part of awkward pose. I've had to work hard to focus on contracting the quads in the separate leg stretching posture. I was hyper-extending at the knee for a long time, focusing on other aspects of the posture, unaware that I wasn't engaging the quads. I especially feel a great difference when I contract the leg muscles, lock the knees, and contract the glutes in cobra pose. I am just really loving cobra pose lately.

The postures I want to work on most right now are bow pose and camel. I want to work on staying aligned well in these postures so that I'll be able to release into more of my spine. Right now, I'm aware of a lot of tiny odd things that I do with my neck if I'm not careful. I mean, I do hunchy little things, sort of going forward with my neck before I go back, and it makes a world of difference when I put my attention there and let things line up naturally.

It is amazing to find the myriad ways in which my body holds tension and how that tension can distort my body's natural healthy alignment. The distortions in the neck, back, and shoulders can be so subtle, and so habitual. Some things require a lot of work to change and/or release, but so many of them only ask us to pay a little more attention. How sweet that we can help ourselves with just a little focused effort.